OUR POSITION: Same old story, state lawmakers turn sights on local government.
What is it about the trip to Tallahassee that makes state legislators want to stick it to the people who are running the show back home? Give the boot heel to someone lower on the totem pole? That is, local elected officials.
Cases in point:
As the new session got into swing, the House Subcommittee on Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs moved a bill that would make it far more difficult for local governments to raise local sales taxes.
According to HB5, sales tax referendums would need 66 percent of the vote to pass — a very high hurdle. Local governments now just need a simple majority.
In a place like Charlotte County, 50 percent of voter approval is never a slam dunk; tax initiatives always encounter strong opposition. Note that in 2014, the 1-cent tax extension referendum was thought to have performed extremely well in the General Election. With 55 percent “yes.”
The vote re-authorized one extra penny to the sales tax rate. Since that vote, the county has used the money for a number of desirable infrastructure projects: The Ann Dever Park Recreation Center, the North Charlotte Regional Park Recreation Center, the Punta Gorda Charlotte Library, a Veterans Memorial Park, Piper Road North road improvements, a jail expansion and a new West County sheriff’s station, among others. More are in the pipeline. And none of them would have happened without the extra penny.
HB5 also would require a super-majority vote by a county commission or school board to put a referendum on the ballot. Just another hurdle.
To justifying their action, legislators point to an equally ill-advised constitutional amendment that now prevents the Legislature from enacting any tax or fee increase not approved by a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. That passed with 65 percent of the vote (1 point below two-thirds).
So, what’s bad for the Legislature should be bad for local boards. Or a variation, as Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, was quoted on the Florida Politics website, “If 66 percent is good enough for us, it should be good enough for local governments.”
All of which seems undemocratic: It gives one-third of any voting segment authority over the other two-thirds. Minority rule, when it comes to money.
It goes from there.
Another bill sponsored by Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, would further squeeze the ability of local governments to do the job they were elected to do, and by home rule charter rights, have a right to do.
HB3 would curtail cities’ and counties’ power to enact business regulations they deem appropriate. Business regulations adopted before July 1, 2019, would be wiped off the books in two years unless re-approved, this time by the magic two-thirds margin.
The poster-worthy villains are local ordinances that ban plastic straws, or Key West’s ban on sunscreen containing the chemicals oxybenzone or octinoxate, widely believed to damage coral reefs.
Local fertilizer rules, no doubt, also are on the block.
Justifying this, Grant recently told Sun staff writer Andrea Praegitzer, “We’re not trying to take over local government, but we are trying to curtail over-regulation by local government.”
In other words, state legislators are trying to take over the parts of local government they don’t agree with. Locals can take the rest.
There’s a revered conservative principle that government closest to the people is best equipped to govern. We believe that’s true. Too bad the principle seems to get lost somewhere on the long road to Tallahassee.