TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Florida House voted Thursday for a proposed constitutional amendment that if passed by voters would make raising taxes and state-mandated fees significantly harder in the future.
Gov. Rick Scott is pushing the measure, which he wants on the November 2018 ballot when he is expected to be running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.
There are substantial differences, however, between the House and Senate versions, including whether the supermajority requirement should apply to fees, which are usually charged to cover the cost of a service as opposed to a tax charged to all Floridians.
The House voted 80-29 to require that all future tax and fee hikes must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Florida Legislature.
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“I believe that taking a citizen’s hard earned money should not be taken lightly,” said Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican.
Some Democrats criticized the proposal, saying it would make it harder to close existing tax loopholes and tax breaks crafted to help specific businesses.
“I think this is a short-sighted idea,” said Rep. Joseph Geller, an Aventura Democrat. “There’s simply no need for this. Have some confidence in the people who will sit in these seats after you are gone.”
Several other states, including California, have similar restrictions on tax hikes.
Florida’s state government has been controlled by Republicans for two decades and during that time GOP leaders have pushed to cut taxes, not raise them. But Republicans in 2009 did agree to major tax hikes when legislators were struggling to balance the budget because of the Great Recession. The Legislature raised cigarette taxes as well as fees for motorist registration and driver’s licenses, although lawmakers rolled back the fees a few years later.
Scott called for the supermajority requirement back in August, and it was quickly embraced by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is expected to join the crowded governor’s race.
Scott on Thursday released a statement where called on the Senate to “swiftly” approve the legislation (HB 7001), but the two chambers will need to work out some key differences.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican and sponsor of the Senate version, said the Senate has the votes to require a supermajority vote on taxes. But Stargel’s bill calls for a slightly lower threshold of a three-fifths vote instead of two-thirds. Stargel’s measure also does not include fees.
She said her proposal was designed to be “more flexible” for future legislators. She also said it was “unrealistic” to require fees because she said they are designed to cover the “cost of doing business.”