The Florida Legislature is on track to make raising taxes more difficult. A measure proposing a boost in requirements for increasing taxes is on its way to the Senate floor.
The bill proposes an amendment to the Florida constitution that would prohibit raising or creating new taxes unless approved by two-thirds of each chamber of the legislature. Currently, tax bills can be approved by a simple majority of 51 percent. It would also require proposals creating or increasing taxes be contained in individual bills, rather than being tacked onto similar pieces of legislation.
It would, however, only require three-fifths of legislators to remove a tax exemption.
"This does not put a cap on the taxes. What it does is require a supermajority vote to pass a tax,” says Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland).
She says the essence of the bill is responsible tax policy that works for Floridians.
“I believe that just because income has come in and the state has the ability to have more of a tax base doesn’t mean we need to be in a sound mind and body to spend it all," continues Stargel. "We need to be able to give it back to the people and that’s the goal.”
Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Miami) agrees. He also says the government must strike a balance between providing necessary services and keeping income in the taxpayers’ pockets.
“I understand that the only way the government runs is collecting taxes and providing these services but we have to balance it out between the need of the people and making sure they have more money in their pockets,” says Garcia.
But critics argue reaching a two-thirds majority is difficult, and could minimize the government’s power to respond to economic crises.
Florida AFL-CIO’s Rich Templin argues many public programs are already underfunded and making it harder to raise taxes could cripple these services.
“Almost 50 percent of all Florida families are considered struggling right now – they’re considered working poor when you look at all of the economic indicators," state Templin. "A big problem with that is because we rank last or near dead last in essential services that most states provide to working families.”
He claims the Legislature has continually cut millions from general revenue in recent years and argues now is not the time to limit taxes.
Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-Miami) says the state needs to be able to regulate revenue to address long-term issues.
“I’ll speak again about the issues of sea-level rise and climate change," says Rodriguez. "There’s no place on the planet that is more vulnerable than the state of Florida. And if we are barely, if at all, taking any action why would we, before we even start taking action to address these critical long-term needs, hamstring future legislatures on being able to address that and other critical needs that are going to be coming down in the future.”
This measure has already received the stamp of approval from the House and is headed to the Senate floor. But even if passed by the legislature, it would need to be approved by 60 percent of Floridians during this November’s election to take effect.