Florida considers bill modeled after TABOR

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos has promised an exciting first week of the legislative session, with a revised version of last year’s Senate Bill 6 scheduled to reach the floor.

The so-called “Smart Cap” amendment, which would place a constitutional limit on state revenue, is set to join the lineup, having cleared its final two committees this week.

The measure is modeled on Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (nicknamed TABOR), which limits state revenue using a formula based on population growth and inflation. Colorado is the only state with such a measure in place, and voters suspended it amid concerns it stifled funding for government services.

Haridopolos has said the version he’s supporting makes several improvements on Colorado’s. It’s more flexible (because a supermajority of lawmakers can vote to suspend it) and less restrictive (because it doesn’t apply to local governments).

He said the measure will support his efforts to make the state’s tax burden more stable and predictable.

Jack McCray of AARP warned the cap could prevent government services from keeping up with demand. Florida’s seniors contribute a substantial portion of the state’s tax revenue, but in some cases they also rely more heavily on government services, such as health care.

Florida’s elderly population is projected to increase faster than the rest of the state, but under Haridopolos’ “Smart Cap,” any taxes that exceed the revenue cap would be set aside in the state’s “rainy day” fund. Once that fund is maxed out, any additional surplus would be sued to offset required local taxes for schools. As a result, if seniors’ demand for government services increases, there may not be a corresponding increase in revenue to pay for it.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, rejected that argument Wednesday. More spending does not mean more or better services, he said, citing the example of Florida’s schools, which rank lower among other states in terms of funding than they do in measures of quality.

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said the debate comes down to a philosophical question: Should the government keep taxing, spending and borrowing, or should those things be held in check?

“This about self-restraint,” she said, adding, “Every time we have money we keep spending, spending, spending and creating more programs.”

Ben Wilcox of the League of Women Voters has argued those philosophical questions should be left open for future lawmakers, not answered permanently by a constitutional amendment, to no avail so far. The Senate’s measure has advanced with votes largely along party lines.

The House is working on its own version of the measure, which if passed would appear on the 2012 ballot for voter approval.

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