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Complexity, agenda help defeat 8 of 11 amendments

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 12:22 AM
TALLAHASSEE -

Style as well as substance likely played a role in the rejection by Florida voters of eight of 11 proposed state constitutional amendments.

The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature put all 11 on Tuesday's ballot. Most were designed to advance the GOP's conservative social and fiscal agendas.

The three amendments that won 60 percent approval, which all amendments must get to pass, were simple and easy to understand. They offered tax breaks targeted to groups difficult to oppose: disabled veterans, low-income seniors and spouses of military personnel and first responders who have died while on duty.

The amendments that went down had a different style. Their ballot summaries were complex, lengthy and written in hard to understand legalese.

Also, their substance was different. Most dealt with hotly contested issues including abortion, taxpayer funding of religious organizations such as parochial schools, "Obamacare," capping state revenue and tax breaks for businesses and out-of-state residents who own second homes in Florida.

"It was like a cruise ship buffet that nobody could get through," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. "Florida voters should get an A-plus for doing their homework. For many voters it was like taking the FCAT."

None of the losing amendments received 50 percent support, much less the required 60 percent.

The league urged voters to reject all 11 amendments. The group initially raised substantive objections, arguing the proposals didn't belong in the Florida Constitution and that some attacked basic freedoms while others could have harmed the state's economy.

After getting more than 1,000 calls from voters who were confused and frustrated by the lengthy and complex ballot summaries, the league urged that the amendments be defeated on style points as well. That would send a message to lawmakers to quit drafting proposals that only a constitutional lawyer can understand, Macnab said.

Supporters of Amendment 4, the broad property tax relief measure, poured $4.7 million into their campaign, led by the Florida Association of Realtors. The proposal, though, drew only 43 percent support at the polls.

Amendment 4 was so complex because it included three separate tax breaks. One would have benefited businesses and owners of second homes. The others targeted first-time home buyers and existing homeowners whose property values decline.

Trey Price, Florida Association of Realtors' public policy representative, noted that voters overwhelmingly approved a more complex tax relief amendment in 2008.

Besides being long and confusing, Amendment 4 drew strong opposition from local government officials, who argued it could have led to tax increases for longtime homeowners to make up for benefits that would have gone to other taxpayers, including out-of-state "snowbirds."

Price argued that voters had been misinformed but Macnab said they simply did their homework.

"Clearly, the Legislature overreached," Macnab said. "I hope and believe this has been a wakeup call for the Legislature."

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