Legislators’ Tax Bill Has Environmental Downside

The news out of Tallahassee is unfailingly disturbing these days.

One piece of legislation to watch is a committee bill that squeaked out of the House Ways and Means Committee.

While most of the bill’s language is a big concern to local governments, because it would diminish their home-rule powers, there’s a provision that could severely limit referendums.

This affects us in Polk County because there is still some thought of eventually attempting to mount a renewal of the Environmental Lands tax to purchase additional lands to finish the job started with funds from the 1994 referendum.

The referendum, which imposed a property tax at a rate of 20 cents per $1,000 of appraised value, expired in 2015 and was not continued even though it could have been administratively. That’s because the money as not used to purchase bonds but was instead pursued on a more fiscally sound pay-as-you-go basis.

Actually, the County Commission did continue the tax, they just decided to divert half the revenue to road projects and the rest to parks and ambulances.

If there were to be another referendum, it would occur sometime after 2018, when the Polk County School Board is scheduled to place a sales tax referendum on the ballot to pay for school construction costs. Putting more than one tax referendum on a ballot is poor politics, which is why 2020 would be the earliest the environmental referendum could occur.

Polk’s charter properly requires all tax referendums to be placed on the general election ballot.

The proposed bill’s limit on referendums would prohibit them in some situations, depending on what the County Commission has decided on tax rates in recent years. It would also require 60 percent approval.

Majority rule would go out the window.

If that 60 percent provision had been in place in 1994, there would be no Environmental Lands Program, no Circle B Bar Reserve and perhaps no Colt Creek State Park. The rest of the archipelago of local environmental preserves we can enjoy today would not exist.

I don’t have any information on whether this idea has attracted any support in the Florida Senate, which would be necessary for passage.

Posted in Group Conservation Issues.