OUR VIEW: Legislature, don’t usurp local control
As Tallahassee fails to adequately fund education, social services and other needs, the state is at the same time trying to prevent local governments and school districts from picking up the slack.
The Florida Legislature seems determined to stop local governments from doing much of anything other than cutting taxes and passing proclamations.
Lawmakers have been working for years to weaken the home-rule power of local governments through so-called preemption laws. That trend has accelerated in recent years as lawmakers, backed by big contributions from corporate lobbyists, have sought to usurp local control over issues ranging from sunscreen bans to business regulations.
From 2017 to 2019, a total of 119 bills were filed in the Legislature that contain some form of state preemption of local governments, according to a new report from the nonpartisan group Integrity Florida. At least 16 preemption bills have been filed for the 2020 legislative session, which starts next week.
But the efforts of the GOP-controlled Legislature to hamstring local lawmakers go beyond preemption measures. As Tallahassee fails to adequately fund education, social services and other needs, the state at the same time is trying to prevent local governments and school districts from picking up the slack.
A measure introduced for the second straight year aims to make it more difficult to raise taxes on the local level. The legislation, House Joint Resolution 477, would put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would require any city, county or school board to have a two-thirds majority to approve any tax increase.
The measure comes after another state constitutional amendment was passed that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for any increase in a state tax or fee. The nonpartisan Florida Policy Institute has published multiple reports cautioning that the requirement puts communities in a precarious position during the next recession or after a natural disaster, preventing such things as food assistance and temporary housing from being provided.
“It goes without saying that allowing a 34% minority to dictate investment decisions is dangerous, particularly in the face of Florida’s projected revenue shortfall in the coming years,” Florida Policy Institute CEO Sadaf Knight wrote in a column for Palm Beach Post.
Local citizens have shown they understand the need to make up for the Legislature’s shortsighted approach to such priorities as funding education. For example, 20 local tax referendums were put before voters in 2018 — and all 20 passed.
As for preemption laws, Gov. Ron DeSantis last year provided a rare victory for home rule by vetoing legislation that would have preempted local governments from banning plastic straws. At the time, he wrote that “the state should simply allow local communities to address this issue through the political process ... by electing people who share their views.”
DeSantis should take his own advice by opposing the latest round of preemption measures and the two-thirds requirement for local tax increases.