So-Called ‘Hometown Democracy’ Amendment is Still an Awful Idea
The vote on Amendment 4, which has been called “Hometown Democracy” but which will appear on the ballot as “Referenda required for adoption and amendment of local government comprehensive land use plans,” will be held in November. This amendment, if passed, would achieve its aim… to slow development in the state of Florida to a crawl.
In this time of economic uncertainty, that’s a really bad idea.
By now, unless you’ve really not been paying attention, you know that the passage of Amendment 4 would mean that every change to a city’s comprehensive plan, no matter how small, would be subject to a referendum and would have to be directly approved by voters. So any business that wants to build a new facility which would require a change in a city’s comprehensive plan would have to wait for an election, with no guarantee that the voters would actually allow that to happen. Frankly, the voters might not take the time to become familiar with the positive and negative aspects of that land use change.
Why would any business want to take that risk? Florida is already at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting some businesses. The lengthy process of obtaining permits and the amount of red tape that has to be dealt with to build a manufacturing facility in Florida has caused more than one company to look to states which seem to be more welcoming to those types of businesses. If they are faced with the additional wait for ballot language to be written, and a special election to be called (if there is no election scheduled), and then the wildcard of potentially being told by voters that they’re not welcome, Florida will be at a real competitive disadvantage for attracting new businesses and jobs at a time when our changing economy needs it most.
Meanwhile, cities will bear the cost of making all of these special elections happen. The state office of Economic Development and Research says that “the amendment’s impact on local government expenditures cannot be estimated precisely. Local governments will incur additional costs due to the requirement to conduct referenda in order to adopt comprehensive plans or amendments thereto. The amount of such costs depends upon the frequency, timing and method of the referenda, and includes the costs of ballot preparation, election administration, and associated expenses. The impact on state government expenditures will be insignificant.” The EDR also states that “Presenting additional issues to the voters entails increased costs. Those costs exist regardless of the method by which local governments choose to conduct the vote – special or general election, whether by mail ballot or at the polls. Given the large volume of amendments adopted between 2001 and 2005 (an average of 7,878 amendments and 1,062 packages per year) and the number of new incorporations (nine new incorporations since April, 2000), it is highly improbable that special elections can be avoided.”
It’s expensive to hold an election, and if these land use change referenda are done piecemeal, which they would almost certainly have to be if there were to be any chance of anything resembling expediency, the local government will be required to hold and pay for those elections. And whether one person votes or turnout is 100 percent, the cost is the same. Again, from the EDR: “The amendment requires that the plan or plan amendment “shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government.” Therefore, every amendment to a county’s comprehensive plan would be submitted to all registered voters in the county. If held as a special election, the costs for a medium-sized county would likely range from $56,000 to $288,000 per referendum, with the largest county topping out at $2 million.”
Special elections for referenda, even if people understand them, will likely draw yawns from all but the activists and the supervoters. “Hometown Democracy” will become anything but.
Recent polling suggests that more people currently favor Amendment 4 than oppose it. However, the percentage of those saying they favor the amendment does not reach the threshold necessary for passage -- which is 60%. The real fight over this issue has not yet begun, and the television commercials for and against are certainly being conceived and produced now in preparation for the push to November. As Florida's economy is forced to shift from one based on building houses and attracting tourists to one that will rely more heavily on businesses that are not yet here, Floridians are still very concerned about their jobs and the economy.
Now is not the time to throw a big “do not enter” sign up at the state line.