Amendment 4: The Facts Before You Vote

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Florida residents may have the opportunity to vote on changes in local land developments.

Amendment 4 is a new proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot that would require government officials to submit their proposed changes of new comprehensive land-use plans or amendments to existing plans to a vote by referendum before any changes are allowed.

Comprehensive plans contain chapters or “elements” that address future land use, housing, transportation, infrastructure, coastal management, conservation, recreation and open space, intergovernmental coordination, and capital improvements. If Amendment 4 were adopted, voters would annually approve or disapprove individual land-use plans by district.

The basis of the argument is economic growth and development.

“Amendment 4 will give residents more control,” said Lesley Blackner, president of Hometown Democracy.

Hometown Democracy says they are a grass-roots, non-partisan citizens’ initiative organized to advocate for Amendment 4. They argue that citizens deserve the right to vote on how tax money is spent concerning infrastructure development.

“Voters will have a real idea of changes of comprehensive plans and be able to determine the future of their families for decades,” Blackner said. “Hopefully they will feel empowered.”

Comprehensive plans are crafted to establish a schedule of capital improvements for development that meets citizen’s needs and demands. Florida state law requires the City of Jacksonville to review and evaluate its Comprehensive Plan every seven years in an Evaluation and Appraisal Report.

Hometown Democracy argues that politicians have scandalously mishandled their legislative power to pocket money in under-the-table dealings.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice study, Florida had more public corruption cases than any other state in the nation from 1997-2007.

“Elected officials have let us down,” said Blackner. “Florida leads the nation in corrupt public officials and land-use policies have a lot to do with it.”

Jerry Holland, Duval County supervisor of elections, said that 118 comprehensive plan amendments were made in Duval County in 2009.

Blackner said that local governments and media proposals would provide information for voters about the district development proposals.

“Non-controversial changes will pass,” Blackner said. “But what residents feel would be harmful for the community will be discussed.”

Blackner believes the amendment would confine the growth plan.

“We could be building right now,” Blackner said. “We’re not building now because the economic bubble burst and there is no demand.”

Blackner said that maps for land-use were planned in the 1980’s with intentions of minimal changes.

“If the government officials are constantly planning changes then we have no actual planning,” Blackner said. “They have gone hog-wild. There is way too much developing.”

But opponents of Amendment 4 argue that the economy will suffer if the ‘Vote on Everything’ amendment is adopted.

Ryan Houck, the executive director of Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, is leading a campaign against Amendment 4.

“Amendment 4 is like taking a sledgehammer to a fruit fly,” Houck said in an email exchange.

Houck believes residents may make decisions that slow efficient economic development.

“It would also punish businesses and local governments that are working to build vital community improvements like new schools and hospitals by creating an expensive, multi-year process that is prone to endless litigation,” Houck said in an email exchange.

According to Florida Taxwatch, preliminary findings indicate the amendment would have serious long term negative impacts on Florida’s economy.

Houck agrees.

“Although Amendment 4 is often promoted as a way to take money out of politics, it does the exact opposite by transforming thousands of minor planning decisions into high-priced media campaigns,” said Houck.

Houck also believes Amendment 4 will further unemployment.

“Amendment 4 is a job-killer, plain and simple,” said Houck. “It would add unprecedented new layers of cost, delay, uncertainty and litigation to the process by which many businesses grow and add jobs.”

According to Florida’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference, local governments will incur significant costs to establish and administer the process Amendment 4 dictates, but the impact cannot be precisely determined.

Houck said that problems Amendment 4 purports to solve would worsen if the proposal passes.

“When politicians make bad decisions, they should be held accountable for those decisions,” Houck said. “Unfortunately, under Amendment 4, politicians would get to punt tough decisions to referendum. That is not accountability— that is a political safety valve.”

A 60 percent vote is required to initiate the amendment into Florida’s Constitution.

Others can see both sides of the Amendment 4 argument.

“I’m ambivalent in the sense that I think it is a bad idea to change land usage,” said Stephen Baker, professor of political science at Jacksonville University. “But if we don’t, the builders will have free reign.”