Breaking down the ballot

In addition to voting for the president of the United States and other government officials on Nov. 4, Floridians will be voting on six amendments to the state constitution. Below is an explanation of each amendment and what it means to vote for them or against them.

Amendment 1: Property rights of ineligible aliens
In 1926, “alien land laws” were adopted by Florida lawmakers after other states passed provisions to prevent Asian immigrants from owning American farmland. Florida is the only state that still has these laws written into its constitution, according to the Collins Center on Public Policy.

The Florida Legislature wants to remove language from Florida’s Constitution that allows the state Congress to regulate property rights of individuals not eligible for citizenship.

Those in favor of the amendment say the language should be removed because it is racist.

“It just looks bad in the constitution,” said Steven Tauber, associate professor of government and international affairs. “It’s kind of an ugly stain.”

A “yes” vote means that you are in favor of removing the language. A “no” no means you are not.

Amendment 2: Florida marriage protection act
Among the most controversial of the proposed constitutional changes is Amendment 2. If passed into law, it would dictate that marriage is the legal union between one man and one woman.

There are currently four Florida statutes that prohibit same-sex marriages. But passage of Amendment 2 would prevent the courts from legalizing homosexual marriage, as has been done in Massachusetts and California.

Those against the amendment say that it could risk benefits for all unmarried Floridians, specifically those who have domestic partnerships. It would also put government where it does not belong, they say: into the private lives of Floridians.

“There is no need to keep beating a dead horse; it’s already illegal,” said USF P.R.I.D.E Alliance member Lara McDermott. She said the amendment will write discrimination into the Florida Constitution and will hurt more people than it will help.

Tauber said he doesn’t see any benefits to Amendment 2.

“The only thing it does is divide people,” he said.

The group behind the proposal is the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment organization, led by John Stemberger. Supporters claim the amendment will not infringe on anyone’s benefits or rights, but will create healthy and strong marriages, according to its Web site.

Tauber, however, believes that if the amendment is not passed, the Florida Supreme Court will not overturn statutes and legalize same-sex marriage.

Marking yes on the ballot means you are in favor of marriage being defined as the legal union between one man and one woman and that no other union should be recognized.

Marking no means you do not want to limit the definition of marriage to being only between one man and one woman.

Amendment 3: Residential property tax
Amendment 3 proposes tax relief for homeowners who make improvements on their houses to protect against hurricane damage, like installing storm shutters.

These improvements usually increase the value of the home and are followed by an increase in property taxes. Under Amendment 3, homeowners would not receive an increase in property taxes.

The Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which proposed the idea, said it could save taxpayers $3.44 million in the first year. It will also serve to improve hurricane safety, the commission said, in residential property.

The Florida American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and its 526 affiliated unions oppose Amendment 3, however, arguing in an official statement that it will put a damper on an already strained economy.

The tax break is only applicable to new construction and not to existing storm-hardening investments.

Voting yes supports the tax break for homeowners who decide to protect their homes from hurricane damage. Voting no means you do not support a tax break for such homeowners.

Amendment 4: Land conservation tax break
This amendment provides a tax break for landowners if they agree to place their property in conservation easement — meaning the landowner cannot develop the land but must keep it in its natural state.

Some of the supporters include the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Nature Conservancy and Audubon of Florida. Supporters hope the amendment will encourage land conservation, protect water resources and expand wildlife habitat.

“We believe it provides a very important supplemental tool to protect wildlife habitat, natural resources and other natural attributes,” said Janet Bowman, the Nature Conservancy’s director of legislative policy and strategies.

The Florida AFL-CIO opposes Amendment 4.

“We shouldn’t be looking at any new tax exemptions until somebody takes a top-down look at the Florida budget so that we can figure out how to get ourselves out of this mess,” said Rich Templin, communications director for the Florida AFL-CIO.

A yes vote means you favor the measure and agree with a land conservation tax break. A no vote means you do not agree that landowners should receive a tax break for keeping their property in a natural state.

Amendment 6: Waterfront property tax break
Waterfront properties such as marinas, bait shops and boat yards are being assessed as if they were hotels or condos and are paying high property taxes. Many owners have sold to developers or have gone out of business.

Amendment 6 proposes appraising waterfront businesses based on their current use, not by the potential — or highest and best — use of the property.

There is not much opposition to this amendment.

Supporters of Amendment 6 include taxpayer advocacy groups and government officials such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

A yes vote means you favor providing tax breaks to waterfront property owners. A no vote means you do not.

Amendment 8: Community college funding
Amendment 8 would require that the Legislature pass a law allowing counties to levy sales tax for community colleges. The so-called local-option sales tax money would supplement state funding and would go directly to the colleges.

“It simply creates a process for communities to support their community colleges with local funding via a future referendum. It is not a tax and does not cost voters a cent,” said Juan Mendieta, Manatee Community College director of communications. The college supports the amendment.

Other supporters include the United Faculty of Florida, Associated Industries of Florida and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

Lars Hafner, president of Manatee Community College in Bradenton, opposes the amendment, saying it could take funding responsibilities away from the state and put them on local communities. It could also “create a system of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,'” he said.

“Further complicating the issue is the requirement that all counties would have to pass the tax. This gives single-county colleges a distinct advantage over multi-county colleges,” he said.

The state funds 53 percent of Florida’s 28 community colleges. The rest is derived from student fees at 43 percent, grants and donations. Hafner is also concerned that the state might use the amendment as a means of undercutting state funding. Colleges, he said, would then be forced to look toward counties for financial support.

A vote yes supports permitting counties to levy a sales tax for community colleges. A vote no opposes giving counties the option of increasing sales tax to help fund community colleges.