When Florida voters head to the polls on Nov. 2, 2010, aside from casting votes for public office, they’ll also have six state constitutional amendments to mull over.
One of the proposals up for a vote, Amendment 4, aims to put land use changes before local voters, and has sparked heated debate.
Supporters argue the measure will give more power to local residents by allowing them to make decisions regarding development plans in their communities. Currently, those decisions are handled by an elected or appointed board such as a county commission or a local planning board. Opponents argue Amendment 4 will stall existing projects and drive away prospective developers from investing money in Florida.
One of those claims of stalled economic growth comes from the "No on 4!" website. The website, sponsored by opposing group Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, Inc., quotes a January 2010 study by the Washington Economics Group which states: "Amendment 4 will reduce Florida's economic output by $34 billion annually."
In a state hurting for tax dollars, $34 billion is a large figure to toss around, so we decided to take a closer look at that claim.
Aside from reaching out to the Washington Economics Group to determine how they arrived at the figure, we also received a counter-study by Hometown Democracy, the group backing Amendment 4. We also contacted economists at the University of Central Florida, Florida State University, University of Miami and the University of Florida.
The proposal is summarized as follows on the election ballot: "Establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice."
Essentially the proposal would allow voters to decide on changes to local land use plans, rather than having the decision rest in the hands of city councils or an appointed local planning agency.
Dr. David Denslow is a professor at the University of Florida and an economics researcher for the school's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. He too has voiced his opposition to Amendment 4. He said the WEG study is reasonable but far from a certainty. His point:
"We don't know for sure how voters will react, how the legislature will react, how developers will react. Nor do we know for sure what Florida's growth path would be without Amendment 4, as a base. Adding to the uncertainty is the current truly unusual state of the housing market. Would Amendment 4 increase the demand for vacant houses because it'll be harder to build new ones? Or would it reduce the demand because people will think Florida will stop growing and not want to start new businesses?"