FL ballot amendments: Medical pot and court packing out, environmental spending in

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — About 11 p.m. Tuesday night, a Twitter account called “Charlie Crist’s Fan” messaged Gov. Rick Scott, asking for a job.

PARTY’S OVER: It’s all over, even the shouting. Florida’s nasty governors’ race ended with a Rick Scott victory, but voters also weighed in on several ballot measures.

“Hey @ScottforFlorida, you looking for someone to keep you cool? Let me know, bro,” the unknown author wrote in plain view of 2,115 followers.

Scott, the incumbent Republican, had just defeated newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist by 1.2 percent, or 70,000 votes, in one of the most expensive and negative governors’ races in history. The candidates — and by extension Florida — became a national laughingstock after a tiff over Crist’s personal Vornado fan during a debate last month.

If any question remained, the spat seemed to solidify the election as a choice over the least-worst candidate to oversee a state of 19 million.

Robert Sanchez, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist formerly of the Miami Herald, told Wathcdog.org the race was one of the ugliest since the days of open racism in politics.

Compared to that kind of spectacle, fueled by $150 million, three far-reaching ballot amendments flew mostly under the radar.

Only Amendment 2 received any significant statewide attention. It would have legalized medical marijuana and arguably opened the door for broader pot use. It failed. Needing 60 percent approval to alter the state constitution, only 58 percent of Sunshine State voters said ‘yes.’

Incidentally, no statewide officer holder received 60 percent approval, and neither gubernatorial candidate breached 50 percent.

“By no means is this a rejection of medical marijuana in Florida, as the results show that a strong majority of Floridians support it,” said Erik Altieri, communications director for NORML, a medical marijuana advocacy group.

Amendment 3 also went down in flames. It would have given Florida governors the ability to appoint state Supreme Court justices, and appellate-level judges, if they were scheduled to leave the bench the same time as an outgoing governor.

It just so happens the measure was added to the ballot by the Legislature, a Republican stronghold, while three state Supreme Courts justices are about to retire due to age limitations.

Coincidence?

Critics called it a court-packing scheme that would have ensured a judicial backstop to a possible Crist takeover of the governor’s mansion. Voters said no, but Scott will get his justices.

He’ll also have a state House supermajority to work with, and 26 of 40 state senators. At the state level, Florida is blood red.

The only statewide ballot measure to pass was Amendment 1. It guarantees funding for water conservation and state land acquisitions. That, on its face, sounded like a great idea to voters — a shade under 75 percent approved.

“The Amendment gives Florida voters a direct opportunity to keep drinking water clean, protect our rivers, springs and beaches and restore natural treasures like the Everglades – without any increase in taxes,” states the VoteYesOn1 website.

The “revenue neutral” initiative requires 33-percent of the document tax — applying to real estate transactions — to be diverted into the state Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

The LATF is the funding source for Florida Forever, the largest public land buying program of its kind in the United States, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

More than one-third of Florida is already under government ownership.

Now, the state will spend an estimated $10 billion over the next 20 years to continue buying up land for non-developmental purposes.

Critics, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, say it won’t be revenue neutral.

With each purchase the government will lose a portion of its existing property tax base, and additional resources will be required to maintain new land. Local budgets will have to plug new funding gaps for schools, roads and other items as property tax money goes toward the state fund — $648 million next year.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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