Amendment 4 is arguably the most divisive issue on Florida election ballots this November.
The mandate would grant taxpayers the right to vote on whether a local government can adopt new comprehensive land use plans, allowing for residential and commercial development. The prevalence of both has plagued Florida.
Amendment 4 was championed by Florida Hometown Democracy, which seeks to keep special interest out the political process, specifically when it comes to the construction of commercial and residential developments on public land. Since the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s, land developers have run rampant, searching for any viable land to implement their atrocious visions of suburbia. This all came to a head in the 2008-09 recession, when thousands of buildings were left abandoned and Florida ranked second in the nation in terms of property foreclosures. For many, if not all Floridians, these deserted businesses and homes create an eyesore, leaving permanent damage to the state’s delicate landscape.
Supporters of Amendment 4 are dead on with the notion that vacant real estate and commercial developments are a nuisance to Florida’s scenic identity. In 2009, Forbes Magazine listed America’s most vacant cities, pertaining to rental and homeowner vacancy rates. Sadly, Florida’s four largest metropolitan areas made the list.
Urban sprawl is already a problem, even on the national scale. From 1982-1997, the United States’ population grew 17 percent, while urbanized land increased by 47 percent, according to the Clean Water Action Council. Clearly, allowing over-zealous land developers to sell grand land tracts to risky buyers will only exacerbate the problems of urban sprawl and vacancy. With 55 and 40 percent of land outside urban cores in the northern and southern halves of Florida in transition phase, primed for development according to a University of Florida study, it is no question that something should be done.
Opponents of Amendment 4 argue that voters simply don’t have knowledge of the economic and geopolitical implications that come with land development. What’s more, this country’s electorate is a dense bunch. Their ranks are rife deplorable voter turnout rates, Florida averages 38 percent; and chronic bewilderment, more than half don’t know who their congressman are. While Florida Hometown Democracy’s support of Amendment 4 is commendable, they must realize most voters have no formal training in fields such as public administration and urban planning. That’s why they aren’t and should never be at liberty to vote on issues that could have detrimental effects on the state’s welfare. Besides, we’re supposed to have educated public officials to make sound decisions on matters like these.
Yes, most public officials end up being politicians who can be swayed by the very scent of a dollar bill. But electing public officials with ulterior motives, who in turn hold special interest over the greater good of the state is the voters’ problem. The lesson to the electorate after Amendment 4’s inevitable demise: be careful whom you elect.
A “yes” on Amendment 4 could cost the state 267,247 jobs and reduce economic output by $34 billion, according a study conducted by the Washington Economics Group, whose findings may’ve been predisposed to special interest groups. Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Alex Sink and GOP rear-puller Rick Scott both agree that adopting Amendment 4 would cause Florida’s economy to regress. It’s not clear why both candidates agree on this issue and special interest groups could be a large part of their amity. Ironically, costly court battles that would follow a consensual “yes” on Amendment 4 could certainly fatten the pockets of Sierra Club Lawyers, whom reportedly support this legislation.
Partisanship aside, Amendment 4 is a bad idea. Its goal to “drive a stake in the heart of the special interest” is catchy, but misguided. Perhaps a better anecdote for fending off land-leeching developers is to elect honest public officials who use logic when making weighty decisions on how to use Florida’s priceless land; simultaneously ignoring those wanting to buy them off.
Accomplishing this takes passion, the willfulness to research, elect and respectfully badger public officials by the electorate. Public officials turned politicians seldom carry out campaign promises (see Obama), which is why voters should demand more candidates, not just during election season, but also for their entire term in office. Hopefully “yes on 4” foes come out on the winning side of this issue.