By Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Florida District
In the November elections, Florida will be a major battleground in the people’s fight-back against budget cuts, the war on women and the struggle to protect the public education system. Eleven constitutional amendments will appear on the ballot for Florida voters. Every one of these amendments would hurt the people of Florida and help only the wealthy 1%. We urge all Floridians to vote “no” on all the constitutional amendments.
Since becoming Florida Governor in the 2010 midterm election, Rick Scott has ushered in a period of vicious attacks on workers, trade unions, Latinos, African-Americans, women and students. This new period of reaction is provoking an overwhelming response by Floridians. They are taking to the streets to oppose the governor’s far-right policies.
Two years after becoming Governor, Scott hopes to achieve his long-term goals of cutting programs for the working class and urban poor, gutting public education and shackling women with restrictions on personal health care decisions. In order to do this, Scott and the Republicans need to pass these constitutional amendments in 2012 to set the stage for the legislative session in 2013.
The people of Florida can deliver a serious blow to Rick Scott in the 2012 elections by overwhelmingly voting down all eleven constitutional amendments.
Amendment 3: “Smart Cap” legislation, not so smart
Before Scott’s right-wing administration can launch its campaign of crippling austerity measures, Florida legislators must make adjustments to the way the state calculates its budget, manages its revenue and spends its remaining surplus. These changes rest in Amendment 3, otherwise known as the Florida “Smart Cap,” which will result in widespread budget cuts, the privatization of public education and tax breaks for the rich at the expense of working and low-income people.
To do this, the amendment proposes two key modifications. The budget formula will go from depending on personal income growth and yearly earnings, to depending on population size and inflation. All revenue above the state cap is then funneled into a ‘rainy day fund’ instead of returning to the people in the form of much-needed public services.
What this boils down to is a tragically reduced budget for social services and cuts to public education, healthcare, public safety, public transportation, senior services and other programs vital to the lives of Florida’s working people. Moreover, legislators maintain that the rainy day fund will only be accessed for tax relief or a reduction in property taxes. In other words, this fund exists in order to carry tax cuts for the wealthiest property owners, despite coming from tax revenue provided by working people.
Not only do these cuts widen the gap between the rich and Florida’s working class, they drain public institutions and allow them to be privatized. The most urgent cases are the drainage of public education and healthcare. One needs only to look at the growing frequency of corporate healthcare fraud, the proliferation of private schools, and the proposed Amendment 3 to see evidence of this.
Action is underway. Working class citizens can dismantle Amendment 3 by voting “No” come November and, more importantly, joining protesters from Florida’s labor unions, community and student groups in the streets.
The so-called “Religious Freedom” Amendment 8
The far right sees Florida as a testing ground for its neoliberal education reform schemes. The corporations seek to bust teachers unions and privatize education. Under the guise of ‘religious freedom,’ Amendment 8 will allow for-profit charter schools to take public funding from taxpayers.
Florida’s constitution, with its separation of church and state, prohibits religious institutions from receiving public funds. This is one of the last obstacles standing in the way of privatizing Florida’s education system via charter schools.
Former Republican Governor Jeb Bush, acting as a lobbyist for far-right organizations funded by the Koch Brothers, was handed a defeat in the Florida state legislature last year. A coalition of teachers unions, student groups and parent organizations shut down the so-called ‘parent-trigger’ bill. This bill would allow for-profit corporations to take over public schools designated by the state-imposed standards as “failing.” The corporate funded, far-right groups proposing the ‘parent-trigger’ legislation plan to bring the bill up again. They hope Amendment 8 will lay the groundwork for the 2013 legislative session.
In many ways, Amendment 8 paves the way for this corporate takeover of public education in Florida, under the false cover of religious freedom. The politicians are choking education with regulations that prevent raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. When Florida finds itself in this artificially created ‘budget crisis,’ charter schools and other private institutions falsely portray themselves as the solution. They can then consolidate the far-right plan to privatize public education.
Teachers, working people and students must vote “no” on Amendment 8 and in doing so, deal another decisive blow to the anti-democratic trend of privatizing the public education system.
Amendment 6: Women’s rights are once again in the Tea Party’s crossfire
With a state government dominated by Republicans, it is no surprise that women’s rights are under fire. Under the guise of moral decency, the patriarchs of the Florida state government are banding together in a crusade against women’s reproductive rights.
The conspicuously titled “Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions” amendment strictly states that no public funds, i.e. health care, shall be allocated towards abortion. This would prohibit the use of public funds for abortions except as required by federal law or to save the mother’s life.
Amendment 6 grossly violates human rights. Women will lose the right to choose. Women will be forced to parent without support. Women’s right to privacy will be violated. Politicians and other outsiders will be making life choices for women instead.
Women’s rights in Florida are under attack. If this amendment passes, it will lead to more amendments down the road further restricting women’s choices in their own lives. Vote “no” on Amendment 6 and protect the right to choose.
Amendment 12: The suppression of the student voice
In the past several years the attacks on education are reaching a record high. Extreme budget cuts result in yearly tuition hikes and the defunding of Bright Futures, the state scholarship program. These cuts affect many African-American, Latino and working-class students of all nationalities who struggle daily to afford higher education.
Students have limited representation in the state government. There is one student seat on the Board of Governors, reserved for the student body president of a Florida public university. The seat works on a rotation basis and each year a different university has their student body president sit on the Board of Governors. Seemingly fair, the system works to stifle the student voice by allowing only one representative to stand for tens of thousands.
However, Amendment 12 works to further suppress the student voice. If passed, it would give the power of choice to the Board of Governors in selecting the student body president who sits on board. It would eliminate the rotation between universities and ensure that the Board could choose someone who they believe would align with their agenda.
This amendment follows the year where Michael Long, New College’s student president, was very vocal and outspoken against tuition hikes. He gave the board some trouble when he voted against the hikes and voiced his concerns to the media. For representing the concerns of Florida’s students, right-wing politicians and the Board of Governors returned the favor by placing Amendment 12 on the ballot.
Amendment 12 will ensure that student body presidents like Michael Long will no longer be able to represent students. This will cause the student voice to become nothing more than an echo in the decision-making. Students, parents and educators need to vote a resounding “no” on Amendment 12 and continue organizing against education cuts.
Hope is in the people’s struggle, change is in the streets
With the exception of Amendment 1, which amounts to a non-binding referendum on the Affordable Care Act, the other amendments on the Florida ballot in 2012 all represent the interests of the far-right Florida state legislature and Governor Rick Scott. They would write more tax exemptions into the Constitution, to pave the way for more budget cuts. Amendments 2, 10, and 11, for instance, offer yet another tax exemption for property owners in Florida, and Amendment 4 restricts the ability of county and municipal governments to raise property tax revenue. In essence, this creates an artificial crisis, in which the state and local governments will claim they must cut the jobs of public employees, take away the right to collectively bargain, and slash funding for public schools in order to “balance the budget.”
We hope that Floridians vote overwhelmingly “no” on all eleven constitutional amendments on or before Nov. 6. However, we know that even dealing a blow to Governor Scott’s far-right agenda at the ballot box is not enough to stop the budget cuts and attacks on workers.
In order to build a better, stronger and more equal Florida with fully funded public education, robust trade unions, health care for all, good jobs for working people and full equality for women and oppressed people, we must continue to organize our movements in the streets. We need to organize a fight back into the coming year, defend what is good and build progressive movements with demands that challenge politicians of both parties to meet the needs of the people.