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Jeff Atwater's 'push poll' question passes chamber

No shock here: The Republican-led Senate just passed Senate President Jeff Atwater's proposal asking voters in November if the federal government should have a balanced budget amendment. Party-line vote: 26-13.

But Democrats didn't like the idea of using the ballot to ask "nonbinding public opinion polls," in the words of Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

Said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville: "It's never wrong to ask the people what they think."

But Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said this referendum "is more of a push poll" that's biased and won't shed much light on what people think. Gelber read the language:

In order to stop the uncontrolled growth of our national debt and prevent excessive borrowing by the Federal Government, which threatens jobs, robs America and our children of their opportunity for success, and threatens our national security, should the United States Constitution be amended to require a balanced federal budget without raising taxes?

Gelber is running for attorney general as is Democratic Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres, who missed the vote.

Another Dem, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, wondered why the Republicans didn't want to ask voters about what's going on in the state Capitol, where money for the elderly and disabled is being cut and where school funding remains relatively low compared to other states.

"If we're going to ask the people of this state what their views are," he said. "We ought to ask them what their views are on what's going on here."

Republicans didn't discuss the issues of the phrasing of the ballot language or the fact that GOP state leaders are trying to finger-point at a Democratic congress. They pointed out that the $14 trillion federal debt is concerning more and more people and, to that end, they've voted out a request to convene a Constitutional Convention to require a balanced budget in the U.S. Constitution.

"We've got to stop this debt. It's on autopilot," said Gary Richter, R-Naples.

There's one expense taxpayers won't have to worry about: The $80,000 estimated cost of putting the question before voters. Sen. Joe Negron said the fiscal note was stripped from the legislation because the referendum is going on the regular November ballot, so there's no extra cost.