In a swift ruling, with opinions to follow, the Florida Supreme Court today just threw out three controversial amendments relating to property taxes and school vouchers on the grounds that they were improperly placed on the November ballot and are misleading to voters.
The ruling comes just four hours after the court finished hearing oral arguments on challenges to Amendments 5, 7 and 9 in a fast-tracked hearing Wednesday, intended to produce a ruling in time for the Friday deadline for the Secretary of State to certify the official ballot.
In an animated one-hour session, the justices left no doubt that they had numerous questions about whether the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which meets every 20 years, exceeded its authority when it voted to place the voucher amendments, Amendments 7 and 9, before voters.
The court also pummeled the attorneys with questions about whether Amendment 5, which would reduce property taxes by an average of 25 percent and force lawmakers to replace the money with sales and other taxes, is misleading.
Opponents to Amendment 5, including a large coalition of business, health care, education and other interest groups, argue that the ballot language misleads voters into thinking that if they eliminate property taxes that pay for schools, schools will be protected from budget cuts. In fact, the amendment specifies that the legislature must protect school spending only the year the amendment takes effect -- in 2010-11.
Proponents say the first year is the most important year since that is when lawmakers would have to come up with replacement money. They say the guarantee is not implied beyond that single year.