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Higher bar for new state taxes and fees clears Florida House

The Florida House of Representatives voted 80-29 Thursday to make it more difficult for a future Legislature to increase state taxes or fees.

Subject to approval by voters in a statewide referendum, the bill (HB 7001) would require a super-majority vote of two-thirds of both houses to raise revenue -- meaning that one third of the House or Senate could block future tax hikes.

Ten Democrats joined all Republicans present to give Speaker Richard Corcoran a cushion above the 72 votes needed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment.

“I believe that taking a citizen’s hard-earned money should not be done lightly,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach. “You either stand with the people whose money the government takes or you stand with the government that takes it, and I urge you today to stand with the people.”

Democrats who voted to put the question before voters included Reps. Kionne McGhee of Miami, the next House Democratic Leader; Katie Edwards-Walpole of Plantation and Shevrin Jones of West Park.

If the Senate follows the House in passing the proposal, it will be on the general election ballot on Nov. 6 and will need support from 60 percent of voters to become law.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, predicted the proposal would receive a positive reaction from senators.

“We have a proposal we’re moving on,” Negron said. “I think the majority of senators support having an extra-majority for a vote ... We know that’s a strong priority of the governor, and something that the speaker has also made a priority. So I think you’ll see that legislation move forward in plenty of time to get it in front of the Senate.”

As a proposed constitutional amendment, the proposal requires a three-fifths vote in the Senate, or yes votes from 24 of the 38 members (two seats are vacant). The Senate has 23 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

Making it harder to raise taxes is an election-year priority of Gov. Rick Scott, a term-limited Republican who’s considering running for the U.S. Senate against three-term Democrat Bill Nelson.

“I don’t see why we need to tie the hands of future Legislatures,” said Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, who voted no. “This is a short-sighted idea. I know it sounds good ... The fact is, we have a system. It has worked well for the people of Florida.”

Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, a candidate for attorney general, rattled off a series of areas in which he said Florida trails most other states because an imperative to keep taxes low has resulted in basic programs being underfunded.

Fifteen states already require super-majority votes for tax hikes, including Arizona, California, Michigan and Oregon.

The last big revenue increase approved by the Florida Legislature was in 2009, when a Republican-dominated House and Senate approved a $2 billion plan by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to plug a budget deficit with higher car registration fees and a cigarette tax increase. As Florida’s economy improved, the higher tag fees were eliminated under Scott.