Florida Voters Reject ‘Hometown Democracy’ Measure

Published November 13, 2010

Florida voters on Election Day overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have required a local referendum on each and every proposed change in city, town, and county comprehensive land-use plans.

“The ultimate result was a collective sigh of relief from Florida’s business community,” said Robert F. Sanchez, policy director at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Florida.

Sanchez said thousands of Florida businesses and people who rely on them for jobs “felt the effects of the nationwide recession and didn’t want this amendment delaying the recovery when it finally occurs.”

Just 32 Percent Support
Approximately two of every three voters opposed the amendment. As with all constitutional amendments in the state, it needed to receive at least 60 percent approval to be enacted. It received approximately 32 percent support.

Proponents dubbed the proposal “The Hometown Democracy Amendment.” Supporters included environmental groups, some civic associations, and growth-limitation advocates.

Blaming Business
Lesley Blackner, president of Florida Hometown Democracy, blasted special interests in a statement: “Unfortunately, it is very difficult to have a rational discussion of a solution to Florida’s horrible growth management problem in 30-second television ads that cost millions of dollars to air. Voters were subjected to the full financial power of those special interests that are committed to maintaining a death grip on their ability to control the status quo of sprawl and overbuilding in our state. We nonetheless respect the voters’ judgment at the ballot box.”

Proponents pitched the measure as a way to counter the political influence they allege developers have over Florida’s city and county officials. Their official Web site portrayed “a rogue’s gallery of corrupt Florida politicians and developers” whom it accused of working together to the detriment of the state.

‘Bad Planning’
The business community and other opponents of the proposition argued the amendment would damage Florida’s business climate and cost the state jobs during the current economic stagnation and in the future.

Opponents included a coalition of business groups and trade unions that spent more than $11 million on advertising against the measure.

“Amendment 4 was bad planning all the way around. It’s one of those few issues that could unite planners, Smart Growth proponents, and free market developers in opposition,” said Sam Staley, director of urban and land use policy at Reason Foundation. “If it had passed, the ultimate effect would have been to virtually stop all development, since any new change to existing land use plans would have had to go to popular referenda.
“Comprehensive and master plans are static by design,” Staley said. “So, in order to keep up with market changes, plans have to be amended. By requiring all plan changes to go to popular vote, development costs would have skyrocketed and the housing market would have atrophied. But, in truth, that was probably the intent of Amendment 4 supporters anyway.”

Steve Stanek ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Finance, Insurance & Real Estate News.