POLITICS -- April 16, 2010 at 3:08 PM ET
Patchwork Nation: Land-Use Measure Could Create More Varied Florida
The story of Florida over the past half-century has been a story of real estate. Booms and busts and disputes between developers and preservationists can be deep and lead to tensions within communities in the state.
But in November the stakes will get a lot higher for the Sunshine State, with a ballot proposal known as Amendment 4. The measure, in 54 simple words, would dramatically change the state's politics by giving more power to voters and, with its focus on direct democracy, would make Florida feel a lot more like California.
The proposal would put many decisions about land use directly in the hands of the voters. "Before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan," it says, "the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum."
The door would open to thousands of local votes on a host of issues - from parking lots to nature preserves. That means a state where the politics are already charged could get a lot more intense and be headed toward some bigger changes.
A gangly teen growing up
The NewsHour has spent this past week in Florida, looking at the "Spotlight City" of Tampa, but also looking at issues effecting the entire state. One thing is clear: It is a place in transition.
"Florida is an adolescent," Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness, told us last week. In the recent decades it has grown bigger, stronger, and more powerful. "But there hasn't been much intellectual growth yet."
The state still lacks a true world-class university, Mr. Snaith noted, and its policies, particularly tax policies, have been more focused on plugging short-term holes than on fixing longer-term problems. There is no income tax in Florida and, to compensate, property taxes are high - and can vary for a range of reasons, including years of residency. That has meant huge problems in the housing crunch and the rash of foreclosures that have accompanied it.
Amendment 4 suggests that as Florida grows and starts to deal with some of these issues, people there are interested in trying to seize more direct control over where the state is going. What's wrong with that? Nothing. But it suggests that politics could get a lot more complicated and that the state could change dramatically.
What are we voting on, again?
By one estimate, Lake County, the "Emptying Nest" that Patchwork Nation has been following for the past two years, would have seen more than 700 referendum measures since 2000, if Amendment 4 had been state law. That's a lot of votes, a lot of issues to understand and a lot of ways for people to register support or disdain.
In the context of Patchwork Nation, it's easy to see that Amendment 4 and measures like it could create a much more varied Florida. A main idea behind Patchwork Nation is that states are too big to easily classify and that counties are more culturally, economically and politically coherent.
Florida's big November ballot measure -- should it pass -- would further prove that point. Anyone who has driven the highways of the Sunshine State will tell you there are different attitudes toward growth -- and many other things -- in Lake County and Miami-Dade County.
Those differences will probably only be exacerbated if direct governance becomes a bigger part of how things are done. Come November, Florida -- already a big, complex amalgam of people and attitudes -- may well be on its way to becoming more of a mix and less of a cohesive whole.
This entry is cross-posted from the Christian Science Monitor's Patchwork Nation site.