Amendment supporting Florida minimum wage increase headed toward passage


 With nearly all of the precincts reporting, Floridians appear to have approved an amendment to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.

Out of more than 10.4 million votes cast, and with more than 90 percent of precincts reporting, 60.78 percent of Floridians voted “yes” on the measure, just barely crossing the 60 percent threshold that constitutional amendments need for approval.

Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who spent millions trying to get the amendment passed, said “God answered my prayers.”

“Tonight the people of Florida gave the working poor a forever raise,” Morgan said in a text message. “This was not a political issue, it was a moral issue.”

The amendment increases the state’s minimum wage from $8.56 to $10 in September next year, then go up by $1 each year until it reaches $15 in 2026. Florida will be the eighth state where the minimum wage will be set at $15 in the near future.

It was one of the most-contested ballot issues this year, with many businesses and corporations saying it would be ruinous, particularly during a pandemic.

“Just throw another one on. We’ll see if the camel’s back breaks,” said Bill Herrle, executive director for Florida chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. “This has been a very difficult, challenging year for small business, and 2021 is going to make it more challenging.”

Supporters said it would lift tens of thousands out of poverty and give them more wealth to spend. Because of the number of low-wage service jobs, Florida’s average income is just 87.4 percent of the national average, a figure that’s been on the decline for the past three years.

Whitney Williams, 32, who works two jobs in Tampa, said the proposal could be life-changing.

“Right now I’m currently working 14-hour shifts just to make ends meet, and I don’t get to spend as much time with my family,” Williams said.

Here’s how the other five amendments on the ballot fared:

Amendment 1: Citizenship Requirement to Vote in Florida Elections

An amendment that would add just two words to the state constitution passed easily, capturing nearly 90 percent of the vote.

The amendment tweaks the wording of the constitution to say that “only a citizen" of the United States can vote. Currently, it says that “every citizen" can vote.

To some, including the League of Women Voters, it was a distinction without a difference.

But the chairman of the committee advocating for the amendment said the change could prevent cities from allowing noncitizens to vote. San Francisco, for example, started allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections.

Amendment 3: All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet

The amendment to open up the state’s primary elections to all registered voters failed, falling at least 3 percentage points short.

Currently, only registered Democrats can vote in Democratic primaries, and only registered Republicans can vote in Republican primaries. About a quarter of the state’s voters, who aren’t affiliated with a party, have no say in the primaries.

Amendment 3 would have created one primary election for governor, state Legislature and Cabinet-level races, with Democrats and Republicans competing against each other and all voters permitted to cast ballots.

The two highest vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. Often known as a “jungle primary,” it could have meant that two Democrats or two Republicans face each other in the general election.

The proposal was strongly opposed by both parties.

Supporters of the amendment said allowing nonpartisan voters into the primary process would lead to more moderate candidates being elected. Others feared it could hurt minority representation in the Legislature by opening primaries in predominantly-Black Democratic districts to white Republican and independent voters.

Amendment 4: Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments

An amendment intended to make it much harder to pass constitutional amendments also failed, not even earning 50 percent of the vote.

The amendment would have required future constitutional amendments to receive 60 percent of the vote in two elections, rather than one, to take effect.

The idea was backed by a group calling itself Keep Our Constitution Clean. The group spent nearly $9 million on the effort, but the source of the funding is unknown. Some suspect it’s backed by the utility industry.

In the last two decades, voters have used the ballot initiative process to allow felons to vote, to require lawmakers to draw up fair legislative districts and to conserve state land.

Opponents of Amendment 4 said future amendments would have been much harder to pass since the requirement to gather more than 700,000 signatures to make it on the ballot can cost well over $1 million.

Amendment 5: Limitation on Homestead Assessments

Floridians easily passed an amendment to clean up a loophole in the so-called “Save Our Homes” tax benefit.

Currently, Floridians who move from one homestead property to another have two years from Jan. 1 of the year of the sale of the first home to claim the tax benefit. This would give homeowners an additional year to do so.

The idea was proposed by the Legislature, where it passed mostly without opposition this year. A Florida House analysis says the measure will cost local governments about $10.2 million per year when fully enacted.

Under the state’s “Save Our Homes” law, homeowners who claim a homestead exemption can have their home’s taxable value increase by, at most, 3 percent per year. But the market value of a home may outpace that growth. The difference between a home’s assessed value and its taxable value is the “Save Our Homes” benefit.

For example, A homeowner sells their home for $250,000 but is only paying taxes equal to a value of $175,000 because of the “Save our Homes” rule. Then that homeowner buys a new home for $400,000. That homeowner would get to avoid paying taxes on at least $75,000 of the new homestead property’s value, but only if they claim the benefit in time.

Amendment 6: Ad Valorem Tax Discount for Spouses of Certain Deceased Veterans Who Had Permanent, Combat-Related Disabilities

The amendment that would help the spouses of some Florida veterans also passed easily, with nearly 90 percent of the vote so far.

The proposal applies to spouses of veterans who were honorably discharged, over the age of 65 and have been permanently disabled by combat. Those veterans can get a discount on their property taxes.

The amendment would allow those spouses to continue to claim the tax exemption after the veteran’s death, as long as the spouse holds title to the property and permanently lives there. The spouse also would be able to transfer the exemption to a new property in some cases.

The idea originated in the Legislature, where it passed without opposition. It’s estimated to cost local governments about $4 million per year if enacted.