Florida Voters Approved a $15 Minimum Wage, Rejected Top-Two Open Primary Elections
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Florida Voters Approved a $15 Minimum Wage, Rejected Top-Two Open Primary Elections

Examining the results of statewide ballot initiatives and their potential impacts on Florida.

Florida voters weighed in on six statewide ballot initiatives this year. While most proposals that were approved will have a relatively small effect on the state and its citizens, the $15 per hour minimum wage amendment, which narrowly passed, will have far-reaching consequences.

Also approved were two initiatives that will alter the state homestead tax, as well as a small change to language on voting rights in the state constitution.

Voters rejected proposed limitations on future ballot initiatives and the establishment of a top-two open primary election system.

Each of the statewide ballot amendments, and their potential impacts, are examined in further detail below.

Amendment 1: Citizen Requirement for Voting (Passed With 79 Percent of the Vote)

Amendment 1, which passed with an overwhelming 79 percent of the vote, will change the wording in the state constitution to say that “only citizens” of the United States, rather than “every citizen” of the United States, are allowed to vote in Florida’s state elections.

Proponents argued that the existing language was clear as to who is allowed to vote but does not adequately specify who is not allowed to vote. However, citizenship is, in fact, already required to vote in state elections. The amendment will merely change the language, but not the meaning, of the state constitution, and will have no meaningful impact.

Amendment 2: $15 Per Hour Minimum Wage (Passed With 60.8 Percent of the Vote)

Florida voters narrowly approved Amendment 2, with it getting just 0.8 percent above the 60 percent threshold required to pass ballot initiatives in Florida.

Amendment 2 will gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by the year 2026.

Economic theory on the subject is clear: minimum wage laws lead to unemployment. However, empirical findings on minimum wage increases are somewhat mixed. Findings vary depending mostly on research methods and the size of the minimum wage increases being studied.

In general, larger increases in hourly minimum wages are more consistently found to have negative impacts on both workers and consumers by lowering employment opportunities and increasing the price of goods and services. There is also evidence that minimum wage increases have larger negative employment effects during recessions than during periods of economic growth, when businesses may be better able to absorb additional costs.

Over time, Amendment 2 will nearly double Florida’s current minimum wage of $8.56 an hour. A hike of that scale will potentially have devastating consequences for workers in the state, particularly in the tourism and hospitality industries at the heart of Florida’s economy. The impact on those industries could be particularly severe in the short-term, amid high levels of unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the state’s workers may experience an increase in hourly income but it may come at the expense of employment opportunities for younger and lower-skilled workers.

An analysis from the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research found that a $15 per hour minimum wage will have a significant negative impact on state and local government budgets. There will be approximately $16 million in increased wage costs for government agencies in the first year of implementation. By 2027, the government’s costs for paying higher wages are projected to reach $540 million.

There may also be positive fiscal impacts through increased sales tax revenue and decreased participation in public assistance programs. However, these positive impacts could be offset by reduced consumption and job losses.

Amendment 3: Top-Two Open Primary for State Offices (Failed, 57 Percent of the Vote)

Florida voters rejected Amendment 3, which proposed replacing partisan primaries with a top-two open primary election system. The amendment got 57 percent of the vote, which is lower than the 60 percent required.

Under the proposed primary election system, candidates from each party would appear on the same ballot and the top two candidates receiving the most votes would advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Any registered voter would be allowed to participate in the primary election, not just party members.

Only two other states, Washington and California, have implemented this form of a primary election system.

While increasing voter participation and encouraging moderation are laudable goals, Floridians were wise to reject this particular proposal. Political parties are fundamentally private organizations with the right to set their own rules for nominating candidates. To infringe on that right is to violate the freedom of association.

Going forward, the state could consider ranked-choice voting, which provides a much better solution than top-two open primaries. Under ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates by preference rather than casting a single vote. If no candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. That candidate’s votes are then redistributed based on voters’ ranked preferences. This process is repeated until one candidate receives a majority.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to choose their most-preferred candidate first without worrying about wasted votes or spoiler effects. This would give voters more choices and provide greater opportunities for minor party candidates. If Floridians want to encourage non-partisan and moderate voters to participate in the election process, they should consider implementing ranked-choice voting rather than top-two open primaries.

Amendment 4: Require Constitutional Amendments to Be Passed Twice (Failed, 52.5 Percent of the Vote)

Floridians also rejected a proposal to require that statewide ballot initiatives be passed in two successive elections before being enacted. Amendment 4 received 52.5 percent of votes, falling short of the 60 percent threshold.

Ironically, the proposal’s failure demonstrates the high bar already required to pass ballot initiatives in Florida. Colorado is the only other state that requires a supermajority for citizen initiatives.

This outcome is a win for Florida voters.

Limitations on direct democracy empower the legislature, executive, and special interests to the detriment of citizens. While ballot initiatives can at times be considered frivolous, others have delivered meaningful reforms for Florida, such as legalizing medical marijuana and restoring voting rights to felons.

Proponents’ concerns about overcrowding the state constitution with unnecessary amendments are not without merit, but there are better alternatives to “keep our constitution clean.” For example, statute initiatives, which would simply change state law, would provide citizens with a channel for self-governance without placing minor policy changes in the state constitution. Twenty-one other states in the nation allow for statute initiatives.

Amendment 5: Extend “Save Our Homes” Portability Period (Passed, 74.5 Percent of the Vote)

Voters approved Amendment 5 which made a minor technical change to Florida’s homestead property tax exemption, also referred to as the “Save Our Homes” provision. The provision exempts $25,000 of the value of a primary residence from property taxes. So, if a primary residence in Florida has an assessed value of $225,000, the owner would pay property taxes on just $200,000.

The law previously allowed someone, until the end of the second year after selling a permanent residence, to transfer their homestead tax benefit to a new residence. Amendment 5 will increase this provision to the end of the third year.

While homestead property tax exemptions are not a simple or fair way to reduce property tax burdens, Amendment 5 is only aimed at fixing a technical error with the intended timing in the portability of the benefit. Its impact is therefore minor and consistent with the existing tax policy.

Amendment 6: Homestead Property Tax Discount for Spouses of Deceased Veterans (Passed, 89.7 Percent)

Amendment 6 received the largest share of favorable votes among the six initiatives on the statewide ballot in Florida. It got nearly 90 percent of the vote.

Current Florida law discounts the property taxes of combat-disabled veterans proportionate to their degree of disability. Prior to Amendment 6, the property tax discount ended when the veteran died. Now, Amendment 6 will transfer the discount to the veteran’s surviving spouse upon the death of the veteran and allow the spouse to transfer the dollar amount of the tax discount to a new home. If the spouse remarries, the benefit will end.

Broad-based tax cuts, not picking favored parties, are the most effective and fair form of tax cuts.  However, the intent of the veterans’ property tax discount is clearly to provide an ongoing benefit to combat veterans who suffer as a result of their military service. Extending the benefit to the veteran’s spouse upon their death may help some families avoid making homeownership decisions based on an increase in anticipated costs after the veteran’s death and could help avoid making the impact of their passing even harder on their spouses.

The provision is relatively minor and will not have a significant financial impact on the state. However, there will be a slight negative impact on local property tax revenues. An analysis from the Florida Revenue Estimating Conference found that the change will reduce local property tax receipts by $1.8 million beginning in the fiscal year 2021-2022, increasing to $10.2 million annually by the fiscal year 2025-2026.