Herald Tribune Predicts Busy New Year for Voters

1/1/18 Herald Tribune editorial

In an era when world events could turn cataclysmic with one errant missile or a confrontational tweet, it is difficult to make predictions about the year ahead with any certainty.

But, barring catastrophe on a grand scale, we are confident that Floridians and the people of Manatee and Sarasota counties will make significant decisions, in both the voting booth and the public square, this year.

Following are summaries of some defining outcomes to be determined. (We will address them in future editorials.)

• Elections

Like it or not, 2018 is an election year. While the presidency is not on the ballot — at least not technically — Florida voters will face a barrage of contests that take on additional meaning due to President Trump’s performance. The race for one of Florida’s two seats in the U.S. Senate is likely to be close, contentious and costly. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, whose races could be more competitive than in the recent past due to Trump and the tax bill, will be up for re-election.

Statewide, a new governor will be elected for the first time in eight years and seats in the state House will be open.

Locally, majorities of the school boards and near-majorities of the county commissions in Manatee and Sarasota will be determined by voters; as usual, a wide range of other offices that receive less attention will also be on ballots.

• School-tax referendums

In March, voters in both Manatee and Sarasota counties will decide whether to approve special, 1-mill taxes for public-school operations.

Conducting special, stand-alone elections in March has generated controversy, especially in Manatee — which has proposed this tax for the first time. (Sarasota County voters have approved the levy in four consecutive springtime referendums during the past 16 years.)

Whatever the timing, the fundamental questions are: Do voters value public education enough to tax themselves in order to supplement Florida’s mediocre funding of schools? Do voters trust the School Board and superintendent? Are the reasons for approving the tax and proposed expenditures of the revenue clearly defined and easy to understand? Do voters see these initiatives as widely supported by the community or driven by government?

• Constitutional amendments

A 37-member Constitution Revision Commission has been meeting, as required every 20 years in Florida, and will propose amendments to the state’s guiding document for consideration by voters in November.

Most amendments to the state constitution have substantial, long-lasting impacts on the lives of Floridians. For instance, the CRC has considered proposals that would restrict personal-privacy rights, change the threshold for the Legislature to raise taxes, and extend the state’s prohibition on smoking in most indoor restaurants to “vaping” devices.

In order for a proposal to amend the constitution, it must be approved by a super-majority of the CRC and then endorsed by more than 60 percent of Florida’s general-election voters. The commission’s public hearings resume in February. For more information, go to www.flcrc.gov.

It will be a busy year for conscientious voters — an important one for those who want to rise above the rancor.