Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tallahassee, FL - Court Rejects Voucher Amendment That Could Have Led Tax Dollars Go To Religious Schools

Tallahassee, FL - Making a major change in this fall’s elections, the Florida Supreme Court rejected three proposed constitutional amendments that would have cut property taxes and helped clear the way for taxpayer-funded school vouchers.
Justices issued unanimous orders barring the controversial amendments from going onto the November ballot.
The decisions came after a hearing in which justices hammered attorneys about whether the state’s Taxation and Budget Reform Commission overstepped its authority in placing the voucher amendments on the ballot and used misleading language in the property-tax amendment.
Palm Coast Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, one of the plaintiffs in the vouchers case, praised the court for rejecting amendments that could have led to tax dollars going to religious schools.“I think it’s a victory for the people of Florida in the end,” said Shapiro, vice president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
But Margie Patchett, executive director of Volusia Tax Reform, a group that has long pushed for property-tax cuts, was disappointed in the ruling on the tax amendment.“People are going to be upset, very, very upset, because this was the only tax-reform measure out there,” Patchett said.
The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, a powerful appointed panel, decided this spring to put the proposals — known as Amendments 5, 7 and 9 — on the November ballot. Amendment 9, would have changed part of the constitution that the Supreme Court used in 2006 to strike down a voucher program pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. That part of the constitution deals with how the state will make “adequate provision” for public schools.
But the measures drew opposition from coalitions of groups that filed lawsuits to try to kill them.
A Leon County circuit judge rejected the tax proposal but approved the vouchers proposals.After hearing arguments on the appeals, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of issuing orders just hours later. Justices moved quickly, as election officials work to finalize November ballots.

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