Florida construction interests are fighting furiously against a proposed state constitutional amendment that would require voter approval of all changes to local land-use plans.

Known as Amendment 4, the measure landed on the Nov. 2 ballot after the group promoting it, Florida Hometown Democracy, garnered more than 600,000 signatures to its petition.

According to the ballot language, Amendment 4 “establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum.”

Construction and development groups say this would cause future projects to be significantly delayed or cancelled.

“If Amendment 4 passes, construction jobs will go away because business won't expand in Florida and new business will go to other states,” says Mark P. Wylie, president and CEO of the Central Florida Chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors in Orlando.

“What projects there are will be strung out for months, if not years, waiting for the next ballot to go out,” he adds.

Rex Kirby, president and general manager for Suffolk Construction Co. in West Palm Beach, says the amendment will add a layer of bureaucracy that will make Florida less attractive to development

“The process of getting a planned project through approval will become so cumbersome that we will lose companies that want to expand or relocate to Florida,” he says. “Why come here when other states will bend over backwards to land a company bringing jobs to their area? Imagine the cost associated with putting these issues to vote, and the delay in actually getting the vote scheduled.

“Let those educated in making land use changes make them,” Kirby adds.

“It’s the last thing we need during this down economy,” adds R. Bruce Kershner, executive vice president of the Underground Utility Contractors of Florida in Longwood. “Passing this fatally flawed constitutional amendment will be the death knell for our industry.”

A group known as Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy is leading the opposition to Amendment 4. It cited a report conducted by the Washington Economics Group of Coral Gables, Fla., that indicated the potential impact to Florida’s economic output at as much as $34 billion annually. The report also projected that more than 40,000 construction jobs would be “endangered” by its passage.

The St. Petersburg Times, and its PolitiFact website, however, rated the report’s claim of a $34-billion impact as “barely true,” citing the opinions of several independent economists working at universities around the state.

“The opponents use a scary number of $34 billion in lost economic output based on assumptions that other economists … say aren't knowable,” PolitiFact concluded. “Everybody agrees the amendment would have some impact, but how much isn't known.”

Opponents also cite increased costs due to additional elections that will need to be held. But a state analysis concluded that “The amendment’s impact on local government expenditures cannot be estimated precisely,” according to ballot language. The state did indicate that local government expenditures would be impacted, however. Florida Hometown Democracy says that no special elections would be required, and that questions over land-use plans could be included with regularly scheduled elections.

It has been reported that the statewide annual average for amendments to land-use plans was nearly 8,000 between 2001 and 2005.

Wayne Garcia, communications director with the Yes On 4 campaign in Tampa, countered that the initiative could lower costs to taxpayers, contrary to opponents’ charges.

“The fact is that nobody can predict the additional cost, and that is what the Legislature's staff found when it came up with the ballot language about fiscal impact,” Garcia says. “We wrote the amendment to limit any cost to taxpayers and, we believe, by giving them veto power over bad developments that they would end up subsidizing with their property taxes, the net effect of Amendment 4 will be to lower taxes, not raise them.”

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