Florida Amendments 2008 – Voter’s Guide

In the general election on November 4th (or earlier if you’re voting early), there are 6 proposed amendments (numbers 1, 2, 3, 6 and 8 ) to the Florida Constitution. Here are some quick facts for you:

Each amendment proposed affects some language in the Constitution of the State of Florida. You will be voting “yes” to approve the proposed amendment or “no” to disapprove.

Proposed Amendment 1

This amendment would change existing language in the Constitution from Article I, Section 2.

On your ballot:

Declaration of Rights

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to delete provisions authorizing the Legislature to regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition, and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship.

What it means

  • Vote “yes” if you want the Legislature to no longer be authorized to affect the ability of aliens (foreigners) who cannot obtain citizenship in the US to own or deal in real estate.
  • Vote “no” if you want the Florida Legislature to continue to have the authority to regulate this activity.

Proposed Amendment 2 – Florida Marriage Protection Amendment

This amendment would add a new section to the Constitution.

On your ballot:

This amendment protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

The direct financial impact this amendment will have on state and local government revenues and expenditures cannot be determined, but is expected to be minor.

What it means

  • Vote “yes” if you want the traditional definition of marriage as “one man and one woman” to be the working definition of the term in the State of Florida
  • Vote “no” if you do not want to keep the traditional definition of word “marriage”

For more information, read our position on Florida Amendment 2

Proposed Amendment 3

This amendment would change existing language in the Constitution in Article VII, Sections 3 and 4 and would add a new section in Article XI.

On your ballot:

Changes and Improvements Not Affecting the Assessed Value of Residential Real Property

Authorizes the Legislature, by general law, to prohibit consideration of changes or improvements to residential real property which increase resistance to wind damage and installation of renewable energy source devices as factors in assessing the propertyâ€s value for ad valorem taxation purposes. Effective upon adoption, repeals the existing renewable energy source device exemption no longer in effect.

What it means

  • Vote “yes” if you want to allow the Florida Legislature to have the authority to prevent upgrades to homes in Florida that are installed specifically for the purpose of A) protecting it from wind damage (hurricanes and tornadoes) or B) adding alternative energy (such as solar) from changing the value of the home for the purpose of property tax assessments. In short: if you spend money to protect your house, you won’t be penalized with property taxes (assuming the Legislature actually uses this new-found authority and passes a law to prohibit you from being taxed on this kind of thing).
  • Vote “no” if you do not want the Legislature to have the power to prevent you from being taxed on these upgrades.

Proposed Amendment 4

This amendment would change existing language in the Constitution in Article VII, Sections 3 & 4  and in Article XII, Section 28

On your ballot:

Property Tax Exemption of Perpetually Conserved Land; Classification and Assessment of Land Used for Conservation

Requires Legislature to provide a property tax exemption for real property encumbered by perpetual conservation easements or other perpetual conservation protections, defined by general law. Requires Legislature to provide for classification and assessment of land used for conservation purposes, and not perpetually encumbered, solely on the basis of character or use. Subjects assessment benefit to conditions, limitations, and reasonable definitions established by general law. Applies to property taxes beginning in 2010.

What it means

  • Vote “yes” if you want land owned by taxpayers in Florida which cannot be developed because of conservation easements (e.g. the land has been declared a natural wildlife habitat) or because the owners have chosen to use the land for the purposes of conservation (e.g. there isn’t a conservation easement, but the property is being used like there is one) from being taxed like other land.
  • Vote “no” if you do not want to provide this tax exemption.

Proposed Amendment 6

This amendment would change existing language in the Constitution in Article VII, Section 4 and would add a new section in Article XII.

On your ballot:

Assessment of Working Waterfront Property Based Upon Current Use

Provides for assessment based upon use of land used predominantly for commercial fishing purposes; land used for vessel launches into waters that are navigable and accessible to the public; marinas and drystacks that are open to the public; and water-dependent marine manufacturing facilities, commercial fishing facilities, and marine vessel construction and repair facilities and their support activities, subject to conditions, limitations, and reasonable definitions specified by general law.

What it means

  • Vote “yes” if you want waterfront land used for the purposes listed above to have its property tax assessments reflect its usage. In other words, it’s one thing to operate a marina or a boat launch on your waterfront property. It’s another thing to build luxury condos there. This amendment would allow for the property taxes assessed to account for this type of distinction.
  • Vote “no” if you do not want to provide this distinction for assessed property taxes.

Proposed Amendment 8

This amendment would change existing language in the Constitution in Article VII, Section 9.

On your ballot:

Local Option Community College Funding

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to require that the Legislature authorize counties to levy a local option sales tax to supplement community college funding; requiring voter approval to levy the tax; providing that approved taxes will sunset after 5 years and may be reauthorized by the voters.

What it means

  • Vote “yes” if you the Legislature to allow counties to use a sales tax hike to raise money for community colleges. The counties would have to allow citizens to vote and approve the sales tax increase, which would automatically expire in 5 years unless a new vote authorizes it to be renewed (in 5-year increments).
  • Vote “no” if you do not want the Legislature to allow counties to levy sales tax increases for this purpose.

Was This Useful?

I hope it was helpful for you to have a preview of what’s on your ballot and some simple explanations of what these amendments are all about. If so, please leave a comment!

Florida Amendment 2 – Voter’s Guide

I’ve held off for a long time writing about Florida Amendment Two, in part because the issue seems so polarized for reasons that can be counterproductive to reasonable, rational debate.

I do have a position on it, however, and I feel like the time has come to make it known. Before I do so, here are a couple of fundamentals just for the sake of covering the facts and making them abundantly clear.

Facts on Amendment Two

First, here’s the text of Florida Amendment 2:

“In as much as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Secondly, let’s make it clear. The amendment is deceptively simple. It defines the word “marriage” by the historic, traditional definition of the term as it relates to monogamous heterosexual legal union.

Now for some thoughts:

  • It is ludicrous for Amendment Two — or any amendment of its kind — to ever be required.
  • But this is precisely why I believe it is important that Florida passes Amendment 2.
  • Setting aside all the rhetoric representing “left” or “right,” it is critical that this amendment be passed because it puts a stop to the disgusting trend of undermining the law simply by redefining terms.

In case you’re new to this particular strategy, it happens when lawmakers or courts (judges) — or anyone else, for that matter — decide to push a particular agenda in a less-than-forthright manner. They decide to substitute a “new” or “modern” definition for a term whose meaning has been long established so that they can cause existing laws or established legal framework to come to mean something quite different than intended.

For the record, I am in favor of creating an environment that addresses the legal needs of today.  It is dangerous, however, to do so by this method. Essentially any law or legal traditon, including any right — whether property right, moral right, or civil right — is subject to being eroded or stolen when we resort to “redefining terms.”

So, for those who believe in the fundamental rule of law, this amendment is important.  Send a message loud and clear to the judges and others attempting to influence legislation that we, as Americans, will not tolerate underhanded methods that bypass the legal means to bring changes to our laws.

Amendment Two, if passed, will send this message.

The Bottom Line on Amendment 2

I urge you to vote for Florida Amendment 2.  Let’s bring the complex legal issues that are raised by the debate around Amendment Two before the legislative bodies that have jurisdiction and handle them as intended by the Florida Constitution — not by circumventing them through semantics.

Is Ad Surf Daily a Scam?

I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends and business associates about the Ad Surf Daily Cash Generator program. Now that the US Attorney’s office has seized assets and filed suit, with Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum right behind, it seems likely that the program will not continue.

A Few Facts

Initially, I was approached by people who wanted me to look at the program to see if it seemed legit. My friends know that I do not join multi-level marketing programs, nor anything that seems like it might be a network marketing venture. Nonetheless, I took a peek at this program to find out if there was anything suspect about it on behalf of those friends.

The first clue that there might be something “up” was that people were wondering if it might be a scam.  Why? Well… the good old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true…” comes to mind.

Here’s the premise: you sign up for the program (even with a free account, if you prefer) under a sponsor. You then begin to “auto surf” ads every day. There are rewards for doing this, including the right to place a website of your own into the ad rotating system so that other people will be forced to view your site.

At this point, it sounds a little bit like a modified version of Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC).  With PPC, which most people are familiar with because of the right-hand side of your Google search results, advertisers bid to have their ad show up on certain sites and then only pay when someone “clicks” on their ad.

Ad Surf Daily seems to provide a cost-effective way to do this… at first glance.

But what you quickly learn is that the vast majority of people who join (and later “purchase ad packages”) don’t actually have anything to advertise. So… the question becomes, “Why are they signing up?”

It turns out that if you “purchase ad packages,” (which the US Attorney’s Office has now labeled “investing”) you have the opportunity to “earn rebates” by faithfully viewing advertisements every day.  I won’t get into the mathematics of it, but let’s just say that this appears to be highly profitable because you can earn more in rebates than you “purchased.”

There are numerous incentives and rewards built into the program that are designed to get you to purchase more ad packages. Also, as a member of the program, you are incentivized to leave your earnings in the program because the higher your “cash balance,” the more rebates you’ll be able to earn.  You can even increase your rate of earnings by paying for a monthly membership at several different levels.  There are even big rallies where you can obtain much larger bonuses by “purchasing” ad packages on the spot…

And… of course, there are commissions.  This is where some of the biggest incentives are.  This is the part where you convince your friends and family (or even random acquaintances, like some of the people who have spammed my inbox about this) to sign up under you.

I Smell A Rat…

If you’re around the participants for very long, you hear amazing stories of large cash payouts. You hear about credit card debt being wiped out, even millionaires being created.  All of this occurs in short periods of time.  You hear about the explosive growth.  You hear about the founder, Andy Bowdoin, and his impressive award that was given to him by the President of the United States.  You hear about his many successful businesses over the years.  You also watch videos online which focus repeatedly on “we’re good guys” without providing any substantive information about why you should expect this program to continue.

But I have a fundamental question:

If the bulk of the customers have no need for the item they are purchasing, where is the value that this company is actually bringing to the marketplace?

In other words, they claim their goal is to be the biggest seller of online advertising in the world. They even claim to be threatening Google’s position as market leader.  But one thing I’ve noticed… the people/companies buying ads from Google (and other PPC establishments) have one thing in common: they all have something to advertise.

One friend of mine has a local contracting business.  My question for him was, “What are you advertising in the ASD system that people might be interested in purchasing?”  The answer: his local contracting business.  My next thought is, “What the heck does someone in Bolivia do when they see an ad for a contracting business in Florida?”

As a marketer, my next thought after that is… that’s a little bit like buying a billboard on a California freeway for your McDonald’s in Memphis.

Poor use of advertising dollars.

Not so poor, perhaps, for those who have a digital product with universal appeal, or perhaps those selling something that can be purchased and then shipped anywhere in the world.  Again, however, the key would be that it has universal appeal.

Like… toothbrushes.  We all need those, right?

Anyway…

Is It Sustainable?

Back to my fundamental question.  How long can this program carry on — even if they’re careful not to promise to pay out too much money in “rebates” — when their basic product is not needed by the people who are purchasing it today?

Can it be that the only reason they are buying advertising is so that they can earn a rebate?

The answer is: absolutely, 100%, unequivocally, “yes!”

And that, my friends, creates a problem: as soon as the market figures out that:

a. there are better ways to buy advertising, and

b. this is only sustainable as long as there are more people willing to buy something they don’t need,

the whole thing comes tumbling down…

…not unlike a Ponzi scheme.

Precisely, by the way, what the US Attorney in Washington D.C., otherwise known as the Attorney General, concluded.

Is anyone guilty of a crime here? Well… that remains to be seen.  In the meantime, no one is surfing the “ads.” No one is “purchasing ads,” and nobody is spending the $53M in cash that was seized while the investigation and the lawsuits proceed.

Bad news for those who used their life savings to buy something they didn’t need.

Syesha Coming Home to Sarasota… But Just for a Visit!

After this week’s emotional round on American Idol, it’s official, Syesha is in the AI Season 7 Top 3!!  Congratulations, Syesha!!

We’ve already posted our support for this hometown Sarasota girl, but the exciting news this week is that local residents will have a chance to see Syesha tomorrow (Friday, May 9th) when she blazes through on a whirlwind visit to the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Evidently, she’ll be making some stops in the morning on Tampa TV & Radio, but she visits Bradenton (where she’ll receive a key to the city) and then comes to Sarasota for a concert on the gorgeous grounds of the John & Mable Ringling Museum!

According to the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau, the concert is FREE and open to the public!  Park nearby on the New College Campus.  I’d get there early (parking is available at 1pm) for the 3:30PM concert.  It’ll most likely be brief, as she’s got to get back to Hollywood!

If previous seasons are any indication, we should see footage of Syesha’s Homecoming Visit on next week’s American Idol!

Sarasota Real Estate Market: Rebounding or Not?

Ever the optimists, Real Estate brokers always manage to locate a silver lining… no matter how far and how hard they have to look.  And, with a number of friends and business associates connected to the real estate business, I certainly am personally hopeful that their optimism has its roots firmly cemented in reality.

But alas, this is not always the case.

Take, for example, the blog published by Michael Saunders & Company.  Here’s a great example of a company reaching as deeply as it can for data — any data — to support the notion that somehow the market is on its way back to normal.  Is their data pulled from the number of transactions in the MLS, you ask?  Perhaps it’s based upon some newfound trend in the tax rolls?

Nope.

In fact, it’s taken from their Google Analytics account.  Yes, that’s right folks.  Now we’re basing the real estate outlook for Sarasota on the performance of Michael Saunders’ website according to the ever-so-reliable folks at Google.

Now… don’t get me wrong.  I’m a big fan of Google.  Chances are you’re here thanks to one of the many Google searches that we rank well on.  But… as we know, their analytics package — feature-rich though it may be — is fraught with inaccuracies.  And… even if it were 100% accurate, the Michael Saunders blog post smacks of a self-congratulatory webmaster more than it does market realities in the real estate business.  After all, our traffic is way the heck up, too!  Doesn’t say anything about the consulting business, though…

But… I digress.  (By the way, business is better than ever!  Not a touch of whining here!)

What Michael and gang aren’t really interested in pointing out is the simple fact that, by every measure, the housing crisis is only deepening.  Even if transactions are up, prices are down.  And this is based on real data from none other than Standard & Poor. Granted, the data are not local to Florida.  But then, we the unwashed don’t have ready access to the data for our market.  This is part of the classic information asymmetry associated with buying and selling real estate.  Your broker knows more than you do.  Perhaps someone with readily-analyzed data would be willing to step forward and comment.

In the meantime, I’m going back to my web analytics to look for more optimism…

Winning in the New Economy

China. India. The increasing decline of the dollar. A globally integrated economy like never before in the history of the earth.

These are some of the signs of the kind of large-scale sweeping change that is not only coming… but is here today.

Evidence of this includes the recent trillion-dollar single-day losses on global equity markets due to the fraudulent trading activity of one 31-year-old French futures trader. Thankfully, it was Martin Luther King Day here in the U.S., and our equity markets were closed. The Federal Reserve jumped in with the largest emergency rate cut in 26 years, and followed it up with another large cut at its regular meeting the following week.

What does all of this mean to business leaders — particularly small-business entrepreneurs? How do we navigate the unfamiliar waters we now find ourselves in?

All of these topics and more are the subject of an event taking place at the end of this month called, “Winning in the New Economy.” The list of speakers reads like a virtual roster of Epiphany Consulting business partners and clients. Included in the lineup are Eric Beck, founder of the Total Integration Program, my good friend Jeff Timpanaro of Oberata Consulting in Houston, Blain Wease of Provincial Development in Nashville, TN, and Juan and Sharon Restrepo of REIPtheRewards.com and Home Rescue Solutions here in Florida.

The event is being held at the exclusive Pelican Preserve in Fort Myers, Florida and will be a mixture of keynote-style sessions and workshop-style sessions. You should expect to finish the day with a working strategy in hand, well-equipped to chart out a course for the future even through the murky waters of change.

All the details, including online registration, are available at the event website.

By the way, if you’re interested in hearing more about it, Eric Beck was my special guest co-host today on the Friday Wrapup Podcast. We talked quite a bit about the transitions we’re all facing and the identity crisis it seems to have created on multiple levels. Hear the “Identity Crisis” episode here.

Florida Amendment 1 – Voter’s Guide

Well… the post title might be a little on the ambitious side. I certainly can’t claim to cover every aspect of this proposed amendment in this setting. However, there are a couple of key points worth considering.

Lots of Hype

First of all, there has been a lot of fluff on both sides of this issue. Here are some bottom line facts for you:

  • Amendment One is a tax cut.
  • The taxable basis for your home’s value — if you already have (or qualify for and ultimately receive) the homestead exemption — will be reduced by $50,000 rather than by the current amount of $25,000 if the amendment passes. This means that no matter what the millage rate in your area, your property taxes will be based upon a lower number than today.
  • Amendment 1 is opposed by Florida’s unions: the teachers, the firemen, and the AFL-CIO. These are the people whose jobs are dependent upon your taxes. They have been threatened with job cuts and salary reductions if it passes, so it’s no wonder that they’re campaigning against it. See my previous post on Amendment 1 to learn what the Sarasota School Board did to threaten its workers.
  • Amendment 1 is a tax cut.
  • Some people argue that Amendment One represents insufficient tax reform, and therefore it shouldn’t be passed. This is a little like going to the emergency room with a broken bone showing through your skin and having a doctor tell you, “We can stop the bleeding, but your bone will still be broken.” Naturally, you stop the bleeding first (in case you’re medically challenged, it is possible to bleed to death). Then, when the bleeding has stopped, you figure out how best to help the bone heal.
  • Did I mention that it’s a tax cut?
  • Florida’s housing market has been having a hard time lately… or hadn’t you noticed? One massive deterrent to purchasing a second (or different) home as a Floridian is the “hit” you’ll take on property taxes due to the change in the assessed value of the property you purchase. Amendment One allows you to take your “Save Our Homes” property tax limitations with you to your next house. This makes the property tax situation a little less painful. It can make a substantial difference on a given transaction. More people buying houses means a better housing market. A better housing market means all those Realtors (R), mortgage brokers, title agents, property insurance salespeople, builders, remodelers, home improvement stores, et cetera all do better. They, in turn, spend money with your small business, big business, tourist attraction, theme park, and — yes — they pay more in taxes.
  • Amendment 1 could actually result in more revenue to local governments and even the State government, but it will happen naturally because people choose to spend money rather than having it squeezed out of them through exorbitant property taxes.
  • But… all of that being said, Amendment One is still a tax cut.

The Bottom Line on Amendment One

I’m not a big fan of President Bush’s performance in office — not at all. That being said, I’m going to steal from a page in his final (can anyone say, “Thank God!”?) State of the Union Address. If you want to pay more in taxes and those schools, fire departments and local governments to have more money, they accept checks and money orders. (Some of them probably take Visa, too.) Go ahead. Send it to them.

But do it because you want to do it. Don’t do it because a revenuer assessed it from you.

Oh… One More Really Important Detail

The January 29th Presidential Primary is your only chance to vote on Amendment One. Get out there and vote, will you?

Amendment One: Sarasota Schools Use Scare Tactics on Teachers and Staff, Distribute Propaganda

Parents of Sarasota County students can expect to get this little gem (no doubt paid for by our already poorly spent tax dollars) today when their kids come home from school (assuming that it survives the trip home).

According to a source from inside the school system, this 2-sided 4-color (read: expensive to print) flier was distributed today to teachers and staff of the schools along with a memo threatening salary reductions and staff cuts next year if Florida’s Amendment One passes during Tuesday’s Presidential Primaries. The School Board is pressuring its staff to vote “no” and shifting blame to voters and the State legislature for its financial woes.

The flier itself masquerades as a balanced look at the issue, but ultimately threatens the local taxpayers (parents) with additional tax increases in the future which it says will be needed to “maintain revenues.”

Well, guess what? We, the voters and property owners in this County have something to say about your revenues. And ultimately we aren’t interested in whether you “maintain” your revenues — we want you to be accountable for the lack of performance we see time and time again. More money will not solve the fundamental problems entrenched in the bureaucracy.

One good thing: the flier encourages people to get out and vote. Let’s do it Tuesday, January 29th!