As a college professor in South Florida, I’m excited for my students’ future. But there’s also peril coming up this Fall in the form of Constitutional Amendment 5. On November 6, Florida voters will determine what’s more important – a quality college education for everyone or to lock in huge tax breaks for the richest few.
Amendment 5 would establish a two-thirds vote of the Florida Legislature, or a supermajority, to approve any new state revenues, taxes and fees or to eliminate tax incentives, even outdated loopholes. It might sound nice, but Amendment 5 locks in a tax system that is unfair for most of us and will only give cover to help politicians in Tallahassee avoid making hard decisions for the future of our state.
Florida already ranks dead last among all states for investment in public services. Nowhere is this more evident than in education.
Once seen as the pathway to the middle class, higher education in Florida is quickly becoming a pipeline to poverty. Budget cuts in Tallahassee are being balanced on the backs of students and low-paid, contingent adjunct professors. Over the last decade, state investment per student – when adjusted for inflation —was cut by 19.1 percent. Meanwhile, average tuition at public, four-year Florida colleges (inflation-adjusted) is up 62.2 percent. As a result, Floridians are struggling with nearly $80 billion in student loan debt, while many adjunct professors are paid so little they have to rely on programs like food stamps.
Under Amendment 5, there’s virtually no chance that the state will invest in affordable, accessible, quality education any time soon. Worse, if a recession hits, the state might not be able to meet its current obligations.
We need to make it easier, not harder, to make our schools better, our communities safer and health care more affordable. Supermajority rules are a bad idea that created huge problems for states like Arizona and Oklahoma, which have struggled to overcome the vote threshold despite widespread recognition that education funding and teacher pay is far too low to attract and retain quality teachers.
Today, the richest Floridians pay a much smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than low and moderate-income homes, pushing more of the costs of schools, roads and health care onto the rest of us. Amendment 5 would lock injustice into the tax code and keep education funding lower than it should be for generations to come.
Florida colleges, like Miami-Dade College, are becoming more diverse, and much more costly. A new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the cuts to higher education in Florida threaten access and equity for communities of color. Amendment 5 threatens our future if it passes this Fall. It would make it nearly impossible to raise taxes on the wealthy or close tax loopholes that don’t work – so we can make college a reality for everyone in Florida.
When Florida shortchanges our students and educators, it shortchanges the future of our economy. I ask you to join me and vote against Amendment 5, which puts quality higher education further out of reach.
Susan Peterson, Adjunct Professor, World Languages Department at Miami Dade College