Monday, March 02, 2009

Amendments run amok

Ye out-of-town socks may be unaware of the school budget shortfall we are projecting in this little corner of heaven--to the tune of $125 million.

The bean counters estimate a significant chunk--about $50 million--could be made up if we added 4 children per classroom.

Unfortunately, we are forbidden by the Florida Constitution from doing so. It seems back in the glory days of 2002 when the state was flush with cash, 52% of voters injected an amendment limiting class sizes.

I think it was about the same time that voters amended the state constitution mandating a high-speed rail link between Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. That never happened, for some reason. But, the class-size thing did. I wonder why one amendment is enforced and the other isn't . . .

Anyway, I thought constitutions were supposed to be frameworks for government. That being the case, why is Florida's constitution open to so many ridiculous amendments? Such things as bullet trains and class sizes should be statutory or policy decisions. I know, I know. Back in 1968, when the constitution was enacted, everybody was all about "power to the people." But, what about our state's elected officials doing the jobs we hire them to do at the ballot box?

Clearly, our constitution is anything but a framework for government anymore. I say we should consign it to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

We have precedent.

Florida has actually had 6 constitutions over the years:
* 1838 - prepared with an eye on statehood (which was achieved in 1845).
* 1861 - created to allow the state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.
* 1865 - designed to return the state to the Union by abolishing slavery, among other things.
* 1868 - the so-called "Carpetbag Constitution" that created a very powerful governor.
* 1885 - the post-Reconstruction document that cut-back executive powers.
* 1968 - the current version that has us in such a pickle, ironically designed to simplify its predecessor (which had grown to include 149 amendments totaling 50,000 words . . . the US Constitution by contrast only has 6,000 words)

Just as we are all discovering in our private lives, it's time for our government to get back to basics.

And, in Florida, that may mean it's time for a constitutional convention.

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