PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
AUTHORIZING AD VALOREM TAXES FOR
WATER MANAGEMENT PURPOSES
With the approval of Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 1061 by the 1975 Legislature,
the question of funding statewide water management activities from local ad valorem
taxes was placed in the hands of the people.
On March 9, 1976, the Florida voters will have an opportunity to approve or
reject a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing the use of ad valorem taxes
for water management purposes.
This referendum will occur in coincidence with the "presidential preference
primary" and the wording on the ballot will appear as follows:
Article VII, Section 9
Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution
authorizing and limiting local taxes for water
management purposes to not more than one (1) mill.
Water management activities in Florida date back to 1949 when the Central and
Southern Flood Control District was established encompassing all or part of 18
counties in southeastern Florida. Subsequently, in 1961, the Southwest Florida
Water Management District (SWFWMD) was formed which included some 15 counties in the
west central part of the state. Both of these districts have ad valorem taxing
authority to support their programs which was granted through voter approval by the
electors in each district, respectively. Central and Southern FCD has authority to
levy up to one mill, while the SWFWMD and its various river basin boards may levy,
overall, up to 1.3 mills.
With the passage in 1972 of the Florida Water Resources Act, the Legislature
directed that the state be divided into five water management districts with the
power to regulate well drilling, the power to regulate and permit consumptive, non-
domestic water use, emergency water allocation authority, etc.
The 1973 Legislature subsequently authorized the creation of a sixth interim
district (Ridge and Lower Gulf Coast Water Management District), which preserved the
existing boundaries of the two older districts and effectively postponed the
transfer of lands between districts until July 1, 1975. The creation of the interim
district was designed to allow sufficient time for taxation and other financing
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measures to be completed. This sixth district would then be merged into one or more
of the other districts, along with several other land transfers scheduled to take
place on this date (July 1, 1975).
A court ruling prior to this effective date established, however, that major
boundary changes of SWFWMD and C&S would, in effect, be the creation of new districts
which would mean the loss of existing ad valorem taxing authority. Specifically, new
voter referendums would have to be conducted in these "new" districts in order to
retain ad valorem taxing power.
Again, the transfer of lands and the restructuring of boundary lines was delayed
by the 1975 Legislature to prevent the loss to SWFWMD and C&S of some $29 million
in property tax collections. A new date, December 31, 1976, was established for the
transfers to take place. The Legislature, during this same session, passed a
resolution which called for a statewide referendum on a constitutional amendment
authorizing all water management districts to levy ad valorem taxes. This referendum
has been set for March 9, 1976.
Arguments for APPROVAL of constitutional amendment:
(1) Water management can no longer be looked upon as a problem of central and
south Florida only. It must be dealt with on a statewide, coordinated basis.
(2) As Florida continues to rapidly grow, with the major population concen-
trating in certain geographic areas, the demands on the state's water supply will
necessarily grow. This accelerates the need for sound, realistic water management
(3) The newer districts created by the Water Resources Act are currently
supported by appropriations from the State General Revenue Fund. In effect, the
entire Florida public is supporting the operations of these new districts. This
means those residents living within the boundaries of C&S and SWFWMD are paying what
amounts to double taxation for water management -- the property tax which supports
water management in their own areas and the sales and other taxes which make up the
State General Revenue Fund used to support the activities in the other districts. A
vote for this amendment would allow the new districts to levy and collect ad valorem
taxes to support their management programs.
(4) Passage of this constitutional amendment will allow the control of water
management programs and water resource development to remain at the local level--
not in Tallahassee. If the State is forced to assume funding responsibilities for
water management (by voter rejection of this amendment), it will result in the
assertion of state authority over water management.
(5) A vote against this amendment authorizing ad valorem authority to water
management districts could eventually lead to a water use fee system. An individual
would be assessed a fee based on the amount withdrawn from ground or surface waters.
(6) The ad valorem tax is the most fair method of equitably distributing the
cost of water management. It places the burden on the beneficiary.
(7) Passage of this amendment will permit the transfer of lands between districts
without affecting ad valorem taxing authority and will allow the state to be divided
into five essentially self-supporting and hydrologically sound water management
(8) Current statutes prohibit levying more than 0.3 mills for water management
purpose. This means that even though the constitutional cap, if approved, would be
set at one mill, each water management district would be required to seek legislative
approval for millage levies of more than 0.3 mills.
(NOTE: This does not apply to the Northwest Florida Water Management District.
Specific wording in the proposed amendment would prohibit a millage levy in this
district only in excess of .05 mills.)
(9) Failure of the amendment would prevent a predictable source of funding from
state general revenue funds. Ad valorem funds are more certain and dependable.
(10) A vote for the amendment in SWFWMD's case will mean a reduction in the
millage cap allowed by the current law. Present millage maximums are District .3
mill and Basin Board 1.0 mills for a total of 1.3 mills. (This lowers the maximum
tax levy allowable but not necessarily the present tax levied.)
(11) If the amendment as written is defeated now, it will be difficult to pass
any rewritten water management amendment on a following ballot.
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Arguments for REJECTION of constitutional amendment:
(1) Before the problem of funding water management is resolved in Florida, there
is a more urgent need to establish a uniform policy for governance and allocation of
costs within the water management districts. Currently, the two older districts
which have existing ad valorem taxing authority operate under contrasting policies.
Central and southern has one governing board which directs the districtwide operation.
SWFWMD, on the other hand, utilizes separate river basin boards and different levels
of taxation as determined by these boards which assures more local input and a level
of service that is adapted to local needs. This basic question of administrative
controls should be answered before ad valorem authority is granted to all districts.
(2) The ad valorem tax is essentially a local tax and it should be reserved for
those functions of local government. A vote for this amendment would further
encumber the ad valorem tax and serve to pre-empt the taxing power of local government.
Water management is primarily a responsibility of the state and should be funded from
(3) The several water management boards are all political appointees, not
elected officials. It would not be in the best interest of good government to further
extend ad valorem taxing power to an appointed board. The ad valorem tax should be
retained as the funding source for governmental purposes administered by elected
(4) If approved, this constitutional amendment would limit all water management
districts to a maximum one-mill cap, EXCEPT the northwest district. The wording of
this proposed amendment specifically limits the maximum ad valorem tax in this
district only for water management purposes to 1/20th of a mill (.05).
This exception for the northwest district is unfair and inequitable for the
residents in the remaining portions of the state. It would be irresponsible and
unwise to adopt this proposed amendment as presently worded.
(5) The way the present legislature is written it is not stated if the present
Basin Board concept in SWFWMD will continue to exist. If it does not, and only a
single district tax is levied, taxes could increase or decrease depending on which
district and/or county one lives in.
(6) The proposed amendment to Article VII, Section 9(b) of the Florida
Constitution is very poorly and loosely written and does not necessarily assure the
use of ad valorem taxation for water management purposes within the meaning of the
provisions of the Water Resources Act of 1972 (FS 373). Nor does the amendment
specify "local taxes" as does the ballot.
(7) A vote against the amendment is not a vote against sound water management
and conservation, but instead the referendum is confined to finance and taxation.
The proposed amendment should be rewritten and submitted to the voters in an exact
and comprehensive form at a later referendum.
(8) .The proposed amendment does not state how the one (1) mill will be allocated
between district and basin boards (if the legislature decides they should continue to
(9) The water management districts and authority granted to them make them in
part a regulatory agency and state and/or district regulatory agencies should not be
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financed by local ad valorem taxes but instead by state general revenue funds.
(10) The lack of an effective date in the proposed amendment reduces the
likelihood that any revenue could be collected by the districts for several years.
Without an effective date the amendment would not become effective until January 4,
1977 and Florida law provides for assessments to be levied on January 1st of each
year so it is unlikely that any tax revenue could be generated until late 1978 or
early 1979. Passage as presently written could actually delay vitally needed funding
for Florida water management districts.