An open letter to Florida voters

Dear Florida voters,

Since I will never run for political office, I have somewhat more leeway than elected officials when it comes to discussing matters of importance to our great state. So it falls upon me to bring this to your attention:

Y’all are stupid. Please understand, I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Now, y’all are plain stupid in any number of ways, but the proximate cause of this epistle is the continuing fuss over Amendment 1, which you guys overwhelmingly voted for back in November 2014. Seriously, something like 75 percent of y’all voted for this mess.

lion-lamb
Artist’s impression of a typical day in Florida after the passage of Amendment 1.

Y’all might not remember it — it was the amendment that promised to make rainbows and unicorns pour forth from the sky, sprinkling pixie dust over the entire state and making everything as happy and sweet as marshmallows and ice cream forever. Okay, no, it didn’t actually say that. That’s what y’all presumably thought it said, based on the way it was sold to you.

What Amendment 1 purported to do — well, don’t take my word for it. Here’s an exact quote from the folks who wrote it and had it put on the ballot:

What is Amendment 1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment?
Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, dedicates funding for water and land conservation, management, and restoration by amending the state constitution.  Amendment 1 sets aside 33 percent of Florida’s existing excise tax on documents (also known as the “documentary stamp tax” paid when real estate is sold) and guarantees that these funds can be used only for conservation purposes, including keeping pollution out of Florida’s drinking water supplies, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters and protecting natural areas and wildlife habitat.

What kind of jackleg so-and-so could possibly disagree with that, you say? What is your problem, Fulton? Do you hate our state’s drinking water and wildlife habitats?

No, I don’t. I rather like Florida’s natural habitat and its wildlife. I have a “Save the Manatee” tag on my car, thank you very much. My problem is that I know politicians:

Politician, circa 1870. (And 1880. And 1890. And 1900. And 1910. And 1920... You get the idea.)
Politician, circa 1870. (And 1880. And 1890. And 1900. And 1910. And 1920… You get the idea.)

See, y’all’s problem is that you seriously believe that guff I quoted up there. You believe when they say

Amendment 1 sets aside 33 percent of Florida’s existing excise tax on documents … and guarantees that these funds can be used only for conservation purposes …

…Y’all actually believe that means that, by golly, the fellow in the picture up there is going to take that excise tax money and use it for actual “conservation purposes,” like buying land for parks and protecting animals and whatnot.

How adorable. Come over here and let me pat that scruffy little head of yours, kid! Now pull up a stool, settle your keister, and let Poppa Wes explain how things really work.

See here, when you passed that there Amendment 1, you didn’t pass a “Requirement to Faithfully Honor My Wishes and Intentions, re: Florida’s Beautiful Land and Wildlife.” I only point that out that because that’s apparently what you think you did. At least, that’s the impression I get from reading pieces like this one. Or this one. Or this one. I could go on. Last weekend, environmentalists were planning to rally across the state to complain about what they regard as the lousy job Florida elected officials have done implementing the terms of the Amendment.

Dudes — what did you expect?

"Hi, I'll be in charge of implementing your Amendment."
“Hi, I’ll be in charge of implementing your Amendment.”

See, what you voted for when you voted to amend Florida’s state constitution was, you voted to insert yet another block of text into Florida’s already absurdly long state constitution.

Here, in fact, is the exact text you voted to insert. It falls under Article X, “Miscellaneous,” which I like to think of as the “Stupid Sh*t Our Voters Say” section:

SECTION 28. Land Acquisition Trust Fund.—

a) Effective on July 1 of the year following passage of this amendment by the voters, and for a period of 20 years after that effective date, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall receive no less than 33 percent of net revenues derived from the existing excise tax on documents, as defined in the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, as amended from time to time, or any successor or replacement tax, after the Department of Revenue first deducts a service charge to pay the costs of the collection and enforcement of the excise tax on documents.

b) Funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall be expended only for the following purposes:

  1. As provided by law, to finance or refinance: the acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests, including conservation easements, and resources for conservation lands including wetlands, forests, and fish and wildlife habitat; wildlife management areas; lands that protect water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems; lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades Protection Area, as defined in Article II, Section 7(b); beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands, including recreational trails, parks, and urban open space; rural landscapes; working farms and ranches; historic or geologic sites; together with management, restoration of natural systems, and the enhancement of public access or recreational enjoyment of conservation lands.
  2. To pay the debt service on bonds issued pursuant to Article VII, Section 11(e).

c) The moneys deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, as defined by the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, shall not be or become commingled with the General Revenue Fund of the state.

There’s nothing in there about the wishes and dreams of Florida voters. What you have there is a big mass of words that say the state is gonna create a big pot of money, and all politicians need to do to get their grubby hands on it is find some clever lawyers who can conjure up some legal mumbo-jumbo about how whatever they’re doing will help conserve land and wildlife. Whether or not what they ultimately decide on is what you intended is irrelevant: The law provides no mechanism for the politicians to regularly consult the public to determine if they are correctly carrying out the will of the voters. It just says, “jump through these hoops, politicians, and you get your money.” That’s no big deal for politicians; they’ll crawl naked over broken glass smeared with the HIV virus to get their hands on money.

Look, there is a reason that the most robust legal concepts are nearly always expressed as negative prohibitions — that is, explicit rules laying out what people are NOT permitted to do. There is a reason that of the Ten Commandments,  only two of them are phrased as affirmative commands: Honoring the Sabbath, and honoring one’s parents. The rest are “thou shalt NOTS.” This is something that is instinctively understood by used car salesmen, or anyone who has to deal with small children: “No” is very clear; “yes, but…” is an invitation to start haggling. And politicians LOVE to haggle, especially over money.

Do you get the idea that I don’t much like politicians? I’ve noted this problem before, but I’ll bring it up again: You voters really need to rethink this idea you seem to have that your public servants are disinterested, public-spirited citizens motivated solely by an abstract concern for the greater good. I strongly believe that politicians, even politicians I support and agree with, are more likely than not to be awful people. This becomes clearer when you consider the skill set necessary for someone to become a successful politician in today’s world: A burning desire to be the center of attention, a need for constant praise and affirmation, chameleon-like social skills, an ability to prioritize one’s image over all else, and on and on. Just reading this list of of qualifications, you get the impression that you’re selecting for a population with a very high proportion of deeply disturbed sociopaths. And in practice, that’s exactly what you get.

See, if you start from an assumption that everyone in government is a paragon of ethics and efficiency, you are asking for a whole world of trouble. If you start from the assumption that the government is full of corrupt, lazy thieves and scalawags, you’re much more likely to get a reasonably efficient, competent performance. To quote Milton Friedman:

“The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.”

Which y’all would know if you weren’t so stupid. It would keep you from passing crap like that amendment.

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