Florida voters pass Amendment 6

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While yesterday’s presidential election was getting most of the attention, in Florida the marine industry was celebrating another hard-won victory: the adoption of a state constitutional amendment to preserve working waterfront.

“We’re thankful for the public of Florida — that they came through,” said John Sprague, who spoke with Trade Only Today this morning. Sprague worked for three years to get the amendment on Tuesday’s ballot.

In a state where boating is a way of life, advocates of the amendment argued that marine business owners are under pressure to convert their marinas, boatyards, drystacks, commercial fishing and other marine-related facilities to other more profitable uses, in part because of high waterfront taxes, which reflect the value of condominiums and other high-end properties in the neighborhood.

The amendment requires county assessors to set the value of working waterfront for tax purposes at its current use, instead of at its highest and best use. It passed with the support of 70.5 percent of Florida voters, with just a few returns not in.

“I was kind of amazed that we were at 70 percent,” said Sprague, a Palm Beach County marina owner and government affairs chairman of the Marine Industries Association of Florida. “That’s a landslide.” It also was the highest margin of voter support of any of the six constitutional amendments on the ballot.

The vote was 4,058,582 for the amendment, 2,663,346 against it.

Sprague said the industry had little money to promote the measure, but waged an intensive grassroots campaign in the final month before the election.

He said industry stalwarts put out signs, bought advertising on billboards, educated employees, lobbied neighbors, and passed out literature at grocery stores, PTA meetings and to parents of trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

“It was really a grassroots effort,” he said.

Nancy Chambers, a controller for the Marine Industries of South Florida, button-holed voters outside a polling place Tuesday to tell them about the amendment.

“A lot of them stopped and let me explain, and when they came out told me, ‘We voted your way,’ ” she said. She said the measure made sense to voters.

Sprague said the Florida legislature now must adopt a law implementing the amendment. He expected a draft measure to be on the table in a couple weeks.

— Jim Flannery