I was excited to start writing the blog this morning, until doing a little research on the topic has put me into an anxiety-ridden Monday morning state of mind. Late last week, I was scanning the numerous emails I receive regarding the latest happenings in the world of state and local taxes and something caught my eye.
I found it interesting that Florida is struggling to finalize two major elections, yet managed to pass an amendment to the State Constitution requiring judges in state court and hearing officers in administrative hearings to no longer defer to a government agency’s interpretation of a statute or rule. The ballot measure appeared like this:
Rights of Crime Victims; Judges
Creates Constitutional rights for victims of crime; requires courts to facilitate victims’ rights; authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes. Requires judges and hearing officers to independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to government agency’s interpretation. Raises mandatory retirement age of state justices and judges from seventy to seventy-five years; deletes authorization to complete judicial term if one-half of term has been served by retirement age. (emphasis added).
Now if you live in the trenches of state and local taxes, this at first appears to be some of the best news you could ever receive. Oftentimes we are constrained by an administrative agency interpretation of a particular statute or regulation. Courts at all levels are often bound by and, if not, will give significant deference to agency interpretations, unless they are found by the court to be unreasonable.
Good luck with that! If an issue is only of moderate dollar value (let us say just about the six-figure range), both sides in the dispute know litigating the issue will often have a negative cost-benefit, even if victory is a sure thing.
My enthusiasm was unbounded when I thought Florida would now be taking an enlightened approach to legislative interpretation. However, a quick read of any Florida newspaper, expressing any viewpoint at all, makes it clear that the drafters of the amendment were not thinking about me as a state tax practitioner. The amendment apparently has far-reaching implications in virtually every corner of Florida jurisprudence.
To add to the confusion, Florida voters voted on thirteen Constitutional amendments. Many counties in the State had ballots over five pages long. No wonder it is taking so long to tally the votes.
Whether or not the lengthy ballots were an ambitious attempt at getting things done or a villainous attempt at obfuscation, I cannot say. Confusion or clarity; we will just have to wait and see.
If I have raised questions, contact me at WBerkowitz@BerdonLLP.com or your Berdon advisor.
Wayne Berkowitz, a tax partner and head of the State and Local Tax Group at Berdon LLP, advises on the unique requirements of governments and municipalities across the nation.