Orange County transportation tax push will be revived next week

Orange County commissioners will again take up the issue of passing a one percent tax to fix the region’s transportation issues, even though voters shot a similar effort down in 2022.

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The transportation tax, or penny sales tax, would increase the county’s sales tax from 6.5% to 7.5%. Previous estimates have shown it would raise $600 million per year, which would be used to plug a more than $21 billion hole in the county’s transit needs.

The needs list grows longer by the month, and includes road and sidewalk improvements throughout the county, doubling the size of the underfunded and inefficient Lynx bus system, and adding more lines to SunRail, including the Sunshine Corridor to the tourist district and the airport.

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“We listen to what you say you want, and then we have to try to figure out how to pay for it,” Mayor Jerry Demings told audience members at a recent commission meeting.

On Friday, Demings announced in a memo to commissioners that the topic would be brought up for discussion during the upcoming Feb. 6 meeting.

He alluded to the 42% favorable vote in the last effort but indicated that more favorable economic conditions – plus a hurricane-free year – would give a tax proposal a better chance at passing in November.

“Transportation continues to be a challenge and will only get worse given the large influx of individuals moving to our community each year,” he said.

Already, there are some indications he could be right. Leaders of the “Ax the Tax,” movement that opposed the ballot initiative in 2022 told WFTV they would not renew their campaign, citing improved economic sentiment.

However, they continued to call for increased accountability and transparency as commissioners moved forward.

The commissioners themselves already appear to be falling into similar camps that led to a 5-2 vote to put the measure on the ballot two years ago.

Commissioner Mike Scott said he would support a vote and explained that his constituents working in the hospitality industry need a bigger, more reliable bus service.

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Every time they’re late to work, they get written up, he said, even if the bus ran late.

Commissioner Emily Bonilla said she would again be a “no.” In addition to not sending enough money toward Orlando’s mass transit system, she said she didn’t trust the county government to do right by voters.

“I cannot ask the taxpayers to spend more money when we haven’t been asking the developers to pay their fair share,” she said, mentioning that the county discounted transportation impact fees for years.

When Bonilla was asked why it wouldn’t be appropriate for the voters to make their own decision, she said it was part of her job.

“I have to do the due diligence before it gets on the ballot,” she said. “That due diligence is me… showing that we haven’t done our job as county commissioners to be financially responsible to the taxpayers.”

Commissioner Mayra Uribe, who many expect to run to succeed Demings as mayor in 2026, was noncommittal, even though she introduced the transportation tax initiative the first time.

“I don’t want to go back and do the same thing,” she said. “Taxpayers are concerned when money comes to government and how does it go back out, and I think we just need a whole lot more accountability.”

Uribe mentioned several items she’d like to discuss, including passing a half-cent tax or limiting the increase to 10 years before the county asked voters to renew it.

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She also expressed doubt that the county was prepared if the voters said yes this time.

“Yes, we have a transportation problem. Yes, we need to fix it. We cannot keep pushing the kid on the road,” she said. “But is this the right time?”

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