Three Florida county ballots include transportation tax questions

August 22, 2022

Keith Goble

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Ballots this fall in three Florida counties will include questions to address transportation funding needs.

Hernando County

One question on the Nov. 8 ballot in Hernando County will ask voters whether to authorize a one-half-cent sales tax for roads and recreation.

Passage of the referendum in the county located in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area would raise about $138 million over the next decade.

Roads would receive most of the revenue. About 80% would be used to relieve existing and future traffic congestion by expanding local roadways and improving intersections. The rest would be allotted to parks and recreation.

A list of projects is available.

Additionally, commercial development would be enhanced. One highlighted project is a 700,000-square-foot air cargo distribution/transit trucking center.

Advocates say the tax would help with needs throughout the growing county while reducing reliance on property tax.

Hillsborough County

Voters in the state’s fourth most populous county will again decide on a transportation tax.

In fall 2018, voters in Hillsborough County approved a question to raise the local sales tax by one cent for better roads and bridges, and other improvements. The tax was later overturned by the Florida Supreme Court.

Hillsborough County commissioners recently voted to include a question on the fall ballot for a 1% transportation tax. The tax in the county that includes the city of Tampa would be in place for 30 years.

Round one

In November 2018, voters approved Referendum 2 to raise the local sales tax to 8% from 7%. About 55% of new revenue was set to be applied for road work. The remaining funds were designated to pay for new and enhanced transit options.

Shortly after the passage of the referendum, multiple legal challenges were waged. Critics, including Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, argued the tax was unconstitutional and took power from the County Commission.

The issue ultimately made its way to the Florida Supreme Court, where plaintiffs argued the charter amendment was “deceptive” to voters. Additionally, they said the spending parameters were set by the referendum and not by elected officials.

In early 2021, the Supreme Court ruled the tax unconstitutional.

Round two

On Nov. 8, voters will again decide whether to tax themselves for transportation improvements.

Specifically, they will vote on whether to approve a 1% sales tax for transportation purposes. If approved, it would take effect in January 2023.

The sales tax is estimated to raise $342 million in the first year.

Supporters say the money is needed to avoid losing out on federal funding. They point out that a local match is necessary to secure federal funds estimated at $229 million.

Critics say a sales tax is regressive and disproportionately affects lower-income residents.

Revenue allotment

About half – 45% – of the revenue would be dedicated to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

The county and three cities would get 54.5% of the revenue. Shares would be based on population.

Another one-half percent would go to the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization.

Funds would be used for projects that include additional lanes, lighting improvements, and construction and improvements to sidewalks and curb extensions.

Orange County

Voters in Orange County also will decide whether to tax themselves to benefit transportation work.

Passage of the ballot question would add a penny to the county’s sales tax. The largest county in Central Florida now collects a 6.5% sales tax.

Increasing the tax rate to 7.5% would be used to improve public transportation in the county that includes the city of Orlando.

A penny sales tax would raise about $600 million annually for 20 years.

The additional tax would not be collected on essential food items that including bread and milk. Prescription drugs and utilities also would be exempt.

The money would be applied to upgrade bus, train and road transportation throughout the county.

Specifically, transit would receive 45% of the funds. Another 45% would be directed to the county for local roads, and bicycle and pedestrian lanes. The county’s 13 municipalities would divvy the other 10% for roads.

A portion of the revenue would be used for safety improvements that include synchronizing traffic lights.

Advocates say the 1-cent sales tax would help solve transportation problems resulting from population growth. They add that the transportation tax would free up about $100 million in the current budget. LL

More election coverage

Keith Goble, the state legislative editor for Land Line Media, keeps track of transportation ballot questions across the U.S. Here are some recent articles by him.

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.