Orange County Commission greenlights Jerry Demings transit tax referendum

With belated concessions for changes to a Board of Supervisors and an impassioned plea to move forward, the Orange County Mayor jerry deming managed on Tuesday to muster the votes he needed to ask voters to approve a sales tax increase for transportation.

By a vote of 4 to 3 on Tuesday evening, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to place a charter amendment on the ballot in the Nov. 8 general election to raise the county’s sales tax. penny for 20 years, raising an expected $600 million. one year for transportation.

The vote came after a near-collapse of support for the Democratic mayor’s plan from the Democratic-dominated Commission, with opposition coming from the left.

Commissioners Emily Bonilla, Victoria Siplin, Myra Uribe and Nicole Wilson decried that their demands had gone unheeded, while the plan brought together establishment figures across central Florida endorsing a tax hike.

“I don’t know what we are doing here. We get caught up in some minutiae,” Demings said. “I’m trying to move us forward. Let’s not make this more complex than necessary. »

In what looked like a losing position, Demings won over Uribe by agreeing to changes in the structure, power and public nature of a citizens’ oversight board helping to guide how the money would be spent. He then tried to whittle down Wilson’s opposition with wording changes that softened the prospect that more money could be spent on public transit, but nearly lost the commissioner. Christine Moore in the exchange.

Ultimately, Demings and the Commissioners Maribel Gomez Cordero, Moore and Uribe voted “yes”. Bonilla, Siplin and Wilson were “no” votes.

The proposal commits 45% of revenues to improving public transport, including SunRail commuter trains and Lynx buses. Some commissioners, particularly Wilson, have criticized the plan for being too road-focused in a community that some commissioners say needs to shift more to public transit, as well as bicycles and pedestrians.

There were concerns, including from Siplin, that 2022 might not be a good year to ask voters for a tax hike, given inflation and the tightening cost of living in a county trying to absorb tens of thousands new residents every year.

And then there was a question of trust, expressed in particular by Bonilla and Wilson. They claimed that Demings had lost the trust of many residents in support a road extension by Split Oak Park after 86% of voters approved a ban on trespassing in Split Oak in a 2020 charter amendment.

Demings responded with an address that was both conciliatory and almost exasperated in defending what is in the proposal and how necessary he thinks it is. It took the county attorney again Jeff Newton and other staff working on proposed changes and a series of motions during the marathon Commission meeting.

East Demings seeking re-election to a second term. Except for the roughly 18 months he spent focusing on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when he shelved the transportation planhe invested a large part of his first mandate on development a long term transportation planwith sales tax payable.

He also underscored the urgency of developing such a plan now, as the federal government prepares to provide $1.3 trillion in infrastructure funding, calling it “one-of-a-kind resources that can change communities.” .

“There may not be a good time to raise taxes, but there are better times, and that time has come,” Demings said.

Nearly every commissioner said Orange County needs a significant new revenue stream dedicated to transportation. This has never been disputed.

Representatives of municipalities, chambers of commerce and hotel organizations expressed near-unanimous support for the plan during Tuesday’s public comments and at an earlier hearing. They said they would accept a tax increase if it meant a new route to the future of Central Florida transportation.

They all talked about the need for major, long-term investments in transit and transportation, given Orange County’s current needs and dire projections for another half-million residents over the next few years. next 20 years.

“The growth we are experiencing would result in our loss,” said Tim GiulaniPresident of the Orlando Economic Partnership.

Part of the public opposition wondered on Tuesday whether the plan for roads, buses and trains was not in step with 21st century technologies and the changes they will bring to society and transport.

Orange Republican County mayoral candidate Chris Messinawhose campaign includes a focus on emerging technologies, called the plan, “useless, regressive and destructive”.

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Aurora J. William