UPDATED: With responses from the county below.
Earlier this week, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, along with other local officials, hosted a town hall to hear concerns about transportation in the region from the public, ahead of what could be a ballot proposal to raise taxes next year to meet those needs.
I like the Mayor (and his wife, Congresswoman Val Demings), but this proposal is bad news and the town hall didn’t tackle any real policy savvy questions. We know the region has transportation problems, but the issue is whether we should be asking our citizens to pay more when we have an affordable housing crisis and problems with low wages.
Here are some serious questions I have after the transportation town hall, regarding a possible sales tax hike.
Where is the study that says tourist will pay 51% of the tax?: Promoting a sales tax while telling the residents they won’t be paying for it, is a popular tactic among politicians. I didn’t see a cited study in the presentation under that estimate. It’s a pretty random number to pull out of the sky and the public should see where it comes from.
OC Response: Visit Orlando engaged with PFM Group Consulting earlier this year to developed the, Incidence of Orange County’s Sales Tax. In this study, PFM used three methodologies to estimate the contribution of nonresidents and tourists to sales tax collections in Orange County. See attachment on page 15 and you will locate the conclusion of the study which states that non-residents and tourists contribute more than half of all sales taxes collected in Orange County. This means that of each $1 of sales taxes collected in Orange County at least 51% are paid for by non-residents. In Orange County $3.1 billion in sales tax was collected in 2018. Of this amount tourists paid at least 51% or $1.57 billion of these taxes. Thus, for each household in Orange County during 2018, tourists visiting Orange County paid $3,012 in sales tax.
How can you guarantee Orange County tax dollars won’t fund needs in Seminole and Osceola Counties?: The majority of our transportation initiatives are done with the tri county area in mind. Will Orange County be paying for new buses and services that won’t be helping them?
What are we going do about stable leadership at LYNX?: The organization has had problems with it’s CEOs (stories HERE and HERE). Last night’s townhall had an interim manager leading the way. Are we going to turnover potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to an agency with no proven leadership?
What does the County Comptroller think?: Phil Diamond is a pretty thorough and honest Comptroller. What does he think? The Comptroller serves as the checks and balances of county resources. If he has an opinion, we need to hear it.
Can we get a projected spending plan ahead of the vote?: Make no mistake, this is a campaign. We need a platform to hold it’s candidate accountable. After the conclusion of these town halls, can the Mayor give us a byline spending plan ahead of the vote?
OC Response: The proposed spending plan will in fact be presented after the community Town Hall meetings and the Mayor has mentioned this several times. The County plans to hold many Town Halls all throughout the County before presenting a proposed spending plan. Community input is needed before a plan can be presented.
These are actual and honest concerns I have. If I were still doing news everyday, these are questions I would ask him in the gaggle.
And it’s not just the Mayor that needs to provide these answers, its the County Commissioners that will be voting in favor of putting the proposal on the ballot. They need to explain why they would be voting to put a tax increase on the ballot without as much upfront transparency as possible.
Let’s get some of these questions answered.