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Orange County sales tax for transportation measure fails. What now?

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Orange County voters rejected a penny sales tax that would bolster the region’s transportation options. Voters rejected the measure by 58% last month.

WMFE's Talia Blake spoke with Orlando Economic Partnership’s CEO to find out what’s next now that the measure failed.

Tim Giuliani is the CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership. (photo via Orlando Economic Partnership)
Orlando Economic Partnership
Orlando Economic Partnership
Tim Giuliani is the CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership.

Where to go from here

Mass transit in Orange County continues to be a problem with no solution after voters rejected a penny sales tax increase during the 2022 midterm elections.

Giuliani said now it may be harder to obtain federal dollars towards fixing the transportation issue in Central Florida.

"Where we are looking now is with the infrastructure bill that has passed in Washington, we're still going to be advocating," he said. "We won't have a strong argument, because we don't have that dedicated funding source that we would have."

The Sunshine Corridor will connect Brightline to Orlando and Tampa, and SunRail to more local destinations.

"We also have to kind of worry about our local governments being handed operations of SunRail from the state over the next year or two," said Giuliani.

He said that's going to be a hot debate on how that's done and how they pay for it.

"I think what we'll see is a bit more focus on specific projects, as opposed to something that was more transformational for the entire community."

Other revenue options

Tourist development taxes bring in millions of dollars into Central Florida.

For example, TDT collected on hotels and other short term rentals in Orange County in September were over $24 million, despite Hurricane Ian. That's almost a 49% increase over last year.

So, why not use it toward fixing the transportation problem issue in Central Florida?

Giuliani said the revenue from TDT is already accounted for to pay debt service on venues and the Orange County Convention Center.

"Even if you looked at a small amount, it just doesn't really make a dent in the large kind of unmet need that we have in Orange County, which is measured to be somewhere around $20 billion," he said.

Giuliani said the best way to fix the problem is through an increased sales tax.

"It's better than property tax increases, which is the kind of only other option that generates significant revenue," he said. "Whereas, TDT just wouldn't wouldn't even generate nearly enough

A future without a solution

The transportation network needs to be improved in order to maintain a good quality of life, according to Giuliani.

"In our case, driving to whether it's a baseball practice, or a softball practice, it makes a big deal if that's a our chip, or if that's a 25 minute trip" he said. "And especially if it's an hour trip with variability. Some days, it's 35 minutes, some days, it's an hour and 10 [minutes]. That changes your calculus on how you live and what activities you do, and what quality of life you're willing to accept."

Without a dedicated source for funding mass transit, getting around Central Florida will remain an issue for many residents.

"We have the same exact bus fleet we did in the 1990s," said Giuliani. "And now there's no way to grow that so we'll continue to have it into the 2020s."

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to WMFE, the station that grew her love for public radio. She graduated with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and Psychology from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). While at UCF, she was an intern for WMFE’s public affairs show, Intersection. In her spare time, Talia is an avid foodie and enjoys working out.
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