ELECTION 2016: Voters in at least six Florida counties to vote on transportation aid

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/25/2016

The fall ballot in multiple Florida counties will include questions to raise billions for transportation work via sales taxes.

Voters in Manatee County will decide in less than two weeks on a 15-year, half-cent sales tax for public infrastructure.

Question 6 on the countywide ballot would raise $345 million with about three-fourths of the revenue to be used to help reduce traffic congestion and improve roadways throughout the county.

Supporters say the tax increase is needed to address infrastructure needs and to avoid another increase in property tax rates. Instead, they say a sales tax increase would have visitors chip in.

Opponents say the county has enough money available to address needs but it is not being spent wisely.

Revenue raised would be shared with the county’s six municipalities. Specifically, the county would receive an estimated $30 million annually, and localities that include Bradenton, Palmetto and Holmes Beach would split the remaining $5 million.

In the Florida Panhandle, ballots in Bay County will include a question to benefit local infrastructure.

A portion of the 10-year, half-cent sales tax would be used to pave and maintain roads, reduce traffic congestion in areas that include Panama City and Lynn Haven.

Advocates say the tax would help address the gap between the state’s fuel tax and growing infrastructure needs. They add that without the sales tax increase the county would need to strongly consider adding a millage back onto the property tax.

Broward County voters will decide in less than eight weeks whether to approve two half-cent sales taxes to be collected for 30 years. The added tax would apply to the first $5,000 of a single-item purchase.

The taxes are estimated to raise about $12.6 billion over that time period. Half of the tax collected would be routed to the county for transportation.

The county would get 50 percent of the revenue for the life of the penny sales tax increase for transportation purposes that include light rail expansion and traffic light synchronization.

Unincorporated Broward County and 31 municipalities would receive the rest of the revenue for infrastructure projects, such as road repairs, for 20 years. For the final 10 years of the tax, 60 percent of the revenue would be applied to Broward’s municipalities for local infrastructure work, and 40 percent would be routed to the county for regional infrastructure projects.

Advocates say the additional tax revenue is needed to help cover the shortfall from existing fuel tax and property taxes to address traffic gridlock problems. They add that public transit is a key component to reduce congestion on area roads.

Critics say the sales surtax does not put enough money into roads.

Voters must approve both tax increases to take effect. In effect, if one question fails both questions would meet their demise.

In neighboring Palm Beach County, the Nov. 8 ballot will include a question about whether to increase the sales tax by a penny. The additional revenue would be used to pay for upgrades to roads, bridges, schools and county buildings.

The county estimates the sales tax increase would raise $2.7 billion over 10 years.

County government would receive 30 percent of the additional revenue while the county’s 38 cities would get 20 percent. The Palm Beach School District would claim the rest.

About $7.6 million would be directed for projects to benefit transportation management. Another $1.1 million would be used for street lighting.

St. Lucie County voters will decide whether to raise the sales tax by one-half cent for 20 years to pay for road improvements and water improvement projects. Specifically, the tax increase would help the county pay for $600 million in backlogged road work and create a road paving schedule.

The county has identified a list of 250 road-resurfacing projects.

Across the county line in Indian River County, voters will cast ballots on issues that include a one-cent sales tax extension for 15 years. The tax is used to benefit infrastructure that includes road and bridge improvements throughout the county and the five municipalities.

Without an extension, collection of the sales tax is scheduled to end on Dec. 31, 2019.

During the past 15 years about 23 percent of the tax revenue has been applied to roads. Allotment of the tax revenue for roads is expected to increase to 67 percent through 2019.

For more 2016 election coverage from Land Line, click here.

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