Push for penny sales tax: Mayor Demings calls for 1-cent sales tax for transportation

If approved by county commission, will head to November 2022 ballot

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – With the new year comes a renewed push for Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings to pursue the passing of a 1-cent sales tax for transportation in the November 2022 election.

“I intend to start the initiative to put the infrastructure sales tax on the ballot for November 2022,” Demings said.

Currently, the sales tax in Orange County is 6.5%, if passed the penny sales tax would increase that number to 7.5% and bring in $600 million dollars a year for the county, according to Demings.

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Back in January 2020, Demings was making a push to get support for a 1-cent sales tax to tackle issues with transportation. Two months later, the push came to a halt amid the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Demings said now that the economy is bouncing back, he’s considering the initiative again. He said half of the money raised from the tax will come from tourists, but in order for it to be successful, there needs to be education on how it will benefit all residents.

“Every one of our residents who will get to vote for it has to see themselves in the narrative of the story on how they are going to benefit,” Demings said.

Residents like Alma Gonzalez, who is visually impaired and has a son with autism. Both rely solely on Lynx, Lynx Access and Sunrail to get around Central Florida. Gonzalez said her normal trip to work from Kissimmee to Disney Springs takes about three hours round trip. On weekends and late nights sometimes she is forced to pay up to $38 dollars on a ride-share. She said that equates to about two hours of work.

“They need more budget for us. For me as far as getting to my job, I must be on time obviously,” Gonzalez said. “If that helps us for transportation it would be great. I can get home and not spend $38 dollars on a Lyft.”

The Mayor said the money generated would completely revamp Central Florida’s transit systems, from Sunrail to Lynx and create a multi-modal transportation system that would get people off the roads and alleviate traffic. That’s where Hartley Hinds finds himself in the narrative. He works for a company that delivers lab results all across Central Florida and he is often on the road.

“The other night I went to see my daughter in Tampa, I got halfway in two hours later turned back, it was just too much,” Hinds said. “I think that makes sense, to have more busses on the road that’s more opportunities to get around without a car and don’t have to drive.”

He’s one of the commuters Orange County who spends an average of 46 hours in traffic each year, data showed in 2020.

“You see Central Florida is getting more dense, the population is packing in and I think having decent public transportation would be good.”

Demings explained more of his vision.

“The system will likely use emerging technologies in terms of that connectivity with commuter rail, light rail, bus, rapid transit — all of that will be a part of this very robust system,” Demings added.

The Mayor already hosted more than 200 community meetings and public events to garner support for the initiative before it was suspended during the pandemic. News 6 asked the Mayor why now is the right time.

“Our community is still growing. The region is growing by nearly a net of about 1,500 new people each week. Orange County, nearly 1,000 new residents a week. It appears that is going to continue for the foreseeable future,” Demings added. “If we do nothing — frankly, the amount of time that you are going to sit in traffic to get around is going to increase significantly and it’s going to increase rapidly.”

Demings said the Board of County Commissioners will have to approve putting the 1-cent sales tax on the ballot first. The Mayor anticipates that happening sometime in March or April.