‘If not now, then when?’ Demings pitches Orange transportation sales tax amid high fuel prices

Added penny sales tax would increase county sales tax to 7.5%

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is relaunching his transportation initiative, working to gain support for his one-cent sales tax hike proposal.

The revenue would be dedicated to enhanced transportation projects including expanded SunRail and public bus stops. Demings also said the initiative would address issues with pedestrian and bicycle safety across the county.

The sales tax in Orange County sits at 6.5% currently, the added penny sales tax would increase that to 7.5%, bringing in an estimated $600 million a year for the county, according to Demings.

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Demings posed a question Monday night at the county’s fifth transportation open house this year.

“How many of you believe we have a traffic problem?” he asked.

In response, dozens of hands rose.

Demings said residents will see a return on their investment, adding the money collected from the sales tax hike will help create time-saving and efficient transit and developments that will protect pedestrians and bicyclists.

Although gas prices are skyrocketing and inflation is making everyday items more expensive, Demings thinks the timing is right.

“There’s no better time because with this we are talking about reducing the cost of transportation for those very residents who now only have one option in our community,” he said.

Some taxpayers disagree. One man made that known with an outburst at the meeting. He yelled at Demings, saying, “Gas prices is at an all-time high, we don’t need more taxes.”

Demings said the county is asking for other options.

“What we’re trying to do for the average working-class person is provide some alternatives for them that’s affordable for them,” he said.

Some people were on board.

“If one penny is all it’s [going to] take to help us fix this, I’m all for it,” Kristine Ford said.

Ford said the tax hike will be worth it if it makes her daily commute shorter.

“I would love to see that if you have a 20-mile commute it takes you no more than 30 minutes to go. Right now, it’s taking over and hour to go 20 miles and it’s not fair,” Ford said.

Demings is asking residents for serious consideration.

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” he asked.

The last transportation open house will be held Monday, March 21, 2022, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Colonial High School.

If you cannot make it but want to provide your input, you can also take the survey on the Orange County website.

Demings promises sales tax revenue sharing with cities

Demings also presented his renewed initiative to Orlando city council members during a transportation workshop Monday.

During his presentation, he explained that some of the revenue from the sales tax would be shared with municipalities within the county, Orlando getting a bigger piece of the pie due to its large population.

The $600 million estimated revenue from the sales tax proposal would be split 45:45:10, meaning 45% would go to transit projects including LYNX, SunRail and high-capacity corridors, 45% would fund Orange County roadway projects, safety initiatives, operation and maintenance costs. Ten percent would be allocated to city transportation initiatives not already covered through the county.

Demings said the allocation of funds from tax dollars would cover some of the projects the city of Orlando is already putting money towards, which would free up some general funds that can go towards something else.

With increased inflation and rising gas prices, an added sales tax may be a hard sell, but Demings said it will provide more options for community members to get around and may even start a conversation that could potentially roll back gas taxes.

Central Florida has been growing by nearly 1,000 new residents each week, Orange County one of the world’s leading tourism destinations according to Demings’ presentation. He said the revenue is necessary to keep up with the growing population.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners will have to make the final decision on whether or not to add the transportation penny sales tax initiative to November’s ballot, by April 26. If the initiative makes it to the ballot and passes, the penny sales tax would start being collected January 1, 2023.

About the Authors:

Crystal Moyer is a morning news anchor who joined the News 6 team in 2020.

Treasure joined News 6 at the start of 2021, coming to the Sunshine State from Michigan.