(SS) A proposed increase in the sales tax in Broward County failed Tuesday when voters said they'd support a tax for transportation improvements but not for city infrastructure.
The taxes were entwined; if one failed, neither would be enacted.
Had they passed, the sales tax in Broward County would have increased from 6 percent to 7 percent, or 7 cents on the dollar. But with the mixed voting results, the tax will remain as is. It was the fourth sales tax referendum to fail in Broward since the 1980s.
Most Florida counties have a local-option sales tax; Broward does not. A sales tax increase passed in Palm Beach County on Tuesday.
Because of the support in Broward on Tuesday for the transportation tax, though, it likely won't be the last attempt.
County Commissioner Tim Ryan, who led the initial proposal for a transportation tax, said it's clear Broward residents are concerned about gridlock. He said a sales tax focused solely on transportation — which was his initial proposal — should be put before voters.
"Any time voters would agree to tax themselves in a sales tax, it illustrates the importance this issue has for our county, for our economic growth and for the ability of people to be able to move around, and get to the doctor's office, the school, be able to get home on time,'' he said.
City officials didn't trust the county to disburse the money from a transportation tax, so they added their infrastructure tax to the ballot because it would flow directly to them.
With the defeat, the county's plans to improve bus service, make sidewalks and school zones safer, and build a light rail system will be shelved.
A 2.8-mile streetcar loop called The Wave is fully funded and expected to be complete in downtown Fort Lauderdale in 2020. But the tax was expected to help pay for construction and to pay to operate a rail system expanded to 21 miles.
Also left unfunded are city plans to redesign streets to make them safer for bike riders and pedestrians, and to buy land, improve parks, buy fire trucks and police cars, build fire stations and improve drainage.
Voters Tuesday said they didn't trust government with more money, they thought their tax burden was high enough, they were confused about the tax proposal and how it would work, they didn't like the regressive nature of a sales tax or the fact that it would last 30 years, and they didn't think a good case was made for the tax.
"I didn't think it was organized enough,'' said Gary Hensley, a 54-year-old Democrat in Coconut Creek. "There should have been a more concrete plan on what that was going to do. The way it was done just made it seem like a boondoggle."
Weston Mayor Dan Stermer, the chief advocate for the tax, said the most common question he got at public forums was, "What happens if the tax doesn't pass?"
His answer: "If it fails, get ready for the same ole same ole, and it's only going to get worse."
Of the total estimated $15 billion over 30 years, Broward County would have collected 59 percent, or $8.8 billion. The cities would have collected 41 percent, or $6.1 billion.
But the voter education effort was disjointed.
Plans for the infrastructure tax were spread out in 31 cities' lists of projects that didn't equate to the cities' projected surtax income. Pembroke Pines was projected to receive $540.3 million over 30 years, for example. Its plans showed $179 million in projects. Hollywood was expected to get $495.5 million. Its plans listed $1.9 billion in work.
The county side of the tax also was difficult to decipher.
A full 82 percent would have been spent on operations and maintenance, mostly of bus and light rail systems. Lists of projects contained sparse details, with little financial information. A "transit surtax funding plan'' showed that even with the tax, the county would face a $198 million deficit in its transit budget over 30 years. And traffic light synchronization was promised, even though county traffic engineers said the light timing already is optimized and any technological improvements wouldn't make a discernible difference.
Some voters said they thought transportation and infrastructure need improving, but they weren't sold on this tax.
"If they were more competent about what they were doing, I would have voted yes,'' said 67-year-old marble sculptor Andrew Recupero in Plantation.
"Everything is about how you sell it to somebody, and whether it's believable,'' said Mona Malbranche, a retired nurse in Tamarac. "It wasn't believable.''