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Hot Topics Review: Transportation Tax

Barbara Liston | Published on 9/15/2022

A one-cent transportation sales tax on the ballot in November would transform the way people get around Orange County, easing road congestion, beefing up mass transit and cutting commute times, Mayor Jerry Demings said Wednesday.

Demings spoke at the monthly “Hot Topics” lunch sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Orange County. After extensive study, the nonpartisan LWVOC has endorsed the transportation sales tax.

The tax is expected to bring in $600 million a year, with 45% of the total earmarked for adding buses to the LYNX fleet, expanding SunRail train service and improving other forms of mass transit.

Demings said the tax has support of business leaders and the local AFL-CIO union which represents thousands of low-wage workers who can’t afford cars and struggle to get to jobs on an inadequate mass transit system. The transportation plan would double the number of buses to cut commute times.

Demings said the average household would pay an additional $300-400 in annual sales tax. Low-wage workers who rely on mass transit would qualify for half-price fares to off-set the sales tax burden. In Orange County’s theme park-driven economy, tourists are expected to contribute 51% of the total receipts.

Urban planner Luis Nieves-Ruiz, who appeared with Demings, described the intangible costs of a clogged transportation system such as personal and family time wasted in sluggish commutes, and paid time lost by workers dealing with inadequate bus connections.

Although sales tax is generally considered regressive because it creates a bigger burden on low-wage workers, civic activist Austin Valle of Orlando YIMBY told the league he considers the proposed transportation tax to be progressive and pro-worker because of the 45% share earmarked for public transportation. Valle said that’s double the share focused on mass transit in typical government transportation budgets.

Demings has been talking to residents and working on the transportation plan since 2019. In a survey, residents named traffic congestion as the No. 1 transportation challenge they face today, and cited improvements to mass transit system as a top priority.

The last time Orange County voters considered a transportation-focused tax was in 2002 when they voted it down.

With 22-25% of local roads failing due to overcapacity, and the population growing by 1,000 a week, Demings said the time is now to invest in mass transit to move around significant numbers of people with the least environmental impact.