A coalition of local activists and big businessmen in Hillsborough County just got a $280 million sales tax hike placed on November’s ballot to fund transportation projects.
If that sounds familiar, there’s a reason.
Voters already made their feelings perfectly clear on sales tax hikes years ago. In 2010, Tampa residents voted down a similar sales tax hike by 58 to 42 percent.
That should have been the end of it. But tax-and-spend advocates weren’t interested in what taxpayers had to say. They were already making plans to get the transportation tax hike back on the ballot the day after the election, and they’ve been trying to do so ever since, including a failed attempt in 2016. Maybe they think that if they reintroduce the idea often enough they’ll just wear residents down.
Making the ill-conceived tax hike worse is the fact there are no detailed plans as to how the money would be spent. Supporters are essentially asking voters to hand the county a blank check and hope the money is spent responsibly.
Transit tax advocates seem to have forgotten the biggest reason for the Sunshine State’s recent economic success — low taxes. Thanks to a friendly tax climate, Florida is booming. Our state’s unemployment rate is at a nearly two-decade low, and Florida’s economy is expected to hit $1 trillion this year. Our state ranks fourth in the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, making it a great place for businesses big and small to open up shop.
But the team behind this half-baked ballot initiative acts like undercutting all of this progress with a tax hike is the only option for funding our region’s transportation needs.
Before trying to take money out of families’ pockets, they should take a good hard look at how taxpayer dollars are currently being used. They probably won’t like what they find.
Take, for example, the county’s spending on sports teams. In 2014, Hillsborough County lawmakers spent nearly $29 million so the Buccaneers could improve things like their luxury boxes and jumbotrons. Earlier this year, they signed off on over $60 million in taxpayer-funded upgrades to the Lightning’s arena. And now they’re considering spending at least $600 million on a new stadium for the Rays.
Instead of trying to get yet another referendum on the ballot, transit-loving activists should be asking why sports team owners are getting taxpayer funding over transportation projects.
Americans for Prosperity-Florida and our thousands of activists in the Tampa area and across the state believe responsible budgeting should come first. Florida families have to live within their means, so it shouldn’t be too much for them to expect their local governments to do the same.
Making up for irresponsible spending by hiking taxes on hardworking Tampa residents isn’t the solution to our region’s transportation needs.
The sales tax hike was a bad idea in 2010, it was a bad idea in 2016, and it’s still a bad idea today.
Chris Hudson is Florida state director of Americans for Prosperity.