The coronavirus crisis has led Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings to suspend his campaign to get a penny sales tax increase on the November ballot to support transportation.
Demings announced Friday that the crisis has led him to reluctantly set aside what had been the cornerstone of his 2018 campaign for Mayor and a top priority initiative of his administration until now.
He made the announcement while making a regular address to the media and community to update what’s going on with the virus outbreak and officials’ responses.
While Demings made it clear that his top concern is the health and welfare of the community, he also gave a sobering reminder of the collapsing tourism economy that is so prevalent in Central Florida. He noted Walt Disney World’s announcement Thursday that it will begin furloughing some of its 77,000 employees.
“It is against this backdrop that I am announcing that we are suspending our pursuit of the one-penny transportation infrastructure sales tax to be paid on the November, 2020, ballot,” Demings said. “Times are just too uncertain right now, so we are postponing our efforts.”
Since announcing his plan at his 2019 state-of-the-county address, Demings has overseen more than 90 community meetings including four major town halls as he and his administration sought to craft a plan that could win approval of voters.
The proposal was intended to provide an estimated $600 million a year in new revenue to expand the region’s public bus system, LYNX, expand service of the area’s commuter rail train, SunRail, perhaps extend the railroad to new places, and to address numerous street, road, bike path and trail improvements throughout the county.
It would create what many public officials have been calling for over a generation, a dedicated tax source for a transportation system that has only become increasingly overwhelmed by the region’s growth.
Demings said he would return to the penny-sales tax proposal later, “after the pandemic is over.”