Why We Support the Penny Sales Tax for Transportation
When people think of Orlando, they think of Disney. The arrival of the Mouse transformed Central Florida in ways both good and bad.
The explosive growth of the tourism economy has caused serious problems with housing and transportation, problems local leaders have failed to fix for decades.
However, on Election Day we have the chance to enact a real solution to these ongoing issues.
Growth is good, leading to improved economies, greater tax revenue, and more cultural amenities.
But growth needs to be properly planned with sustainable development and reliable transit, clearly not the case in Orlando.
Most of our region’s new housing has been destructive suburban sprawl, forcing long commutes on expensive toll roads.
Rising housing costs in Orange County have also pushed people further out in search of affordable housing, increasing air pollution and congestion for all.
We need compact mixed use communities that allow car-free mobility like Baldwin Park to become the norm, not the exception.
Walkable cities have numerous proven health, financial, and climate benefits. In fact, allowing dense infill housing would generate the greatest reduction in carbon emissions from all local policies.
The deadly devastation from Hurricane Ian reinforced the need to build resilient, sustainable cities.
Developing wetlands with impermeable asphalt and concrete for subdivisions, parking, and roads is a major contributor to flooding, as Houston learned during Hurricane Harvey.
Houston also shows adding more lanes does not reduce traffic due to induced demand. The Katy Freeway is the largest in the world at 26 lanes, yet is still regularly clogged with cars due to lack of viable transit options.
Critics have called the tax an undue burden for citizens coping with the effects of inflation.
This view reflects how ingrained car culture is; asking residents to pay an additional 1% sales tax is unjust, yet the status quo forcing people to pay thousands annually in automobile expenses is perfectly acceptable.
Criticisms of the sales taxes as an improper funding mechanism do not hold up to scrutiny.
Sales taxes are the most common funding source for transit agencies because they provide the greatest revenue and fiscal stability.
Other mid-sized cities like Denver, Seattle, and Austin have fast growing transit systems, booming economies, and high quality of life from voter approved sales taxes.
Las Vegas has a similar population and economy, yet has far better transit service due to sales tax funding, including frequent 24-hour double decker buses on their iconic Deuce BRT line. RTC’s ridership is almost three times as much as LYNX, taking thousands of cars off the road and saving thousands for Vegas residents.
Voting against transit to stick it to corporations not paying their fair share is a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Large corporations can afford the status quo. Working class residents relying on LYNX or spending large chunks of their paychecks on cars are the ones harmed if we throw away our best shot at a transformational transit system.
I encourage everyone to read the Orange County Transit Plan for themselves, but in short it would significantly increase frequent service, express routes, and build entire new rail lines, as well as fund smaller but equally needed improvements like seating and shelters.
Orlando promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion, but there is a saying: show me your budget and i’ll show you your values.
Looking at our abysmal transit funding, one would conclude that Orlando does not value working class residents.
Billions are being spent adding toll lanes to I-4 for wealthy drivers, yet low income bus riders get scraps.
We cannot afford to kick the can down the road any longer. Our problems will only escalate, becoming harder and more expensive to fix in the long term.
Passing the penny transportation tax is only the first step. We must hold local leaders accountable and implement community planning to best benefit the public, but the first step is always the hardest.
A better future for Orlando is possible, but we have to start investing in it now.