Dodging a Bullet – No Sales Tax Referendum

In a 4-3 vote, the County Commission yesterday rejected a staff proposal to place a half penny “infrastructure” sales tax on the November ballot.

Criticism of the proposal, from TAB, the Economic Council and others pointed out the “grab bag” nature of the projects, the size of the increase ($110M) in relation to the current budget for Engineering and Public Works ($55M), ballot competition with the School System and the Children’s Services Council re-authorization, and the multi-year decision by the Commission to defer road and bridge maintenance in favor of other priorities.

In December, four of the Commissioners voted to proceed with the referendum and asked staff to bring back a more complete proposal. This time, Jess Santamaria changed his mind after hearing input from the public, and joined Steven Abrams, Paulette Burdick and Hal Valeche to kill the measure.

Shelley Vana, who complained about the state of roads in her district, declared “there is no free lunch” and wanted the “people to decide”. Mary Lou Berger, who sees a public safety issue in deteriorating roads, wanted to proceed with the option of re-thinking it in July. Mayor Priscilla Taylor, who considers the sales tax hike an “investment”, declared that our voters are smart enough to decide for themselves and we shouldn’t worry about what other taxing districts are doing.

Hal Valeche thinks that road and bridge maintenance should be prioritized in the normal budget cycle, and Paulette Burdick didn’t think the public would see this as higher priority than the School’s needs or the CSC. Steven Abrams thought it was a “tax in search of a topic” and captured the situation clearly when he said he couldn’t see people standing on the sidewalk with signs saying “Vote for Drainage, Vote for Road Repair.”

As this is the third try since 2012, we can’t be sure it will not come back, but for now it looks like the proposal is dead for 2014.

Thanks to those who spoke against the measure, including Alex Larson, Anne Kuhl, Daniel Martel of the Economic Council, Realtor Christina Pearce, and Fred Scheibl of TAB. There were no speakers in favor of the referendum.

For the Palm Beach Post Story, see County rejects sales tax ballot bid

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