(The Center Square) – Florida voters in 19 counties approved $400 million in local sales and property tax increases and $250 million in bond issues on Election Day, according to a post-election breakdown by Florida TaxWatch (FTW).
Of 21 proposed countywide tax increases on local ballots across the state, voters approved 20 of them – 10 sales-tax measures and 10 property-tax measures – the Tallahassee-based nonpartisan taxpayer advocacy group documented in its Local Referenda Wrap-Up 2020.
According to FTW’s report, 11 of the 21 proposed tax increases passed easily, receiving more than 66.7% of the vote. The lone countywide tax increase rejected by voters in local elections was a proposed Liberty County school sales tax extension, which fell by 17 votes.
After voters in 22 counties approved 26 sales- and property-tax measures in 2018 that increased taxes by $1.5 billion and approved $1.2 billion in bond issues, FTW noted in its analysis that local voters approving $400 million more in “taxpayer generosity” in 2020 is “not a fluke.”
“Following the defeat of three sales tax proposals in 2019, many wondered if the COVID-19 pandemic would further dampen voters’ appetite for tax increases,” FTW’s analysis read. “That turned out to not be the case.”
“In years past, we have seen taxpayers show a willingness to approve taxes they feel will provide a meaningful return, and 2020 was no exception,” FTW President and CEO Dominic Calabro said.
What is remarkable about the success of local 2020 measures seeking to raise sales and property taxes is voters approved them “despite the year’s historic economic struggles and the future uncertainty of COVID-19,” Calabro said.
Voters in 10 counties approved or extended 10 local sales tax levies worth more than $250 million annually.
Four of these – in Brevard, Clay, Duval ($89 million) and Okaloosa counties – are for school capital outlay needs. In three counties – Charlotte ($28 million), Marion ($50 million) and Santa Rosa ($9 million) – sales tax revenue increases will fund infrastructure upgrades, such as transportation, public safety facilities, water and sewer, parks and libraries.
The 10 property tax increases approved by voters in nine counties will generate nearly $150 million annually. Six will fund school operations or children’s services and three – in Collier, Manatee and Volusia counties – will finance conservation land acquisitions.
Voters in north Walton County approved the levy of a new 2 percent tourist development tax (TDT) within a district north of the Choctawhatchee Bay to pay off $250 million in bond issues. There already was a 5% TDT in south Walton County that generates more than $25 million annually.
Voters in nine counties and six cities gave municipal governing bodies approval to grant property-tax exemptions to new and expanding businesses expected to create new, full-time jobs with approval margins ranging from 60.5% to 79.7%.
FTW noted many of the measures also included provisions creating citizen oversight committees to monitor the spending of revenues from the tax increases.
“This is a great idea, and taxpayers need to get involved,” FTW said in the report. “If your local government has proposed a tax increase without such a committee, oversight is up to all of us.”
“Accountability truly begins with individual citizens,” Calabro said.