Broward County

Broward wants to reduce traffic. Will voters approve a 30-year tax to do it?

Broward County traffic jam
Broward County traffic jam

Broward wants to reduce traffic, and the county is asking for more taxpayer dollars to do it.

Voters will decide on a 30-year sales tax increase to finance countywide transportation projects like road improvements and new bus routes. If it passes on Nov. 6, the county’s sales tax rate would rise from 6 to 7 percent, raising $357 million in the first year.

“If you don’t do anything, then it’s going to get a lot worse,” said Mayor Beam Furr, the commissioner who represents parts of Hollywood, Hallandale Beach and Pembroke Pines. “Many people want to see a move to mass transit.”

The added revenue would pay for new local bus routes, expanded para-transit and community shuttle service, bike lanes, “smart signal” technology for traffic lights to adapt in real time, and roadway drainage to prevent flooding. Nine billion dollars from the fund would go to light-rail service, but the routes have yet to be finalized.

The county hasn’t committed to spending the tax proceeds on any specific projects if the measure passes. But it published an online map of transportation projects that have already been audited at the state level and would be prioritized when doling out funds. The Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization would rank and prioritize projects based on their potential for reducing traffic and connecting areas.

The so-called penny tax would generate an estimated $15.6 billion over 30 years. It would not apply to non-taxable goods like groceries, gas and medicine.

A nine-member oversight board would approve and track use of the money, held separately from other tax revenue in its own trust fund. Members would serve unpaid, four-year terms and their meetings would be public. There are no term limits, though members could be removed “for good cause,” the ordinance says. The tax money would fund transportation experts and other new hires to assist the board.

New projects — those not already included on the county’s map — would be subject to the approval of the County Commission and oversight board.

Go Broward, a political action committee formed by small business owners to support the referendum, has raised $41,475 since it launched in early July. More than $35,000 of that was donated by engineers, who stand to benefit from an increase in transportation projects. Peter Moore, president and CEO of engineering consulting company Chen Moore, is one of the PAC’s founders.

“This is going to create thousands of jobs,” said Dana Pollitt, Go Broward’s spokesperson.

County officials hope projects paid for by a sales tax increase on the November ballot would help ease traffic. AP file 2001

In 2016, Broward voters rejected an intertwined pair of half-percent sales taxes to raise money for transportation and non-transportation infrastructure: The half-percent tax for transportation passed, but not its companion, so neither could go into effect. The current proposal would fund only transportation.

The fund’s oversight board would include professionals in accounting, finance, urban planning, engineering, architecture and environmental science, as well as a resident who uses public transit, a former city or county manager and Broward College’s director of supplier relations and diversity. Who can’t serve on the oversight board: elected officials, anyone employed by the county and anyone working for an agency that receives (or plans to apply for) transportation funds.

“We hope that the independent oversight board will give people some comfort that these projects are going to get done, they’re going to get done on time and in the budget, and you’re going to feel an impact quickly,” said assistant county administrator Gretchen Cassini.

Board members would be appointed by six designees of the county administrator, Broward Workshop, Broward County Council of Chambers, director of Florida Atlantic University’s environmental studies center, president of the Urban League of Broward County and president of Hispanic Unity of Florida in Broward County.

In June, the County Commission voted 6-1 to add the question to the ballot.

“This is an economic development issue, it’s a jobs issue,” County Commissioner Nan Rich, whose district includes Weston and Davie, said at the time. “People cannot drive an hour and a half to and from work.”

Vice Mayor Mark Bogen was the sole no vote, telling the Sun Sentinel that he wanted to see a more solid plan for spending the money.

Bob Swindell, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, an economic development group, said increased transportation funding would help attract top talent to the county. He noted that Miami is a candidate for Amazon’s second headquarters.

“Young people when they graduate from college want to live in communities where they can live, work and play without having a car,” he said.

The referendum follows the recent demise of Fort Lauderdale’s Wave streetcar project: In May, the state rejected construction bids for the rail line because they were too high, the Sun Sentinel reported. Still, the project swallowed $33.7 million in tax dollars and assessments.

In 2002, Miami-Dade voters approved a half-percent sales tax for transit, generating about $290 million each year. The tax funded a three-mile Metrorail extension to the airport but no other large rail projects, as had been promised. Most of the money paid for road projects, bus and rail facilities, city transit projects such as trolleys, and a large subsidy of transit daily operating costs.

In August, a Coral Gables commissioner sued the county and its mayor over using $1.5 billion from the tax to subsidize existing transit instead of expanding it.