‘Half-baked’ sales tax proposal axed – for now

The Palm Beach County Commission on Tuesday voted 4-3 to postpone for one year a ballot proposal to increase the sales tax by half of a percentage point. The increase from 6 percent to 6.5 percent, which would have generated over $100 million, was designated for “transportation spending,” but the ballot proposal left open the possibility of using the funds for other purposes.

The vote to postpone was approved by Commissioners Steven Abrams, Paulette Burdick, Karen Marcus and Jess Santamaria.

Abrams made the motion to kill the proposal, calling it a “half-baked” plan.

“It lacked specifics, including exactly how the money would be spent,” Abrams said. “In my opinion, it was a backdoor way of coming up with extra revenue to replace critical road and bridge repair funds that were cut to balance last year’s budget.”

Abrams suggested the commission readjust its priorities and fund critical road repairs within the existing budget.

The Palm Beach County Taxpayer Action Board, or TAB, campaigned against the sales tax, calling it a permanent tax increase with no corresponding cut in property taxes and no end date. The group also worried about the lack of accountability on spending, saying a number of sources already exist – including gas taxes – that fund roads and transportation needs.

“I won’t even consider a local option gas tax without specifying the needs to be funded, adequate oversight and consideration of a sunset provision,” Burdick said after the vote to postpone.

TAB noted that the county’s rationale in promoting the ballot initiative was that state statute allows for the tax and Palm Beach County is one of nine counties without the sales tax levy. The county also argued that the tax would partially shift transportation costs to tourists.

Also opposing the measure was the Palm Beach Civic Association. Pat Cooper, the association’s secretary-treasurer and chairman of its Taxation & Finance Committee, said the organization has been consistent in supporting sustainability in the county budget.

“We were surprised to learn the county was putting forth this proposal at a time when we are experiencing high unemployment, a high foreclosure rate and small businesses remain at risk,” Cooper said. “This was not a well thought-out plan. We are delighted that it was defeated.”

Cooper said the presentation was light on facts with no plan for spending. Public turnout was minimal, with few speaking on the measure. But with the postponement, the issue is sure to resurface next year.

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