The Sunshine Economy: A Penny Here, A Penny There -- Billions for Broward Transportation

Oct 16, 2018

If you are an average commuter in Broward County, it takes you a little less than half an hour to get to work. Or it may take you almost an hour. The difference is how you get to work.

The usual trip to work in Broward has been steady over the past several years -- running about 27 minutes according to data from the Census Bureau. But if you ride public transit in Broward County the average commute has climbed from 48 minutes in 2009 to 53 minutes in 2016.

Over the course of a year, that five minute increase in a one way commute adds up to more than 40 additional hours spent getting to and from work each year on public transportation in Broward County.

But most people get to their jobs and home again by driving. And that average commute time hasn’t changed much.

"We're in good shape," says Greg Stuart, Executive Director of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization. "Our roadways are operating at capacities." But he worries with population and job growth, roadways will "be exceeded by the number of vehicles on the road."

That’s part of the reason Broward County voters will be asked to raise their sales tax from 6 to 7 percent, with the extra dollars targeted for transportation projects.

The question is on the ballot this election. If approved, the new tax will show up on receipts for the next 30 years, generating an estimated $16 billion for all kinds of proposed projects. It’s $2.5 billion for buses for people with disabilities. Almost $4.5 billion for new bus routes. And another $1.5 billion dollars for light rail.

Traffic on Northbound I-95 in Broward County. Express bus routes on I-95 are among the projects planned if voters okay a new 1 percent sales tax in Broward County.
Credit Tom Hudson / WLRN Public Media

These are not promises. They are possibilities.

"They are budgeting for a light rail system," says Stuart. "It's not going to be specifically shown because we have all agreed that we're going to be working together to identify the appropriate routes for a system of light rail."

"I want the public to understand that this is not set in stone," says Broward County District 9 Commissioner Dale Holness. He says the committment to new and expanded bus routes is more solid that a light rail system because "buses are easy."

The ballot referendum promises the money will improve traffic congestion by a variety of things. It’s a penny more per dollar spent in Broward County on items that have a sales tax charged on them. It includes most things you buy. Right now there is no portion of the sales tax that is charged by Broward County. A portion of each penny will go toward the 31 municipalities in the county.

The state of Florida sales tax is six percent. If voters approve this new sales tax, it would go up to 7 percent in Broward County -- equalling the sales taxes charged in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Monroe’s sales tax rate is slightly higher -- 7.5 percent.

District 4 Commissioner Chip LaMarca has changed his opinion on the referendum. While he supported sending it to the voters, he is opposed to the 30-year time frame for collecting the tax. "We could do this for a shorter period of time and get some projects done. Then get continued buy-in by the voters and taxpayers."