This week, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released “Florida Voters Continue to Say Yes to Proposed Tax Increases,” a briefing examining the trend of Florida voters approving tax increases at the local level.
This report builds on FTW’s February 2021 analysis, “A Decade of Self-Taxing,” which found that Floridians increased their own taxes 142 times since 2010. The new report focuses on voting patterns in the 2021 and 2022 elections, including voters’ propensity for authorizing county-wide sales and property tax increases, and more.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro weighed in on the new report on Tuesday.
“Over the past decade, we have seen voters repeatedly increase their local taxes to cover infrastructure projects, school renovations, administration of public general hospitals, and the like. Heading into the 2022 elections, with high inflation, rising property prices, and a plunging stock market, Florida TaxWatch was uncertain if voters would accept new taxes the same way they had in the past. Yet despite the economic headwinds, voters continued to tax themselves locally,” Calabro said.
“For instance, the 2022 elections resulted in a record 31 approved tax referenda, totaling $2.2 billion. However, this total could have been even higher, as more than a third of the referenda proposing new or extended local options sales tax levies were defeated – six of the 16 – which would have contributed an additional $1 billion in obligations,” he added. “In addition to these county-wide taxes, voters approved 11 out of 12 proposed bond issues, worth $1.4 billion, providing revenue for large projects that will require increased taxes to pay off the debt. And 14 out of 15 revenue hikes for special districts also passed in the 2021 and 2022 elections.
“Florida has long relied on its local governments to fund a major portion of its government services, and the receptiveness of the state’s voters to tax themselves has become more pronounced in recent years. In fact, nearly 90 percent of tax referenda have been approved since 2015, producing $5.8 billion in revenue annually. The state’s reliance on local government to fund a major portion of its government services is already the heaviest in the nation,” Calabro continued.
“As the eyes and ears of Florida’s taxpayers for more than 40 years now, Florida TaxWatch will continue to monitor this trend and remain active in developing strategies to keep this growth under control, such as the new law requiring referenda to be placed on the general election ballot, which is intended to ensure fewer increases pass moving forward. We believe that government performance, productivity, and transparency are more relevant and critical than ever,” he said in conclusion.
The Florida Legislature has provided counties and school districts with limited authority to levy nine separate discretionary sales surtaxes, often called local option taxes, that must generally be approved by voters. According to FTW, in 2022, Florida voters passed 10 sales tax referenda, worth $414.9 billion, and since 2010, 73 sales tax referenda, worth $3.5 billion in annual tax revenue, have been approved.
However, FTW asserts that the total could have been much higher in 2022, as six of the 16 referenda proposing new or extended local options sales tax levies were defeated, with voters in Orange and Hillsborough Counties both rejecting new one penny sales taxes.
With regards to property taxes, the vast majority of referenda over the last 10 years were for schools. Most of the local support for school funding comes from property taxes. FTW reports that, in 2021 and 2022, Florida voters passed 25 property tax referenda, worth $1.7 billion in annual tax revenue, and since 2010, 99 property tax referenda, worth $3.6 billion in annual tax revenue, have been approved.
Overall, FTW contends that the receptiveness of Florida voters to tax themselves has become more pronounced in recent years, with nearly 90 percent of tax referenda having been approved since 2015, producing $5.8 billion in revenue annually.
Many of the tax referenda in recent years included the creation of a vital safeguard – a citizen oversight committee to monitor spending of these new dollars. For instance, FTW references its involvement with one such committee, the Broward County Bond Oversight Committee, which was created in response to an $800 million bond issue in 2014.
This trend of self-taxing can be expected to continue, so FTW cautions that taxpayers should also continue to demand oversight committees to hold local officials accountable to responsible spending of taxpayer dollars.