Sales tax increase kicks in Tuesday
Broward residents and visitors start paying Jan. 1 to improve the county’s transportation system.
That’s when a voter-approved sales tax increase goes into effect. The extra tax will be collected for the next 30 years.
The county’s plan is the most expensive one in the country approved by voters in 2018, according to the Eno Center for Transportation in Washington, D.C.
If you’re thinking, “Finally, no more traffic jams,” think again. Here’s a primer on the tax increase and what to expect in the coming months:
It’s only a penny increase, right?
The increase in the sales tax is a penny — going from 6 cents to 7 cents on each dollar you spend — but the tax increase will cost you a lot more than one cent. Officials estimate the increase for the average Broward household will be about $174 a year. The more you spend, the more you pay.
Does it only apply to residents?
No, anybody shopping in the county will pay the tax. That means tourists and visitors will be helping to pay for county road improvements. About 30 percent of the proceeds are expected to come from people who don’t live in the county.
Will everything be taxed?
No. The extra tax will only be on items that are already subject to a sales tax. Groceries, medicines, prescriptions and medical equipment aren’t taxed.
Also, the extra tax is limited
to the first $5,000 of an item’s cost. So if you’re in the market for a new car, the added tax will only make at most a $50 difference.
Some of the taxable items include clothing, appliances, electronics, jewelry, restaurant meals and prepared, ready-toeat food you get at a deli.
How much money will the higher sales tax raise?
Officials expect to collect $15.6 billion over the next 30 years. In its first full year, the tax should raise about $357 million.
Will Broward County have the highest sales tax rate in the state?
No, the 7 percent sales tax will bring the county to the same level as its neighbors, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Hillsborough County, where voters approved increases totaling 1.5 cents in November, will have the top rate at 8.5 percent.
What can we expect to see on the roads?
Not a lot. “It takes time to make these things happen,” said Broward Transportation Director Chris Walton.
The first year will involve a lot of planning and organizing for the work that is to come, said Tony Hui, the county’s deputy public works director. Part of that organizing will be to find city and county projects that can be done at the same time to make them faster and keep costs down.
Are any road projects happening?
County workers are proceeding with projects budgeted before the sales tax increase was approved. Hui said intersection improvements are being designed to improve traffic flow. Those include improvements at Oakland Park Boulevard intersections with Andrews Avenue and with Nob Hill Road, he said.
What are the priorities?
The county wants to get started on improvements that will have the biggest impact on traffic, Hui said, which includes intersection improvements and laying out the fiber optics needed for improved traffic signalization to reduce peak traffic congestion at major intersections.
What else might cause project delays?
The county expects to get matching state and federal grants for many of the larger projects being planned. The timetable for those projects will depend on how quickly the outside money can be secured. Officials estimate the county could receive at least $3 billion in matching funds.
What’s in store for bus riders?
Walton said the county will begin rolling out improvements to the bus schedule by mid-2019, restoring routes that had been cut for budget reasons in the past. The county will also be ordering a significant number of new buses, but those generally take a year to arrive and prepare for service, he said.
When will a light rail arrive?
County officials are making no promises about light rail, other than to say it’s an option that could make sense for the county.
There is money for 26 miles of rail lines in the plan, but officials — after Fort Lauderdale’s Wave streetcar debacle, which was killed in 2018 after continually escalating costs and growing opposition — don’t want to commit to anything unless they have community backing first.
“We learned a lot during that process. I would hope that this time we would be able to handle that process much more smoothly,” Walton said.
A 2002 sales tax increase in MiamiDade County had promised significant rail projects, but all that has been built to date is a three-mile extension of Metrorail.