Floridians for Responsible Policy Warns Against Money Grab of TDC

August 2nd, 2013

BACKGROUND: Elected officials have always faced a difficult time when it comes to convincing their constituents that continued infrastructure investments in their communities (i.e. more spending on government projects), is critical to a city’s long term viability. Roads, schools and jails are traditional infrastructure needs that most citizens agree are best supported by the use of general tax dollars. Beyond those traditional expenditures, the common denominator dissipates. What is one person’s worthy project or program is another’s “boondoggle.”

The exercise becomes increasingly more difficult when general tax revenue is falling or not keeping up with failing infrastructure. This has led those interested in funding important projects or initiatives to pressure their elected officials to focus on their desires and, more specifically, convince elected officials to support their projects from so-called “dedicated funding sources.”

Those having the most success usually bring something to table, primarily in the form of additional revenue (i.e. recommending that higher sales taxes be levied on their customers or products), to achieve their goal, thus creating a revenue stream for their objectives. Elected officials have a much easier time supporting higher taxes when citizens, special interests or industries request a tax on themselves. For example, lottery dollars support education, gas taxes build more roads, certain impact fees can only be spent on wastewater, documentary stamps may help purchase environmentally sensitive land, CRAs only invest in certain geographical boundaries and so on. One downside of a dedicated funding source is that it can also become a de facto limit of how revenue is spent on specific programs, as elected officials cease allocating general tax dollars to that purpose. This is the risk most of those seeking dedicated funding are willing to take in order to be able to plan and fund the future.

The Orange County Tourist Development Tax (TDT) is an example of this conundrum. The TDT is an additional tax added to hotel rooms, originated by the Florida Legislature and with the support of the Central Florida tourism, convention and hotel communities. It was designed to generate additional revenue to help build and maintain the Orange County Convention Center, bolster marketing for the tourism industry and invest in “community venues” such as stadiums and performing arts centers.

ANALYSIS: The TDT generates large sums of revenue, almost exclusively from visitors, to re-invest into our community. But it is important to note that this is not revenue that can be put into roads, schools or more police officers; it can be used only to fund specific projects. When advocating that this tax revenue should only be used for dedicated needs in the tourism industry, the industry’s rationale has always been that while tourists contribute in many other ways to the tax base, generally speaking they do not burden our school system, jails or many of the roads used by local residents.

As envisioned, the TDT has created one of the largest and most successful convention centers in the country, supported marketing efforts resulting in Orlando being the number one tourist destination in the world and contributed millions to community venues such as the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and the Citrus Bowl. The TDT has delivered as promised and created a “win-win” funding mechanism for the region’s most important industry – tourism. In fact, according to a recent study, almost 1.7 million visitors come into the market each year due to convention business, resulting in 2.5 million room nights and generating in excess of $25.7 million annually in TDT revenues.

Recently, the TDT has been targeted as a “pot of gold” that should be used to fund projects well beyond its intended purpose. One local State Senator has recently advocated using TDT dollars to fund more traditional needs such as more police, roads and schools. The law and implementing legislation clearly prohibits such funding activity. Like other dedicated funding sources, the TDT has become an easy target for such calls. Why not fund more projects? Why not spread the revenue to other needs in the community? Why not change the rules?

FFRP believes that while dedicated funding sources can have negative consequences to a government’s ability to manage changing needs, if created in harmony with the impacted communities they should not be used as a “slush fund” for general infrastructure improvement projects.

Return on Investment: The TDT has been prolific. Created at the urging of Central Florida’s tourism industry and funded almost exclusively by visitors, our community and local economy has benefited greatly from its implementation. Local businesses have thrived due to our area’s record setting popularity with visitors. And the citizens of Central Florida have also enjoyed the funding of local community venues such as the new performing arts center and expanded Citrus Bowl.

A Deal is a Deal: When the TDT was first introduced as a potential funding mechanism for the convention center, tourism marketing and community venues; it was done so with the support of the industries it impacts most. In return, the tourism industry received specific assurances and legislation was written in such a manner that was very specific as to the permissible uses of TDT dollars. Any attempt to change the rules of the game is unfair.

A “False Choice”: When politicians advocate using TDT dollars to fund general infrastructure and revenue needs, it is a “false choice”. It may sound good to suggest that by raiding the TDT, certain revenue shortages could be solved, however it is nothing more than suggesting a false solution to appease voters. The law strictly prohibits such use and while politicians know this, it sounds good to voters.

If Not the TDT then Local Taxes: Though collections are up in recent months over previous years, TDT dollars are almost entirely obligated for various commitments. Without the TDT either local residents would have paid for the doubling of the convention center or we would have a sub-par center. The TDT funds specific and financially necessary budget items, items that would need to find funding elsewhere without it.

Competitive Advantage, Not a Burden: Central Florida is especially fortunate to have the TDT, which raises enormous sums of money from visitors that is put back directly into our community. Although there is a limit in what tourists are willing to pay, the TDT has not reached that level. They keep coming and TDT keeps raising money.

SUMMARY: There will always be a need for additional tax dollars to better fund our infrastructure, schools and police. Elected officials are constantly balancing the needs of government against the willingness of taxpayers to fund those needs. The TDT is successful, gives our community an edge, creates thousands of jobs and tax revenue and was implemented in harmony with the industry that is impacted most – the tourism community. To change the rules of the game would be unfair and misguided.

Floridians for Responsible Policy supports the current funding and operation of the TDT as it was originally envisioned and implemented. To change that formula would be bad public policy and threaten the long-term viability of the TDT’s current record of success.

FFRP Supports Return on Investment for Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center

May 19th, 2011

BACKGROUND: The appropriateness of infrastructure investment in our nation’s cities has been a hot topic of debate for much of our history. Ever since the American Revolution, the ways in which our governments raise and spend tax money has been a defining public policy issue. The interplay of these two concepts – essentially how Government invests our tax dollars – has been an underpinning in our national dialogue and framed the context for many elections in our history.

That conversation becomes even more heated during times of economic trouble, when citizens rightly intensify their scrutiny of how Government is performing as a steward of their tax dollars. Today, we see that same dynamic playing out across the country, as a crumbling national infrastructure comes face to face with the realities of an economic recession that has limited prospects for major improvement in the near future.

However, despite economic uncertainty, cities and local governments still have to find ways to continue investing in their communities, in competition with other locations, to make them places where people want to live, work and raise their families. Maintaining basic urban infrastructure such as roads and utilities are critical. But study after study has demonstrated that quality of life investments are also important to maintaining population and attracting and keeping high wage jobs. In fact, as cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte have demonstrated, there are few investments governments make that yield as significant a return as building and enhancing cultural, civic and other community venues.

ANALYSIS: Any time government chooses to invest in infrastructure other than schools, roads, jails, water treatment plants or other essential projects, the public should take special interest. It is essential that such projects are debated by and justified to the taxpayers. The merits of such investments are often subjective, and what is one taxpayer’s “gem” is another’s “boondoggle”. Elected officials must weigh the pros and cons of such investments to come to an educated decision on a “return” for the taxpayer and governing entity. However, unlike the private sector where a “return” is easily calculated on spreadsheet, governments and elected officials must more appropriately consider a return, not only for the governing entity, but for the taxpayers. This is a complex exercise.

The Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center (DPAC) in Downtown Orlando is an interesting case in point, as are other similar large scale projects like arenas, stadiums or convention centers. Click to Read More

FFRP Poll Shows Clear Support for SunRail and DPAC in City of Orlando

May 2nd, 2011

Orlando, FL – Voters in the City of Orlando strongly support SunRail – the commuter line that would run from Sanford to Kissimmee, linking Winter Park, Florida Hospital, Downtown Orlando and Orlando Regional Medical Center – by a huge margin according to the results of a new city-wide poll commissioned by Floridians for Responsible Policy (FFRP). Additionally, a majority of voters in the City of Orlando also support building the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center (DPAC).

The poll, which was conducted April 25 – 28 by Frederick Polls sampled 400 registered voters in the City of Orlando, shows that 76% support SunRail, while only 17% oppose the system and 68% of those polled believe that traffic congestion can’t be solved with more roads and that “commuter rail is needed to help solve the problem.”

Additionally, a majority of voters support building the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in Downtown Orlando by a margin of 51% who support, 38% oppose and 7% undecided/did not answer. Additional positive factors for DPAC include: Click to Read More

FFRP Opposes Amendment 4 on Policy and Process

March 8th, 2010

Floridians for Responsible Policy Opposes Amendment 4 – “Hometown Democracy”

BACKGROUND: The proposed “Amendment 4” to Florida’s constitution would require a public referendum on any amendment to a local government’s Comprehensive Plan. Amendment 4 was drafted by a group of activists under the banner “Hometown Democracy” with the stated goal of “giving voters veto power over changes to a local community’s master plan for growth.”

Florida’s Growth Management Act of 1985 required every local government to adopt a Comprehensive Plan to serve as its framework for managing growth and making land use decisions. Comprehensive Plans are regularly amended to accommodate new and expanded businesses, protect environmentally sensitive lands, establish public parks, address state and federal requirements, and to implement public improvements such as commuter and high speed rail.

Amending a Comprehensive Plan requires multiple public hearings, review by the Florida Department of Community Affairs (“DCA”), and adoption by local government. Amendments require balancing a variety of interest – most importantly the public interest – by analyzing complex, interrelated issues involving urban planning, the environment, traffic, utilities, schools, public facilities, economic development, and the law.

While many feel that the current growth management framework lacks public involvement and critical input, Amendment 4 would exacerbate the very problems it seeks to fix and likely further alienate citizens who seek to participate in the growth management debate. Click to Read More

Putting the Brakes on Rush to Drill Offshore

October 8th, 2009

Orlando Sentinel Senior Editorial Writer Paul Owens weighs in on FFRP’s recent position paper on offshore oil drilling…

Republican state Rep. Dean Cannon, the incoming speaker of the Florida House, told the Sentinel recently that he’d like to see his plan to open up state waters to oil and gas rigs handled in a special session so the state could begin pocketing the proceeds ASAP. But this week, a representative for the lead group pushing the plan said the money isn’t likely to show up in state coffers for another three years. That certainly argues against rushing the plan.

So does a recent statement from Floridians for Responsible Policy, a public policy group founded by two Orlando businessmen, Roger Chapin and Joe Kefauver. FFRP says it considers offshore drilling “a legitimate component of a comprehensive national energy policy” but it opposes efforts to “hastily force such an important issue through the legislative process without a thorough and detailed public vetting. If offshore drilling is really merited, then it should be able to stand the test of reasoned debate in the full light of day.” To which I’d add, “Amen.”

Lest FFRP be pigeonholed as left-leaning for opposing the fast-tracking of Cannon’s plan, it also has issued statements opposing the No. 1 priority of organized labor, the bill in Congress that would let unions organize without secret-ballot elections. Questioning Cannon’s plan isn’t a liberal position — just a sensible one.

FFRP Opposes Plan to Fast Track Oil Drilling

October 1st, 2009

Floridians for Responsible Policy Opposes Plan to Fast-Track Off-Shore Oil Drilling

BACKGROUND: As our planet’s natural energy resources become increasingly scarce, the United States faces extreme competition from other established and developing countries for those precious resources. As the nation struggles to coalesce around a comprehensive strategy, governments and private interests are increasingly pursuing more parochial solutions to their immediate energy needs and as such, are gradually complicating the ability of our country to pursue a coordinated energy policy. The country faces serious decisions going forward whether to pursue nuclear energy, expand drilling for petroleum products, exploring wind and solar technologies and of course, serious energy conservation measures.

ANALYSIS: Accordingly, we have an obligation to examine any and all energy options as part of a comprehensive national energy strategy that protects the country’s energy future. It would be irresponsible to pursue a national energy security policy that does not acknowledge the important role of domestically-produced petroleum whether it be from on-shore or off. However, it would be equally irresponsible to recklessly auction off parcels of our ocean floor to petroleum producers without a thoughtful reasoned debate that rightfully recognizes the costs and benefits of such action. Click to Read More

Employee Act Would Harm Industry

August 31st, 2009

Special To The Tampa Tribune

A small group of Senate Democrats has expressed a willingness to drop what may be the most contentious piece of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA): the “card-check” provision that would take away American workers’ right to a private ballot when determining whether to form a union.

While we applaud their newly found clarity on the issue, it does not make this bill any less dangerous for American businesses and American workers. Click to Read More

Labor Wish List – The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Page

July 27th, 2009

The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board weighs in on the latest version of EFCA:

Desperate to keep the so-called Employee Free Choice Act alive, supporters in the U.S. Senate have cut out its heart — a provision that would let unions represent workplaces without first winning majority support from employees in secret-ballot elections.

That makes the bill better, but not good enough. The bill would still give a government arbitrator the power to dictate wages and benefits for a business if management and labor can’t agree on a contract within 90 days. And in return for reviving secret ballots, supporters insisted on speeding up the timetable for elections so much that employees might not get a full and fair presentation from both sides before voting.

There are worthier provisions in the legislation, such as stricter enforcement of laws against intimidating or firing workers for union activities. But unless supporters bend more on the objectionable parts, the Senate should kill the bill.

Moderates Prevail As Senate Democrats Drop “Card Check” Provision

July 17th, 2009

The New York Times is reporting that a half-dozen senators friendly to labor have decided to drop the card check provision from legislation currently pending in the U.S. Senate.

“As Democrats, we’re proud of those moderate Senators who stood on principle and fought to protect the rights of workers and uphold the democratic process. We only wish our own Senator would have joined them.” said Joe Kefauver, Co-Founder, Floridians for Responsible Policy.

The Times points out that the abandonment of card check was another example of the power of moderate Democrats to constrain their party’s more liberal legislative efforts. Though the Democrats have a 60-40 vote advantage in the Senate, and President Obama supports the measure, several moderate Democrats opposed the card-check provision as undemocratic.

“It’s time for supporters of the measure to consider that it’s not about counting the votes and muscling legislation through the Congress and just admit that taking away a worker’s right to privacy is just bad public policy,” said Roger Chapin, co-founder of Floridians for Responsible Policy.

Former State Senator and Marine “Bud” Gardner Says Secret Ballot is “hallmark of our democracy”, Opposes EFCA

June 24th, 2009

Floridians for Responsible Policy today announced that former State Senator and retired United States Marine Colonel Winston W. “Bud” Gardner, PE of Orlando, Florida has added his voice to the growing number of Democrats that oppose the so-called Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) pending before the U.S. Congress.

“As someone who has served our country in the military and the halls of the Florida Legislature, I don’t think anyone, and especially Democrats, should be advocating stripping away the rights of workers”, said former State Senator Bud Gardner. “The secret ballot is a hallmark of our Democracy that has served us well and should not be cast aside in an attempt to increase unionization in the workplace.” Click to Read More