North Central Florida voters say ‘no’ to two taxes

By on November 7th, 2012

Tuesday’s local election did not fair well for two much-debated referendums. The controversial “Fix Our Roads” transportation tax was given a thumbs down by Alachua County voters, and Marion County voters said “no” to a tax that would’ve funded a hospital.

Former Gainesville city commissioner and current vice president of student affairs at the University of Florida Jeanna Mastrodicasa was one of many who voted against the “Fix our Roads” tax. She said there were several reasons it did no pass, but the main reason was that the legislation did not make sense to voters.

“There was certainly a lot of difficulty in putting together legislation,” she said. “There was a lot problems with coming together with good compromise, and there was a lot of bad faith throughout the process. When the county commission voted to put it on the ballot, it was a 3 to 2 vote to begin with, and if you have that kind of division at the county commission level, you’re certainly not going to get solid support throughout the county.”

Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party opposed the legislation, Mastrodicasa said. Alachua County voters rejected the “Fix our Roads” tax with 67 percent of the vote.

“It was only the Gainesville Tea Party that was in support of it,” she said. “I think most Alachua County voters know that if the Gainesville Tea Party’s in support of a new tax, there’s probably some problems with it.”

Alachua County Commissioner Susan Baird was among the few officials in support of the proposed transportation tax. Baird said there were two reasons why voters weren’t sure about the idea, and she began to doubt it in the end.

“Well I think there were two parts to that,” she said. “I think the first one was that mistrust of the commission to utilize the funds in a manner in which they would expect it to be used. The city commission had campaigned so hard against it as well. … I actually don’t feel so bad that it didn’t pass.”

Mastrodicasa said the need to fix roads in Alachua County is important and that there is enough time to prepare legislation “that is more inclusive and comprehensive” for voters in 2014.

“I think there’s an opportunity here, but you can’t  put together something that the majority won’t vote for,” she said. “What you saw today was something that the majority was clearly not in support for and you really saw what I think is a defeat of poor public policy.”

Voters in Alachua County did agree to an extension on the one-mil tax, which grants extra money to schools for extracurricular activities.

In Marion County, voters decided against a referendum that would increase property taxes to fund the renovation of Munroe Regional Medical Center.  The county has been deeply affected by the downturn in the economy, and it was reflected in the final vote, Marion County Commissioner Kathy Bryant said.

“Economically, we’ve been hit hard in this recession, and I think that voters now just don’t want to be taxed anymore,” she said. “They’ve had enough, and they just can’t afford it.”

Marion County Commission District 5 winner Earl Arnett said the tax would not be a long-term solution.

“It would only be a temporary Band-Aid,” he said. “It’s a short-term fix, and the business model that’s currently being used at Munroe Regional is not working in this current economic climate. So, something more than imposing taxes — additional taxes for a short-term fix is not the appropriate thing to do, and I think the citizens of Marion County have stated that.”

Arnett said to keep the hospital open, they are considering potentially leasing the hospital to a company other than the one leasing it now. The decision will be made by the trustees appointed by the county commission and the hospital.

Marion County Commission District 3 winner Stan McClain said there are options and that the people just weren’t comfortable with the tax measure.

“Well, I think our board of trustees voted to put this on the ballot, let the taxpayers decide on whether they want  to fund the hospital through taxation,” he said. “Obviously the voters have spoken. They don’t want to do that. They have another path that they’re traveling down now, which would be to either privatize the hospital or possibly sell the hospital, and so I think that they’ll move down the next path now.”

Emily Miller edited this story online.

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