Miami-Dade County commissioners meeting Tuesday refused to advance a proposal that could have led to the repeal of a half-cent transit tax that has leveraged $461 million of debt. But efforts to repeal the tax may not be over yet.
Voters enacted the tax in 2002 to fund new transportation projects in the severely congested metropolitan area of South Florida. But county commissioner Carlos Gimenez and others believe much of the tax has been used on existing operations instead of new projects, and some have alleged that the tax has been mismanaged.
Gimenez failed to get commissioners to advance an ordinance he proposed Tuesday that would have allowed residents to vote on whether to repeal or keep the tax. However, Gimenez said he has begun work on seeking a referendum another way — by obtaining the required number of registered voters’ signatures on a petition to place the item on a future ballot.
Repeal of the tax would be “cataclysmic,” county manager George Burgess said in a memo to commissioners. It was “totally and completely unrealistic” for anyone to have thought that the tax proceeds could have addressed all the promised commitments and construct multiple, heavy rail-transit corridors, he said.
“The transit tax was certainly over-promised, but not mismanaged,” said Burgess, outlining how nearly $1 billion has been spent since the tax was enacted.
If the tax is repealed, Miami-Dade would lose a valuable funding stream and the general fund will have to cover an annual $29.39 million debt service payment for the next 28 years, according to Burgess. In addition, the general fund would have to cover $270 million in capital expenses for projects to be reimbursed with the upcoming issuance of debt backed by the tax. He did not say how much debt the county plans to issue this year.