Happytown 


What's that sound? It's Buddy Dyer's dream of a tourist-financed urban utopia crashing to the ground under the cold, bitter weight of — what's that thing? — reality. On April 2, the Orange County comptroller's office reported that in February county resort taxes had dropped off nearly 30 percent from where they were a year prior, from $16.6 million to $11.8 million.

Those resort taxes were the basis for Orlando's venues financing scheme. And if you do the math, you'll realize how terrible these numbers are. The convoluted venues financing arrangement works something like this: The county places a 6 percent sales tax on hotel stays. The first five pennies of that tax go first toward tourism advertising and paying down the massive Orange County Convention Center debt, and whatever's left after that goes to the city to build the arts center and renovate the Citrus Bowl. The sixth penny is split between tourism ads and the under-construction arena — a pot of money against which the city has already taken out a $310 million loan.

Last year, those first five pennies generated about $140 million, or about $10 million more than the county needed to pay its debt. So the city got a $9.6 million check to fund the arts center and Citrus Bowl — which is not nearly enough to get either one of those projects off the ground `see "Reality bites," Jan. 22`. The sixth cent produced about $28 million in revenue per year for the last two years, half of which goes to the arena. The city's annual debt payments on the arena average out to about $20 million per year.

So the plan's already in rough shape. Now, let's assume that the recession holds steady and deduct 30 percent from resort taxes over the next year. That means the county will collect less than $98 million on those first five pennies, not nearly enough to even meet its convention center obligations. Kiss the Citrus Bowl and performing arts center goodbye, at least for the foreseeable future.

But we've got that brand-damn-new arena, and that's totally gonna revitalize downtown and make the Magic win and stuff. Except that a 30 percent decrease there means the sixth cent will only take in about $20 million, of which the city will only get $10 million — about half of what it needs to make the first annual payment in November 2010. In other words, we're screwed.

Oh but look here, the Citrus Bowl got some good news last week too: another football game. The same day that we found out there was no money to fix up the old, decrepit stadium, Florida Citrus Sports announced that they'd landed some prestigious game that you've never heard of — the East-West Shrine Game, to be exact — which will be broadcast on ESPN2. We've arrived!

The Jan. 23 game is some sort of college all-star contest, which surely will save this city from its aforementioned tourism blues.

Ever since Dyer's windbag extrapolations on the meaning of local life in these times at this February's State of the City address `see "State of the City: Perilous," March 5, 2009`, we've been on eggshells waiting to see just how much he could ruin the already existing idea of localizing the economy. That February address was Dyer's first real mention of his plan to make people spend their money in Orlando, going so far as to suggest last year's ubiquitous trend piece of "staycations" and some amorphous new program to keep things local, y'all.

Last week the mayor debuted said amorphous program as Buy Local Orlando, with a website (www.buylocalorlando.net) and a crafty morning appearance on MSNBC.

Well, the folks behind the fledgling Ourlando movement, who seek to keep the production and consumption of products and services local and independent, were none too pleased with the plan's rollout, calling it an April Fools' joke.

"It has one fundamentally misleading element to it that consumers and small business owners should be aware of: their definition of local is the exact opposite of what ‘local first' campaigns around the country, including ours, are trying to promote," the Ourlandoans opined on their website, www.ourlando.com.

At issue: The city's plan — which will cost businesses $99 for a year's membership (only $49 if you sign up before May 1!) in exchange for a marketing machine including seminars from Disney's Entrepreneur Center and e-mail coupon blasts — is open to any business with a local tax ID and a business license. That includes Wal-Mart and McDonald's, hardly anyone's idea of local.

City talker Heather Allebaugh defends the program, pointing out that even those businesses hire local help. Besides, the big guys will have a tougher time pushing applications through their bureaucracies, she assures, meaning mostly small businesses will benefit, anyway.

"We're trying to do everything that we can right now to help our local economy rebound and make it through these difficult times," Allebaugh says.

After one day of promotion, the city says it had 11 businesses sign up for the program.

And now it's time for another edition of What's Up With Alan?™, our attempt to keep you up to date on the comings and goings of Orlando's favorite congressman, Alan Grayson!

This week's installment finds Alan becoming a total media whore, authoring a Huffington Post op-ed, tearing Fox News power tool Neil Cavuto a new a-hole and becoming the first freshman Democrat to get a bill through the House. What a freaking week!

Mr. "Sweden in a Suit," as Cavuto called him, authored and pimped something called the Pay for Performance Act, which essentially allows the Treasury Department to regulate compensation packages for companies like AIG that are living off the federal teat. And on April 1, the House passed it 247-171. (He even got 10 Republicans on board!) Not bad for a guy who's been on the job all of three months now.

It's populist pabulum. And it will give the folks at Treasury a whole lot of new power. But someone needed to make the bastards pay.

So what do we say? Thanks, Alan, for sticking it to the suits.

Things get pretty boring during session time up in Tallahassee, what with the endless committee meetings dancing around the abortion implications of everything, the not-so-swanky lobby dinners catered by Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q, the dimming lights at the end of legislative tunnels. It's enough to make your average wet-haired wonk reach for that bottle of Maker's Mark tucked behind his tabled bills in the circular filing cabinet.

That may be just what happened up in the marble opulence of the Capitol rotunda last week on April Fools' Day. There, next to the printed litany of all things Florida (state horse? Florida Cracker. Saltwater reptile? The loggerhead, dummy) an unidentified group of pranksters, presumably with liquor on their breath and big letter D's next to their surnames, pulled a fast one on House majority leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach. This wasn't your usual whoopee cushion. Instead, the jokers took to the sacred wall to declare a new state car (of which there is not one) called the "Electric Hasner"!

We can forgive you for not rolling on the floor at this bit of political rib-nudgery, if only because, well, it isn't that funny. See, Hasner campaigned on the promise of electric cars, even being filmed for news segments (still available on YouTube) actually driving one, and has proposed legislation for tax breaks for electric car manufacture in Florida. See what he's done? He's used his right wing for the tax-break part, and stolen the left wing's environmentalism. (See also Hasner's aisle-blurring take on secret ballots for union members.)

This is what passes for politics and humor in Tallahassee. Never go out drinking with a politician, or you'll end up taking his wife … please!

happytown@orlandoweekly.com

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