Group says tourist development taxes should be used for more than tourism

Citizens for Informed Elections files petition to free up monies for public projects


We’ve spent the better part of the last year making enemies because we haven’t always agreed with the party line on tourist development taxes – the bonus hotel tax revenues bilked off of the damp tourists at Wet ’n Wild – and the limitation of their uses to only giant shiny things that smell a lot like mayoral legacies. When the Orlando City Soccer Club somehow managed to convince both of our concentric mayors (HA! Been waiting to use that for years now) that an $84 million soccer stadium – in addition to some $1.8 billion in other recent venue erection – would be a boon for economic development, we once again furrowed our collective brow and asked, “What about some spending on local necessities like crime and transportation and public education?” It’ll be fun, guys! Come on!

Well, that never happened. Once again we got the same shaking heads attached to the same message that these excess tariff-ic pennies on tourists could only go toward filling the coffers of theme parks and tourism agencies. It’s only fair! They are our secret overlords!

Well, unbeknownst to most (because snowflakes and Jesus), a new group billing itself as Citizens for Informed Elections tackled the disconnect on Dec. 18 when it filed a petition with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections to adjust the county’s charter and free up those monies from more ridiculous venues. The group, spearheaded by recent Democratic scene-chewer Sean Ashby, doesn’t seem to be asking for anything that doesn’t make perfect sense, which is exactly why the theme park lobby will soon be breathing down his neck. Though the move – which will require more than 700,000 county signatures, not unlike the sick-time measure got last year before it was thwarted – acknowledges that there are state statutory issues to be dealt with on the issue, it also (wisely) presses the pause button on any more reckless development.

“No tourist development tax revenues shall be expended for the construction or maintenance of any professional sports franchise facility or any facility a professional sports franchise is reasonably expected to occupy or use, unless there has been approval by a majority of the electors by referendum for such expenditure,” the petition states, adding, “Until such time Florida Statute authorizes the County Commission to expend revenue from the tourist development tax for the construction or operation of public schools or public safety, all tourist development tax revenues not used for the payment of debt service on bonds issued before January 1, 2015, shall be placed either in a trust fund for use solely for public safety or the construction or operation of public schools upon approval of such use by Florida Statute or shall be used to pay down existing bonds.”

Holy common sense! Anyway, Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles has approved the language of the charter amendment, saying that the group has 180 days to get the required signatures. That’s almost exactly the amount of time that the tourism industry will need to burn this shithouse down and delete every message related to it while simultaneously writing giant checks to Mayor Teresa Jacobs and her favorite commissioners up for re-election. Cowles, who appears to be getting tired of all this shit-stirring democracy, says this in an email: “[It’s] starting to feel like election year 2014 is going to be just like 2012. We are currently checking the petitions for medical marijuana and Land & Water Legacy. The state deadline for statewide initial petitions is Feb. 1st.” Happy New Year!

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