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Abortion amendment could impact fate of Orange County half-penny sales tax

The half-penny sales tax supports construction of new school buildings, and renovation of old ones.
The half-penny sales tax supports construction of new school buildings, and renovation of old ones.

The Orange County School Board has voted to place a referendum on the ballot in November that will ask voters to renew a half-penny sales tax.

The sales tax generates revenue that’s used to refurbish old and build new school buildings in the district. It’s raised more than $4 billion for OCPS since 2002.

Stetson political science professor Kelly Smith said whether the referendum will be successful or not depends on who turns up to vote this November.

She expects the abortion amendment, Amendment 4, to drive more voters to the polls, and increasingly Democratic voters who usually support these kinds of tax initiatives.

“If the Democrats are correct, in anticipating that abortion being on the ballot is going to bring out a lot of Democrats to vote, those voters are probably going to be more likely to vote for a tax increase than more conservative or more Republican voters,” Smith said.

But Smith said regardless of a person’s political affiliation, in general, school-related tax initiatives usually have a better chance of passing than other tax items on the ballot.

“So models in political science focus on kind of the self interest of voters. And so, you would imagine parents that have children in schools would be motivated to vote for this tax because their children and them are being directly affected by it,” Smith said.

Smith said even if people don’t have kids or grandkids in schools, they tend to support education down the ballot as it’s seen as a public good.

“And because children are seen as worthy of government spending, it does make it kind of generally more supported overall by voters. So the chance of a tax for school passing, it's more likely than maybe for another issue that some people might scratch their heads and wonder whether the government should be funding those,” Smith said.

The half-penny sales tax has been used to renovate 136 schools and build 65 new schools in the district since 2002.

If it’s approved, the sales tax would take effect for another ten years.

Watch the full school board meeting here where the half-penny sales tax is discussed:

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.
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