ORLANDO – With just 10 days left until voters head to the polls for the Florida state primary, members of the Orange County School Board have been busying trying to get out the message that voters should approve the referendum on the ballot to extend the half cent sales tax — needed, the board members say, to help build new schools and renovate 59 existing ones.
As the School Board members have been quick to point out, this is an extension of an existing tax that Orange County voters approved in 2002, and not the introduction of a new one. As a sales tax, it’s expected that it will be paid for largely by tourists coming to the area, and not just local residents.
But the referendum is not without opposition. This week, the grass roots political action committee Ax the Tax came out swinging, urging a no vote. The measure will be decided by voters on Tuesday, Aug. 26.
Doug Guetzloe, the chairman of Ax the Tax, also took aim at Orange County Public Schools and accused them of violating Florida law by putting pro-sales tax signs in front of public schools in Orlando and Orange County – a move that Guetzloe said he plans to challenge legally.
“This is clearly a misuse of OCPS monies, staff time and property,” Guetzloe said. “The school system should refrain from promoting a vote on the sales tax, and this is certainly one more good reason to vote no on the sales tax extension.”
He cited Florida statutes that state, “A local government or a person acting on behalf of local government may not expend or authorize the expenditure of, and a person or group may not accept, public funds for a political advertisement or electioneering communication concerning an issue, referendum, or amendment, including any state question, that is subject to a vote of the electors.”
He noted that Ax the Tax plans to file a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s office and demand a full investigation into what Guetzloe called an abuse of public tax dollars and property to illegally promote an election issue.
“We note that the signage attempts to skirt Florida law by not adding the words ‘For’ or ‘Support,’ similar to what landed Seminole County school system in hot water a couple of months ago, but their attempt is both an unethical and disingenuous use of taxpayer property,” Guetzloe said. “The sign clearly promotes a yes vote to any reasonable person.”
Ax the Tax is urging Orange County voters to reject the sales tax extension. Most of the money is not going into the current school system, he said, but will be spent on new school construction – which benefits developers, not school children, Guetzloe noted.
“Not one penny goes ‘to the kids’ as their political propaganda suggests. Not one penny goes to the teachers or the classrooms. They should rename their effort ‘Dollars for Developers,’ ” Guetzloe said.
Ax the Tax was formed in 1982, and has spent the past 32 years leading 17 anti-tax crusades in numerous Florida counties. The political committee has won most of the battles they have taken on, and convinced voters to defeat what Guetzloe said has been more than $50 billion in new tax hikes.
Contact Freeline Media at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..