General Election Day finally arrives within hours. Come Tuesday night after the polls close and the ballots are tabulated, Americans can move forward one way or another. Here are capsules of Herald Editorial Board recommendations for review should any voter seek a last-minute review.
▪ School district sales tax: The school board and district guarantee transparency and accountability about the expenditures of the $30 million collected annually from the retention of the half-cent sales tax. An independent oversight committee will be established.
The referendum explains: “Shall the Manatee County School Board extend the existing countywide one half cent sales surtax for fifteen additional years, from January 1, 2018, to ending on December 31, 2032, along with the creation of a citizens’ oversight committee, thereby maintaining revenues statutorily available to be used for capital expenditures to reduce overcrowding, reduce portable classrooms, renovate existing schools, build new schools where needed, purchase technology, and improve student safety and achievement.”
For a resident who spends $500 a month on taxable goods and services (not food, medicine and many other consumer goods), that person would contribute only $2.50 toward education, which is already charged. Visitors and tourists who shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants will cover about a third of the $30 million in annual revenue.
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Our view: This referendum should be about children, education and the future. And about an educated workforce, employment, economic development — and a better community. Recommendation: Yes.
▪ Manatee County sales tax: Commissioners placed a referendum on the ballot titled: “Half Cent Sales Surtax For Public Infrastructure.”
The annual $30 million will be invested in safer neighborhoods, reduced traffic congestion, and improved roadways and public facilities, including sidewalks, street lights, infrastructure for law enforcement and emergency response, libraries, parks, waterways, public buildings and stormwater management. The county also guarantees citizen oversight, as stated in the referendum text, for accountability and transparency.
Our view: The county needs to create a new revenue stream to reduce the vast reliance on property taxes to fund projects and programs — that benefit the public. The county’s infrastructure is crumbling and current revenue will not supply the needed funds. Some vital maintenance projects continue to be postponed.
One important consideration is the economic development benefits as Manatee County becomes a more livable and attractive place. A higher quality of life pays dividends in many ways. Recommendation: Yes.
▪ Vern Buchanan for U.S. House D-16: The incumbent’s commitment to issues of great importance in the 16th Congressional District makes his public service stand out. A conservative, he regularly votes the Republican Party line. His priorities include senior citizens, military veterans and small business. But his highest priority remains job creation and boosting the U.S. economy. A restructuring of the tax system to produce a simpler, flatter and fairer tax code is a key goal.
▪ Joe Gruters in state House District 73: Republican Joe Gruters, a certified public accountant and small business owner serves as vice chair of the Florida Republican Party and chairs the Republican Party of Sarasota. He backs funding for Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development and business recruitment agency, saying the state must prepare for the next economic downturn. With his financial background, Gruters is well suited to navigate the state budgeting process. His conservative perspective will attract the majority of district voters.
▪ Wengay “Newt” Newton in state House District 70: With eight years of service on the St. Petersburg City Council, Democrat Wengay “Newt” Newton holds a significant advantage over his Republican opponent, a student at State College of Florida. Newton gained valuable knowledge of budgets and economic development as well as education and transportation issues while on the council. Born and raised in St. Petersburg, the heart of this district, he has deep knowledge of the poor neighborhoods. He top priorities are also high on Manatee County’s list: education funding and affordable housing.
▪ Betsy Benac for Manatee County Commission District 7 At-Large: Benac spent her first term climbing the leadership ropes on several key regional water and transportation boards as well as civic and business organizations. Along with her 34 years of experience as a professional land planner in both the public and private sectors, she is well acquainted with the diverse challenges confronting this community, including growth and traffic issues. She expresses an analytical and reasonable rationale in her support the county’s sales tax referendum. The goal, Benac says, is to greatly improve the quality of life for existing residents. She also rightly notes that deferred maintenance is more expensive maintenance.
▪ David Zaccagnino for Manatee County Commission, District 3: Zaccagnino would bring a wealth of public and civic leadership experience to the board, highlighted by his nine years as a Holmes Beach city commissioner. He has a strong view of the county’s traffic and growth challenges — particularly the failing infrastructure in District 3. He has worked on a host of high-level transportation organizations. As a member of the Manatee County Citizens Financial Advisory Board, he now has broad knowledge of the county budget; the board recommended the half-cent sales tax referendum to the commission to fill a critical need for infrastructure maintenance and improvements.
▪ Wayne Poston for mayor of Bradenton: Since taking office in January 2000, Poston positioned the city for major improvements via a host of master plans led by the Downtown By Design package of projects, making solid progress until the economy tanked and the city’s momentum ran out of gas. But his steady hand helped guide the city through the Great Recession. And he then played a major role in the city’s resurgence. The development of Riverwalk and the resurrection of the historic but languishing Pink Palace into a Hampton Inn & Suites brought vibrancy to downtown. More major projects are in the works, including a new hotel and parking garage with retail space.
▪ Gene Gallo for Bradenton Council Ward 1: The 77-year-old’s public service began in 1960 as a firefighter. His steady rise in the Bradenton Fire Department and leadership skills earned him a promotion to fire chief, where he served for 11 years before his first election to the City Council in 1991. Not only does Gallo know the ins and outs of council responsibilities and capabilities, his knowledge of the city runs much deeper. With his institutional knowledge, there would not be the learning curve that his challengers would face.
▪ Harold Byrd Jr. for Bradenton Council Ward 5: The incumbent, Byrd’s council performance does indeed rank as excellent as his opponent stated. His deep policy knowledge, governance skills and spot-on goals for another term should convince voters to return him to the City Council. He recently gained a master’s degree in public administration and earned certification as a redevelopment professional through the Florida Redevelopment Association, both valuable to public service. He vows to focus on the redevelopment and revitalization of neighborhoods — critical to his ward, the poorest in the city.
Florida amendment proposals
Amendment 1, solar energy: No
Amendment 2, medical marijuana: Yes
Amendment 3, property tax exemption for disabled first responders: Yes
Amendment 5, homestead tax exemption for low-income, long-time residents: Yes