Is Dyer’s secret Venues debt more than just a problem for local taxpayers and future budgets? It appears that Buddy Dyer has violated the Florida Constitution with these secret debt loans and the entire Venues Agreement could now be in jeopardy as well.
The financial house of cards in Orlando is very concerning, and the more transparency that comes in the sunshine, the worse the situation becomes. How Dyer and this City Council are not being investigated for their financial schemes is another question.
But Article 7, Section 12 of Florida’s Constitution is nice and concise. It does seem that the City of Orlando agreeing to take loans such as described would violate the Florida Constitution if they were not specifically approved “by vote of the electors…”
SECTION 12. Local bonds.—Counties, school districts, municipalities, special districts and local governmental bodies with taxing powers may issue bonds, certificates of indebtedness or any form of tax anticipation certificates, payable from ad valorem taxation and maturing more than twelve months after issuance only:(a) to finance or refinance capital projects authorized by law and only when approved by vote of the electors who are owners of freeholds therein not wholly exempt from taxation; or
(b) to refund outstanding bonds and interest and redemption premium thereon at a lower net average interest cost rate.
Since it has been confirmed by a County Commissioner that Orange County was never informed of this City debt prior to the Venues Agreement vote, it is also clear that Dyer misrepresented the City of Orlando and the reality of the financing behind their end of the deal. Even the Orange County Comptroller confirmed with me that their office never asked the City to verify anything submitted as part of the Venues Agreement, they just took their word on it.
But, information showing that the City of Orlando has been loaned more than a hundred million dollars from an outside entity was never disclosed in the Venues Agreement process. These loans are being used to pay for various parts of the Venues that the City pledged itself to bring to the table (including for instance, $20 million for the Performing Arts Center, $20 million for the Amway Center, $10 million for the Citrus Bowl just to make up one $50 million loan from the Sunshine State Government Financing Commission).
Here’s the thing, these loans are negotiated by Dyer so the City won’t have to start paying them back for years. For instance, on just “Loan 6,” the City will owe $5 million every year starting in 2024, not including interest. Now the City just ran a $12 million deficit last year, so what’s going to happen 10 years from now if they can’t pay? Dyer and the current Council and staff will be long gone.
This clearly violates Florida law about local governments going in debt in the future for capital projects. Would these kinds of activities trigger a public referendum on any of the Venues projects? The answer is yes. In fact, the only way the City says it will pay off the principal payments of $5 million/year is from “proceeds from the redevelopment of the old Centroplex site,” which would mean the property taxes collected from the site once it is finally developed.
Not only has Buddy Dyer jeopardized the City of Orlando’s long-term finances, Dyer has violated the Florida Constitution by funding his Venues projects with these secret loans.
It’s time to stop the out of control spending and borrowing of Buddy Dyer. It’s time to finally demand a public referendum on the Venues projects.