HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Board of County Commissioners supported two resolutions during Wednesday’s meeting in response to the decision from the Florida Supreme Court that struck down the transportation surtax approved by voters in 2018.
The first had to do with refunding the $500 million that has been collected since the one-cent sales tax went into effect in January 2019. The second begins the process of putting a new transportation tax referendum on the ballot in 2022.
“We need to show leadership here that we understand the ruling,” Commissioner Ken Hagan said. “We’re not fighting the ruling.”
Hagan went on to describe the money from the tax levy as “fruit from a poisonous tree.”
“The spending directives are unconstitutional in that they conflict with a state law that gives the county commission the authority to allocate such funds. Because it cannot reasonably be said that the voters would have approved the tax without the accompanying spending plan, we must strike the charter amendment in its entirety,” the Florida Supreme Court wrote in Robert Emerson v. Hillsborough County.
The motion from Commissioner Hagan calls on the county to work with the Florida Department of Revenue and the Hillsborough Clerk of the Court on how to pay back all of the taxpayer dollars.
The citizens group “All for Transportation” advocated for the referendum in order to create a new revenue source for fixing county roadways and improving public transit.
“I will lead the way to bring the one percent transportation surtax referendum back to the voters in 2022,” Commissioner Gwen Myers said during the meeting.
The board gave the green light to Myers’ motion directing county staff to start the process of doing just that by setting up workshops, public hearings and a deadline to deliver the language of the referendum to the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections.
“Clearly, this is too big of an issue for us to just keep kicking the can down the road for another couple years,” Hagan said.
Commissioner Stacy White had filed a lawsuit calling the 2018 referendum unlawful.
“I think that transparency and putting the county’s needs out there is paramount,” he said at the meeting.
Commissioner White said the tax is still being levied because there is a 15-day window that allows either side in the lawsuit to ask for a rehearing by the Florida Supreme Court. It is set to expire on March 12.
The leadership from All for Transportation expressed disappointment with the Florida Supreme Court, calling it an insult to the voters.
“To have Tallahassee to say they know better for Hillsborough County is disappointing,” Co-founder of All For Transportation Christina Barker said. “While we don’t agree with that decision it is the final word of the court, we don’t plan on appealing it, we plan on working with the county commission to get that plan back on the ballot.”
8 On Your Side will keep you posted on how Hillsborough County plans to refund your taxpayer dollars and the process of putting a new referendum on the ballot in 2022.