HILLSBOROUGH, Co., Fla. (WFLA) — The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners is meeting on Wednesday to discuss creating a new 1% transportation sales surtax that would go on the ballot in the next election.
In 2018, Hillsborough County voters approved a 1% sales tax to fix roadways and improve the transit system with nearly 60% of the vote. The citizen led group “All For Transportation” started collecting petitions to add the one cent tax to the ballot. The tax has since raised $500 million.
However, the “All For Transportation Plan” was struck down by the state last week. The Florida Supreme Court ruled the tax was unconstitutional, and only the county commission can decide how taxpayer money is spent.
The ruling came after County Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit, calling the referendum unlawful.
“That spending scheme, if you begin to peel back that onion and take a close look at it, you’ll see it treated people in unincorporated Hillsborough County unfairly,” White said. “People who have paid into this unlawful levy they have a right to get their money back if they so chose, so this has to go through a process.”
“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.
Commissioners will vote on Wednesday whether to have the county administration begin preparing the necessary documents for a new transportation sales surtax referendum in 2022.
“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.”
Commissioner White says the tax is 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.
White says he’s hearing that it’s unlikely either side will ask for a hearing, so once that 15-day window expires, there will be an order to stop collecting the tax. He says the levy should be eliminated by the middle of March.
Commissioner White added that it’s still unclear what will happen with the money, but there is a separate class action lawsuit that seeks to address that issue.