TAMPA (WFLA) – The second attempt at a transportation surtax in Hillsborough County hit a major roadblock with a month to go until Election Day.
A Hillsborough County circuit court judge rejected the referendum on the proposed 1% sales tax that was set to appear on the November ballot.
“This urgent issue belongs in the hands of the voters,” Commissioner Gwen Myers (D-Hillsborough County District 3) said in a statement. “I support holding an emergency meeting of the County Commission and I have asked the county staff to present all possible legal alternatives to keep this vital issue on the November 8 ballot.”
Hours before the court’s ruling, Myers stood at the intersection of U.S 301 and Big Bend Road to urge voters to approve the referendum to fund road safety improvements in problem areas.
“So we have better signals, lights, better sidewalks, safety for people,” she said.
According to data from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, deputies have responded to more than 900 accidents with nearly 50 injuries or deaths on U.S. 301 in the past 16 months.
“We’ve seen incredible growth in Hillsborough County,” said Tim Pearson, president of the Hillsborough County Firefighters Union.
Pearson said traffic is not just an inconvenience for drivers, but it’s also a public safety issue delaying response times.
“Getting through traffic alone means we’re slower getting to a fire or medical emergency or traffic accident,” Pearson said.
The firefighters union and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister endorsed the transportation referendum.
Judge Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe sided with a lawsuit seeking to remove the referendum from the ballot. The lawsuit argued the language would mislead voters.
“The only losers today are the residents of Hillsborough County who have again had their opportunity to fix our broken transportation system delayed,” All for Transportation co-founder Tyler Hudson said. “We will continue to pay the high price of doing nothing and the call for action will only grow louder.”
Myers said there is a $13 billion backlog for transportation and road safety projects.
This is the second time the courts have hit the red light on additional tax revenue for transportation projects.
Voters passed a similar referendum in 2018 with 57% of the vote, but that didn’t survive a legal challenge arguing county commissioners, not a citizen-driven ballot initiative, have the sole authority to allocate how tax revenue is spent.