Approved by voters last fall, Hillsborough County's 1-cent sales tax levy withstands a legal challenge.
A Hillsborough County judge recently upheld a voter-approved 1-cent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements, where County Commissioner Stacy White had challenged the legality of the money distribution process.
“It is evident that the voters of Hillsborough County desire to improve transportation needs,” Judge Rex Barbas stated in the ruling, according to a news release.
White’s civil lawsuit against the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and other local government entities alleged that unelected residents shouldn’t have oversight of funds collected from the tax increase. He contended the amendment was worded in a misleading way that essentially cedes veto power to an unelected, unaccountable group of private individuals.
Barbas, to assuage such concerns, modified details of the charter amendment regarding spending allocations and restrictions — provisions that can be reinstated by a majority vote of the Hillsborough County Commission. All for Transportation, the group that organized support for the transportation tax, says it will ask the county commission to do that.
“The Hillsborough County Commission has the power to put back what the court has taken away,” AFT chairman Tyler Hudson states in the release. Commissioners, he adds, should “follow the wishes of the more than 282,000 residents who voted for the plan exactly as described in the charter amendment that they approved.”
Officials at HART, which stands to reap up to 45% of the revenue from the tax — a levy that could generate between $13 billion and $16 billion over the next 30 years — applauded the ruling.