TAMPA, Florida. – The Hillsborough County Commission has called an emergency meeting to discuss an appeal of a court ruling that blocked their transport tax referendum less than four weeks before the November 8 general election.
If approved by voters, the 1% sales tax is expected to generate more than $340 million in its first year alone to help fund a wide variety of transit projects, roads, bridges, security, sidewalks and bike lanes throughout the county.
Supporters say the tax is desperately needed to deal with the county’s growing $13 billion backlog of unfunded highway and transportation projects and to keep pace with its growing population.
“I certainly hope it’s on the ballot, because the longer we delay making this decision, the more it’s going to cost and the worse the problem is going to get. And delaying it election cycle after election cycle, year after year, it will only play into the hands of inflation and population growth and that we will not keep pace with our infrastructure investments,” said Commissioner Harry Cohen.
On Monday, Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe ruled to strike down the measure after a legal challenge over the language used on the ballot. Moe called the language misleading and said it could be confusing to voters because it includes specific types of projects and areas in Hillsborough County that would be covered by funds raised by the proposed 1% sales tax. over 30 years.
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The lawsuit was brought by Karen Jaroch, a former vice-president of the Hillsborough area regional transport board and a conservative activist.
“Rather than asking a simple question, should we levy a 1% transportation sales tax, they put in additional language to entice voters to vote for it,” Jaroch said.
The ballot measure reads as follows:
“Should funding be made for transportation improvements throughout Hillsborough County, including Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, Brandon, Riverview, Carrollwood and Town ‘n’ Country, including projects that:
- Build and widen roads
- Repair roads and bridges
- Expand transit options
- Repair potholes
- Improve bus services,
- Improve intersections
- Making walking and cycling safer
By levying a 1% surcharge on sales for 30 years and funds deposited in an audited trust fund under citizen oversight? »
The same language had been approved by a different judge earlier this year and is similar to a voter-approved transit tax referendum in 2018.
In 2021, a legal challenge by Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White succeeded in having that voter-approved tax overturned on a technicality, leaving more than $500 million raised for transportation in limbo.
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Earlier this year, Hillsborough commissioners were keen to rectify the dispute and re-present an essentially identical plan to voters.
Several Hillsborough County officials and organizations have endorsed the proposed sales tax, including Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
The fight to include the referendum on the ballot this fall has been an uphill battle between Hillsborough commissioners, Republican commissioners Ken Hagan and White voting against imposing the tax on voters.
“I’ve come to realize that while the plan is good, now is not the time,” Commissioner Ken Hagan, who has backed previous sales tax referendums, said ahead of a 5-2 vote in April. .
For now, voters won’t be able to weigh in on the proposal a second time, but it will still appear on the ballot.
The Hillsborough Election Supervisor’s Office said it has already mailed more than 300,000 mail-in ballots to voters.
Ballots that have not yet been mailed and voting booths, which are due to open on October 24, will now include a notice of the court order.
If the commissioners fail in their attempt to appeal that order, state law requires them to wait another two years before they can ask voters to consider it again in the next general election.
Today’s emergency meeting is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.