A new lawsuit filed in Florida seeks to put a stop to a transportation referendum slated for the fall ballot in the state’s fourth largest county.
Hillsborough County voters are expected to vote in November whether to raise the local sales tax by 1% for transportation purposes.
Karen Jaroch, a Tampa resident who is a coordinator for a conservative advocacy group, wants to block the vote. She filed a lawsuit last week against putting the question on the ballot.
Another court challenge to the transportation tax
Legal challenges to transportation tax questions are not unique to the county that includes the city of Tampa.
In November 2018, Hillsborough County voters approved a question to raise the local sales tax to 8% from 7%. About 55% of new revenue was set to be applied for road work. The remaining funds were designated to pay for new and enhanced transit options.
Shortly after passage of the referendum, multiple legal challenges were waged. Critics, including Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, argued the tax was unconstitutional and took power from the County Commission.
The issue ultimately made its way to the Florida Supreme Court where plaintiffs argued the charter amendment was “deceptive” to voters. Additionally, they said the spending parameters were set by the referendum and not by elected officials.
In early 2021, justices ruled the transportation tax unconstitutional.
Second time a charm?
Hillsborough County commissioners recently voted to include a question on the fall ballot for a 1% transportation tax. The tax would be in place for 30 years.
The sales tax is estimated to raise $342 million in the first year.
Supporters say the money is needed to avoid losing out on federal funding. They point out that a local match is necessary to secure federal funds estimated at $229 million.
If approved by voters, about half – 45% – of the revenue would be dedicated to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.
The county and three cities would get 54.5% of the revenue. Shares would be based on population. Another one-half percent would go to the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization.
Funds would be used for projects that include additional lanes, lighting improvements, and construction and improvements to sidewalks and curb extensions.
The new legal challenge states the ballot does not meet Florida’s requirement for a simple and narrow question.
“They incorrectly inform voters that their vote on the referendum, rather than decisions by the Board of County Commissioners, will establish the uses to which surtax proceeds will be put and that those uses will be set in stone for the 30-year life of the proposed surtax,” the suit states. LL
More election coverage
Keith Goble, the state legislative editor for Land Line Media, keeps track of transportation ballot questions across the U.S. Here are some recent articles by him.