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Florida Supreme Court rules Hillsborough County's 'All for Transportation' tax unconstitutional

All for Transportation
Posted at 1:11 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 23:11:55-05

In a ruling posted on Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court has struck down Hillsborough County’s one-cent transportation sales tax.

The justices ruled 4 to 1 that the restrictions on how the revenue collected from the tax could be spent are unconstitutional.

"In these consolidated cases we consider the constitutional validity of an amendment to the Hillsborough County Charter that was adopted in an initiative election. Through that charter amendment, the voters approved both a -2- transportation surtax and elaborate directives for allocating the tax proceeds. But 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," wrote Chief Justice Charles Canady.

What is All for Transportation?

All for Transportation is the common term for the voter-approved sales tax referendum funding transportation. It is a one-cent sales tax that was passed in November 2018 and started being collected in 2019.

Why did it head to court?

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit against the referendum. White claimed the surtax is legally deficient. However, a Hillsborough County judge upheld the tax in June 2019. Appeals were filed shortly after, which is why it headed to the Florida Supreme Court.

What about the money that's been collected?

Upwards of half a billion dollars have been collected from the one-cent sales tax since January 2019. Right now, it cannot be dispersed.

Thursday's ruling did not address what can or will happen to the funds already collected.

Where would have the money gone?

The money would have funded new roads, fixing sidewalks and mass transit. You can read about all of those proposed projects by clicking here.

Read the full court opinion

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority provided this statement on the ruling.

HART’s mission is to take people to places that enhance their lives. Despite today’s ruling, that mission does not change. HART remains committed to providing transportation options to thousands of Hillsborough County residents daily - alleviating traffic and providing a more environmentally-friendly commute. HART’s challenge in our mission – funding – does not change. We continue to do more with less – as one of the most underfunded transit systems per capita in the country. One thing that is clear, Hillsborough County voters showed overwhelming support for alternative transportation solutions. We look forward to working with our community partners to continue HART’s mission and keep Hillsborough County moving.
Carson Chambers, Director of Communications HART

Last week we reported on frustrated Hillsborough County residents who wanted to know when the money collected through the tax would be used to fix roads.

"...The roads and sidewalks in Tampa are disgusting. Decades and decades old and this money can make our roads safer, but no one can touch the funds," one person wrote to our tip line.

The court opinion released on Thursday didn't discuss where the money collected through the tax would go.

The Florida Department of Revenue sent ABC Action News a statement that reads:

"Because a motion for rehearing could be made within 15 days, the appeal is not formally concluded. The appeal will formally conclude when the Florida Supreme Court issues a mandate.

All the transportation surtax monies the Department previously collected on behalf of Hillsborough County have been distributed to Hillsborough County. Until the Florida Supreme Court issues a mandate, what will happen regarding those monies remains unclear."

"They've collected I believe somewhere between $400-500 million of our tax money. So the big question now is going to be what happens to that money? From the information that I gathered the answer is we don’t know right now and we have to find that out," said City of Tampa Councilman Luis Viera.