HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — District 4 Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White has filed a lawsuit challenging the local transportation surtax certified by voters in November.
The complaint reads in part:
“In light of the recent passage of Article 11 of the Hillsborough County Charter, which creates and implements a local transportation surtax, Commissioner White is in doubt about his duties and obligations as a county commissioner because his duties and obligations under section 212.055(1), Florida Statutes (2018), which is that statute allowing a county to create such a surtax, appear to conflict with his duties and obligations as stated in Article 11.”
“This referendum, which created a transportation surtax in our County Charter, was drafted and financed by a small group of private citizens without any public vetting to place a 1-percent transportation surtax in our County Charter, projected to raise about $10 billion in new taxes over the next 30 years,” White said.
He claims the charter is legally deficient for the following reasons:
Chapter 212.055 of Florida Statute requires that these transportation surtax proceeds be allocated by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC); however:
The amendment unlawfully delegates the responsibility of the BOCC to allocate transportation surtax dollars to an unelected group of unknown people who do not answer to the voters or any higher authority,
The amendment unlawfully abandons the required statutory framework for allocating surtax proceeds under Chapter 212,
The amendment unlawfully earmarks virtually all these surtax revenues to specific transportation improvements,
The amendment specifically prohibits the expenditure of these surtax revenues at the discretion of the duly elected BOCC as required under Florida Statute 212,
The amendment unlawfully prohibits the BOCC from reallocating the surtax proceeds as the needs of the community change by embedding this static system for allocating surtax dollars into our County Charter for the life of the surtax.
The ballot summary is legally insufficient as it did not provide voters with a fair notice of the contents of the proposed amendment.
“Improving roads and bridges” is the first suggested use of surtax proceeds mentioned in the ballot summary, but the summary fails to point out that general purpose funds cannot be used to add new lanes to existing roads or to build new roads. Since additional lanes and new roads are the best ways to improve the function of most existing roads, the summary misleads the voter into believing that a high priority for the use of the surtax is to advance improvements that are largely prohibited by the amendment.
Reference to the “Independent oversight Committee” is vague and misleads the voter into believing that their role will be limited to oversight when in fact the Committee actually has veto authority over projects approved by elected officials in both the County and each of its municipalities.
“I do not believe the voters of Hillsborough County would have knowingly supported this charter amendment had they known it violated the laws of the State of Florida," White said. "The bottom line is I am not doing this in spite of voters. I am doing this for them.”
Brian Willis is with All For Transportation, the group that helped pass the referendum. They call this a political stunt that will cost taxpayers more legal fees and a delay in improvements to roads and the bus system.
“I think what’s frustrating for us, is it’s undermining what 57% of voters in this county wanted. People are fed up with our dangerous roads, our dangerous sidewalks, pedestrian deaths. They are fed up with congestion they are facing every day," said Willis.