The All For Transportation campaign filed a motion Wednesday to have a team of its own lawyers intervene in the defense of its transportation referendum increasing sales tax by 1 percent, which voters approved last month.
That motion provides some insight into how defending entities might argue their case.
The primary argument is simple: “Counties may amend their charters to adopt a transportation surtax through a county-wide referendum.” The motion cites Florida Statute 212.055.
“The Hillsborough County Charter vests this power in the people,” the motion reads.
Hillsborough County voters approved the Home Rule Charter in 1983. It was amended and further approved in 2002, 2004 and 2012. That charter states that amendments can be proposed by the County Commission with a five member majority or by citizen-led petition. That amendment must then be approved by a majority of the electors within the county.
All For Transportation gathered nearly 80,000 citizen petitions, more than enough to place the referendum on the county ballot. Voters then approved the referendum 57 percent-43 percent.
The lawsuit challenging the ensuing county charter filed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White addresses three key issues.
It challenges the charter’s outline for how the Hillsborough County Clerk appropriates the tax proceeds to receiving entities, prohibits the funded entities from using revenue to construct new roads or add lanes to existing roads and argues the Independent Oversight Committee required to audit proposed uses for tax proceeds strips the commission from its authority over spending tax revenue.
White’s suit requests 16 different declarations, all of which seek to invalidate the voter-approved referendum. He argues the charter conflicts with state law, infringes on the County Commission’s discretion to appropriate tax revenue, had misleading ballot language and that none of those offending provisions are severable.
All For Transportation argues even though they are not named in the case they should be allowed to participate in defending it. The group says it has a vested interest in ensuring the will of the voters is preserved and lists several court precedents for granting its motion to intervene.
They argue some of the listed defendants do not have enough stake in the case to mount a strong defense against White’s lawsuit. Some of the county’s constitutional offices are named in the suit because they play a role in facilitating the charter or distributing funds. Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden, for example, has already said his office will abide by whatever court ruling may come from this case. His office and others do not benefit financially from the tax revenue.
All For Transportation argues the lawsuit threatens to delay implementation of the new tax, which is supposed to begin being collected January 1. Because of that, they are requesting an expedited hearing on the group’s intervention motion and also requests 20 days from the date that intervention is granted in order to provide a defense response to White’s lawsuit.
An outcome in this case is likely to be a long way off. Whatever ruling is passed down from the Hillsborough circuit judge overseeing the case will likely be appealed by the losing party and could make its way to the Florida Supreme Court.
As of right now there is no injunction to stop the state from beginning to collect the new revenue and the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Courts expects to begin receiving those funds sometime by early March. The agency does not yet know whether it will be able to distribute those funds and will seek its own legal opinion once revenue is received.