It’s bad enough that the recently passed sales tax increase in Hillsborough County will cost a whopping $15.8 billion over 30 years (about $527 million a year).
Or that the sales tax, like most sales taxes, will hit the poor hardest. After all, lower-income families spend a higher percentage of their income on items subject to a sales tax than do wealthier families.
Or that, when it goes into effect, Hillsborough County would have the undesirable distinction of having the highest sales tax in the state. This will increase prices for consumers and might even cause companies to lay off workers.
But this sales tax isn’t just any sales tax. Not only will it impose unnecessary burdens on Florida families, it does something that cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but is just as (if not more) damaging in the long run: It undermines the rule of law, running roughshod over our state Constitution.
Thankfully, our County Commissioner Stacy White has decided to stand up for all of us by suing to have the tax overturned in the Hillsborough Circuit Court.
Commissioner White’s lawsuit exposes the violence the tax unleashes on our state Constitution, which carefully delineates that power resides in the people and their duly elected representatives.
Hillsborough County is a subdivision of the state of Florida. Therefore, our county’s laws must abide by the state constitution.
The sales tax fails to meet this requirement.
First, the language of the sales tax restricts county commissioners – those elected by our county’s citizens – from deciding how revenue will be spent, despite the fact that this power is granted explicitly to the commissioners by the Florida Constitution.
The sales tax locks into place apportionments of that revenue for 30 years – preventing the people’s representatives and the people themselves from making any modifications in response to emergencies or changed circumstances that could arise in that time period.
Thirty years is a major commitment – and even when it’s up, we can expect that, like most taxes, it will probably be renewed or made permanent.
Second, it sets up a committee to oversee use of funds raised by the tax. The problem? Committee members will be unelected and unaccountable to county taxpayers. The relevant section of Florida state law provides for no such committee.
Lastly, White notes that the language in the referendum did not present voters complete information about the myriad issues involved and the benefits and drawbacks of the plan.
Therefore, the sales tax doesn’t merely harm the people through their pocketbooks – it also undermines their state’s Constitution and the sovereignty it vests in them through their elected representatives.
It takes power away from them and hands it to a committee of unaccountable bureaucrats.
In short, it is a blatant power grab at the expense of the people of Hillsborough County in violation of the state constitution.
Government works best when it functions within the confines allotted to it by the people, through their constitutions and their elected representatives. Any piece of legislation that circumvents these processes, especially if it was presented in an ambiguous manner, is destructive toward those ends, empowering special interests over the people.
We support Commissioner White’s effort to restore both fiscal sanity and the rule of law. The future of Hillsborough County depends on repealing this fiscally and constitutionally questionable tax.
Skylar Zander is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida.