Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas on Thursday dismissed Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the 1 percent sales tax voters approved last November to fund sweeping transportation and transit improvements in the county.
Barbas granted the All For Transportation group’s motion to dismiss. The motion claimed White had no legal standing to file the lawsuit in his capacity as a Hillsborough County Commissioner.
Attorney Ben Hill cited the Hillsborough County Charter arguing it does not allow county commissioners to file suit against the county. It also requires any such legal challenges to be voted upon by the board. White did not propose such a vote and one was never taken.
White’s attorney, Chris Altenbernd, argued unsuccessfully White did have legal standing to file the suit because voters approved the tax, not the Board of County Commissioners.
“It has been 128 days since Hillsborough County voters overwhelmingly demanded more funding to fix a transportation crisis that grows worse each day. We expect our county and city leaders to continue taking actions toward the full implementation of the All For Transportation plan,” said All For Transportation Chair Tyler Hudson.
White has 10 days to amend his suit as a private citizen rather than in his official capacity as an elected official. It’s not clear yet whether White will do that. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The judge’s dismissal is a huge win for the All For Transportation group, but their fight is not over.
Temple Terrace resident John Cimino filed a similar legal challenge seeking to overturn the tax as a class-action lawsuit. While White’s lawsuit named all three cities in Hillsborough County, the county and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority as defendants, Cimino’s suit names only the county.
All For Transportation was not named in either, but the group filed successfully to act as intervenors in White’s lawsuit. The campaign has not decided yet whether they will do the same in Cimino’s suit, but Hudson said the group would “keep fighting any attempts to obstruct the will of the voters and further attempts to delay progress.”
Barbas’ dismissal of White’s suit does not indicate any news on whether the reasons White filed the suit are valid or not.
Both lawsuits claim the charter creating the new tax violates state statutes by limiting or removing the County Commission’s authority to determine how to spend revenue. The suits claim two ways in which the charter usurps county authority. The required Independent Oversight Committee would have veto authority over spending plans through required audits aimed at ensuring funds are allocated in accordance with the charter. The charter also predetermines how to spend the revenue by allocating 54 percent to HART and specific amounts to all other funded entities.
Cimino filed his suit last week. That case is still pending.
The All For Transportation group suspects the efforts are linked, though White denies that, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
One of Cimino’s lawyers, Jacksonville personal injury attorney Howard Coker, has ties to two attorneys working on White’s behalf — Martin Garcia and Altenbernd.