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Florida Senate joins opposition to Hillsborough’s All For Transportation sales tax

Both Legislative bodies are urging the Florida Supreme Court to overturn the tax.

The Florida Senate is joining opposition to the All For Transportation sales tax in Hillsborough County. The legislative body filed a notice with the Florida Supreme Court that it was joining another brief filed last week by the Florida House supporting a legal challenge seeking to overturn the tax.

In that brief, House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum wrote urging the Florida Supreme Court to invalidate the sales tax in its entirety. 

Hillsborough County voters overwhelmingly approved the All For Transportation referendum last November that levied a 1 percent sales tax to fund sweeping improvements to the county’s transportation network including a variety of both road and transit projects. 

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White and later Hillsborough resident Robert Emerson challenged the tax both arguing it violated superseding state law governing how sales tax revenue expenditures could be determined. 

A judge upheld the tax but struck some provisions of the new charter including spending allocations.

The House brief argues the tax usurps legislative authority to oversee how sales surtax is levied. 

“The House has an interest in preserving this legislative prerogative to strictly control non-ad valorem taxation,” Tanenbaum wrote. “Hillsborough County’s effort at levying a sales surtax without strictly complying with the Legislature’s requirements for doing so, and the trial court’s application of the severability doctrine to preserve a portion of an otherwise unconstitutional levy, threatens to diminish the Legislature’s exclusive constitutional power regarding non-ad valorem taxation.”

Tanenbaum also argued the All For Transportation referendum illegally included language directing specific uses for revenue, an authority that should be reserved for the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners or the Florida Legislature. 

“In fact, for this particular surtax, the Legislature charges the county commission, and no other person or entity, to decide how the tax proceeds will be spent across several statutorily enumerated categories of transportation projects. The county’s failure to put a “clean” levy question to the voters renders the proposed surtax invalid,” he wrote.

Like the House brief, the Senate did not vote to support the appeal. The decision instead came from Senate President Bill Galvano.

“This is just another example of Tallahassee thinking it knows better than the voters they are sent there to represent. Elected leaders at every level of government should respect our overwhelming call for change to improve the transportation crisis in Hillsborough County and support the investment voters are making to resolve the crippling backlog of road projects and safety improvements we face,” said All For Transportation Chair Tyler Hudson. “At the end of the day, this deliberate effort to silence the voters only further erodes the public’s confidence in their elected leaders.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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