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Hillsborough County restores funding allocations for All For Transportation tax

The approved ordinance honors the will of the voters.

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 6-1 Wednesday to restore funding allocations associated with the voter-approved All For Transportation sales tax.

The move means revenue from the 1 percent sales tax will be allocated consistent with the plan voters approved last November. Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas had struck the spending allocation “buckets” down this summer as part of a legal challenge seeking to overturn the tax.

Barbas instead placed the onus on the County Commission to determine spending.

The funding allocations place 54 percent of the revenue with the County and the three municipalities within it, 45 percent to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and 1 percent to the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization for planning and development purposes.

Under that spending plan, $82.8 million would go to Hillsborough County this fiscal year for transportation projects. That amount would jump to an estimated $115 million in 2020 and $119.5 million in 2021.

The prescribed allocations would also provide $25 million to the city of Tampa this year as well as $93.5 million to HART. The cities of Temple Terrace and Plant City would get $1.8 million and $2.6 million, respectively.

HART’s share of the tax would jump to $130 million in 2020 and $134.6 million in 2021. Tampa would get $34.5 million in 2020 and $35.8 million in 2021.

Temple Terrace would receive $2.4 million in 2020 and $2.5 million in 2021. Plant City would receive $3.6 million next year and $3.7 million the year after that.

The revenue estimates are based on project sales tax collection throughout Hillsborough County.

Of the county and city portions of the revenue now enshrined into ordinance 27 percent must be spent on safety enhancements to existing streets, roads and bridges; 26 percent to relieve rush-hour bottlenecks and improve traffic flow on existing roads and in intersections. That pool of funds can be used for vehicle capacity increases to intersections, but cannot add lane capacity. Another 12 percent would go to transportation network improvements to enhance pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

The approved ordinance also dictates how HART must spend its All For Transportation tax revenue including stipulating that no less than 35 percent be used on expanding transit that includes exclusive use of a right-of-way for at least 75 percent of the new route. That would apply to things like bus rapid transit that uses a dedicated transit corridor, passenger rail or ferry route.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White was the only commissioner to vote against the ordinance. White launched the legal challenge that led eventually necessitated Wednesday’s vote and is currently challenging the lower court’s ruling upholding the tax.

Among other issues, White complained that the transit-dedicated portion of the allocations was too vague.

“We cannot say with confidence what the implications of this ordinance will be,” White said.

He later clarified that the allocations do not provide specific uses for the funding.

White also argued the spending plan disproportionally benefitted downtown Tampa at the detriment of other areas in unincorporated Hillsborough County like east and south Hillsborough. Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman joined White in that concern, but voted in favor of the ordinance with the stipulation that they would continue fighting to change the allocation prescription to better fund road projects in more rural and urban parts of the county.

“I just feel that these percentages don’t match what the needs are for our county right now,” Murman said.

Dozens of Hillsborough County residents showed up to speak in favor of restoring funding allocations including Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

“Our future as a city, county and region depends on our votes for transportation,” Castor said.

She said the region should not accept being a national leader for quality of life for residents while also recognizing that the area is a leader in bicycle and pedestrian deaths.

While Wednesday’s vote restores funding allocations to the original referendum charter language, it doesn’t mean the county or any of the other funded governments or agencies will be able to begin spending funds.

Spending is on hold pending the Florida Supreme Court challenge.

However, the vote does allow the county, cities, and HART to move forward with spending plans as they anticipate a revenue windfall if Florida’s highest court upholds the tax.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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