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Tampa Bay business community rallies behind All For Transportation as Supreme Court appeal looms

Three business advocacy groups filed a legal brief supporting the tax.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Tampa Bay Partnership and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. are supporting the All For Transportation sales surtax currently being challenged in the Florida Supreme Court. The groups filed a brief Tuesday outlining why they think justices should uphold the tax overwhelmingly approved by Hillsborough voters last November.

The filing asks the Florida Supreme Court to honor the will of voters by reversing a previous trial court ruling that struck down some parts of the All For Transportation charter and uphold the charter in its entirety.

If the court is unwilling to reinstate the entire charter, also known as Article 11, as approved by voters, the group asks justices to uphold Article 11 as it was severed by Hillsborough County Judge Rex Barbas.

“We are proud to stand with All for Transportation and the business community in defending Hillsborough voters’ decision to improve transportation last November,” said Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Craig Richard. “Our transportation issues directly affect our economic competitiveness and influence companies’ decisions to relocate or expand here. Securing the All for Transportation tax revenue will help us to address some of our longstanding transportation challenges and keep our economy moving forward.”

Barbas’ ruling struck some provisions of the tax including funding allocations and instead left allocation authority to the Hillsborough County Commission. That body already approved the same funding allocations that were struck from Article 11 so, even if the Florida Supreme Court does not reinstate the severed portions, the amendment remains, in effect, the same as what voters approved in November.

“While the Commission would have the final say on how the tax proceeds are allocated, the one-cent tax would still be allocated for improving transportation if the allocation and oversight provisions are severed,” the brief reads.

The group’s brief comes after the Florida House of Representatives, through the will of House Speaker José Oliva, and the Associated Industries of Florida filed separate briefs supporting petitioners efforts to overturn the tax. Those petitioners include Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White and resident Robert Emerson.

The business groups’ brief argues the Florida Supreme Court should not consider either of those briefs in opposition to the All For Transportation tax because “those arguments almost entirely target the ballot summary, which has not been raised in this appeal.”

“This Court cannot consider arguments raised by amici (the House and Associated Industries of Florida,) but not the parties,” the brief reads.

Meanwhile, the group argues it has a meritorious standing to offer an opinion in the case.

“Key to [The groups’] and their members’ success is reliable and safe transportation. [The groups] have been actively engaged in advocating to improve the region’s transportation deficiencies for decades,” the brief reads.

“The ongoing efforts are motivated by their members’ needs — efficiently connecting residents to jobs, education, healthcare facilities, childcare services, retail establishments, entertainment venues, and other necessary and desired amenities.”

The brief comes as White and Emerson are asking the Florida Supreme Court to strike the All For Transportation tax entirely because, without the portions of article 11 struck down by Barbas, the amendment is no longer what voters approved.

The All For Transportation team argues voter intent was simply to approve a 30-year tax to fund transportation improvements in Hillsborough County — an argument on which Barbas agreed.

“We are proud to now stand with the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Tampa-Hillsborough EDC in submitting this joint amicus brief that clearly articulates the validity of the amendment supported by nearly 60 percent of Hillsborough voters,” said Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Rohrlack.

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 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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