Final briefs defending All For Transportation are in ahead of Florida Supreme Court hearing

Groups supporting the transportation tax filed a scathing rebuke of critics.

Groups fighting to protect the one percent All For Transportation sales tax voters approved last November have filed their final two briefs before the Florida Supreme Court takes up two cases challenging the levy’s constitutionality.

Interveners in the case, including attorneys for All For Transportation, filed a brief defending the tax against claims from two petitioners — Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White and resident Bob Emerson. Hillsborough County, the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization and the city of Tampa also filed a cross-reply brief arguing the tax should be upheld.

In the All For Transportation brief, attorneys ask the Court to uphold the charter amendment in its entirety, despite provisions that were struck down in a lower-court ruling but that overall preserved the tax.

Broadly, the brief argues that White and Emerson’s arguments against the tax are based on arguments not addressed in previous rulings or in All For Transportation’s defense.

“White and Emerson’s limited responses to All For Transportation’s brief do not rebut its showing that there is no express conflict between Article 11 and general law,” the brief, which was filed last week, reads.

The brief responds to several arguments in White and Emerson’s challenge including that “when there is doubt about whether a local law will affect the operation of a state statute, the doubt must be resolved in favor of the statute against the local law.”

That argument cites a Metropolitan Date County ruling against Chase Federal Housing Corp. However, that ruling does not address a charter amendment and only argues that state statutes govern over local laws.

Both White and Emerson argue that All For Transportation cannot usurp County authority to determine how to allocate funds.

“White nowhere addresses — because it upends all of his arguments — All For Transportation’s argument that, under Article 11’s supremacy clause, ‘if the County Commission were ever to deem appropriate another set of allocations, they would supersede those provided in Article 11 to the extent of any conflict.”

The filing notes that Emerson did address that argument, but only to dismiss it as “beside the point.”

But Hillsborough County Commissioners already approved, after a lower court judge threw out spending allocations prescribed within Article 11, the All For Transportation charter, the same funding allocations the amendment originally included.

“Both White and Emerson are missing the point, which is that the supremacy clause allows the Commission the flexibility to reallocate tax proceeds” and that “if a future Commission exercises its authority [under statute] to deem appropriate some other allocation scheme, that allocation would supersede those indicated in Article 11.”

The cross-reply brief from the county, MPO and city of Tampa puts it another way.

“The Commission had the statutory right and duty not to accept the uses and allocation provided in Article 11 if it did not deem them appropriate. If the commission did not believe the uses and allocation in Article 11 were appropriate, it could have refused to act by not calling the measure up for vote; it could have declined to defend against White’s lawsuit, consented to a judgment in White’s favor, or joined White as a plaintiff.”

And All For Transportation further argues in its brief that White’s assertion that County Commissioners were “compelled” to vote for the spending allocations is invalid because he himself voted against all of them.

The All For Transportation filing also argues White’s contention against the tax hinges, in part, on ad hominem attacks against its framers including that references to state statute protecting County authority to allocate funds was merely a litigation strategy based on the framers’ “guilty conscience.” All For Transportation argues his speculation is improper and not based on any ambiguity in the tax charter language.

Meanwhile, Emerson argued that the Commission’s vote to uphold funding allocations through an interlocal agreement aren’t sufficient to “revive” the charter because it was “void from the start.” However, All For Transportation argues the Commission was exercising its discretion in allocating tax revenue.

Hillsborough County residents and visitors have been paying the 1% sales tax on purchases where sales tax is collected for nearly a year. However, that revenue has been sitting idle pending White and Emerson’s legal challenges.

Spending plans for funded agencies and governments including the County, its three incorporated cities, the MPO and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority are on hold pending an outcome.

It’s not clear what would happen to revenue already collected if the Florida Supreme Court sided with White, Emerson or both.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

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 [email protected].


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