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Florida Supreme Court to hear All For Transportation arguments next month

It’s a major move on the fate of Hillsborough County’s voter-approved transportation tax.

The Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next month in an appeals case seeking to undo voter approval of a Hillsborough County transportation tax.

The state’s high court will hear arguments Feb. 5 in Tallahassee over whether or not the court should overturn the All For Transportation charter amendment Hillsborough County voters approved in 2018 imposing a 1% sales tax to fund sweeping transportation and transit improvements throughout the county.

The measure passed in all three cities in the county and in all seven County Commission districts.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, a longtime critic of the sales tax initiative, and resident Bob Emerson are appealing the amendment in an effort to have it overturned.

Raoul Cantero, a former Justice of the Florida Supreme Court appointed by Jeb Bush will present oral arguments on behalf of All For Transportation and George LeMieux, a former Republican U.S. Senator, will argue on behalf of Hillsborough County.

White and Emerson have private council handling their arguments.

Attorneys for All For Transportation and Hillsborough County are expected to 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.

A brief filed with the Florida Supreme Court in advance argues that White and Emerson’s arguments against the tax are based on those not addressed in previous rulings or in All For Transportation’s defense.

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

A lower-court ruling by Judge Rex Barbas agreed and struck down provisions in the charter relating to how funds should be allocated. He placed that authority back with the Board of County Commissioners who later approved the same provisions in the original charter language.

“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,” All For Transportation wrote in that brief.

The hearing represents the first major movement in the case as the tax’s fate hangs in the balance. Hillsborough County taxpayers have already been paying the sales tax, but funded agencies and governments have left the revenue untouched pending the outcome of the appeal.

The February hearing is expected to take less than an hour, according to All For Transportation. It’s also unlikely to be the final word on the matter.

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 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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