Legislature agrees to float transportation tax money back to Hillsborough if state receives funds

The agreement relies on the decision of Hillsborough Judge Rex Barbas.

If the state receives the $500 million collected from Hillsborough County’s now-defunct penny-per-dollar sales tax, it has agreed to redirect the money back into the county’s transportation projects — confirmed by a House proviso released Wednesday evening.

However, that agreement relies on the decision of 13th Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas, who ultimately will decide the fate of the funds collected in the 27 months the tax was active. If Barbas agrees to send the money to the state, the Legislature has agreed to apply the funds back into the county, helping direct the money back into its intended use.

Barbas was left as the decision-maker for the fate of the funds after the Florida Supreme Court determined in a 4-1 ruling last year that the county’s transportation sales tax was unconstitutional. That sent the case back to Barbas, who originally handled the case in June 2019 in which he ruled the tax was constitutional. His ruling, however, removed charter amendment references to exact percentages allocated to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the three cities within Hillsborough County. It also struck specific references to how much money can be spent on certain types of projects like roads or transit.

The state Supreme Court later struck the tax down entirely, arguing that without the original provision, the tax was not what voters had originally approved.

Hillsborough County voters approved a 1% sales tax in 2018 with nearly 60% of the vote, made possible by All For Transportation, the group that successfully worked to pass the citizen-led ballot initiative. The sales tax was established to fix roadways and improve transit.

“We are grateful to Speaker (Chris) Sprowls and President (Wilton) Simpson for facilitating a pathway toward a resolution that addresses Hillsborough County’s transportation needs,” Christina Barker, co-founder of AFT, said in a statement to Florida Politics.

Back in May, Hillsborough County attorneys suggested a plan on how to handle the money collected from the tax. That plan proposed individuals seeking reimbursement from the sales tax file an application with the court. Then, a final determination would be made by a panel of three retired circuit court judges.

But, several leaders were critical of that proposal, including Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, who said it did not disclose what would happen to unclaimed funds. The proposal was contained in a motion filed on April 29.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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