With yet another Thursday going by without the Florida Supreme Court weighing in on the legal challenge to Hillsborough County's one-cent sales tax measure from 2018, the movement to have elected officials begin tapping into what is now a $472 million fund is growing.
What You Need To Know
- It has now officially been over a year since Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the All for Transportation case
- Commissioner Harry Cohen made motion to spend dollars already collected by one-cent sales surtax
- BELOW: Breakdown of money collected from tax
- More Hillsborough County headlines
“I think that people have a right, if they’re paying the money, to start to see some relief for what they’re paying the money for,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen said last week.
Cohen made a motion at the end of the Board of County Commission’s February 3 meeting to have the county administrator and county investigator look into the notion of beginning to spend some of the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that have been collected over the past couple of years since the All for Transportation one-cent sales surtax was approved by voters in 2018.
Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera is expected to propose a motion similar to Cohen’s at Thursday night’s city council meeting, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Gwen Myers will make the same request to officials with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, the county’s transit agency, on Monday.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Gwen Myers (Spectrum News)
Commissioner Stacy White filed and lost a legal challenge to the tax in 2019, but the case was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case more than a year ago but still has not yet rendered an opinion. He did not return a request for comment.
“I think this is the right time to start spending money,” says Myers, who says that while the county probably can’t spend its share of the funds on major road projects because that would require bonding, it could spend it on street lighting, sidewalks and other infrastructure projects.
“That money is being collected, and it’s not being spent, despite the fact that a judge ruled that it was legal. That is the law of the land,” says Janet Scherberger, the president of the board of Walk Bike Tampa. “Let’s spend that money and make those investments that Hillsborough County residents want.”
Both Myers and Scherberger worked on the All for Transportation campaign in 2018.
But there are those who think it would be foolish for elected officials to begin spending money before the Florida Supreme Court weighs in.
“Legally, I think these funds should be held up. I think they need to remain untouched, because we know that the one thing that government loves to do with money that isn’t theirs, is to spend it,” says Hillsborough County Republican Jonathan Torres. “It’s just common knowledge. Finance 101. You don’t spend money you don’t have, and they shouldn’t be allowed to spend those monies until the Florida Supreme Court has decided so.”
According to the Hillsborough Clerk of the Courts, as of January 27, $212 million has been set aside for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, the county’s transit system. More than $188 million has been set aside for Hillsborough County and more than $56 million for Tampa. An additional $4.7 million is set for the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization. There’s $5.8 million for Plant City and $3.9 million for Temple Terrace.
The Florida Supreme Court releases its rulings every Thursday morning. It has now officially been more than a year since the justices heard oral arguments in the All for Transportation case.
In his request last week to have the county administrator and county attorney investigate the possibility of tapping into the transportation funds, Cohen said he had been informed that the “impediments to our spending the money aren’t so much legal as they really are a policy issue – an issue for the board to determine.”
“I think it’s time,” he added. “We’ve waited a year, and money piles up. And projects pile up. It’s becoming more and more untenable not to have a resolution so that we can move forward in some way. Whatever that way is going to be.”