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Friday, Jul 19, 2019
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Residents urge Hillsborough commissioners to reinstate spending restrictions on transportation tax

TAMPA - The Hillsborough County Commission took no action Wednesday after about two dozen people asked the board to reinstate percentages dictating the types of projects revenue from a one-cent transportation sales tax can pay for.

Circuit judge Rex Barbas struck those percentages - which included allocations for maintenance, intersections, bike and pedestrian facilities and safety improvements - in a ruling he issued Monday in a lawsuit brought by Commissioner Stacy White. White filed the lawsuit in December arguing that the charter amendment 57 percent of voters approved in November usurps power from the County Commission by determining how the money should be used.

Barbas upheld the tax, but said the decision of how to spend the money rests with commissioners, not voters.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

Judge: Hillsborough's transportation tax is legal, but spending allocations and oversight committee are not

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The judge also removed a dedicated allocation of 45 percent of revenue to the county's transit agency and struck a provision that said money could not be spent on new roads, additional lanes or highway expansion.

Speakers asked the seven-person commission to honor their votes and reinstate the percentages, which they said provide transparency and certainty to how their tax dollars will be used.

"I voted for a very specific breakdown of where that investment would be spent," Tampa resident Brant Peterson said. "I knew exactly what I was voting for. ... One of the primary reasons I voted for the referendum was just that, that it was clearly identified where the funds would be spent."

The speakers represented a mix of interest groups that often oppose each other when speaking to the commission and other boards about transportation. People from the business community, anti-highway expansion groups, transit riders, the chamber of commerce, the Tampa Bay Lightning and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor's office all asked the board to reinstate the allocations people voted for in the charter amendment.

"Not often do you see ... the chamber, the Economic Development Cooperation, the (Tampa Bay) Partnership and the activists all on the same side," former Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione said. "I think that is a tremendous statement."

Alan Zimmet, the attorney who represented the county in the lawsuit, briefed commissioners about the judge's ruling. Lawyers are still waiting for a final judgment, after which there will be a 30-day window for parties on either side to file an appeal.

County Attorney Christine Beck cautioned commissioners about discussing any pending litigation. None of board members commented on the ruling following the legal briefing.

"I'm also aware there are many discussions about the most appropriate way to uphold the will of the voters," Beck said. "There's no way we could pass an ordinance today. It requires notice and public hearings and so forth. I would think that in the coming weeks we would be tackling some of these issues."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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