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Hillsborough County Commission to hold emergency meeting after judge invalidates transport tax referendum

The Hillsborough County Commission will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss what to do after a judge invalidated a transit tax referendum that should have been voted on next month.

Proceeds from one-cent sales tax referendum reportedly used for transportation projects, but judge agreed with plaintiff who sued, accusing county of misleading language on the ballot.

Commissioner Gwen Myers, who is among the tax’s most vocal supporters, said she was “devastated” by the judge’s decision because the county has a backlog of $13 billion in highway projects.

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“Hopefully we can keep this on the ballot,” Myers told FOX 13 on Tuesday. “To go another two years would really hurt our county. We’re already stuck in traffic, complaining about our infrastructure, our students are walking to school. [with] no sidewalks, roads and bridges, traffic lights. So think of this as a 1% investment in our community.”

Myers said county prosecutors should consider any avenues the county may have to keep the referendum on the ballot.

A judge ruled on Monday that the referendum included misleading and ambiguous language that attempted to trick voters into thinking their tax dollars would be used for certain types of projects when in reality the decision would be made by county commissioners at a later date. .

Karen Jaroch, a former member of the Hillsborough area regional transport board, filed a lawsuit leading to the measure being struck down.

“The ballot language is misleading and ambiguous rather than asking a simple, narrow question, should we levy a 1% transportation sales tax? They added additional language to entice voters to vote for it,” Jaroch told FOX 13. “The problem has been that we don’t have a real honest debate about how we can fund our transportation improvements.”

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This is the second time the county has had trouble with word of a transit tax referendum. In 2018, voters passed a similar proposal, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional because it identified projects where the proceeds would be used.

Myers, however, sees a difference between the two circumstances. She said the All for Transportation group put the previous measure on the 2018 ballot. This time around, it was the commissioners who agreed to the wording. According to Myers, the commission was trying to honor the state Supreme Court’s decision, while being candid, not misleading, with the wording.

“We are the board. We set the policies,” she said. “This time it was the Board of County Commissioners who voted five to two to put the referendum on the ballot next November.”

The emergency meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m.