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Hillsborough County sued by right-wing group to block transit tax vote | Tampa Bay News | Tampa

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A HART bus travels away from downtown Tampa.

A lawsuit was filed in Hillsborough County Court yesterday that seeks to stop the public from voting on a tax that could help fund local public transport.

The county aims to ask voters in November if they approve of a 1% sales tax over the next 30 years to help fund public transit and road improvements, which leaders say are much needed in the county. . But the lawsuit aims to stop the poll in its tracks.

The lawsuit affiant, Karen Jaroch, is the Gulf States Regional Director of Heritage Action for America, a conservative activist group. In his injunctive suit, Jaroch specified the language of the ballot presented by the county.

In his lawsuit, Jaroch wrote that “the title and summary of the county ballot are apparently defective.”

Jaroch claimed the poll is unduly inducing voters to vote for the surtax by promising residents of certain areas of Hillsborough County that they will benefit from specific transportation improvements. She said that was misleading because these are “promises the county cannot expect to keep.”

Jaroch also claims the ballot does not provide voters with a specific, narrow question to vote on, which she says could violate state law.

The actual language of the 2022 ballot developed by the county says:

“Should transportation improvements be funded throughout Hillsborough County, including Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, Brandon, Riverview, Carrollwood and Town ‘n’ Country, including projects that: build and widen roads, repairing roads and bridges, expanding transit options, Fixing potholes, Improving bus services, Improving intersections, Making walking and cycling safer, Levying a sales surcharge 1% for 30 years and funds deposited in an audited trust fund under citizen oversight.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the need for public transit is urgent, which is why the county commission is seeking to let voters decide.

“All I’ve heard from our residents is that we need to invest in public transit,” Overman told CL. She said the county commission was careful to take its time crafting ballot language to comply with state laws.

Jaroch argued in the lawsuit that the ballot is not presented in “clear and unambiguous language” and asserted that “the county is fully aware of these issues with its ballot title and ballot summary.” .

She is calling for the ballot to be declared “legally defective” and removed from the ballot in November.

Tyler Hudson, co-chair of All For Transportation, a grassroots group working to address Hillsborough County’s transit crisis, said the lawsuit was aimed at preventing voters from deciding transportation.

“This is a frivolous ploy to deny voters the opportunity to resolve Hillsborough County’s transportation crisis,” Hudson said. “A small group of stonewallers have already delayed much-needed road, safety and transit projects by 4 years, with catastrophic consequences for the community. . Lawsuits do not fill potholes, and voters deserve the opportunity to decide their transportation future at the polls.

This isn’t the county’s first transit tax legal battle.

In 2018, voters approved the tax at the polls with nearly 60% of the vote, and the county began collecting. But after people spoke out, a lawsuit was filed by County Commissioner Stacy White that eventually reached the Florida Supreme Court.

In 2021, the court knocked down the tax, ruling that the restriction on income to be spent on transportation was unconstitutional. But earlier this year the tax money has been approved to spend on departmental roads.

Recently, the county has experienced transit issues, particularly within the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Organization (HART), which says it needs more funding to retain employees who CL says were leaving at a rapid pace in March.