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Hillsborough transport tax vote challenged in court

A new lawsuit aims to derail the Hillsborough County transportation sales tax referendum in November.

Northdale’s Karen Jaroch, who came to national attention a decade ago as a Tea Party advocate, is the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed this week against Hillsborough County and Election Supervisor Craig Latimer.

The lawsuit seeks to prevent voters from viewing the referendum as it was presented on Nov. 8, saying the ballot does not meet the state’s requirement of a simple, narrow question about the proposed sales tax. 1% over 30 years for transportation.

“They are misinforming voters that their vote on the referendum, rather than the decisions of the Board of County Commissioners, will establish the uses to which the proceeds of the surcharge will be put and that those uses will be set in stone for life. 30 years of the proposed surcharge,” the suit said.

“The poll title and poll summary also falsely induce voters to vote for the surtax by promising residents of specific areas of the county that they will receive specific, preferred transportation improvements – misleadingly, it Turns out those are promises the county can’t hope to keep.

Hillsborough County Attorney Christine Beck said the county “will vigorously defend this important initiative to allow the citizens of Hillsborough County to have a voice in our county’s transportation needs.”

This isn’t the first time the wording of the county’s transit tax referendum ballot has been challenged in court. Circuit Judge Rex Barbas has ruled twice before that nearly identical voting language in a 2018 referendum was legally valid.

Voters approved that tax referendum by 57% to 43% in November 2018. Jaroch’s lawsuit, however, cites the Florida Supreme Court ruling that struck down the sales tax in February 2021 because final spending decisions did not belong to the elected county commissioners. The $562 million accumulated over the 27 months of collecting the tax remains in escrow pending disbursement by the Joint State Budget Legislative Commission.

Jaroch, Gulf States regional coordinator for the conservative group, Heritage Action for America, is also a former board member of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority. She was a leading opponent of the voter-defeated Hillsborough County rail referendum in 2010. She is represented by attorney Samuel Salario of Brannock Humphries & Berman.

Jaroch did not immediately respond to a phone message and email seeking comment.

Gerri Kramer, spokesperson for Latimer, said the supervisor of the office of elections “would follow the court’s decision.”

Carrier tax advocates have criticized the lawsuit.

“This is a frivolous ploy to deprive voters of the opportunity to resolve Hillsborough County’s transportation crisis. A small group of obstructionists have already delayed much-needed road, safety and transit projects by four years, with catastrophic consequences for the community,” said Tyler Hudson, co-chair of the advocacy group All for Transportation. the tax referendum. “Lawsuits don’t fill the potholes, and voters deserve the opportunity to decide their transportation future at the polls.”

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“We have this same group of people who don’t want to pay anything, don’t want to invest in transport. It’s just sad,” commission chair Kimberly Overman said.

The wording of the ballot, drafted by the county and approved by the commissioners, states:

“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,
  • Repair roads and bridges,
  • Expand public transit options,
  • repair potholes,
  • Improve bus services,
  • Improve intersections,
  • Make walking and cycling safer,

By levying a 1% surcharge on sales for 30 years and funds deposited in an audited trust fund under citizen oversight.

If voters approve, 45% of the revenue would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority. The county and cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City would divide 54.5% based on their populations, and 0.5% would be reserved for the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization.

The tax is expected to raise $342 million in its first full year of collection.