TAMPA — A political committee has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Hillsborough County’s one-cent transportation sales tax that it helped pass.
The group, All for Transportation, argued that the plaintiff who filed the lawsuit, Stacy White, violated state law by filing the suit in his capacity as a county commissioner.
The motion filed in Hillsborough circuit court on Thursday seeks to dismiss White’s lawsuit. White opposed the referendum, and in his suit asserted that a citizens committee set up to oversee how the tax revenue is spent leapfrogs the power of elected officials, violating the Florida Constitution.
His lawsuit, which was filed in December soon after 57 percent of voters passed the tax, also argues that the ballot language was misleading. White has asked a judge to overturn the new levy.
But All for Transportation argues that White was out of bounds because he filed the suit in his official role as a county commissioner. In its motion, the political committee said state law requires White to sue in the name of the county, not as an individual. Legal precedent says that White, as a public official, "has no standing to challenge the validity of the law he is oath-bound to follow," according to the motion.
"We believe, in filing this lawsuit, Commissioner White has refused to comply with the charter he took an oath to uphold," All for Transportation chair Tyler Hudson said. "We are asking the court to remove the cloud of uncertainty that is delaying transportation projects throughout Hillsborough County."
Previous coverage: Uncertainty over lawsuit puts Hillsborough transportation plans on ice
While the court weighs what to do, local government leaders have shown a reticence to spend the revenue that the state started collecting on Jan. 1. No injunctions have been ordered, but the fear that a judge could overturn the tax has created enough doubt to stymie some plans.
The bus agency, cities and county governments who are set to receive money from the transportation tax likely could start seeing those dollars in mid-March, said Clerk of the Circuit Court spokesman Tom Scherberger. If White's lawsuit is successful and the tax is overturned, then it will be up to a judge to determine what to do with the money already collected in 2019.
Uncertainty over the entire process is likely to linger for months. A judge could rule on All for Transportation’s motion during a March status hearing. If not, a summary judgment hearing is scheduled for May. If the case reaches that point, then the court likely won’t issue a ruling until June.
White did not return a call for comment Thursday. He has previously has said the lawsuit is not politically motivated and that he did not intend to delay implementing transportation plans. He said his goal is to ensure the county charter is in line with Florida law.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.