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$450M still unspent after two years of Hillsborough’s transportation tax

Local agencies are waiting for a Florida Supreme Court decision before using any of the proceeds.
Two receipts show the current Hillsborough County sales tax, which includes a 1 percent transportation levy that went into effect Jan. 1, 2019. None of the money has been spent.
Two receipts show the current Hillsborough County sales tax, which includes a 1 percent transportation levy that went into effect Jan. 1, 2019. None of the money has been spent.
Published Jan. 14
Updated Jan. 14

TAMPA — Another week has passed without a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court on Hillsborough’s transportation tax.

It’s been two years since the one-cent sales tax went into effect, and nearly a year since the state’s highest court heard oral arguments on whether to keep it in place.

The tax, approved by 57 percent of voters, has brought in more than $450 million since Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White first filed his legal challenge. White said at the time that he hoped the case would be resolved within a month.

The limbo is something of a worst-case scenario: People are paying the tax on tires, clothes, school supplies and other goods but they’re not seeing any of the benefit.

Instead, the money sits untouched while local agencies await a result.

Related: $62 million connected so far: what happens if Hillsborough's transportation tax is revoked?

Governments could choose to use the revenue that’s been collected so far, but officials from Hillsborough, Tampa and the county’s transit agency have all said they won’t spend a penny until the court has ruled.

Supreme Court rulings are generally issued each Thursday morning. There is no time limit on Supreme Court cases. Justices could rule next week, in two months or a year from now.

“While it’s unfortunate that we cannot currently spend the money, we have remained laser-focused on developing shovel-ready projects the second it’s released,” Tampa Transportation Director Jean Duncan said.

For now, the state collects the money and sends it to the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court, who makes sure the right amount of money goes to the right agency at the right time. The money is divided among agencies based on percentages outlined in the county charter amendment that voters approved to establish the tax.

Related: Supreme Court justices question validity of Hillsborough transportation tax

The county’s transit agency, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, receives the most money — 45 percent. As of the most recent tally, the agency had received more than $200 million.

“HART, a historically underfunded agency, has no plans to utilize the proceeds as the agency awaits a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court,” spokeswoman Carson Chambers said.

Hillsborough Couty has received about $181 million, the city of Tampa nearly $55 million, Plant City about $5.5 million, and Temple Terrace just short of $4 million. The county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees transportation, has received about $4.5 million.