Plans to refund nearly $570 million in the voided Hillsborough County transportation sales tax will have to wait at least another year.
Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, announced Thursday there would be no accord this year on the competing plans from the Florida Senate and the House of Representatives on distributing the money back to the public.
The House earlier approved a tax-cut package, HB 7063, that included a Hillsborough-only sales tax holiday. That plan called for the 7.5% sales tax rate charged by businesses in the county to be reduced 1% until the savings reach $570 million.
The Senate did not include a county sales tax rebate in its tax-cut package, but its version of the state budget, SB 2500, called for a refund plan mirroring the one pitched in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget.
The Senate plan instructed the state Department of Revenue to handle refund requests through Feb. 29, 2024, with the remainder of the unclaimed money earmarked for “transportation infrastructure projects for the county road system or the city street system within Hillsborough County.”
“The Legislature, both chambers, are sort of wrestling with the idea of how to return the money,” Ingoglia told lawmakers on Thursday. “Do we return that money as a portion of what it was intended for, in terms of transportation? Was it portioning refunds? Or was it going to be sales tax holidays?”
Ingoglia said the House and Senate weren’t able to agree on a plan before the end of the legislative session, which occurred Friday.
”This is something we’re going to have to take up next legislative session and find a fix. We’re just, quite frankly, running out of time. We have to solve it. There’s a need to solve it,” he said.
The Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of regional business leaders whose aim is improving Tampa Bay’s quality of life through research and advocacy, had its own idea: Spend the money on transportation.
The group sent a letter, signed by 75 top business leaders, to DeSantis and legislators two weeks ago to emphasize the same point.
Christina Barker, co-founder of All for Transportation, the citizens group that advocated for the tax referendum in 2018, said they remained hopeful the money will be earmarked for transportation.
“We believe money collected for transportation should be spent on transportation and we look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to see those dollars spent in Hillsborough County,” Barker said Thursday.
The county collected the voter-approved 1% sales tax from Jan. 1, 2019, until the Florida Supreme Court ruled it illegal in February 2021 after a challenge from then-Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White.
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After the state Supreme Court decision, the Hillsborough County Commission voted to refund the escrowed proceeds. However, a circuit court judge rejected the county’s plan to allow a panel of three retired judges to review and administer the payments. Instead, Circuit Judge Rex M. Barbas said the Legislature should decide the fate of the unspent money.