1. Opinion

The Florida House insults Hillsborough voters by fighting transportation tax | Editorial

Once again, state lawmakers trample over home rule and the intent of local voters by filing a brief asking the Florida Supreme Court to overturn the tax.
Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes. [SCOTT KEELER | Times] [Tampa Bay Times]
Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes. [SCOTT KEELER | Times] [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 5, 2019
Updated Sep. 5, 2019

It takes some nerve for the Republican meddlers in the Florida House to seek to overturn the will of Hillsborough voters who overwhelmingly supported a one-cent sales tax for countywide transportation improvements. The House’s intervention in a legal challenge is an overreach legally and politically, and it’s an insult to residents. It’s also further proof that Tallahassee knows no limits when it comes to ignoring referendum results and interfering in local decisions.

The action comes in a brief in a Florida Supreme Court case that combines challenges by both Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White and a Hillsborough resident who seek to invalidate the tax. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Rex Barbas upheld the tax in June, but he invalidated provisions allocating specific portions of the revenue to certain projects and giving veto power over spending to an independent oversight board. Barbas ruled those provisions violated the commission’s decision-making authority.

The brief House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum filed Tuesday claims the referendum was fatally flawed because it mentioned both the levy and how the taxes might be used, thereby creating a “deceptive” proposal that “must be stricken in its entirety." Tanenbaum said the county had “no authority” to suggest how the proceeds might be used, “presumably” because the Legislature “chose not to allow for adornment of the levy question.” Cue the call for judicial activism.

For all of politically motivated maneuvering to de-legitimize the referendum, the measure was crafted according to the process outlined in state law and the county charter. The measure passed in November with 57 percent of the vote, embraced by both urban and suburban voters who knew very well what they were supporting. While state law doesn’t require the ballot question to say how the proceeds would be used, it does not forbid it. And the state statute allows a range of uses for a transportation tax - exactly what the ballot amendment proposed.

How this can be construed as “deceptive” is anybody’s guess. Is this the latest rationale? Voters were too informed? White initially argued the ballot language was defective because it wasn’t informative enough. Now the House is arguing there was too much. Can the opponents at least get their stories straight?

As the trial judge noted, voters were bombarded with advertising and news coverage on the tax prior to the election. “It is evident that the voters of Hillsborough County desire to improve transportation needs," Barbas wrote in his ruling. “It is further obvious to this Court that the electorate made their desires clear.”

Republicans in Tallahassee starve local governments of resources. Then they stand in the way when communities find solutions by taxing themselves. House Speaker Jose Oliva should recognize where his input is needed and where it isn’t. The Miami Lakes Republican garnered about 26,000 votes in his last contested election in 2016. That’s half the number who voted in a Tampa City Council race in April, and less than one-tenth the number of Hillsborough voters who supported the transportation tax. If there’s a local decision the speaker wants to contest, the least he could do is stick to his own back yard.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news


  1. Ernie Field pushes the doorbell on his Ring doorbell camera at his home in Wolcott, Conn. [JESSICA HILL  |  AP]
  2. In this Oct. 22, 2018 file photo, people gather around the Ben & Jerry's "Yes on 4" truck as they learn about Amendment 4 and eat free ice cream at Charles Hadley Park in Miami. [WILFREDO LEE  |  Associated Press]
  3. How can Tampa Bay best prepare for the future when it comes to climate change?
  4. If St. Petersburg's proposed linkage fee eventually passes, a new condominium project like ONE St. Petersburg would have to pay a fee to the city for affordable housing totaling $1 per square foot of gross floor area.
  5. Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White.
  6.  [Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal]
  7. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks during Clay County Day at the Capitol in Tallahassee. [STEVE CANNON  |  AP]
  8. In this Feb. 19, 2020, file photo, from left, Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. [JOHN LOCHER  |  AP]
  9. Tim Nickens (center) and Daniel Ruth (right) are congratulated by Chairman and CEO of Times Publishing Company Paul Tash (left) in the Tampa Bay Times newsroom in St. Petersburg after it was announced they had been awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial writing on April, 15, 2013. [John Pendygraft]
  10. Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis [Florida Governor's Office]
  11. Pasco County community news [TMCCARTY80  |  Tara McCarty]