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Commissioner Stacy White asks for a quick ruling in Hillsborough transportation lawsuit

Traffic moves west on Bloomingdale Avenue near Goronto Lakes during afternoon rush hour recently. A one-cent sales tax approved in November by Hillsborough County voters would generate $276 million a year for road and transit projects aimed at reducing congestion. In his lawsuit challenging the tax, County Commissioner Stacy White is asking a judge this week to make a quick ruling. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Dec. 20, 2018

TAMPA — County Comissioner Stacy White is asking a judge to speed up the timeline on his lawsuit challenging the one-cent transportation sales tax voters passed in November.

White's attorney, Chris Altenbernd, wrote in a motion filed Wednesday that the tax takes effect on Jan. 1 and "it would be better to resolve this case faster rather than slower."

Another reason: Altenbernd is leaving for a three-week prepaid anniversary trip to New Zealand with his wife on Jan. 14 and wants this settled before then.

The emergency motion argues that the case should be "a relatively straightforward decision for the Court," because a majority of the counts raised in the lawsuit focus on whether the county tax is inconsistent with state law

White filed the lawsuit on Dec. 4 asserting that the charter amendment voters approved to raise money for transportation projects is in conflict with Florida statutes. White, who opposed the sales tax, said the new citizens committee set up as part of the referendum usurps the authority of elected officials to allocate the money — a responsibility protected under Florida law.

The lawsuit also says the referendum unlawfully prevents county commissioners from using proceeds of the tax to add lanes to existing roads and build new streets. White said the ballot language led voters to believe these were a priority in the referendum.

His motion also encouraged the judge to rule quickly on whether All for Transportation, the political committee responsible for placing the referendum on the ballot and helping it pass, can join the case. White sued 10 different parties — namely local governments and the county's bus agency — but did not include the advocacy group.

All for Transportation leaders asked a judge in a separate motion Wednesday to allow them to participate as a party in the case.

Also Wednesday, Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court Pat Frank, who is a defendant in the case, filed her response to White's lawsuit.

As county clerk and comptroller, Frank said she was confident that the transportation tax is not inconsistent with state law. Hillsborough County's charter allows citizens to put amendments on the ballot, Frank's response said. And the Florida Legislature delegates approval of charter amendments to voters in the county.

Frank also argues that the sales tax is not in conflict with state law and implied that White filed his lawsuit because he was unhappy that voters approved the tax.

"While perhaps (White) did not want Hillsborough County to adopt the surtax and may not be happy with the results … the citizens properly exercised their right to first initiate and then approve the transportation surtax," the document said.

The case is scheduled for a status hearing at 10 a.m. Friday.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or . Follow .

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