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Temple Terrace resident files lawsuit against Hillsborough transportation tax

Mailers promoting a 1% sales tax for Hillsborough County residents to fund transportation projects. The 1% tax goes before voters in the upcoming election. (Times, 2018)
Published Mar. 11

TAMPA — A Temple Terrace resident has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the one cent transportation sales tax that Hillsborough voters approved in November.

The complaint, filed Friday in Hillsborough Circuit Court, is similar to a lawsuit filed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White in December. Both argue that the charter amendment violates state law by restricting the county commission's ability to make final decisions on how the tax revenue is spent. The 30-year tax is expected to raise $15.8 billion.

John Cimino filed the complaint as a class-action lawsuit. Cimino is representing any other Hillsborough County resident who has paid the surtax as part of a purchase made in 2019. It's unclear how many people qualify as class members, but the complaint estimates that "the vast majority of county residents have engaged in at least one taxed transaction since the surtax went into effect." About 1.4 million people are estimated to live in Hillsborough County.

Cimino is asking a judge to issue an injunction stopping the collection of the tax and to refund taxpayers. Similar to White's efforts, the lawsuit seeks to overturn the tax and void it in its entirety.

The 31-page complaint argues that the charter amendment imposes long-term restrictions that interfere with the county's discretion, which is protected by Florida law.

Those restrictions include the requirement that revenue be disbursed according to a pre-set formula, a limit on how much money can be spent on roads, and the creation of an oversight committee that can deny the allocation of money if a project violates the charter restrictions.

"The commission has no ability to modify this formula in response to future needs or contingencies," the complaint says.

White's lawsuit, which is scheduled for a summary judgment hearing in May, also argues that the charter amendment unlawfully restricts commissioners from allocating money as they see fit. Both lawsuits argue the powers given to the citizens oversight committee go too far and are unauthorized by state law.

Unlike White's lawsuit, which names 10 defendants, this complaint only names one: Hillsborough County. The class-action suit is also filed by a citizen, as opposed to an elected official.

All for Transportation, the political committee that helped pass the transportation referendum, filed a motion to dismiss White's lawsuit, arguing that White violated state law by filing the suit in his capacity as a county commissioner. A judge has not yet ruled on that motion.

"This is a desperate and frivolous act of obstruction aimed at overturning the clear will of the voters," All for Transportation chair Tyler Hudson said of the new lawsuit. "Hillsborough County's transportation crisis grows worse each day, while Commissioner White and his team concoct new schemes to eliminate funding that voters resolutely demanded last November."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said both lawsuits are attempts by "a small group of malcontents and misfits" to use the legal system to subvert the will of the voters.

"The people of this community decided they were willing to tax themselves for a better future," Buckhorn said. "Why is it that a single commissioner and a small group of people are able to subvert that? It's not right."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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