Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit Monday to kill the 1 percent sales tax increase passed for transit on Nov. 6, 10News has reported.
The measure was passed with 57 percent of the vote in Hillsborough and is due to go into effect Jan. 1.
One of the two legal claims White made in his lawsuit is that the citizen petition tax hike violates Florida Statute 212.055(1)(d). That portion of state law gives county commissioners the sole authority to allocate these sales tax revenues, whereas the measure passed gives that authority to a supposedly independent “oversight committee.”
In response to the lawsuit, All For Transportation (AFT), the group behind the sales tax hike, claims their effort was “thorougly vetted.” But the question is, did AFT obtain an expert legal opinion on the objection White now raises?
One thing is certain: AFT chairman Tyler Hudson knew about this potential legal snag at least as early as July 5. That's the day the Guardian asked him about the issue in an e-mail. The Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office was copied on the e-mail which is now part of the public record.
In that same e-mail, the Guardian also asked if AFT had obtained “a legal opinion on its petition before it started gathering signatures.” Despite repeated e-mails and calls to Hudson and his assistant, the Guardian received no response and published its story July 7.
Hudson and AFT thus forged ahead, spending $700,000 of developer Jeff Vinik’s money and a total of $4 million on their tax hike effort, even though this substantive legal question was raised well before the measure was placed on the ballot.
Hudson could now be facing some tough questions from heavyweight financial backers like Vinik, Frank Morsani, the Tampa Bay Partnership an a legald others. Questions such as these:
- Did AFT obtain an opinion about the initiative before embarking on the petition effort? If not, why not?
- If AFT did obtain a legal opinion, what did that opinion say?
- Once AFT became aware of this potential violation of state law, did AFT inform the major donors to this effort? Did AFT inform its governing board?
- Did AFT actively look for weaknesses in its plan or was this a groupthink plan?
Tom Rask, a conservative Pinellas County-based blogger, founded the Tampa Bay Guardian.