Hillsborough County court appeal means residents can continue to vote on transportation tax

Earlier this month, a judge ruled against the tax referendum's ballot language, and the county has appealed.

click to enlarge Hillsborough County court appeal means residents can continue to vote on transportation tax

The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners says that despite a county court's ruling earlier this month, residents are able to vote on a transportation tax that is on the ballot leading up to Voting Day on Nov. 8.

The county has appealed the court's ruling against the ballot language, which means that for now, voters are still allowed to vote on the tax until the appeal is addressed by the Second District Court of Appeal.

The county is asking voters if they approve a 1% sales tax over the next 30 years to help fund transit and road improvements, which leaders say are much needed in the county. But a lawsuit has aimed to stop the vote in its tracks.

In August, the lawsuit against the county was filed by Karen Jaroch,  the Gulf States Regional Director of Heritage Action for America, a conservative activist group. In her injunction lawsuit, Jaroch honed in on the language of the ballot presented by the county. Earlier this month, Judge Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe sided with Jaroch, saying that the ballot language misleads the public.

But today, the commission announced a stay on the court's ruling in light of the Hillsborough County's appeal, adding that voters will be allowed to vote on the referendum leading up to and on Nov. 8.

"It's critical that the voters know they can still vote on this important issue," County Commissioner Kimberly Overman told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, "Without this tax, potholes and roads will go unfixed, our bus service will be affected and the residents will be the ones to have to deal with it all."

Overman said that a "small group of people" including Jaroch don't want the citizens to be able to vote on the tax, but that the effects will be felt across the county if there's not enough funding for roads and transportation. She said that the county started the process of appealing Judge Gaylord Moe's ruling the day after it happened on Oct. 11.

In her lawsuit, Jaroch wrote that, “the County’s ballot title and ballot summary are facially defective.”

Jaroch claimed that the ballot improperly induces voters to cast ballots in favor of the surtax by promising residents of select areas of Hillsborough County that they will receive specific transportation improvements. She said that this is misleading, because those are “promises the county cannot expect to keep.”

Jaroch also claims that the ballot fails to provide voters with a specific, narrow question to vote on, which she alleges could violate state law.

The actual language of the 2022 ballot crafted by the county says:

“Should transportation improvements be funded throughout Hillsborough County, including Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, Brandon, Riverview, Carrollwood, and Town ‘n’ Country, including projects that: Build and widen roads, Fix roads and bridges, Expand public transit options, Fix potholes, Enhance bus services, Improve intersections, Make walking and biking safer, By levying a one percent sales surtax for 30 years and funds deposited in an audited trust fund with citizen oversight.”
County commissioners and the pro-transit group All For Transportation (AFT) disagree with Jaroch's viewpoint on the ballot language.

“This is a frivolous ploy to deny voters the chance to fix Hillsborough County’s transportation crisis," Tyler Hudson, co-chair of AFT told CL in August. "A small group of obstructions have already delayed by 4 years much needed road, safety and transit projects which has had catastrophic consequences for the community. Lawsuits don’t fill potholes, and voters deserve the opportunity to decide their transportation future at the ballot box.”


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Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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