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Tampa Bay referendums include public school funding, transit tax and environmental land protection

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Florida high marks for the condition of its ports and bridges, but the report card warns of risks from aging levees and dams.
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A Hillsborough County transportation tax referendum would levy a 1% sales tax for the next 30 years, with the proceeds going to transportation projects.

Among the referendums coming before voters in November: A 1% sales tax to go to transportation projects in Hillsborough County and a half-cent sales tax in Hernando County would go to roads and parks. A property tax to resurrect Polk County's program to preserve environmentally sensitive lands. And renewal of the Penny for Pasco.

There are four major referendums that will come before Tampa Bay area voters on November's ballot.

Nov. 8 General Election:

Hillsborough County: Transportation tax referendum

Editor's Note: After voting on the issue was cancelled by a judge on Oct. 27, an appellate court is putting the issue back before voters. Judge Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe had denied the county's appeal of her ruling that ballot language for the transportation sales tax referendum was misleading. The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections then put up a notice that votes on the issue would not be counted. As of now, votes on the transportation sales tax referendum will be counted and the elections office has taken down its advisory to voters.

This would levy a 1% sales tax for the next 30 years, with the proceeds going to transportation projects.

According to the amendment, 45% of the proceeds would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, or HART, which operates the county bus lines. Hillsborough County would split the remainder with the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City — based on their population. And one-half percent would be set aside for the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization.

If voters approve the referendum, the tax is projected to raise $342 million in its first year.

In April, county commissioners agreed to ask voters in November to approve the sales tax by a 5-2 vote, with the board's Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting no.

A similar sales tax was approved by voters in 2018, by a margin of 57 to 43 percent. The state Supreme Court voided it last year after a legal challenge led by Republican Commissioner Stacy White. The court agreed with his contention that the tax was illegal because the spending allocations were set by a formula instead of by elected public officials.

The new amendment corrects that legal flaw.

Pasco County: Penny for Pasco sales tax

The Penny for Pasco tax is up for renewal until 2039. It was passed by voters by a margin of 70% margin in 2012.

Proceeds from the penny sales tax are divided among the county, cities and schools, including 20% targeted for environmental lands purchases.

It would help fund economic development, public safety vehicles and equipment, conservation of land and natural resources, transportation infrastructure improvements, and enhancements for educational facilities.

Penny for Pasco provides funding that would otherwise come from property taxes, providing tax relief to Pasco County property owners.

Polk County: Environmental lands referendum

The group "Polk Forever" wants to resurrect a property tax that was in place from 1994 to 2015.

It would levy a tax of 20 cents per $1,000 on taxable property for 20 years. It is estimated this would cost the average Polk homeowner $30 a year.

Polk’s Environmental Lands Program has been able to finance the protection of more than 26,000 acres all over Polk County since voters approved the original tax referendum in 1994.

Hernando County: Half-cent sales tax referendum

The one-half-cent sales tax referendum is slated for the November 8 ballot. If approved, the new tax rate will be effective January 1, 2023, and the generated tax revenue will be used to fund roadway and recreation projects.

A Citizen’s Oversight Committee would govern the new fund.

The additional sales tax revenue would mean extra money for roadways and recreation and a possible reduction in the millage rate for property owners. Eighty percent of the monies collected would go to road projects to relieve existing and future traffic congestion. The remaining 20% for recreation would provide additions to parks and recreational areas.

Our journalists are independent, curious, respectful, and accountable to you. We’re committed to keeping you at the center of this conversation on democracy, staying in touch through surveys, social media, and in-person events. We won’t be chasing politicians, but instead we’ll tell stories based on the questions you want answered.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.