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Hillsborough Commissioners Approve Transportation Tax Plan, But Legal Fight Isn't Over

A HART bus
Visit Tampa Bay

By Bradley George

Hillsborough County commissioners have approved a plan for spending money collected from a new transportation sales tax.  

On a 4-3 vote Wednesday, the board passed a resolution by Chairman Les Miller. It instructs the county attorney to draft an ordinance that would spell out the allocations from the one-cent tax approved by voters last November.  

HART gets 45% of the revenue. The rest is split among the county and its three cities. The Metropolitan Planning Organization also gets a cut.  It’s the same plan that was on the November ballot, but Hillsborough Circuit Judge Rex Barbas ruled last month that only the county commission can make decisions about spending.  

"Working people voted to tax themselves,” said Commissioner Pat Kemp before voting in favor of the resolution. “Our residents want transportation improvements, but this isn't a blank check. “ 

The three commissioners who voted against the measure say county voters didn’t know what they were voting for.  Commissioner Sandra Murman also warned the funding allocations would do little to ease congestion in the southern part of the county.  

Commissioner Stacy White filed the original suit to overturn the tax. He hinted his fight isn't over. 

"Until all legal matters are put to rest, I continue to be in a legal posture,” White told the board before the vote. That means an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court is likely.  

The board also heard from County Administrator Mike Merrill, who presented his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. He wants to use about $31 million in transit tax revenue to pay for road projects commissioners approved before the tax was passed. Merrill said that would free up property tax dollars for building new fire stations, hiring more sheriff's deputies, and other urgent needs.  

Bradley George was a Morning Edition host and reporter at WUSF until March 2022.