Transportation tax divides Hillsborough County commissioners

Tensions at the Hillsborough County Commission began to rise Wednesday, a day after Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit against his own county to try to stop the transit tax passed by voters last month.

White named 10 government bodies, public agencies, and elected officials in the lawsuit he filed Tuesday. His main sticking point is the referendum for the one-cent sales tax increase, which was passed by nearly 60-percent of voters, establishes an independent oversight committee to help determine which projects will receive funding.

White believes this illegally takes those decisions out of the hands of commissioners.

"I'm just very carefully weighing what actions I feel comfortable taking today," White said during the meeting. "Given the lawsuit, I want to be careful about actions taken because, as I've said, I'm conflicted."

During a brief discussion about how to move forward, White, a Republican, and Democratic Commissioner Les Miller had a back-and-forth, during which Miller's frustrations rose to the surface.

"You're conflicted, right?" Miller asked White.

"I am indeed," White responded. "I am indeed because I believe strongly that this charter amendment conflicts with chapter 212 of Florida statutes."

"I believe strongly that it does not," Miller said.

The commission meeting was also an opportunity for the public to weigh in for the first time since Election Day.

"Why, after 10 years of not seeing any transportation improvements would we forego the ones we might just be on the cusp of getting for ourselves?" asked one supporter of the referendum.

"The election is over. The people have spoken. Implement the will of the citizens of Hillsborough County," said another supporter.

Meanwhile, one of White's supporters applauded the commissioner's lawsuit.

"This tax is a waste of taxpayer money," he said. "I came here to thank Commissioner White for filing this lawsuit because it is important that the county protect its authority."

The issue is expected to come up again during a meeting in January, during which the commission will begin discussing how to choose its four members of the 13-member oversight committee.