Transportation tax funds to be re-established after legal battles

Hillsborough County commissioners moved a step closer Wednesday to ironing-out the details of a transportation tax approved by nearly 60% of voters last fall.

The tax had been in limbo due to lawsuits challenging its legality. A judge, however, ruled the tax is constitutional. Now commissioners are re-establishing the funding allocations stripped away by the judge, essentially returning the charter amendment to its original writing.

"This is doing what the will of the voters said," Commissioner Les Miller said. "The citizens of this county and All for Transportation had the wherewithal and the cojones to put it on the ballot and it passed by 57% of the vote."

The county attorney will now create an ordinance that mirrors the language and percentages used in the original transportation tax measure.

"I think we need to honor the past promises to voters and I think we also need to honor the will of the voters in putting the percentages back in by ordinance," said Tyler Hudson, Chairman of All for Transportation. "People want different things in different parts of the county and that's why it's so critical, we think, that the county put back those balanced percentages and the spending allocations."

Opponents urged the commission to wait until the appeals process has played out before moving forward.

The commission will have to vote on the ordinance during a meeting in September, during which they will also listen to public comment about the tax.

Still up in the air, meanwhile, is a controversial proposal by County Administrator Mike Merrill.

In 2017, commissioners agreed to use property taxes and existing revenue to fund $812 million in road improvements over 10 years. In his budget proposal for next year, presented to the board Wednesday, Merrill suggests cutting $31 million of the $812 million and replacing it with transportation tax funds; he believes this would help address the county's growing deficit.

Transportation tax supporters, however, argue the tax funds are supposed to be used in addition to the money commissioners already planned to use, not in place of it.