By Tom Rask, from the Tampa Bay Guardian
On Monday, 10News reported that Hillsborough County commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit to kill a recent sales tax hike for transit.
The measure adds 1% of sales tax, was passed with 57% of the vote among county voters on November 6th and is set to go in to effect on January 1st, 2019.
One of the two legal claims reportedly made by White in his lawsuit is that the citizen petition tax hike violates Florida Statutes 212.055(1)(d). That portion of state law gives county commissioners the sole authority to allocate these sales tax revenues, whereas the measure passed gives that authority to a supposedly independent “oversight committee.”
All For Transportation (AFT), the group behind this sales tax hike to fund transit. claims in response to the lawsuit that their effort was “thoroughly vetted.” But did they obtain an expert legal opinion on the objection now raised by White?
One thing is certain: AFT chairman Tyler Hudson knew about this potential legal snag at least as early as July 5th . That is the day the Guardian asked Hudson about this very issue in an e-mail. The Hillsborough county attorney’s office was copied on our e-mail to AFT so that our questions to AFT would be in the public record.
In that same e-mail, we also asked if AFT had obtained “a legal opinion on its petition before it started gathering signatures.” Despite repeated e-mails and calls by us to Hudson and his assistant, we received no response and published our article on July 7th.
Hudson and AFT thus forged ahead, spending $700,000 of Jeff Vinik’s money and a total of $4 million on their tax hike effort, even though this substantive legal question was raised well before the measure was placed on the ballot
Hudson could now be facing some tough questions from heavyweight financial backers like Jeff Vinik, Frank Morsani, the Tampa Bay Partnership and others. Questions like:
+ Did AFT obtain a legal opinion about the initiative before embarking on the petition effort? If not, why not?
+ If AFT did obtain a legal opinion, what did that opinion say?
+ Once AFT became aware of this potential violation of state law, did AFT inform the major donors to this effort? Did AFT inform its governing board?
+ Did AFT actively look for weaknesses in its plan or was this a groupthink plan?