By Jim Bleyer
Another heavy hitter has weighed in against the specious, politically-motivated Hillsborough County transit tax.
In an amicus curiae brief to the Florida Supreme Court, Associated Industries of Florida asserted that the entire $15 billion transportation sales tax levy should be tossed.
District Court Judge Rex Barbas threw out major portions of All for Transportation’s transit tax, including its mandated spending allocations, as illegal and unlawful. But Barbas, channelling King Solomon, let collection of the tax stand.
“The Trial Court also erred in not striking all the initiative language its ruling covered, before determining severability,” wrote AIF’s attorney Daniel Woodring. “It is unreasonable to have a $15 billion levy with mandatory restrictions, to strike all the major restrictions as unconstitutional, and then assume the voters would still have voted the same way.”
With the filing of the 22-page brief, AIF joins the Florida House and Florida Senate as opposing the tax and requesting the court to strike the entire All for Transportation charter amendment including the tax.
The tax was on last November’s ballot and passed with 57 percent voter support.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit in December against numerous defendants related to the $15 billion transit tax hike charter amendment challenging the language used in the charter amendment. Both White and AFT filed appeals of Barbas’ ruling to the Florida Supreme Court.
Tampa Bay Beat has learned that All For Transportation, in anticipation of the Florida Supreme Court handing it a defeat, is drafting a new amendment for the November, 2020 ballot.
AIF is in its 100th year of representing Florida businesses and has always been regarded as one of Tallahassee’s major power players. It describes itself as upholding the “principles of prosperity and free enterprise before the three branches of state government since 1920….created to foster an economic climate in Florida conducive to the growth, development, and welfare of industry and business and the people of the state.”
Despite its moniker, All for Transportation overwhelmingly consists of a few businessmen, led by Jeff Vinik, who stand to profit from a light rail system running through downtown Tampa. The initiative was a totally paid professional campaign job assisted by some political insiders.
Ballot language was intentionally deceptive and misleading to voters who thought the massive tax collection would be earmarked for roads instead of a light rail system primarily to benefit the City of Tampa and real estate profiteers.
The effort was abetted by the Tampa Bay Times who failed to report the initiative’s misleading language and other serious problems with the referendum which made Hillsborough County the highest sales tax collector in Florida.
Vinik and some of those same profiteers bailed the Times out of bankruptcy in 2017. Public records show the Times is at minimum $132 million in debt with liens against its pension fund. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal agency, can back up the pensions to the tune of 80 percent.