Judge rejects Hillsborough sales tax refund plan

TAMPA — A circuit courtroom decide Friday turned down Hillsborough County’s pitch to refund $562 million gathered from a transportation sales tax voided by the Florida Supreme Court docket.

Circuit Decide Rex M. Barbas denied the county’s motion to established up a panel of three retired judges to oversee general public applications for refunds, saying “there is no distinct legal basis from which to style a treatment for the assortment of the invalidated product sales tax.”

The voter-accredited 1 percent income tax was in influence for 26 months right before the point out Supreme Courtroom dominated it unconstitutional additional than a calendar year back. The proceeds have been escrowed, and Hillsborough Circuit Court Clerk Cindy Stuart reported this 7 days the total had attained $562 million, including $80 million collected after the point out Supreme Courtroom ruling in February 2021.

“While the government parties’ efforts to fashion a distribution process for the unlawfully gathered surtax money is appreciated, the court finds that this is not the proper discussion board for determining and handling these a cure,” the ruling stated.

Barbas read arguments on the situation in June 2021 and acknowledged then that he was “not really contented with what I’ve found with the (refund) mechanism.” 1 of the other tips experienced been a Hillsborough-particular, momentary income tax getaway. That concept, however, expected legislation in Tallahassee that under no circumstances materialized.

The Florida Legislature did, on the other hand, incorporate a provision to the upcoming state price range forwarding the dollars to a legislative finances meeting for disbursement towards transportation projects.

Barbas’ ruling said the Legislature “is likely in the best position to handle the problem.” In essence, it suggests elected lawmakers, not the courts, will oversee how the revenue is used.

Connected: Hillsborough’s disputed revenue tax refund inches towards compromise

Still to be identified is the influence of a 2nd lawsuit above the refund system filed in Leon Circuit Court.

Barbas’ ruling arrived on a movement from the county similar to Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White’s first problem to the gross sales tax. White argued the tax was unconstitutional since shelling out allocations ended up established by referendum language rather than by elected county commissioners. Following the point out Supreme Court agreed and voided the tax, the county, the Hillsborough Location Regional Transit Authority, and the metropolitan areas of Tampa and Plant Metropolis requested Barbas for so-referred to as “post judgment supplemental relief” to tackle the concern of refunds.

White experienced criticized the county refund system as a revenue get that would leave extra money for transportation spending because of the challenging application system. He experienced suggested the given that-discarded regional profits tax holiday getaway.

White declined comment Friday afternoon, stating he required to be sure of all the ruling’s implications prior to addressing it.

All for Transportation, the citizens group that advocated for the profits tax referendum, credited the Legislature for stepping into the fray.

“Given today’s ruling from Judge Barbas, we are grateful for the Legislature’s foresight in crafting a honest and realistic cure to the lawsuit. Transportation stays a critical challenge for our local community and closing this chapter is a stage in the proper route,” Christina Barker, co-founder of All for Transportation, explained in a text concept.