LAW­SUIT

Tampa Bay Times - - From The Front Page - Con­tact Caitlin John­ston at cjohn­[email protected]­pabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Fol­low @cljohnst.

“Ob­vi­ously, no one’s against elec­tric buses,” com­mis­sioner Sandy Mur­man said.

But un­easi­ness over the law­suit gave the board pause, even for an idea that seemed to have broad sup­port.

“All that sounds great,” Com­mis­sioner Ken Ha­gan said of the buses. “Do we have any fi­nan­cial risk with this item?”

The uncer­tainty is ex­pected to linger for at least a cou­ple of more months. A sum­mary judg­ment hear­ing is sched­uled for May, though the case could be re­solved by then. If not, a judge likely won’t is­sue a rul­ing un­til June.

White re­peat­edly has said the law­suit is not a po­lit­i­cal move and added Thurs­day that he had no in­tent to halt de­ci­sion­mak­ing. He said his goal is to en­sure the county char­ter is in line with Florida law.

While re­solv­ing that ques­tion is tak­ing longer than he had hoped, White said the time in­vested is worth it to set­tle con­cerns. Con­sid­er­ing the large scope of trans­porta­tion is­sues that Hills­bor­ough lead­ers have strug­gled with for decades, half a year “is not go­ing to be a big dif­fer­ence-maker,” he said.

“If it takes six months to de­ter­mine whether or not this char­ter amend­ment meets the let­ter of the law, to me, that’s well worth it and time well-spent,” White said.

But that wait is ty­ing up projects that oth­er­wise would move for­ward. Jeff Se­ward, in­terim CEO of the county’s bus agency, said the law­suit caused him to with­draw a rec­om­men­da­tion to buy 30 buses that would im­prove ser­vice for about 1.5 mil­lion rid­ers.

The buses would have al­lowed the agency to in­crease fre­quency on six routes around the county, al­low­ing buses to run ev­ery 15 min­utes in­stead of on the half hour.

“I was ready to pull the trig­ger on those 30 buses and was ac­tu­ally pretty ex­cited about it be­cause we’ve never or­dered that many buses at one time ever,” Se­ward said. “(The law­suit) has ab­so­lutely slowed our abil­ity to do any­thing ser­vice­wise to a com­plete stand­still.”

While he does not think the law­suit will over­turn the tax, it could al­ter when agen­cies re­ceive the money. And Se­ward said he doesn’t want to or­der the new buses with­out the money in hand.

“It could be six months, it could be how­ever long,” he said. “I’m just not will­ing to take that risk.”

Stet­son Univer­sity Col­lege of Law pro­fes­sor Charles Rose called it an un­com­mon set of cir­cum­stances, when a com­mis­sioner is su­ing about the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of a county char­ter.

White’s law­suit shouldn’t stop the col­lec­tion of the tax, Rose said, but each en­tity that would re­ceive a por­tion of the money has to as­sess whether it can safely bud­get for the rev­enue.

Rose said if he was le­gal coun­sel for the county or an­other agency, he would ad­vise lead­ers to make their de­ci­sions as­sum­ing the money won’t come through. Spend­ing it at the end of the year is more fis­cally re­spon­si­ble than hav­ing to re­turn it, he said.

The “very fis­cally con­ser­va­tive” ap­proach would be dif­fer­ent if the case in­volved pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als who don’t have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to any­one other than them­selves, Rose said. Those in­di­vid­u­als would be bound only by an in­junc­tion or a le­gal re­quire­ment.

But it’s dif­fer­ent for a gov­ern­ment agency that an­swers to tax­pay­ers.

“It re­ally is about uncer­tainty,” said Christina Barker, spokes­woman for All For Trans­porta­tion, the group that put the sales tax on the bal­lot. “I re­ally do be­lieve if this (law­suit) wasn’t there, they would have moved for­ward with things. They have shown they are ready to get stuff done.”

Times (2018)

Hills­bor­ough of­fi­cials are hes­i­tant to in­vest in trans­porta­tion up­grades, such as elec­tric buses.

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