As posted here yesterday, the Chair of Hillsborough County Commission Les Miller called a virtual "Special Meeting" for 1pm today with little public notice, to reschedule a public hearing for putting the All for Transportation 2.0 $16 Billion transit tax hike on the November ballot.
Will Pinellas County also try to schedule a public hearing to put a proposed transit tax hike on the ballot?
We are under a state of emergency due to the Coronavirus which has devastated jobs, our economy and economic well being. We are under orders from local officials in Hillsborough and Pinellas to hunker down in our homes to stay safe and healthy during this crisis.
Pinellas County commissioners have also been working to put a transportation sales tax hike on the November ballot. The county commissioners have been working behind the scenes with little to no public transparency about their efforts to put a transit tax hike on the ballot.
At the February TBARTA meeting Pinellas County commissioners Karen Seel and Janet Long spill the beans about Pinellas County following Hillsborough County's rush to put another massive transit tax hike referendum on the ballot at the last minute.
We confirmed with another Pinellas commissioner the county has been working hush hush on another transit tax referendum for November.
Then the Coronavirus crisis hit together with its disastrous economic impact and Pinellas County must make a decision. They must decide whether to move forward with a tax hike NOW in the middle of our crisis or push this tax hike aside knowing their constituents are losing jobs and financially suffering.
At tomorrow's 9:30 am Pinellas County Commission meeting to discuss extending the county's emergency orders, they also included an agenda item "Transportation Update".
This agenda item includes no attached documents or any further information about the agenda item the public can access before the meeting tomorrow. The public has no idea what this agenda item is addressing.
A public records request was submitted requesting a copy of any materials (handouts, presentations, etc.) associated with the agenda Transportation Update agenda item. The response received from the County was there were NO records pursuant to the request.
The Pinellas commission meeting tomorrow will be live-streamed tomorrow at 9:30am here.
Residents of Pinellas County should watch the meeting to not only be informed about the county's emergency orders but to find out if the commissioners plan to continue pursuing a sales tax hike during this crisis.
It appears throwing a transit tax hike on the November ballot at the last minute with little to no public engagement or input was the intention of both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.
Florida Statute 212.055, section 11 governing discretionary local sales tax referendums requires:
At least 180 days before the referendum is held, the county or school district shall provide a copy of the final resolution or ordinance to the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.
Therefore, the Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) must be officially notified by the county of any proposed referendum for the November ballot by May 7, 2020.
The counties are now running up against this deadline because they must hold at least one public hearing (though Hillsborough has normally held 2 public hearings) before voting to place a referendum on the ballot.
Pinellas County even previously discussed going to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody to get some type of legal opinion on whether they can request a waiver, exemption or get a delay granted with the audit requirement.
We doubt such request regarding tax hikes in Florida is any priority with the Attorney General or anyone else in Tallahassee.
Both counties have taken big hits to their current budgets based on revenue estimates that are no longer valid. There are still uncertainties and unknowns. The counties have not even publicly reassessed their own budgets yet because we are still in this crisis and shut down.
Today's Hillsborough County Special Meeting at 1:30pm can be viewed or listened to live:
• Hillsborough County's Facebook page: HillsboroughFL
We will know soon where Hillsborough and Pinellas elected officials stand regarding pushing more transit tax hikes during a crisis when business are shut down, our communities are shut down to stay safe and healthy, people are losing their jobs and their own constituents are suffering.