Monday, May 3, 2021

Hillsborough County contradicts itself in separate court filings involving $500 million

Reposted with permission from Tom Rask, Tampa Bay Guardian

What is to be done with the over $500 million that Hillsborough County unlawfully collected to fund transit? In two separate lawsuits, the county is making contradictory and mutually exclusive arguments.

In the lawsuit brought by County Commissioner Stacy White, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the transit tax because it was unconstitutional and also violated Florida Statutes. That lawsuit continues because the county wants the court to determine what is to be done with the funds collected until the tax was struck down

In that lawsuit, the county asked the court to establish an extrajudicial “refund procedure” in this court filing last week. Such a position presumes that the funds collected belong to the “local governments” mentioned in the lawsuit and who shared in the revenue.

However, also last week and in response to a different lawsuit involving the same tax, the county wrote in this court filing that “section 213.756(1), Florida Statutes provides in relevant part, ‘Funds collected from a purchaser under the representation that they are taxes provided for under the state revenue laws are state funds from the moment of collection….’” (page 10, paragraph 38). The county even italicized and bold-faced the words “state funds” in its filing.

Which is it: do the unlawfully collected funds at this point belong to the county and other local governments? Or do they belong to the State of Florida?

The two court filings were written by different lawyers (outside counsel), but those lawyers still represent the official position of the county. The legal position of the county is established by the county attorney and must be consistent in all legal action in order to have any chance of prevailing.

These two contradictory court filings along with the county’s past failings in this matter raise questions about the quality of the legal work done by the county attorney’s office. How much more in legal fees paid to outside lawyers will this continued bumbling cost the taxpayers?

It is a fundamental principle of law that a person or entity may not reap the rewards of an unlawful act they performed. That principle also applies to government agencies. The fact that the county didn’t first ask if the tax was lawful before collecting it, that mistake created the mess it now finds itself in. It’s time for the county to stop wasting taxpayer money digging itself in to an even deeper hole.

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  1. Typical county bureaucratic 2 step. I thought the BOCC had already voted to return the money to the citizens of Hillsborough county? Guess the budget director didn’t like that decision. So, the county BOCC allowed the referendum to go on the ballot “after” the county attorney did her review and pronounced it legal. Then the people were lied to, conned, and passed the sales tax. The county was sued, lost the suit in the Supreme court of Florida that said the tax was never legal. So now after collecting greater than $500 million the county's position is the money belongs to the county or the state, but not the people they took it from. King George wasn’t this bad. According to the logic of the County Attorney, they could levy illegal taxes all day and you could never get your money back. Heads I win, tails you lose. We need to clean house at county center where the people pushing this abuse can “never” get their jobs back.

  2. Charlotte GreenbargMay 3, 2021 at 1:43 PM

    This is a good time for a lawsuit against the Commission. Can you get the people who donated for billboards to join in? Let me know and I'll be there too.