Saturday, February 25, 2023

Lack of Proper Legal Oversight: Unlawful AFT Transit Tax Costs Taxpayers Over $1.1 Million in Outside Legal Fees

Both All for Transportation (AFT) transit tax referendums, in 2018 and in 2022, were ruled illegal by the Courts. As a result, taxpayers got stuck paying for costly outside legal counsel.

In 2018 warnings were raised by then county commissioner Stacy White and others that AFT's citizen wealthy special interests led transit tax had potential legal issues. 

Those warnings went unheeded by Hillsborough County Attorney Christine Beck and HART's legal counsel Davis Smith. 

Voters were kept in the dark by the very people taxpayers pay to protect the County, HART and taxpayers from lawsuits.

That was wrong and unfair to Hillsborough County voters and taxpayers. 

Shouldn't those who failed to provide proper legal oversight be held accountable?

The 2018 AFT transit tax was ruled illegal and unlawful and tossed out completely on February 25, 2021 by the Florida Supreme Court. 

The collection of the tax was stopped but the County had already collected over a half a BILLION dollars since the tax hike began on January 1, 2019. That created a huge refund issue the Florida Supreme Court did not address in 2021.

Now the State legislature/Governor DeSantis will provide a refund process and appropriate the remaining funds. None of the remaining unlawful AFT funds can be spent on transit and the wrong doers responsible for AFT's huge legal mess will not be rewarded. 

But Beck and Smith apparently did not learn their lesson from the 2018 illegal AFT transit tax legal debacle.

In 2022, the County Attorney's office is directly responsible for the AFT 2.0 transit tax ballot language that was also ruled unlawful.

HART's legal counsel Smith was directly involved with the County Attorney in drafting the 2022 AFT 2.0 ballot language. As we posted here, AFT 2.0 was intentionally politically polluted last year for political gain.

In round two, a legal challenge to AFT 2.0 was filed prior to the November election and a Circuit Court Judge ruled that it illegal and should be removed from the ballot.  However, an Appeals Court allowed AFT 2.0 to remain on the ballot while the case was being appealed.

Voters, better informed about AFT''s legal issues in round two, defeated the $23 Billion AFT 2.0 transit tax in November. The AFT 2.0 defeat saved taxpayers from another lengthy and costly AFT legal battle. 

Due to illegal AFT transit tax referendums, Hillsborough County taxpayers got stuck paying at least $1,105,510.64 to expensive outside attorneys.

Hillsborough County has paid outside attorneys $815,418.81. 

Legal fees paid by Hillsborough County thru 2/1/2023
associated with unlawful AFT transit tax

HART has paid outside attorney's $290,091.83 in legal fees.

Legal fees paid by HART associated 
with unlawful AFT transit tax 

Those costs do not include the time and resource costs of the County Attorney's office and HART's legal counsel who were involved in these legal messes too. 

HART is a fiscally failing transit agency and is going insolvent. Yet they spent almost $300K in legal fees associated with illegal AFT transit tax referendums.

HART could have better spent those hundreds of thousands of dollars on their bus service. But as we posted here, HART is fiscally irresponsible and the Florida's Inspector General's office needs to investigate and audit at least the last 10 years of HART's operations.

The over $815K the County spent on outside legal fees would have been better spent on improving roads and sidewalks. 

Don't forget the crony, ethically challenged proposed Go Hillsborough transit tax debacle in 2016 that caused a law enforcement investigation. 

Local elected officials, the governing boards of government agencies and their legal counsel should be protecting taxpayers and their local government entities from illegal activity and unlawful tax hike referendums. 

Twice Hillsborough County Attorney Christine Beck and HART's legal counsel David Smith failed to provide proper legal counsel and oversight to the county commissioners and the HART Board about unlawful AFT transit tax ballot initiatives.

A big question that remains is why Christine Beck and David Smith still have their jobs. 

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