Sunday, February 18, 2024

Hillsborough County Wants to Put Sales Tax Referendum On the November Ballot But What About the Voters?

Hillsborough County commissioners held a Workshop on February 14th to discuss to plan placing another One-Half Percent (NOT One-Half Cent) Community Investment Tax (CIT) aka the Stadium tax on the November ballot. 

The Stadium/CIT sales tax is a local sales tax that can be used to fund capital infrastructure projects.

The current 30 year Stadium/CIT sales tax expires in December 2026. The County should have been publicly discussing their referendum intent for November 2024 long before February 14th 2024. They did not. Why?

The County ignored mentioning the CIT sales tax revenue, that can be used to fund roads and transportation projects, when they placed the failed One-Percent 30 year All for Transportation 2.0 sales tax hike on the 2022 ballot. Why?

Now the County is up against a Statutory deadline having to ram another sales tax referendum onto the ballot at the last minute. 

The crunch time referendum timeline was provided by County staff to vote on the sales tax referendum ordinance at the April 3rd BOCC meeting. If the ordinance is approved, ONE public hearing will be held on April 17th for a proposed sales tax that will collect BILLIONS of taxpayer dollars. 

Watch the Workshop.  Note the emotional display of desperation by some of the commissioners. If the sales tax is so critical why weren't the commissioners discussing it before now?  

Democrat Pat Kemp, who is term limited this year and a political lame duck, wants another 30 year tax. Democrat Gwen Myers wants a 20 year tax. Republican Ken Hagan was more vague stating he could consider a 10, 15, or 20 year tax. Republican Michael Owen, also vague, said he wants longer than 10 years to be able to bond out the revenues to fund the road expansion of Lithia Pinecrest. 

Kudos to Republican Commissioner Josh Wostal who stated he would only support up to a 10 year tax. Wostal brought up issues with bonding the sales tax and the  House bill filed this legislative session limiting the term of local sales tax referendums.

The Florida House Ways and Means Committee tax bill PCB WMC 24-05 includes a statutory change that limits local sales tax referenda to 10 years. The Florida State legislature must also be concerned about long term local sales tax referendums and the bonding of sales tax revenues.

This change is needed and welcomed especially with what occurred in Hillsborough County.

Thirty years is a long time since 1996. Many voters today in Hillsborough County do not know the history about the current 30 year One-Half Percent Stadium/CIT tax: 

  • A new Bucs Stadium only sales tax was defeated in 1995. 
  • In 1996, since a stadium only tax could not pass, the county commissioners put the current 30 year Stadium/CIT tax on an off cycle low turnout election ballot in September 1996. It passed with 53%.
  • The Stadium/CIT tax lopped funding right off the top of the tax revenues to fund the new Bucs stadium (Raymond James) and send 25% to the schools. Those two had to be funded first.
  • Hillsborough County voters were told the remaining Stadium/CIT tax funds, after schools and the stadium, would fund County infrastructure capital projects such as roads, a new jail, fire stations, stormwater projects, parks, libraries, etc. 
  • Hillsborough County voters were promised the Stadium CIT sales tax revenues would be spent by the County in 5 year increments (pay as you go) as part of the County's normal 5 year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) - NOT bonded out - which is why the stadium and schools had to be funded first off the top. Voters were promised no debt would be incurred with this tax hike. 
  • That promise was broken. In 2007, Commissioner Ken Hagan, who was leading a Transportation Task force at the time, and then county debt/bond manager Mike Merrill recommended the County borrow against the entire remaining future sales tax revenue stream. Merrill claimed the Stadium/CIT tax revenue growth would be so great there would not be any problems funding all the future needs.
  • The County bonded out almost 20 years of the 30 year tax in 2007. No more pay as you go. The County incurred huge debt and interest payments.
  • In 2008, the next year, the housing bubble burst causing the big recession that hit Florida very hard. The County's tax revenues tanked.
  • County taxpayers were stuck paying back the bond holders not funding new county infrastructure projects as promised. 
  • The huge debt financially tied the hands of future county commission boards.
  • The Bucs Stadium (Raymond James) is owned by Hillsborough County, contributes ZERO property tax revenues to the County but the County must pay to maintain it into perpetuity.

The moral of the story above: NO local sales tax should be greater than 5-10 years and local sales tax referendum revenues must NOT be bonded out. 

The only reason for a sales tax hike greater than 10 years is the ability to bond out the tax revenues. 

However, sales tax revenues are more volatile to economic uncertainty and downturns. There is more risk when bonding out sales tax revenue. 

As Commissioner Wostal noted, the County has multiples of other more stable revenue streams less volatile than sales tax revenues that can be bonded to help fund a large infrastructure project such as Lithia Pinecrest. 

Hillsborough County broke their promise to voters in 1996 by bonding out the last 20 years of the current 30 year tax. 

Hillsborough County should not place a new One-Half Percent Stadium/CIT tax on the ballot for more than 5 -10 years. This matches or ties more closely with the County's normal five year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)  

The County already knows what is in their five year CIP, can still adequately plan for the next five years. Planning after 10 years becomes a crap shoot.

A 5-10 year sales tax will not bump up against the House bill which hopefully gets passed limiting the sales tax term. 

And most importantly, the County must show some success and prove they can deliver what they promise. 

The County must provide voters a list of all of the specific projects - not 50K foot pie in the sky funding buckets - that will be funded with the new sales tax revenue. The public needs this list ASAP and must have it BEFORE the April 17th public hearing.

The Statutory clock to place the sales tax referendum on the November ballot is ticking. Hillsborough County commissioners left themselves little time to transparently deliberate - not behind closed doors with staff - an agreed to list of ALL specific projects a new Stadium/CIT sales tax will fund.  

It's not the voting public's fault the county commissioners waited until the eleventh hour.  The public wants to see the sales tax spending sausage being made in the Sunshine. 

The commissioners could punt and wait to put the sales tax on the 2026 ballot. 

At the February 14th Workshop, Democrat Harry Cohen stated indicators show the economy is "strong" so he wants the sales tax put on the 2024 ballot.  

Taxpayers who have not seen their everyday costs go down or their paychecks keep up with inflation or are on fixed incomes may disagree. 

The county commissioners raised County water, stormwater and garbage fees without telling residents how the Stadium/CIT sales tax revenues could impact those fees. The county commissioners raised property taxes by refusing to reduce the property tax millage rate as County property taxes skyrocketed.  The size of the County's bureaucracy has exploded as the County budget has ballooned.

Are the county commissioners expecting Hillsborough County voters to simply disregard all that to support another Stadium/CIT sales tax?

It must be a NO GO for the County to even attempt to put a sales tax referendum on the ballot greater than 10 years. 

But in 2024, the electorate may have no stomach for another One-Half Percent Stadium/CIT sales tax no matter what the term would be.


  1. Article states: "The Stadium/CIT sales tax is a local sales tax that can be used to fund capital infrastructure projects." But can it also be used to fund other projects?

    1. Check out FS 212.055 Section (2) that governs the Local Government Infrastructure Tax. The tax can only be used on capital projects and capital improvements with a lifespan greater than 5 years. Recently, land acquisition for affordable housing was added to what this tax can fund. Operating and maintenance expenses cannot be funded with the infrastructure tax.

  2. With over 200 million each year in property taxes we don’t need the cIT what we need is a Hillsborough diet. Less funding of pet projects, less nonprofit organizations that pay their executives over 150k and detailed view of budgets….

  3. I hope all the commissioners realize that the risk of failure to pass a new CIT tax increases exponentially as you go above the 10 year limit. To say that you need greater than 10 years of taxes because you need to bond large projects flies in the face of surrounding counties that use only a 10 year CIT tax duration. They are bonding large projects. Commissioners wanting more than 10 years should be shown the door by the voters. 10 or Out, 10 or Nothing.