Apr 9, 2024 - News

Hillsborough’s crowded ballot: Abortion, weed and half-cent tax

Illustration of a very long ballot coming out of a voting booth.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Hillsborough County voters are one step closer to having another referendum on November's ballot, alongside statewide votes on abortion rights and recreational marijuana.

Why it matters: The half-cent community investment tax, which financed everything from ZooTampa at Lowry Park to Raymond James Stadium, expires in two years.

  • Hillsborough's population is ballooning, and the sales tax is one of the few ways the county can fund the infrastructure needed to support that growth.

Driving the news: The Board of County Commissioners decided after an hourslong meeting last week to move forward with a new iteration of the half-cent tax.

  • Republican commissioners Michael Owen and Joshua Wostal argued for the new tax to span a shorter time frame, much to the chagrin of the Democrats on the board.
  • The board halved the tax's original life and slashed the school district's cut from 25% to 5%.

How it works: Under the original tax, the Hillsborough County School Board got 25% of the revenue. The Tampa Sports Authority received about $9 million for maintenance and stadium debt.

  • The rest of the tax revenue went to the Board of County Commissioners, Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, with distributions based on population.
  • This year, the board will get about 74%, Tampa 21%, Plant City 2% and Temple Terrace 1.5% of the remaining revenue.

Friction point: Owen and Wostal had argued for excluding the school board from the new iteration, citing a separate referendum the school district is pitching to fund salary increases for teachers.

  • Ken Hagan, the board's chairperson, said Hillsborough voters might see two tax referendums on the same ballot as "double dipping."

Yes, but: The school district's referendum is limited to operational costs — not building repairs, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

What's next: The Board of County Commissioners will hold a public hearing next Wednesday on the new tax.

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