Friday, March 1, 2019

AFT Train Wreck: Commissioners Sue Their Own Constituents to Take Their Rights Away


The All for Transportation (AFT) tax hike is one big mess.

Tampa, Fl
From: Eye On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

And the AFT train wreck is getting messier and messier. Six county commissioners are digging a deeper hole by intentionally putting taxpayers at more risk and taking actions that will take away the rights of their own constituents and future commission boards. 


How did we get to this train wreck?

Big issues were swirling around AFT's tax hike charter amendment from the get go. Potential legal conflicts with state law were raised. The insanity that AFT's $16 Billion tax hike provides no funding for new road capacity and instead specifically prohibits funding road widening and new lane capacity for 30 years were brought up before the election.

Commissioner White was the only commissioner to publicly sound the warning about these issues before the election. Unfortunately, all the other commissioners at that time remained silent, including Murman, Miller and Crist who were all former state legislators. Shame on them!

Local media knew about these issues. They were included in Commissioner White's press conference and press release. But local media refused to do their job and they were silent. They are complicit in creating the big AFT mess.

Now serious legal questions must be resolved that are bigger than just Hillsborough County.  Can a county charter super-cede state law? The rule of law must be protected.

Commissioner White filed a lawsuit in December, case #18-CA-011749, challenging the AFT tax hike charter amendment on numerous counts. White's lawsuit and associated legal proceedings and filings can be found on the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court's website by following these instructions.
BOCC Chair Commissioner Miller brings agenda item F-3  to the February 6th BOCC meeting by stating:
AS CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS AND THE H.A.R.T. BOARD AND THE MPO, I'VE BEEN APPROACHED BY THE COUNTY'S OUTSIDE LITIGATION AND BOND COUNSEL WITH A RECOMMENDATION TO USE THE BOND VALIDATION PROCESS AUTHORIZED BY FLORIDA'S LAW TO ADDRESS ISSUES REGARDING TRANSPORTATION SURTAX.

Note: Miller, a supporter of the AFT tax hike boondoggle, is Chair of the BOCC, Chair of the HART Board and Chair of the Hillsborough MPO - all entities receiving billions of AFT tax dollars. That is not good governance. Having no diversity empowers groupthink and bad policy.

Miller asked commissioners to approve bonding out $10 million of AFT tax proceeds while the tax is in litigation and under legal uncertainty and authorize the county to file a bond validation lawsuit and sue its own citizens.

The video and the transcript of the meeting can be found here. The entire transcript of the meeting can also be found here . Search on "bond validation" to find the entire discussion of this agenda item. It is eye opening.

Alan Zimmet, the outside litigation counsel hired by Hillsborough County for White's lawsuit, recommended taking this action. (Note Zimmet is also the attorney for transit agencies PSTA & TBARTA.)

Zimmet admits a lot that local media never reported, including the following:
  • There is no evidence any legal review was done of the AFT tax hike.
  • The proposed $10 million bond issue is unique from other county bond issues because it is a result of a citizen initiative and infers there is no legal review done of the tax that backs this bond issue. 
  • The misnamed Independent Oversight Committee (IOC) does not just provide oversight. The IOC has ULTIMATE APPROVAL (AND DISAPPROVAL) powers over all projects funded by the AFT tax hike for 30 years. (Note: the approval powers of the IOC are enumerated in Section 11.06 and Section 11.10 of AFT's Article 11 tax hike charter amendment.)
  • The AFT tax hike gives IOC unelected bureaucrats, who are accountable to no one, approval and disapproval powers over powers conferred by state statute to duly elected officials. 
  • How the AFT tax proceeds must be spent for 30 years is dictated by how AFT specifically appropriated the funds in their charter amendment.
The dialogue between Alan Zimmet and Commissioner White and can be found here. This is riveting (emphasis mine):

>> STACY WHITE: SO THE VOTING PUBLIC CAN OPT TO ELIMINATE ARTICLE 11 BY INITIATIVE AT ANY TIME, IS THAT CORRECT? 

>> ALAN ZIMMIT: I WOULD SAY TO YOU THAT ONCE BONDS ARE ISSUED, THE IMPAIRMENT OF CONTRACT PROTECTIONS IN THE CONSTITUTION PROTECT THE BONDHOLDERS FROM REPEAL OR REDUCTION OF THE TAX. 

>> STACY WHITE: SO WHAT WOULD WE DO WITH A CITIZEN‑LED INITIATIVES WHERE ALL THE SIGNATURES HAD BEEN PROPERLY AND DULY COLLECTED THAT STATES WE AS THE VOTERS OF HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY WISH TO ELIMINATE ARTICLE 11 FROM THE COUNTY CHARTER BUT THESE FUNDS HAVE BEEN BONDED ‑‑ WHAT WOULD WE DO WITH THAT INITIATIVE? WOULD WE ALLOW IT TO GO TO THE VOTERS, WOULD WE ALLOW A VOTE TO TAKE PLACE ON IT? 

>> ALAN ZIMMET: I THINK THE COUNTY WILL CONTRACTUALLY TIE ITS HANDS FROM BEING ABLE TO PARTICIPATE IN ACTIVITY WHICH WOULD RESULT IN THE REPEAL OR REDUCTION OF THE SURTAX ONCE BONDS HAVE BEEN ISSUED.

>>STACY WHITE: I FIND IT TO BE SHOCKING, FRIGHTENING, ACTUALLY, THAT THE VOTERS' RIGHT TO AMEND THEIR CHARTER WILL BE STRIPPED IF THESE REVENUES ARE BONDED. IF THAT'S THE CASE, THERE WAS A DUTY TO INFORM THE VOTERS OF THIS AT THE BALLOT BOX. THAT IS A COMPLEX LEGAL ISSUE THAT GOES ABOVE AND BEYOND WHAT WAS PRESENTED TO THE VOTERS.

THE VOTING PUBLIC SHOULD HAVE BEEN INFORMED THAT THEIR RIGHT TO AMEND THEIR CHARTER COULD BE STRIPPED FROM THEM BY MEANS OF THE COUNTY COMMISSION OR ANY OTHER GOVERNING BODY BONDING THESE REVENUES.

IF WE BOND THESE REVENUES, WE HAVE LIKELY STRIPPED THE CITIZENS OF THIS COUNTY OF THEIR ABILITY TO AMEND THEIR CHARTER. AND I AM CONFIDENT THAT NOT ALL OF THE 57% OF VOTERS THAT APPROVE THIS WERE AWARE OF THIS.

The commissioners voted 6-1 to approve F-3 with Commissioner White being the lone No vote.

County commissioners should never intentionally put taxpayers at risk. Yet six commissioners approved a bond issue backed by tax revenues under litigation. The county has provided no information or list of projects for what this bond issue is even funding and the IOC does not even exist yet to approve any projects.

What horrible governance - bond the money, create more debt, put taxpayers at risk and figure it out later.

No one even knows where $10 million came from  but no worries it's only $10 million. As Patch.com reported, Commissioner Kemp stated "If it's not valid, if your (White's) lawsuit prevails, we're not on hook for anything but this relatively small bond issue," she said. 

And even more egregious is that bonding the AFT tax proceeds by any agency takes away the rights of citizens and future commission boards to change or repeal the AFT tax hike charter amendment.

Apparently, filing this bond validation lawsuit provides a faster path in the appellate process. It enables the case to go directly to the Florida Supreme Court bypassing the appellate court.  Six county commissioners decided that was more important than preserving the rights of their own constituents. 

So Zimmet filed bond validation lawsuit, Case No. 19-CA-1382 (emphasis mine) and successfully consolidated it in the courts with White's lawsuit. 
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FLORIDA, a political subdivision of the State of Florida, Plaintiff 
vs 
STATE OF FLORIDA, and the taxpayers, property owners and citizens of Hillsborough County, Florida, including non-residents owning property or subject to taxation therein, and others claiming any right, title or interest in property to be affected by the issuance of the bonds herein described or to be affected in any way thereby Defendants
 Hillsborough County has now sued the state of Florida and all taxpayers, citizens and property owners in Hillsborough County to take away the rights of citizens in Hillsborough County or future county commission boards to change or repeal the AFT tax hike charter amendment.

Citizens and taxpayers are subservient to the bondholders and six county commissioners affirmed that.

Six county commissioners (Miller, Murman, Hagan, Overman, Smith, Kemp) voted to take the rights of their own constituents away without ever informing their constituents.

Outrageous! 

Posted by Sharon Calvert at 9:13 PM 


This post is contributed by EYE ON TAMPA BAY. The views expressed in this post are the blog publisher's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet.

Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

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