TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) – Escambia County does not have to get voter approval before using property tax money to pay off up to $135 million in bond debt for a road-widening project, the Florida Supreme Court ruled.
After rehearing the case, the high court withdrew an earlier ruling for Dr. Gregory Strand, who challenged the county’s use of money earmarked for community development on bond debt without a voter referendum.
The 4-2 majority pointed to a precedent-setting ruling on a Miami Beach case, in which the high court upheld the use of taxpayer money to pay off bond debt.
Justice Charles Wells said governments have relied on the Miami Beach ruling for 27 years in issuing “bond financing by local government authorities, including school boards, enabling the financing of many public works that have enhanced the quality of life in our state.”
The ruling appears to clear the path for developers to finance dozens of projects, including a 37,000-seat stadium in Little Havana, a $1 billion port tunnel and a streetcar system.
Dissenting Justice R. Fred Lewis cited a Bill Murray movie to illustrate the consequences of overturning a decision that he claimed had corrected the “flawed premise” of Miami Beach.
“Like the hapless protagonist in ‘Groundhog Day,’ this Court will be forced to continuously relive this controversy until we ‘get it right,’ because the constitutional provision at issue simply does not support the gloss placed upon it by Miami Beach and related, distinguishable decisions,” Lewis wrote.
“Sooner or later we must recognize that the faulty expansion of Miami Beach to far different cases involving typical capital projects unjustifiably perpetuates an obvious legal error and deprives Florida’s citizens of a clear constitutional right.”