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Supreme Court reversal sought
The ruling put local governments in a tizzy over financing.
Published October 10, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - Local governments asked the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday to reverse its prior ruling that the state Constitution requires voter approval before they can sell bonds widely used to finance redevelopment and improvement projects.
If the justices agree, it would be a double reversal.
Last month, they overturned a legal precedent the Supreme Court had set 27 years ago that said a local government or community redevelopment agency can use tax increment financing without holding a referendum.
The ruling came in a case involving a road-widening project for a Panhandle beach area, but it also had the effect of striking down parts of a state law that helps communities redevelop blighted areas, said former Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen Grimes.
Grimes, now a lawyer for the Florida Association of Counties, urged the court to leave the constitutional question for another day and reject the $135-million bond issue Escambia County had sought because it failed to conform with the redevelopment law.
"Are you throwing Escambia County under the bus so to speak?" asked Justice Barbara Pariente.
"I might not put it that way," Grimes responded.
But a lawyer for Escambia, Elaine Johnson James, conceded the county failed to follow the Community Redevelopment Act. She said the county now would prefer to have the Supreme Court reject the bond issue for that reason and abandon its broader ruling, which could thwart billions of dollars in future redevelopment projects across the state.
Neither Escambia nor Dr. Gregory Strand, a Pensacola veterinarian who challenged the bond issue, raised the constitutional issue when the Supreme Court first heard the case. The justices added it on their own.
Strand's lawyer, David Theriaque, though, urged the justices to stick with their unanimous ruling. It reversed a 1980 decision on tax increment financing in Miami Beach that helped lead to the revitalization of the South Beach area.
Tax increment projects are backed by revenues resulting from increases the projects are expected to create in property values.
The justices already issued a revised opinion since making their ruling last month.
They lifted a cloud over billions of dollars in existing projects by clarifying the ruling does not apply to bonds already issued.