'No Tax for Tracks' Group Collides with Expensive Florida Public Transit Plan

By: William Patrick FloridaWatchdog.org | Posted: January 24, 2014 3:55 AM
No Tax for Tracks

Pinellas County residents could soon be the recipients of a massive public transportation overhaul. At face value, the cost -- a penny -- appears as attractive as the illustrated renderings.

It’s called the Pinellas Greenlight Plan, and for a mere 1 percent increase to the 7 percent countywide sales tax, residents could soon see a drastic expansion in bus services along with a new 24-mile light rail system.

All that stands between Pinellas and the 30-year Greenlight Plan is a “yes” vote on a November ballot referendum. That, and Barb Haselden of No Tax for Tracks.“I’ve been going to Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority meetings for three years,” she told Watchdog.org. “They will not correct the current system; instead, they want to expand it using a new funding source.”

The PSTA is now funded through property taxes, which increased over the past few years to meet its financial obligations.

The penny increase would eliminate it, but it would also quadruple PSTA’s budget -- from about $30 million to $130 million. The new sales tax hike would tie Pinellas for the highest rate among Florida‘s 67 counties.

Greenlight’s advocates say the project is worth the investment.

“Greenlight is all about giving people a feasible choice, spending $65 a month for a bus pass instead of hundreds of dollars a month for a second car,” said Clearwater City Councilman Bill Johnson.

“They would have a lot more disposable income in their pockets to support their families,” Johnson said.

But relying on residents to take buses instead of a car is a gamble.

Still, Pinellas County commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of the plan last month, citing benefits ranging from increased economic competitiveness to environmental stewardship. The lone dissenting vote came from Norm Roche, who was relieved of his appointed position with PSTA -- the author of the Greenlight Plan -- a week later.

PSTA said Roche’s firing had nothing to do with his vote.

The tax increase would start Jan 1, 2016. Bus improvements would begin immediately, though the light rail system wouldn’t be ready for another 10 to 15 years.

It’s also expensive. The light rail alone comes with a projected cost of $1.7 billion, according to a PSTA website devoted entirely to the proposed benefits of the Greenlight Plan.

But a fiscal feasibility analysis, commissioned by the transit authority itself, says light rail costs are expected to increase 3 percent to 4 percent a year, ending with a total price tag of $2.34 billion.

Thirty-three rail cars are slated for the 24-mile track at $4 million a pop. Each car will need an overhaul after 13 years of use.

Haselden, who refers to herself as a grassroots organizer, led an opposition rally Tuesday night at the Abundant Life Ministries church in Largo. In an interview with Watchdog.org, Haselden said 130 people attended the event, the first of many between now and November.

In 2010, a Hillsborough County No Tax for Tracks group defeated a similar public transit initiative with just $23,000. Haselden said her Pinellas coalition is even more prepared, but so are the local government and corporate sponsors.

“What we have is a bloated, inefficient system,” she said. “If we can get enough information out there, then people won’t vote themselves higher taxes.”

Contact William Patrick at wpatrick@watchdog.org or follow Florida Watchdog on Twitter at @watchdogfla.

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (8)

12:58PM JUN 19TH 2014
Wasn't Penny for Pinellas suppose to take care of transit as well? I guess politicians can't have enough pork.
Having highest sales tax rates in the state is bad for those low wage earners they feel will benefit from more buses. You only get a credit on fed. taxes if you itemize. How many low wage earners itemize? I am voting no for tax increase!
Tom Rask
6:47AM JAN 25TH 2014
Greenlight Pinellas is a bad plan which would raise our taxes and give us the highest sales tax in Florida. For what? To CAUSE congestion by putting in dedicated bus lanes, and for 10 years or more of construction all over the county to build light rail (=street cars).
3:34AM JAN 25TH 2014
"But a fiscal feasibility analysis, commissioned by the transit authority itself, says light rail costs are expected to increase 3 percent to 4 percent a year, ending with a total price tag of $2.34 billion." Please explain to me the county in FLA that can pay that amount, plus ridership metrics that do not meet their predictions. This is not California. I live in San Diego. I ride the Coaster almost every day from Oceanside to Old Town (to the SPAWAR stop). The transit system is heavily subsidized by the state. FLA can not do the same as Cali, unless we agree to a state income tax and other terrific tax increases. Ain't gonna happen y'all. I hope.
3:01PM JAN 24TH 2014
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1:42PM JAN 24TH 2014
We are taxed enough. Can't keep layering on taxes for every so called "good cause" forever.

I hope it comes to a vote so I can vote against it.
6:32PM JAN 24TH 2014
Sounds like you may be double registered . . . first Brevard, now the other coast . . . . when in reality, you're not even registered here . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
Bob H
10:35AM JAN 24TH 2014
Intelligent decisions on commuter transit are needed in almost every major metropolitan area in the country. The people of Tampa Bay, would be better served with a more regional approach, combining both HART and PSTA, to form a well oiled machine that carries people all over the area. Speed is what's needed in a rail system. One that's NOT at ground level, creating auto backups on public thoroughfares.
Alex Carterson
9:25AM JAN 24TH 2014
The No Tax people keep taking credit for the Hillsborough defeat, but they're self-aggrandizing. Their impact was minimal. HART's problem was not having a clearly defined plan, something that PSTA certainly has. We need this, and I'm hopeful that the needs of our community outweigh the crazy propaganda of the No Tax people.

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