Pinellas voters face decision on transit tax - FOX 13 News

Pinellas voters face decision on transit tax

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

Next Tuesday, the Pinellas County commission will hold a public hearing on ballot language for a referendum on a proposed transit tax swap. The cash flow for mass transit would quadruple if a one-cent sales tax replaces the current transit property tax.

Public buses would run more frequently, on more days and for longer hours. Some of those upgrades would arrive as soon as 2016. By 2024, a passenger rail service would connect Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg.

All of which assumes Pinellas County commissioners put the issue on the November 4, 2014 ballot, and voters approve the tax swap.

The first assumption is a slam dunk.

"There's strong support on the county commission, we've talked about this for a couple of years now," commission chairman Ken Welch told FOX 13 News Thursday.

Welch also acknowledged tax dollars can only be used to educate voters "...in the same way that we communicate the Penny for Pinellas: Here's what we're asking you to invest, here's what you'll get in return," Welch explained.

Right after the final county commission approval, a privately-funded political action committee called "Greenlight Yes" will be announced.

St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce president Chris Steinocher described it as a consortium of business leaders "...that's made up of folks from north county, mid county, south county, it's made up of Chamber leaders, it's made up of industry organization leaders," Steinocher said.

Without specifying a budget, Steinocher expressed one concern: Advertising costs may be driven up by Florida's gubernatorial campaigns.

"I don't know that we're going to do a lot of TV," Steinocher said. "But I think it's going to be more of the grassroots you've seen, working with all of the organizations, working with the people, working with the neighborhood associations, going door to door."

That reflects how the Greenlight Pinellas transit plan has been crafted so far. Several years ago, Hillsborough voters rejected a similar mass transit financing scheme. Supporters of that failed effort realized in hindsight that they did not provide voters enough detailed information.

Mass transit advocates in Pinellas have spent the past two or three years developing specifics, in many cases through public forums. PSTA chairman Jeff Danner said "We've got the general routes picked, the main corridors, and the things that will vary will be the station locations and some of those final adjustments."

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