Debate over transit gets up to speed in Pinellas - FOX 13 News

Debate over transit gets up to speed in Pinellas

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The opposing campaigns are shaping up, and the yard signs will soon follow.

They will be green for supporters of "Yes for Greenlight" and red for "No Tax for Tracks."

Those are the opponents in a November referendum on a proposed one-cent sales tax to fund a mass transit plan called Greenlight Pinellas.

The sales tax would replace the current mass transit property tax and raise several times as much revenue.

An estimated $125 million a year would fund greatly expanded bus service and build a commuter rail system.

"Greenlight is really about the future of Pinellas County. It's nothing less than that," county commissioner Ken Welch told a crowd of supporters at the kickoff for Yes for Greenlight.

Ronnie Duncan, the newly-formed political action committee's co-chair, said "It's about creating new jobs and bringing businesses and growing in a thoughtful and disciplined manner."

"And so the debate begins," Barbara Haselden told FOX 13 News, immediately after the rally.

As she did in many public meetings the past three years, Haselden sat quietly, watching the rally unfold.

"That room was full of the same people who think that they know better," she said, with a certain air of been there, done that.

In 2010, Haselden's grassroots No Tax For Tracks defeated a similar mass transit proposal in Hillsborough County.

The Hillsborough initiative also benefited from significant financial support from business interests, heavily outspending No Tax For Tracks.

Haselden can argue against the Pinellas plan on technical issues, but thinks the additional penny sales tax is sufficient ammunition.

"I think we're on the right side of this issue, where it counts, which is with the people, and we won't need that much money I don't believe to prevail," Haselden said.

There might be two big differences in Pinellas. First, observers think the Hillsborough initiative died for lack of a detailed transit plan for voters to consider. That is one reason why Pinellas transit proponents spent the past three years developing a fairly detailed plan.

The second difference may be campaign strategies.

"You're not going to see us spending money on glitzy TV campaigns," Yes for Greenlight co-chair Chris Steinocher told the rally. "I don't think that we need that. I think we need to talk to our neighbors, suggesting a grassroots campaign similar to that of No Tax For Tracks."

Duncan also said the proponents will utilize social media and other non-traditional campaign tactics, but said the campaign, and therefore its budget, are still under construction.

"The total cost of what the campaign is going to be, and moreover, what I or somebody has got to raise to make that happen, I just don't know yet," Duncan said.

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