Last week the "No Tax for Tracks" movement kicked off what will be roughly 10 months of fighting against "Greenlight Pinellas." The tax referendum would swap property tax funding for a seven to eight percent sales tax increase (1 cent increase) for PSTA.
"First of all, it's not a true swap," says "No Tax for Tracks" chair person Barb Haselden.
Haselden says that the current Pinellas County ad valorum tax generates roughly $32 million annually, while the sales tax increase will generate closer to $130 million... and that those hardest hit will be current bus riders, such as lower income individuals and seniors, many of whom do not pay property taxes.
However, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel says much of the new revenue won't even be coming from Florida residents.
"Thirty percent is paid by our tourists," she says.
Haselden is also concerned that voters may be confused by messaging, suggesting that the increase will help fund a connector rail line between Pinellas and Hillsborough. But a PSTA spokesperson told me that part of the plan IS to accommodate interbay travel -- specifically from the Pinellas Gateway area to Tampa -- but by bus, not by rail... at least for right now.
But again, the referendum isn't just about rail. Presented with the argument that train transit brings up property values in the areas where there are stops, Haselden says, "PSTA is not in the position to be developers."
But, Commissioner Seel replies, "Everyone in this county is interested in economic development, because it means jobs."
Haselden also says that she does not believe more buses should be added to the PSTA fleet, but that the system needs to be retooled.
Now, whether you believe that or support the "tax swap" referendum, you will see a lot more signs popping up around Pinellas County in the coming months... and you'll get your say on the matter this November.
For information on Greenlight Pinellas, log on to www.GreenlightPinellas.com.
For information on No Tax for Tracks, log on to www.railtaxfacts.com.