Mitch Perry Report 12.11.13: It's official: Pinellas residents to vote on light-rail measure next year

37 months after Hillsborough County voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to raise the sales tax by a penny to fund the construction of a light-rail system, the Pinellas County Commission late last night approved a measure that would give their residents that same opportunity in November of 2014.

In approving the ballot language last night, Pinellas legislators again demonstrated how much they've learned from Hillsborough's failure in 2010. For one thing, the Hillsborough board didn't approve such language for their ballot measure until May of that year, a little less than six months before voters would go to the polls. Pinellas registered voters won't cast a ballot on the measure for nearly 11 more months.

Also Pinellas Commissioners have spent money (something not everyone in the county approves of) on a marketing campaign with the Tampa PR firm Tucker-Hall. That ultimately resulted into the creation of Greenlight Pinellas, who have created a branding and education campaign that has led to organized support for the measure.

So in effect there's already been a campaign to champion the initiative. But now there's a real live measure on the ballot. Last night's vote on the Commission was 6-1 in favor of the referendum, with Norm Roche the one holdout. That wasn't surprising. Nor is it that there is certainly opposition from Tea Party affiliated groups and other fiscal conservatives who don't want to have their (sales) taxes raised. But how organized will those foes get? They're already behind, but they have plenty of time to spread the word on why they think the measure is ill-advised. But perhaps we are now one step closer to getting construction on some sort of mass transit created in the Tampa Bay area, the 14th biggest media market in the U.S., and by far the biggest without any such system.

Speaking of transportation, remember Louis Miller, the former head of Tampa International Airport who had a sparkling reputation until it all went horribly south in the waning months of his 14-year tenure here? He's only been in Atlanta for three years leading the world's biggest airport, but that gig is ending soon.

Meanwhile while Kathleen Sebelius is now calling for an investigation into the administration's botched rollout of HealthCare.gov., her minions are working across the country to give updates on how the system is working so far. Yesterday Sol Ross with HHS came to Pinellas Park, and got an earful from supporters of the plan who had a number of questions about the rollout.

And remember immigration reform? A coalition of Latino advocacy groups handed out "report cards" to various members of Congress on how they've dealt with the issue in 2013. Both Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson got approving grades from the groups, ostensibly for supporting the comprehensive bill in the Senate this past summer.

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