When the folks with the People's Budget Review announced on Tuesday that they would be releasing information on a survey they conducted regarding the Greenlight Pinellas initiative on this November's ballot, you might have assumed they would be in support of the transit tax that promises to bring more buses and light rail to the county.
You would have been wrong to have done that, however.
In fact, says Kofi Hunt with the group, their survey of over 1,600 people in the county shows overwhelming ignorance of what is actually in the measure, and they intend to spend time this spring educating people.
"Our main priority is that, this is going to be on the ballot — do people even know what it is? And after informing them a little bit about what it is, would they vote for it? That's our primary take right now," says Hunt of Awake PInellas, one of a myriad of activist and neighborhood groups who make up the PBR, which formed a couple of years ago to help ensure citizens' having a voice on the budgeting process in the city of St. Petersburg.
Hunt says members of the group want to reach out to people who use PSTA buses on a daily basis right now and ask what's important to them. He insists that if the majority say they're not in favor of the initiative, "from that we'll decide on how to move forward."
However, critics of the measure aren't buying PBR's message that they have an open mind about the proposal.
"I think they’re supporting Greenlight Pinellas," Barb Haselden says flatly.She's leading No Tax for Tracks, the political action committee formed to defeat the ballot measure this fall.
Greenlight Pinellas would swap the current funding structure for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Agency. Currently, the agency collects its revenue via property taxes. The measure would switch that for a one-cent sales tax increase, meaning Pinellas consumers would spend 8 cents per dollar on most purchases. That exchange would net PSTA approximately $130 million a year to pay for an expanded bus system and light rail system.
PSTA officials themselves aren't allowed to advocate for the measure, but can provide voter education, which for No Tax for Tracks is a very fuzzy line indeed. And while she applauds the People's Budget Review for getting involved in the democratic process, she questions how effective their efforts can actually be.
"Between all of the monies that have been allocated to just 'educate people,' it just seems that the more people find out about it , the less they’re interested in supporting it, so educate away, that’s fine with us," she says.
Kofi Hunt says part of the People's Budget Review charge is to consult with the people who generally aren't surveyed on key political or economic issues, and that's what their members are going to do, before soon deciding on a consensus.
"it’s easy to preempt the public voice. So we’re trying to be exceptional and to determine our path based on the community’s voice. So as soon as we're ready, we think we we know the direction that people want to go, we will work the same way we have the past few years."