To the surprise of no one, the Pinellas County Commission today approved on a 6-1 vote an agreement that will eliminate the portion of property taxes that Pinellas County residents currently pay into PSTA if the Greenlight Pinellas measure passes this fall.
Currently, PSTA receives $32 million in funding from property taxes. Part of the Greenlight Pinellas plan that will expand bus service and create a 24-mile light-rail system will eliminate that funding source, and instead add a cent to the county's current sales tax, which has been estimated will bring in around $130 million for the transit agency.
The lone vote against the agreement came from Republican Norm Roche, who has been steadfast in his opposition to the Greenlight Pinellas plan from the onset. This morning he again brought up the issue of taxpayer liability, and the lack of support amongst state and federal officials in the region for the plan.
"Actually, Congressman [David] Jolly, who doesn't support Greenlight ... has said that if it passed in November that he would support and do everything he possibly could if the people of this County wanted that," countered Commissioner John Morroni.
"And the same of our legislative delegation," piped up Commissioner Susan Latvala. "They're not going to come out now, I shouldn't say they aren't going to do something — actually I'm not going to speak for them — the ones that I have spoken to are not going to come out now in favor of a new tax. They're Republicans. They're pretty far-right Republicans, and it's not going to happen. If and when the referendum passes, they'll all be on board. And they'll be working hard to help us support that. They have told me that."
Roche said he's spoken with local Democrats who are not on board with Greenlight, but Latvala retorted that she was confident that they would be if the measure passes this fall.
Commissioner Janet Long then chimed in, saying support for the transit tax requires leadership. "We're not making these decision for us individually today. They're for our kids and our grandkids so that they can enjoy the same quality of life that we all have had."
In a statement released after the vote, PSTA Chairman Brad Miller hailed the vote. “Eliminating PSTA property taxes is a critical part of the Greenlight Pinellas plan that will save Pinellas County homeowners over $32 million per year,” he said. “We thank the County Commission for taking this important step as we move to a fairer, more broad-based revenue source to fund Greenlight Pinellas and transit in our community."