“Dealing with Gridlock: Is There a Light Rail in Pinellas County’s Future?” is April 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Digital Auditorium of the Seminole campus, 9200 113th St. N.
SEMINOLE – Pinellas County citizens will go to the polls Nov. 4 to vote on a proposed 1-cent sales tax increase to improve public transportation facilities in the county. To help them understand the pros and cons of the referendum, St. Petersburg College will present the first of a series of free public forums on the issue on April 3.
The program, titled “Dealing with Gridlock: Is There a Light Rail in Pinellas County’s Future?” will be from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Digital Auditorium of the Seminole campus, 9200 113th St. N. It is sponsored by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at SPC. The Tampa Bay Times is the media sponsor. Advance reservations are requested.
The referendum approved last fall by the Pinellas County Commission, would fund improvements in bus service provided by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and eventually a 24-mile light-rail line serving high-employment sectors between downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Clearwater. While raising the sales tax from seven to eight cents per dollar, the referendum would eliminate the current .75-mill property tax dedicated to transportation.
The forum will open with pro-con presentations on the proposal by advocates for and against passage. Speaking for the amendment will be Don Ewing, chairman of Greenlight Pinellas. Speaking against will be Barbara Haselden, president of St. Pete 912, a chapter of the Tea Party, and a leader of No Tax for Tracks, an advocacy group that opposes passage of the penny tax hike for transit.
The final portion of the program will be devoted to answering questions from the audience. Moderating the debate will be Dr. James Oliver, provost, SPC Seminole.
The proposed tax increase, if approved by more than 50 percent of Pinellas voters, would authorize a 1-cent sales tax increase for 30 years, which would raise $120 million a year. The tax hike would be partially offset by eliminating the current .75-mill property tax for transit that brings in $32 million. For that revenue stream, PSTA promises a 65 percent increase in bus service, a Bus Rapid Transit line, that is, dedicated bus lanes, on major corridors; and, eventually, a 24-mile light rail line that would roughly follow the I-275 corridor north to the Gateway area, then head west along Ulmerton/Roosevelt Road.
The SPC Policy Institute plans to offer at least two more informational forums on the transit tax proposal. One in mid-summer will be held in the Midtown area, and another in September will be held in Clearwater.