The campaign for a transit referendum on the November 4 ballot is releasing a new TV ad tomorrow featuring former Pinellas County Commissioner Sallie Parks.
The ad begins with Parks saying she’s tired of all the negative political ads and then shows her being joined by two children. One is her grandson and the other is Clearwater Chamber of Commerce president Bob Clifford’s granddaughter.
“…but I never get tired of this,” she continues. “We need a plan for the future of this county and Greenlight Pinellas is just that.”
Parks’ grandson is seen playing with a bus made of Legos.
“It’s a smart investment in our people. In our community, people are working hard again starting businesses, moving Pinellas forward as a great place to live. We can’t wait for others to build our community. Vote yes on Greenlight Pinellas. It’s the right thing to do for us and them,” the 30-second T.V. spot continues.
Parks, a Republican, is supporting a one-penny sales tax increase to fund sweeping improvements to the county’s public transportation system that includes increased bus service, bus rapid transit and a passenger rail line connecting downtown St. Pete to Clearwater.
The measure is being opposed by many Republicans and Tea Party activists. The anti-Greenlight Pinellas group No Tax for Tracks argues the sales tax increase will hurt seniors and low income Pinellas County residents. They also argue it doesn’t benefit people who live in North County because the rail doesn’t go further north than Clearwater.
“I live in North County and I think [people] need to look at the big picture not just what’s in your backyard,” Parks said.
Parks served on the board of county commissioners from 1992 until 2000.
“We’ve always dealt with these issues,” she said.
During her 8-years on commission Parks supported a plan that would have created a raised rail line along the Pinellas trail.
“That didn’t play and so we [considered] various possibilities,” Parks said of that idea. “I think this is probably the best thought out plan.”
To those who criticize the tax as regressive, Parks points out that it brings tourists into the funding structure. Visitors comprise a large portion of PSTA ridership, but the current funding structure that relies on a portion of property taxes doesn’t tap that resource.
Greenlight Pinellas would eliminate the transit portion of property taxes and replace it with the new sales tax. The new funding structure is estimated to bring PSTA revenue to about $130 million. They currently bring in about $30 million a year through ad valorem and other revenue sources.
PSTA has reported that if the referendum doesn’t pass the agency will become insolvent by 2017 and be forced to reduce service.
The new ad comes with just 13 days until Election Day and as Early Voting is already underway. As of 5:10 p.m. just under 3,000 voters have cast an early ballot. Another 123,955 have returned mail-in ballots.
The campaign just broke the $1 million mark in campaign funding. The campaign has a little less than $200,000 left in its coffers. The opposition group, No Tax for Tracks, has brought in $84,954 and has about $25,000 left to burn.
The issue is polling too close to call and could be in trouble. No Tax for Tracks has revived calls for PSTA CEO Brad Miller to resign amid controversy surrounding emails sent by Miller. The emails reveal Miller intended to use grant money from the Department of Homeland Security intended to promote safety and security on buses to instead promote Greenlight Pinellas. The agency returned the $350,000 and said it was an oversight. NTFT argues the emails show PSTA can’t be trusted to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
During a PSTA meeting today supporters of NTFT called on Miller’s termination or resignation. The board stood behind Miller though saying the matter had already been dealt with and praising Miller for an otherwise stellar job performance.