Greenlight Pinellas supporters to push referendum to the last minute

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The Greenlight Pinellas campaign is pushing its message to the veryend. With today being the last day of early voting and Election Day just two days away, supporters of Greenlight are making sure every second counts.

“I think Election Day is obviously going to matter,” B2 Communications director Kyle Parks said. B2 is handling the Greenlight Pinellas campaign. “The people who show up on Tuesday may end up being the final say.”

When campaigning first began, Greenlight Pinellas seemed to be off to a promising start polling with wide support. Support grew as Greenlight launched its educational campaign backed by several business groups and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. But lately, as the opposition group No Tax for Tracks has really dug in as a grass roots machine, that support has dipped and the race is expected to be close.

Greenlight is asking voters to support a one-penny sales tax increase to fund mass transportation improvements in the county. The sales tax would increase the portion of property taxes currently collected to fund PSTA. The change in funding structure would contribute to an increase in revenue from $30 million to $130 million. It would pay for increased bus service, bus rapid transit and a passenger rail line from downtown St. Pete to downtown Clearwater.

Supporters argue the measure is a necessary one to bring Pinellas, and the region, into the 21st Century. Without comprehensive changes to the transit options here, supporters say young professionals are choosing to root themselves in other communities like Charlotte and Dallas where multi-modal transportation has already been embraced. They also point to PSTA having some of the lowest per-rider spending in the nation among similar sized cities.

According to United States Census data, from 2008-2012 27.2 percent of the Pinellas County population was over the age of 25 with a Bachelor’s degree or higher. In Charlotte where they have passenger rail and a robust public transportation system, that number is 39.4 percent.

Opponents with No Tax for Tracks dismiss statistics they say are picked and chosen to support an inaccurate premise. Instead, they argue light rail lines in cities across the nation fail to draw the kind of economic development supporters claim and argue they require large government subsidies.

But the biggest talking point weighing in their favor is the tax. Selling a no-vote on the Greenlight Pinellas ballot initiative sometimes just boils down to knocking on doors telling voters if they don’t vote no, their sales tax is about to be the highest in the state. Supporters have to actually sell that to those same voters and convince them that there is either or both of two benefits – it will drive economic development and create jobs and for homeowners, it will lower their property tax.

“There are a lot of folks out there who seem to still be making up their mind,” Parks said.

The group is still working on a boots on the ground campaign knocking on some 25,000 doors in the county. They are emphasizing residnets in mid-county where Parks says a good number of swing votes still exist. The group also plans to phone bank a good 15,000 voters and have live phone conversations with them.

“Even if someone isn’t home, you’re able to leave a card, which is like direct mail,” Parks said.

The most recent poll by St. Pete Polls showed Greenlight with a double digit deficit in the race. That’s damning news for a campaign that has raised more than $1 million and appears to be getting edged out by opposition that has raised less than $100,000 – nearly three quarters of which came from just two people.

Parks says that poll is not indicative of the tone he’s hearing out on the streets.

“We really didn’t feel it reached a wide audience,” Parks said.

He explained the emails sent as part of the survey were only sent to people who provided contact info when they signed up with the elections office. He says that limits the possible pool of voters to about 10%. Parks gets that information from the polling company’s methodology, which states it uses voter information from the supervisor’s database.

While Greenlight Pinellas is looking forward to Election Day and focusing its Get out the Vote efforts on that too, Parks notes that the entire campaigning strategy has been turned on its head over the past several years because of early and absentee voting.

“It’s so different than it used to be where it was all about Election Day,” Parks said. “Now you have to really move the calendar back a month.”

So far in Pinellas County more than 200,000 people have voted. In the last midterm election, only 169,000 voted early. More Republicans have voted than Democrats. While the issue has been seen by some as a partisan race, the Pinellas County Republican Party has opposed the measure, supporters argue its gaining bipartisan support. All but one Republican on the county commission has endorsed the plan as well as prominent GOP-er Jack Latvala.

“Our goal all along has been to get significant support from Republicans and we’ve done that,” Parks said.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email