State Sen. Jeff Brandes drew criticism from Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long over a request for the Florida Department of Transportation to investigate the educational campaign for the Greenlight Pinellas transit tax referendum.
As a PSTA board member, Long took offense with calls from the St. Petersburg Republican to look into how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is spending taxpayer money to educate voters about the referendum on the November 4 ballot.
Greenlight Pinellas was set up to advise residents on the measure asking voters to approve a one-cent sales tax increase.
The additional tax, equaling a 14 percent increase from 7 to 8 percent, is to be used to pay for expanded bus service countywide, as well as the construction of a light-rail corridor between St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach.
Among Brandes’ concerns are that the PSTA spent almost $800,000 on promotions, including items and novelties such as pens and necklaces. He also points out the separate “Greenlight Yes,” political campaign recently formed to advocate for the referendum directly.
Brandes, in a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, wants to address the “wasteful use of taxpayers’ hard-earned tax monies,” and by the PSTA advocating what amounts to a political agenda will “erode the fundamental principles of representative democracy and reduce the legitimacy of voter referenda.”
“It seems to be a little bit of a stretch where he’s going with this request since there are a majority of elected officials on this board, and I find it somewhat personally offensive that the insinuation is that we’re somehow trying to intentionally break the law,” Long, a Democrat, told the Tampa Bay Times.
“He has a right to his own opinion, but it’s a bit of a browbeating effort in my opinion.”
Brandes responded to the Tampa Bay Times in an email on Thursday.
“While it is true that I do not support raising the sales tax in Pinellas to the highest level in the state to pay for 19th century transportation options, this really isn’t about my opinion of the Greenlight Pinellas light rail plan,” he wrote. “As an elected official, I never view it as a distraction to ensure that taxpayer funds are being used lawfully. I believe that elected officials should always welcome a full and impartial review of how hard-earned taxpayer dollars are spent.
“As far as transportation options, as the Chairman of Senate Transportation I am on the record in support of bus rapid transit and other dynamic options to enhance our transportation network,” Brandes added.