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Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority launches search for state lobbyist

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, which runs the county bus system, is looking for someone to lobby state legislators on its behalf.

Triggering the search was the expiration of the contract with GrayRobinson, an Orlando-based law firm and lobbying group that has represented the PSTA since 2011. GrayRobinson is paid a base salary of about $60,000 per year for its services.

It’s been a cost that has paid off, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said. Welch is one of the commission’s representatives on the PSTA board. GrayRobinson, he said, was instrumental in getting state support for one of the PSTA’s priorities – bus rapid transit service in St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue corridor.

The BRT project would connect downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches, a 10-14 mile journey. Buses would run every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. to midnight. The estimated cost: $16 million. Of that, $4 million would come from PSTA capital reserves, another $4 million from the state’s New Starts program, and the remaining $8 would come from the federal government’s New Starts program.

Last year, the PSTA hired its first federal lobbyist, Van Scoyoc Associates, in part to get that funding. The five-year contract with Van Scoyoc had a price tag not to exceed $420,000. That lobbying contract is not up for grabs.

The PSTA has come under fire from some community activists who say the agency should not spend tax dollars on lobbyists who are trying to get more tax dollars. But Welch said it’s common for transit agencies to hire lobbyists. And, he said, PSTA attorney Alan Zimmet agreed that it’s permissible for transit agencies to hire lobbyists.

PSTA spokeswoman Ashlie Handy echoed Welch, saying, “We really want our grant applications to be competitive and successful, and ultimately, that is where the lobbyists come in. We want to be able to bring regionalized transit to our area and be able to provide better transit service to everyone.”

It is unclear who might get the state lobbying contract. Proposals are not due until May 12.

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