The Pinellas rail train quietly ramps up
Will Pinellas County voters be casting ballots on a sales tax increase to pay for buses and rail service?
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch says yes. Welch and other officials have been vetting a proposal for rail and buses that will be presented to elected boards in St. Petersburg, Largo, Clearwater and finally the County Commission in January.
They won't ask for votes then, and the details are still to be ironed out in public meetings. But the essentials of the plan call for a 1-percent sales tax increase to go to the public. The property tax levy for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority would be eliminated, if the Florida Legislature agrees in next year's session. The sales tax, plus federal funding, would pay first for busline improvements, and ultimately rail.
A presentation by the Project Advisory Committee, which includes Welch, touts the big numbers rail supporters herald, and will just as likely produce skepticism by opponents. For instance, running rail would increase gross domestic economic production by $4.2 billion over 30 years. Welch also promises the transit plan will not leave voters with the same questions about details that helped derail a tax increase for rail in Hillsboroough County in 2010.
The goal would be a referendum in Pinellas in 2013, Welch said.
That's still not going to mollify many of the opponents who question the cost-effectiveness and need for more transit money.
"The light rail is the sexy part, but improved bus service is going to be the immediate impact and the county wide impact," Welch said, though he acknowledged, "It’s going to be a debate, no doubt."
See the latest presentation below for details.