Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas commission to vote on transit referendum as opponents go to court

For years, Pinellas County's transit groups have discussed and planned an overhaul of the area's transportation system, without putting it before voters. But today, the commission is expected to pass a measure signaling its intent to put transit on the ballot in 2014.

The proposed referendum question would ask Pinellas residents to approve a sales tax increase of up to 1 percent. Raising the tax from 7 cents per dollar to 8 cents is projected to bring in about $128 million, paying for a dramatic redesign of the county's transportation system, including more bus routes and light rail.

Pinellas transit officials have warned that without the additional revenue, they will have to make deep cuts to bus service.

With the vote approaching, and a majority of commissioners publicly supporting it, a group of Pinellas residents is trying to apply the brakes.

On Friday, seven residents, including Barbara Haselden, a vocal opponent of light rail, filed for an injunction to prevent four of the seven commissioners from voting. The four — Ken Welch, Karen Seel, Susan Latvala and John Morroni — are being sued by a different group of residents who claim the commissioners have exceeded the term limits voters set in 1996.

The same lawyer, John Shahan, is representing both sets of plaintiffs, some of whom are members of the South Pinellas 9-12 group, which is affiliated with the tea party movement. Shahan declined to comment.

In seeking an injunction, the group is claiming the four commissioners are "not legally in office and therefore cannot legally vote on any issue before being removed from office voluntarily or by court order."

County Attorney Jim Bennett said the earliest date that Shahan has asked to schedule a hearing is in late March, making it unlikely the matter will be decided before the vote this afternoon.

The commission's vote is not the final word on whether the referendum will appear on the Nov. 4, 2014, ballot. Commissioners still must approve ballot language and pass an ordinance, all of which can be done as late as August 2014.

Supporters of the Pinellas transit agency's nascent plans to build light rail and expand bus service said they will show up today to defend the proposal.

"Most people do want this to move forward," said Phil Compton, a regional representative for the Suncoast Sierra Club.

"The key point is not to dither over the details today or tomorrow, but really, let's just move forward and decide that we're going to do something," he said.

Opponents of the proposal say it is sketchy, at best. Transit officials say they have a plan, but one that is not set in stone and can still be molded in response to public opinion.

They propose to build 24 miles of track from downtown Clearwater to the Gateway area, then south again to St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has also commissioned a study of the bus system, which has seen ridership climb for two years amid increasing expenses and reductions in service.

Seel has said that while she wants to improve the county's public transportation system, she opposes putting the question to voters in 2014. By then, she has said, the economy is unlikely to have rebounded to the point where residents would vote to increase the sales tax.

The other commissioner likely to vote against the resolution is Norm Roche, who has said that he believes that transit officials' cost estimates for the project are unrealistic.

Morroni, who appeared anxious about the referendum's timing at a meeting this month, said he favors putting it to voters in 2014.

"This isn't whether you're for the referendum or not, it's just to put it on the ballot," he said, adding, "I guess we an always undo it."

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas commission to vote on transit referendum as opponents go to court 02/25/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 10:47am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.