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. Video: Rays Souza on that oh-so-bad dive, and reaction from Twins fans


    What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking when he made that oh-so-bad dive for a ball in the seventh inning Friday? Well, we'll let him tell you ...

  2. What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking on that comically bad dive?


    What could Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. been thinking in the seventh inning Friday when he dove for a ball and came up yards short?

    Actually, he insisted after all the laughing, teasing and standing ovation from the Twins fans was done, it was a matter of self-preservation.

  3. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  4. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  5. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.