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Bill to swap property taxes for higher sales taxes for PSTA stirs controversy

A proposed bill that would swap property taxes for a higher sales tax in Pinellas County has reignited tea party opposition to rail.

State Sen. Jack Latvala calls his bill "a no-brainer."

But members of the South Pinellas 9/12 Patriots group oppose the bill because taxes for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority could increase, and they fear it will bankroll rail.

The bill, which state Rep. Ed Hooper also sponsored, calls for the PSTA to end its property tax rate if Pinellas voters increase the sales tax.

PSTA officials sought it because dropping the property tax could be necessary to win voters on raising the sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent. The new tax money could go to enhanced bus services or rail, or both.

Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate's transportation committee, said the bill would protect taxpayers by stopping the PSTA from using both a sales tax and property taxes.

But swapping taxes also would increase revenue, transit officials project. After raising its tax rate for 2011-12, the agency will receive $32 million in property taxes as part of an $84.9 million budget. A 1 percent sales tax for transit would produce about $100 million a year.

Dubbing it a "Bus Bailout Bill," South Pinellas 9/12 Patriots organizer Barb Haselden e-mailed members to rally opposition this week. "But this isn't about the buses, it is about the excess millions this bill will generate that will be used to bring rail to Pinellas County."

It's not the only bill attracting attention. State Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, wants the delegation to support a bill allowing local governments in Pinellas to opt out of the state pre-emption of local gun laws. Under the bill, also sponsored by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, the County Commission could call a referendum to decide the matter.

County officials generally oppose the state trumping their power, but Pinellas hasn't taken a stand on Kriseman's bill.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes.

>>ast facts

Pinellas County legislative delegation

When: 9 a.m. Thursday

Where: Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg

What: Lawmakers will hear requests for funding and vote on local bills for the full Legislature to consider.

Bill to swap property taxes for higher sales taxes for PSTA stirs controversy 10/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 27, 2011 4:35pm]
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[Times file photo]