The Pinellas County Republican Party has made official its opposition to the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum.
The party's executive committee on Monday unanimously voted to oppose the plan that would increase the county's sales tax from 7 to 8 cents on the dollar to pay for expanded bus service and a 24-mile light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
"Republicans stand for small, efficient, and effective government with reduced taxation and regulation," committee chairman Michael J. Guju said in a statement. "We believe that this proposed sales tax increase would do more harm than good, especially to the county's poorest residents, disabled veterans and our seniors on fixed incomes. Though many Pinellas Republicans support public transportation, and want to see it expanded and made more efficient, a sales tax increase which would unduly hurt those who most use public transportation makes little sense."
The party notes in a news release that the tax increase would make the county's sales tax the highest in Florida "with minimal exclusions."
"We don't feel this reflects the thoughts of all Republicans in Pinellas County, not by a long shot," said Kyle Parks, spokesman for the Friends of Greenlight campaign. Parks noted support from many Republican business leaders and elected officials including three county commissioners and the Clearwater mayor.
Supporters argue a sales tax is a fairer way to pay for the improvements, and that tourists will chip in a significant portion of the revenue. The sales tax would increase only on items already subject to the sales tax. Among excluded items: medicine, groceries, certain agricultural and manufacturing startup equipment. It also would be limited to the first $5,000 of major purchases. Proponents note that the sales tax would replace the property tax that funds the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
The entire project, including the bus and rail components, is expected to cost $2.2 billion to build and $130 million annually to operate.
The Pinellas Democratic Executive Committee has yet to take an official stance on the referendum.