Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

Sen. Jeff Brandes asks DOT to investigate spending by PSTA for Greenlight Pinellas

Sen. Jeff Brandes has asked the Florida Department of Transportation's inspector general to investigate how Pinellas County's mass transit agency is spending public money to inform voters about Greenlight Pinellas.

In a letter sent Tuesday to DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, Brandes asked the agency to review how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is spending about $800,000 to educate voters about the Nov. 4 referendum that seeks a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for new bus routes and a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Brandes accused the campaign of using taxpayer money for propaganda purposes, a violation of state law that he says should require the money to be returned.

"It's extremely concerning that taxpayer dollars could be spent for what I believe is to advocate for a tax increase," said Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate's transportation committee. "I think PSTA may have crossed over a line. I want an investigation to see if that is the case or not."

PSTA board chairman and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch dismissed the allegations, saying he is confident the Greenlight campaign adhered to all legal guidelines and was consistent with past informational campaigns.

PSTA spokesman Bob Lasher released a statement echoing that idea.

"PSTA has always, and continues to conduct its Greenlight Pinellas Educational outreach with full transparency and in full compliance with the law," he wrote. "We are proud of our efforts and are confident that any inquiries by the Department of Transportation will only confirm these facts."

He added that the agency and its board of directors have "an important obligation to inform the citizens as to what they will be asked to decide… ."

Lasher said the $800,000 has been spent on a variety of outreach efforts including websites, graphics and consultants.

Welch also noted that Brandes has been a longtime and outspoken opponent of light rail for the Tampa Bay area. On Tuesday, however, the senator insisted that his issue with the agency's campaign had nothing to do with his personal or policy views. Brandes said he just wants to know whether taxpayer money is being misused.

Barbara Haselden, founder of the group No Tax for Tracks, has raised the same concerns for months.

"I just am very appreciative of Sen. Brandes bringing this action," she said. "I don't think public funds belong on one side of a debate like this."

Earlier this year, her group proposed spending $15,000 to wrap five PSTA buses in ads against the referendum, but agency officials turned them down.

At the time, PSTA chief executive officer Brad Miller said the agency's advertising policy only allows for ads marketing products, services and the agency's own educational information. This last category includes the bright-green ads the agency has wrapped around a handful of its buses promoting the Greenlight website.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at [email protected] John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

A closer view reveals silhouettes of a lone coyote howling at the sky, mangrove islands, oak, cypress and palm trees and shrubs. It’s one of the city’s newest murals, rising across from the Mangrove Bay Golf Course.The idea was to create "a more plea...
Updated: 2 hours ago
FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

The FBI agent who was removed from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for sending anti-Trump texts intends to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and any other congressional committee that asks, his attorney sai...
Published: 06/17/18
Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

The Trump administration’s move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has grabbed attention around the world, drawn scorn from human-rights organizations and overtaken the immigration debate in Congress.It’s also...
Published: 06/17/18

Pasco Political Notebook

Perenich to ‘Walk the District’Stephen Perenich, Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, Florida District 12, will be "Walking the District" June 25-29. Perenich will be walking 55 miles in five days, starting in Dade City and heading...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/18/18
GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from the Trump administration’s aggressive policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border even as the White House cited the Bible in defending its "zero tol...
Published: 06/14/18
Sarah Sanders and  Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Sarah Sanders and Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Press secretary Sarah Sanders and principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah are considering stepping down, according to a CBS report. Sanders promptly responded in a Tweet saying, "I love my job and am honored to work for @POTUS." Does @CBSNews k...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rate for the second time this year and signaled that it may step up its pace of rate increases because of solid economic growth and rising inflation. The Fed now foresees four rate hi...
Published: 06/13/18
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

TAMPA — Law enforcement officers never want to be outgunned. Neither do political candidates.Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister need not worry.The Republican candidate has amassed what appears to be a record-sized war chest of just more than $1 mil...
Published: 06/12/18
Romano: It ain’t voter suppression if you bother to show up

Romano: It ain’t voter suppression if you bother to show up

So the Supreme Court is in favor of voter suppression.Or is it election integrity?I suppose your interpretation depends on your party affiliation.Liberals seem convinced that an Ohio voting law upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday is a devious plot ...
Published: 06/12/18