Thursday, January 18, 2018

Campaign to rightly renew Penny for Pasco tax begins

The campaign to renew the Penny for Pasco has its public faces.

No, one of them is not Abraham Lincoln's. Though the founder of the Republican Party does have political affiliation in common with the two people tapped to be at the forefront of the renewal.

Stew Gibbons, a past president of the Pasco Economic Development Council and a former executive with the Connerton development in Land O'Lakes, and ex-Dade City Mayor Hutch Brock, who also is treasurer of the Pasco Education Foundation, will pitch the attributes of extending the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax.

They will be assuming the roles filled by multiple people in 2003-04, most notably Allen Altman, who now sits on the Pasco School Board and whose chores included publicly debating sales tax critics and later deflecting unfair and inaccurate personal attacks.

The cornerstone of that 2004 election was easing school crowding and modernizing public educational facilities. But the sales tax proceeds also built better roads, preserved environmentally sensitive land and paid for public safety equipment including police patrol cars and officers' computers. The 10-year tax is scheduled to expire at the end of 2014 and voters will be asked in November to consider renewing it for another decade.

Expect education coupled with economic development and job creation to be key components of the public debate this time around. It's no secret that people remain worried about the economy and unemployment. Renewing the sales tax should help Pasco better prepare its transportation and education infrastructure to lure new commerce.

That is where the expertise of Gibbons and Brock fit in. Gibbons, for instance, helped recruit a 50-bed hospital to central Pasco; was key in pushing for the Urban Land Institute examination of the county's government and business climate; and partnered with the school district and county to co-locate an elementary school and public park within Connerton.

In other words, he has experience bringing jobs here, pushed others to better prepare for future economic development and then worked to bolster the quality of life attributes within the county. Advocating for the Penny for Pasco is a logical extension of those efforts.

Gibbons, we should note now, has his own consulting firm, the Gibbons Group, and continues to represent Connerton on a part-time basis.

Brock, a lawyer who served eight years on the Dade City Commission, also can point to his own personal experience for wanting the tax to be renewed. His four children are students at Pasco High School after previously attending Pasco Middle. Both schools received multimillion-dollar renovations because of the Penny for Pasco. Ditto for a road the family routinely drives — the recently completed safety improvements to the State Road 52 intersection with County Road 579 (Prospect and Happy Hill roads) just west of Dade City.

It's quite simple, really. Better schools. Safer roads. And that's not even taking into account the preserved green space and improved public safety.

''Considering the success of the penny and the oversight and how we've started something very beneficial — that includes a tax break for goodness sake — I don't want it to end when it has not finished its ultimate mission,'' Brock said.

Indeed. No "mission accomplished'' banners need be hung. Crowded classes have eased, but portable classrooms remain a staple on most school campuses. Meanwhile, state construction dollars for traditional public schools have all but disappeared.

And, the Penny for Pasco also includes a school tax rate rollback of 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Eliminating the sales tax could all but guarantee higher property tax bills come 2015. That, too, is a point to be hammered home in the upcoming campaign.

But what about the sometimes vitriolic campaign of eight years ago that included, among other things, disparaging comments aimed at supporters, talk of business boycotts and an illegal campaign mailer financed by a company controlled by the late Ralph Hughes of Hillsborough County?

''If you're doing things for the right reason,'' said Gibbons, "you don't usually find that it's a problem.''

The right reason.

Gibbons, Brock and a still-forming committee of others will spend the next eight months explaining to voters exactly the right reasons for renewing the Penny for Pasco.


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