Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Push ahead for better transit

The effort to build a modern transportation system can take another positive turn Tuesday when the Pinellas County Commission decides whether to place a proposed transit tax on the November 2014 ballot. Pinellas cannot afford to wait any longer to ask voters to move forward with building a transit system that will grow the economy and make the traffic-clogged county a more attractive place to live and work.

The case for a better transit system should be obvious. The Tampa Bay region is the last major metro area without a vigorous transit system that includes light rail. Despite huge public investments in widening U.S. 19, Ulmerton Road and other major roads, traffic remains one of Pinellas' major challenges. Although some important road projects are in the pipeline, there isn't enough land or money to continue to build new roads and keep widening old ones forever. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has set bus ridership records for 15 straight months even with service that is not nearly as frequent as in other major metro areas.

Commissioners will vote Tuesday to hold a place on the November 2014 ballot for the transit referendum and approve the exact language later. Voters would be asked to approve a 1-cent sales tax to pay for expanded bus service and a 24-mile light rail line with 16 stations between downtown St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The sales tax would raise about $120 million a year and replace an existing property tax that brings in $32 million a year for transit. It is a viable plan that deserves a full-throated public conversation and serious consideration by the voters.

Some skeptics question whether a transit referendum will fare any better in Pinellas than it did in Hillsborough, where voters rejected a sales tax increase to pay for better bus service and light rail in 2010. But Pinellas already is much further along than Hillsborough was on the day of its vote. Hillsborough had not completed an important alternative analysis study that reviewed various options; Pinellas' study is finished. Hillsborough did not have its rail route or cost pinned down; Pinellas' route for rail and its cost are clearer. While Hillsborough's proposal called for only a sales tax increase, the sales tax increase in Pinellas would be partially offset by the elimination of the property tax now devoted to transit.

Other critics suggest it would be better for Pinellas to wait beyond 2014 for a voter referendum because the economy is still recovering. Pinellas already has waited decades too long to tackle this issue. Even in the midst of the recession and a national backlash by conservative voters, the voters in the city of Tampa approved the Hillsborough transit plan. While it is difficult to predict what the economy will look like in November 2014, the trends now are positive and the political mood is far different than 2010. There is no reason to wait.

Pinellas commissioners should endorse the transit referendum on Tuesday and set the stage for a vigorous public discussion about the importance of this investment in the county's future.

Comments
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Editorial: Progress on Tampa Bay graduation rates

Tampa Bay’s four school districts all reached a significant milestone last school year: achieving graduation rates over 80 percent. It’s believed to be the first time Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties all surpassed that threshold, a...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Take deal; build wall

President Donald Trump says he is optimistic a deal can be struck to shield "Dreamers," the young undocumented immigrants whose lives he put in jeopardy by stripping them of work permits and deportation protection, beginning March 5. His price, and t...
Published: 01/10/18
Updated: 01/11/18
Editorial: Trump’s reversal on drilling a victory for Florida

Editorial: Trump’s reversal on drilling a victory for Florida

The Trump administration’s abrupt reversal on its foolhardy plan to allow more oil drilling off Florida’s coastlines is a win for the Sunshine State, regardless of whether it is based more on politics than environmental concerns. Drilling poses a uni...
Published: 01/10/18
Editorial: Welcome steps toward cracking down on dangerous teen parties

Editorial: Welcome steps toward cracking down on dangerous teen parties

Getting to the bottom of the shootings that left two people dead after a New Year’s Day teen party, one a 15-year-old girl, is the job of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators so far have said that the two security guards who fired ...
Published: 01/09/18
Updated: 01/12/18