Saturday, January 20, 2018
Editorials

Penny for Pasco is on the ballot— if you look

Advocates for a penny sales tax are fearful members of the public may skip putting in their own two cents. The question of extending the Penny for Pasco sales tax will be answered by voters on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. But, they will need patience to get to that question. The local referendum will be the last item on a lengthy ballot. It will come after the names of candidates for president, U.S. Senate, Congress, state Senate, four local constitutional offices, county commission, judge, mosquito control, 21 neighborhood community development or local taxing district boards and after the 11 proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution.

"If there's a message (to the public) it's that it's important to know that it is last after a long list of amendments,'' said Stew Gibbons, one of the co-chairman of the citizens committee campaigning for the tax renewal.

The committee agreed to seek the renewal on the November ballot after absorbing criticism during the original referendum in 2004. Then, the ballot question appeared on the March presidential primary election that did not have a contested Republican race.

Supporters are now trying to appeal to a broader audience of voters. However, having the Penny for Pasco lost on the lengthy ballot is a legitimate concern. Historically, vote totals decline on down ballot issues.

In March 2004, only 665 people, less than 1 percent of the nearly 71,000 who voted, failed to cast a ballot on the sales tax issue. But, nine months later the general election ballot featured eight proposed amendments to the Florida constitution. One of those issues recorded 19,000 under-votes or almost 10 percent of the overall turnout. It was worse four years later when voters again weighed in on eight proposed Constitutional amendments. On one of the amendments, 29,000 voters, or 13 percent of the turnout, failed to cast a vote.

Such disinterest in the Penny for Pasco would be unfortunate. The penny-on-the-dollar sales tax –- known by state law as an infrastructure surcharge –- has helped curb school crowding; made dangerous intersections safer; relieved traffic congestion through Wesley Chapel; financed new safety standards for U.S. 19; paid for fire trucks, ambulances, patrol cars, and officers' laptops; put portable defibrillators in public buildings; saved coastal land from development and provided land as a corridor for wildlife to traverse the county.

If voters approve a 10-year extension, the sales tax is projected to raise roughly $502 million for Pasco County, the school district and the six cities. Simply put, it will extend a significant quality of life asset for the public.

The school district plans to rebuild and/or modernize 48 schools. The county will improve roads, build bike and pedestrian trails, buy buses, preserve land, bolster public safety equipment and create a job-inventive fund to lure new businesses. The cash-strapped cities will split $50 million for their own infrastructure needs.

If November's voter turnout matches past presidential elections, then three times as many people could vote on the Penny for Pasco this year than did eight years ago. Voters unaware of the sales tax benefits should become familiar with the issue before casting a ballot.

Supporters accurately tagged the renewal campaign as "Promises made. Promises kept.'' Voters shouldn't pass up the chance to affirm that sentiment on Nov. 6.

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