The campaign to extend the Penny for Pasco sales tax is losing its most legitimate criticism from 2004, and a recently commissioned public opinion poll indicates an overwhelming majority of people like the way the county, school district and municipalities are spending the proceeds.
An Oct. 23-24 survey of 400 likely voters found 78 percent said they would renew the 10-year penny-on-the-dollar sales tax to build schools, improve transportation, preserve sensitive land and buy public safety equipment.
And to defuse the denunciation of eight years ago, supporters plan to ask the Pasco County Commission and Pasco School Board to schedule the referendum for the November presidential election ballot. That is a wise move that will guarantee broader participation while stifling political carping.
In 2004, critics complained the ballot question's placement on the March presidential primary limited voter participation. It's a valid argument even though those same complainers didn't argue when the statewide Amendment 1 property tax cut appeared on the 2008 presidential primary ballot. Regardless, the numbers from eight years ago authenticate the propriety of a November referendum. In 2004, Pasco voters approved the sales tax referendum by a 52-48 percent margin with 70,800 ballots cast. Seven months later the general election drew 192,000 votes.
The November 2012 date for the referendum to renew the tax brought a thumbs up from Pasco Republican State Committeeman Bill Bunting, who led the opposition eight years ago. Bunting said he still has concerns about how the sales tax is being spent, most notably on whether the school construction meets new energy efficiency standards.
In that regard, the school district can answer "Yes!'' In 2010, the district had six schools qualifying for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) recognition, the most in the state along with Charlotte County. Meeting green building standards is a by-product of the Penny-for-Pasco fueled building boom that saw the district open 11 new schools since 2004 with the aid of the sales tax and other funding sources including property taxes, impact fees and state construction aid.
Notably, the Penny for Pasco also allowed the district to cut its tax rate assessed for construction, saving property taxpayers at least $67 million. As the merits of the sales tax are debated over the next 10 months, that property tax cut is expected to be a central point of conversation.
If voters fail to renew the Penny for Pasco, more money for future school construction likely will be coming from an old source — property taxes.