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Sales tax extension has its pros, cons

They say paying taxes is one of life's inevitables, but there's at least one tax that's optional: Pinellas' 1 percent infrastructure sales tax.

Commonly known as the Penny for Pinellas, residents in Pinellas County in 1989 voted _ by a narrow margin _ to impose the tax on themselves to pay for improvements to roads, parks and drainage systems.

The tax will expire in February 2000 if voters don't approve its extension when they go to the polls March 25.

Proponents say another 10 years of the tax will raise $1.4-billion to be divided among the county government and Pinellas' 24 municipalities to improve the quality of life here without requiring a property tax increase.

Opponents says the sales tax is regressive because it puts more of a burden on the poor than the rich, that it allows county and city governments to put off belt-tightening measures for another 10 years, and that by asking for a renewal, politicians have broken a promise that the tax would only last 10 years.

County and city governments have accomplished much of what they said they would with the first seven years of tax money. But they've already got new lists of projects they want to fund with the tax money if the extension is approved.

Among the big ones: $14-million to widen Ulmerton Road, $80-million for more county jail space, $23-million to replace Clearwater's Memorial Causeway Bridge, $22-million for improvements to Park Street and Starkey Road, and $15-million to extend the Pinellas Trail.