On Tuesday, Pinellas County voters will be asked to decide whether to extend Penny for Pinellas for another 10 years at a cost of $1.4-billion. I hope the voters say "no."
The issues voters will confront boil down to truth, trust and fairness. With respect to truth, government is selling this tax as a "Penny for Pinellas" when, in fact, the real cost is $1.4-billion. How many voters know this is a $1.4-billion tax increase? How many voters know how much this so-called penny will cost them over the 10-year life of the tax? Someone who purchases only $5,000 in goods each year will pay $500 in "penny" taxes over 10 years.
Trust is the second major issue. When Penny for Pinellas passed in 1989 by only 398 votes, it was presented to the voters as a one-time, 10-year tax to pay for infrastructure needs. Local governments can ask for another 10-year tax extension, but in doing so, they risk breaking a bond with the electorate. If they can ask for a second 10-year extension, then what is to stop them from asking for a third or fourth extension?
A second element of trust is whether local governments have honored their pledge to the voters on how the money would be spent. In some cases, governments have done well. In other cases, the results have been disastrous. In Clearwater, various projects received $30-million more than their original allocation. Sixty projects not set for any allocation received penny tax funds. Harborview, slated to receive nothing, has received $9-million. According to Clearwater city Commissioner Karen Seel, "Substantial deviations from the original project list were made without voter referendums and without timely public input." What guarantee do we have that we can hold local government officials accountable?
The third major issue, and the one most overlooked, is the issue of fairness. The county's promotional flier for the penny states: "Its equitable _ everyone pays their fair share of preserving, protecting and improving our community." Nothing could be further from the truth! A Times editorial on Feb. 23 points out that Florida collects "three of every four general revenue dollars from one of the most regressive forms of taxation _ a sales tax on goods." Now we want to extend an extra burden on those who can least afford to pay the tax. The supporters argue that the tax has been made more equitable by putting a $5,000 cap on the taxable value of any one item, such as the purchase of a new car. Talk about being out of touch! Poor people are not buying $5,000 goods. They are struggling to survive and every penny taken from them makes a difference.
County officials are using Abraham Lincoln as the poster child of their campaign and plastering Abe's picture everywhere. I prefer Benjamin Franklin: "A penny saved is a penny earned." Save your penny. Save $1.4-billion. Vote no on Penny for Pinellas!
Darryl Paulson, professor of government,
University of South Florida, Palm Harbor
Penny will improve our lives
Several recent letter writers opposing the Penny for Pinellas seem to think that this tax was devised by "politicians" and that those same "politicians" are pushing for renewal of it so they will have more money to spend. Nonsense! This tax was approved by a majority of voters _ not politicians _ seven years ago. I'm not a politician, but I am pleased to add my name to the roster of citizens who will vote to renew this 1 percent tax on Tuesday.
The Penny for Pinellas tax has obviously improved the quality of life in this county. We have preserved some of the last remaining green space in this increasingly urban county so that it might be enjoyed by future generations. We've reduced flooding in neighborhoods. We've widened roads and built bridges to make travel easier. All of this was done by citizens who voted for this tax seven years ago, not "politicians." Our elected officials are merely carrying out the wishes of the voters, and I think in this case they've done an excellent job!
When I walk around my neighborhood, I see girls playing softball on a new field and children playing on a safe, new playground built where once there was a weedy, littered field. Teens play on a new, lighted basketball court, and two retirees finish a game on a new tennis court. Just a mile from my home, I know thousands of bikers, walkers, skaters and joggers are safe on the Pinellas Trail. If we've done this much in the first seven years, imagine how much better life in Pinellas will be when this tax is renewed!
The upcoming vote is a wonderful opportunity to continue to improve life in this county. We have the opportunity to improve the quality of stormwater runoff, thus improving the quality of our groundwater. We have the opportunity to ease traffic on some of the county's most congested roads. We have the opportunity to preserve the last remaining undeveloped gulf coastline in the county, and to acquire parklands before they are prohibitively expensive for anyone except condominium builders.
The Penny for Pinellas is not a "politicians'
" tax. It's a tax that we can vote to renew for ourselves, and for future generations.
Heather Nagy, Clearwater
Questions to help you decide
Actively seeking out a 10-year extension of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax is serious business, especially for an estimated $1.36-billion. My money and my vote are very important to me. I have been to several Penny for Pinellas informational meetings. I have read quite a lot of material regarding the past spending, the promises and completed projects of the current tax. The information provided by the county on the proposed spending was interesting reading also. Upon gathering all this information, I have narrowed down the vote into three user-friendly guide questions:
1. Will I personally get any direct benefit out of the Penny for Pinellas tax extension?
2. Will my family's quality of life in Pinellas County be improved with the additional money?
3. Do I trust the people who were elected (as well as their appointed assistants) to manage the money in the best interests of the majority of the taxpayers?
These questions are not designed to oversimplify a difficult decision, but the answers to these questions have helped me with my decision on the Penny for Pinellas tax extension vote on Tuesday.
Kevin J. T. Jensen, Clearwater
Transportation alternatives are missing
We have enough streets and roads in this densely populated urban peninsula, better known as Pinellas County. What we really need are alternatives to the rubber-tired vehicle.
Nowhere in all the hoopla about Penny for Pinellas do we hear anything about buses, trolleys, trams, trains, monorails, people-movers, bicycle lanes, etc.
Our myopic politicians/planners /bureaucrats are locked into ancient plans to pave over this little piece of paradise as a memorial to the automobile.
Pinellas County is even on record in opposition to the concept of high-speed rail in Florida.
In spite of achieving some good things, the first 10 years of Penny for Pinellas' promises were not entirely kept by Pinellas County's myopic politicians/ planners/bureaucrats. Not to mention mismanagement of some of those funds.
And, yes, there are some good things promised for the next 10 years of Penny for Pinellas. But entirely too much of that money (45 percent according to our trustworthy politicians/planners /bureaucrats) is to be spent on roads!
I am not against improving my community and its quality of life, which is the small part of the propaganda about Penny for Pinellas both times around. I am against more taxes to subsidize automobiles, especially when there is absolutely nothing else on the plate in Pinellas County.
Michael L. MacDonald, Clearwater
There's not enough accountability
Re: Penny for Pinellas.
Lumping a tax for financing "transportation, parks and open space, endangered lands, surface water management, public safety, and public facilities" into ONE tax referendum makes the use and accountability for these millions of dollars too vague.
Let's wait for a tax referendum that has responsibility written into it before we vote "yes" again.
Also, it seems unfair to tax some people more than others. If a person can afford to buy a $60,000 to $100,000 automobile they could afford those few extra pennies of tax for the common good of their community. Let's wait for a tax referendum that taxes everyone equally before we vote "yes" again.
John Stortz, St. Petersburg
Tax makes economic sense for residents
After reading the March 2 Times article on the Penny for Pinellas, I made the following observations:
1. The present penny sales tax was for the most part put to good use by the county and the 24 cities, and has benefited most citizens in Pinellas.
2. Real estate taxes were cut in 1991 and replaced by funds from the Penny for Pinellas. Some cities have lowered real estate taxes since then and a few cities have raised them slightly.
3. Sales taxes increase with inflation and real estate taxes have to be increased to keep up with inflation.
4. If voters turn down the extension of the Penny for Pinellas, the county and cities will still have to complete most of the projects that were to be funded with the penny. To get the money, real estate, water-sewer, gasoline and other taxes will increase to pay for the projects.
5. If I had a choice, I would vote to spend the money for new county prisons and to put young people to work and for job training. Except for this one area the other projects are worthwhile and needed.
Bottom line is: Do you want county residents to pay for nearly 100 percent of the cost to complete the new penny projects? I don't! Passing the extension of the Penny for Pinellas passes one-third of the cost to snowbirds and tourists. The residents only pay two-thirds of the cost! Please consider these and other facts before you go to vote "yes" or "no" on Tuesday. If you don't vote, you should not complain about the results.
Peter Reuter, Clearwater
It's tax discrimination
The March 9 Times reminded us how overtaxed we are. In a four-page spread and other announcements (paid for by the taxpayers of Pinellas), they propose $1.36-billion in taxes on the people of Pinellas, rich and poor alike.
The programs for this 1 percent are so extreme one might wonder what the other 6 percent is for. They should have multiplied the $1.36-billion times seven to show the $9.5-billion-plus they will be taking if voters renew the 1-percent increase.
No individual tax relief is coming from the federal government or the state. It is unfair for our local politicians to further burden the people living on inadequate Social Security and other pensions. This $1.36-billion tax shows they care not for us.
Pinellas County has monies coming from state and federal governments for necessary improvements. Their total expenditures must be within the limits of the 6-percent statewide tax. This tax discrimination must stop now. Vote no on Tuesday.
Gerry LaPlante, Clearwater
Public services have a price
Re: Pennies for Pinellas.
Once again, it seems, the anti-tax zealots have risen up and amassed their forces against this (or any) tax. One can only assume these folks have no use for public services. Which means, no doubt, they will all carefully avoid using public-financed roads, highways, schools, water, clean air, waste removal, parks, libraries, police protection, beaches, etc.
As ever, hypocrisy reigns supreme!
Gene (E.C.) Ayres, St. Petersburg
An investment in our community
I have been concerned about the seeming lack of support for "Penny for Pinellas." Each day we see evidence of the good of this penny of the past and yet people are up in arms about waste. In what way is an investment in our community a waste? New libraries are useless? Community centers directing the young toward good, clean fun and the elderly toward enjoyable, meaningful activities are unnecessary? Utilizing the beauty of our area with free parks for everyone's enjoyment is an act of squandering money? I have always thought that Pinellas spent its money wisely, with small, jewel-like parks sprinkled liberally throughout for every area's enjoyment, unlike Tampa, where you need a full tank of gas and willingness to persevere through horrible odds to find a park at all.
There also seems to be strong resentment to a school for problem students being built. We can spend our tax dollars for schools or we can spend them for prisons. Catch the kids now and you have a chance of educating them out of a life of crime, or you can wait and build prisons to teach them more sophisticated crimes. I'd rather have a school in my neighborhood than a prison and I'd rather invest my money in a chance to redeem a child than be forced to spend my money on free room and board for criminals.
Last, we can no longer be shortsighted about the need to maintain our infrastructure. The longer we put off much-needed repairs to stormwater systems, the more expensive these repairs and improvements will be. If we continue to ignore transportation as we did in the past, the longer we all can sit in traffic.
Please think about it when you go to votedon't be penny wise and pound foolish.
Jan Q. Russell, Tampa
What about the other six pennies?
Re: Many penny projects are list repeaters, March 9.
I read with interest the article about extending the Penny for Pinellas; repairing roads, widening streets, new sewers, etc., and some municipalities will build new community centers _ and, of course, purchase endangered lands and build new parks.
Excuse mecould I ask just one simple question? What are government officials with the other six pennies I'm now giving them? I honestly believe that if each and every one of us taxpayers just turned over our paychecks to the government, they still couldn't spend it fast enough!
Wake up, voters. Get to the polls Tuesday and vote "no" for the extension of the Penny for Pinellas. Let's put the "penny" back in our pockets!
Robert E. Guthrie, Seminole
A fair and needed tax
Re: Penny for Pinellas.
Looking back, I'm glad the Penny for Pinellas passed. The "Penny" has made a difference in the quality of life for all Pinellas citizens _ the major road improvements, the county jail, the purchase of sensitive environmental properties, flooding and stormwater improvements and, of course, the Pinellas Trail. My 71-year-old widowed mother, who doesn't drive, can get on her bicycle and ride down the Pinellas Trail to a grocery store and shopping center. Overall, I think the county and the cities spent the money wisely.
On Tuesday, we have a second chance to decide whether to invest in ourselves _ yes, you can call extending the Penny for Pinellas an investment. The alternative to not extending the penny is to have more crowded roads, overcrowded jails, fewer environmental land purchases, which add up to a lesser quality of life.
The penny extension is paid by all of us, including 35 percent coming from tourists. The only other choice is raising property taxes.
The Penny for Pinellas is a fair and needed tax if we want a better quality of life. I strongly urge my fellow citizens to vote "yes" on Tuesday for the Penny for Pinellas.
Reggie Hall, Ozona
It's a regressive tax
Your March 18 editorial A positive penny has moved me to express my disgust at our self-serving county and city officials and my disappointment over your editorial support of their irresponsible campaign to renew this 1-percent sales tax.
How many single mothers raising children, holding a minimum-wage job and living at the poverty level, would consider this "a positive penny"? How many children who do not have school textbooks to take home for study consider this "a positive penny"? How many parents who are no longer entitled to food stamps under new federal laws are ready to embrace this tax as "a positive penny"?
The county has printed, published and distributed a newspaper-style propaganda piece titled What Can You Get For a Penny? Under the heading "Facts to know," the statement is made that "It's equitable _ everyone pays their fair share of preserving, protecting and improving our community." Not true!
To a person earning a barely livable wage, a 17-percent increase in sales taxes (which will be the effect of renewing this tax) takes a much larger cut out of his/her spendable income than it does out of the pay of the high-income crowd.
That is why the sales tax has been dubbed "a regressive tax" by economists. It hits the poor harder than it hits the rich. Apparently, our politicians have not yet been educated to this fact.
Finally, the most egregious aspect of this proposed tax is stated proudly by its proponents as follows: "Only the first $5,000 of any single purchase (such as a car) will be taxed." Well, whoop-de-doo! Here's a provision that clearly benefits only the rich. The poor slob who can barely afford to buy a car (used, of course) worth up to $5,000 pays the full tax on it. The high-roller who buys a Mercedes does not pay the full tax on his/her purchase _ only on the first $5,000 of it. This is "equitable"?
Vote against this unfair, inequitable tax.
Sidney M. Goetz, Gulfport
Robin Hood in reverse
Welfare for the rich! That's the only way to describe the county commission's outrageous proposal to give almost $2.16-million away to the affluent Pinellas communities of Belleair Beach and Belleair Shorethat is, if the "Penny for Pinellas" $1.36-billion tax increase is approved on March 25.
The state rightly refused to give these cities money for beach renourishment because their beaches are closed to the public. The county, however, sees nothing wrong with its giveaway program despite the fact that county residents are banned from these beaches, and much of this money will be used for a "yacht club uplands" project.
The worst part of the "penny" tax is that it is not applied equally. Doctors', lawyers' and stockbrokers' services, for example, are completely exempt from sales tax. Furthermore, single purchases above $5,000 _ like yachts and expensive cars _ are also exempt from the tax. That means the debonair aristocrats of Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore will be virtually unaffected by the "penny" tax.
The hard-pressed residents of riot-torn south St. Petersburg and most other neighborhoods, on the other hand, will end up paying a high percentage of their incomes for the tax. This tax takes from the poor and gives to the rich. It will inevitably become the most obscene form of "reverse Robin Hood-ism" in the history of Pinellas County.
Robert Snow, Clearwater
Bridge improvements are needed
Re: Penny for Pinellas.
Extension of the 1-cent sales tax could mean literally life or death for several thousand residents of Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach and Sand Key. One of the uses for the tax will be raising the level of the Belleair Causeway for hurricane evacuation. It is now probably several feet below what wind-driven water, combined with high tide, would cause the water level to become.
Three communities would use this causeway for evacuation. Any future hurricane, or even a March storm, could cause a disaster when several thousand cars evacuate from these low-lying lands.
Since winter visitors help pay the tax, it is one of the best ways for Pinellas residents to have the many needed improvements without raising other taxes, including property taxes. Many of the improvements in the entire county will be done even if "the penny" should not pass. The cost for these then will be borne entirely by residents, and visitors will get them free.
O. D. Phillippy, Belleair Beach
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