Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Sen. Jeff Brandes asks DOT to investigate spending by PSTA for Greenlight Pinellas

Brandes accuses the campaign of using taxpayer money for propaganda purposes.
Brandes accuses the campaign of using taxpayer money for propaganda purposes.
Published Apr. 2, 2014

Sen. Jeff Brandes has asked the Florida Department of Transportation's inspector general to investigate how Pinellas County's mass transit agency is spending public money to inform voters about Greenlight Pinellas.

In a letter sent Tuesday to DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, Brandes asked the agency to review how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is spending about $800,000 to educate voters about the Nov. 4 referendum that seeks a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for new bus routes and a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Brandes accused the campaign of using taxpayer money for propaganda purposes, a violation of state law that he says should require the money to be returned.

"It's extremely concerning that taxpayer dollars could be spent for what I believe is to advocate for a tax increase," said Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate's transportation committee. "I think PSTA may have crossed over a line. I want an investigation to see if that is the case or not."

PSTA board chairman and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch dismissed the allegations, saying he is confident the Greenlight campaign adhered to all legal guidelines and was consistent with past informational campaigns.

PSTA spokesman Bob Lasher released a statement echoing that idea.

"PSTA has always, and continues to conduct its Greenlight Pinellas Educational outreach with full transparency and in full compliance with the law," he wrote. "We are proud of our efforts and are confident that any inquiries by the Department of Transportation will only confirm these facts."

He added that the agency and its board of directors have "an important obligation to inform the citizens as to what they will be asked to decide… ."

Lasher said the $800,000 has been spent on a variety of outreach efforts including websites, graphics and consultants.

Welch also noted that Brandes has been a longtime and outspoken opponent of light rail for the Tampa Bay area. On Tuesday, however, the senator insisted that his issue with the agency's campaign had nothing to do with his personal or policy views. Brandes said he just wants to know whether taxpayer money is being misused.

Barbara Haselden, founder of the group No Tax for Tracks, has raised the same concerns for months.

"I just am very appreciative of Sen. Brandes bringing this action," she said. "I don't think public funds belong on one side of a debate like this."

Earlier this year, her group proposed spending $15,000 to wrap five PSTA buses in ads against the referendum, but agency officials turned them down.

At the time, PSTA chief executive officer Brad Miller said the agency's advertising policy only allows for ads marketing products, services and the agency's own educational information. This last category includes the bright-green ads the agency has wrapped around a handful of its buses promoting the Greenlight website.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@tampabay.com. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Florida Supreme Court, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    “Death is indeed different,” wrote the lone dissenting justice. “This Court has taken a giant step backward."
  2. State Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, presents legislation to create a new chapter of Florida law dedicated to parents' rights when dealing with government and other agencies, during a committee meeting Jan. 23, 2020. [The Florida Channel]
    Parents have been marginalized by bureaucracy, and need to be empowered in law, sponsor Rep. Erin Grall says.
  3. Wichita State Shockers center Jaime Echenique (21) and USF Bulls guard David Collins (0) battle for the loose ball during the second half at the Yuengling Center in Tampa on Tuesday. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Lawmakers may require public colleges and universities to ask permission before selling naming rights.
  4. The Florida Capitol at the start of the legislative session on Jan. 14, 2020, in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) [STEVE CANNON  |  AP]
    If the proposal is approved by the Senate, it would appear before voters in November.
  5. Robert Ray, a member of President Trump's defense team, arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The U.S. Senate plunges into President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial with Republicans abruptly abandoning plans to cram opening arguments into two days but solidly rejecting for now Democratic demands for more witnesses to expose what they deem Trump’s “trifecta” of offenses. Trump himself claims he wants top aides to testify, but qualified that by suggesting there were “national security” concerns to allowing their testimony. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN  |  AP]
    Trump reportedly wanted a star-studded team capable of performing on TV.
  6. Algae laps along the shoreline of the St. Lucie River in 2019, when heavy rains forced the release of tainted water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. The releases spawned massive blue-green algae blooms.
    Environmentalists say Florida faces a water quality crisis. But lawmakers are watering down rules to tackle fertilizer runoff.
  7. Former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum told a House committee that the state should change state law to limit cities and counties from filing lawsuits against corporations on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. [LAWRENCE MOWER | Tampa Bay Times]
    Former Attorney General Bill McCollum said “it’s a big mess.” Cities and counties disagree.
  8. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a protocolary meeting of the Permanent Council at the Organization of the American States, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Michael A. McCoy) [MICHAEL A. MCCOY  |  AP]
    The U.S. State Department wouldn’t comment on the official visit, except to say doors open to the public at 4 p.m.
  9. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, left, and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody were appointed to the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice by Attorney General Bob Barr. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody will also join a commission that will “explore modern issues affecting law enforcement," according to the Department of Justice.
  10. Tiffany Carr — shown during a 2004 visit to a Hollywood nail salon, where she spoke on domestic violence — did not respond this past week to requests from the Miami Herald to address her $761,560 annual salary. She is head of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. [MIAMI HERALD  |  [Bob Eighmie Miami Herald file photo]]
    A bill removes a statute ensuring a state contract with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence following a flap over how much its former CEO was paid.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement