Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Don’t play political games with Pinellas schools tax referendum | Editorial

Voters will be asked to reapprove the property tax in 2020. To ensure its continued bipartisan support, don’t put it on the March ballot. The November general election is the right time.
Joaquin Pizano, 4, of St. Petersburg, waves sign on Tyrone Blvd. [CERRI, LARA | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Aug. 23
Updated Aug. 23

Since 2004, Pinellas County voters consistently have approved a special property tax to supplement teacher salaries and improve public schools. The tax always has been approved with overwhelming bipartisan support. That’s why it would be a mistake to put it on the ballot next year in March rather than November, when voter turnout will be far higher. There is no reason to play political games.

Pinellas School Board members indicated this week they support the proposal by the tax’s proponents to ask voters to reapprove the tax in March, when the Democratic presidential primary will be the big attraction. Except in Clearwater, where voters will be electing a new mayor, there will be little additional incentive for Republicans and independent voters to go to the polls. The half-mill tax usually has appeared on the November ballot, and it should stay there in 2020.

The special property tax for Pinellas public schools enjoys wide support because voters see the real results. Last school year, the tax provided teachers with about $4,200 in additional income. The tax also pays for valuable enhancements to art, music and reading classes, and for better technology. The spending is carefully monitored, and the positive impact for students and teachers has been remarkable.

Yet moving the tax referendum to March smacks of partisan politics. It could undermine public support from suspicious Republicans. It also could bring unwanted attention from the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, which is skeptical about local tax referendums and consistently interferes with home rule. In every case when the referendum was on the general election ballot, more than 65 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. The one time the referendum wasn’t held at the general election, it was on the 2008 presidential primary ballot and only 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots on the tax.

The new wrinkle in this referendum is a change in state law that now requires districts to share funds from local-option property taxes with charter schools. The tax’s supporters worry that change may reduce support for the referendum. They also contend putting it on the March ballot will make it easier to get out the positive message. Maybe, but convenience is not worth making this nonpartisan issue appear partisan.

School Board Member Bill Dudley said at a workshop last week that placing the tax on the March presidential primary ballot is a “no-brainer.” The real no-brainer is that renewing the property tax is the right call for public schools. The best way to reaffirm its broad support is to put the tax on the general election ballot in November 2020 and give the most Pinellas voters the best chance to be heard.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Editorial cartoon for Saturday/Sunday Andy Marlette/Creators Syndicate
  2. Stock photo. MORGAN DAVID DE LOSSY  |  Getty Images/iStockphoto
    I’m a new mom -- again -- and please remember that many mothers would welcome government policies that make it easier for them to stay home with their kids than returning to work. | Column
  3. Josh Hensley, 43, was found in the waters of Kings Bay in Crystal River. He was known for dressing as Jack Sparrow. Facebook
    Here’s what readers had to say in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  4. David Colburn was the former provost and senior vice president of the University of Florida. JAMIE FRANCIS  |  Tampa Bay Times
    He believed that diversity is our strength, and that the way to overcome division is to shine light in dark corners, writes Cynthia Barnett.
  5. Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    With Washington once again failing to embrace reforms following mass shootings, it’s up to Americans to create a movement to demand change. | Adam Goodman
  6. Couple, Lewis Bryan, 36, (back left) and Amber Eckloff, 33, pose for a portrait with their children, (From left) D'Angelo Eckloff, 14, Rasmus Bryan, 4, Ramiro Bryan, 10, Lothario Bryan, 6, and Alonzo Bailey, 17. The family has been living at the Bayway Inn on 34th St S. Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in St. Petersburg.  MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    When about 40 percent of city households are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, something has to change.
  7. A judge ruled in June that it is up to Hillsborough County Commissioners to decide how much money the bus agency and other transportation projects get from the one-cent transportation sales tax voters approved in November. The board did just that this week.[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
    Hillsborough commissioners follow through on transportation funding.
  8. From left to right: Florida Department of Transportation workers inspect damage to the Interstate 175 overpass at Sixth Street S caused by a roll-off dumpster truck that left its hydraulic arm upright, according to St. Petersburg police [JAMES BORCHUCK | Tampa Bay Times]; Former Pinellas school guardian Erick Russell, 37, is accused of pawning the Glock 17 9mm semiautomatic pistol, body armor and two magazines he was issued to protect students [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]; Johnna Lynn Flores [AUSTIN ANTHONY | Tampa Bay Times] Tampa Bay Times
    Here are three examples of routine information Tampa Bay governments kept from the public this week.
  9. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos; Florida state Sen. Tom Lee presides over the Senate's committee on infrastructure and security in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. The committee is considering new legislation to help address mass violence. (AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan) Times files/Associated Press
    Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and state Sen. Tom Lee speak up. When will others?
  10. Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses supporters at a rally, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle) CRAIG RUTTLE  |  AP
    Experts don’t agree with us? Research, evidence and math prove inconvenient? Just trust us, the far left says. Our plans do everything we say they will. | Catherine Rampell
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement