LARGO— The political action committee No Tax for Tracks kicked off its 10-month fight Tuesday in hopes to derail a proposed county tax increase for transit.
Local tea party stalwart Barb Haselden is leading the opposition to Greenlight Pinellas, the plan to expand bus service and build an estimated $1 billion, 24-mile, light-rail network from Clearwater to St. Petersburg.
“My opponents say I'm not telling the truth, but I'm using their (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) slides and statistics,” she told a crowd of 125 during the Tuesday rally at Abundant Life Ministries.
No Tax for Tracks formed last month with approximately $17,000 to oppose the measure that will go before voters on the Nov. 4 ballot.
In a 45-minute presentation, Haselden told the crowd she can back up her opposition to raising the sales tax from seven cents to eight cents on the dollar because for the past three years she's followed the developments that have led to the decision to ask voters for the increase.
For Haselden, the Greenlight plan is a bailout, using tax dollars to rescue what she sees as an underperforming agency, in this case the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
She pointed to PSTA data that shows increased spending from approximately $35 million in 2002 to nearly $60 million this year and said that according to the 2010 Census only 1.6% of residents take the bus to work.
PSTA tallies bus ridership with each transfer counting as a new rider. “For a round trip to the mall, a typical rider would board and then transfer two times each way. That one rider becomes six riders.”
In 2012, PSTA reported 14 million passenger trips on 40 routes in Pinellas County, including two express routes to Tampa.
“Their own data shows that just seven bus routes account for 60 percent of the bus ridership,” Haselden said.
Backers say transit expansion is the next step in the economic development of the county, with light-rail stations and bus routes encouraging mixed-use development of condos, apartments and offices they say will attract more young professionals and others who do not want to rely on a car.
The rally also grabbed the attention of Debbie Dooley, an Atlanta activist who led a successful 2012 campaign against a proposed penny sales tax to fund billions in transportation projects in metro Atlanta. She offered support and encouragement to persevere.
In addition, the rally attracted two local elected officials: Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche and South Pasadena Mayor Dan Calabria. While neither spoke during the event, both nodded in support the No Tax for Tracks initiative when introduced to the audience.
Local politicians and chambers of commerce have lined up in support of the plan. They likely will be joined by real estate, development and other companies that are expected to ante up as much as $1 million into a campaign to persuade residents to vote “yes” in November, according to The Tampa Tribune.
"We're just going to make sure we do our best to make sure we talk to people and show the other side," Haselden said. "Unfortunately, they have millions of dollars to work with and we're just grass roots."