The PSTA board surprised absolutely nobody today by unanimously approving a referendum for a sales tax hike that would set the stage for building a $2 billion light rail as it quadruples their tax income. The Board members were addressed by dozens of opponents and supporters but the die was cast long before anyone walked in the room to participate in the public hearing. The proponents spoke of climate change, decreased car use, job creation and grandiose dreams of economic development while referring to other city’s “success” stories. The opponents spoke of money being wasted, taxes being too high, political corruption and the private companies that will benefit from the tax funded projects while speaking of other city’s failures. The referendum will now be moved to the County commission which is certainly set to be rubber-stamped on the way to the ballot in November 2014.
The rail tax proposal is being carefully packaged by the political class who fear a defeat similar to what happened in arguably more “progressive” Hillsborough county two years ago. Last year the PSTA spent $300,000 in taxpayer money to hire private political consultants and PR firm Tucker Hall. Thus the tax money of those who oppose the plan has already been used to fund the beginnings of a propaganda campaign to pass the tax. The group is hard at work devising the “right” messaging to persuade people to vote for the tax. Already the entire effort is being relabeled from a light rail initiative to that of “multimodal transit”. As the PR and political campaign is being crafted, it is certain that major land developers, contractors, unions, financiers and the like are being lined up to contribute to what will likely be a million dollar campaign to pass the 1 cent sales tax.
Opponents of rail, this author included, pointed out that the very goals of light rail were also some of its biggest problems. Proponents proudly crow about planning communities for the next 50 years. Detractors point out that this means putting people in denser and less desirable residential and commercial areas. Proponents brag that land “re-development” will create jobs and attract businesses. Opponents point out that this will harm smaller businesses and really just be a form of crony capitalism with high risk of failure. This was the point/counter-point for two and a half hours of public testimony.
Here is what is clear:
- Light rail only works in other cities when taxpayers heavily subsidize the projects.
- (for instance, proponents referred several times to the great rail system in Minneapolis, but never talked about the 90% subsidy per rider borne by the taxpayers).
- Cost overruns are the norm.
- Congestion increases as resources are taken from roads and put in rail.
- Carbon dioxide emissions are arguably not lowered as claimed as more congested roads lead to more idle time.
- The goal is to re-zone the entire region so that people are not allowed to live in areas they normally would want to live: less dense areas.
- The PSTA will NOT have enough revenue from the extra $100 million per year to build the $2 billion rail system. They will then be forced to seek more funds through even more taxes, tax-payer funded borrowing or state and federal grants which also come from taxes.
Darden Rice, who will be facing Sun Beam Times Founder and blogger Dr. David McKalip in a run for St. Petersburg City Council, made her position very clear. She believes that the rail tax should be moved to the ballot and made clear that she supports its passage. She summed up all the grandiose visions and pipe dreams of the progressives in the room: solving climate change, planning communities for 50 years, less dependence on fossil fuels, fewer cars, high ridership, -government-directed economic growth and jobs.
This author offered that the PSTA should reject the request for more money. They have already grossly mismanaged their budget which now requires use of reserve to keep them afloat. They keep increasing PSTA salaries ($1.3 million this year, $1.1 million last year and more to come) while the citizens that pay taxes and bus fares are seeing their income drop or losing jobs. They give over-priced health insurance to govenrment employees along with defined benefit plans that the rest of us don’t have. They are refusing to consider privatizing anything in the PSTA to save money. I offered that they should guarantee abolishing the property tax if the sales tax goes up. They should pass only a .25 cent tax hike to make the proposal budget neutral. They should insist that the wealthy developers looking to profit off of transit put $1 billion in escrow now so they can pay for the rail plan themselves.
The light rail plan is not about helping the poor by providing low cost transportation. It is about growing government jobs and government control. It is about transferring money from the poor and the middle class to wealthy land developers, financiers and crony capitalists. It will increase congestion of traffic and density of housing. In short, the rail tax is a reverse Robin Hood Scam that steals from the poor to benefit the rich and put more citizens under the thumb of government control. The progressives and the transit-industrial complex present in the room made it clear they want to tell people where to live, where to work, how to get there, how not to get there, when they can and can’t drive and that they must pay the government for the privilege to live in their brave new world. The PSTA board was hailed as bright, progressive and visionary and encouraged to “move forward” dozens of times. Yet one wonders how anyone can trust them to run a rail system or gain an extra $100 million in annual tax revenue when PSTA has already demonstrated they can’t run the current system without running out of money.
In the end PSTA Executive Director Brad Miller told the PSTA board they had two completely false choices: cut services 18-30% or ask for $100 million in new annual revenue. Clearly a nonsensical choice by a government bureaucrat working on behalf of the boondoggle to come. The fight is on to stop light rail and it is time for a massive citizen uprising to do so, because that is going to be the only way to stop the coming Million dollar propaganda campaign of the political class and the transit-industrial complex.