Proponents of the 300% tax hike (see below) to build light rail and fund PSTA have recently complained that the Sun Beam Times showing 61% opposition included “misleading questions”. This attack is, of course, nonsense and such attacks are the last refuge of a Greenlight Pinellas political insiders who have gone out of their way to conceal the true nature of the massive tax hike rail proposal. The Sun Beam Times will be offering detailed analysis of the many fallacies perpetrated by Greenlight Pinellas over the next several months. However, given the ridiculous labelling of the Sun Beam Times Poll as misleading, it is appropriate to briefly list the just some of the many misleading assertions of Greenlight Pinellas and their campaign.
Greenlight Pinellas Mythbusting
1. Myth: There will be a “Tax swap” cancelling property tax in exchange for sales taxes.
Fact: There is no “Swap” of tax revenue. There is a massive tax hike. PSTA currently takes in $30 million in property tax revenue annually. It now seeks $130 million in sales tax revenue. A true swap would create a sales tax of hike from 7 to 7.23 cents, not to 8 cents can keep the budget the same. This “Swap” will more than triple the PSTA budget – a 300% tax revenue hike.
2. Myth: Sales tax will only go up one penny, or one percent.
Fact: Math is simple here. This is a 14% sales tax rate hike. The county wide sales tax will go rom 7 to 8 cents if approved by voters. 8-7=1. 1/7 = 14.29% hike. It is also a 300% increase in total taxes collected by the PSTA (from $30 million per year to $130 million per year in the first years alone)! Taxes will go up 13 billion pennies, not 1 penny!
3. Myth: Greenlight Pinellas is mainly about expanding bus service.
Fact: The vast majority of money raised by the annual $130-$180 million, 14% sales tax rate hike will be devoted to rail construction. The financial report by Greenlight on their own website reveals the costs (see also). The construction costs of Rail will be $2.5 billion with $1.358 billion coming from the sales tax hike dedicated to the train. In addition, the plan assumes $1.2 billion will come from the Federal and state government. (The $1.68 billion 2011 cost will be ultimately be inflated to a $2.5 billion cost due to inflation if assumptions hold). The citizens will be asked to take on debt to level out construction costs over 35 years – a total of $148 million in interest payments alone. The total amount dedicated to the new bus purchases will be about $250 million. It is odd to consider that a ten year construction cost of the train is $1.358 billion, but the amount of sales tax collected each year is projected at $130 million initially ($1.3 billion over ten years). The Greenlight supporters are actually claiming sales tax revenue growth every year and not counting on recessions or a negative impact on the economy from removing $130-180 million in sales tax annually. In fact, they expect about $180 million in sales tax revenue annually in 2024! The annual rail operating costs are predicted by Greenlight to be $29 million, but this is not likely considering that fully developed rail systems generally cost at least $50 million to operate annually in cities across the nation according to a Berkley study.
4. Myth: The PSTA will run out of money without a revenue hike.
Fact: the PSTA has been misspending money for years. They have chosen to dip into reserve funds, but could just as easily cut spending. This has been described here.
5. Myth: Theproposed train will connect Pinellas County to Tampa.
Fact: The PSTA shows a train plan going to Tampa, but there is no plan to REALLY do that in the Greenlight Pinellas plan. It will require many more additional funds to do so, none of which have been promised. The FDOT has promised to fund a new span for the Howard Franklin that will be strong enough to support tracks, but has no funds to build a train – a train Hillsborough voters rejected.
6. Myth: Building Light Rail will decrease congestion.
Fact: Study after study has shown that congestion gets worse in the area of light rail. Lanes are taken away from cars. Money is taken away from roads. Will Pinellas Residents have more congestion or less during a minimum of ten years of construction on East Bay, US 19, along I-275 and downtown St. Pete and Clearwater?
7. Myth: Building Rail and expanding bus service will promote “economic development”.
Fact: Rail Supporters and Berkley Professors did a federally funded study for the Federal Transit Administration. Their conclusion: “Urban rail transit investments rarely ‘create’ new growth, but more typically redistribute growth that would have taken place without the investment.” (Cervero & Seskin, FTA Report #TCRP-7). The main driving factor behind the million dollar campaign to pass a rail tax is the redistribution of tax dollars into the pockets of well-connected land developers. This behavior was well described by the Bradenton Times in 2010 when Developers helped contribute $1.7 million to the failed effort to build light rail in Hillsborough.
8. Myth: There is widespread support for raising taxes to expand bus and rail service in Pinellas.
Fact: The surveys done showing support have been with fewer than 300 people in Pinellas and are not valid. They have not been exclusively of registered voters who are likely to vote in Pinellas or even Pinellas residents (see analysis here and here). The exact questions were never revealed. In fact, a 4/2013 poll by St. Pete Polls revealed only 50:50 support for raising taxes to build rail in Pinellas. The Sun Beam Times Poll this week reveals 61% opposed to a 14% sales tax hike to build rail.
9. Myth: Greenlight Pinellas is using $400,000 in Taxpayer dollars for an “education campaign” to inform voters on the referendum.
FACT: The taxpayer-funded Greenlight Pinellas campaign is very one sided and not truly “educational”. It does not reveal the size of the tax hike, that Pinellas will have the highest sales tax in the state, that the train does not go to Tampa, that buses in the city already have poor rider volumes and more. To add insult to injury, the “education” for passage of this referendum is paid for with taxpayer dollars! This is a cynical exploitation of legal loopholes to abuse public funds.
10. Myth: Greenlight Pinellas will expand bus service 65%
Fact: There is no obligation to expand bus service this degree built into the plan. If funds are not available, then bus service will not be expanded. Further, current claims that bus ridership is up is inflated by counting one passenger who rides 6 buses six times. As the PSTA Consultant’s report stated last month (12/13, Ernst and Young) regarding bus expansion, “The rollout of the bus improvements currently anticipates a 65% service increase with implementation over a 5 year period (2016-2021). The amount of service increase or implementation schedule could be refined in response to substantial revenue shortfalls or cost overruns.” Translation, if you don’t have enough money (e.g. a recession caused by the tax hike or otherwise), you don’t need to increase bus service 65%.
11. Myth: Rail has been a huge success in other cities like Charlotte and Portland.
Fact: Charlotte’s Lynx system has built about 35% of the promised rail (less than 2 out of 5 lines) and has run out of money. Charlotte needs to raise taxes again and find other money too to build what was promised. Meanwhile, ridership numbers in Charlotte and other cities like Portland is very low and decreasing. Every single rail system in America requires a per trip taxpayer subsidy of $1.50-$14! That means those who do not ride the train, are paying for cheaper train rides for those who do. The Charlotte line cost twice as much as promised ($467 million vs planned $225 million). Brad Miller, current PSTA CEO, was a project manager for Lynx in Charlotte!
The Greenlight Pinellas Campaign can only win by misleading voters and issuing propaganda. The facts will reveal that Greenlight Pinellas is a boondoggle designed to 1) transfer money from the pockets of the poor and middle class 2) to the pockets of the rich and well connected 3) to build an expensive train 4) few will ride and that 5) will increase congestion for years in Pinellas County. Stay tuned to the Sun Beam Times for more analysis on true rail facts over the next many months.