Greenlight Pinellas: 11 Deceptions Revealed. Endless Deception is the Goal.

Greenlight finance slide showing most money from 300% tax hike will go to build rail, not buy new buses. The Black bars represent the $2.5 billion in construction costs for rail compared to the green bars showing about $250 million for buses.

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.

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18 Replies:

  1. Westech

    For years this tax increase has been in the works awaiting the exact moment the PSTA, Pinellas County Commission, the local paper and various self-interests believe economic conditions were such that this hustle would have some success of passing. Unfortunately the voters are revealing themselves to be not quite as stupid or gullible as the politicians and the newspaper presume us to be. This, I’m sure, will result in more of our tax money being spent on properly re-educating the voters.
    The PSTA and some members of the Pinellas County Commission are emblematic of the perfect government agency, wallowing completely in the taxpayer trough yet indignant that, when the trough is empty, the taxpayer won’t refill it at their demand.
    Want to see a public transportation system work profitably and be responsive to the demands of that service? Let private enterprise take it over.

  2. GreenlightFraud

    Thank you for shedding the necessary full-spectrum light known as “the truth” on this snot green fraud being perpetrated by deceivers and promoted at taxpayer expense.
    The lies of the cabal of Greenlight Pinellas advocates reeks of an orchestrated conspiracy and should trigger a grand jury investigation. Using public funds to deceive voters is an unconscionable act. And that a conspiracy exists to move this on-going deception forward to through all the many forms of media is evident.
    Where is our State’s Attorney on this matter of public trust? Does he side with the tax paying citizens who have entrusted him to office or those who use deception and outrageous lies formuated and promulgated at taxpayer expense?

  3. Fred

    The Seattle light rail has shown increased crime at the station/depots/stops. This is crime in all catefories, especially breaking and entering, robbery, and theft. The business growth in the areas of the stops has filed to materialize as well.Pinellas light rail only goes between the center of Clearwater, and the Center of St. Petersburg. Ask yourself how many people go between Clearwater and St Petersburg on a regular basis. …. The busses currently run empty on many trips, and could be reassigned to better serve the riders they have. If the county can not manage the current system efficiently, what makes you think they will do any better with a train. Reorganizing the current bus system would serve the county better than any boondoggle train. On top of it all, the commissioners want you to pay for it every time you buy something. If you spend 10,000 per year on groceries, it will cost you another $100. If you buy a car, it will cost you 1% more…on a $20,000 car that is $200. I am sure you could find better things to do with the money than buy a toy train that you will never ride, causes an increase in crime in neighborhoods along its path, is a path for spreading disease, and that will disrupt your travels in your private vehicle.

    1. Westech

      Fred………I had forgotten about the Seattle public transportation crime problem. Last time we were there it was proposed that signs be placed in several of the rail stations plus one area in the downtown monorail station warning visitors to take care in the late-night hours. The city council went berserk, not because there was a crime situation but that someone propose warning signs in a city known for it’s liberalism.
      I don’t get it either.

  4. Matthew

    I was called by this automated poll. I don’t think the questions were skewed at all.

    I also don’t think we need a train from Clearwater to St. Petersburg. For the money they are talking we could buy everyone a Yaris (if they still make the Yaris).

    Property (ad valorem) tax is the way to go to fund mass transit. It impacts those with the most money the most, and spares those with the least money much expense. Switching to sales tax will place an unneeded burden on the poor of Pinellas county. Our property tax millage rates are proposed and open to public comment every year. We don’t need another sales tax jammed on us by people who think they know better than we do.

    Would you ride a train from Clearwater to St. Pete? Then what take a bus? They need to plan and design the bus routes to most efficiently serve Pinellas residents and visitors. They were spot on with the north county connector, they can do it with the property tax funding.

    Common sense and good planning are what we need, not another tax that socks it to those who can least afford it.

  5. Norm Roche

    The 14+% tax increase concept does not come from the “Greenlight Pinellas Plan”, it comes from the “Alternative Analisys Study” (AA) -0 a $4-million taxpayer funded transit study required to qualify for state and federal grant dollar funding support. The study was not commissioned to analyze the logic or practicality of rail in Pinellas. It was commissioned simply to present where we would put it and how we would pay for it.

    The AA will also show you that about 59% of the new tax dollars are earmarked for rail, not busses. In fact, simple math will reveal that the remaining 41% of new tax revenue is roughly equivilant to PSTA’s current annual budget. How does the same revenue afford a 65% increase in busses and bus service?

    I attempted to secure a commitment from our State Legislative Delegation (Latvala, Hooper, Peters, Zimmerman, et al) to fight for the assumed 11% State funding, the assumed 37% Federal Funding, a more responsible “Plan-B” if the new tax doesn’t pass, and a commitment to formally and legally repeal the existing PSTA ad valorem. Rather than receiving that commitment from our Pinellas Legislative Delegation at our Commission & Legislative joint meeting, I was chastised for dearing to ask.

    There are numerous “Red Flags” surrounding Greenlight, and our taxpayers need to reject the political rhetoric and sales pitches, and research the public record and facts.

  6. Matthew

    Commissioner Roche,
    Thanks for your hard work on this.

    I hear that the PSTA is going back for another $150K for a re-education campaign since the first $400K education campaign isn’t working so well.

    When a governmental body has to spend more than half a million dollars to tell us why something is good, it isn’t good.

  7. Mary

    I am not sure why or who is making the comments saying the buses are empty.The buses going to back and worth from clearwater to St pete clearly aren’t empty I ride them I know this for fact.It is along route from Clearwater to st. Pete and people are getting on and off throughout the route many times there are no seats and people are standing.People making these comment that the buses are empty clearly aren’t riding them or they would know they clearly aren’t empty.I bet a lot of you are holding onto your cars are living pay check to pay check well guess what with this great system running you can save lot of money ever month. instead of pumping money out of pockets for tank of gas you can pop $5 bucks out and ride all around town all day long.Now how is that for savings.

    I used to have a car but gave it up because using the bus is cheaper and they take you all over in a more relaxing way.You don’t have to drive can just sit and read your paper while someone else takes you where you want to go.Not everyone on the bus is a poor crime some people are on there way to office,taking there kids to day care,or just going to the store.I love the way people so quick to think only the poor would need a bus .there all kinds of people riding some rich,some poor,and even middle class.People in wheel chairs ,older residents ,the blind ,the death you name it we got it.You get to look out the window and notice things you wouldn’t see driving in your car ,you get know other riders and chat about the day what could better pumping out tones in gas worrying about paying an insurance bill and being responsible for an accident.I don’t have to do any of that.

    1. Jim

      A couple of weeks ago I was in Clearwater on a Friday night at 9 am. I was on the sidewalk just south of the pier next to the bus stops. When I saw a bus coming, I waited to see all the people coming from St. Petersburg who are coming to Clearwater for the night-life. I knew the bus would be packed because PSTA says so many people come there from St. Pete they need a rail line to keep up with demand. Only one guy got off the bus, and there was one other person on the bus. But maybe the bus is full during the day?

      Despite the fact that you enjoy riding the bus, only 1.6% of the public shares that joy and uses buses to get to work.

      PSTA runs 40 routes, but 7 of those routes represent 60% of their ridership. The other 33 routes have only a few riders. A recent bus study performed about 6 months ago by PSTA’s consultants recommended the elimination of 10 routes. But PSTA is still operating those routes.

      Only the government would think that the solution to empty buses on 40% of their system is to add more buses. It is great that you are happy with their service, now we need to start managing the bus system so more riders can have that joy.

    2. Matthew

      Mary,

      I take the bus from time to time. Out to the beach so I don’t have to circle the lots for a place to park, when I drop off my car for service, times like that the bus is very convenient and affordable. I don’t commute on the bus, but I do know that I could if I needed to.

      I think the bus service we have is good, I don’t think we need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a train that only goes up and down US19 (a north-south route). We can alter the bus routes very quickly if a new subdivision is built, or a new factory opens and workers need to get to work. We can’t rebuild train tracks overnight, it would take a decade.

      The idea of a train is simply absurd for Pinellas county. If it was such a great idea they wouldn’t need to spend half a million of our tax dollars telling us it is a great idea. I wonder how many bus route upgrades that would have paid for?

    3. Rick

      You are riding one of the 7 routes that make up over 60% ridership out of the 30 routes they have. You can’t judge by just the one route you ride. There are 29 other routes too.

  8. Savannah

    You people know that lots of people need and rides the buses .I ride the 18 daily and it often full.i have a car but no longer use it unless I am going out of town I used to drive everywhere until I found out by using PSTA I can cut my monthly budget by a lot.I don’t throw money away into putting gas into my car I have it for me. if people were smart they would use there cars for going out of town and use the buses for going around town.if more people would cut back on things like gas or putting money into cars they can’t afford maybe some people won’t end up broke at the end of the month.i think people who don’t use the buses would use the rails.they would hop on to just go a few blocks down the street it would great.Some people aren’t smart enough to realize they can acutely save money.

    1. Sun Beam Times Post author

      It is an insult to tell people they aren’t smart enough to know how best to spend thier own money and time. sadly it is the commonly held view of government and supporters of Greenlight Pinellas!

    2. Matthew

      Savannah,

      Perhaps you could detail just what the cost savings are? If you have a car but prefer to take the bus that is great for you but are you really saving much money? You still have to pay for insurance, PIP and liability insurance are mandatory in Florida. Most people carry additional coverage – I know I do. There is only one firm offering mileage based rates- Progressive – that I know of. Are you saving money on insurance.

      You suggest that I hop on the train to go a few blocks down the street. You and I know that the train won’t be free, so even at 56 cents a mile, the new IRS mileage rate, a few blocks is bound to cost more than a half a buck. In that instance it seems that it would be more cost effective to take the car. Personally if I were only going a few blocks I’d walk as it would probably be quicker than waiting for the train – and certainly waiting for a train that is only pie in the sky now. I don’t even have a platform on which to wait.

      We do have buses, and you can even bring your bicycle on the bus using the racks. A train that goes only up and down from Clearwater to St. Petersburg does not sound like the solution to anything. We don’t need more taxes to help us ‘save money’ We’re not stupid as you allege we can save our own money if the government would let us keep it.

    3. Rick

      Censues data from the US census show that only 6000 people in Pinellas use the PSTA. That is less than 2% of the population.

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  10. Gary West

    Two comments: The other day a writer for the local newspaper, I won’t mention his name but let’s call him Elsworth Monkton Toohey, complained bitterly about his commute, traffic and the time he’s had to spend sitting in his car. My question to him is “why are you not using public transportation?” You and your paper worship it as the solution for the masses and demand that we all avail ourselves of the bus system so why not practice what you demand of others. I’m sure that with a bit of research you could find the routes, bus numbers and times that would convey you from home to your destination.

    Orlando’s SunRail proponents were rudely awaken when ridership dropped for 11,000 riders a day to about 4,000. Why? SunRail stopped being free and began charging a fare.
    Imagine that.

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