Recently Senator Jack Latvala was confronted by Andre Senior of Channel 10 regarding some legislation he is proposing to change how the Penny for Pinellas 1% sales tax is used. The Senator sponsored a bill that would allow Penny money to be used for operation and maintenance cost of “transporation infrastructure” and Senator Latvala said this: “”(It) doesn’t have anything to do with Greenlight Pinellas. That’s a county …. That has to be spent on just transportation. This doesn’t have anything to do with that.” Excuse me? If the bill has nothing to do with the massive “transportation infrastructure” project called Greenlight Pinellas, then what transportation infrastructure will it pay for? If the bill had nothing to do with Greenlight Pinellas, then why did he change the bill hours after the report with his denial ran? Because the dear Senator knew he had been caught red handed in the deception and knew it would hurt the troubled Greenlight Pinellas effort that has been plagued with misfires, scandal and corruption.
The Legislation originally proposed by Latvala would change the nature of the existing Penny for Pinellas (PFP) tax to allow payment of operation and maintenance cost for transportation infrastructure. This “local Government Infrastructure Surtax” – which makes the total sales tax 7% currently in Pinellas – currently can be spent only on capital costs (construction and hard assets) – not operation expenses or maintenance. Latvala’s original legislation would have removed the ban on maintenance and operation costs for “transportation infrastructure” for the PFP tax. The WTSP news reporter confronted Senator Latvala last week and in the 3/19/14 story, Senator Latvala vehmently denied that the legislation had anything do with Greenlight Pinellas. He even said it twice as if that would make it more true when it is obviously false.
The Greenlight folks absolutely need more money than the new transit tax will provide, even though it will give Pinellas County the highest sales tax in the state at 8%. At that rate the county estimates it will raise $1.8 billion over ten years. However it needs about $2.6 billion to reach its goal – and that assumes there are no cost overruns or revenue shortfalls. Realizing they won’t have enough money simply from raising the sales tax rate by 14% to 8 cents, they are looking for money elsewhere. They will hope for state and federal money, but deficits are getting deeper and entitlement costs will make such money scarce. So they found a willing ally in Senator Jack Latvala to re-engineer a different tax to ALSO deliver for Greenlight Pinellas. But then Senator Jack got caught in the act – red handed – as he worked to ensure a capital-cost tax only (Penny for Pinellas) would also fund operations and maintenance for “transportation infrastructure”.
So the wiley Senator misled the press and lept into action to both cover the deception and to still ensure the same effect – if not a little bit delayed. The delay won’t matter much since the maintenance costs for the train are going to come when construction is planned for completion in 2024. He altered the bill within hours of the report airing in two ways:
- He removed the words “transportation infrastructure” but allows future referenda to spend Penny for Pinellas Money on operation and maintenance costs of anything the voters approve. Thus the new 2017 penny for Pinellas Language will almost certainly be updated to include operation and maintenance expenses of transportation infrastructure, perhaps even retroactively.
- He added language about paying for “relocation” of transportation infrastructure. After all, there will be lots of road ways “relocated” (or more likely destroyed) to make way for train tracks.
Who is monitoring or supporting the bill? The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization which has a deep interest in rail and a relationship with TBARTA and the local transit agencies. In addition, sources within the Pinellas County government have advised the Sun Beam Times that there has been an interest in expanding Penny for Pinellas money to operation and maintenance costs for several months that seem to coincide with the ramp up to the Greenlight campaign. Senator Jack’s son, Chris Latvala who is running for state House has publicly stated that he would like to see Penny for Pinellas Money used for Greenlight. State Representative Ed Hooper has reportedly also supported the use of Penny for Pinellas money for Greenlight while opposing the Greenlight tax hike itself. Also supporting the bill were lobbyists from Pinellas County Government (Todd Laren), Florida League of Cities (Amber Hughes) and Florida Association of County (Davin Suggs) as shown at time point 77:30-80:00 on the official Senate video.
Senator Jack Latvala is using every trick in the book to scrape more money from every possible source to pay for this rail boondoggle. With his proposed new change to the Penny for Pinellas Tax, the money will no longer be confined to capital costs only. So cities that have relied on the money to build new roads, fire houses, schools, beach projects, bike trails and more will have to do with less. Already the rail is cannibalizing local government projects before the first rail spike is even driven. Furthermore, the new language by Senator Jack will allow the money to be used for maintenance and operation of “public facilities” lasting more than five years. Surely train stations and bus stops and rail tracks will be considered “public facilities” worthy of operation and maintenance money from the Penny for Pinellas Tax sold as funding new construction only.
The Greenlight people have run out of money for their plan even before 300% tax revenue hike is passed! Now they will keep cannibalizing every source of money possible to satisfy their rail dream. The new priority of all spending in Pinellas for the next several decades will be trains and all the development that goes along the train corridors. The rich and well-connected want the tax money from the pockets of the poor and middle class to enrich themselves as they build these projects. They will not expand the bus system as promised, instead they will cannibalize it as well to pay for the train.
The question is, will the voters realize that deception and corruption are par for the course when it comes to Greenlight Pinellas and reject the entire enterprise?
SB 0786 Bill Language History
47 interest may not be used for the operational expenses of
48 infrastructure, except that a county may use the proceeds or
49 interest for the maintenance of transportation infrastructure if
50 the local government ordinance authorizing such use is approved
51 by referendum as provided in this subsection, and a county that
52 has a population of fewer than 75,000 and that is required to
36 within another county, to finance, plan, and construct, or
37 relocate infrastructure; to acquire land for public recreation,
38 conservation, or protection of natural resources; to provide
39 loans, grants, or rebates to residential or commercial property
40 owners who make energy efficiency improvements to their
41 residential or commercial property, if a local government
42 ordinance authorizing such use is approved by referendum; or to
43 finance the closure of county-owned or municipally owned solid
44 waste landfills that have been closed or are required to be
45 closed by order of the Department of Environmental Protection.
46 Any use of the proceeds or interest for purposes of landfill
47 closure before July 1, 1993, is ratified. The proceeds and any
48 interest may not be used for the operational and maintenance
49 expenses of infrastructure, unless the local government
50 ordinance authorizing such use is approved by referendum as
51 provided in this subsection or except that a county that has a
52 population of fewer than 75,000 and that is required to close a
53 landfill uses may use the proceeds or interest for long-term
54 maintenance costs associated with landfill closure. Counties, as
55 defined in s. 125.011, and charter counties may, in addition,
56 use the proceeds or interest to retire or service indebtedness
57 incurred for bonds issued before July 1, 1987, for
58 infrastructure purposes, and for bonds subsequently issued to
59 refund such bonds. Any use of the proceeds or interest for
60 purposes of retiring or servicing indebtedness incurred for
61 refunding bonds before July 1, 1999, is ratified.
62 1. As used in For the purposes of this paragraph, the term
63 “infrastructure” means:
64 a. A Any fixed capital expenditure or fixed capital outlay
65 associated with the construction, reconstruction, relocation, or
66 improvement of public facilities that have a life expectancy of
67 5 or more years and any related land acquisition, land
68 improvement, design, permit compliance, and engineering costs,