Former Federal Official: Greenlight is a “power grab by an entrenched bureaucracy”.

stop highest sales tax in the stateThis letter was Submitted to the Sunbeam Times today on Greenlight Pinellas as commentary on a previous poll showing overwhelming opposition to the highest sales tax in the state for Greenligh. It speaks for itself and is published here.

October 8, 2014
Greenlight Pinellas is a power grab by an entrenched bureaucracy that has an orchestrated campaign financially supported by those who stand to profit from it (including engineering firms) but ultimately paid for by you and me with taxes. This is a difficult letter for me to write because many of the Greenlight supporters are friends of mine and people I respect, yet I feel the campaign’s logic is weak and uses rhetoric instead of planning. Anybody can draw lines on a map and “connect the dots” of imagined “population clusters” but that is not planning–under analysis, it falls apart.
I should say at the outset that I am a retired federal official with extensive experience in planning and budgeting. An agency director once walked into my office and said “If you can use an additional $40 million in your program, give me a plan,” I don’t believe in wasting taxpayer’s money, but I believed in our program (still do) so by the end of that day, I had the concept written, explaining the objective, the state of the science, and the mechanism I would use to deploy the funds. With that action, we saved lives (especially among the newborn infants through antiretroviral therapies), and prevented the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. Money well spent.
In addition to my public service, I worked closely in the private sector with Alan M. Voorhees, a transportation and urban planner. Alan would not have recommended the light rail option for Pinellas. Greenlight is not a plan—and despite the propaganda in The Tampa Bay Times, the “phased planning” puts decisions off until the money is in the bank. Robert Trigaux (whom I respect) published a column last Sunday arguing that “we need mass transit to be relevant.” While better bus service would be useful–regular short-haul point-to-point routes to serve shoppers and students who do not drive is much needed. A rail system should not be part of this argument. This is not Charlotte or New York City—the demographics and population dispersal are different. About forty percent of the people in Pinellas are not in the labor force.

For those who are, a rail system is not going to be rapid transit. With 14 planned stops, a trip from downtown St. Pete to Clearwater will take up to 57 minutes. That does not count the cost and travel time from your door to the rail station—expensive and time-consuming. Driving time from St. Pete to Clearwater is just over a half hour—that is rapid transit. It is useful to keep in mind the geographic size of St. Petersburg – 138 square miles (larger than the District of Columbia). It is not a population cluster of 250,000 people, but rather a sprawling venue of communities from Tampa Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Many of us live nowhere close to the planned rail stations. o add insult to injury, few of the 21% of the County’s population who are 65 or over will never use the rail system that is scheduled to open in 2024—many will either be dead or in assisted living.

We could use road improvement under the Penny for Pinellas infrastructure revenue, and dedicated lanes could speed up bus service, especially with express buses as part of the system. If you want mass transit, buses are the way to go (and perhaps Uber and Lyft). And it will not take ten years to complete. We have mass transit now—it just isn’t properly planned or managed.

The rail tax should be scrapped—an ill-conceived White Elephant. Kill it November 4, and ask PSTA to come up with a sensible plan, after consulting with experienced planners, using currently available funding–without a “slush fund” sales tax.

Frank M. Tims, Ph.D.
St. Petersburg, FL


2 Replies:

  1. Joe Wareham

    I was one of the few that actually viewed the Transportation Alternatives Plan that was presented in the County Commission meeting room a couple of years ago. Having retired after 30 years of executive management, I have participated in numerous economic selection studies. I was shocked with how superficial the rail study was and how biased it was toward the rail proposal. An example was a survey question that asked people would they rather ride a bus or a train car without specifying that one would cost orders of magnitude more than the other. There were also numerous questions from the panel on ridership projections and communities of interest near the rail line that were not answered. The expensive study that created the rail plan was weak at best yet was full speed ahead by PSTA and those in power.

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