Great news to everyone residing in the Tampa Bay area (particularly Pinellas County)! The PSTA board decided unanimously to move forward with plans to place a penny sales tax increase to help fund transit improvements. The current plan is to have the question on the November, 2014 ballot, however this could change if more time is needed to hash out all the details.
Although I’m very excited that the measure is moving forward, I must stress that the one thing that Pinellas County cannot do is make the same mistakes that Hillsborough County made in 2010. Specifically, I speak of the fact that not enough time was put in to really present a comprehensive plan that would benefit residents throughout the county. For instance, the plan was heavily marketing light rail, when the plan also included expanded local and express bus services, bus rapid transit, and roadway improvements. I also feel that the plan was “rushed” so to speak, because not everyone had a chance to really provide their opinions on the plan prior to the election season. Perhaps if more time was provided (let’s say putting the measure to 2011 instead of 2010), there would have been more time to convince those who typically do not use public transit that the plan would benefit them. On top of that, opposition groups quickly mobilized to associate Hillsborough’s penny tax plan with President Obama’s high speed rail plan, calling the whole issue a nightmare for taxpayers. Unless Pinellas spends the time and resources analyzing all the options available for their transit expansion plan, voters may end up feeling more confused about the Pinellas effort than Hillsborough residents felt about their’s in 2010.
In the coming months there are going to be lots of meetings and discussions on the matter so that residents can have their say. I am also confident that the with the help of Connect Tampa Bay, the public will be better informed about the Pinellas plan than Hillsborough residents were in 2010. However, I feel that county leaders, PSTA, and others involved with the plan need to use extra caution in respects to economic conditions in the region and throughout the world. 2010 was clearly a bad time to bring up a transit referendum, as the economy was still in very bad shape from the 2008 financial crisis. Although the economy is slowly recovering now, things are still very fragile. Should economic conditions deteriorate again within the next few months, it is possible that the referendum could get called off completely.
If you have any feedback to provide, please feel free to comment!