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Florida Matters Preview: No Tax for Tracks vs. Yes on Greenlight

Sep 30, 2014

A PSTA bus in St. Petersburg.
Credit Lottie Watts / WUSF Public Media

This November, voters will decide the fate of Greenlight Pinellas, which includes a one-cent increase in the county’s sales tax in exchange for a long-term plan for light rail and expanded bus service.

This week on Florida Matters, we will hear from both sides of the debate. The conversation airs Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 a.m. on WUSF 89.7 FM.

In this preview, Barb Haselden of No Tax For Tracks and Kyle Parks, communications director for the Yes on Greenlight campaign, explain their perspectives.

KYLE PARKS: Based on what we’ve seen in other cities, there has been a lot of development along the rail lines because the stops create walkable areas for people to live. We’ve seen that all over the country. So in that case, it really fits in to what we see as the future of Pinellas County. We don’t see the whole county becoming walkable, urban environments, but we do see a lot of the county being in need of redevelopment. You’ve got the most built-out county in the state, a lot of older retail and neighborhoods like that, so in those specific areas it would concentrate some new growth, which would help revitalize the county, but at the same time, that kind of growth in targeted areas helps the neighborhoods in the rest of the county keep their unique flavor.

CARSON COOPER: You’ve used Charlotte, North Carolina as an example and I believe you had found that property values increased 90 percent along the first two miles of that line in Charlotte. I found a UNC study, a little more modest 15 percent increase near downtown Charlotte, but little or no increase farther away.

PARKS: I think it depends on what time frame you’re looking at, and certainly you can look at values going up over the time of new projects. But one thing that Barbara mentioned about the ridership in these other cities, out of the 27 of the 28 metro areas that have rail, 27 of the 28 have voted to expand their systems. So these systems have gone to the voters repeatedly in these other cities, and if no one’s riding and no one wants it, we think that those systems would not be passed as far as expansions.

COOPER: Barb Haselden, rail has certainly reshaped cities like Atlanta and Washington, D.C. They spent a lot of money on MARTA and on Metro rail in D.C., and business development far exceeded their expectations. Why couldn’t that happen in Pinellas County?

BARB HASELDEN: Well, I think it’s great that you brought up Atlanta, because to counter what Kyle just said, there was a citizen’s effort statewide – two years ago in Georgia, not quite – it was called T-SPLOST – and it was an attempt by the bureaucrats and politicians up there who had managed to get through different projects and the people of Georgia said, you know, this is enough. And there were people who came together and formed what No Tax For Tracks is doing countywide, which I can tell you is an incredible amount of work. They did it statewide to defeat T-SPLOST. It was an $8 million campaign on the yes for T-SPLOST side, and like $100,000 on the grassroots effort, and they beat them, because people are trying to stop these projects.

And I want to mention that I don’t have rail envy.  Not after learning about all of this. And I will name off cities that don’t have rail: Cincinnati, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Kansas City; Las Vegas; Louisville; Milwaukee; Providence, Rhode Island; Raleigh-Durham; Riverside-San Bernardino; Tampa-St. Pete. I think it’s good that we’re in that list... Charlotte’s a great example. They have a $5-billion problem, and three of it is maintenance. It’s in the paper, you can go and Google. Earlier this year, Charlotte was in a real dire…they still are, they’re in dire straits trying to, because they did have a sales tax failure during the project and the building of that system.