Okay, despite working in Pinellas County for four years – from 1998-2002 – I realize I haven’t covered the upcoming elections as much as I wanted to. But today is election day in Pinellas, so here is a quick preview. (I won’t be live blogging these results, but will post a recap tonight.)
Penny for Pinellas
The language on the ballot reads:
Shall the “Penny for Pinellas” one-cent (1¢) local infrastructure sales surtax be extended for an additional ten (10) years to finance county and municipal projects, including roads, bridges, parks, land and environmental preservation, drainage, public safety, hurricane sheltering, and other authorized capital improvement projects.
The Conventional Wisdom is that voters hate taxes. This perspective is often the basis for the success of more economically-conservative candidates. In general, I would agree. When Walter Mondale admitted he would raise taxes, he was swept away in a landside. When the first President Bush broke his “No New Taxes” pledge, he was ultimately defeated. Yet, there is a but.
And it’s a big “but.”
Voters will approve taxes that have tangible results they can see. In 1995, voters in Hillsborough Countyvoted against two sales tax increases (one for schools, one for law enforcement). A year later, the same voters passed the Community Investment Tax, in part because it paid for a stadium for the Buccaneers. Bot the Penny for Pinellas and the CIT pay for infrastructure projects, public safety, and various capital projects. The voters can see their tax dollars at work, which tends to be a good thing for most voters.
Now, some people – like Tom at the Bartlett Park blog – have pointed out some concerns with the Penny for Pinellas program. One criticism is that the funds can not be spent on social services to help the disadvantaged. That is simply not the intention of this sales tax – which is supposed to fund the debt service for fixed capital services. Another question arose around the $146 million surplus the County has amassed for potential future emergency needs (such as after a major hurricane passes through). [Sidebar: Aren't some people fickle? The same people who fault elected leaders for not spending all the money, will be the first to criticize the same leaders if an emergency happens and there is no money to help.] There was also a Clerk of the Circuit Court audit in 2004 that showed some problems with the program.
All of that being said, I still think the voters of Pinellas County will approve the extension of the program. The visitors to Pinellas’ beaches help pay a large portion of the tax, and the resdents are the primary beneficiaries. Without the tax, the county will have to delay or cancel proposed projects or fund them with ad valorem revenue – which is at risk from the Florida Legslature.
Okay, I don’t have my fingers on the pulse of the myriad cities in Pinellas County – so I can’t predict who will win these. The only real interesting races are to see if three mayors get re-elected: Seminole Mayor Jimmy Johnson (no, not me), Gulfport Mayor Mike Yakes, and Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverly Biliris. And the Voters in the city of Belleair Beach will decide if they want to keep their own police department or contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Check back later for elections results.