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Proceeds of Penny aid many

A Times Editorial
Published March 11, 2007


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Both Gov. Charlie Crist and Bishop Robert Lynch, spiritual leader of the 112,000-member Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, have made it clear they intend to vote against extending Pinellas County's "Penny for Pinellas" sales tax. Crist, whose legal residence is St. Petersburg, said local governments are spending too much money. Lynch wants the county to spend more on human services. At least the bishop's heart is in the right place, even if we think his approach could prove counterproductive.

Lynch acknowledges that the 1 percent sales tax "has done many good things." But just days before the vote on whether to extend the levy another 10 years, Lynch opened a public campaign against it because he believes more dollars should go toward social services.

The bishop seems sure that if the Penny extension fails Tuesday, he can get local governments to budget a bigger cut for the needy, then put the Penny back on the ballot and voters will approve it. That is not likely to happen.

The Penny for Pinellas is an infrastructure tax that by law provides funding only for capital projects such as roads, bridges, libraries, drainage, land purchases and parks. It can't be used to feed the hungry or clothe the poor.

Pinellas voters approved the Penny in 1989 because they understood the need for money for increasingly expensive capital projects. They also endorsed the tax because it is paid by everyone who spends money in the county.

While some projects paid for by the Penny tax have been "wants," such as the Pinellas Trail, others have been needs. Bridges must be repaired, roads improved and public buildings eventually replaced.

Take away the Penny, and local governments will have to use a greater percentage of their property tax collections on capital projects, leaving even less money for recreation programs, cultural activities, human services and the like. The squeeze will get worse if the state Legislature follows through with a mandatory property tax rollback.

For 17 years, the Penny for Pinellas has provided infrastructure improvements that benefited residents of all incomes and lifestyles. And it will again, if voters extend it.

Among the approved city and county projects waiting for the new Penny are expansion of the dangerously overcrowded Pinellas County Jail; $30-million to buy land for affordable housing; new public hurricane shelters; purchase and preservation of environmentally sensitive land; the 118th Avenue Expressway; new senior centers; drainage projects to reduce flooding; new fire stations; and street reconstruction throughout the county. For more approved projects, check out www.pinellascounty.org/Penny.

Pinellas County has steadily increased its budget for human services, but the cities and the county need to do more. That won't be accomplished, however, by killing the Penny, which contributes in a different way to a better quality of life for all. We strongly urge residents to vote "yes" on Tuesday.

[Last modified March 11, 2007, 01:17:24]


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