Florida transit authority on hot seat for using taxes to campaign for tax increase

Critics say the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has been using hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to persuade area residents to vote higher taxes on themselves — a possible violation of state law.

The transit authority has been engaged in a public education campaign called Greenlight Pinellas, in advance of a November ballot referendum that will ask voters to approve a sales tax increase.

Several previous reports have raised questions about PSTA ridership claims and the reliability of the project’s cost estimates and proposed economic benefits.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, called for an investigation.

In a Tuesday letter directed to Ananth Prasad, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, Brandes wrote, “Specifically, I ask that the Inspector General review the expenditure by the PSTA of approximately $800,000 for promotions of this (Greenlight Pinellas) campaign to determine if the expenditure constitutes a violation of state law.”

As a government entity, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is barred from using taxpayer money to engage in political advocacy leading up to a referendum vote. If the authority is found in violation of state law, Brandes told in a phone interview he wants the money refunded immediately, along with a public apology.

Bob Lasher, PSTA’s external affairs officer, said the transit authority hasn’t committed any wrongdoing.

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