Penny for Pinellas tax promotion has some mystery costs that You Paid For

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Pinellas County voters are getting a lot of help deciding November 7  whether to extend the optional one cent sales tax—commonly known as the Penny for Pinellas—for another decade.

Pinellas County and the 24 cities that reside there have launched a vigorous “educational” campaign You Paid For to get the word out.

“We just want to make sure the public is aware of what the penny is, what the penny does, what the penny has done and what the penny will do,” said Pinellas County spokesman Kevin Baxter.

To that end, the county has published nearly 40,000 fliers, posters, cards and banners with information about the proposal to extend the one cent local option tax for another decade starting in 2020.

County staffers say the total cost of that “educational“ literature is about $5,435, but it doesn’t include what 24 cities are spending, nor does it include the cost of “Penny for Pinellas” signs that are sprouting up on every county project that past penny taxes helped pay for.

Pinellas insists the cumulative cost of those Penny for Pinellas signs is impossible to calculate, because it is embedded in the public works budget or the cost of those individual projects.

“Those signs are produced in house through public works and parks department to show some accountability,” Baxter said.

At least one Penny for Pinellas tax critic isn’t buying that reason.

”I find that disingenuous,” said retired journalist Norm Lupo. “I don’t find that acceptable.”

Lupo doesn’t like the burden of another decade paying the seventh penny tax on his sales purchases.

“Enough is enough. A lot of people are on pensions like myself,” Lupo said.

Lupo considers the unknown cost of the “educational” campaign his taxes are already paying for prior to the Nov. 7 election as rubbing salt in the wounds of his tax dismay.

“I think we have a right to know. A lot of people would like to know,” Lupo said.

In one sense, Pinellas is walking a fine line with its “educational” campaign. None of the literature tells voters to vote “yes,” but nor does it point out the downside of extending the sales tax from 2020-2030.

Under state law, Pinellas can not wage a political campaign for its passage, but can educate voters about the tax.

The fliers we’ve seen don’t mention the $2 billion cost to consumers, which we figure works out to roughly $1,400-1,600 for every man, woman and child in Pinellas, after factoring in estimated population growth and the 30 percent paid by tourists.

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