Earlier this year I published a blog post about the apparent misuse of Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-provided counterterrorism funds by the Pinellas County, Fla., Suncoast Transit Authority — PSTA — which used those funds to pay a consultant to produce a series of ads whose sole purpose seems to be to promote use of their transit system.
It seems that my blog has begun to circulate among certain circles in Pinellas, because I and the Center itself have begun receiving e-mails and telephone calls from concerned readers. They have pointed specifically to the portion near the end of the ads, when the smoothly modulated voice of the narrator says, "To learn more, go to GreenlightPinellas.com or go to PSTA.net."
Well, it turns out that "Greenlight Pinellas" is a ballot initiative being proposed by PSTA and county leaders, which is to be presented to the voters of Pinellas County this November. According to the Tampa Bay Times, if approved, the initiative would authorize a raise in county sales taxes in return for an offset in certain other areas such as property taxes: "It includes safeguards designed to ensure the one-cent tax money will only be used to expand bus service and build a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The entire project, including the bus and rail components, is expected to cost $2.2 billion to build and $130 million annually to operate."
I take no position whatever on the merits of the initiative. What is clear to me, however, is how completely inappropriate, perhaps bordering on the criminal, it is to use federal counterterrorism grant monies to attempt to sway voters on a county tax initiative, however discreetly it is done. I cannot imagine what PSTA officials can have been thinking if they believe that such a use of funds is anywhere within the bounds of acceptable or proper. Has anybody over there at PSTA got a moral compass?
I would suggest to the concerned readers who responded to my initial blog that they consider contacting the DHS Inspector General but, well, in the past few years that office has shown itself to be every bit as ethically challenged as PSTA, so I wouldn't want those readers to waste their breath or their time.