CLEARWATER — Backers of the Greenlight Pinellas plan have raised almost $500,000 to win support for a referendum to expand bus routes and build a light rail link from Clearwater to St. Petersburg.
A campaign report filed Monday by political committee Friends of Greenlight shows the group raised $427,000 in April, dwarfing the $4,735 raised by opponents No Tax for Tracks in the same period.
The single largest donation to Friends of Greenlight was $245,000 from the National Association of Realtors. Both Raymond James Financial and Tampa-based Sykes Enterprises donated $50,000. The Tampa Bay Rays and BayCare Health System chipped in with $25,000 donations.
Another $20,000 came from TECO Energy.
Critics of Greenlight have painted the plan as a boondoggle to benefit Realtors and developers. Yes for Greenlight campaign manager Joe Ferrell said donations from hospitals, finance firms, IT companies, the Rays and utilities are evidence that the private sector sees developing mass transit as a priority. The plan also is backed by many Pinellas cities and civic groups including local chapters of the Sierra Club and the NAACP.
“People from across the spectrum care about this, not just developers,” Ferrell said. “I’m glad that we’re raising good money and that people recognize the importance of Greenlight Pinellas.”
The political committee has not set a fundraising goal but anticipates it will need more than $1 million for its campaign.
Approval of the Greenlight plan by Pinellas voters would kick-start a $2.2 billion, 10-year project to expand bus service by 65 percent, add bus-rapid transit to key corridors and build a 24-mile light-rail network linking the downtowns of Clearwater and St. Petersburg via the Gateway area.
The plan would be paid for through a one-penny sales tax increase. Annual collections of the extra penny would bring in roughly $130 million per year and would replace a property tax that currently brings about $30 million per year to Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
No Tax for Tracks’ report shows its donations total just over $30,000. Group leaders say the sales tax hike will harm the county’s economy, hit the county’s poorest residents in the pocket and create an expensive under used transportation network.
The county-wide referendum is on Nov. 4.