Justice bill to curb Local govt. political clout

04/02/07 Mitch E Perry
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Despite some high profile opposition, Pinellas County voters last month voted to reauthorize the Penny for Pinellas one cent sales tax, first enacted nearly 20 years ago.

More than 57 percent of voters came out to support the tax.  Critics included Bishop Robert Lynch, the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, who said the Penny spending plan had shortchanged the needy.

But there were other critics who were resentful that the County had allocated up to as much as $200,000 of taxpayer funds to campaign for the issue. 

Also, the City of St. Pete Beach spent money on magnetic signs affixed to emergency vehicles urging voters to reject several county charter amendments.

Now local State Senator Charlie Justice wants to do something about that.

The Democrat, who represents both Hillsborough and Pinellas County in Tallahassee, has introduced legislation that would prohibit the use of public money to support or oppose issues, referendums or amendments on the ballot (roll tape#1 o.q.” for political campaigns”)

Earlier this month, some lawmakers argued that Justice bill was too restrictive, so he altered it.  He claims the thrust of it is to address spending public money for ads, NOT to penalize a lawmaker for discussing orally or in print his or her own personal opinions.

Justice says he’s all for public officials advocating for local ordinances – but they shouldn’t be doing it on the public dime (roll tape#2 o.q.”I just think it’s wrong”)

In fact, 10 cities inside Volusia County last year spent a combined total of more than $200,000 to oppose 7 county charter amendments.  “Vote No” messages were put in  water bills and newsletters attached to employees paychecks.

The City Manager for South Daytona, which spent around $16,000 to argue against the Volusia County amendments, says he thinks Justice’s bill is a way to shut up cities and counties, as they are prepared to strongly oppose property tax proposals in Tallahassee which could seriously wound their local budgets.  

Joe Yarbrough says it’s just about semantics (roll tape#3 o.q.”political action committee”)

And Yarborough doesn’t like the timing (roll tape4 o.q.”Constitutional Amendment”)

But Hillsborough –Pinellas State Senator Charlie Justice says that’s absurd (roll tape# o.q.” he doesn’t know what he’s talking about”)

The Senate Bill sponsored by Charlie Justice does allow for spending public money on ‘factual information’.

 The penalty for violating the law would be a fine of up to $1,000 per count.

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