Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is asking the Florida Department of Transportation's inspector general to investigate how Pinellas County's mass transit agency is spending money on its Greenlight Pinellas program.
In a letter he sent Tuesday to DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, Brandes is asking the agency to review how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is spending about $800,000 on an information campaign on a Nov. 4 referendum asking voters to support a sales tax increase of 7 percent to 8 percent to pay for new routes and a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
The campaign uses taxpayer money for propaganda purposes, a violation of state law that should require the money to be returned, Brandes said.
"It’s extremely concerning that taxpayer dollars could be spent for what I believe is to advocate for a tax increase," said Brandes, who chairs the senate's transportation committee. "I think PSTA may have crossed over a line. I want an investigation to see if that is the case or not."
Brandes has long been critical of light rail. He said he doesn't think it's appropriate for the Tampa Bay area.
But he said his issue with PSTA's campaign has nothing to do with his views, personal and policy, on light rail.
Instead, he says it's his concerns that taxpayer money was missued that made him seek the investigation. He said the intent of the investigation is simply to find out one question.
"Are scare taxpayer resources being used under the guise of education but are really used for advocacy," he said.