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Judge throws out lawsuit over Pinellas transit education campaign


Published:   |   Updated: June 24, 2013 at 06:02 PM

CLEARWATER - A judge has dismissed a lawsuit claiming the Pinellas Suncoast Transportation Authority violated state law by paying for an educational campaign for the referendum on expanding the county's transit network.

Pinellas activist Thomas Rask sued PSTA in February seeking an injunction on work done by Tucker/Hall, which has launched the Greenlight Pinellas campaign to educate voters ahead of a November 2014 referendum, when voters will be asked to approve a penny sales tax hike to pay for expanded transit network, including light rail. PSTA is paying the Tampa public relations firm $300,000 to run the campaign.

Rask's lawsuit claimed that bid documents produced by PSTA made it clear the agency expected the education campaign to lead to approval of the transit referendum. His lawsuit included quotes from the documents requiring bidders to provide strategies that will lead to a "successful" referendum.

Under state law, taxpayer dollars cannot be used to influence voters to approve or reject a referendum issue. However, the law does permit spending on educational campaigns intended to give voters a better idea of an issue before they vote.

Pinellas Circuit Judge Anthony Rondolino agreed with attorneys for PSTA who argued that Rask has no legal standing because he was not directly affected and did not challenge the spending on constitutional grounds.

"It has long been the rule in Florida that, in absence of a constitutional challenge, a taxpayer may bring suit only upon a showing of 'special injury,' which is distinct from that suffered by other taxpayers," Rondolino wrote.

Monday, Rask said he did not plan on appealing Rondolino's ruling.

"I believe Judge Rondolino has ruled in accordance with Florida law," he said. "I will consider what relief may be found under federal law."

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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