TAMPA — A new poll indicates a majority of Hillsborough County voters would support a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase for transportation improvements if a vote were held today.
The poll, conducted by the Tampa-based Mercury firm and financed by unidentified business interests, indicates the strongest support yet for the proposed tax. A total of 66 percent of those surveyed said they would either “definitely” or “probably” vote for the tax.
The results were good news for supporters of the tax referendum. For months, the county’s Go Hillsborough transportation initiative had been under attack by opponents who alleged cronyism played a part in the hiring of a transportation consultant. The investigation cleared all parties of wrongdoing.
“This validates what we have always known about the dire need for transportation solutions,” said county Commissioner Ken Hagan, a supporter of the referendum. “I’m very encouraged by the poll.”
Hagan said the survey was financed by a group of businessmen in different industries who did not want to be identified. Asked if the group would ever come out of the shadows, Hagan said that was a “distinct possibility.”
Mercury touts itself as a “high stakes public strategy firm.” The company’s CEO, Kieran Mahoney, said his firm has 14 offices, 12 in the United States and works mostly for Republican candidates
The Mercury poll came days after results of a similar survey were released by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s poll showed 49 percent in favor of the tax versus 46 percent against when the question was asked without any preliminary context.
Support for the sales tax rose in the Chamber poll to 54 percent when the respondents were first asked a set of questions about different proposals to reduce gridlock on county roads. The approval rate dropped to 47 percent, however, when respondents were read a list of arguments against the referendum made by anti-tax crusaders.
The Mercury poll used a sample of 800 likely voters, the largest number of people surveyed among three polls taken on the subject so far. Mercury’s margin of error, 3.5 percent, was lower than the chamber poll’s 5 percent margin. A poll financed by the county government in April 2015 had a 4 percent margin of error.
Mahoney said his company’s poll was superior in another respect: The key question asked, whether respondents would vote for the tax, used the actual ballot language drafted by the county attorney’s office.
“I think the ballot initiative that’s being considered and the language that it’s written in is going to be well-received,” Mahoney said. “All the numbers in the survey indicated that addressing transportation in a holistic fashion is what people in Hillsborough County want to see happen.”
The ballot language asks voters whether they favor “transportation system improvements throughout Hillsborough County, including Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, that:
♦ Address rush hour bottlenecks
♦ Improve roads, intersections and bridges
♦ Fix potholes and repair pavement
♦ Enhance express and neighborhood bus services
♦ Expand public transit options
♦ Make walking and biking safer
Hagan said that by design, the ballot question does not mention light rail — a mode of transportation that opponents focused on and that was highly unpopular among suburban voters.
“I think once the public sees the various transportation improvements that will be made as well as what communities will benefit from them, the public will be supportive,” Hagan said.
Today, county commissioners will vote on setting an April 27 public hearing on the referendum and the ballot language. The public hearing will be in the evening at a location other than the Frederick B. Karl County Center where the commission usually meets.