(UPDATE)A new poll published on Monday finds large opposition to raising the sales tax in Pinellas to improve the county's transportation system, but critics say the questions asked prevented an accurate measurement of public sentiment.
Former St. Pete City Council candidate and neurosurgeon Dr. David McKalip hired St. Pete Polls to conduct the survey of what people think about "Greenlight Pinellas," a measure that will go before Pinellas voters in November. He is a member of the No Tax for Tracks committee, which is opposed to Greenlight Pinellas.
Over 60 percent of those surveyed rejected the proposal after they learned that it would increase the sales tax by a penny. Just 30 percent supported the initiative.
However, it should be stressed that there's more to Greenlight Pinellas than just the building of a light-rail system — the measure would also provide for a 65-percent increase in overall bus service in the country, including bus rapid transit lanes (BRT), increased frequency and extended hours, and a swap whereby county residents would no longer be funding PSTA (Pinellas County Transit Authority) by property taxes, but instead through a one-cent increase in the sales taxes. None of that was detailed in the questions asked by McKalip.
St. Pete Polls founder Matt Florell confirmed to CL that his organization did conduct the poll. However, he adds that McKalip wrote the questions for the poll, which only made a quick mention of "Greenlight Pinellas" at the very start of the survey. The poll had a final sample size of 2114 respondents. Only voters that had voted in the 2010 and 2012 elections were included in the survey.
When contacted on Tuesday morning, McKalip took issue with the inference that the poll was unfair.
"The advocates, when they ask questions, they never say the train is only from St. Petersburg to Clearwater, that's misleading. They talk about using public funds in the polls, but they don't talk about a sales tax hike. They talk about using a one penny increase in the hike when it's really $130 million. The entire modus operandi of Greenlight Pinellas is to deceive the voters. That's the only way that they can come close to winning."
One statistic that No Tax for Tracks will focus on is the awareness (or lack thereof) of the public that Greenlight Pinellas involves raising the sales tax. A majority 56.3 percent of respondents said they did not know about the tax increase, while 37 percent said they did. Six percent were uncertain. (Again, it should be noted that the poll made no mention of the reduction in property taxes.)
McKalip says his poll is in fact the only one that alerts county voters that the sales tax hike will make Pinellas have the highest sales tax rate in the state.
A Tampa Bay Times poll conducted toward the end of last year showed 56 percent of Pinellas residents supporting the measure, with 36 percent opposing.
Pinellas County Commissioner and PSTA Chair Ken Welch, a strong supporter of Greenlight Pinellas, dismissed the results, telling CL, "Our task is to make sure that the voters have the complete set of information, including the elimination of the property tax and bus service expansion."