It's been two weeks now since those working on the Hillsborough sales tax referendum to help fund the beginnings of a light rail system have had time to assess what went so wrong on November 2, when county voters overwhelmingly defeated the much hyped measure.
Calling for a tax increase, always a tall order in Hillsborough County, only got harder as the country and the region's economy continued to sputter throughout 2010. As USF Political Science Professor Susan McManus put it, the public was in a very bad mood this year, and the result was a very public spanking of the government by the electorate.
McManus began the 90-minute event at the Straz Center by declaring the 2010 vote "the most nationalized election we've ever had." Considering that Democratic county commission candidates were being compared to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, she was dead on in her assessment (just ask Alex Sink).
After reading some exit polling information that reflected the public's distaste with government, the USF professor then shared some information from a poll conducted by Survey USA for WFLA-Channel 8 a full month before the election that was prescient in assessing the fate of the transit tax. That poll showed just 41% in support, and 59% either not supporting the measure or just not certain about it at the time (the official election result was 58.11% against, 41.89% in support).
Following that analysis, Don Kuehl, president of the Phoenix Community Alliance in Arizona, spoke about how Maricopa County, which contains Phoenix, twice rejected a similar measure back in the 1980s (their measure called for a half-cent tax). Ultimately, an even smaller tax increase (0.4%) was passed in 2000 to begin construction of a light rail system.
One key factor that Kuehl said helped get the measure passed was the outreach to the community, something that Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe stressed after hearing Kuehl's presentation.
Sharpe was seated on a panel with Ronnie Duncan of TBARTA; Gary Sasso, chair of Moving Hillsborough Forward; HART board of directors chairman Ron Govin; and James Moore with the Urban Land Institute.