Pinellas voters oppose light rail … when told sales tax would become “highest in Florida”

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A majority of Pinellas County voters do not want to pay more taxes for a commuter train from St. Petersburg and Clearwater, according to polling conducted by StPetePolls.org.

Forty-five percent say they do not support a sales tax for light rail, while 38 percent favor the idea. A little over 16 percent are not sure.

The poll was commissioned by SunBeamTimes.com, the website from former St. Petersburg City Council candidate Dr. David McKalip. 

If the county did create a light rail line, only 18 percent of voters say they would ride it on a regular basis. Nearly three-quarters — 74 percent — would not take a train with any consistency. In that case, those not sure drops to 9 percent.

County residents will cast ballots November 4 on a Greenlight Pinellas referendum to improve bus service and develop light rail. If approved, the initiative will change transportation funding in Pinellas County from an ad valorem property tax to a one-cent sales tax effective January 1, 2016.

When asked if respondents were aware of the change in the sales tax would be “from 7 cents to 8 cents, creating the highest sales tax in Florida,” then support dipped slightly to 37 percent. The number of respondents opposing the idea shot up to 56.3 percent once they heard the phrase. In that case, only 6.3 percent remained undecided.

For nearly 1100 people responding yes or not sure to the first question, over 55 percent would continue to support the measure after learning increased sales taxes would be “highest in Florida.” Thirty percent then say they would not support the tax, with 6.2 percent unsure.

Factoring in people who changed opinion after hearing about the 14 percent increase in sales tax, more than 6 in 10 (60.9 percent) now oppose the measure; 30.1 percent still support it and 9 percent remain undecided.  

Supporters of Greenlight Pinellas believe that a sales tax will put as much as one-third of the tax burden on visitors to the county, many of them will use the improved transit system. The existing transit property tax will then cease to be collected on October 1, 2015.

The penny tax is limited to the first $5,000 in sales and will not be collected on groceries and medical products.

StPetePolls selected respondents at random from active registered voter records in Pinellas County. Only those casting ballots in both 2012 and 2010 were included. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 2.1 points.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.