Tampa Bay Times Misrepresents Voter Opposition to Light Rail

The Tampa Bay Times published several articles during the past two weeks grossly misrepresenting voter opposition to raising taxes to fund light rail proposals.

In November of 2010, Hillsborough County voters resoundingly rejected a ballot proposal to increase the county sales tax by one percent to pay for light rail projects. The final vote was 58 percent against the tax increase and only 42 percent in favor.

Two weeks ago, however, the Times published an article claiming it had conducted a poll finding 56 percent of Hillsborough County residents support using public money for light rail, while only 35 percent of Hillsborough County residents oppose using public money for light rail. Nine percent of respondents, according to the Times, said they were unsure.

In a December 27 article on the poll results, the Times portrayed its poll as demonstrating a stark shift in voter sentiment since the 2010 elections.

In the December 27 article titled “Poll Shows Public Support for Publicly Financed Light Rail,” the Times claimed, “Just two years ago, Hillsborough County voters convincingly rejected a proposed sales tax hike to pay for a major investment in transit, including commuter light rail. But a new poll sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay suggests there is now support for using public money for light rail mass transit.”

In a January 2 article titled “Residents Ready for Rail Plan to Get Going,” the Times claimed, “The findings are the latest snapshot since Hillsborough’s failed transit referendum in 2010 that area residents want more and better choices for moving people and goods throughout the Tampa Bay area.”

A closer look at the wording of the Times’ poll, however, shows no shift in voter sentiment.

The Times, which is a longtime supporter of higher taxes and spending taxpayer dollars to fund light rail projects, asked poll participants whether they “support using tax money for light rail.” The wording of the poll, however, implied that tax money is already available for building light rail. To the contrary, the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) reports there is no tax money currently available for light rail projects and the only way to build light rail would be to raise taxes throughout the county.

Hillsborough County residents recently and resoundingly voted against a tax increase to fund light rail. The Hillsborough County MPO reports tax increases are the only way to fund a light rail project. Yet the Tampa Bay Times, which supports light rail projects, reports a significant change in voter sentiment based on its own poll in which it worded the question in a way that hid the tax increases necessary to fund light rail projects.

Hillsborough County resident Karen Jaroch, who led grassroots opposition to the 2010 proposed tax increase, told Media Tracker Florida there remains little public support for light rail, regardless of how the Times chooses to spin the issue.

“It is interesting that the Tampa Bay Times chose to ask specifically about light rail when there are other transportation options that are more effective, less costly and preferred by most,” said Jaroch. “The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is tasked with setting tax funding priorities, just completed an extensive study on the public’s transportation preferences and their polling of 800 residents found that 80 percent give a high priority to maintaining streets, roads and highways, while support for building a rail line ranked near the bottom of spending priorities with a mere 29 percent assigning it a high priority.”

“Even expanding local bus service fared much better than rail, with 53 percent rating this as a high priority,” Jaroch reported.

“Once folks learn that rail transit requires on average 80 percent operating subsidies in perpetuity, and that it does little if anything to reduce traffic congestion, public support drops even more dramatically,” Jaroch observed.

Jaroch noted that among those who support light rail, much of the rationale is liberal social engineering and a desire to take advantage of wasteful federal grant money.

“The push for rail is not about relieving congestion or getting people from point A to point B, but is rather about developing high-density communities that qualify for HUD affordable housing grants, EPA grants for supposedly improving air quality, Department of Transportation funds for mass transit, and Department of Energy grants for supposedly reducing dependence on oil,” said Jaroch.

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