Wake County voters are not likely to be asked in November to consider a sales tax increase to pay for new bus and rail transit investment, political and business leaders said Tuesday after a new poll found public support tepid and waning.
Only 50.2 percent of Wake voters responding to the survey said they favored the proposed half-cent sales tax increase for transit improvements, according to findings released Tuesday by the Regional Transportation Alliance, a Triangle business advocacy group.
The poll findings were announced one day after the Raleigh City Council passed a resounding pro-transit resolution, voting 7-1 to endorse the proposed countywide transit sales tax. But some transit advocates said they would be hesitant to push for a sales tax referendum this year when they could not be confident of success.
Given the level of support and likely active opposition, at this point its hard to imagine a scenario where it would wind up on the November ballot, said Harvey A. Schmitt, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.
Sentiment for the transit tax has hovered between 50 and 55 percent when Wake voters were surveyed annually since 2009.
Orange County support was higher: 59.6 percent said they would vote for the transit tax. Durham County was not included in the survey. Its voters approved a half-cent transit tax in a referendum last fall by a 60 percent majority.
Wake commissioners have been divided over whether to approve the county transit plan for more buses, new rush-hour commuter trains and light-rail trains. Board members are expected in June to decide whether to call a vote this year or ask for further study.
Commissioner Joe Bryan, a Knightdale Republican and possible swing vote on the issue, said he would not push for a referendum this year while public support remains weak.
In my opinion, its just not yet time for that vote, Bryan said Tuesday. You dont move forward on a major issue like transit that could set our county back six or seven years if its not successful, when youre going in with a 50 percent plurality.
Big decisions probably need to be made with a little more buy-in from our public. I still support it at the right point in the future, but I think these poll results pretty well confirm that our county is split, Bryan said.
The Raleigh City Council voted 7-1 Monday to endorse the transit tax. With council member John Odom dissenting, the council approved a resolution asking Wake commissioners to schedule the sales transit tax referendum in November so that the voters can approve much needed transit improvements. Morrisvilles town board passed a similar resolution in April.
Transit advocate Karen Rindge of Raleigh wasnt ready to give up hope for a sales tax referendum this fall. She said voters dont know much yet about the details of Wake County bus and rail plans, and she predicted that support will grow as they learn more.
I think the county commissioners should strongly consider holding a referendum, said Rindge, who heads Capital Area Friends of Transit, an advocacy group. Especially since Durham has already voted, and Im pretty confident Orange County is going to do it this year. We hate to see Wake County left behind.
But Paul Coble of Raleigh, a transit critic who chairs the Wake commissioners, said voters would reject local bus and rail plans when they learned more of the details.
I just cant see us going anywhere with it now, Coble said. My guess is once taxpayers see the inefficiency of whats proposed, the support would become even less. I have yet to see a plan that is demonstrated to be economically feasible.
Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/