Midtown Raleigh News

Wake group says its poll finds pro-transit voter sentiment

Unhappy about the lukewarm support for Wake County transit improvements found in a business group’s recent poll, a pro-transit citizens group reported Thursday that its own poll found warmer feelings among county voters.

The different answers stemmed from different questions.

WakeUp Wake County, a civic group that favors planned growth, said its poll of 644 Wake voters found that 66 percent support a county plan to double bus service and launch rush-hour commuter trains. And 60 percent of voters polled said they would vote for a proposed half-cent sales tax to help pay for these bus and rail improvements.

That’s more support for the transit plan than the Regional Transportation Alliance, a business group that also favors the transit plan, reported two weeks ago. The alliance polled 501 Wake voters and reported that only 50.2 percent favored a half-cent transit sales tax.

Respondents to the alliance’s poll were asked simply whether they would vote for a sales tax “to pay for new or expanded public transportation.” The questions did not provide details of the proposed bus and rail improvements.

WakeUp Wake County repeated the alliance question about “new or expanded” service word-for-word, and got nearly the same result: 49 percent support.

Next, the WakeUp Wake County poll added a question that described proposed bus and rail improvements in some detail. When respondents then were asked, “Would you support this new transit system?”, 66 percent said yes.

Karen Rindge, executive director of WakeUp Wake County, said it was appropriate to tell poll respondents what they would get for their money if they supported a sales tax increase.

Referring to the Regional Transportation Alliance poll, Rindge said, “They didn’t tell anybody what they would be paying for. Their question was simply, ‘Would you pay the half-cent sales tax to improve transit?’ ”

Wake County commissioners are expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to call a referendum on a transit sales tax in November, and Rindge’s group hopes they will vote yes. Commissioner Joe Bryan, considered a swing vote on the question, was summoned to a meeting Wednesday with Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and her predecessor, Charles Meeker, who showed him the new poll results and discussed their support for the transit proposal.

Bryan said the new poll, and the mayors’ arm-twisting, did not alter his conclusion that 2012 is not the year for a vote on the transit sales tax. He cited the weak poll numbers, the chilly economy, and pressing county needs for new spending on education and other priorities.

He said he still hopes to call a referendum on the transit sales tax eventually, but not this year.

“Clearly it’s a 50-50 question, and I think we need more discussion to (develop) the best (transit) plan,” Bryan said. “And the timing needs to be right, in terms of the economy and getting these other needs met.”