Thursday, July 16, 2015

GoHillsborough Tries to Deep 6 their Poll Details So What Else Are They Hiding?

Brouhaha was created last year in the media regarding Greenlight Pinellas polls. The media and others were quick to ask questions regarding the details behind those polls.  

Taxpayer funded GoHillsborough conducted polling too. However, they were refusing to release ANY of the poll details, including who conducted the poll. Any brouhaha created over that?

The state of Florida has Statute 119, our Sunshine Laws, which states:
119.01 General state policy on public records.(1) It is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person. Providing access to public records is a duty of each agency.
Polling, focus groups and market analysis activities were all done as part of the taxpayer funded million dollar GoHillsborough public outreach campaign. Hillsborough County paid for those activities conducted by the transportation consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff and their PR consultant Beth Leytham. According to Florida Statute 119, the public has a right to have access to or copies of those records associated with these activities.

Why did GoHillsborough and the County refuse to release poll details for 2.5 months after the information was originally requested April 26? Why did they wait until AFTER the recommendation was made by Parsons and County Administrator Mike Merrill at the June 11 PLG meeting for a new 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax increase June 11 PLG meeting to release the poll details?

My subsequent requests submitted directly to GoHillsborough and a formal public records request submitted to the county in May yielded nothing. I wanted this information PRIOR to the June 11 PLG meeting where Parsons and County Administrator Merrill would be presenting their funding recommendations. However, I was told by the county the poll details does not exist.

How could that be? I have copies of the invoices from Parsons Brinckerhoff and Beth Leytham for these activities that the county was paying for. Does the county normally pay for activities they have no information about? 

I finally received a copy of the poll detail information from the county on July 10th when PR consultant Beth Leytham finally ponied it up after Mike Deeson of WTSP Channel 10 also requested the information. Two and a half months laters I get the information I requested in April. There is nothing in FL Statute 119 stating that only certain privileged groups of people can make public records request. Citizen requests for information should be treated the same as any request made by the media.

Why isn't the poll details published transparently on the GoHillsborough website?

It is astonishing that Merrill did not provide the PLG members the poll details before the June 11 meeting. It is also astonishing no county commissioner questioned the details behind the poll or asked for the detailed information (since they obviously did not have it). 

Merrill and Parsons referenced the poll at the June 11 PLG meeting to support their recommendation for a new huge 30 year sales tax increase. However, they never even referenced who conducted the poll. Even the packet Parsons handed out to the PLG members with some of the poll results (no demographics) did not reference who conducted the poll. 

If the PLG and the county commissioner are being asked to make multi-billion dollar decisions, shouldn't they have been provided all this information? 

Since no one else is ensuring the public has the GoHillsborough poll information, I have posted the poll details I received here, here, here and here

First, who conducted the GoHillsborough Poll? Fredericks Polls out of Arlington, VA. Last year they conducted polls for Mayor Buckhorn and many other Democrats. They also conducted a post election poll on Greenlight Pinellas. We do not know who paid for that poll. 

It was Parsons Brinckerhoff's PR consultant, Beth Leytham, who was also Mayor Buckhorn's campaign PR consultant last year, who engaged Fredericks Polls to do the GoHillsborough poll.

Poll demographics:
600 likely voters with a margin of error of 4%

70% reached by landline, 30% reached by cell phone

Party affiliation: 43% Democrats, 34% Republicans, 23% Independents (assume NPA's, Other)

Reside: 27% city of Tampa, 73% rest of Hillsborough (we don't know how dispersed throughout the rest of Hillsborough)

Gender: 51% Men, 49% Women

Ages: 18-29 10%, 30-39 10%, 40-49 14%, 50-59 24%, 60-64 11%, 65+ 28%

African-American: 13.8%

Key Information from the poll
Most important issue
  • #1 - Traffic congestion at 34% (of course this was an effort focused on transportation)
  • #2 - Jobs & Economy at 19%
  • #3 - Education at 16%
  • #4 - Crime at 12%,
  • #5 - Too much growth/development at 11%
  • #6 - High taxes at 3%
Local taxes too high, just right or too low?
  • Much too high – 20%
  • Somewhat too high – 25%
  • Just right – 50%
  • Too low – 3%, rest did not answer
If 45% think taxes are too high and 50% think they are just right, then 95% of those polled do not want to pay higher taxes. Only 3% think taxes too low and want to pay more.

How did the poll reflect this data? Disingenuously. They reported 45% think taxes are too high and 53% think taxes are just right or too low and that was the result provided to the PLG on June 11. 

This should be a big red flag: the trust issue and the need to do a better job spending money we already have. Note: This information was NOT included in the packet Parsons provided to the PLG on June 11.

We cannot trust politicians to spend money on transportation problems as they promise – they will divert the money as they did the CIT:  69% agree with 42% strongly agree

County collects enough already – no need to raise taxes – do better job of spending money we already have:  69% agree

Support or Oppose new money for transportation:
½ cent sales tax increase: 53% support vs 45% oppose 
Gas tax increase: 80% oppose, 18% support 
Increase property tax $6 per month for every $100K of home value36% support, 61% oppose 
Note: we have a dedicated property tax millage for HART (our transit agency), Schools, the Port Authority, Libraries, the Children's Board, Stormwater, Environmental (ELAPP) but no dedicated millage for the largest and most utilized assets the county has – our roads. Roads historically were funded out of general property revenues until the last recession. Today no property taxes go to roads. However HART gets about $38 million of local property taxes, most of it from the county.
One-cent sales tax increase: 41% support, 57% oppose
Possible ballot question 
A possible Ballot Question to fund a comprehensive transportation and traffic congestion relief plan for all of Hillsborough County and its cities that would: fix and resurface roads; builds new roads; widen existing roads and streets; upgrade bus transit; improve bike and pedestrian safety'; and start planning for a light rail commuter line (had to include....why they want a 30 year tax...)

The only options that could be selected were:
Vote FOR ½ cent sales tax: 52%
Vote AGAINST sales tax increase and keep funding as is: 45%

What does "keep funding as is" mean? Does it mean no tax increase so prioritize the budget and fund transportation through existing revenues or does it mean literally leave our roads as is - unfunded?

Same question but vote FOR raise property tax: 37%

Vote against and keep funding as is: 60%

Same question but vote FOR one-cent sales tax: 43%

Vote AGAINST and keep funding as is: 55%

If developers pay more for transportation, more likely to vote for tax increase: 75% agree

Note:  Impact fees can be addressed separately by the commissioners themselves and are not dependent on passing a new sales tax.

The poll makes a statement that Hillsborough county has the 11th worse traffic in the country. They give no citation for where the statement comes from – not good nor professional. 

That statement is absolutely FALSE!  We previously looked up US traffic congestion information at and the Texas Transportation Institute, both do traffic congestion studies and research. The cities they state having the worst congestion in the US:  NYC, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Honolulu, DC, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Miami. In Florida, we know Ft. Lauderdale has worse traffic congestion than Hillsborough, Orlando may also. The average commute time in Hillsborough is right at the national average of less than 30 minutes.

If we don't increase our sales tax, it means cutting other services to keep roads and bus service from further deteriorating: 57% agree

Who fully understands where our current tax dollars are being spent today? Lots of tax dollars are being spent on much lower priority items such as soccer complexes, parks, cultural centers and community centers. Those are nice but nowhere near the priority of funding our roads and transportation. In addition, tens of millions of tax dollars are being spent on nebulous economic development projects, some of which is benefiting special interests and cronies.If the tax sunsets in 30 years, more likely to support: 20% more likely, 72% not change vote

They never ask about any other tax sunset except for 30 years – very disingenuous. They should have also asked about support for a 10 year tax that could be re-authorized if voters and taxpayers see value for where the money is spent. One would think a different sunset timeframe would be asked after we have already experienced the 30 year CIT tax blown out within 11 years.

After hearing all this information, support a tax increase for a comprehensive transportation plan: 52% support, 43% oppose

This poll data is quite schizophrenic and with a margin of error of 4%, there is a good chance there is NOT a majority of these likely voters who support a 30 year sales tax increase.

When the public becomes better educated on where our existing tax dollars are being spent and understand the county can start funding our roads and transportation NOW without any referendum, there may be even less desire for a new 30 year sales tax hike.

We hope the PLG members have looked at all the poll details. If they are making decisions about supporting a new 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax increase with this information, they better beware and prepare for a Plan B. Doing nothing is not an option.

GoHillsborough is a taxpayer funded initiative. Per Florida Statute 119 the public has a right to access and get copies of documents pertaining to the taxpayer funded activities they are conducting. GoHillsborough and the county should be complying immediately with requests for such information regardless of who requests the information. That should be a real brouhaha.

What else is GoHillsborough hiding?

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