by Lincoln Institute | May 08, 1998

Give Thumbs Down to Tax Dollars for Stadium Construction

     Pittsburgh, PA — A slight plurality of Allegheny County voters surveyed by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research say they plan to vote for adoption of a Home Rule Charter to change the structure of Allegheny County government. The same survey found voters opposed to using existing tax dollars to finance new stadium construction by a two-to-one margin.

     Eighty-eight percent of the voters surveyed by the Lincoln Institute survey said they were aware of the Home Rule Charter question which will appear on the May 19th Primary Election ballot. Thirty-four percent of the voters said they will vote in favor of the Home Rule Charter, while 30% indicated opposition to the plan. A third of the electorate, 33%, remained undecided heading into the final days before the Primary Election.

     “This vote is different than the Regional Renaissance Initiative referendum of last November in that a large number of voters have yet to decide how they will cast their ballot,” said Lowman S. Henry, Chairman of the Lincoln Institute. “With the Regional Renaissance Initiative, our survey last October found sentiment running three-to-one against the issue three weeks prior to the election. That issue was decided long before voters went to the polls, the fate of the Home Rule Charter vote, however, remains up in the air.”

     Public opinion on one of the Home Rule Charter’s main provisions, abolition of the three-member county commissioner system and replacement of that panel with a single county executive and 15-member part-time county council, was split. Forty-seven percent favor the county executive system, while 40% said they support retention of the current county commissioner system. Another 20% were undecided.

     By a three-to-one margin voters support provisions in the Home Rule Charter giving them the right to force County Council to consider issues via voter initiative. Seventy-one percent said they favor the initiative provisions of the Home Rule Charter, while 23% said they were opposed. Eighteen percent were undecided.

     On the issue of using tax dollars to finance construction of new stadiums for the Steelers and the Pirates, the voters surveyed by the Lincoln Institute remain as solidly in opposition as they did when they went to the polls last November and voted down the Regional Renaissance Initiative. Seventy-seven percent said sports stadiums should be financed privately, while 10% supported the use of public tax dollars to finance such construction. When asked specifically whether the favor or oppose the use of current tax revenue to pay for construction of stadiums, 68% said they oppose the use of current tax dollars for such purposes, while 27% said currently levied tax dollars should be used for new stadium construction.

     “Proponents of ‘Plan B’ have been arguing that voters last November rejected the Regional Renaissance Initiative because they didn’t want to pay new sales taxes to help finance stadium construction, but that voters would support taking funds from currently existing tax sources to pay for new stadiums,” Henry explained. “This survey shows that view to be a misreading of last November’s vote. By more than a two-to-one margin voters oppose using existing tax revenue to build stadiums, and by a seven-to-one margin say they want such facilities paid for with private dollars.”

     “In fact, voters do not approve of the currently-existing Regional Assets District (RAD) tax,” Henry continued. “Sixty-two percent of the voters polled said the RAD tax should be abolished, 27% think the tax should be retained. That feeling is particularly strong in the Allegheny County municipalities outside of Pittsburgh where 65% of the voters feel the RAD tax should be repealed.”

     Voters did, however, voice support for using existing hotel tax revenues to help finance expansion of the David Lawrence Convention Center. Sixty-eight percent said they felt hotel tax revenues should be used to help expand the convention center, 24% opposed using hotel taxes for that purpose.

Other results of the poll:

* Thirty-seven percent of the voters blamed government policies for southwestern Pennsylvania’s slow economic growth rate; 14% blamed corporations; 13% blamed union practices; and 24% blamed all of the above.

* Thirty percent of the poll respondents said someone in their family has been forced to relocate from southwestern Pennsylvania to find employment, 69% indicated no family member has been forced to move to find a job.

* When asked if they thought the region’s high tax reputation was hurting job creation and economic growth, 77% of the voters said yes; 20% said no.

* Forty-eight percent said the region’s pro-union reputation is hurting job creation and economic growth, 41% said it isn’t.

* Sixty-six percent said they felt labor unions should be forbidden from deducting money from union workers’ pay without their permission to use for political purposed; 29% opposed “paycheck protection” measures.

* Asked if they favor the outsourcing of government services to private companies if that would save tax dollars, 64% said yes; 24% said no.

* Allegheny County voters like their county elected row offices. Fifty-two percent said county row offices should not be abolished and replaced by appointed administrators; 28% said they should be abolished.

* Forty-one percent said county row offices should not be combined; 36% said they should be combined; 22% offered no opinion.

* U.S. Senator Arlen Specter was given a 62% positive job performance rating by the Allegheny County voters polled; 27% had a negative view of the Senator’s job performance rating; 10% offered no opinion.

* Fifty-five percent of voters gave U.S. Senator Rick Santorum a positive job performance rating; 35% said the Senator was not doing a good job; 9% were undecided.

* Governor Tom Ridge received a 51% positive job performance rating in the poll; 37% held a negative view of the Governor’s job performance; 12% voiced no opinion.

* All three Allegheny County Commissioners had job approval ratings under 50%. Commissioner Mike Dawida earned a 42% positive – 36% negative rating; Commissioner Larry Dunn received a 36% positive – 43% negative rating; and Commission Bob Cramner had the lowest rating at 28% positive – 48% negative.

The Lincoln Institute’s survey of 327 registered Allegheny County voters was conducted by Precision Marketing, Inc. of Easton, Pennsylvania April 26, 1998 through April 29, 1998. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three percent.

The Lincoln Institute is a Harrisburg-based non-profit, educational foundation established to conduct public opinion research on key economic and business climate issues in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.