Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Light-rail opponents: Metro misusing taxes

By James Pilcher jpilcher@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The main opposition group to the proposed $2.6 billion light rail system Monday accused Metro of using tax dollars to help persuade voters to say “yes” to a half-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 5 ballot.

        Members of both the Alternatives to Light Rail Transit group and the anti-tax group Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxation (COAST) asked Metro, the agency that runs Hamilton County's bus service and which put the issue on the ballot, for several records regarding the light rail position.

        “We know (Metro general manager and chief executive officer Paul) Jablonski is raising money and support for this goofy tax using the public's dollars,” said Chris Finney, who requested the letter under the Ohio Open Records Act. He made the request on behalf of State Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Hyde Park, and Hyde Park engineer Mark Miller, an active member of COAST.

        Mr. Jablonski denied using public money specifically to sway voters on Issue 7, saying that any action to do with light rail was examined by a lawyer to ensure it did not put Metro in a position of advocating specifically for a new tax.

        “We are the area's main public transit agency, and we have an obligation to promote it to the community and educate people about it,” Mr. Jablonski said.

        Mr. Finney and Stephan Louis, the leader of the main anti-rail group, specifically object to polls of area residents in both the summer of 2001 and in July, 2002.

        Metro spent $27,500 on the most recent poll, which found that 57 percent of respondents would favor the half-cent tax increase. The poll of 500 Hamilton County registered voters, conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based firm Shroth & Assoc. between July 11-17, found also that 37 percent were opposed and 6 percent were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

        Mr. Jablonski said that the poll was not a misuse of public money, and instead said that the agency owed it to the county to see whether a tax would pass before putting it on the ballot. He also said their lawyer was involved in crafting the poll.

        Mr. Finney said COAST had obtained a more recent poll that shows a lack of support for the tax. That poll was conducted Sept. 9-10 by the Virginia firm Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of a local political candidate whom Mr. Finney would not disclose.

        That poll included 350 likely Hamilton County voters, and said that 56 percent responded they would not be for the tax (with 46 percent saying definitely no), with 36 percent in favor and 7 percent undecided.

        Opponents also say that the current light-rail display outside the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal has crossed the line, although Metro officials say they spent no more than $4,000 on the model of a light rail vehicle.

        Bombardier Transportation of Montreal paid to ship the display, which is owned by Minneapolis Metro Transit - the Minneapolis/St. Paul agency in the midst of building its own light rail system.

        “It is not only manifestly unfair in the public debate over this massive tax increase, but it is illegal for (Metro) to spend tax dollars for the purpose of raising our taxes even higher,” said Mr. Louis.


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