UNF poll finds overwhelming support half-cent sales tax for schools

Poll indicates majority would prefer waiting until 2020 to vote

By Nick Jones - Digital producer, Joy Purdy - 5:30, 6:30 & 11 p.m. anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A poll conducted by the University of North Florida of registered voters in Duval County found overwhelming support for a half-cent sales tax to help aging public schools, however, most would prefer to wait until the 2020 general election to hold the vote.

According to the poll, nearly 75% of registered voters in Duval County support increasing the sales tax by a half-cent to upgrade or replace aging schools. While the strongest support came from registered Democrats (86% support), strong support for a referendum is shown across the political spectrum.

Do you support or oppose a half-cent sales tax increase, if those funds specifically go to upgrade or replace aging schools?

In May, the Duval County School Board approved a resolution seeking a special election in November, which would put the decision on the half-cent sales tax increase in the hands of the voters. The UNF poll found 34% preferred having the issue go to a special election in 2019, while 49% were in favor of voting on the measure in November 2020. In addition, 17% did not support a referendum at any time.

“No matter how you slice it, Duval voters are very supportive of the half-cent sales tax increase,” said Dr. Michael Binder, director of the UNF Public Research Lab. “Registered voters, general election voters, off-cycle election voters, Democrats and Republicans, all are in favor of getting the schools the revenue they need to upgrade their facilities.”

School Board Chairwoman Lori Hershey said she hopes to see some action taken soon, and that further repair costs could cost taxpayers $6 million.

"Perhaps the incoming City Council will be more supportive because they have been able to see the community response and hopefully the community response will inspire them to not continue to defer it but to give it a date and allow the voters to decide," Hershey said.

The City Council Finance Committee voted to delay a public vote on the issue until 2020. Hershey said the cost to repair dire fixes outweighs the cost of a special election.

WATCH: Lori Hershey hopes action is soon taken on crumbling schools

For the fifth year in a row, the majority of voters who took the poll (45%) agreed crime is the most important issue in Jacksonville. Education followed at 16% and downtown redevelopment was third at 13%.

City Councilman Garrett Dennis introduced a bill in May that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Jacksonville. An overwhelming majority of those polled (84%) support legislation that would make having less than 20 grams of marijuana a civil infraction punishable by fine rather than a criminal charge.

LINK: Full study by UNF Public Opinion Research Lab

The poll also found the majority of registered voters, 72%, opposed selling all or parts of JEA. Mayor Lenny Curry's job approval was at 46% with 37% disapproving. When asked about Sheriff Mike Williams, 45% of voters strongly or somewhat approve of how he's doing his job.

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