Miami-Dade County

Herald Poll: On pot, plebiscite and power lines, politicians out of sync with Miami-Dade voters

Whether it’s a public vote for a Miami Dade College tax, pot for medical purposes or the controversy over new power lines, county voters are at odds with state politicians, a new Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald poll shows.

The most popular issue in the poll, conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International: whether voters should decide the fate of MDC’s push for a half-penny sales-tax increase over five years for renovation and expansion.

Nearly nine in 10 voters — 88 percent — said they should have the right to decide it, a level of support that cuts across every demographic line: race, ethnicity, party and age.

But don’t expect a vote any time soon.

Four state House members banded together in the last lawmaking session to prevent a vote, saying MDC is poor-mouthing to get taxpayers to fork over $1 billion for projects it can already pay for — accusations the college denies.

Rep. Jose Oliva, a Hialeah Republican who’s slated to lead the House in its 2019 session, said he’s not changing his mind.

“Once this gets let loose to referendum, they will raise all sorts of money. They will hire consultants. There will be radio, TV and phone-banking just like a campaign,” said Oliva.

“There is no one but us to advocate on behalf of the taxpayer,” he said. “And the problem I have with that is I would be derelict in my duties because one reason people elected me was so that I’m not taxing them if they do not need to be taxed. In this case, that is what I’m doing.”

Miami Dade College’s provost, Rolando Montoya, said in a written statement that the institution doesn’t have lots of money lying around, that it has been frugal with the money it has and that what appeared to be a large amount of money for various projects — $508 million — was restricted.

Montoya took a measure of comfort from the poll.

“The voters are the heartbeat of the democratic process,” he said. “That the future of MDC is viewed as important to the members of our community will always be greatly appreciated by all of us at the College.”

Another lawmaker, Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, an accountant, said the college is important, but it needs to live within its means. He said his analysis of MDC financial reports shows the college could fix the leaky roofs and broken elevators that have been the face of its push for a tax-raising referendum. His fellow House Republicans, Frank Artiles and Carlos Trujillo, raised similar concerns.

Underlying the dispute is an age-old tension between direct democracy from citizens and representative democracy from elected leaders.

The biggest example of that conflict: Medical marijuana.

For years, the GOP-led Florida Legislature refused to even hear proposals that would allow marijuana to be prescribed for medical purposes.

But this year, Orlando trial attorney and Democratic donor John Morgan took over a floundering medical-marijuana push and injected $4 million of his own money into the campaign.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which the Legislature fought unsuccessfully in court and then tried to counter with a far more limited measure, would allow physicians to recommend marijuana to people with debilitating ailments.

About 54 percent of Miami-Dade voters said they supported the medical pot measure and 46 percent opposed it.

But there’s a catch: That’s relatively weak support for a constitutional amendment, which needs to pass statewide by 60 percent. Other polls show that, depending on how the question is asked, statewide support reaches in the high 80s, and liberal-leaning South Florida is among the strongest supporters.

This poll indicates that only Democrats support the measure 64-36 percent, but independent support wasn’t high enough, 55-45 percent, and that Republicans oppose the measure 63-37 percent.

The Republican opposition dovetails with a lack of support from Hispanics, 72 percent of whom are registered GOP voters in Miami-Dade and who account for about 55 percent of the overall voter rolls. Hispanics opposed the measure 65-35 percent, non-Hispanic whites supported it 86-14 percent and African-Americans backed it 75-25 percent.

Opposition among Hispanic voters is concentrated among voters who were born in Cuba, who tend to be strong social conservatives. They oppose the amendment 77-23 percent.

“If this fails, there’s a good chance Cuban voters had something to do with it,” said Fernand Amandi, who oversaw the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Those voters who said they favor the reelection of Gov. Rick Scott oppose the amendment 65-35 percent, and those who back opponent Democrat Charlie Crist favor it 73-27 percent.

Crist leads Scott in the Democratic leaning county 47-35 percent.

Scott’s backers also support the recent decision by him and the Florida Cabinet to give Florida Power & Light permission to build two nuclear generators and 88 miles of transmission lines in the county.

However, overall county voters oppose the decision 56-35 percent, with opposition strongest among Democrats (61-32 percent) and independents (58-33 percent). Republicans narrowly oppose the measure by 46-44 percent, an inside-the-error-of-margin amount.

After Scott and the Cabinet approved the FPL deal, local government officials in Miami-Dade who fought the proposal said it would cost Scott.

“He just antagonized half of Miami-Dade County,” Cindy Lerner, Pinecrest’s mayor, said after the vote. Added South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard: “I think he gave Charlie Crist a win.”

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