Miami-Dade Commission term limits, school bonds heading for approval, Miami Herald poll says

Miami-Dade voters appear ready to impose term limits on county commissioners, finance improvements to public school facilities and pay extra taxes to protect stray pets — but they don’t want to pay for a new roof on the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, according to a Miami Herald poll.

President Barack Obama, while besting Republican challenger Mitt Romney, also seems to have significantly less support among county voters today than he had in 2008, when a double-digit win in Miami-Dade helped him carry Florida.

The Herald’s poll of 625 likely voters, conducted by Jacksonville-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, addressed a series of local issues, including several proposed amendments to the Miami-Dade charter included on the Nov. 6 ballot. The voters were also asked about their opinions on the Obama administration’s Cuba policies. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

The poll, conducted Oct. 22-24, found that 61 percent of respondents approved of eight-year term limits for Miami-Dade commissioners, and only 13 percent were against the proposed restrictions, which must be enacted with a charter amendment approved by voters. More than one in four voters surveyed said they were undecided on term limits.

“The longer they stay, the more corrupt they become,” said Kenneth Hankin of Coral Gables, a term-limits supporter.

About 57 percent of those polled said they would approve $1.2 billion in general obligation bonds to pay for upgrades to Miami-Dade’s aging public school buildings. Only 19 percent of the voters were against the bonds, and 24 percent of the respondents were undecided.

Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado, who has been campaigning for the bond proposal, said she believes the plan has the support of most voters — but she worries the measure is buried too deep in the 10-page ballot.

“I think we have a very good chance,” Regalado said. “I think the hardest thing against us is not public opinion, it’s how long the ballot is.”

For several other ballot questions, the forecast is cloudier.

One proposed charter amendment asks Miami-Dade voters to approve new rules to make it easier for communities to seek county approval to incorporate as new cities. Only 33 percent of those surveyed said they support the new rules, while 22 percent opposed the changes — and 45 percent said they were undecided.

Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said the high number of undecided voters suggests that voters don’t understand the issue or grasp the wordy ballot language. He suspects the charter amendment will fail.

Similarly, a proposal requiring a two-thirds vote of the county commission to expand the Urban Development Boundary limiting development in west Miami-Dade appears to have befuddled a large number of voters. The largest share of respondents, some 44 percent, said they were undecided on the issue, and only 37 percent said they supported the change. Nineteen percent of those polled opposed changing the UDB process.

Coker said the undecided voters are likely to skip these charter amendments altogether.

“This one is uphill,” Coker said of the UDB amendment.

Voters also will see nonbinding “straw ballot” questions to gauge public opinion on specific issues. For example, voters will be asked their opinion about a proposal, known as the Pets’ Trust, to increase the property-tax rate and set aside the additional revenue to pay for no-kill animal shelters, spay-and-neuter programs and other animal services. Some 55 percent of poll respondents said they supported a new animal-services tax, and 25 percent opposed it.

The poll also asked the voters’ opinions on other issues of the day, including whether they supported using tax dollars to build a roof at Sun Life Stadium. National Football League leaders have warned that the 25-year-old stadium must be upgraded if South Florida is to continue as a regular Super Bowl venue, and the Dolphins have in the past eyed tourist taxes to pay for improvements.

But just 16 percent of those surveyed said they would support public funding for a new covered roof at Sun Life Stadium, while a whopping 69 percent said they opposed tax dollars for the stadium.

The survey results may reflect lingering resentment over the county’s financing of the new Miami Marlins baseball stadium, Marlins Park, which helped spark the recall of former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez.

“I voted against all those county people because they sold themselves to baseball,” said Anofre Torres, a semi-retired investment advisor from Key Biscayne who opposes public financing for Sun Life Stadium. “I just don’t think that’s what tax money should be doing.”

Harvey Greene, a spokesman for the Dolphins, declined to comment specifically on the poll results, but said “nothing has been proposed” to seek public funding for the stadium.

A plurality of respondents also supported allowing “destination” gambling resorts in Miami-Dade County, the poll found. Some 48 percent of those surveyed said they support destination gambling, while 39 percent oppose it. Large-scale gambling has been a hot-button issue since the Genting Group, a Malaysian casino company, bought the 14-acre Miami Herald property in downtown Miami last year for $236 million.

A survey taken for The Herald just after the Genting deal found similar opinions about large-scale gambling, with 50 percent of those polled in June 2011 supporting gambling resorts, compared to 38 percent against. But another Herald poll taken in January showed that voters at the time were evenly split on the issue — reflecting intensifying public opposition to casinos from some local business leaders.

In last week’s poll, The Herald also asked voters if they approved of tighter restrictions on absentee voting, following the arrest of two “ballot-brokers” in Hialeah before the Aug. 14 primary elections. Those surveyed were evenly split on the issue, with 45 percent of voters in favor of rules requiring voters to have a genuine reason to vote absentee, while 46 percent opposed any changes.

Republicans in the survey supported tighter restrictions on absentee voting by a margin of 56-34, though under the current rules Miami-Dade Republicans tend to vote absentee in greater numbers than other voting blocs. Democrats, on the other hand, opposed stricter absentee rules by a margin of 53-38.

In the presidential race, Obama leads Romney among likely voters in Miami-Dade by a margin of 52 percent to 43 percent, the Herald survey found. But that might not be good news for the president: Four years ago, Obama pummeled GOP challenger John McCain by a 58-42 margin in Miami-Dade, helping Obama overcome McCain’s support in the more conservative areas of north Florida and win the state’s electoral votes.

“Given that Obama only carried the state by three points [in 2008], he can’t afford to underperform” in Miami-Dade, Coker said.

Romney has a huge 29-point lead over Obama among Miami-Dade’s Hispanic voters, making Miami-Dade an outlier from the rest of the country, where Obama has overwhelming support among Hispanics. The difference can be attributed largely to Cuban-American voters, 76 percent of whom support Romney, the poll found. Only 19 percent of Cuban voters in Miami-Dade said they are supporting Obama.

The county’s Cuban-Americans are also largely opposed to Obama’s approach to U.S.-Cuba relations. Seventy-one percent of Cuban-Americans surveyed said they oppose the president’s Cuba policies, while only 14 percent support the president. Among all voters surveyed, 37 percent supported the president’s Cuba policies, while 43 percent opposed them.

“I oppose any relationship with somebody that has kept a people in jail in their own country and has caused such emotional strife,” said Republican Maria Perez, 59, referring to Fidel Castro. “From the beginning, [Obama] made a statement that he wanted to speak with entities from their government, and that people should be able to go visit.”

Perez, a schoolteacher who plans to vote for Romney, also said she opposed increased travel from America to Cuba. Almost half of those surveyed supported increased travel, while 33 percent opposed it — though 60 percent of Cuban-Americans said they opposed more travel.

“If we give [Castro] money, if we allow him to have money to function, then he stays longer,” Perez said. “It’s like giving a transfusion to a system that enslaves people.”

When asked to name the most important problems facing Miami-Dade County today, 36 percent of the respondents cited the economy and unemployment, and 16 percent cited corruption in county government. Crime, the quality of schools, and the cost of insurance were also named as major problems.

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