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Most voters in Bexar County support using local sales taxes to fund aquifer protection, a prekindergarten program, and more-frequent VIA Metropolitan Transit service, but only 7 percent would prioritize funding mass transit over the other two programs, according to results of the first Bexar Facts/KSAT/Rivard Report Poll released Tuesday.
Forty-two percent of voters would place aquifer protection first and 30 percent would put Pre-K 4 SA on the top of the funding list when asked to pick their highest priority out of the three sales tax proposals, the poll found.
Bexar Facts is partnering with the Rivard Report and local television station KSAT to produce quarterly, nonpartisan public opinion polls of registered voters in Bexar County. The first survey was conducted by polling 651 individuals likely to vote in the November election. They were asked a range of questions about quality of life in the area, specific policies, and the performance of elected officials. For instance, more than 40 percent of those polled think Bexar County and the City of San Antonio are generally moving in the right direction, while less than 25 percent think the region is on the “wrong track.”
The survey has a margin of error of +/-4 percent with a 95 percent confidence level. More data from the poll can be found on the Bexar Facts website. The poll results will be explained and discussed via a KSAT livestream at 2:30 p.m.
Among the poll’s other findings was that most residents approved of the job Mayor Ron Nirenberg (56 percent) is doing and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff (55 percent) are doing. Fewer voters approved of the overall performance of City Council (48 percent) and Bexar County Commissioners (46 percent).
“Overall I would say that the sentiment is much more positive than negative,” said the survey’s pollster, David Metz, noting that is rare for cities of San Antonio’s size. “When we ask about the County and about the City … at a two-to-one ratio, voters are more likely to say that things are headed in the right direction as opposed to on the wrong track.”
But the poll results signal an uphill battle for a proposal to ask San Antonio voters in November to shift a one-eighth-cent sales tax that has funded Edwards Aquifer protection for the past two decades and redirect it to fund mass transit. Renewal of sales-tax funding for Pre-K 4 SA is slated to be placed on the May ballot – and is expected to pass. In the poll, 68 percent said they favored extending funding for Pre-K 4 SA.
“[San Antonio voters] don’t object to any of these uses … but there’s a pretty clear rank order and prioritization in terms of where they would most like to see that [sales tax] spent,” said Metz, president and partner of FM3 Research, the California-based polling company that conducted the survey.
Nirenberg and other leaders are working on finding an alternative funding source – likely the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) – to continue the Edwards Aquifer Protection Plan, which purchases land and conservation easements that permanently block the land above the aquifer from being developed.
“The need to solve aquifer protection is just clear as a bell – if the mayor doesn’t solve the aquifer [funding question], transit comes in last,” said Christian Archer, Bexar Facts founder and a longtime political consultant. Archer has managed several political campaigns, including for Pre-K 4 SA and previous mayoral campaigns.
Redirecting that sales tax to VIA is a critical component to implement ConnectSA, a multimodal transportation plan and nonprofit of the same name. Nirenberg launched ConnectSA alongside Wolff in 2018.
“If aquifer protection [funding] is solved in a way that satisfies environmental groups, then transit is teed up in a very strong position,” Archer said. Sixty-four percent of voters said they would strongly or somewhat support the one-eighth-cent tax to improve mass transit reliability.
Aquifer protection is popular across the board but disproportionately favored by older, Republican, and more conservative voters, while transit holds more appeal for younger, white, male, and lower-income voters.
The poll results seem at odds with the typical profile of people who use mass transit in San Antonio. VIA riders are “age 45-54, are male, Hispanic, with a high school diploma and no college education, employed, and have a household income just below the poverty level,” according to a summary of a survey VIA conducted in 2016, the most recent information available.
However, “there’s a difference between likely voters and the population as whole,” said Metz.
Voters skew older, whiter, and more affluent, Metz said, but pollsters measure to make sure they reached voters of all demographics via landline phone, cellphones, and email.
Forty-six percent of the 651 voters polled identified as Hispanic or Latino, while 37 percent were Anglo/white, 5 percent were African American, 3 percent were multiracial, and 1 percent identified as Asian/Pacific Islander.
Nearly half (49 percent) of polled voters attended four years of college or post-graduate work, 29 percent said they had some college experience or went to a vocational school, 13 percent had at least completed high school, and 6 percent attended grades 1-11.
The poll found voters viewed the region as growing (74 percent of voters said “growing” describes San Antonio “very well”), but they split on the question of whether San Antonio was “losing its character.”
Although some data suggests homelessness is decreasing overall in Bexar County, that issue was cited by 18 percent of poll respondents as a serious problem, right after crime at 19 percent. Sixty-four percent also said elected officials aren’t doing enough to address poverty.
“I think that policymakers need to hear loud and clear this is still a major issue that needs to be addressed,” Archer said.
The poll will be conducted quarterly with most questions changing over time, Archer said.
The next poll, conducted in three months, will likely drill deeper into funding strategies for aquifer protection and transportation issues, Archer said. Voters won’t see these issues side-by-side in the ballot box, but the poll is intended to help guide policymakers towards solving these questions in voters’ minds ahead of time, Archer said.
The next step is for Bexar Facts to establish and convene an advisory council made up of community members to inform the next poll, Archer said.
“We need to make sure we’re asking the right questions,” he said.