- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (AP) Hampton Roads voters are almost evenly split on whether to increase the sales tax to pay for highway and tunnel construction, according to a poll done for the region's two major newspapers.
Forty-five percent of 800 registered voters interviewed last week support the 1 cent tax increase, while 41 percent oppose it. Fourteen percent were undecided. The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. of the District and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
The poll indicates that the referendum faces an uphill battle, said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon, which did the poll for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Daily Press of Newport News.
"It's more likely to fail than to pass, but it could still pass," Mr. Coker said. "Undecided voters more often fall into the no column."
If the referendum passes, the extra tax revenue would be used for a $7.7 billion package of highways and tunnels.
A similar referendum on the ballot in Northern Virginia would raise the sales tax from 4.5 cents to 5 cents to pay for various road projects and mass transit.
A Mason-Dixon poll of 402 registered voters there last month showed that 52 percent supported the tax increase, 39 percent opposed it, and 9 percent weren't sure. The margin of error was 5 percentage points.
Leaders on both sides of the Hampton Roads referendum called the latest poll results encouraging.
"Wow," said Brenda Pogge, a leading organizer of the kNOw Campaign. "We're right in the margin of error."
Bill Butler, a co-chairman of the Yes Campaign, said, "I'm pleased. It's better this way than the other way around." The Yes Campaign had raised $750,000 through the end of August. The campaign's goal is to spend twice that by Nov. 5.
Aggravation from worsening congestion is the primary reason people are willing to have their taxes raised, the Hampton Roads poll suggested.
Of those surveyed, 23 percent said that they get caught in a major traffic jam almost daily, and an additional 26 percent said that they get stuck several times a week.
Almost four out of five likely voters said congestion has gotten worse in the past five years.
Sixty-five percent dismissed elected officials' promise that the extra tax revenue would be spent only on five major road projects and mass transit. Seventy-seven percent discounted the pledge that the tax would end after the projects end.

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