TAMPA — A new poll indicates that most Tampa voters like Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and more approve of his approach to the Tampa Bay Rays than not, but most are not ready to spend public money on a new stadium.
The automated telephone poll of 869 Tampa registered voters was done on Tuesday by StPetePolls.org and was commissioned by political blogger Peter Schorsch. It has a margin of error of 3.3 percent.
More than 58 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Buckhorn, who is almost halfway through his four-year term. A little less than 18 percent had an unfavorable opinion and nearly 24 percent were undecided.
"All in all, these numbers are pretty good," Buckhorn said.
Voters approved of how Buckhorn is handling matters related to the future of the Rays about 45 percent to 21 percent, with 34 percent unsure. Buckhorn consistently says the Rays are a regional asset that he doesn't want to lose, that downtown Tampa would be the best place for a new stadium if the team does leave St. Petersburg, and that Tampa will be prepared to act, but will not interfere with St. Petersburg's discussions with the team.
But 45 percent of respondents opposed spending public funds on a new Rays stadium, versus 43 percent in support.
"The fact that the numbers were pretty much 50-50 was somewhat of a surprise to me," Buckhorn said. "I was thinking that the sentiment would be skewed toward no public funds, which gives me hope for potentially what could occur."
A lot likely depends on whether the public money would consist of existing revenues or new revenues, Buckhorn said.
The city has indicated that hypothetically it could raise $90 million to $100 million for a stadium in the form of a 20-year bond issue. The city's debt on the Tampa Convention Center is scheduled to be paid off in 2015. Once that happens, Tampa officials expect to have about $12.5 million a year available for downtown improvements, and that money could be used to repay stadium-related bonds.
Conversely, Buckhorn doubts there will never be another taxpayer-funded stadium deal like the one that built Raymond James Stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Asked if the election were held today, 41 percent said they would vote for Buckhorn, who plans to run for re-election, while 38 percent would vote for former Mayor Pam Iorio, 4 percent favored Hillsborough County Commission chairman Ken Hagan and 3 percent preferred County Commissioner Sandra Murman. So far, none of the three have talked about running in 2015, and Hagan would have to move into the city to do so.