With the state Legislature set to convene next week to grapple with a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall, a new Elway Poll finds voters may be willing to accept tax increases as part of the solution.
In a sign the state might finally be shaking off the Great Recession blues, the poll found that — for the first time in seven years — education, and not the economy, was named as the most important issue by voters for the upcoming legislative session. (Education was named top issue by 42 percent of those polled, the economy by 32 percent, with other issues including taxes, transportation and the environment ranking much lower.)
Pollster Stuart Elway wrote in a poll memo that an improving economic outlook “may also be opening the door to consideration of a wider range of possible strategies for funding than has been the case of late, including new taxes.”
The poll found broad support for some specific tax increases that have been proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee as part of his $39 billion 2015-17 budget plan.
A 50-cent-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax drew 77 percent support in the poll. A “new carbon tax on industries that release the most pollutants into the air” — a reference to Inslee’s cap-and-trade proposal — was supported by 71 percent. And 57 percent said they’d support Inslee’s new 7 percent tax on capital gains for any profits above $25,000.
As usual, though, there were mixed messages in the poll on taxes and spending, with a majority of voters favoring the path of least pain.
Sixty five percent favored a budget plan that does “as much as possible” to fund education and reduce class sizes “without raising taxes and without deep cuts to other programs” — even if that means not fully abiding by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling demanding billions of dollars in additional K-12 education funding.
Fifty one percent said lawmakers should “fund public education first with existing revenue” and then fund the rest of government, even if that means cutting other services.
Forty eight percent said lawmakers should raise taxes to fund schools and reduce class sizes “without making further cuts to other programs and services.”
When it comes to support for specific tax increases, Elway said skeptics will note such support decreases with the likelihood that voters would actually have to pay the taxes. But Elway noted:
“Even so, the high levels of initial acceptance indicate that the Governor has seized the initiative. It is usually not hard to win an argument against taxes, and the debate has not begun. But opponents of these taxes are starting at a disadvantage.”
The statewide poll of 502 registered voters was conducted Dec. 27-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.