OLYMPIA, May 17.—A new poll from Moore Information in Portland shows that the vast majority of voters in Washington state turn thumbs-down on tax hikes, even when keywords like “education” and “state services” are mentioned. Some 61 percent of voters statewide said that if they were writing the state budget, they’d reduce spending, even if crucial programs are cut. Just 26 percent say they’d raise taxes.
And when the Legislature’s current debate is explained, a majority favors the Senate’s no-new-tax position. This may not surprise you, though: The only part of the state that seems to feel differently about it is the city of Seattle. So says pollster Bob Moore, whose firm conducted the poll of 400 Evergreen State voters April 21-22.
“The voters of the state are saying don’t increase spending, don’t increase taxes,” Moore says. “That is the majority sentiment. There are significant numbers that say yes we should, but more of them say don’t increase spending and don’t increase taxes on the other side. I wouldn’t call them penny-pinchers, but they are more concerned about spending levels than taking care of all the programs being suggested.”
The poll is sure to figure in the Legislature’s current debate about tax increases. Indeed, it was conducted for a client Moore says does not wish its name released, a tell-tale sign that the interested party has something at stake in the multi-billion-dollar debate over taxes and spending. But as always, it’s the finding that counts — not to mention the actual questions that are asked.
Hard No on Hikes
The statewide findings are striking. Voters were asked two key questions. The first: “What do you think is the most important thing that should be done to balance the state budget? Reduce spending, even if some crucial programs are cut? Or increase taxes, even if it is hard for middle-class families?”
The result was heavily weighted toward the reduce-spending side. Some 49 percent said they strongly favored the position, and 12 percent said they preferred it, for a total 61 percent.
Some 17 percent said they strongly favored increasing taxes, and 9 percent said they preferred that position, for a total 26 percent. Some 13 percent said they didn’t know.
State Endorses Senate Plan
Results on a second question get to the heart of the legislative debate and appear to endorse the state Senate’s hold-the-line position on taxes, 51-36. Voters were asked about one approach being considered at the statehouse – an aggressive effort to end tax exemptions and extend the “temporary taxes” imposed in 2010 that are scheduled to expire in June. Both Gov. Jay Inslee and the House Democrats favor that position, though it should be noted that the House Ds dropped their plan to continue a beer tax the day after polling commenced. The Senate has passed a budget with no tax increases, while boosting spending on K-12 education by $1 billion.
Voters were asked, “Here are two potential options for solving the state’s budget challenges. Please listen carefully and tell me which one you prefer. Option A – Make permanent the 2010 temporary business and occupation and beer taxes, and close existing tax loopholes in order to increase education funding by $1.3 billion. Option B – Balance the budget with no new taxes, while maintaining current funding levels for most state services and increase education funding by $1 billion.”
Some 51 percent favored the Senate approach, 36 percent favored the House approach, and 12 percent said they didn’t know.
Dems, Seattle Think Differently
Moore’s poll, balanced across geographic regions of the state, noted one big disparity. Democrats and Seattle residents appeared far more amenable to taxes than the state as a whole. On the overall tax question, nearly half of Democrats, some 49 percent, said they would increase taxes, and a large minority of Seattle residents, 43 percent, said the same. On the House-versus-Senate question, majorities of Democrats and Seattle voters favored the House D position.
The poll asked a few other policy questions. Nearly nine out of ten voters, 89 percent, said they supported the idea of “cutting wasteful government spending and moving toward a more lean and efficient state government.” Some seven out of ten, 71 percent, agreed with the thought that “now is the wrong time to raise taxes on working families and struggling businesses.”
One truth of the polling biz is that the results can change depending on what questions are asked and how they are phrased. Polls that measure support for specific programs often get different results. But Moore said that wasn’t the issue being tested here – nor, for that matter, is it the overarching question before this year’s Legislature. “There is no question that people react to the words they hear in a question, and some programs are more popular than others,” he says.
“If you were to talk about law enforcement or education, in terms of do you think we should spend more or spend less, that would be a different issue than we approached. These questions are looking at the sentiment in general. You might find that some specific programs are very popular, but in general the bulk of voters say we’ve got to hold down spending, hold down taxes.”