What do Washington voters want state lawmakers to focus on in 2017?

Education is top of the list on Washington voter’s priorities for state lawmakers this year, according to a release from The Elway Poll, a nonpartisan polling organization based in the Northwest.

Forty-five percent of respondents said education was the “most important” issue for lawmakers. That makes it the third year in a row it ranked as the number one issue for voters.

But, this year stands out for a couple reasons.

This is the first time since before the Great Recession that the economy has registered so low for voters. In 2016, 32 percent of respondents to the survey thought the economy was the most important issue for lawmakers to address. But now, only 22 percent of respondents think the economy ranks that high in priorities.

At the same time, education has become even more important to voters. In 2016 only 33 percent of respondents thought of it as most important. (In 2015, 42 percent of respondents saw education as a the most important issue, but that was up dramatically from 19 percent in 2014. Between 2009 and 2014, the economy claimed the top spot in terms of importance to voters.)

So, what’s the most popular solution to funding public education?

Turns out, it’s cutting funds for other state funded programs. The Elway Poll presented three different options for respondents to choose from:

  1. Raise business taxes.
  2. Don’t raise taxes or cut programs but risk not fully funding public education.
  3. Cut other government programs and reallocate those funds to education.

The third option won out in 2017 with 56 percent of respondents leaning toward cutting programs. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they were either in favor or could accept raising taxes on businesses, and 47 percent said they were in favor or accept avoiding tax increases and program cuts.

Avoiding either raising taxes or cutting funding to other government programs would almost certainly mean education wouldn’t be fully funded.

Per The Elway Poll’s Thursday release: “As has been clear for years, the public is not going to lead the legislature out of this problem.”

Issues that rank relatively low to voters include the environment (3 percent saw it as most important), public safety (5 percent), social services (7 percent), and health care (with only 9 percent of voters ranking it as most important).

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner

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