Politics & Government

Updated: Activist cites poll's nuanced support for taxes

Gov. Chris Gregoire has been preparing for a no-new-revenues budget, a deficit of $1.1 billion through June and a shortfall of potentially $5 billion more for the two years after that. But Gregoire's all-cuts budget mantra is disputed by activist Jerry Reilly who cited polling this week.

Reilly, lobbyist for the Eldercare Alliance and part of a coalition trying to sustain funding for human services, said in an email that Elway Research added a few questions for his group in its recent polling. Elway found:

** "37 percent of voters do want an 'all-cuts-no-tax’ budget."** "49 percent want an approach that includes both cuts AND revenues. Of this latter group, 25 percent want first to eliminate tax loopholes, enact limited tax increases, and cut state spending only as a last resort."** "5 percent had no opinion."** "We also learned that only 11 percent of the voters support decreasing funding for the Senior Citizens Services Act (SCSA). This funding has already been cut by $1.7 million in the Governor's Executive Order."** "Finally, we learned that 56 percent of the voters oppose the planned reduction of 10 [percent] in home care hours."

I'm not a subscriber to the Elway Poll so I haven't seen its details. But the Seattle Times had this blog report saying most voters think the budget can be bridged by making "budget cuts, spending freezes and 'money from somewhere' " – with the latter category apparently unexplained.

It might be a safe bet some lawmakers are getting right on that "money from somewhere" message – not overlooking a thing, including coins in couches.

The Times' take on the report from Stuart Elway was that "only 40 percent" said lawmakers would need to raise taxes to raise the budget, down from 54 percent a year ago when taxes were raised. Complicating tax-increase moves this year, of course, is voter approval of Initiative 1053. It requires a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass tax and fee increases in the Legislature or a statewide vote on the taxes later in the year. [Update: My error; fee increases require simple majority votes.]

The poll covered 404 registered voters on Dec. 2-5 and had an error margin of plus or minus 5 percent.

Interestingly, Reilly found support for an income tax, which voters soundly rejected on Nov. 2 in voting lopsidedly against Initiative 1098. The anti-1098 campaign harped on the possibility lawmakers could extend the proposed tax on high earners to everyone within a few years.

Critics of tax increases might see a pro-liberal bias in Elway's findings. But Reilly said Elway found that a constitutional amendment protecting lower-income people from the income tax effectively enjoyed majority support.

As he wrote:

If the legislature placed on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would establish a high earner tax on incomes above $200,000 for an individual and above $400,000 for a couple, with a constitutional guarantee that the tax could NOT be extended to people at lower incomes, how would you be likely to vote?Forty-four percent answered definitely yes, fourteen percent probably yes, eight percent probably no, and twenty-nine percent definitely no. The overall response was 58% positive and 37% negative. Four percent had no opinion.This question described a proposal very similar to Initiative 1098 that was defeated by a 30 point margin in November. It appears that the addition of a constitutional guarantee that the tax would not be expanded to lower tax brackets generates significant additional support for the concept.The results for this question reinforce the contention that the "message" being sent by voters is far more complicated than some people believe. When dealing with important budget decisions that truly have life and death implications, perhaps it would be better for the legislature to take the time to think things through, examine all of their options, and not rush to judgment based upon an imperfect understanding of where the people really stand on these matters.

Reilly is just one voice, but it will be interesting to see if anyone with power of the purse strings listens to him. In the short term, Gregoire and majority Democrats might have no choice but to seek cuts to bring the budget into balance through June, but longer term they might have options if they put something on the ballot.

Or so Reilly's message suggests.