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Wednesday, May 30, 2007 02:32 pm

Pulse of the state

Majority supports tax swap and increased school funding

Untitled Document As you probably know, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has flatly ruled out an income- or sales-tax hike in exchange for a property-tax cut and more money for education. House Speaker Michael Madigan has said that there isn’t sufficient support in his Democratic caucus to pass an income- or sales-tax hike. But a recent poll shows that the public disagrees with both politicians. The finding of majority support for a tax swap plan also seems to be right in line with those of previous surveys. In addition, the poll found strong opposition to the governor’s supercontroversial gross-receipts-tax (GRT) plan. The survey, conducted independently by the Glengariff Group, found that about 57 percent of Illinois voters support a so-called tax swap and just under 28 percent oppose it. The question was put to respondents in a neutral manner, and is one of the best polling questions on this subject that I’ve seen: “Another idea being discussed would raise the state’s income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, increase the sales tax on some services, and increase the state’s corporate income tax. In exchange for these tax increases, property taxes would be reduced by 20 percent to 25 percent for every homeowner on the school portion of their property taxes. The new money raised would be used to increase funding for schools. Do you support or oppose this legislation?”
The survey reports that 36.7 percent “strongly support” the tax hike, with 20.5 percent supporting it “somewhat.” On the other side, 14 percent are “somewhat” opposed, and 11 percent are “strongly” opposed. The survey results prompted a spokesperson for the Illinois Federation of Teachers (which supports a tax hike for education) to say that the union would support the idea of the General Assembly’s fighting it out with the governor this summer if it was necessary to secure more money for schools. But, believing that people are far more amenable to the idea until crunch time actually comes, politicians don’t usually trust polls on taxation. A poll taken in March for Citizen Action offered a much more leading question and found that 66 percent favored and 25 percent opposed an income-tax swap. Northern Illinois University’s comprehensive “Illinois Policy Survey,” which was conducted November-January, found that 57 percent supported an income-tax swap. A poll taken for Copley News Service last September had 50 percent supporting the tax swap and 38 percent opposing it. All three polls, however, concentrated only on the income tax; there was no mention of the current proposal to expand sales taxes to services. The Glengariff live telephone poll of 600 registered voters was taken May 15-18 and has a margin of error of 4 percent. The poll found that even a majority of Republican voters supported the tax-swap proposal (52.6 percent, with 31.9 percent saying they “strongly” support it and just 20 percent saying they “strongly” oppose it). A whopping 65 percent of African-American voters say that they back the plan; 53.6 percent of whites say that they support it. Women backed it 61.3-24.0; men supported it 53.0-31.6. Suburban collar-county voters backed the proposal 56.8-31.0. Majorities of downstate voters supported the swap idea, except in southern Illinois, where the backing was more tepid: Just over two-thirds (67.3 percent) of western- and northwestern-Illinois voters, 51.8 percent of central Illinoisans, and 44.3 percent of southern Illinoisans endorsed it. However, the margins of error are quite high on those numbers because they are such small subsets — so they may be right, but beware. The poll also found that Illinoisans are evenly split, 43-43, on the governor’s GRT idea, but many people are strongly opposed. According to the poll, 29 percent of all registered voters strongly oppose the governor’s tax plan. That’s a higher number than any individual demographic that strongly opposes the tax-swap idea.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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