With the start of the new legislative session officially underway, the clock has begun to tick on the likely showdown between Governor Tim Pawlenty and the DFL-controlled legislature as to whether tax increases should be a part of the solution to solve the state’s $5 billion budget deficit.
The DFL leadership (e.g. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher) are already on record stating there is a likely need for measures on the ‘revenue side,’ while the Republican Governor and the GOP legislative leadership have been fairly steadfast in their focus on the need to scale down the size of government and cut spending to get the budget under control.
Will public opinion on taxes force the hand of one political party or the other this legislative session? Just how opposed to tax increases are Minnesotans?
Smart Politics examined over three-dozen public opinion polling questions on tax policy conducted of Gopher State residents in recent years and found mixed results, but with the clear majority of polls showing opposition to raising taxes in Minnesota.
According to three closed-question Humphrey Institute / Minnesota Public Radio polls conducted in 2008 (in January, August, and October), Minnesotans deemed taxes the second most important problem facing the state. Taxes (averaging 15 percent) were a distant second behind the economy and jobs (39 percent), but ahead of health care (14 percent), education (12 percent), illegal immigration (6 percent), transportation (5 percent), and global warming (2 percent) across the three surveys.
Minnesotans have opposed state tax increases or supported state tax cuts in approximately 60 percent of public opinion surveys conducted during the past decade on tax policy. Minnesotans have supported tax increases of some sort in approximately 40 percent of surveys conducted during this span.
Support for tax increases has been most resounding around the issue of the state cigarette tax – with nearly 2:1 in support of such measures (in numbers generally reflective of the non-smoking population in the state). For example, a September 2002 Pioneer Press / MPR poll found 62 percent support for a 60-cent-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax in order to help balance the state budget, with just 31 percent opposed.
Minnesotans also have demonstrated support for targeted income tax increases on the wealthy – by 30+ point margins – both for education programs as well as a means to lower property taxes across the state, according to April and May 2007 polls by SurveyUSA and Minnesota Public Radio respectively.
In general, however, Minnesotans have demonstrated opposition to tax increases and view tax cuts as helpful for the economy and tax increases as harmful by 20+ point margins (Rasmussen, April 2006).
Property taxes are consistently the one tax Minnesotans are most in favor of cutting in polls conducted from 1998 through 2007 by Minnesota Public Radio, followed by the income tax and then the sales tax.
Gopher State residents were also consistently opposed to the recent DFL-backed 10 cents a gallon gas tax hike, although support and opposition to the DFL’s alternative (and higher profile) 5 cents a gallon gas tax increase were mixed when question wordings indicated the revenue would be used specifically for roads and bridges. When the public was asked simply whether or not they were opposed to any increase in the state gas tax, opposition to higher taxes was more than five times stronger (82 percent) than support for them (15 percent) (SurveyUSA, April 2007).
The January 2008 Humphrey Institute / MPR poll also found that Minnesotans trusted the Democratic Party by a 13-point margin over the GOP when it came to the issue of handling taxes. It will be interesting to see if those numbers hold should the DFL legislature and Governor Pawlenty come head-to-head in a new battle over the budget this spring.