May 08, 2007

Louisiana Survey: Fix the Roads First

Louisiana has a budget surplus for the upcoming fiscal year-- and the state legislative session that began this week will likely be focused on how this surplus should be disposed of. The early favorite target of anti-tax lawmakers: repealing some, or all, of the progressive "Stelly" income tax reforms ratified by Louisiana voters back in 2002. The Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University (LSU) has released its spring 2007 public policy survey, just in time to inform this important debate.

The results, summarized by the Shreveport Times here, suggest that tax-cut-happy lawmakers are misinterpreting voter preferences in a couple of important ways:

1) It turns out Louisiana voters aren't all that interested in tax cuts. They'd rather see adequately funded public services.
2) For those who do want tax cuts, income taxes don't seem to be the thing they're most worried about.

Here's the skinny on the spending-hike-versus-tax-cut point:
  • Among survey respondents who want to see any budget surpluses used for one-time expenses, road repair was the top choice (89 percent favor or strongly favor this option), following by paying off pension debt (75 percent) and hurricane recovery projects (71 percent). A one-time tax rebate came in a distant fourth place (57 percent).
  • Among those who want to see surpluses used to pay for recurring spending needs, the two big favorites were health care for the insured (84 percent favor or strongly favor) and increasing teacher pay (82 percent). Permanent tax cuts were a distant third, with 59 percent approval.

Equally interesting is that for respondents who are mad about their taxes, the income tax appears to be the least of their worries. 50 percent of survey respondents now think that Louisiana sales taxes are too high. A smaller 40 percent of respondents think property taxes are too high, and just 33 percent of survey respondents thought income taxes were too high.

[As this chart from Fair Tax Louisiana shows, the survey respondents got it just about right: the only types of tax in Louisiana that are emphatically above average are sales and excise taxes. Income and property taxes just aren't that high.]

The conclusion to be drawn, according to LSU survey director Kirby Goidel:"[P]eople are less anti-tax than is commonly believed," Goidel said. "Most people realize this is a relatively low-tax state. What they want is value in what their money is spent for."

Anyone who watched the Ways and Means Committee hearing yesterday would be forgiven for being confused. A parade of anti-taxers explained that Louisiana voters are outraged, outraged at the Stelly changes. One guy asserted that the Stelly plan (which used progressive income tax increases to pay for a reduction in sales taxes on food and utilities was "the worst disaster that ever hit Louisiana besides Katrina."

Ignoring the sheer silliness of this rhetorical flourish, the LSU data make it pretty clear that anti-taxers in the state legislature have badly misjudged the public's appetite for tax cuts.


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