Do Voters Want Higher Taxes?

On his blog with the Times Herald, state Senator Daylin Leach makes a couple of absurd claims.

First he suggests that residents are more concerned about potholes than high taxes, and while he may get an email about higher taxes, he will get a “very insistent personal visit” if there is a pothole in the street. Given there are likely hundreds of potholes in his district, and each one affects perhaps a thousand local residents, he must get tens of thousands of visitors concerned about potholes each week.

Second, he suggest that individuals are willing to pay higher taxes. He cites a recent Quinnipiac poll of Pennsylvanians – but selectively, citing only one question that supports his position (and not those giving the legislature a 27% approval rating or primarily blaming Gov. Rendell for the budget impasse). Here are the tax questions:

To balance the state budget next year, if you had to choose, which would you prefer – raising taxes to keep state services at their current level or cutting state services to keep taxes at their current level?
Raise Taxes: 35%
Cut Services: 55%

To balance the state budget, if you had to choose, would you prefer raising – the state sales tax or the state income tax?
Sales Tax: 62%
Income Tax: 24%

Governor Rendell has proposed temporarily raising the state income tax from 3.07 to 3.57 percent. Do you support or oppose this proposal?
Support: 33%
Oppose: 63%

Would you be willing or unwilling to pay more in state taxes to avoid state employees from losing their jobs?
Willing: 44%
Unwilling: 51%

Would you be willing or unwilling to pay more in state taxes to avoid cuts in state spending on such things as healthcare and public schools?
Willing: 53%
Unwilling: 43%

Leach thinks the last question is most reflective of taxpayers true views, because it “identifies services.” So even though there is overwhelming opposition to Gov. Rendell’s proposed PIT increase, and residents would prefer cuts in services and even layoffs to state workers, Leach thinks they still want higher taxes to avoid cuts to public schools and health care.

Here is the problem with Leach’s reasoning – public schools and health care aren’t getting cuts. Medical Assistance is getting an increase in the state budget, even with federal stimulus funding that increases the federal funding of the program. Public schools will get an 12% increase in spending under the Senate budget. So the hypothetical question isn’t really based on the debate in Harrisburg.

Would voters support a tax increase if they knew that it was to increase education spending above the 12% increase they would otherwise receive? What if they knew school districts had $2.4 billion in reserve balances they weren’t spending? What if they knew the true spending by public schools was $13,000 per-pupil, when most voters estimate it closer to $2,000? What if they knew that most of the proposed tax increase wasn’t going to education?

Leach then tries to tie in other services he thinks voters like, and would support a tax increase for. But what if the questions asked about tax hikes to fund WAMs? Or for per diems for lawmakers? Or for public relations? Or for gifts for legislators? Or for Hollywood studios? Or for corporate welfare?

Of course, if these people want to pay more, they can. Anyone who wants to pay more can send their checks to the Pennsylvania Treasurers office, or their local school. They don’t need to compel their neighbors to contribute as well.