Published on Thursday, June 5, 2003 by the Boston Globe
Poll: More Favor Tax Hikes in Lieu of Cuts in Services
by Frank Phillips
A strong plurality of 401 Massachusetts voters surveyed would prefer that Beacon Hill leaders raise taxes rather than cut government services to deal with the state's budget deficit, a new University of Massachusetts poll shows.
In the survey taken late last week, 47 percent of those polled said they want Governor Mitt Romney and the Legislature to use taxes to close the spending gap, while 29 percent want them to cut programs.
That's a shift from February, when a UMass poll found the public more evenly divided, with 42 percent favoring taxes and 38 percent favoring spending cuts.
''The anti-tax sentiment seems to be ebbing,'' said Lou DiNatale, director of the poll.
The poll numbers come as lawmakers put the final touches on their nearly $23 billion budget for next year. Although the spending plan isn't expected to include new taxes, some Democratic lawmakers are discussing whether the Legislature should take up a tax increase package this fall.
The lawmakers suggest that by then, the public may be feeling the pain of spending cuts, including projected layoffs of police, firefighters, and teachers, and be more accepting of revenue increases.
The poll of registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
It contained some signs of public confidence in the Legislature.
When asked whom they trust more to deal with the issue of taxes, 51 percent chose the Democrat-controlled Legislature, and 37 percent said Romney, who has made his anti-tax stance a linchpin of his platform.
Asked about cuts to services, 54 percent said they trusted lawmakers to make the right decisions, and 34 percent picked Romney, whose personal popularity, according to the poll, seems to be slipping.
DiNatale noted, however, that voters also express a favorable view of Romney's sweeping government restructuring plan: 63 percent either strongly or somewhat support the reforms, and only 29 opposed them.
''That strong support for reform clearly shows Romney is hitting a popular theme,'' DiNatale said. ''But raising taxes may not be the political third rail that the Democrats fear.''
Because Romney has vowed to veto any tax-raising bill that the Legislature sends him, Democratic legislative leaders, realizing the difficulty of obtaining a two-thirds majority in the both the House and Senate to override him, have avoided pushing the issue.
Other recent surveys have found voters offering mixed messages on the issue of taxes vs. service cuts in order to deal with an expected $3 billion budget gap. A Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll in early April indicated Massachusetts residents opposed tax increases, but also in equal numbers opposed cutting health and human service programs and reducing state aid to cities and towns. An Opinion Dynamics survey done for Mass Insight in late April found voters evenly split on whether they trust Romney or the Legislature in dealing with taxes and cuts in state programs.
In the UMass poll, voters still give Romney decent marks for his job performance, but his personal favorability has declined. Some 56 percent of those surveyed rate his job performance favorably, while 36 percent had a negative view. The ratio is almost identical to what a UMass poll showed two months ago.
But Romney's personal popularity seems to be slipping, with only 48 percent rating him favorably, and 39 percent unfavorably. In April, the UMass survey showed, 56 percent rated the governor favoraby and 25 percent viewed him unfavorably. In February, just a month into office, Romney received a very strong 61-to-21 percent rating.
DiNatale said what is significant about the poll findings is that the Legislature, which has been the target of Romney's campaign and much of his governing, has gained public credibility in the budget debate.
He said that notion is reinforced by the poll results showing that only 19 percent of those surveyed believed Romney's contention that if his reforms were implemented by the Legislature, large cuts in state services would not be needed. Another 54 percent echoed assertions that even with the Romney reforms, big cuts would still be needed.
Still, the governor's personal rating dwarfs that of his regular Democratic nemesis on Beacon Hill, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran. The House leader received a 29 favorable rating and 45 percent unfavorable rating when voters were asked their opinions of him. Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, who took office in January, is not as well known as the controversial Finneran, who has led the House since 1996. Of those surveyed, 18 percent had a favorable opinion of the East Boston Democrat, 10 percent unfavorable. Another 50 percent had never heard of him. Only 13 percent had not heard of Finneran and a mere 2 percent did not know Romney.
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