As far as the majority of the state’s population is concerned, Louisiana lawmakers have come to a fork in the budget road and both paths seem wrong, says the latest chapter in the LSU annual survey released Tuesday.
Roughly eight of every 10 Louisiana residents would cut government spending — but not to education, health care or highways — to fix the $1.6 billion shortage in revenues. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed also would accept some tax increases, but about half of those people would want more cuts than tax increases. Still, the respondents voiced little support for raising specific taxes. The tax increases with the most support are for tobacco, alcohol and gambling.
“This puts policymakers in a real bind,” said Michael Henderson, who is charged with putting together the 2015 Louisiana Survey.
“On the one hand the public says they support spending cuts and tax increases in general — especially spending cuts — but when you get down to it they simply do not back most specific reductions. They do not want to cut education. They do not want to cut health care.”
Louisiana legislators are grappling with a $24.6 billion state budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1, in which Gov. Bobby Jindal would cut spending across state government, raise about $526 million by changing laws in popular tax credit programs, and chop state contributions to higher education and to health care for about one-fourth of the state’s population.
But when asked by LSU pollsters, the public wanted more spending — not less — in areas such as elementary and secondary education, higher education, transportation and health care, said Henderson, Research Director of LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab, which has conducted the annual survey of opinions of Louisiana residents since 2003. The study was sponsored by the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs.
To execute the survey, LSU conducted live-caller interviews on both landlines and cellphones with 980 adult residents of the state. The total sample has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.1 percent.
Nearly two-thirds of the respondents say state government — rather than college students and their families — should play the major role in funding higher education.
Even among those preferring a combination of less spending and more revenue, most residents prefer for state government to focus mostly on the spending side of the ledger, the survey says.
Fifty-nine percent of the respondents who want to balance the budget with spending cuts would accept some tax increases, the survey says. Another 21 percent say more tax increases, less cuts in the money that pays for government services.
Another 13 percent says “no way, no how” to tax increases in any form.
Even though no taxes have been imposed since at least 2007, and while revenue to and spending by state government have dropped during the past seven years, a majority of those polled by LSU say that state taxes have gone up, while nearly a third — 30 percent — says state government spending has “gone up a lot.”
Nearly two in five — 39 percent — say the state spends the most money on welfare programs, and a third — 33 percent — say the state spends the most on prisons. Yet, each of these make up relatively small shares of actual state spending, the survey says. Health care and public school expenses account for more than half the state’s general fund dollars.
Similarly, there is very little support for raising specific taxes, such as the income or sales tax, for which only 14 percent and 5 percent favor hikes, respectively, according to the survey. The specific taxes that get the most support for increases are the tobacco tax, which 50 percent support raising, taxes on the gambling industry, which 49 percent support raising, and the alcohol tax, which 42 percent support raising.
The survey indicates that at least part of the reason the public may believe the budget can be balanced without sacrificing services or raising taxes is because taxpayers perceive that state government spending is wasteful. Respondents reported to pollsters that they believe 44 cents of every state dollar is frittered away. “Therefore, the public may believe that overall spending can be reduced by cutting this perceived waste rather than cutting services,” the 2015 Louisiana Survey reports.
But the taxpayers questioned generally see themselves as paying their fair share in taxes, while thinking taxpayers at other income levels are shirking their share. More than half, 56 percent, say they pay about the right amount in taxes and 41 percent say they are paying more than their fair share.
Fifty-seven percent of the respondents believe upper-income earners pay less than their fair share in taxes. “About one in five Louisiana residents say the poor are paying less than their fair share,” the survey stated.
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