Monday, April 6, 2009

Robert Robb: Survey touting support for tax increase useless

The public opinion survey being peddled by the Arizona Republican Party purporting to show support for Gov. Brewer's tax increase is, to use a technical term from my erstwhile days as a political consultant, useless. (Actually, the technical political consulting term is more descriptive, but I eschew such language since becoming a genteel journalist.)

First, the survey didn't ask whether people favored, or supported, or would vote for a tax increase - the conventional ways of soliciting a response.

Instead, respondents were asked how "acceptable" they found a sales tax increase. According to the survey, two-thirds of voters found it very or somewhat "acceptable." That doesn't tell you much about whether they would actually vote for one.

Then the poll provided what will undoubtedly prove to be a false premise about how the proceeds from the $1 billion tax increase Brewer is proposing would be used. The survey said this: "All of the funds raised from these taxes would be dedicated toward maintaining 2010 spending levels for K-12 education, universities, community colleges and health care for the poor."

All of those programs, however, are substantially protected by the maintenance of effort requirements attached to the federal stimulus money. To get the federal stimulus money, states have to agree to maintain state funding for education and not reduce Medicaid eligibility.

At the end of the day, the combination of state general fund appropriations and federal stimulus funds for next year will probably equal or exceed the current level of general fund support for these programs.

So, Brewer's $1 billion tax increase would actually be for other state programs. Some of it might go to replace cuts in social service benefits. But most of it perforce would have to go to keeping the state workforce in place, doing the day-to-day stuff that the rest of state government does.

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