Many voters seem to believe that some tax increases are fine — as long as someone else is paying.
That's one finding from the latest Quinnipiac University Poll, released as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is asking Connecticut residents to pay $1.5 billion in tax increases in the coming fiscal year.
In the university's first Connecticut poll since the gubernatorial election, 66 percent said that Malloy's budget-balancing plan relies on too many tax increases, and 56 percent say the plan is unfair. In addition, 40 percent of those surveyed disapprove of Malloy's job performance in his first two months in office, and 51 percent disapprove of the way he is handling the state's budget crisis.
The biggest complaint targets Malloy's plan to raise the gasoline tax by 3 cents a gallon; 82 percent oppose it. The second least-favored proposal would eliminate the maximum $500 property tax credit on the state income tax. The maximum credit goes to families earning between $43,000 and about $100,000 a year, and the vast majority of the benefits from the credit goes to the middle class.
With the state facing a projected deficit of $3.7 billion in the fiscal year that starts in July, voters realize that some taxes will probably go up.
"It's just how he's going about it that people don't like,'' said Douglas Schwartz, the Quinnipiac poll's director. "On the question: Is this fair to you? Most people say no. And that's a bad number for an elected official to see when people are saying what you're doing isn't fair to me.''
He added, "People are fine with taxes on others — the wealthy and the smokers. If it doesn't affect them, people are fine raising [taxes], but they don't want to pay any higher taxes. … People do recognize it's necessary, but they don't want to pay it themselves.''
Malloy's approval rating of 35 percent paled when compared with the ratings of Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who consistently drew about 70 percent approval ratings and became the most popular governor in recent Connecticut history. Rell's rating peaked in January 2006 at 83 percent — the highest number ever recorded by the Quinnipiac University Poll, which also polls in New York, New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania.
Malloy strategist Roy Occhiogrosso said the results were not surprising, given the crisis that Malloy inherited and the difficult decisions he has made since taking office in early January.
"When you make tough choices — choices that have not been made by the prior governors — sometimes you end up being unpopular,'' Occhiogrosso told reporters at the state Capitol. "You can choose to lead or you can choose to be popular. This governor is choosing to lead. For now, given the tough choices he is making, the poll is no surprise.''
State Republican Party chairman Chris Healy said that the "poll tolls for thee'' as voters have given a negative response to the two-year, $40 billion budget package.
"Gov. Malloy's budget production is an opening-night clunker," Healy said. "If this was Broadway, they would have dropped the curtain after Act I and refunded the tickets.''
Schwartz said that Malloy's negative job approval rating might be the result of a prevailing sense of crankiness among the electorate.
"Connecticut voters are in a grumpy mood,'' Schwartz said. "Nearly 70 percent are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the state, and no elected official in this survey has an approval rating above 50 percent."
Yet there was a bright spot for the Democratic governor: 55 percent said they were optimistic about the next four years under Malloy's leadership. In addition, 89 percent said they liked his strategy of holding town hall meetings throughout the state to sell the budget plan. Although the voters were happy about the chance for getting to speak to the governor, they have not yet been sold on his ideas.
"He hasn't been successful thus far,'' Schwartz said of the town hall meetings. "It hasn't worked. … He hasn't made the sale yet, but that's what he's trying to do.''
As for Malloy's proposed tax hikes, voters liked his plan to raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol but rejected his other planned increases: 52 percent opposed an increase in the state sales tax from 6 percent to 6.35 percent.
Malloy isn't the only political leader with lagging approval ratings in Connecticut. The poll found that President Barack Obama and Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Joseph Lieberman all have job approval ratings below 50 percent. Lieberman's rating was lowest at 38 percent. The senator announced in January that he would not seek re-election.
In a sharp difference from his sky-high ratings as state attorney general, Blumenthal is seeing a different result in his first two months as a U.S. senator. While 49 percent of those surveyed approved of the way Blumenthal was doing his job, 25 percent disapproved and 26 percent had no opinion.
The telephone survey of 1,693 registered voters in Connecticut was conducted from March 1 to 7. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
The Quinnipiac poll results were similar to the results of a poll commissioned last month by the conservative-leaning Yankee Institute. In that poll, Malloy's proposal to eliminate the $500 state tax credit was the least popular part of the package. The Yankee poll showed that 73 percent of likely voters oppose the plan to end the popular credit of up to $500 on homeowners' state income taxes for the property taxes that they pay to their cities and towns. Only 15 percent favored the proposal, the survey showed.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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