Monday, January 14, 2008

Tough Choices and Predictable Poll Drops

When the economy booms and revenue coffers bulge, state elected officials can hand out tax cuts and still increase spending, making voters happy and looking brilliant as they do it.

It is a lot harder when the economy contracts and revenues fall short. Requirements in most states to balance the state budget every year impose much greater fiscal discipline and make governing much more difficult.

Unlike at the federal level, elected officials have to make choices and can't simply rack up new debt on the federal credit card. States have to raise taxes and cut spending.

Unsurprisingly, voters don't tend to like either of these options. Support for the Governor has dropped according to the Baltimore Sun:

Just over a year after O'Malley won 53 percent of the vote, only 35 percent of voters approve of the way he's handled his job.
Forty-five percent disapprove of O'Malley's job performance and twenty percent don't know. Voters aren't thrilled with the new taxes imposed by the State during the special session:
In a state where education is perennially named by residents as the most important issue, high taxes have skyrocketed to the top of voter concerns, with 28 percent identifying it as the most pressing problem. . . .

The poll found that opposition to the tax package is intense, with 39 percent of voters saying they disapproved strongly. Of the 32 percent who approved of the outcome, 20 percent did so "not so strongly." . . .

Asked to set aside their own personal feelings about the outcome and comment on the general fairness of the tax increases, 51 percent said they were unfair, compared with 33 percent who said the package was fair.
Blair Lee of the Gazette cites a similar Gonzales Research Poll in his recent column. Lee doesn't bother to suggest how else the State might have coped with the budget crisis. Or if voters might have liked it better.

One doubts that major budget cuts proposed by the Republicans would have been better received than the tax increases. Many appeared unhappy with the budget cuts that occurred despite increases in the sales and income tax as well as the prospect of slots.