A group of health- and education groups have each kicked in $20,000 each to pay for polls and focus groups to figure out which tax increases would have the best chance with voters. The group has no name, but contributors include the state hospital association, community clinics, Group Health, the Washington Education Association and SEIU, according to Cassie Sauer, spokeswoman for the hospital association.
"All of us felt that the (state budget) cuts, without revenue, are so devastating, especially to health care and education, that it would be irreponsible, immoral and unconscionable to not consider whether we could raise revenues," Sauer said.
She wouldn't share the polling data, but said that the results, gathered over the past month, suggest that the public has no idea how deep state budget cuts could go. When told, she said, voters seem willing to pay for some taxes to offset those cuts.
The groups have aimed for about $2 billion in new money, asking people how they feel about certain cuts and certain taxes. Sin taxes -- cigarettes, alcohol, candy, gum -- seem acceptable, Sauer said.
They didn't even try asking about a property tax hike, she said. "I don't think that's going to be on the table at all," Sauer said. People are too concerned about losing their homes, she said.
Voters were somewhat willing to consider a sales tax increase, she said.
Interestingly, when the focus groups were asked what might be cut, the only thing most could cite was the recent decision to close some driver-licensing offices.
"People have no clue what the cuts are that are being considered," she said. "They're aware that there's a huge budget shortfall, but they don't know what's at risk. When they hear what's at risk, they're stunned."
Sauer said that lawmakers were briefed on the results over the weekend.
"They are definitely interested," she said.
Lawmakers have repeatedly said that if they decide to try to offset deep budget cuts with a tax hike, they'll put the proposal before voters. Sauer said the coalition is also preparing for a campaign to convince voters to back such a measure.