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Eye On Boise

New statewide poll says 70% of Idahoans think current state tax system is fair

A new statewide poll commissioned by the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho has some unfavorable news for those planning to push for major tax reforms or tax cuts in the coming year: 70 percent of Idahoans rate the current state tax system as mostly or very fair right now, and 59 percent say the current taxes they pay are about right for the services they receive, compared to 30 percent who say they’re too high and 8 percent who say they’re too low.

“The 70 percent number is as high as I’ve seen, in terms of the tax system being fair,” said pollster Joe Goode, president of American Strategies Inc. in Washington, D.C., which conducted the poll. He said he found much lower figures when polling in other states that were considering tax reforms, including Kentucky, Minnesota and North Carolina in 2013. In general, he said, nobody likes paying taxes. “That’s a pretty high number, when 70 percent of them say that their tax system is fair.”

Only 32 percent said they believe that Idaho’s personal income tax is too high for the services they receive; 56 percent said it’s about right. Yet state lawmakers are mulling cutting state income taxes for top earners. Just 25 percent thought that Idaho’s current 6 percent sales tax was too high, while 67 percent thought it was about right for the services they receive.

“They feel the system’s mostly fair, they feel their tax load is about right, although they feel that upper-income and large corporations may not be paying their fair share,” Goode reported. Fifty-three percent of respondents said people with the highest incomes pay too little; 58 percent said large corporations pay too little.

The poll, which queried 603 registered Idaho voters identified as likely to vote in the 2016 general election, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. It was taken from Nov. 16-21. Goode has been a pollster for more than 25 years; he does lots of polling for trade organizations, and his biggest client is the National Association of Realtors. Associated Taxpayers of Idaho President Ben Davenport said the group plans to post the full poll results on its website.

The poll found that 47 percent of respondents said they believe Idaho is headed in the right direction, while 39 percent said it’s headed in the wrong direction and 15 percent didn’t know. “Voters are kind of mixed right now,” Goode said. Education and schools were named as the top priority respondents want the Legislature to focus on, at 41 percent; with economy and jobs second at 20 percent; and the cost of health care third at 16 percent.

“Younger voters are a little more bullish on the state’s direction,” Goode said. “As they get older, especially the 50-64 age group, they are more pessimistic.”

The poll also found that 57 percent of respondents opposed new local-option sales taxes as a trade-off to lowering the income tax rate; 69 percent favored eliminating the sales tax on groceries; and 55 percent supported more efforts to collect sales taxes on online sales if the proceeds are used to reduce other taxes.

Asked which they consider more important, fully funding public education and workforce training or reducing the amount they pay in state taxes, 58 percent chose the former, and just 30 percent the latter. Said Goode, “When it comes to tax reforms, people are only looking for minor changes.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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