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Eye On Boise

Annual BSU survey is out, finds Idahoans want opposite of what Otter just asked lawmakers to do on taxes…

BSU Professor Justin Vaughn presents the results of the annual BSU Public Policy Survey at the Idaho state Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (Betsy Z. Russell)
BSU Professor Justin Vaughn presents the results of the annual BSU Public Policy Survey at the Idaho state Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (Betsy Z. Russell)

The annual BSU Public Policy Survey is out, and it shows that Idahoans overwhelmingly believe the state budget should stay the same or be increased; nearly two-thirds think the current tax burden is about right; and if there were to be tax reform, they favor eliminating the sales tax on food by a two-to-one margin over cutting state income tax rates.

That means big majorities of Idahoans, as measured in the university’s rigorous 1,000-person poll of Idaho adults, want the opposite of what Gov. Butch Otter has proposed lawmakers do this year – cut income tax rates while leaving the 6 percent sales tax on groceries – and they disagree with all three leading GOP candidates for governor, who want to cut taxes and the state budget. 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador has said Idaho’s state budget needs to be “slashed.”

Here are the numbers: On the state budget, asked if they think it should be increased, decreased or stay about the same, 42.2 percent said “stay about the same.” Another 35.7 percent thought it should be increased. Just 8.3 percent said it should be decreased; 13.8 percent said they didn’t know or refused to answer.

“That’s been consistent for three years,” said BSU political science Professor Justin Vaughn, who presented the survey’s results at a Statehouse news conference today.

On Idaho’s current taxes, asked if they’re “too high, too low or about right,” 62.6 percent chose “about right.” “Too high” was the choice for 24.1 percent; “too low” for 8.7 percent.

“Almost two-thirds of our respondents said that the tax burden in the state that we have currently is about right,” Vaughn said.

Asked, “Would you choose to eliminate Idaho’s sales tax on food or reduce the state income tax?” respondents to the survey chose eliminate the tax on food by 59 percent. Reduce income tax was the choice of just 28.1 percent. Another 10.6 percent said neither should happen, and 6.6 percent didn’t know or refused to answer.

Vaughn said that question was asked several different ways. “Pretty consistently, no matter what information you give people, eliminating tax on food is more popular than reducing income tax,” he said.

Corey Cook, dean of BSU’s School of Public Service, said his school’s mission is “to prepare students for careers in public service, and serve as an unbiased source of information for decision makers in the state of Idaho.”

The survey is part of that effort, he said. “We do it at the standard that is an academic one,” more rigorous than standard polling. “It tells us what the public’s priorities are, what their preferences are on a range of policy issues.” The full results are available online here.

“We have no political agenda in pursuing these questions,” Cook noted. “We’re trying to ask questions that we think will be relevant to decision makers” and will help them gauge public opinion in the state.

Another interesting number from the survey: Asked if they agree with the statement, “Our state’s elected officials need to create an Idaho solution regarding affordable health insurance plans,” a whopping 57.7 percent said they “strongly agree.” Another 19.3 percent chose “somewhat agree.” And 5.6 percent said they “somewhat disagree,” while 12.2 percent “strongly” disagreed. Just 5.2 percent refused to answer or didn’t know.

The survey also found that 57.5 percent of Idahoans believe “things in Idaho are generally headed in the right direction,” while 30.8 percent thought they were “off on the wrong track.” It found that Idahoans are optimistic about how the state’s economy will fare, and see education as the most important issue facing the state; followed by the economy; health care; and taxes. Education and the economy long have been the top concerns in such surveys, Vaughn said; this year’s showed health care and taxes “slightly increasing.”

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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