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News >  Pacific NW

Residents feel good about state’s direction

Rebecca Boone Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho residents are generally happy with state affairs but still worry about the economy and low-paying jobs, according to a poll by Boise State University released Friday.

Seventy percent of 531 respondents to the university’s 16th Annual Idaho Public Policy Survey said they were satisfied with the direction the state is headed, political science professor Jim Weatherby said. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percent.

But 29 percent worry about low-paying jobs, and another 22 percent say they’re concerned about those without jobs at all. State officials estimated December’s jobless rate at 5.1 percent.

And though 40 percent of respondents to the survey said they trust local government, many think that property tax rates – local government’s source of revenue – are too high.

Weatherby said 28 percent of the survey’s 531 respondents said local property taxes were the least fair. The federal income tax was next, with 27 percent saying it was unfair.

“I like to call this Weatherby’s hatred scale,” he said. “Those that get the fewest votes are therefore the most popular.”

A majority of respondents – 60 percent – said state income taxes were at about the right level, and 63 percent said Idaho’s sales tax was at the right level. Still, people were split on whether a 1-cent temporary sales tax increase should be extended beyond its expiration date of July 1.

A total of 43 percent wanted the tax extended, including 14 percent who wanted it made permanent. More than 44 percent said they wanted lawmakers to retire the tax and hold the line on any budget increases until the economy improved.

“This is coming on the eve of the legislative session when most legislators have said they will allow the 1-cent temporary sales tax to sunset. The number is very comparable to the number a year ago, when 62 percent responded that the state sales tax is about right,” Weatherby said.

Respondents again showed Libertarian leanings on many of the questions, Weatherby said, though 47 percent described themselves as Republican. Fifty-one percent said that when the fight against terrorism collides with Constitutional rights, those rights should be favored.

“There’s a very Libertarian nature of the Idaho voter, which is consistent with the response to protecting Constitutional rights over terrorism. People’s Republican status may be just from that tradition of a very strong Republican party organization. We’re a conservative state, but there is this Libertarian ‘don’t tread on me’ view in people’s lives,” Weatherby said.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they believe a woman should have the right to choose an abortion.

Though the percentage seems high for a state where 52 percent describe themselves as conservative, Weatherby said it was actually a decline in those for abortion rights compared to previous years: In 1993, 74 percent of respondents were for abortion rights, and in 1998, 69 percent said they were for abortion rights.

“It’s still a significant majority,” Weatherby said, “but support for the right to choose has declined. I suspect the numbers are declining for pro-choice nationally as well. To a degree it’s because there is not a strong abortion or anti-abortion movement right now. We’re in an era where it’s a very sensitive issue, but a lot of politicians won’t touch it. I think a lot of people are just uncomfortable with that issue.”

Strongest agreement came on the subject of education, with 80 percent of respondents saying the state should assist school districts with the cost of remodeling or building schools.

Three-quarters of the group disagreed with the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act, saying that school improvement shouldn’t be judged based on a single test. And more than half – 57 percent – disagree with the merit pay system, saying that student test scores should not be used to determine teacher pay.

The economy is the single most important problem facing Idaho today, 33 percent of respondents said. Another 21 percent thought education was the biggest issue – most specifically, the lack of funding for schools. And 7 percent named the environment as the top problem, a 3-percent decline from a year earlier.

Water is the biggest environmental problem, according to respondents. Twenty-four percent said they worry about drinking water contamination, and 17 percent said they were concerned about water pollution. Third in the list of major environmental problems came the storage, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste with 16 percent.

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