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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Eye on Boise: Poll shows Idahoans not pining big for tax cuts

BOISE - 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, 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 Idaho’s current 6 percent sales tax is too high, while 67 percent thought it is 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 said. 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 and does lots of polling for trade organizations. His biggest client is the National Association of Realtors.

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. Economy and jobs was 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 tradeoff 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 30 percent chose the latter. Said Goode, “When it comes to tax reforms, people are only looking for minor changes.”

Lawmakers draft tax cuts

The Idaho Legislature’s Tax Working Group announced Friday that it’ll take public testimony at its meeting Tuesday on four proposed tax law changes: First, lowering Idaho’s top personal and corporate income tax rate from 7.4 percent to 7.3 percent, without making any change in other categories for lower earners; second, two versions of a proposal to increase the exemption from the personal property tax on business equipment, either raising it from the current $100,000 per county per taxpayer to $150,000 or to $250,000; and third, eliminating the sales tax on food and doing away with the current grocery tax credit.

Public testimony will be taken in the Lincoln Auditorium of the state Capitol from 8:45 a.m. to noon Tuesday; the working group will convene that morning at 8:30 and reconvene after a lunch break from 1:15 to 3 to discuss draft legislation and next steps. The meeting will be streamed live online at www.idahoptv.org/insession.

Presidential primary

Thirteen Republicans and three Constitution Party candidates for president have filed for Idaho’s new March presidential primary election and will appear on the March 8 primary ballot.

The 13 Republicans are: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Peter Messina, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump.

The three Constitution Party candidates are Scott Copeland of Weatherford, Texas; J.R. Myers of Soldotna, Alaska; and Patrick Anthony Ockander of San Antonio, Texas.

Only registered Republicans will be allowed to vote in the GOP primary; only registered Constitution Party members will be allowed to vote in that party’s presidential primary. Unaffiliated voters can affiliate with the party at the polls in order to participate.

Idaho Democrats will be holding county party caucuses on March 22 to select their presidential nominee.

As of Dec. 1, Idaho had 740,567 registered voters. Of those, 2,263 were registered members of the Constitution Party; 297,424 were registered Republicans; 70,173 were registered Democrats; 4,669 were registered Libertarians; and 366,038 were unaffiliated.

Political reporter Betsy Z. Russell can be reached by email at betsyr@spokesman.com or (208) 336-2854. Follow Russell’s Eye on Boise blog at www.spokesman.com/ boise and Twitter handle @BetsyZRussell.

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