From the department of “Did we really need a poll to tell us that?” this week came a survey commissioned by the Yankee Institute, a local conservative think tank, which suggested that Connecticut’s voting public is not a fan of sharing the sacrifice.
Large majorities opposed increasing the gas tax, the sales tax and income taxes. An astonishing 71 percent of our legendarily fickle public favored balancing the budget with at least some tax increases, but when it came to actual, specific measures those surveyed shied away.
Voters also opposed the earned income tax credit, which was thoroughly described by a lengthy, rambling and not particularly flattering paragraph—the only program to get such treatment in the poll. The income tax question was quite vague by comparison, as it didn’t even break the plan down by income level.
Still, voters didn’t like it, nor did they favor eliminating middle-class friendly property tax credits. Their solution? Extract concessions from state employee unions and raise the so-called “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco. Apparently state employees rank right up there with chain smokers and heavy drinkers as great sources of guilt-free income for the state.
The results of the poll aren’t terribly surprising. Voters always seem to favor shared sacrifice when it’s someone else doing the sacrificing. Plus, voters seem to think they’ve already sacrificed. There’s a belief out there that most people in this state are bent to the breaking point by heavy taxes (probably because politicians and pundits keep telling them they are) which is why 58% of respondents to the poll said they’d considered moving out of state to get away from it all.
And yet, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy scored a 50% approval rating, which is not bad for a guy whose policies are apparently so universally loathed. Actually, Malloy and the Democrats are having a pretty good week, all things considered. He did pretty well in his ongoing verbal feud with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), and is one of the few governors in the country to so stridently challenge the conservative dogma that lower taxes and spending cuts always lead to prosperity (if it’s true, someone explain to me why Boston, in a state with agonizingly high income taxes, is coming out of the recession in such good shape). He’s even billed himself as the “anti-Christie,” which, poor choice of phrase aside, is the kind of thing that should make national Democrats sit up and take notice.
Malloy and his party also held on to most seats in nine special elections for seats vacated by legislative Democrats, widely billed as a referendum on Malloy’s plans. Republican candidates campaigned hard against the tax increases. Republican candidate Janet Peckinpaugh, the former TV anchor who lost to U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney last November, railed against the plan, calling it “a disaster for our towns and our state.” And yet, she lost, as did six of the eight other Republicans on the ballot.
Once again, Connecticut Republicans found themselves unable to take advantage of popular annoyance over taxes, even in the Republican-friendly conditions of special elections and in moderate districts like the small-town lower Connecticut River 36th House District Peckinpaugh was running in. This final failure has led to grumbling among some Republicans about GOP Chairman Chris Healy, who could find it very difficult to be re-elected in June.
Malloy is certainly lucky that official opposition to his plans comes in the form of the weak and largely rudderless Connecticut Republican Party, which makes it that much more likely that he’ll be able to push his budget through the legislature relatively intact. That aside, what do these two conflicting bookends to the week, a low-turnout special election which saw Republicans pick up only two out of nine open seats and the Yankee Institute poll, tell us about the political atmosphere in Connecticut right now?
In a word: confused.
For a governor trying to pass a budget full of unpopular tax hikes, union concessions and difficult cuts, that might be the best news of all.
Susan Bigelow is the former owner of Connecticut Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife, and cats.