A poll released Monday by the Yankee Institute cautions lawmakers running for re-election next year that breaking the spending cap is even less popular than raising taxes.
The survey of 1,006 registered voters was conducted by Cygnal, a communication and research firm with offices in Alabama, Texas, and Washington, on behalf of the Yankee Institute, a conservative think tank based in Hartford.
According to the data, 73.1 percent would be less likely to cast their ballot for a lawmaker who supported an increase in spending above the constitutional cap. That compares to 69.8 percent of respondents who would be less likely to support a lawmaker who voted to increase taxes.
About 37 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as conservative, 36 percent as moderate, and 26 percent as liberal.
The spending cap was instituted in 1992 to quell anger over the implementation of the state income tax. It is calculated by tying increases in state spending to either personal income growth or the rate of inflation. Exceeding the spending cap or changing it would require a three-fifths majority vote of the legislature. The cap has been exceeded or bypassed eight times since it was implemented.
A budget proposal from Democratic lawmakers would reinterpret the spending cap to exempt pension contributions and other retirement benefits. That would put their budget, which would spend $300 million more than Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal, under the spending cap by $1.5 billion. Budget negotiations between the Democrats and Malloy are ongoing.
The poll found 58.1 percent of voters disapprove of the job Malloy is doing and 55.8 percent disapprove of the job the legislature is doing. Only 35.3 percent of respondents said they believed the state “is on the right track.”
Malloy, who campaigned on a promise not to raise taxes, proposed canceling and delaying tax breaks while increasing the tax burden on hospitals and corporations by $357 million in the first year of the two-year budget.
The Democrats’ $2.4 billion tax package would lower the sales tax overall but apply it to dozens of additional services. It would also implement a 2 percent capital gains tax and raise the personal income tax on the state’s wealthiest residents.
State Rep. Jeffrey Berger, D-Waterbury, co-chairman of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said changes to the sales tax structure are necessary to reflect new economic realities that have shifted the state’s economy from goods production to services.
“That’s been the way that sales and use tax has transformed itself moving into the 21st century,” Berger said. “The way that sales and use tax was used in the 50s and 60s doesn’t work now.”
Republican lawmakers released an alternative budget that restored many of Malloy’s proposed spending cuts but, unlike the Democrats, did not include tax increases. Instead, it asked for $600 million in labor concessions, reductions in overtime costs, and the creation of a hybrid 401(k)-style pension plan.
The poll found that 56 percent of respondents support the Republican budget proposal while only 36.1 percent support the Democrats’ proposal.
The Yankee Institute describes Connecticut’s tax burden as one of the worst in the country, citing research from a national think tank called the Tax Foundation. Based on 2011 statistics, the Tax Foundation found that Connecticut residents pay more state and local taxes per capita than any other state except for New Jersey and New York.
Yankee Institute President Carol Platt Liebau said the poll illustrates voter frustration with ineffective tax and budget policies. “The people of Connecticut clearly understand the problems facing our state. They know Connecticut can do better,” Liebau said in a press release. “A broad majority of likely voters believes the right path forward is to stop increasing taxes and maintain the spending cap.”
One survey question, based on the premise that a few hundred Connecticut taxpayers are responsible for 10 percent of all taxes collected, asked if respondents agree that higher taxes might drive the wealthiest residents out of the state. A majority said yes, with 41.1 percent registering definite agreement and 22.4 percent registering some agreement.
In a March 2011 Quinnipiac poll, however, 48 percent of those surveyed believe the wealthy are taxed too little in this state. Those results came as Malloy released a tax package that included an income tax increase on anyone who makes more than $50,000 per year.
Data from the state Department of Revenue Services shows that the number of millionaires in the state held relatively steady for the five-year period ending in 2013. There were 9,803 taxpayers reporting incomes higher than $1 million in 2013 compared to 9,506 in 2008. The lowest number of millionaires was seen in 2009 at 7,448; the highest number came in 2012 at 10,842.
The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.09 percent.