Louisianans favor combination of tax increases and spending cuts, survey finds

Most Louisiana residents want lawmakers to use a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to solve the state’s recurring budget problems, according to The Louisiana Survey 2017 by LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs.

The survey, which has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, found a majority of the public supports raising taxes for specific areas, like education, health care and infrastructure, instead of cutting spending on those areas, but there was less support for specific changes to personal income and sales taxes.

Generally speaking, both Republicans and Democrats want lawmakers to reduce spending as well as raise taxes, the report found. Few want only spending cuts—24%—and even fewer want only tax increases, at 2%. And when pressed, most emphasize spending cuts and say the government can find inefficiencies.

The report, released today, provides a wide-ranging picture of how the public feels about budget and tax issues, from income and sales taxes to state programs like TOPS, health care and education. But it also includes caveats and roadblocks for lawmakers looking for a simple understanding of the public’s position on complicated issues.

For instance, 62% of people support raising taxes for elementary and secondary education, but 64% believe the state can spend less money and still provide the same level of services.

The upshot, says the report’s co-author and Public Policy Research Lab Director Michael Henderson, is Louisiana residents are not fundamentally opposed to tax increases. However, it is not completely clear which taxes the public wants to raise—and by how much. Plus, tax increases must be tied to specific areas, like education, health care or infrastructure, to gain support.

“Most Louisiana residents are willing to pony up some dollars to make sure their services are paid for,” Henderson said today at the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “(But) most people think they’re paying their fair share … so finding the particular tax to raise and finding who pays for it, that’s a much more complicated part of the equation.”

That leaves state lawmakers, who will be debating sweeping tax and spending changes in the upcoming legislative session, with a general direction on how to fix the state’s budget challenges, but few specifics.

One of the exceptions is on the state’s gasoline tax. There is “overwhelming” and “bipartisan” support for raising the state’s gasoline tax when it is tied to infrastructure spending, the survey found. An increase to the state’s relatively low gasoline tax will almost certainly be debated at the Capitol this year.

A majority of both Republicans and Democrats support an increase of the state gasoline tax of up to 15 cents, and an overall majority support a 20-cent increase, if the money is dedicated to “improving highways, bridges and other infrastructure.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to unveil his tax plan this week ahead of the legislative session that begins April 10. The state faces a roughly $1.5 billion fiscal cliff in 2018 when temporary taxes fall off the books.

The report is the first of six that polled public opinion on a range of topics, including criminal justice and the Affordable Care Act. The rest of the reports will be released in the coming weeks, Henderson said.

Read the full report.

—Sam Karlin

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