Poll: Tax that Guy Behind the Tree

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

The new Public Policy Institute poll indicates California voters are not eager for taxes on themselves but would consider raising taxes they perceive to be on others. While likely voters came out heavily against a sales tax on services and a vehicle license fee increase, they favored raising taxes on commercial property.

One immediately thinks of former United States Senator Russell Long’s ditty: “Don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax that man behind the tree.”

Or, of more recent vintage, one might think of Proposition 30 and its tax aimed largely at the top 1% of California income taxpayers.

The pollsters asked respondents if they would prefer to pay higher taxes and have more government services or lower taxes with fewer services. Higher Taxes and More Services garnered 55% while Lower Taxes and Fewer Services was chosen by 40%.

However, when it came time to declare for the higher taxes to get those services, likely voters could find only one tax of three offered by the pollsters that they could support – increased property taxes on business, something many voters think they would not pay.

Asked if they would support expanding the tax base by placing a sales tax on services, likely voters answered with a resounding “no.” Only 26% agreed while 68% disagreed. (It should be noted here that the question implies extending the sales tax to services at the current rate.)

When asked if the vehicle license tax should be increased, likely voters were even more adamantly against the idea: 20% Yes, 78% No.

However, when the split roll property tax was tested — having businesses pay property taxes based on current market values — the Ayes were 58%, No 36%. (Another note: while a split roll would alter Proposition 13, the poll once again showed huge support for Prop 13 among likely voters, 64% to 29%.)

Of course, taxes on business would come back to the voters in the form of increased costs in services and goods, not to mention threatening the existence of some small businesses who might have trouble passing on the tax increases. However, those considerations were not part of the question.

Much like Sen. Long, economist Milton Friedman once said, “Congress can raise taxes because it can persuade a sizeable fraction of the populace that somebody else will pay.”  That theory may be retested in California soon if politicians or activists take the poll findings to heart.

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