Cigarette taxes weren't the only revenue proposal the Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco tested when it surveyed Illinois voters this week. Capitol Fax obtained the toplines from the poll, which gauged support for a series of potential solutions to the budget deficit. The results are interesting.
Boosting the cigarette tax was the only proposal that garnered majority support. More than 60 percent of respondents rejected the other revenue ideas listed, such as increases in the income tax, sales tax, gasoline tax, and vehicle registration fees. Equally unpopular, however, were cuts to critical services. A whopping 84 percent opposed reductions in public education funding. Cuts to health care programs, highway patrolmen, and road construction weren't also opposed by at least 60 percent of respondents.
In short, voters want to protect state services but don't want to pick up the bill. So what lessons can we learn from this? First, legislators can never fully please the public. What they can do is deliver outcomes voters enjoy. That means balancing the budget in a reasonable and responsible way so as to ensure the state is solvent and not stripped to the bone. For Democrats -- including Gov. Pat Quinn -- it's clear they should reshape their tax hike plan and reframe their message. Comprehensive tax reform would raise the income tax and expand the sales tax to services -- changes that are sure to upset many voters. But it would also deliver property tax relief, make the tax system more equal, help balance the budget, and eventually funnel more money into schools. Most importantly, it would give voters confidence that the party can actually solve problems, rather than just kick the can down the road.