Contact: Joe King, Office of Public Affairs
April 14, 2003
Illinois voters are concerned about the budget – both the state’s and their own – but they are willing to pay a bit more in taxes to make sure that funding for education and social services are not cut, say researchers at the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University.
Nearly 95 percent of 1,206 voters polled for the 19th annual Illinois Policy Survey, said funding for education, kindergarten through college, should be protected at current levels or increased. They backed up that assertion when asked hypothetical questions about their willingness to pay $25 more a year in taxes to avoid cuts in specific services. Eighty percent were willing to pay that much to avoid cuts in K-12 education, while 56 percent would pay to prevent cuts in higher education.
Probing further, pollsters asked respondents if they would be willing to pay more to see improvements to K-12 education, such as higher teacher salaries, reduced class sizes and repairs to rundown schools. Seventy-two percent said they would be willing to pay $100 more a year in taxes for those things, 32 percent said they would pay up to $200 more in taxes and about 10 percent were willing to pay up to $500.
“That was quite interesting,” said John Lewis, director of the Center for Governmental Studies, noting that nearly a third of respondents said they were worse off than a year ago. “It indicates that even in difficult times there are some things Illinois residents believe are critically important and they are willing to sacrifice for them.”
Illinois residents are also willing to sacrifice (in the form of paying an additional $25 a year in taxes) for several social services, including medical care for the poor (77 percent); aid to needy families (71 percent); public health (69 percent) and job training (65 percent).
An additional $25 in taxes per household would equal about $120 million in revenue in each of those instances, Lewis estimated.
“The governor has made it clear that he does not want to raise taxes, saying that the state must live within the current revenue stream,” Lewis said. “But voters seem willing to pay a little bit more for things that are important to them, as long as there are also efforts to make significant cuts in state spending.”
Respondents had other ideas on how the state can cut the deficit. Ninety percent said the state should cut government waste and 65 percent favored raising corporate or business taxes. The idea of increasing gasoline taxes was favored by only 27 percent, and 43 percent advocated decreasing property tax rebates for older adults.
Respondents were acutely aware of, and deeply concerned about the state’s budget problems. Twenty-nine percent considered budget problems “the most important problem facing the state,” making it the top concern. In a related question, nine out of 10 respondents rated the state’s budget problems as serious.
“After weeks of talk about budget deficits, it’s not surprising that people were concerned about the budget, but I am a little surprised at their level of concern,” Lewis said.
Placing a distant second on the list of concerns was education, cited by 17 percent of respondents. It was the first time in the 19 years of the survey that education did not top the list of concerns. Government corruption and unemployment were the third most commonly cited problems, each mentioned by 12 percent of respondents.
The Illinois Policy Survey is designed to provide information on public attitudes, values and expectations with respect to the performance of elected officials and policy issues facing Illinois. Polling was conducted in January 2003. The survey has a 95 percent confidence interval of + 3, meaning there is a 95 percent likelihood the population percentage will fall within 3 percentage points of the sample percentage.
The NIU Center for Governmental Studies, which produced the survey, is part of NIU’s new division of University Outreach. A statistical breakdown of the questions referenced in this news release can be found online at http://www.niu.edu/pubaffairs/RELEASES/2003/april/results.shtml.