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Poll: Lower taxes but don't cut services
State residents want to 'have their cake and eat it too," a poll expert says. Sacred services? Police, parks and health care.
By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published June 6, 2007
TALLAHASSEE – A majority of Floridians is willing to give up government services in exchange for lower property taxes, a new poll shows, but not in sacred programs such as police, parks and health care.
As state lawmakers struggle to agree on how much property taxes should be lowered, public sentiment offers little clarity to help resolve the matter. The new survey says residents are even split on whether they would accept smaller local government payrolls in exchange for lower property taxes.
"They want their cake and eat it too. Is that so unusual?" said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac University's Polling Institute, which conducted the poll.
Rep. Jack Seiler, one of two leading Democrats on the tax issue, didn't think so.
"There is not necessarily a connection between taxes and services, " said Seiler of Wilton Manors. "When I talk to people at home, they say the same thing."
The results, surfacing less than a week before the start of a special legislative session, make up the first extensive statewide survey of public opinion on property tax cuts.
The poll of 1, 174 registered voters by the Connecticut school was conducted May 29-June 4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
A total of 55 percent said they would "in general" support tax cuts even if it meant cutbacks in services.
But when specific services were mentioned, support for tax cuts disappeared, with 85 percent opposing cuts in police and fire protection, 77 percent opposing cuts in public health clinics and 73 percent opposing cuts in libraries.
City and county leaders have repeatedly warned that tax reductions contemplated by legislators would force cuts in those programs.
The subject of property taxes has dominated the Florida media for several months, but the Quinnipiac survey suggests many people are paying scant attention.
Only 11 percent said they have heard "a great deal" about one proposal that would tie tax cuts on the average value of homes in a county. But a full 53 percent said they had heard "not much" or "nothing at all" about it.
That lack of information was reflected in incongruous results to two poll questions.
Asked whether local governments have done a good job balancing services and keeping taxes low, 71 percent said no and 22 percent said yes.
But more than half, 53 percent, trust local government more than state government to make the right spending decisions with taxpayer dollars 32 percent chose the state.
Seiler said the Republican-controlled Legislature had a chance this spring to reduce the level of property taxes needed to run public schools, but didn't do so. "We failed, " he said. "That's the one area where we could have cut property taxes."
The poll showed tepid expectations for the upcoming session, with 53 percent calling it "very" or "somewhat" likely that lawmakers would "significantly" cut property taxes, and 43 percent saying it was "not too likely" or "not likely at all."
The poll also showed, as other surveys have, overwhelming support for Gov. Charlie Crist's performance in office, with 70 percent approving and 12 percent disapproving of his job in the first five months as governor.
In addition, 60 percent said they believe Crist makes decisions based on principle, not what is popular.
By a 69 to 19 percent margin, voters said they believe "most public officials" make decisions based on what's popular.
"Those are pretty good numbers, " Brown said of the Crist ratings. "I don't think there's a lot for him to be unhappy about."
Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.