BATON ROUGE – As the state grapples with a difficult budget year it is clear that the Louisiana public is opposed to cutting primary and secondary education, health care, and higher education.

More than two-thirds of Louisiana residents – 68 percent – prefer making no cuts to elementary and secondary education, 65 percent prefer not cutting health care, and 59 percent prefer not cutting higher education. Even among respondents willing to cut these areas, the preference is generally for minor – as opposed to major – cuts.

A full copy of the report and a discussion of the methodology can be obtained at here.

The public is open to a wide range of options, including selling state properties, early release of nonviolent offenders, a temporary reinstatement of the Stelly tax provisions, and tax increases on tobacco, alcohol, and gambling. 

According to the results of the 2011 Louisiana Survey, a plurality of state residents – 46 percent – prefer some combination of spending cuts and tax increases to address the $1.6 billion state budget shortfall. A nearly identical number – 44 percent – prefer addressing the shortfall through spending cuts alone.

Residents are equally divided on whether existing cuts have gone too far. Forty percent of respondents said cuts have gone too far, while 39 percent believe cuts have not gone far enough. The remaining respondents say they are unsure or that existing cuts are about right.

There is also nearly universal support for increasing “sin taxes” on gambling, tobacco, and alcohol, as well as more limited support for taxes on wealthier individuals and households. Eighty-five percent expressed support for increasing taxes on gambling, while 76 percent supported increasing taxes on alcohol and 73 percent supported increasing taxes on tobacco. Support for each of these measures has increased over the past year. Perhaps more surprising, 57 percent of residents supported raising income taxes on higher earning individuals and households – defined in the survey as individuals earning more than $100,000 or households earning more than $150,000.

Louisiana residents also appear to be expressing some buyer’s remorse over the repeal of the Stelly Plan. Fifty-nine percent of respondents in the current survey describe the repeal as "a bad idea because it cost tax revenue and contributed to shortfalls,” while 27 percent describe it as a good idea because it cut state income taxes. Moreover, 55 percent supported temporarily reinstating the Stelly tax provisions to address current budget shortfalls.

When taxes are tied to specific uses, support increases substantially. For example, only 9 percent of respondents support an increase in oil and gas taxes. When the increase is tied to improving roads and infrastructure, support increases to 52 percent. Similarly, 61 percent of residents supported increasing income taxes if the additional revenue was dedicated to offsetting cuts to health care or higher education, respectively.

Louisiana residents are also open to a series of other proposals, including selling state buildings and properties (66 percent express support), early release of elderly nonviolent offenders (63 percent), eliminating or reducing tax exemptions on prescription drugs (59 percent), and increasing fees for some state government services (54 percent). They are divided on reducing or eliminating tax exemptions and privatization (50 percent) and are opposed to laying off state workers (31 percent).

Reading into the data broadly, public opinion on budget issues may best described as “permissive,” meaning that the public recognizes the severity of the budgetary crisis and is open to multiple policy options for addressing the shortfall. As the results of the 2011 Louisiana Survey reveal, they are less anti-tax and show considerably more reluctance to making meaningful spending cuts than they are commonly portrayed.

The annual Louisiana Survey, sponsored by LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, was created to serve as a barometer of statewide public opinion. The 2011 Louisiana Survey includes 724 randomly selected respondents including 510 landline telephone respondents and 214 cell phone respondents. The survey was conducted from Feb. 1 to March 21 and has margin of error of +/- 3.2 percentage points. Final results are weighted to reflect the most current population estimates available here.  For more information, contact Kirby Goidel, director of the Manship School’s Research Facility at 225-578-7588, or by eMail.

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