Poll: Support for Sales Tax Hike is Slipping Slightly

Support for a quarter-cent sales tax increase this November for local roads and mass transit is slipping a bit, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.

By a bare majority, 52-44 percent, Utahns still favor the voter-approved sales tax hike, which would put about $147 million of new tax money by 2017 into local city and county roads and the Utah Transit Authority and other mass transit operations, found pollster Dan Jones & Associates in a poll conducted last month.

However, a similar question Jones placed before respondents back in April found support for the new tax at 58-41 percent support.

The margin of error in both polls is just outside of the change, so it appears Utahns are cooling to the idea of a sales tax hike.

In his latest survey Jones surveyed 500 Utahns from Aug. 7-14, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.97 percent.

The 2015 Legislature adopted a new state gasoline tax formula, one which will raise the state per-gallon tax by five cents come Jan. 1.

But local cities, counties and mass transit districts need more tax money as well, to build and maintain their roads and operate buses, light-rail and heavy-rail trains.

Instead of trying to place a larger gasoline tax on all sales of fuel – which would be confusing and upset the delicate gasoline market from one town to another – lawmakers decided to give county officials the authority to place a general sales tax hike before voters.

All counties along the Wasatch Front – a few others – decided to put the sales tax hike before voters this November – which is a municipal election year.

Even if you live in an unincorporated area of your county – and have no other election issues on the ballot – you have may have the sales tax vote before you if your county officials acted to put it on your ballot.

Just recently a group of business and civic leaders started a “Vote For Prop 1” campaign, aimed at passing the quarter-cent sales tax in your area.

But Jones’ new survey shows as the issue is discussed more in the media and other arenas, citizens are questioning the increase more.

Among all Utahns, Jones finds:

  • 52 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” favor the sales tax hike for roads and mass transit.
  • 44 percent oppose, and 3 percent don’t know.
  • That is a drop of 6 percentage points in favorability since April.
  • Among those who said they are Republicans, 49 percent support, 48 percent oppose and 2 percent didn’t know.

Back in April, Republicans favored the tax hike, 52-42 percent.

By far most Utahns are Republicans. And it may take a public effort by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and other leading Republicans to help push the local option hike across the finish line.

Herbert is not up for re-election this year but already faces GOP millionaire Jonathan Johnson in 2016.

  • Democrats favor the new tax hike even more in August than they did in April. Back then Democrats supported the tax hike, 69-28 percent.
  • In the new Jones’ survey they favor it, 78-21 percent.
  • Political independents support the hike in the new poll, 51-44. In April, they supported it, 53-40 percent.

So apparently, any pro-Prop 1 campaign needs to be targeted to Republicans and political independents, or the more conservative among us.

Jones finds in the new survey those who defined themselves as “very conservative” politically oppose the tax hike, 61-36 percent; those who said they are “somewhat conservative” favor the hike, 51-47 percent, while those who said they are “moderates” politically support it, 55-40 percent.

Liberals support the tax hike overwhelmingly.

The Utah Transit Authority has been taking some hits over the last several years in Salt Lake Tribune articles, which show UTA bosses are well-paid and take a lot of travel, visiting mass transit operations across the U.S. and the world.

UTA critics have jumped onboard, and oppose, or at least question, whether the large mass transit operation – which already gets some local option sales tax money – should get more taxpayer funds.

UTA officials say the increase – which would equal several million dollars a year – would go to bettering bus service, mainly during holiday and off-peak-hour routes.

The November vote is a package deal: Either voters approve the 0.25 percent sales tax hike in a lump, or they don’t.

Voters can’t pick to support a sales tax hike for their city and local streets, for example, but oppose it for the UTA.