SALEM - A new poll shows that a majority of voters would like to see the state curb spending to make up a $1.6 billion revenue deficit but also would support a corporate tax hike if the proceeds were dedicated to K-12 education.
The poll of 600 registered voters by Portland-based DHM Research sheds light on voters' preferences as legislators work on the 2017-19 budget and craft proposals to raise more money. The Oregon School Boards Association commissioned the poll to help guide lawmakers in policymaking this session.
The results provide "a path forward for this Legislature when they look at the budget issues," said Jim Green, OSBA executive director.
About 28 percent of respondents said lawmakers should balance the budget entirely by curbing spending, 60 percent favored some combination of spending reductions and tax hikes and 4 percent preferred only tax increases. Another 8 percent didn't have an opinion on how to solve the problem.
"I think that is in line with where we need to go here in building," House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said of the poll results. "…we have groups and members looking at cost containment over the next three to four biennia, and I think you're going to have to couple that with a revenue discussion. It's not an either, or; you need both."
Work groups are discussing potential revenue and spending reduction packages, and lawmakers would need to start considering a specific proposal by mid-April, Kotek said.
Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, noted that voters in the poll ranked education as the highest priority for spending. He called on lawmakers to set a budget for K-12 and make that safe from cuts before tackling any reductions in the budget.
"If I was going to put an emphasis on it, it was: 'Boy we really need to get a hold of this spending problem and curb the spending, and if that were possible, we should look at revenue sources,' because I think people understand you can't just solve all of your problems with one approach," Ferrioli said of the poll results.
The Portland Business Alliance said the poll shows the public is concerned about ineffective government spending.
"The survey shows Oregonians clearly want legislators to address the unsustainable growth of costs and focus on improving outcomes for students," said PBA President and CEO Sandra McDonough. Since 2011, Oregon tax revenues have been increasing faster than almost any other state and we have brought in more tax money than at any other time in state history. The current $1.7 billion budget shortfall stems from rapidly rising government spending — not a lack of taxpayer dollars."
Voters said businesses and corporations should contribute about 40 percent of Oregon's state tax revenue. Corporations now contribute only 6 percent of general fund revenue, according to the Legislative Revenue Office.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of a general sales tax, even if it went to education, but they are open to giving up their personal income tax kicker refund if the proceeds were to support K-12 schools. The last personal kicker refund equaled about $402 million in 2015, said LRO senior economist Chris Allanach.
OSBA's Green said there is a sense of urgency for lawmakers to take action on the budget and revenue measures, so that school districts have time to plan their budgets and give notice to staff members of their employment outlook.
"We think it's imperative for the legislative leadership and the 90 folks who sit here in the Capitol to move forward with a plan to increase revenue," Green said.
Registered voters representing the state's demographic makeup, including geographic area, age, gender and political party, were interviewed by phone Feb. 23-26. The results have a 4 percent margin of error.
Highlights of the poll: