Union poll finds Trump over Malloy, tax hikes over program cuts

A Greater Bridgeport Transit District bus on its route.

A Greater Bridgeport Transit District bus on its route.

It’s a bedrock principle in Connecticut that residents are fed up with tax increases and overwhelmingly think the state government is way too fat, right?

That must be why anti-tax RepublBy Dan Haar icans have picked up 35 seats in the state House in recent years and hold an 18-18 tie in the Senate. It’s why we’re seeing an average of 20,000 people a year leaving Connecticut.

Well, a new poll may make us reconsider that Gospel of St. Themis. The poll, released Tuesday by the SEIU Connecticut State Council, appears to show support for higher taxes instead of service cuts, by a resounding 57 percent to 20 percent.

The poll of 500 adults likely to vote in the 2018 elections gives President Donald Trump an approval rating of 36 percent, compared with a 24 percent mark for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — in a rare, head-to-head matchup.

The poll also offered a surprise on how voters want the state to handle pension reform.

On the revenue-vs.-cuts issue, the question was, “do you think the state of Connecticut should address the budget deficit by creating new sources of revenue or cutting funding for programs and services?” Fifty-seven percent favor new sources of revenue compared with 20 percent for service and program cuts — and the numbers were consistent across age, education and even somewhat across party lines.

That could affect the way the state fills a $264 million budget gap for this year, and a $1.9 billion projected shortfall in 2020.

“What the Republicans have been hammering on is ‘We can’t raise revenue, we can’t raise revenue,’ said David Pickus, president of the SEIU state council and president of SEIU District 1199 in Connecticut, the health care workers union. “Tax breaks for the rich are never a problem. So they keep beating that drum…What the poll basically shows is that people want revenues.”

Does that mean voters are willing to pay higher taxes, or do they just want to tax other people? The poll didn’t ask. But Pickus argues that it means raising taxes is preferable to cutting services, and just the idea that a majority favor higher revenues is eye-opening.

The poll was conducted by telephone during the week of Dec. 12-17 by Global Strategy Group, a national consulting firm that generally works for Democrats, which has a Hartford office. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

The poll gave labor unions (48 percent) a higher favorability rating than corporations (42 percent), though labor also had a higher unfavorability, 38 percent compared with 32 percent for corporations.

And if that looks like home cooking by a labor-sponsored poll, consider that Democrats in the General Assembly earned statistically the same favorability rating (38 percent) as Republicans (36 percent) even though the respondents were 35 percent Democrat and 25 percent Republican.

The poll also shows a belief that the state spends too much on retirees’ pensions, (46 percent, with 13 percent saying “not enough”), and that pensions prevent balanced budgets.

Despite that, likely voters strongly oppose the state forcing pension reforms. When told that teachers and state employees were promised retirement benefits and have paid into the system for their whole careers, 74 percent agreed with the statement, “Reforms to the pension system should be negotiated with employees, not imposed by the state.” Seventeen percent disagreed.

Eighty percent of Democrats backed negotiating rather than imposing reforms, and — remarkably — 70 percent of Republicans.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, the Republican senate leader, led an effort last year to change the way the state reaches pension agreements, from negotiation to statute. That change couldn’t happen until 2027, when the current labor contract expires, but the GOP leaders wanted to lock it in now.

Most of us thought the idea had wide public support, at least half the voters. Maybe that’s wrong.

Looking at revenue sources, 70 percent said “closing corporate tax loopholes” is either an excellent or a good idea.

No one likes loopholes. Everyone likes incentives. Trouble is, it’s hard to tell them apart. Malloy, a Democrat, is treading lightly on “tax expenditures” - loopholes and exemptions - because, he said Monday, “we’re in a competitive environment and you want to try to match your tool set with other states.”

Raising the personal income tax on wealthy people garnered a 58 percent approval rating. In 2015, the highest state income tax bracket jumped from 6.7 percent to 6.99 percent, still lower than New York and New Jersey. Since then, there’s anecdotal evidence, and mixed data, showing they’re exiting Connecticut — leading lawmakers and Malloy to steer clear of more hikes.

Pickus argues the exit fears are overblown, and that retirees and young people have left Connecticut in large numbers for many years.

Marijuana revenue stoked 54 percent approval. Broadening the sales tax to include services clocked in at only 17 percent. That’s the one that hurts the poor and is closest to happening.