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UW Survey Results on State Spending, Taxes Highlight Policymaker Challenges

November 22, 2016

As Wyoming state government considers challenges resulting from decreasing tax revenues, a recent University of Wyoming survey of state residents shows preferences for keeping spending at present levels or increasing spending for a number of policy areas.

Most popular among Wyoming citizens is spending for streets and highways, with 45 percent of survey respondents favoring an increase in state government spending and 51 percent wanting to keep spending at present levels. Wyomingites are split on increasing or maintaining expenditures for local public schools, with 44 percent seeking spending increases and 44 percent preferring current spending levels. About half of survey respondents favor keeping state government spending at current levels for law enforcement and corrections, water resources, Wyoming community colleges and UW. For no policy area included in the survey did as many as one-fifth of respondents indicate a preference for decreasing government spending.

The survey was conducted by UW’s Department of Political Science and the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center’s Survey Research Center. Telephone interviews with Wyoming residents selected at random were conducted Oct. 5-11. The questions concerning state government spending and taxes were asked of 354 interviewees. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Survey respondents also were asked about taxes in Wyoming. An overwhelming majority of those interviewed, 85 percent, thought state taxes are “generally reasonable,” while only 8 percent thought state taxes are “too high.”

Respondents expressing a preference for increasing state government spending also were asked about paying for these increases, with 63 percent saying they are willing to pay higher taxes. Asked about specific taxes, 81 percent favored raising beer and alcohol taxes, 78 percent favored raising the cigarette tax, and 52 percent favored raising the mineral severance tax. Clear majorities opposed increasing property taxes (80 percent), the sales tax (59 percent) and the gasoline tax (58 percent).

Jim King, professor of political science and the survey’s director, says the poll illustrates the dilemma facing Wyoming legislators and Gov. Matt Mead as they confront the state’s budget crises.

“Wyoming residents express their preferences for increasing state government spending or at least keeping expenditures at current levels, and most are willing to raise taxes to pay for these services,” King says. “But, the taxes people want to raise -- the taxes on tobacco and alcohol -- bring very little money into the state’s coffers. And raising the mineral severance tax isn’t feasible when the coal, oil and natural gas industries are experiencing decreased production and lower prices. State decision-makers are in a very challenging position.”

A controversial subject is whether Wyoming should consider a state income tax, and the survey indicated that the people of Wyoming are divided on the issue. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed reject outright the idea of a state income tax, while 18 percent approved unconditionally. Twenty-three percent of Wyomingites would accept such a tax if another state tax, such as the sales tax or property tax, is reduced at the same time.

The poll does not indicate substantial support for a state income tax, but signals a willingness by some Wyomingites to consider it, according to King: “The survey shows a division that leans against a Wyoming income tax, but not by as wide of a margin as might be expected.”

Biennial surveys of Wyoming residents are conducted by UW’s Department of Political Science in partnership with the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center. The questions focus on attitudes toward government, contemporary policy issues, elected officials and candidates for elective office.

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