Office of Planning and Budgeting

Increasing Support for Higher Ed not a Taxpayer Priority

The Pew Center on the States teamed up with the Public Policy Institute of California to assess taxpayer attitudes toward state government, budget cuts, and funding priorities during the Great Recession. The survey was conducted in five states– Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois and New York– , which, together, comprise 1/3rd of the nation’s population, 1/3rd of the nation’s output, and almost 45 percent of the total projected state budget gaps for 2011.

The resulting report, Facing Facts: Public Attitudes and Fiscal Realities in Five Stressed States, highlights surprising similarities across the five states where respondents, in general, agreed on the following points:

  • That state government could deliver the same services with fewer resources (even up to 10-20% less).
  • That state government is untrustworthy and could be more effective.
  • That taxes on the wealthy, corporations and particular goods or behaviors like alcohol, smoking and gambling are favored.
  • That state governments are relying too heavily on borrowing money.
  • That K-12 Education and Health and Human Services are seen as the most essential services worth protecting, even if general tax increases are required.

Notably, survey respondents were significantly less likely (by 20-30 percent) to support tax increases to protect higher education than they were to protect K-12 education. These results seem to confirm that while providing a K-12 education is seen as a public obligation, a college education is seen as less essential and something that the student and family should help pay for.

The mere presence of tuition in the funding model for public higher education might also be affecting how citizens view increasing taxpayer support to institutions. Tuition simultaneously provides a reason to believe that universities can better handle state budget cuts because they can raise money elsewhere, and provides a visible and increasing price tag that frustrates citizens who think that this represents inefficiency.

These survey results are consistent with recent polling in Washington.

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