Governor Rod Blagojevich insists that his proposed $6 billion gross receipts tax on business doesn't break his campaign promise last year not to raise income or sales taxes, but a recent poll finds voters think otherwise.
The very last question of the long, 45-question poll, in which voters were told both positive and negative aspects of the proposal, asks this: "Now, during the campaign, Gov. Blagojevich promised not to raise income or sales taxes. By increasing business taxes, do you think he is keeping his promise or not?"
A clear majority, 54 percent, said the governor was breaking his promise not to raise taxes, while just 34 percent said he was keeping his promise. 11 percent said they didn't know.
The governor told the Associated Press last month that voters shouldn't be surprised that he would introduce the gross receipts tax, despite his repeated pledges last year not to raise general taxes.
"This gross receipts - this tax fairness proposal is very much along the lines of what I did for four years," the governor said, adding, "It's just a bigger, bolder version of it." His top people have repeatedly pointed out that the proposed tax hits businesses, not "people," so the plan is not a promise-breaker.
But a majority appears to disagree. And since the "promise" question was asked after numerous other questions about the governor's tax hike, both pro and con, the poll's respondents had a fairly good idea what the tax proposal was all about.
The statewide survey was paid for by business group opponents of the governor gross receipts tax. The poll was professionally done, however. The sample size was 600 voters and it was taken March 14-15 and 17 by Neil Newhouse, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies. It has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.
The governor's tax proposal has been hammered in the past several weeks by his fellow Democrats, as well as business groups, farm groups, the Illinois Press Association and proponents of an income/sales tax swap. The governor and his top aides have been traveling the state holding press conferences with proponents of the idea, and the teachers unions and hospitals have bankrolled a TV advertising blitz.
Meanwhile, 43 percent of Illinoisans think Gov. Blagojevich "can be trusted to manage our tax dollars wisely," while a majority, 53 percent, disagreed with that statement.
Gov. Blagojevich's job approval was pegged at 46 percent. An equal number, 46 percent, disapproved. 47 percent said they approved of the state Legislature's job performance, while 35 percent said they disapproved.
About half, 48 percent, said Gov. Blagojevich "looks out for the whole state's best interest, not just Chicago," while 45 percent disagreed.
And a whopping 64 percent said Blagojevich "should live and work in Springfield," while 27 percent said he didn't need to.
The poll did find broad support for the governor's stated priorities. For instance, 68 percent said they favored "Expanding early childhood development programs," while 27 percent were opposed.
A total of 65 percent backed "Expanding the state's health care program in order to offer health coverage to uninsured and underinsured state residents," while 31 percent were opposed. And 69 percent liked the idea of "Increasing state aid to local public schools by $1.5 billion," while 26 percent were against it.
But the governor's revenue-generating ideas were not exactly popular.
Just 34 percent said they favored "Creating a new tax on service providers such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and home contractors," while 60 percent were against it. Only 32 percent said they favored "Creating a new tax on business to pay for health care - even if the business already provides health care coverage to its workers," while 60 percent were opposed.
And just 22 percent said they backed "Creating a new tax which requires businesses to pay the state each time the business gets paid for a product or service - regardless of whether or not the business made a profit," while 72 percent were opposed.
The governor definitely has his work cut out for him.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com