Washington State Poll Respondents Prefer Sin Taxes and "Temporary" Tax Increases

March 10, 2009

A new poll shows which types of tax increases Washington State voters would prefer. From the Seattle Times:

Voters might support higher "sin taxes" to take the edge off deep state budget cuts, but they seem to recoil at tax increases for businesses, according to polling by political interest groups pushing for a statewide tax referendum.

Washingtonians also prefer a temporary tax increase that "sunsets" after helping the state get through its present budget crisis, according to the poll of about 800 likely voters across the state.

There is a saying (no one's sure who first said it) that "there is nothing more permanent than a temporary tax." Washington voters may want to keep this in mind when considering whether they would support a "temporary" tax increase.

An across-the-board sales tax increase of 1 percent was initially unpopular, but voters seemed more willing to accept sales tax increases if they were presented as an average monthly cost of about $20 or less, the polling showed.

. . .

The new polling conducted for that coalition shines a light on what kind of taxes are being considered by the people involved in a possible referendum. The research also provides a glimpse at the mood of voters during the lingering recession.

It describes an electorate that might be willing to raise taxes on specific consumer goods that are seen as unhealthy: taxes on soda pop, candy and gum, liquor, and cigarettes did very well in the poll.

For example, raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 25 cents got a "yes" vote by a factor of two-to-one, as did a higher tax on hard liquor.

Extending the sales tax to candy and gum was slightly less popular, but still had a strong positive response. So did the notion of slapping a nickel tax on cans of pop.

It's not surprising that the poll respondents would prefer "sin taxes" over across-the-board, neutral taxes. This mentality is common among both voters and policymakers, but it does not represent sound, fair tax policy. Taxes pay for government services enjoyed by everyone, so they should not disproportionately burden certain groups of taxpayers, such as smokers or those who purchase certain types of food.

More on excise taxes and Washington State taxes.

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