Connecticut voters approve of Gov. Ned Lamont’s performance and proposed tax cuts by wide margins, while favoring higher spending in selected areas and disagreeing with Lamont’s opposition to raising taxes on wealthier households, according to a Wesleyan SurveyLab CT Poll released Monday.
The poll tracks the tensions evident at the state Capitol as the Lamont administration and lawmakers approach talks over how to accommodate demands for more spending on municipal and non-profit service providers while cutting taxes and staying within fiscal guardrails.
“The public simultaneously supports government spending in a variety of policy areas while also wanting tax relief,” said Logan Dancey, associate professor of government at Wesleyan University. “State legislators will ultimately have to make tough decisions about which tax cuts and spending items to prioritize.”
Lamont, a Democrat who won a convincing reelection victory last year promising fealty to fiscal policies that have constrained spending in a time of historic budget surpluses, has a job approval rating in the Wesleyan poll consistent with national polls that place him in the top rank of U.S. governors.
Sixty percent of voters in the new poll say they approve of Lamont’s performance, nearly double the 33% who disapprove. While some activists in his own party push him to be more progressive on taxes, his standing with the Democratic base is solid: 84% of Democrats approve of his performance.
President Joe Biden, who announced his candidacy for a second term last week, did not fare as well: Voters split evenly on Biden's performance, 49% to 49%. More voters approved (46%) than disapproved (35%) of the General Assembly, whose output for 2023 will come during the five-week sprint to its adjournment on June 7.
The results are based on a survey designed by Wesleyan and conducted by YouGov, which draws from a proprietary pool of 1.8 million U.S. residents who have agreed to participate in online polls. A survey of 611 Connecticut voters was conducted from April 3 to 17 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.13%.
The poll offers ammunition to both sides of the fiscal debate: Democratic legislative leaders and advocacy groups who insist the state can afford greater spending in limited areas, and to the governor who counters that the recent string of surpluses must be used prudently by a state with high per-capita debt.
Fifty-one percent of respondents prefer that the budget surplus, which is projected to approach $3 billion this year, be used to cut taxes, compared to 25% who prefer paying down long-term debt, and 16% who prefer increasing spending in areas such as education and healthcare.
Voters are not well-versed on the state’s constraints on spending, the so-called fiscal guardrails that were bolstered as part of a bipartisan budget deal in 2017: Fifty-one percent said they knew “nothing at all” about them; 28% knew “only a little.”
Connecticut has a spending cap that limits growth in general budget expenditures to the greater of the average five-year increases in personal income or in inflation. It also has a law requiring above-average collections from volatile revenue sources to go to budget reserves, then paying down debt.
When the pollster presented arguments for and against the guardrails, voters preferred keeping them in place, 56% to 13%.
The poll probed voter opinions on issues pending before the General Assembly, including gun control and affordable housing, and attempted to gauge the electorate's thoughts on spending needs and challenges facing Connecticut.
Pocketbook concerns ranked highest when voters were asked to select the most important problem facing Connecticut from a list of 15 subjects: economy/inflation, 26%; and taxes, 17%. Nothing else hit double digits.
Forty percent believe the state’s economy has worsened in the past 12 months, while 32% said it’s about the same and 28% see improvement. Connecticut's gross domestic product has grown at an annualized rate of 1.8% over the past five years, placing it 43rd among all states in growth.
Voters believe the state can afford tax cuts.
A tax package recently approved by the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee would cut the income tax for singles making less than $200,000 per year and to couples under $400,000. It is less a final product than a framework for negotiations.
The Wesleyan poll found support for relief targeted at lower incomes: 86% either strongly or somewhat support lowering tax rates on income below $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for families, and 78% support a child tax credit, which is absent from the finance package and the governor’s proposal.
[RELATED: Gov. Ned Lamont pitched an income tax cut in CT. Here’s an overview of his proposal]
Comptroller Sean Scanlon has pushed for a $600-per-child credit, up to $1,800 per household. And 70% of that credit would be refundable, ensuring poor families with no state income liability also would benefit.
A child tax credit, which was offered last year as a temporary measure, was a non-starter with the governor, who instead proposed expanding the earned income tax credit for lower-income workers — a measure supported by 72% of respondents to the Wesleyan poll.
A tax increase on higher incomes — $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for couples — is favored by 67%. That is consistent with a survey commissioned in mid-February by Recovery For All CT, a coalition of more than labor, faith and community organizations. It found 71% of respondents supported higher tax rates on households earning more than $1 million per year, with 23% opposed.
While tax relief is a priority for voters, a majority favor increasing spending for health care, transportation, and K-12 education and more favored increases than cuts on job training, child care, renewable energy, state police and higher education.
A separate question asked how much of a problem voters considered inequality, crime, affordability of housing, racism and energy costs were in Connecticut. They offered three options: "big problem," "somewhat of a problem" or "not a problem."
A majority of voters named energy (69%) and housing affordability (58%) as big problems. Crime was deemed a big problem by 40%, followed by inequality (26%), and racism (21%).
Majorities favored requiring communities to build more affordable housing and a proposal to cap annual rent increases at 4%.
Three legislative proposals on gun safety favored by Lamont have support from significant majorities: a bill sought by urban mayors requiring higher bail and immediate revocation of parole for individuals convicted of repeated firearm offenses; increasing the age to purchase rifles to 21, the same as handguns; and limiting gun purchases to one a month.
By a closer margin, 53% to 39%, voters support banning the open carry of firearms.
Opinions were mixed on proposals loosening gun controls. Recognizing gun permits from other states was favored by 47% and opposed by 40%. Establishing a right to carry a pistol in any state park or forest was opposed by 48% and favored by 41%.
The quality of public schools was viewed positively by more than half of respondents, while a minority expressed concerns about teacher recruitment, student behavior and mental health, school safety, and funding disparities.
“Connecticut continues to grapple with educator shortages and the enduring effects of the pandemic on students and educators. Although most respondents viewed public schools positively, these numbers show that educator recruitment and retention, student behavior and mental health, and school safety are top of mind for voters in Connecticut,” said Alisha Butler, the Provost’s Equity Fellow in the College of Education Studies at Wesleyan.
Fewer than one in five expressed concern about a lack of parental control in education, an issue raised with little success in the past election by some Republicans, including the gubernatorial nominee, Bob Stefanowski.
Fifty-one percent indicated support for the formation of more charter schools across the state, compared to 27% who were opposed and 21% who were unsure.