Wyoming voters prefer tax increases to education cuts

Wyoming voters prefer tax increases to education cuts

(Wyo.) With the state facing a multi-million dollar deficit over the next two years, a majority of Wyoming voters wouldn’t mind an increase in taxes–as long as the money is directed toward schools, according to a new poll.

Nearly 80 percent of those who responded to the poll–commissioned by the Wyoming Education Association–said they would be willing to pay something more in taxes every year to fund schools, and 32 percent said they’d pay at least $200 annually if it went to school finance.

Just over half said they were more concerned about cuts to education than they were to taxes being raised too high.

“Most voters recognize the importance of a quality education, and that means one-on-one time with students, as well as maintaining art, music, vocational, and athletic programs–recruiting and retaining the best and brightest classroom teachers ensure that type of quality instruction,” Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association, said in a statement. “We hope the legislature and Governor (Matt) Mead hear the popular support and make a full commitment to finding a long-term solution for funding education in Wyoming.”

Currently, the state is facing a school funding shortfall of $530 million in the coming two-year budget cycle. In both the House and Senate, state lawmakers are calling for further cuts in spending, and some, including Sen. President Eli Bebout, R-Fremont, have said they are strongly opposed to tax hikes.

Throughout the state in recent years, districts struggling with fewer financial resources have instituted layoffs and hiring freezes. Earlier this year, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to eliminate a state-mandated student-teacher ratio of no more than 16 students per teacher for grades K-3. The bill failed to progress to the governor’s desk.

According to the results of Education Association’s survey, voters do not appear to share in lawmakers’ opposition to tax increases, and many responded that maintaining lower student-teacher ratios was important.

The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a right-leaning polling firm based in Virginia, between July 19 and 22, and included a random sample of 500 registered Wyoming voters with a margin of error plus or minus 4.4 percent–about 60 percent of whom identified as Republican.

Up to 67 percent of those polled agreed that increasing the state sales tax, as well as state taxes on wind energy production, mining, oil and gas was acceptable to help close the state education budget gap. Less than 40 percent of those polled said that property taxes should be increased.

Of the Republican voters surveyed, 74 percent said they were willing to pay more in taxes to help fund education. Among all respondents, 66 percent said they would have a great deal or quite a bit of concern if the Legislature made further cuts to the education budget. And 73 percent said lawmakers should maintain the current quality standards; 58 percent said maintaining low class sizes was either extremely or very important; and 65 percent said the same of avoiding cuts to the number of classroom teachers.

The poll results also show:

  • 85 percent of respondents said that it is very or extremely important for schools to provide high quality career technical education to help prepare students for jobs after graduation;
  • 72 percent said it is very or extremely important for schools to continue to offer art, music, athletic and vocational programs; and
  • 70 percent said maintaining adequate technology to help students gain modern workplace skills, and maintaining teacher salaries and befits to attract and retaining high quality educators were both of very or extreme importance.