Nearly half of Marylanders worried about jobs this year, survey finds Support for tax cut varies with services likely to be reduced

February 07, 1996|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF

Nearly half of all Marylanders worry about losing their jobs this year, and most favor a state tax cut unless it causes certain service reductions, a new poll shows.

As Maryland job growth creeps and the federal government prepares its imitation of AT&T and other shrinking corporations, 46 percent of those polled are concerned or very concerned about getting laid off or fired, a survey conducted by the University of Baltimore found. Thirty percent said they weren't concerned.

The survey of 845 Marylanders' responses to public policy options was conducted by telephone in December and January. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points on any question, said Larry Thomas, director of the university's Schaefer Center for Public Policy.

Thirty-nine percent of those questioned believe Maryland's economy will deteriorate in 1996; 42 percent said it will stay the same; 17 percent think the economy will improve.

This is the fifth year of the survey, paid for with money from private donations in the university's endowment.

It shows widespread unease about Maryland's economic future and a reluctance by Marylanders to cut programs in return for tax cuts, said Mr. Thomas, who also is professor of government and public administration at the school.

"I don't think people are nearly as pessimistic as they might have been four or five years ago," in the last recession, Mr. Thomas said. "But there's a lot of underlying uncertainty in terms of what may happen."

But people were more optimistic about their own economihealth than about the state's -- despite concern about layoffs. Thirty-seven percent expect to be better off a year from now; 46 percent expect to tread economic water; 14 percent believe their situation will be worse.

Several questions concerned tax cuts. Business leaders want to reduce Maryland's personal income tax to improve its commercial image. But some legislators oppose a tax cut, saying Maryland can't afford it.

Fifty-five percent of survey respondents said Maryland's taxes are too high, and 57 percent favored a 9 percent income tax decrease, phased in over three years. But if a tax cut would attract business and spur economic growth, 79 percent thought it would be a good idea.

Forty-eight percent favored a tax cut even if it meant trimming aid to local governments. But if local property taxes had to rise in response, only 39 percent wanted the state tax cut; 61 percent opposed it.

"We try to delve into the intensity of opinion and provide individuals with some trade-offs," Mr. Thomas said. When Marylanders were asked if they would support specific spending reductions to finance a tax cut, "people become much more hesitant," he added.

If a tax cut caused lower spending for primary and high school education, 83 percent would be opposed, the survey said. If it reduced spending for higher education, 69 percent would oppose it. If it reduced the budget for medical assistance for the poor and elderly, 76 percent would oppose it.

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