Voters would support tax increase, poll finds

County teachers union releases survey results

Anne Arundel

March 12, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County teachers union released results yesterday of a recent survey showing that voters think education is a more pressing issue than the economy or the county's growth and, separately, would support a tax increase, if needed.

The phone survey of 819 randomly selected Anne Arundel voters found that a majority was in favor of a slightly higher income tax rate that would cost the average household an extra $75 a year. The tax-increase question was not specifically linked to education.

Officials with the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County said the survey, which was conducted in late January and last month, counters the notion held by many elected officials that voters oppose raising the income tax.

"We know that the citizenry is willing to bear a tax increase," teachers union President Sheila Finlayson said during a news conference at which she released a summary of the survey results.

The survey's 37 questions covered county education issues and Anne Arundel County government finances.

The results come two weeks after the Anne Arundel Board of Education reduced the school system's funding request for the coming school year by $7.3 million in an effort to cooperate with cash-strapped Anne Arundel officials. The school board's budget request for operating expenses totals $664.5 million, or 5 percent more than the current year.

Even as Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, a Democrat, continues to work on a budget plan to be released in May, the seven-member County Council's Republican majority is working on an alternative that would not rely on tax increases.

Owens has said she wants to raise the county income tax rate to 3 percent from 2.56 percent, an increase that would cost the average household $275 more in annual income taxes and raise an additional $48 million for the county.

She also is seeking authority to levy a 5 percent tax on county residents' cellular phone bills and has discussed raising the county's amusement tax to 10 percent from 7.5 percent.

Finlayson said the survey results shed new light on voters' feelings about some of these untried revenue sources, none of which necessarily would be earmarked for education.

Two-thirds of those surveyed were in favor of increasing the parking tax at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to raise $3.2 million in additional revenue, and 60 percent supported a 5 percent boat slip tax to maintain existing government services.

But more opposed an 8 percent tax on cell phone bills and a 10 percent amusement tax on movies and bingo than were in favor.

When asked about an income tax increase, nearly three out of four people said they opposed raising it to 3.2 percent. Half of those surveyed opposed raising it to 2.88 percent, while 48 percent supported it.

But 56 percent were in favor of raising the income tax rate to 2.72 percent, while 43 percent opposed it - after being told it would represent a $75 yearly increase for the average household.

When asked how the county should solve its budget problems, two-thirds of those surveyed said the county should find the revenues needed, and 27 percent said existing programs should be cut.

"We were hearing from council members, `My community is saying this, my community is saying that,' " said Finlayson, who has forwarded the survey results to council members. "It never was quite the same thing as what we were hearing."

In response to questions about public schools, 52 percent rated the county's public education system as "good" or "excellent," and 95 percent agreed that the school system's top priority should be to attract and retain "the best teachers possible."

Finlayson, who was flanked by representatives from other school employee unions, the PTA and the school board's Citizens Advisory Committee, told reporters that she was not advocating for any particular method of raising revenue. That, she said, was up to county officials.

"This survey shows them what the community is willing to bear," she said.

Sun staff writer Ryan Davis contributed to this article.

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