A new statewide poll finds that strong opposition to an income-tax hike to solve the state’s budget problems significantly eases when the tax increase is coupled with a property-tax freeze.

That’s important because Governor Bruce Rauner has insisted that he won’t approve any tax hikes or a budget without a four-year property-tax freeze. Democrats in the General Assembly, however, have resisted the governor’s freeze proposal. And the Senate Democrats last week went ahead and passed a budget with tax hikes but not Rauner’s freeze.

The poll of 500 likely Illinois voters was taken May 23 by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, a Republican firm. The poll’s questions that we’re going to look at weren’t horribly biased, even though the poll was paid for by the Illinois Policy Institute (which for whatever reason didn’t include the property-tax-freeze numbers in its press release). The poll’s margin of error was 4.4 percent, and 40 percent of respondents were reached via mobile phone.

“One of the elements of a proposed solution for the Illinois state-budget impasse involves raising the state income tax,” the pollster said. “Do you favor or oppose a state budget that includes raising the state income tax?”

Just 31 percent favored an income-tax hike, while 64 percent were opposed it and 51 percent strongly opposed it. No surprise there. Every poll I’ve ever seen had numbers similar to those.

“One of the elements of a proposed solution for the Illinois state-budget impasse involves raising the state income tax but at the same time enacting a property tax freeze,” respondents were told. “Do you favor or oppose a state budget that includes raising the state income tax but also includes a property-tax freeze?”

The percentage of those favoring the “hybrid solution” involving a freeze jumped 8 points to 39 percent. That’s still far from a majority, but not too bad considering more money would be coming out of their pockets to fund a supremely dysfunctional state government.

The more dramatic movement came from the opposition. A slim majority of 51 percent were still opposed to the hybrid solution, but that’s down 13 points from the income tax-only question. And those who were strongly opposed – which indicates that they might cast their vote based on the topic – dropped 17 points, from 51 to 34.

So it’s not difficult to see why Rauner has been talking about almost nothing but a property-tax freeze lately. He did a bunch of TV and radio interviews last week saying he absolutely won’t sign a budget unless it includes the freeze. Simply put, the issue moves numbers.

The freeze is like that old Mary Poppins song “A Spoonful of Sugar.” It helps the medicine go down, although definitely not in a most delightful way. There are undoubtedly other issues that could help make a tax hike more palatable, but we’re stuck with this one because the governor is so adamant about a win on this topic.

If you look at the crosstabs, you’ll find that 79 percent of Republicans are opposed to raising the income tax, but that opposition drops to 59 percent when coupled with a property-tax freeze. Opposition by independents drops from 66 to 53. And opposition by Democrats falls from 52 to 45.

The results are even more dramatic among those who strongly opposed the income-tax hike without a property-tax freeze. Seventy-two percent of Republicans were strongly opposed to an income-tax hike, but that falls to 44 percent who were strongly opposed when the tax hike is coupled with a property-tax freeze. Fifty-four percent of independent voters strongly opposed an income-tax increase, but just 39 percent opposed it when attached to a property-tax freeze. And strong opposition dropped from 34 percent to 25 percent among Democrats.

Also, when respondents were given a choice, 45 percent said only cut spending and don’t raise taxes, while 41 percent said the state should cut some spending and raise some taxes. The latter is exactly what the Senate Democrats did last week in their budget, but most people don’t know that.

However, when it was pointed out that “Illinois already pays the highest property taxes in the country and has the fifth-highest overall tax burden,” and that some believe another tax hike would drive more people out of the state, 54 percent said only cut spending and don’t raise taxes, while just 36 favored a mix of cuts and tax hikes.

Property taxes are a killer issue. The Democrats need to come to terms with that.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.

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