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State Spending Priorities Split Along Party Lines

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania residents, much like their legislature, are split along party lines when it comes to the state’s budget priorities.

Those are the conclusions based on a survey by the Robert Morris Polling Institute, taken as the state neared its fifth month without a budget.

The poll shows more Democrats than Republicans surveyed place a priority on increased education funding and the imposition of a tax on natural gas.

“As far as the budget battle goes, the top issues are funding for education and property tax reform,” said Philip Harold, a political science professor at RMU who analyzed the results.

Harold said the ranking on those issues depends on political leanings.

The poll shows more Democrats than Republicans surveyed place a priority on increased education funding and the imposition of a tax on natural gas.

Republicans, at 57.1 percent, outnumber Democrats at 41.4 percent in listing property tax as an important issue and a slight majority — 50.8 percent — say balancing the budget is a major priority as opposed to 39.7 percent.

Overall, education funding remained the top priority of the total number of people polled.  A total of 56.5 percent listed education funding as a top priority , while 46 percent     listed property tax reform. Balancing the budget came in third at 45.8 percent.

Only 25 percent of those surveyed said it was important to raise the income tax, roughly the same figure for pension reform.

The survey was weighted to reflect registration numbers in the state and multiple responses listing important issues were accepted.

Pennsylvania has been without a state budget since June 30, after Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a budget sent to him by the Republican led general assembly. The budget contained none of Wolf’s major requests, such as an increase in the state’s income and sales tax and an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale gas.

“Interestingly,” Harold said, “for those who are affected by the budget situation or know people who are, Gov. Wolf has a 52.4 percent favorable rating — compared to 49.3 percent of respondents.

Without a budget, the state is unable to release funds for a number of programs, including social service agencies and disbursements to the commonwealth’s 500 school districts. That squeeze has intensified four months into the impasse and Harold said the RMU poll found that 27.3 of respondents say they or someone they know has been affected by the lack of a state budget.

ABOUT THE POLL: The poll was conducted by the Robert Morris University Polling Institute. Polling by the institute is conducted on a regular basis and may also include spontaneous polling on occurring events. RMU polls have been featured in national media outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and Huffington Post. Go to rmu.edu/poll for more information.

METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 adults approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted Oct. 10-15, 2015. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.5-percentage point margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis. The poll separately sampled opinions of 523 Pennsylvania residents statewide during the same time period and employing the same methodology. The Pennsylvania results have a +/- 4.5-percentage point margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

 ABOUT ROBERT MORRIS UNIVERSITY: Through 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate degree programs across five academic schools, Robert Morris University (RMU) in Pittsburgh, Pa., works to change its students' lives so that they can go out and change the lives of others for the better. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate, nontraditional and online students from 47 states and 39 nations are enrolled at RMU, which sits on 230 scenic acres just 20 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. Emphasizing experiential learning, Robert Morris focuses on professional development, service learning, global awareness, undergraduate research, campus leadership, and cultural experiences, all of which are documented on our innovative Student Engagement Transcript. More than 100 clubs and organizations help students to develop leadership skills, network professionally, and meet friends. RMU also has 16 NCAA Division I athletic programs, including football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s ice hockey, and men's and women's lacrosse. Learn more at rmu.edu.