Texans Support Budget Cuts, But Not Cuts in Social Services, Public Education, Poll Says

As the state legislative session nears its end, a majority of Texas voters continue to support cutting the state budget, but do not back specific cuts to education and social programs that have taken center stage at the Capitol, according to a University of Texas at Austin/Texas Tribune poll.

The statewide poll of 800 registered voters was conducted May 11-18, as the legislature began final discussions about how to fill a budget gap estimated to be as great as $27 billion. The overall results of the survey have a margin of error of 3.46 percent.

When asked about how they prefer to balance the budget, 49 percent of Texans leaned toward budget cuts, with an additional 22 percent saying the budget shortfall should be made up entirely through budget cuts. Another 22 percent said the state's efforts should be evenly split between cutting spending and increasing revenue.

Yet the majority of survey respondents do not support some of the prominent cuts being considered by the legislature. Only 15 percent favored cutting the state's share of funding for primary and secondary education and 27 percent favored cutting state funding of higher education.

Given a list of possible cuts to balance the budget, 40 percent of voters favored ending funding for pre-kindergarten classes, the highest response among the proposed cuts. Thirty-five percent favored reducing state contributions to teacher and state employee retirement programs.

"Texans remain consistent in their inconsistency when it comes to the budget," said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project and a lecturer in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin. "The legislature's struggle with the budget this session seems to have had little impact on public opinion about budgetary matters. Texans still want to cut the budget without reducing spending in areas where the state spends a lot of money - especially public education."

The poll respondents also opposed most new taxes by large margins. Ninety-four percent opposed  introducing a state income tax on individuals and 88 percent opposed increasing the state sales tax rate beyond the current 6.25 percent. "Sin taxes" had more support: 49 percent of respondents supported increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages and 62 percent supported legalizing gambling and imposing taxes on gambling establishments.

"The results reinforce the conventional wisdom that tax increases are hugely unpopular with Texans," said Daron Shaw, professor of government who also oversees the poll. "But there are some 'revenue enhancement' options out there that have public backing. Increasing 'sin tax' rates or even legalizing gambling and taxing revenues may be on the agenda soon if the state economy doesn't turn around."

This is the latest in a series of online polls conducted by the Texas Politics Project and the Texas Tribune. The poll results and methodology will be available at the Texas Politics Project Web site this week. Additional poll results will be released and available at the Web site throughout the week.