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national poll: tax me more?

Samuel Staley
January 22, 2009, 8:21am

That's one interpretation of the findings from a national poll commissioned by the infrastructure lobbying group Buildling America's Future. Frank Luntz, a respected Republican pollster, asked 800 registered voters about investments in core infrastructure. Their response? Near unanimous concern--94 percent--about the state of America's infrastructure. The general public is concerned about bridges falling down, pot-holed roads, and crumbling school buildings. As Luntz summarizes in an LA Times column:
Fully 84% of the public wants more money spent by the federal government -- and 83% wants more spent by state governments -- to improve America's infrastructure. And here's the kicker: 81% of Americans are personally prepared to pay 1% more in taxes for the cause. It's not uncommon for people to say they'd pay more to get more, but when you ask them to respond to a specific amount, support evaporates. (That 74% of normally stingy Republicans are on board for the tax increase is, to me, the most significant finding in the survey.) This isn't "soft" support for infrastructure either. It stretches from Maine to Montana, from California to Connecticut. Democrats (87%) and Republicans (74%) are prepared to, in Barack Obama's words, put skin in the game, which tells you just how wide and deep the support is. And Americans understand that infrastructure is not just roads, bridges and rails. In fact, they rated fixing energy facilities as their highest priority. Roads and highways scored second, and clean-water treatment facilities third.
This environment favoring bigger government also plays well into progressive politics. Most people want a heavier hand in determining spending priorities, unwilling to leave it up to elected officials alone to make the call on where the investment is directed.
New jobs and potential economic recovery are an important part of the infrastructure rebuilding effort, but if Washington cares about what Americans really want, Congress and the administration must establish four core stimulus principles to protect American taxpayers: Accountability comes first. Next is transparency (24% of those polled put it at the top of their lists). Americans see themselves as shareholders in their country, and they firmly believe that they have the right to know their money is spent wisely, and expect to see the evidence on an ongoing basis. The data also show significant support for a third principle -- setting public priorities through citizen input (13% ranked it their highest priority, which means that the people, not just the politicians, should have their say). And finally, 16% rank measurable results as the highest priority when it comes to government investment. Will the billions of dollars spent make a quantifiable difference in the daily lives of Americans in all 50 states?
Given these poll results, President Obama is as much a man of his times as a man changing the times. The America public, unfortunately, seems primed for another dose of "government knows best" progressivism, as long as they feel they are at the helm. Unfortunately, history, and human nature, show they (we) will come up short--again. The question will be whether we can undo the damage after we allow Leviathan to climb to yet another plateau in its march away from freedom and liberty.

Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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