Fact-checking new poll on voter tax attitudes

Anti-tax Fiscal Alliance poses questions that find anti-tax sentiment

A GROUP THAT GENERALLY sees eye-to-eye with Republican politicians in Massachusetts publicized a poll Wednesday that might suggest dismal support for Gov. Charlie Baker’s tax proposals.

The poll indicated most of the voters in districts represented by the most powerful lawmakers on Beacon Hill think the Republican governor should “hold the line” on taxes and spending. The poll’s questions, however, were worded in a way that seemed designed to influence the response.

The survey was sponsored by the Fiscal Alliance Foundation, a non-profit aligned with the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, an officially non-partisan organization that has traditionally helped Republican politicians in Massachusetts and keeps its financing sources secret.

Baker, a Republican who overwhelmingly won a second term last November, has departed from his more tax-averse course and proposed a few new taxes or tax increases in his budget bill, including an uptick in the tax on real estate transfers. His budget also includes a significant boost in funding for local schools.

The Fiscal Alliance opposes the governor’s tax proposals, and Paul Craney, who is a spokesman for the organization, said the poll results will be distributed to lawmakers.

The poll, conducted by Advantage, Inc., a Virginia firm associated with Republican candidates, queried 1,000 voters who live in districts represented by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat; Senate President Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat; House Minority Leader Brad Jones, a North Reading Republican; and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican. Tarr’s district overlaps with Jones’s.

Poll respondents were queried about the governor’s proposal to increase real estate transfer taxes by $1 billion over the course of a decade by asking how they would view their lawmaker if the lawmaker supported a tax increase that would drive up the cost of housing by $1 billion. While the governor’s proposal could and probably would have an impact on housing costs, the size of that impact is difficult to quantify. Also, the poll question did not spell out that the governor’s proposal would fund programs to combat climate change.

The poll found a majority of voters in all four districts would have a strongly less favorable opinion of their lawmaker if that lawmaker supported a tax that would increase the cost of housing by $1 billion.

Poll respondents were also asked if “a Republican governor should be proposing new and higher taxes or should he be holding the line on taxes and spending?” The question was prefaced with the statement that the Tax Foundation places Massachusetts behind only four states in its per capita state and local tax collections. While that is true, Massachusetts also has higher per capita income than most states, which lessens the relative  financial impact of any tax hike. In 2016, Massachusetts was second only to Connecticut in per capita income, according to the Tax Foundation.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

The answers to the general tax question were fairly consistent across the four districts. About 71 percent of respondents said the governor should hold the line, and only 11 percent said the governor should propose new and higher taxes. The results were weighted to account for a dearth of Democrats who responded to the phone survey, meaning the responses from Democrats who did participate were given more weight.

Spilka’s district was the most amenable to a Republican governor proposing more taxes, with 69 percent of those surveyed in her district saying the governor should hold the line on taxes and spending and 28 percent either undecided or supporting tax increases. DeLeo’s district was the least receptive to the idea, with nearly 80 percent saying a Republican governor should hold the line. The poll has an overall 3.3 percentage point margin of error and a 6.6 point margin of error in each district.