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Poll shows Maryland residents back education but leery of higher taxes

Gov. Larry Hogan walks on the Maryland House of Delegates chamber floor before delivering his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Gov. Larry Hogan walks on the Maryland House of Delegates chamber floor before delivering his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. That friendly moment belies the intense friction that now exists between the Republican governor and Democratic legislative leaders over education and tax issues. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Marylanders support the goals of  a plan to overhaul public education in the state but remain concerned about the how to cover the associated $4 billion annual costs, according to a new poll released Monday.

The results come as lawmakers and the governor are bitterly divided over the Kirwan Commission recommendations on education programs. The Democratic Party-controlled General Assembly continues to grapple with how to pay for the plan, even as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan says the recommendations, if implemented as proposed, would require a massive tax hike.

“There is public support for the merits of the Kirwan Commission recommendations,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Goucher College Poll. “The problem is there is also a feeling there is a tax burden in this state. There’s always a question of cost, and the question of cost has to be addressed.”

The poll surveyed 718 residents across the state between Feb. 13 and 18. It has a margin of error of 3.7%.

Kromer said those who support the Kirwan recommendations will have to “thread the needle” with residents, making the case that the costs are worthwhile. In September, Kromer’s poll found that nearly three-quarters of the surveyed Marylanders said they’d personally be willing to pay more in taxes to improve education. But Kromer said then that the results did not suggest the willingness to sign a blank check and that costs would have to be tied to improvement.

“It’s the value proposition,” said Kromer. “That’s the case Democratic lawmakers have to make.”

In general, the public agrees that funding for education is lacking including 85% of those surveyed who said teacher salaries are too low. Nearly 70 percent said public schools in that state “don’t receive enough funding” and 64% said the funding that is sent to schools is not spent effectively by administrators.

Furthermore, 47% said the state is a good or excellent place to get a quality K-12 education.

Under the Kirwan recommendations, public school systems would seek to hire and retain highly trained and nationally certified teachers — paying them $60,000 to $80,000 annually. It would also fund mandatory pre-K programs for poor families and improve curriculums for students to make them college- or career-ready by the 10th grade. The plan calls for closing achievement gaps between white and minority students and for accountability measures that Kirwan said would tie funding to performance.

A majority of those surveyed, 69%, said they have heard or read “nothing about (the commission)” at all. That number represents an improvement from September, when 77 percent said they had heard little or nothing about the commission.

And while nearly 3 of 4 surveyed said those who make more should pay a higher tax rate than those with lower incomes, a plurality — 37% — said they would like to keep state services and taxes about the same.

Similarly, 51 percent said the overall amount of taxes they have to pay is “too high” and another 44 percent said the amount they pay is “about right.”

“Clearly this is an issue that resonates,” said Kromer. “People care a lot about education, but they also care about their taxes. They care about both.”

The General Assembly is considering a number of options to pay for the education proposal including a sales tax on online advertising; sales taxes on the purchase of downloadable books, music, games and video; and sports betting. Those proposals combined would still not be enough to cover the costs of the education recommendations.

The legislature will also consider a proposal to raise $2.6 billion annually by 2025 through the expansion of the state’s sales tax to services. The amount raised by that proposal would completely cover the state share of the costs of the Kirwan recommendations, according to supporters.

Hogan continues to fare well with Maryland residents, 62% of whom said they approve of the job he is doing compared to 20 percent who disapprove. Hogan has sustained job approval numbers of 60 percent or better since taking office in 2015.  In contrast, 41 percent of respondents approve of the work the General Assembly is doing compared to 27 percent who disapprove and 29 percent who said they didn’t know.

Just 49 percent said the state is headed in the right direction compared to 32% who said it is moving in the wrong direction. The responses reflect an improvement in the view of the state from September when 46% said the state was headed in the right direction. But in February a year ago, 59% of respondents said the state was headed in the right direction

Top issues

Crime continues to top the list of issues voters are most concerned about, with 20 percent identifying it as their top issue. Education was the next top issue, at 17%, followed by the 15% who identified economic or tax issues.

Hogan Thursday blasted Democrats for being slow to pass his criminal justice package and called for the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to step down. Hogan said crime, especially violent crime in Baltimore, is more important to state residents than the Kirwan Commission recommendations.

Democrats responded, saying Hogan’s claims about his bills were intellectually dishonest and that his calls for Sen. Will Smith’s resignation as committee chairman was a “cheap shot.” Democrats say they oppose many of Hogan’s proposals because they will regress to policies that resulted in the mass incarceration of minorities.

The poll also asked a number of quality of life questions:

  • 61% said Maryland is a good or excellent place to raise a family.
  • 58% rated Maryland is a good or excellent place to find a job.
  • 39% said the state is a good or excellent place to run a business.
  • 27% said the state is a good or excellent place to retire.

Sports betting

And while Maryland lawmakers consider legalizing sports betting, respondents to the poll are divided.

Respondents to the poll were randomly selected to answer one of two questions: In one, 47% said they supported sports betting online compared to 43% who opposed.

In a second question, 49% said they opposed sports betting at racetracks, casinos and stadiums compared to 45% who said they supported the gaming expansion.

Kromer cautioned that the results of the two questions are within the margin of error and suggest that regardless of how sports betting might be implemented, Marylanders are clearly still divided on the issue.




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