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Pennsylvania Gov.-Elect Tom Wolf (Photo via Flickr)

Voters support Wolf plan, unsure about him

Voters overwhelmingly support Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to swap higher state sales, income and natural gas extraction taxes for lower school property taxes and more education funding, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

They are far less pleased with the way he is going about his job, the Franklin & Marshall College poll found.

Almost three in five voters (59 percent) said they strongly or somewhat support the governor’s tax plan compared to only about a third (35 percent) who strongly or somewhat oppose it.

Despite having a largely favorable view of Mr. Wolf, only about two in five voters (38 percent) think he is doing a good or excellent job compared to more than two in five (43 percent) who think he is doing a fair or poor job. The rest said they do not know.

G. Terry Madonna, Ph.D., the poll director, said the popularity of Mr. Wolf’s tax swap and his mediocre job approval rating are not really contradictory. Only two months in office, voters do not know much about the governor’s overall agenda.

“I think a lot of voters don’t have a clear sense about where he wants to go yet,” Dr. Madonna said, explaining the job approval rating. “He’s not been in office long enough. … We’ll see what happens in the fall.”

The poll surveyed 597 voters between March 17 and Monday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

The job approval rating could have something to do with the economy, Dr. Madonna said. At the same point in time in their first terms, Mr. Wolf stands slightly ahead of former Gov. Tom Corbett, but behind former governors Ed Rendell and Tom Ridge, who both led the state in rosier times, Dr. Madonna said.

Just as in October, two in five voters (40 percent) said they have favorable view of Mr. Wolf with a slightly higher percentage (27 percent) saying they have an unfavorable view than in October (25 percent).

Mr. Wolf’s focus on taxes has certainly affected voters’ views on issues. They still most often named education and schools (19 percent) as the most important problem facing the state (down from 25 percent in October), but taxes shot up the list of concerns, rising to second (17 percent) from fourth (9 percent) in October.

Dr. Madonna attributed the change directly to Mr. Wolf’s property tax proposal earlier this month.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. What’s been the message for eight weeks: what we defined as the governor’s plan in there (the poll),” he said. “He’s got their (voters’) attention and they’re generally supportive. Now the acid test is leadership.”

Mr. Wolf is proposing raising the sales tax to 6.6 percent from 6 percent and the income tax to 3.7 percent from 3.07 percent and imposing a 5 percent gas extraction tax to close an estimated $2 billion budget gap , raise more money for education and lower school property taxes.

More than a quarter of voters (27 percent) said increasing state funding for education should be state lawmakers’ top priority while another quarter (25 percent) said reforming the state’s tax system to cut property taxes should be.

By a huge margin (77 percent to 13 percent), voters think the state’s tax system, including property taxes, needs reforming. Almost half (48 percent) think it needs complete rebuilding while about two in five voters (41 percent) think it only needs minor changes.

More than two in five (44 percent) think the way to solve the state’s large budget deficit is to cut spending and raise taxes with almost a third (31 percent) saying the way to do it just cutting state programs and services.

Of the people who favor the governor’s tax-swap plan, about a third (33 percent) said they favor it because more education funding is necessary or because education should be a top priority. About one in five (21 percent) said they back the plan because property taxes must come down. Almost as many (18 percent) said they support it because Marcellus Shale gas extraction should be taxed.

Voters impression of the state’s future also sharply improved with about four in 10 (39 percent) saying they think things are headed in the right direction, up from about three in 10 (28 percent) in an October poll. Still, almost half (47 percent) think the state is off on the wrong track, though that is down from more than three in five (61 percent) in October.

“That could be the better economy, it could be a better sense of optimism that voters have that things will get better with the state,” Dr. Madonna said.

In other findings, the poll:

–Showed state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s legal troubles have voters taking a dim view of her. Only one in five voters (19 percent) said they have a favorable view of her with almost three in 10 (29 percent) with an unfavorable view. More than half (52 percent) said they were undecided or did not know.

–Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey led Democratic former congressman Joe Sestak, 34 percent to 29 percent, in a head-to-head matchup that assumed both would be their party’s nominee for the 2016 Senate race. Almost four in 10 voters (37 percent) said they do not know whom they would support.

In related news, Drillers: Wolf tax plan would hurt most while prices are low.

This article was written by Borys Krawczeniuk from The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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