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baltimoresun.com

Majority favor slots

County residents favor some tax rises, not others, poll finds

By Phillip McGowan

sun reporter

October 31, 2007

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Anne Arundel County residents' opinions are decidedly mixed on Gov. Martin O'Malley's tax proposals to balance the state budget, with strong majorities favoring raising taxes on businesses and high-income earners but opposing increases in the sales and car-titling taxes, according to a new survey.

The Anne Arundel Community College poll, released yesterday as state lawmakers returned to Annapolis for a special session to weigh O'Malley's tax package, found that 61 percent of respondents support bringing slots to Maryland.

Students at the college's Center for the Study of Local Issues surveyed 936 residents from Oct. 22 through Thursday. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Six in 10 respondents support O'Malley's proposals to raise the corporate income tax and restructure income taxes to shift the burden onto those whose incomes exceed $200,000, the poll found.

But equal numbers are opposed to raising taxes that would "hit broad cross sections of the public," said Dan Nataf, head of the college center, referring to O'Malley's initiatives to boost the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent and the car-titling tax by the same rate.

"The more broad-based the tax, the less support they tend to have," Nataf said. "It's pretty straightforward. They don't see it affecting them. If you talk about raising the corporate income tax ... or raising the cigarette tax ... they see themselves as the net beneficiary, so they are willing to support it."

Nearly half (47 percent) said a greater focus should be placed on cutting state programs than raising taxes. Nearly three in 10 (27 percent) said the emphasis should be on raising taxes.

What is less clear, Nataf said, is what services respondents would want cut in lieu of raising taxes. He said O'Malley hasn't effectively laid out the consequence of opposing his tax initiatives, based on the poll results.

O'Malley, a Democrat, called a special session of the state's 188 legislators this week to consider his plans to eliminate a $1.7 billion shortfall in next year's budget. In his address to lawmakers Monday, the governor said, "This looming shortfall threatens to do grave damage to the very quality of life that our neighbors have elected us to defend."

Republicans have opposed the suggested tax increases. Some lawmakers in both major parties have expressed unease about O'Malley's proposed referendum on slots that would allow up to 15,000 machines in five Maryland locations, including 4,250 in Anne Arundel County, presumably at Laurel Park.

Other findings reflected little change in popular opinion:

• 51 percent of those surveyed said the county is moving in the right direction, down from 52 percent in March.

• 69 percent said the county's economic condition is "excellent" or "good," down from 71 percent.

• President Bush's job performance rating improved to 35 percent from 34 percent in the fall.

The survey also found that 46 percent of the respondents were aware that the county guides its growth and development with a written plan as the once-a-decade process gets under way.

Nearly all said the public should play an active role in that revision, and nearly half - 48 percent - said they would like to do that.

"There appears to be pent-up demand for mechanisms allowing the public to be a participant in shaping the county's future growth," Nataf said. "Finding appropriate mechanisms to permit this will be the county's challenge."

The survey also found that nearly half of respondents had no preference among the presidential candidates. Of those who did, 28 percent backed Hillary Rodham Clinton, followed by Rudolph W. Giuliani, with 20 percent, and Barack Obama, with 12 percent. The other candidates were favored by no more than 8 percent.

In response to several survey questions about global warming, most agreed that it is "probably occurring" (85 percent), is caused by human activity (76 percent) and will have long-term impact on coastal areas such as Anne Arundel County as water levels rise.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com