New Poll Shows John Bel Edwards’ Agenda Is A Complete Political Disaster

Here’s a press release put out yesterday evening by Truth In Politics, the new political organization which had that devastating TV ad we posted about last week. Our thoughts to follow…

Louisianians from across the state are standing firm in their opposition to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ economic policy decisions, particularly as they pertain to the administration’s record tax increases and the lagging economy resulting from them, according to a new Truth in Politics (TIP) poll released today.

Louisianians are generally pessimistic about the current economic conditions in the state, according to the poll, which is the first of many to be released by TIP. Respondents listed jobs and the economy as the No. 1 concern that needs to be addressed by the governor and legislature, with budget and tax reform also coming in near the top. Adding to this is the fact that more than 70 percent of those surveyed said employment opportunities are either scarce or hard to get in Louisiana, and more than 60 percent also said they expect business conditions to stay the same or get worse in the next six months.

Among the major economic topics surveyed were Gov. Edwards’ newly proposed gross receipts tax, or commercial activity tax (CAT), on Louisiana businesses, the proposed 23-cent gasoline tax increase, the tax burdens placed on oil and gas businesses and the importance of the industry to the state’s economic growth. Approximately 40 percent of respondents agreed that state government already taxes and spends too much revenue, and this sentiment translated to their views on Gov. Edwards’ new tax propositions.

When informed of Gov. Edwards’ proposed 2018 budget, which represents the highest spending per capita in the South, nearly 80 percent of respondents said Louisiana either spends too much, taxes too high or both.

Nearly half of all those polled strongly opposed establishing the CAT in Louisiana, and 55 percent strongly opposed establishing the tax when informed of the potential economic impact and job loss that could result from it. This negative perception of the gross receipts tax comes on the heels of a recent Forbes article, which quoted many top economists as calling the proposal “terrible,” “misguided” and “the most harmful” form of taxation. As for the proposed 23-cent hike on the gasoline sales tax, approximately 75 percent of Louisianians surveyed expressed their opposition to it.

The poll also reinforced the fact that Louisianians remain strongly supportive of and appreciative for the state’s oil and gas businesses, as more than 80 percent of those polled agreed Louisiana should foster a favorable business climate to protect and grow industry jobs in the state. Additionally, more than 50 percent said they view oil and gas employers as vitally important job creators and tax contributors that should be taxed the same as other Louisiana businesses.

The public’s perception of the importance of supporting Louisiana’s oil and gas industry appears to be in sharp contrast to Gov. Edwards and his administration’s often hostile relationship with companies in the sector. Business groups, local political figures and citizens around the state have expressed to Gov. Edwards the need for encouraging business investments in Louisiana, but his unbalanced tax policies and abusive lawsuits against industry companies, big and small, directly discourage future investments and limit job growth.

“Gov. John Bel Edwards’ failed tax and spend policies are hurting our state’s economy and Louisianians are taking notice,” said Kelli Bottger, executive director of TIP. “Gov. Edwards has already raised our taxes to historic levels, and now he wants even more, which would only hurt our economy further. Louisianians are waking up to this administration’s failed leadership.”

The poll, which was conducted by national survey research firm Baselice & Associates, collected and analyzed the opinions of 500 Louisiana residents. Outreach to participants was split nearly evenly between landline and cell phone communication.

See the entire poll here. Our observations…

First, this is not some poll skewed toward getting a bad result for the governor. If anything, it oversamples respondents who identify as Democrats (40 percent, to 38 who identify as Republicans), and it probably oversimplifies African-American respondents (the sample is 59 percent white and 30 percent black; that’s a little off from the 64-31 split for the presidential election in 2016, which generated the same figure as the 2015 gubernatorial runoff did).

And second, these results are really, really ugly for Edwards’ agenda.

This CAT tax, which even the Times-Picayune agrees is a dead duck (by Tuesday of next week it’s going to be officially dead in the House Ways And Means Committee), is political poison. When called a Gross Receipts Tax, which is what it is, it polls at 35-59, with 42 percent strongly opposing. Respondents to the poll were then fed what the governor’s allies would call a push-poll line, where the pollster says the tax “would hit every business in the state with a new tax that economists report would result in fewer jobs, and could even push Louisiana into a deeper recession. A handful of states have tried this European style tax and some have already taken steps to get rid of it. Knowing this, do you favor or oppose establishing” it? And that information moves the needle a little – instead of 35-59 the number sinks to 20-74. But the point is, the respondents already think it’s a crappy idea and they’re not for it.

And Edwards’ gas tax, which supposedly would have a better time in the legislature than the gross receipts tax would, is an even more complete fiasco. It polls at 22-75, with 63 percent strong opposition. There is no way the legislature will vote on a gas tax hike that 75 percent of the public disfavors.

Why is nobody interested in Edwards’ signature tax ideas? Because they already think the state has and spends too much.

The poll asked two budget questions. First, it polled the budget issue straight, by asking if the state (a) spends too much, (b) taxes too much, (c) spends AND taxes too much or (d) doesn’t spend or tax too much. And the results were 23 percent saying spends too much, 17 saying taxes too much, 40 percent for both and only 14 percent for neither. Meaning that 63 percent say the state spends too much and 57 say it taxes too much.

Then came a “push-poll” question (at least, that’s what the Edwards crowd will accuse), in which respondents were told “At twenty-nine point seven billion dollars, the governor’s proposed 2018 budget is nearly two billion dollars more than last year’s budget, representing the largest proposed state budget in history. The governor’s proposed budget is the highest spending per state resident in the southern region. Knowing this, do you think the state of Louisiana…?”

Does that move the needle? Almost none at all. 25 percent said spends too much, 9 percent said taxes too much, 46 percent said both and 13 percent said neither. The lesson being you can hammer away on the messaging with respect to the state budget and you’re really only telling people what they already know and agree with.

This poll puts the lie to what Edwards had been telling legislators earlier this year, that the public “has an appetite for more revenue.” That was fantasy talk, and this poll proves it.

And he was forced to admit it today with respect to his CAT tax. From an Advocate article this afternoon

“‘I wouldn’t say that the conversations I’m having are terribly different than what you’re having,’ Edwards told reporters on Friday when asked if he had any reason to believe his tax plan could garner support. In recent weeks local media has reported that Edwards has an uphill battle to pass a key element of his budget stabilization plan, a tax on corporate sales projected to raise about $400 million. Several legislators have suggested that the bill has no chance of passing.”

There is no showing as yet that Edwards’ approval rating is on the outs. He’s only in his second year and most of the policy stuff is generally a bit too in-the-weeds to trash his approval – at least not until he has a bona fide gubernatorial opponent out on the hustings running against him. The absolutely shamelessly sycophantic treatment he’s been given by the state’s major media outlets, particularly the Advocate, probably insulates him from too much of a drop from the 62 percent approval rating he boasted last fall when Southern Media and Opinion Research measured it.

But at some point, policy outcomes will drive approval ratings. And Edwards appears to be headed for a Waterloo of a legislative session in which his tax ideas are crushed and he’s forced to accept budget cuts. Perhaps there are ways to survive a bad legislative session with one’s approval rating intact, but conventional wisdom says sooner or later that’s unsustainable.

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