Poll shows CT residents oppose tolls, maybe

March 12, 2019

Both sides of the toll debate have something to crow about in a new Sacred Heart University poll, which found a majority oppose the highway charges Gov. Ned Lamont wants — but more would be likely to back tolls if the money all went to bridge and highway spending.

When asked straight-up whether they support or oppose implementing tolls, 59 percent said they oppose and 35 percent said they support the measure.

When asked whether they’d be more likely to support tolls if it were guaranteed that the money “would only be spent on roads, bridges and highways,” 51 percent said they’d either continue to support tolls or be more likely to do so.

On another hot-button issue, raising the minimum wage in Connecticut from $10.10 to $15 an hour, 71 percent said they favored the idea, while 26 percent said they opposed. That’s in line with national surveys on the minimum wage, although it has been ten years since Congress raised the national minimum to $7.25.

The poll, conducted by GreatBlue Research, of Cromwell, for Sacred Heart, queried 1,004 Connecticut residents, online and by telephone, between Feb. 13 and March 4. The poll claims a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, higher for subgroups.

Lamont’s office issued a statement late Monday saying the poll “underscores Connecticut’s need to move forward” with tolls.

“This poll confirms what we already know: Governor Lamont’s plan has broad support from residents, labor, business, and elected officials, and our state’s residents categorically reject the Republican plan, which calls for more borrowing paid for entirely by Connecticut’s future generations,” Colleen Flanagan Johnson, Lamont’s senior advisor, said in the release.

The poll didn’t ask respondents about the Republican plan, which does call for borrowing but doesn’t lend itself to a poll question. Federal laws both require highway tolling to be used exclusively on the affected highways, and to be used to reduce congestion.

The poll also didn’t ask about Lamont’s $800 million tolling plan, which would cost more than $200 million to implement.

One alarming fear — warranted or not — is people moving out of Connecticut due to high taxes, and a series of questions in the poll appeared to bear out those worries. Thirty-nine percent, or 389 respondents, said they’re considering changing their residence over the next five years. Of those, 72 percent said they’d look outside of Connecticut.

That’s a total of 28 percent considering moving to other states or nations.

The poll asked how many of those considered housing costs important in the decision to move and as expected, 70 percent said that was a very important factor.

The poll didn’t ask about taxes in connection with a possible move, but in a separate question, 62 percent said it was either very difficult (21 percent) or somewhat difficult (41 percent) to maintain their standard of living in Connecticut. Of those 62 percent, more than half named high taxes or rising taxes as the reason it was hard to maintain their standards of living.

Can all that combine to a conclusion that many people are exiting the state due to tax increases? Clearly some people are, as the state continues to lose reisdents to other states — although younger people tend to leave for more expensicve places such as Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Republicans are likely to say yes, the poll establishes the connection, and they might be right but the line of questioning is a bit indirect.

As expected, majorities favored increased spending on school security (although residents were divided on whether schools should have more “trained and armed” teachers); and tighter restrictions and higher taxes on electronic cigarettes.

On the ultimate question of quality of life, the good outpolled the bad: 15.5 percent excellent, 44 percent good, 31 percent fair and 9.5 percent poor. But the quality-is-declining crowd (27.5 percent) outnumbered the quality-is-improving respondents (15 percent).

Questions about quality of life and economic conditions are best viewed over many years, when asked precisely the same way at the same time of year. So let’s call this a baseline.