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August 28, 2014

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Voters split on margins tax for education, new poll finds

Nevadans generally think the economy is improving and its schools are failing, but voters remain divided over an upcoming ballot measure that would raise taxes for education, according to a new poll out today from the Retail Association of Nevada.

The poll asked likely voters whether they’d support the Education Initiative, a measure on the 2014 ballot that would impose a 2-percent business margins tax on Nevada businesses that earn more than $1 million in revenue a year.

About 46 percent of those polled said the tax will bring in necessary money for Nevada’s education system, 47 percent said it will “increase prices, unemployment and hurt businesses,” and 5 percent said they weren’t sure what the tax would do.

Those numbers are basically unchanged from the past four polls the Retail Association of Nevada has conducted, suggesting advocates and opponents of the ballot measure have an equal opportunity to shape public opinion about the tax in the run-up to the vote in November, 2014.

But other questions on the poll suggested Nevadans will likely oppose and defeat the tax when they vote on it next year, said Bryan Wachter with the Retail Association of Nevada, which is opposed to the tax.

“It’s a referendum on ‘do folks want to tax businesses using a margins tax’?” he said. I think what we get from this poll is ‘no.’ People are wary of a new business tax, and that’s a policy question. When looking at those key points -- it affects small business and the money doesn’t guarantee that education spending will increase -- folks have a general concern.”

Consider:

About 48 percent of those polled said they’d be less likely to vote for the tax if they knew that nothing in the initiative requires the funds raised by the tax to be spent on education.

Additionally, about 45 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for the tax if they knew it would impose higher taxes on small businesses in Nevada.

A plurality of Nevadans, however, gave schools below average grades, showing desire for better schools.

About 70 percent of those polled said significant reforms could improve the school system and 18 percent said increased spending would be the preferable way to improve Nevada’s schools.

So what does this numbers soup mean?

The statistics could become important in the messaging campaign to convince voters to defeat the tax proposal at the ballot.

Asked if the Retail Association of Nevada would start running advertisements or sending mailers to Nevadans with these statistics, Wachter said retailers just want to know public opinion.

“We want to know what Nevadans think,” Wachter said.

Retail Association of Nevada is part of a consortium including the Las Vegas Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada Resort Association that opposes the tax measure.

The Nevada State Education Association, the state teachers’ union, is the main proponent of the initiative.

Meanwhile, this upcoming election battle is taking shape in an economic environment in which Nevada voters appear to be guardedly optimistic about the economy as a whole but pessimistic about their own financial situations.

“One of the largest points, though, is that you still have, and it’s been this way for a couple of polls now, the majority of people think the unemployment situation is going to stay the same,” Wachter said. “I think what the survey showed is that from the economy as a whole, people are saying ‘yeah it’s getting a little better, but me personally I haven’t seen much change.’”

A majority of voters told pollsters “things in Nevada are generally headed in the right direction” and 72 percent of Nevadans say they think the economy has improved either a “great deal,” “somewhat,” or “just a little.”

Additionally, most voters, 57 percent, say that they think the “worst is over” when it comes to the economy.

But 58 percent of Nevadans polled say they think their individual financial situation is “about the same” as it was a year ago, and a plurality of 45 percent said “there has been no real change over the past year or two” when it comes to their household’s financial situation.

Jobs, education and the economy are still the top three issues voters say they care about. Those three issues have been the top issues voters care about in Nevada since February, 2011, when the Retail Association of Nevada first began its bi-annual polling.

On social issues, 57 percent of Nevadans polled said they are in favor of same-sex marriage and 36 percent would oppose repealing Nevada’s constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Posed with a question of whether they’d favor or oppose legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational use in Nevada if all tax revenue generated from the sale of marijuana was used for education funding, 54 percent said “yes” and 42 percent said “no.”

As health insurance exchanges open nationwide under President Barack Obama’s health care law this week, the poll shows 58 percent of Nevadans think the law will increase health care costs and 47 percent predict it will worsen access to health care.

Moore Information, a national polling firm, sampled 500 likely Nevada voters between September 27-29 to produce the poll for the Nevada Retail Association.

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