Poll shows broad support for sales-tax referenda

Supporters of a sales-tax referendum for education say a recent poll shows strong support for such a tax hike statewide — not just in Northern Virginia.

A bipartisan private poll released Tuesday found 61 percent of 805 registered voters statewide — excluding Northern Virginia — support a half-cent, sales-tax increase for school construction, said George Waters, chairman of the new Coalition for Good Schools, which released the poll Tuesday with Fairfax Delegate James H. Dillard, R-41st.

A separate poll released a month ago showed 65 percent of Northern Virginia voters polled supported an increase for education.

Dillard this week has signaled his willingness to have a sales-tax referendum on a statewide basis for educational purposes, which would allow the General Assembly to consider it separately from the transportation referendum. Last year, legislators fought over whether the two issues should be linked, and neither was passed.

If the General Assembly approves the two referenda this year, they would appear as separate questions on the ballot in November.

“It allows both issues to be considered on their merits,” said Delegate Jack A. “Jack” Rollison, R-51st, the main proponent of a Northern Virginia transportation referendum. “I think we’ve got a good chance. It depends on the support we get from downstate.”

The poll results did not surprise either supporters and opponents.

“Every poll has shown that,” said Delegate Michele B. McQuigg, R-51st, who has conducted her own informal poll on her Web site. She said that she would support both referendum concepts, but her support is not automatic. “I have to see the details of the bill.”

There are multiple bills for sales-tax referenda now in the legislature. The Northern Virginia delegation is expected to receive a report on the options next week.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th, has opposed tax increases and handily beat his opponent last November who supported the sales-tax referendum. Marshall’s steadfast opposition got him referred to as “Delegate No” by one of his peers this week.

“The last thing you want to do in a recession is raise taxes,” he said. “Let’s be more efficient before we raise taxes.”

He questioned the methodology of the poll, which surveyed 805 registered voters throughout the state. It should have only asked voters who voted in the last election, which would give a more accurate picture of people who are serious about public policy, he said.

The pollsters did not release all their questions at the Tuesday press conference.

Marshall pointed to that fact and said if the data were believable, its supporters should just pass the tax increase now.

“Why delay the process? Why waste time with the referendum?” he asked. “They’re not going to do it, because they don’t believe their own polls.”

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