Survey Results - March 17, 2008
Analysis by Floyd Ciruli
Mesa County Voters Closely Divided on Severance Tax Increase
In a Ciruli Associates poll in Mesa County, the largest county on the Western Slope, voters were closely divided in support and opposition for an increase in Colorado’s severance tax. Forty-six percent of voters supported the increase and 44 percent opposed it.
The question highlighted that the Colorado severance tax is low compared to other states and the funds would go to locally impacted communities and Colorado public higher education. But it also cited that opponents argue jobs and the local economy would be hurt and increases would be felt at the gas pump and in winter heating bills.
Question: The Colorado state legislature and other groups are discussing proposals that would be on the November 2008 ballot to increase the severance tax on natural gas and oil production in the state. The funds raised from the tax increase would go to the local communities, counties and cities affected by the production and to Colorado higher education.
Supporters argue the severance tax is low compared to other states, that this is a one time opportunity to increase the tax before the gas and oil production drops off, and state and local communities and higher education need the money.
Opponents argue severance taxes are high enough, that an increase will reduce production and jobs and hurt the local economy, and that any increases will result in higher prices at the gas pump and winter heating bills.If you had to vote today, would you support or oppose an increase of the severance tax?
The survey was conducted from February 18 to 24, 2008, with 600 active voters (±4.0 percentage points) in Mesa County by Ciruli Associates. The question was part of a large education survey conducted for the Mesa County Valley Public School District 51.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mesa County Voting History
Mesa County has a conservative electorate and mostly favors Republican statewide candidates. Mesa County voters are also highly sensitive to initiatives they feel originate from and primarily benefit the Front Range.
Two recent ballot tests highlight the conservative nature of the local electorate. The 2004 renewable energy mandates on utilities passed statewide with 54 percent, but lost in Mesa County, receiving only 41 percent. Likewise, when the state narrowly approved Referendum C the TABOR time-out in 2005 (52%), two-thirds (65%) of Mesa County voters opposed it.
The recent elections for open seats for U.S. Senate and Governor demonstrate the county is strongly Republican-leaning. Ken Salazar won the 2004 senate race statewide by 5 percentage points, but lost in Mesa County to Peter Coors by 26 percentage points. Bill Ritter swept the governorship by 16 points in 2006, but lost in Mesa County by one point to former Congressman Bob Beauprez.
Partisanship and the Severance Tax
When examining partisanship, the proposal has majority support from Mesa County Democrats (60%) and unaffiliated voters (56%), but loses Republican voters 56 percent against to only 36 percent in favor.
Republicans represent about 45 percent of the registered voters in Mesa County and one-half of the sample of voters.
Hence, comparing the narrow plurality of support for a severance tax increase to previous ballot initiatives and referendums indicates that the initiative could win statewide, as of today, by 10 or more percentage points.
However, using the partisan support levels to project on the likely statewide partisan turnout ratios in November 2008 indicates, as of today, a severance tax initiative has a narrow 53 percent support statewide.
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Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research firm providing polling, election analysis and political commentary to Colorado and national organizations and media since 1976.