EDMONTON - Are Albertans ready to embrace the idea of tax increases?
New polling suggests they might be, as long as the money is used for essential services and infrastructure.
"It's definitely surprising in this province that there appears to be a willingness to pay higher taxes from more than half of Albertans," said Ian Large of Leger Marketing, which conducted the poll for the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald.
"This isn't an invitation to raise taxes; it's more of a tolerance for a tax increase."
The poll, conducted March 22-25, asked participants if they would be amenable to paying higher taxes if they were guaranteed the money would go to government programs and improvements to schools, highways and hospitals.
A full 56 per cent of respondents answered yes, while 42 per cent said no. Support was highest in Edmonton with 59-per-cent support for the idea, followed by Calgarians (56) and people living outside the two cities (53).
While not an overwhelming endorsement, the result is nonetheless unexpected in a province where any mention of tax hikes has been considered a non-starter, Large said.
"The critical component here is that it's for services and improvements that affect people's lives," he said. "That's where people want to see their tax dollars spent, and I think there is a recognition there is a bit of infrastructure deficit in the province and people believe there might be a need to raise taxes for that."
Among decided voters, 40 per cent of Wildrose supporters said yes to the tax question. Support was higher among respondents supporting the Progressive Conservatives (59), the Liberals (82), the NDP (83) and undecided voters (53).
Alberta has the lowest tax regime in the country, including low corporate rates, a flat, 10-per-cent income tax rate and no provincial sales tax.
Some opposition parties, including the Liberals and NDP, have pushed for a more progressive structure that would charge a higher rate to large corporations and high-earning Albertans.
The Wildrose has promised no tax hikes. The PCs have also vowed no increases for three years, though Alison Redford's government has said it wants to have a "conversation" with Albertans about the province's financial structure.
Large noted the poll question did not mention a specific type of tax increase, whether it be income tax, a sales tax or corporate taxes.
The poll also found Albertans are generally not in favour of cuts to services and programs to balance the budget.
About 39-per-cent of respondents said they would cut to get the province out of deficit, while 54 per cent said no.
Support for cuts was strongest from respondents outside the cities (44), followed by Calgarians (41) and Edmontonians (31).
In a somewhat unexpected result, just 49 per cent of decided Wildrose voters said they would trim program costs. That was ahead of backers for the PCs (42), Liberals (30), NDP (19) and undecided voters (35).
The telephone survey of 1,215 Albertans has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margin increases when results are broken down by region or demographic.
Edmonton Journal, Fri Mar 30 2012
Byline: Keith Gerein