MPR Poll: High approval marks for Pawlenty, but most wish he'd raise taxes on the rich

Joint session
Legislators are on the brink of passing a bill to raise taxes. The governor has promised to veto the bill. The new poll gives both sides reason to hold fast.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The poll gives Gov. Pawlenty and legislative leaders different reasons to hold fast on their positions on the budget. The governor is excited with his high approval ratings. Democrats are pleased with the results regarding the income tax increase.

Faye Olsen, 69, of Duluth is one of the 625 likely voters contacted earlier this week for the poll. Olsen, who's retired, is a Democrat. She says she supports raising income taxes on Minnesota's top earners to pay for both education and property tax relief. Olsen says she's on a fixed income of $900 a month and would welcome any efforts to reduce her property taxes.

"My taxes are about $700 a year," she said. "There just isn't the money coming out of people's pockets. They just don't have the money and the taxes just keep going up and up and up. It just gets to a point that you think that's it and it might be cheaper to rent."

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, was conducted by Mason Dixon Polling and Research.

DFL House Speaker Margaret Kelliher of Minneapolis says she's encouraged by the poll results. She says most people know that wealthier Minnesotans are paying a smaller percentage of their income than other residents.

"Folks want tax fairness in the system," Kelliher said. "They want to make sure everyone is paying their fair share. The other part that it reflects is that we have a real value in Minnesota about being able to own your home or afford your rent. And our plan is the one that gets property tax cuts to all Minnesotans."

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But Kelliher also admits that it will be difficult to deliver on their property tax plan if Gov. Pawlenty vetoes an income tax increase. Pawlenty's spokesman, Brian McClung, says that is what will happen.

McClung says he isn't surprised by the poll numbers on the income tax on top earners since a majority of Minnesotans won't have to pay it. McClung preferred to focus on a different poll number -- one that gives Pawlenty high approval ratings.

"The governor is in a really strong position heading into the final days of the legislative session," according to McClung. "The governor has been clear and consistent about his message from the start of this session and so the people of Minnesota are hearing what the governor is saying and they like it and support it."

McClung also said the poll had some shortcomings since it did not ask respondents whether they support Pawlenty's budget proposal which does not increase taxes. A poll conducted for KSTP-TV last month also showed strong support for the DFL tax increases. That poll asked whether people supported the governor's plan to balance the budget without a tax increase and about 65 percent of the respondents said they did.

Despite the governor's veto threats, the House and Senate are preparing to send him a bill that increases income taxes on top earners to pay for property tax relief. The Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would create a new income tax rate on individuals making more than $226,000 a year and couples who make more than $400,000 a year.

The plan would use the money to provide a property tax refund to virtually every homeowner in the state and would also increase aid to local governments.

Several Republicans complained on the Senate floor that the tax rate would be the third-highest in the nation.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said Minnesota's top earners already pay enough in income taxes. He said lawmakers should cut their appetite for spending.

"We have an element of this small percentage of taxpayer that's paying exorbitant amounts of our income tax in Minnesota and for some of you, you just want more. There's no satisfying you; you just want more," he said.

The House is expected to pass the bill, but not with the votes needed to override a veto.