Poll: Many in the dark on budget

Most people know little, if anything, about the state’s $100 million budget deficit, but most everyone knows they don’t want new or higher taxes. They’d rather expand gambling in the state.

That’s according to the latest version of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center’s Granite State Poll released last week, which found that barely one-third of the 619 randomly selected New Hampshire adults polled between Feb. 5 and 9 said they had heard a lot about the budget deficit.

While that’s almost double the number who said they had heard a lot in April, it pales next to the 48 percent who said they’ve heard a little and the 18 percent who have heard nothing, according to a release from the center.

Last week, Gov. John Lynch proposed a two-year state budget 1.5 percent smaller than the present that would include numerous cuts, including laying off hundreds of state employees, cutting grants and closing the state prison in Laconia and eight district courts. The plan, which also includes a hike in the cigarette tax and turnpike tolls, was made to cover the expected shortfall.

The only new source of revenue that garnered any kind of support was legalized gambling, according to the survey. Forty-one percent of respondents said they’d be more likely to vote for a state senator who favored gambling compared to 37 percent who said they’d be more likely to vote against one.

Supporting other forms of revenue – a sales or income tax or higher property taxes – would earn a senatorial candidate far more detractors than supporters, according to the survey.

When asked which revenue source they liked best, 40 percent chose gambling, up from 30 percent in 2002, and compared to 25 percent for a sales tax, 19 percent for an income tax and 3 percent for a higher property tax, according to the survey.

Legislators may have a chance to answer the expanded gambling siren song this session by voting on a bill that would allow up to three “destination” casino resorts in the state, including the possibility of one on the Green Meadow Golf Club in Hudson.

But the news of the apparently dire budgetary straits at home is drowned out by coverage of the global and national financial crisis. What news coverage there is, is largely ignored as more people are forced to concentrate on their own financial and employment situations, according to Andrew Smith, director of the survey center.

“What’s on television now is not New Hampshire budget issues,” he said. “When we have bad economic problems, (people) focus on their own issues. They don’t see necessarily the connection between the state money and their own budget issues.”

A lack of attention is hardly a new phenomenon, Smith said, and one of the chief critiques of a democracy is that “it assumes the public is informed about public policy.”

“We just tune that stuff out,” he said. “Talk to us about baseball players on steroids. We’re all over that. Who should win on ‘American Idol?’ We’re very concerned about that. This isn’t anything new, unfortunately.”

The number of people paying attention is increasing though, according to the survey. In April, only 17 percent said they knew a lot about the state budget crisis, 59 percent said they knew some and 23 percent said they knew nothing at all. Ten months later, those numbers were 33 percent, 48 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

There’s little agreement about the cause of the problem. Forty-five percent blame too much spending and 44 percent blame too-low revenues, according to the survey.