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Perry Pounded in the Polls

By Michael King, May 21, 2004, News

"The governor will continue to make difficult leadership decisions on issues important to Texans based on principles and not polls." That was the boilerplate issued by Gov. Rick Perry's office in response to the latest edition of the Scripps Howard Texas Poll, which found the governor's approval rating in free fall – just prior to the collapse of the special legislative session of public school finance. According to a phone poll of 1,000 Texans conducted May 3-15, Perry is the most unpopular Texas governor in 14 years: 37% approve of his performance, and 52% disapprove. Among Republicans, only 51% approve of Perry's governorship, down from 66% approval in just three months. Texans' view of the Legislature is even worse: 23% approve of the Lege's performance, while 66% disapprove.

Other than President George W. Bush – whose 59% approval rating is still precipitously down from 71% last spring – nobody's numbers are good, but Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn pointed to an overall positive approval rating – despite Republican approval now at just 45% – as confirming her message of "the need for real leadership" in Texas.

The Texas Poll was not the only wink of numerical intrigue in state politics this month. Just before the session ended, Dallas businessman Albert Huddleston, who has been lobbying hard for a new school finance plan, released a poll he commissioned on the subject from Baselice & Associates, a firm often used by the governor. The poll (1,002 respondents with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%) indicated that 74% of Texans consider their own school district as doing a fair to excellent job of educating students (good to excellent, 48%); that 61% believe the Legislature, not the Supreme Court, should fix school finance; and that 74% say we should increase the amount of school funding, not just maintain current levels. There was also sentiment in favor of vouchers (59% for "school choice") and moderate enthusiasm for eliminating recapture, aka "Robin Hood" (50% to 44%).

The most intriguing responses in the Baselice poll came on revenue questions. Fully 69% oppose an increase in the sales tax rate – part of virtually every plan under consideration by the Lege – but 55% said they would support a "statewide education flat tax on income" dedicated to public education and deductible from federal income taxes. That was preferred to a new business activity tax, and the only tax proposal that received stronger support was a $1 increase in the cigarette tax (63%).

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