Poll: Philadelphians Increasingly Concerned About Overall Local Tax Burden but Willing to Pay More for Better Services

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A new public opinion poll commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative finds that Philadelphians are increasingly concerned about the overall local tax burden but many residents appear willing to pay more in return for better services.

The poll also finds that Philadelphians favor the idea of commercial advertising at City Hall and other municipal properties in order to raise revenue but are cool to the idea of taxing sugary drinks.

Seventy percent of those polled say that high taxes are a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem in their neighborhoods—up from 55 percent in 2010 and 62 percent last year. Fifty-four percent say they “pay too much” for the level of city services they receive, compared with 39 percent who feel they get their “money's worth” or a “good deal” for their tax dollars.

At the same time, 49 percent say they would prefer to pay higher taxes for more city services, as opposed to 42 percent who prefer lower taxes and fewer services. Residents were evenly split on this question in polls conducted the past three years.

“Philadelphians send a variety of messages about taxes,” said Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative. “On the one hand, a large majority of residents are increasingly concerned about the size of the overall tax burden. On the other hand, a significant number of people say they would be willing to pay more if they thought they would get more for their money.”

On the concept of permitting advertisements on city buildings, 56 percent of Philadelphians approve while 34 percent are opposed. As for a tax on soda and other sugary drinks, 49 percent disapprove of the idea, and 46 percent support it, with positions on both sides deeply entrenched.

Legislation allowing advertising on city property was introduced in City Council earlier this year by Council President Darrell Clarke, but has not yet been acted upon. The sugary drinks tax has been put forward twice in the last two years by Mayor Michael Nutter, and Council failed to adopt it on either occasion.

The survey also gauged attitudes toward city workers' pensions. Philadelphians are closely divided on whether newly hired city employees should get the same pension benefits as current workers and retirees, as is the case now, or whether the city should be able to give them lower benefits to save money. Overall, 47 percent say new hires should receive the same pension package, and 43 percent favor the alternative. Last year the split was 45 percent to 44 percent.

How the study was conducted

The Philadelphia Research Initiative telephone survey was conducted between January 4 and January 19 among a citywide random sample of 1,600 Philadelphia residents, ages 18 and older. Interviews were conducted with 1,200 landline users and 400 cell phone users to reach a broad representative sample of Philadelphians.

The final sample was weighted to reflect the demographic breakdown of the city. The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/- 2.5 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error and respondent error.