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Minnesota poll shows support for tax hikes

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A new poll of Minnesotans found broad support for the tax hikes on wealthy residents and cigarette smokers that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Democratic Legislature approved last month.

The Star Tribune's Minnesota Poll, published Tuesday, showed that 58 percent of respondents supported the income tax increase on roughly the top 2 percent of income earners. Even more respondents, 64 percent, backed the $1.60 per pack hike in the cigarette tax.

The income tax was opposed by 36 percent of respondents, while 32 percent opposed the higher cigarette tax.

The poll surveyed 800 adults by phone from June 11 to June 13, and had an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The strong backing for both measures may reflect that they affect only small fractions of the greater population.

Republicans in the House and Senate fought the tax increases, which were the two chief components of a tax bill that is projected to raise $2.1 billion in new revenue over the next two years. Republicans argued the additional tax money was not needed and would harm the state's economy.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, a Minneapolis Democrat, said the poll showed that residents understood the need to raise more revenue in order to spend it on education and job creation, "and that we found a fair and acceptable way to do that."

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the poll reflects that the tax hikes are narrowly targeted. But he argued that they "frankly will hurt Minnesota's economy and hurt hardworking Minnesota families."

Bruce Jawer, a poll respondent from Rochester, told the Star Tribune that he backed the cigarette tax increase because health problems caused by smoking cost the state money. And he backed the income-tax hike even though he said he may fall into the "upper-income" tax category at times.

"Folks who make more money have a duty to contribute more to the welfare of the country and the state," said Jawer, an educational administrator for Mayo Clinic. "History shows that when things get too out of balance between the rich and the poor, it leads to instability."

But Tom Penn, a small business owner from Excelsior, said the income tax hikes could hurt enterprises like his, in which business income is taxed as personal income.

"If you're raising taxes, you're preventing us from reinvesting in the business," he said.

Penn said he doesn't necessarily oppose cigarette tax hikes, but argued that similar items such as liquor should have been subject to the same increase.

The Legislature and Dayton set a new tax rate of 9.85 percent on income above $250,000 for couples and above $150,000 for individuals, a 2 percent increase over the current rate. Income below those levels will continue to be taxed at existing rates.

The $1.60 cigarette tax increase will be added to the state's current per-pack tax of $1.23. The Minnesota Department of Health estimates about 16 percent of Minnesota adults are smokers.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.