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Voters open to higher taxes to level education inequality in Mass., poll says

Hundreds of students, educators, parents, and other supporters of public education gathered on Boston Common during a public education rally for more school funding.
Hundreds of students, educators, parents, and other supporters of public education gathered on Boston Common during a public education rally for more school funding. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

As the Legislature grapples with how to fund public education, the majority of Massachusetts voters say they are willing to pay more in taxes — or give up some education funding in their own communities — to funnel more money toward low-income or low-performing school districts.

Sixty percent of the registered voters who participated in a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll released Tuesday said they don’t believe the state is adequately funding its K-12 schools.

The findings indicate that voters are eager to revamp how the state funds an elementary and secondary education system that has ranked among the best in the nation — but that has also struggled to close wide gaps in achievement. The poll of 600 registered voters was conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center between Wednesday and Sunday.

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Most voters also say Governor Charlie Baker should seek a third consecutive term — something no Massachusetts incumbent has ever done. And more than 60 percent say their commute has only gotten worse in recent years, though voters are split on solutions to address growing traffic congestion.

It’s education, however, where voters put a heavy emphasis on change. A little more than half said they’re willing to see their own school district get less in state funding if it meant low-income districts could get more. An even greater number — 58 percent — said they’re willing to pay more in state taxes to cut down on disparities within the education system.

That’s evidence there’s a “strong appetite for redistribution,” according to the poll’s director, David Paleologos.

“I think it’s the importance of the issue and it’s due to the economy,” Paleologos said of the opinions on education funding. “People view it as a valued investment into our resources.”

Charles Bormann, 42, said he’s among those willing to see less money go toward his own school district to put it elsewhere. The Winchester resident said he feels it’s an advantage that his three children, two of whom are school age and another who’s 3 years old, can attend great schools in town.

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“I feel everyone should have the access that my kids have,” he said.

Both Baker and legislative leaders have said they want to overhaul the state’s education funding formula, and lawmakers could produce a consensus proposal as early as this month.

Also, the House and Senate are scheduled Wednesday to take up a constitutional amendment that would impose a 4 percent surtax on household income above $1 million, with the intent of putting the estimated $2 billion it raises toward education and transportation. The proposal, known as the millionaires’ tax, is expected to draw enough support to eventually reach the 2022 ballot after the state’s highest court struck down a previous iteration before it could go before voters last year.

It was last summer when talks also collapsed around sweeping education legislation, which could explain why roughly 31 percent of those polled believe that “politicians” are most responsible for failing schools, far more than the blame placed on school administrators, parents, teachers, or students themselves.

Whether many voters include Baker in that group is unclear. Nearly 70 percent of voters view the Swampscott Republican favorably, and two-thirds say he should run for governor again in 2022. About 23 percent say he should not.

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Baker, who easily won reelection last year, has acknowledged he’s considering a bid for a third consecutive four-year term.

With more than three years until the gubernatorial election, no Democrats have definitely said they intend to run. That’s left voters such as 28-year-old Ashley Mahler, who is unenrolled and said that Baker should run again, potentially open to other options.

“I don’t hate the guy. He’s not terrible,” Mahler, of South Yarmouth, said. “But I don’t know right now if there are other candidates that I would support more than him.”

Two officials who many consider potential contenders for governor in 2022 also received good marks.

Nearly 57 percent of voters statewide say they view Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston favorably, compared to 17 percent who don’t, while Attorney General Maura Healey holds a 43-19 edge in favorable and unfavorable opinions, respectively. In a hypothetical gubernatorial primary, the two Democrats are also relatively even, with Walsh holding a 36-34 percent edge.

Transportation also continues to be a frustration for voters: 61 percent of those surveyed say their commute has gotten worse over the last five years.

Three out of every four commuters say they drive alone to school or work each day; 49 percent of all those surveyed say they’re in favor of giving up lanes on highways and roads to create bus-only lanes.

Voters also sent mixed signals on legislation known as “An Act to Remove Obstacles to Expand Abortion Access,” or the ROE Act. At 64 percent, there’s strong support for the bill’s provision to allow abortions after 24 weeks in the cases of fatal fetal anomalies.

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But voters are less keen on a proposal to remove the requirement that anyone under 18 have either parental or judicial consent to get an abortion. About 46 percent support that part of the legislation, while 41 percent oppose it.

The wide-ranging poll also shows that many voters haven’t made up their minds for the 2020 elections.

Former vice president Joe Biden leads a crowded field of two dozen Democrats with 22 percent of support among Massachusetts primary voters, followed by the state’s own senator, Elizabeth Warren, at 10 percent, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., at 8 percent.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont trails that group at 6 percent, while nearly 42 percent of those surveyed say they’re still undecided about which candidate to support ahead of the state’s March presidential primary. Representative Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat, polled at 1 percent.

Warren remains well liked among the state’s Democrats, with 71 percent viewing her favorably, but that shifts dramatically when accounting for other voters. About 51 percent of independent voters, the state’s largest bloc, say they have an unfavorable opinion of her. Among all voters, just as many people have a favorable opinion of the Cambridge Democrat — 46 percent — as those who don’t.

Elsewhere on the 2020 ballot, Senator Edward J. Markey holds large leads over his declared and potential primary challengers, drawing 44 percent of support compared to 5 percent apiece for labor lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan and author and executive Steve Pemberton.

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Nearly 45 percent of Democratic voters say they’re undecided in that race, too, but far more have a favorable than unfavorable opinion of Markey, at 54 to 13 percent.

“You have a lot of people who are kind of taking a wait-and-see in both the presidential and Senate primaries,” Paleologos said.

The Suffolk poll had a margin of error of 4 percent. For questions involving only Democratic voters, the margin of error was 5.1 percent.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.