Survey: South Carolinians favor increase in cigarette tax, oppose increase in gas tax

COLUMBIA -- More than 60 percent of South Carolinians favor raising the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax.

But a nearly equal number oppose raising the state's gasoline tax, according to a poll released Thursday by Winthrop University and ETV.

Saluda resident Octavius Wagner favors raising the cigarette tax, now 7 cents a pack, and using the revenues to pay for health care.

The state Senate is considering a proposal to raise the tax and use the revenue to offset the cost of state tax credits for S.C. employers to buy health insurance for their workers.

Wagner, 32, broke his leg last year, and, with no insurance, said he was hit with a $30,000 bill.

"I practically had to rehabilitate myself," said Wagner, who said he was denied public assistance for his injury. "I had to go to work three months early."

After losing her husband to lung cancer 10 years ago, Jeanne Sanders, 55, of Greenville also supports a higher cigarette tax. Her husband, Al Sanders, was 59 when he died after smoking most of his life, she said.

Sanders said she also has a friend with lung cancer who does not have health insurance.

For those reasons, she strongly thinks money raised through a cigarette tax should be used for health-care costs.

"They should probably stick another $1 per pack on it to see if they could dissuade some people from doing it," Sanders said.

'Hurting everybody'

A higher gas tax has been bandied about as a possible way to raise money to repair state roads and bridges.

However, Jasper County resident Dell Davidson, 53, said higher gas prices would hurt sales at his produce stand near Interstate 95 and U.S. 17.

"The gas prices is really hurting everybody," Davidson said. "The dollars are not stretching."

The poll of 722 randomly chosen state residents had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.65 percentage points.

The survey asked about a number of state issues, many now in front of the Legislature:

• 75 percent of those surveyed said the state superintendent of education and other constitutional officers should remain elected statewide. More than half 56 percent said the governor and lieutenant governor should continue to run for office separately, not on a single ticket.

Proposals in the Legislature would allow the governor to appoint many statewide officials, and have the governor and lieutenant governor run on a single slate, as the president and vice president do.

• 45 percent oppose vouchers for private schools and 30 percent support the idea. However, 25 percent of those surveyed said they did not know enough about the subject to have an opinion.

The controversial idea could emerge again this year in the Legislature.

• 59 percent thought the state's penalties for domestic violence and drunken driving are too lenient.

This week, the Senate passed a bill to toughen the state's drunken-driving laws. The House previously passed its own version.

• 76 percent said the state should further regulate payday lenders. Just more than half 51 percent said the state should cap interest rates the lenders charge. However, 41 percent favor outlawing the industry.

This week, the state Senate rejected a proposal to ban payday lenders but moved to restrict them.

Trust in government

The poll also found varying levels of trust in government.

Of those surveyed, more than 90 percent said they could trust state government "about always," "most of the time" or "some of the time." That compared to 86 percent for local government and lowest just more than 80 percent for the federal government.

Among the polls' other findings:

• Almost six in 10 said they somewhat or strongly support public financing of S.C. elections.

• One in three said gang violence is a major issue in their local area. More than half said gang activity has increased over the past three years.

• Two-thirds said they think global warming is real. About half said the U.S. should try to understand the issue and adopt modest changes as needed; 36 percent said the U.S. should take immediate action to combat global warming.