New poll looks at attitudes toward water funding

Eighty-six percent of Americans support legislation by the U.S. Congress that would create a long-term, sustainable and reliable trust fund for a clean and safe water infrastructure. This is just one of the findings of a poll undertaken jointly by the Luntz Research Companies and Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, in which 900 adults were interviewed (+/- 3 percent margin of error) nationwide.

An overwhelming majority of Americans -- 91 percent -- agree that "if, as a country, we are willing to invest over $30 billion dollars a year on highways and more than $8 billion a year on our airways, we certainly should be willing to make the necessary investments in our nation's rivers, lakes and oceans."

KEY STATISTIC

The participants were asked: Generally speaking, which of the following programs do you think is in greatest need of a dedicated trust fund that would guarantee federal money to help state and local governments pay for maintenance and improvements?

Clean and safe water -- 71 percent
Roads and highways -- 20 percent
Airports and aviation -- 3 percent

THE FIVE KEY FINDINGS

1) Americans want clean and safe water to be a national priority. More than eight in ten Americans are very or somewhat concerned that America's water will not be clean or safe for their children or grandchildren. And almost nine in ten Americans (89 percent) say that "federal investment to guarantee clean and safe water is a critical component of our nation's environmental well-being."

More than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) would rather the federal government invest in water infrastructure than increase spending on entitlement programs (12 percent).

And by 67 percent to 26 percent, Americans prefer spending to guarantee clean and safe water over tax cuts.

2) Voters expect the federal government to carry their fair share of the burden of protecting our nation's water. Voters simply do not see this as a local issue. Though they expect local communities to be involved, by more than a three-to-one margin, they believe clean and safe water is a national issue that requires a national solution:

71 percent agree with this statement: "Clean and safe water is a national issue that requires dedicated national funding. As a matter of principle, the federal government should become a true partner with states and localities and pay for the necessary sewage and wastewater treatment systems to guarantee clean and safe water for future generations of Americans."

23 percent agree with this statement: "Clean and safe water is a local problem that requires a local solution. The federal government is already running a $500 billion dollar deficit. Clean and safe water is important, but the federal government just can't afford to spend any more money. Local communities need to step up and pay."

3) The federal government has a responsibility to invest in water alongside investments in our nation's highways and airports. Eighty-eight percent of Americans agree that, "Clean water has no local boundaries. Given the interstate nature of clean water issues, it is important for the federal government to support our nation's rivers, lakes and oceans with necessary funding -- just as it does with highways and airports."

And when asked which program was in greatest need of a dedicated national trust fund, 68 percent of Americans said clean and safe water, compared to 26 percent who said roads and highways and 2 percent who would rank a trust fund for airports and aviation as most important.

4) Americans understand that this investment has costs and they are willing to pay for it. The clear message from the data is that Americans want to do what is necessary to guarantee that their water is clean and safe for the future. They accept that it will cost money and they are willing to pay from their own pockets if necessary.

Four times as many Americans believe there should be "a dedicated funding source to ensure clean and safe water for future generations" (73 percent) than believe that clean water "should not receive federal funding but should continue to be funded as it is today" (18 percent).

5) Voters are more likely to vote for Members of Congress who support legislation to create a Federal Trust Fund for clean and safe water... and more likely to vote against those who don't. Nearly eight in ten voters (78 percent) describe themselves as more likely to vote for their member of Congress if they learned he or she supported the trust fund while 63 percent say they are less likely to vote for their member if they learn that they opposed the legislation.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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