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Poll: Support for infrastructure spending, but not paying for it

From NBC's Ali Weinberg
Democrats, Republicans, and independents would all support new government spending on U.S. transportation infrastructure, but are not interested in footing the bill themselves, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by Democratic polling firm Hart Research and Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, was released days after President Obama submitted his 2012 budget request, which includes $53 billion over six years towards high-speed rail projects and $30 billion a year to fund a national infrastructure bank.  

The survey found wide bipartisan support for legislators to seek common ground on infrastructure improvements: 71% of all respondents -- including 74% of Democrats, 71% of Republicans and 69% of independents -- said they wanted elected officials to work together on the issue.

Support was also strong among respondents who identified themselves as part of the Tea Party, an affiliation that connotes a strong anti-government spending attitude, with 66% supporting infrastructure investment.

“The bipartisan, or even tripartisan, nature of the issue comes through loud and clear," said Jay Campbell of Hart Research, who, along with Public Opinion Strategies, conducted the poll for state-centric think tank the Rockefeller Institute.

This support also extended into specific policy proposals that would control how transportation dollars are spent. In the poll, 90% supported the idea of holding all levels of government accountable for making sure infrastructure projects stay on time and budget, as well as allowing local regions to have a greater say in how transportation funds are used in their area.

Even some spending increases, like more competitive grants for transportation projects and money for developing public transportation systems and bike paths, were met with high approval numbers.

“There is a tolerance for more spending in this area as long as there's a demonstration that it's going to be spent wisely,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

But support plummeted to 40% when respondents were asked if they would support replacing the per-gallon gasoline tax, which has stayed at the same level since 1993, with a fee based on the number of miles driven.

While a gas-tax hike would be a quick way to increase revenue, its unpopularity among voters means it’s unlikely to become a reality in Congress, Campbell said.

“This is really the rock and a hard place for lawmakers,” he said. “Voters say our infrastructure is lacking, they say it should be modernized, they say it should be improved, but they resist paying for it.”