Most Americans see the deteriorating budget situations in many states as a problem that the states themselves – rather than the federal government – should solve. But when it comes to specific proposals to balance state budgets, there is more opposition than support for each option asked about – particularly cuts in funding for education and public safety programs.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, sponsored by SHRM, which was conducted June 24-27 among 1,001 adults, finds that just 26% support the federal government giving money to states to help them meet their budgets if this were to mean higher federal budget deficits. Most Americans (58%) say the states should fix their own budget problems by raising taxes or cutting services. These opinions are little changed from 2003.

But when asked about possible ways of balancing their state’s budget, large majorities oppose cutting public primary and secondary education funding (73%) and funding for police, fire and other public safety programs (71%). Nearly as many (65%) oppose cutting health care services provided by the state or local government.

Raising taxes also is generally rejected as a way to balance their state’s budget; 58% oppose that option. And while there is more support for cuts in funding to maintain roads and transportation systems than for the other options, slightly more oppose (50%) than favor (43%) reducing transportation funding.

Little Support for Austerity

There is a decided lack of enthusiasm across the political spectrum for proposals to balance state budgets. Still, Republicans are more supportive than Democrats of cuts in health services and education funding, while Democrats are more supportive of raising taxes than are Republicans.

About four-in-ten (39%) Republicans favor cutting health services to balance their state’s budget compared with 31% of independents and just 17% of Democrats. The differences are nearly as large for cuts in funding for public education, though there is little support among any group for this option. By comparison, 46% of Democrats and 40% of independents favor raising taxes as a way to balance their state’s budget; 32% of Republicans favor this step.

Public Wants States to Balance Books, Somehow

While the public has a tepid reaction to various ways of balancing state budgets, most Americans see this as a responsibility of state governments and oppose the federal government giving more money to the states.

Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73%) and 60% of independents say states should balance their budgets on their own, either by raising taxes or cutting state services. Democrats are more divided, but nearly half (48%) say the states should balance their own budgets without federal help while 36% say the federal government should provide more help to the states even if it means higher federal deficits.

Job Ratings, Views of Government

The public’s views of the job performance of Barack Obama and Congress have shown very little change since March. Currently, 40% say Obama is doing an excellent (13%) or good (27%) job, while 56% say he is doing only fair (29%) or poor (27%). This is consistent with the stability of Obama’s overall job approval ratings in recent months (see “Obama’s Ratings Little Affected by Recent Turmoil,” June 24, 2010.)

Similarly, opinions about Congress’s performance remain virtually unchanged from May or March. Just 13% now say that Congress is doing an excellent (2%) or good (11%) job, while 80% say Congress is doing only fair (37%) or poor (43%).

Just 10% of Americans say they have a lot of confidence that the federal government will make a lot of progress over the next year on the most important problems facing the country; 32% have some confidence. Most (55%) say they have not much confidence (32%) or no confidence at all (23%) in the government to make a lot of progress. That measure also is virtually unchanged from May.