By Lori Silverstein and andrei Blakely
Ruth Moorman may be a Republican, but she breaks ranks when it comes to her party’s pledge to use the budget surplus for a tax cut.
“By the time I get a tax cut, it would not be worth a cup of coffee,” said the Gaithersburg housewife as she paused for a cigarette recently outside a Rockville Pike strip mall.
At shopping centers, fast food restaurants, a post office and other stops in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, almost all of the 30 voters interviewed last month by Capital News Service agreed with Moorman that the surplus should be used for social programs. Only three people said they preferred tax cuts.
Perhaps because of that, few of those interviewed said they planned to vote for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican nominee who is pushing tax cuts as part of his platform. Half of those interviewed said they would vote for Democratic Vice President Al Gore and eight said they had not decided who to vote for yet.
An August poll by Gonzales/Arscott Research indicated the same pattern, giving Gore 59 percent of the vote in Washington’s Maryland suburbs and 27 percent to Bush, with a 4 percent margin of error.
But those same voters who turned their noses up at a tax cut were all over the map on which social issues they consider most important. Education and health care were the top priorities for voters in a field that included gas prices, children, race relations, poverty, environment, drug abuse and national defense.
Along with many others, Moorman, 54, cited health care as a major national concern to which the government should direct some of the surplus.
“There should be medical care for everyone. Where are these people supposed to go?” she asked.
Erol Erdem, a real estate agent who was tending a stand in Montgomery Mall, agreed.
“It (health care) is completely ignored in this country. Human health is jeopardized for the sake of business,” said Erdem, 51, a Bethesda resident who is not affiliated with any political party.
Al Guy, a 53-year-old retiree from Bowie, took the health care argument one step further. He said he wants to see the health care program move toward a socialized medicine system.
“Medicine should not be limited because of funds,” said Guy.
Democrat Ann Folus, 80, said the government needs to remedy the growing problem of prescription drug prices. “Have they done anything for prescription drugs?” asked Folus, of Rockville.
Education, while not as popular as health care, also won the attention of suburban voters who said that schools are in desperate need of part of the surplus.
“Get off your high horses and start working for education,” said Ruth Isaacs, a retired social worker from Rockville. The 80-year-old Republican said the government must direct much more money toward education because “it is no better than when I was a kid.”
Democrat Mike Banks, 29, of Upper Marlboro, agreed that education deserved much more funding and said that now is the time to do it, while the economy is strong.
“Let’s keep the economy growing and let’s put more money in education for young kids,” said Banks, a senior account executive for Lucent Technologies.
But suburban voters did not unanimously agree that the surplus should be used just for social programs. Some people, calling for a balance, said they hoped the government would use the surplus for both tax cuts and social programs.
Republican Jeffrey Bass, 45, of Germantown, said the surplus should not be used for either option. He suggested paying off the debt instead. Bass said he wants “policies benefiting all, not just a few.”
An official with Mason-Dixon Polling and Research said that the low priority placed on tax cuts in the Washington suburbs holds true for the state. But Larry Harris said that should not come as a shock.
“Not particularly (surprising) for Maryland and especially in the Washington suburbs. Many work for the federal government on some of these social programs,” Harris said.
He said that opinion also reaches farther than just Maryland.
“When you look at nationwide or statewide polling folks are saying, `not for tax cuts,'” he said.