The latest Reason-Rupe poll of 708 Wisconsin adults on landline and cell phones suggests Wisconsin voters favor reforming public employee unions, over raising taxes and cutting education and health care spending, to address the state budget deficit.

When Governor Scott Walker took office in 2011, the state faced a projected $3.2 billion deficit. The approach Walker took to close the budget gap included reducing state spending on public employees. To do so required government workers to contribute more toward their own health care and retirement benefits. However, this also effectively served as a pay cut for many public employees.

The Reason-Rupe poll asked Wisconsinites how the state should raise funds to pay government employee retirement benefits if the state did not have enough money to fund these benefits.

72 percent oppose “increasing sales, income, or property taxes” to help fund government worker retirement benefits, 25 percent favor.

75 percent oppose “cutting spending on government programs, such as education and health care” to help fund public employee retirement benefits, 23 percent favor.

49 percent oppose and 46 percent favor “reducing public employee benefits.”

However, 74 percent favor “requiring public employees to contribute more toward their own pensions and health care,” and 24 percent oppose.

The poll followed by asking “if the state and local government had to reduce spending, which of the following areas would you reduce spending on first?” The plurality of Wisconsinites (38 percent) chose reducing spending on “pensions and benefits for public employees” followed by “prisons and courts” (29 percent).

These results suggest that when tough trade-offs have to be made to fund public employee retirement benefits, the public favors requiring public employees to contribute more over raising taxes, or cutting spending on education and health care.

Full poll results can be found here and cross tabs here.

ORC International conducted fieldwork for the poll, May 14th-18th 2012 of both mobile and landline phones, 708 Wisconsin adults, margin of error +/- 3.7%.  Likely Wisconsin voters (609, MOE +/-4%) include registered respondents who said they are absolutely certain to vote or very likely to vote in the June 5th recall election for governor.

Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.