Question: Would enough American households be willing to make a one-time payment in their tax fillings to raise as much as to $201 billion for Louisiana’s coastal restoration effort?
C) You gotta be kiddin’!
The answer, according to a pair of Mississippi State University researchers who conducted a recent survey, is “A.”
Which will probably leave most coastal area residents thinking “C”.
That’s how one of the researchers reacted.
“I was surprised at the high numbers who said they would help, and then how much they would commit personally, ” said Dan Petrolia, an associate professor of agricultural economics at MSU who conducted the survey with colleague Matt Interis — an attempt to judge the financial commitment Americans would make to Louisiana’s coastal crisis.
A Louisiana native who was raised in Independence, Petrolia said the idea for the survey came to him after seeing a growing number of “America’s Wetland” bumper stickers. They’re circulated by the America’s Wetland Foundation, the Louisiana civic group whose mission is alerting the nation to the state’s grave coastal emergency.
Does the nation embrace Louisiana as its wetland? “I wanted to find out if Americans really felt that way,” Petrolia said. “It seemed like a pretty straightforward thing to find out.”
One of the best ways to answer the question was to ask how much of their own money Americans would pay to help save the nation’s most productive coastal estuary and the storm buffer for a vital economic and cultural infrastructure.
The MSU researchers asked two different types of questions:
They first asked respondents if they would choose to help pay for the coastal effort, or do nothing.
The second question was multiple choice. Respondents could choose to contribute to two different habitat projects affecting wildlife, fisheries or storm protection. Or they could choose to do nothing.
In each case, those choosing to help did so knowing the decision came with a specified charge in their end-of-year tax filings.
The respondents included 3,400 people spread across every state; only 32 were Louisianans.
The results were good news for the coast:
Forty-three percent of those given the help-or-not question choose to help the state. The median amount they agreed to pay was $1,751.
That would translate to $201 billion, if the 43 percent sample held for the roughly 115 million American households counted in the most recent census.
Sixty percent of those given the multiple-choice question chose to help, with the mean contribution from that group coming to $909, the researchers found. If that result held true for the 115 million American households, it would raise $105 billion for the coastal effort.
The state’s current coastal Master Plan carries a price tag of $50 billion. But the planners reason they could do twice as much with twice the funding.
Petrolia stressed that he was not claiming the survey sample would necessarily hold true for all American households.
But since 93 percent of the respondents had never visited or lived in New Orleans, the level of support should be encouraging to Louisiana, the researcher said.
Garret Graves, head of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, declined to comment on the survey.
David Muth, state director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Coastal Louisiana Campaign, called the results a welcome surprise.
“I think it’s encouraging that Americans are willing to pay anything, frankly,” Muth said. “That’s because when you attach a dollar value to a question like that it sort of puts the (issue) on a whole new plain. I think this shows there is enough awareness out there by enough people. And that’s very encouraging.”
In other findings from the survey:
- Respondents ranked fisheries production as their first concern followed by storm surge protection and wildlife habitat.
- Respondents who had made lifestyle changes for environmental reasons were more likely to support restoration.
- Those who identified themselves as liberal tended to be more supportive than those who identified themselves as conservative.
- Past or present Louisiana residents tended to be more supportive.
The Northern Gulf Institute and the MSU Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station funded the study.