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Poll: New Yorkers back taxing the rich and changing bail reform, but Hochul, Legislature are divided

Wearing a blue suit and purple tie, pollster Steve Greenberg talks to a journalist next to a TV camera.
Karen DeWitt
New York Public News Network
In this file photo, Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg speaks to the media on March 27, 2023.

A new poll from Siena College finds that New Yorkers back two major state budget proposals: One would increase taxes on the wealthy, and the other would give judges more discretion to set bail for those accused of serious crimes.

But Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature are far apart on the two proposals, setting up an intense week as the April 1 budget deadline looms.

Siena’s Steve Greenberg said the budget proposals have widespread bipartisan support.

More than three-quarters of those surveyed support raising income taxes on New Yorkers making over $5 million a year, he said.

“It has support from 83% of Democrats, 74% of independents and 64% of Republicans,” Greenberg said. “That's a proposal the governor did not include in her budget.”

In fact, Hochul opposes income tax increases. A political action committee partly financed by billionaire Mike Bloomberg is running numerous television ads highlighting her stance.

“Governor Hochul kept her word to not raise income taxes,” the narrator says in the ad.

But both houses of the Legislature, led by Democrats, included in their budgets higher income tax brackets for those making more than $5 million.

Michael Kink with the Strong Economy for All coalition, which supports raising taxes on the wealthy, said the poll results are not a surprise to him.

“This is not necessarily a left-wing issue,” Kink said. “It’s something that’s backed by a huge majority of all New Yorkers, regardless of their political perspective.”

He said what he does find puzzling, though, is Hochul’s position against a popular initiative.

State Senator Jessica Ramos speaks at a rally to increase taxes on NY's wealthiest, at the State Capitol on March 27, 2023
Karen DeWitt
New York State Public Radio
State Sen. Jessica Ramos speaks at a rally March 27, 2023, at the State Capitol to support raising taxes on New York's wealthiest residents.

“I really don’t understand why Governor Hochul would want to back unpopular policies that hurt the economy,” he said.

Opponents of raising taxes on the rich, including Hochul, say it will just drive the wealthy to leave New York.

The watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission said the tax increase debate could be avoided altogether by cutting spending. The group’s Patrick Orecki said the state has increased spending at a higher rate over the past three years than it did for the previous decade. Between fiscal years 2022 and 2023, the increase was more than 12%.

“It’s really new spending across the board,” said Orecki, who added the biggest increases are in aid to public schools and Medicaid, the government-funded health care program.

Orecki said taking spending down to a 2% growth rate per year, as occurred during the decade just before the pandemic, would eliminate future deficits and decrease the need for more taxes of any kind.

The other proposal receiving broad backing is Hochul’s plan to further alter the state’s bail reform laws, which ended many forms of cash bail.

Hochul wants to give judges more discretion to set bail when defendants are accused of serious crimes. Greenberg said Republicans, independents and Democrats all support that.

“This may surprise some people,” Greenberg said. “It's got support from 69% of Republicans, 71% of independents and 76% of Democrats. So, by a small margin, Democrats support that proposal even more than Republicans do.”

Democrats in the Senate and the Assembly did not include the bail reform changes in their budget plans. Progressive Democrats in both houses are against it, saying bail reform is being scapegoated for the rise in crime in recent years.

Just 20% of those surveyed oppose Hochul’s proposed changes.

The two issues — along with differences between the governor and Legislature over affordable housing plans, tenant protections, and adding more charter schools — all need to be resolved before the budget is settled. It’s due at the end of the week, but Hochul and lawmakers have already said they are ready to hold up the spending plan to get what they want.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.