Today’s NY1/YNN-Marist Poll of New York voter attitudes on state budget issues may set a new benchmark for complete disregard of a key policy detail, resulting in at least one finding that is essentially worthless.

Here’s how the Marist pollsters framed the question for voter preferences on the number-one tax issue in the budget debate: “A New York State surcharge on income of a million dollars or more, referred to as the millionaire’s tax, will expire at the end of this year.”

Wrong. In 2009, the Legislature temporarily added two new brackets to the income tax.  The first hit incomes as low as $200,000 for single taxpayers.  The highest bracket, which raised taxes 31 percent, kicks in at incomes of $500,000. While “millionaire tax” is the brand name favored by advocates of higher taxes, it’s disappointing to see such blatant spin presented as fact in a poll co-sponsored by a leading news organization.

Compounding the misleading nature of the question, the poll gave three choices. Sixty four percent chose the first, worded as follows: “This surcharge on high income should be extended so as not to add to the state budget deficit.”

Memo to the folks at NY1/YNN News and Marist: when looking to the future, the budget faces not a “deficit” but a “gap” — and as Governor Cuomo noted yesterday, that number is the product of a whole lot of assumptions about current law.  On the revenue side, the gap estimate already assumes the higher personal income tax brackets will phase out on schedule at the end of this year.  So the premise of choice one is also incorrect.  Extending the tax brackets will not reduce the gap.  It will simply increase taxes.

The wording of the second choice offered by the poll, favored by 33 percent, is not much better: “This surcharge on high income should not be extended because any added taxes[,] even those on high income[,] hurt New York State.” The use of that word “even” comes close to nudging respondents to think twice before choosing it. Three percent of respondents chose the third option: “Unsure.”

On the other hand, asked to choose a “top priority” for New York State, a larger share (31 percent) said “cut taxes” than “maintain services and benefits” (favored by 27 percent).  The leading response, picked by 41 percent, was “reduce the deficit,” which is not actually exclusive of the other two choices.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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