“Voters Back Millionaire’s Tax 4-1” is how the Quinnipiac poll is rushing out news in respect of its finding on the scheme of the Assembly in Albany to raise taxes on the highest-earning New Yorkers. “Remember that old verse: ‘Don’t tax you; don’t tax me; tax the guy behind the tree?’ If the guy behind the tree is a millionaire, New Yorkers overwhelmingly like the idea of raising his taxes,” the director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, Maurice Carroll, is quoted as saying in the poll’s press release.

Well, not so fast. The fiscal sage E.J. McMahon points out, in a posting at his Web site at www.empirecenter.org, that the poll was conducted with a question calculated to bring in a result favoring the tax hike. The question the Quinnipiac pollsters asked, Mr. McMahon points out, is as follows: “There is a proposal to raise, by nearly 1 percentage point, the state income tax paid by people who earn more than a million dollars a year. Do you support or oppose this proposal?”

The result came out at 77% in favor and 19% percent opposed. But Mr. McMahon points out that it is the “top income tax rate the Assembly Democrats propose raising by nearly 1 percentage point – 0.85 percentage points, to be precise.” For filers with incomes of more than $1 million, he notes, would be subject to a flat tax that soars to 7.7% from 6.85%, boosting their taxes to $77,000 from $68,500, or a staggering 12.4%.

Quoth Mr. McMahon: “A more accurate poll question would have been preceded by this statement: ‘There is a proposal to raise, by more than 12 percent, the state income taxes paid by people who earn more than a million dollars a year.’ The premise could be made more informative — thus producing a more reliable gauge of voter sentiments — if expanded to include an example of what the tax hike would actually mean to a targeted taxpayer, such as the $8,500 surcharge on the $68,500 tax bill cited above.”

Quinnipiac University Polling’s Mr. Carroll tells us he thinks the poll put the question in “a coherent, fair way.” He’s certainly cheerful about it. But by our lights, Mr. McMahon has the better of the argument. It strikes us that the point is important at a time when the state is in the midst of not only a historic tax debate but a budgetary and political crisis. No doubt the easiest way to sort it out would be to ask the question both ways and see how the results differ.

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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.