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The big disconnect

A new Quinnipiac University poll confirms for the umpteenth time what everyone knows: New Yorkers think the state’s fiscal affairs are a mess and the taxes they pay are too high.

The poll also documents a fact that most state residents would concede only reluctantly: A large majority of New Yorkers want government to spend less, so long as the cuts do not affect programs that benefit them personally.

The poll results leave little doubt about this. When asked about the state’s budget problems, 77 percent of voters described them as “very serious” and 19 percent called them “somewhat serious.”

Yet other than a wage freeze for state workers, which three-quarters of voters support, most New Yorkers seem to have little appetite for serious budget-reduction measures. Fewer than half back layoffs of state workers, 55 percent oppose reducing state worker pensions, 69 percent are against cuts to Medicaid and 79 percent oppose cutting state aid to public schools.

In other words, most state voters apparently want a budget fix that somehow leaves untouched the biggest expense items. Good luck with that.

This disconnect is not unique to New York. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll turned up the same tendency nationwide.

Large majorities of Americans say the federal deficit is a big problem that should be remedied with spending cuts, not higher taxes. Yet fewer than half of the poll respondents said they want cuts to Medicare or Social Security—two of the biggest federal expenses.

Similarly, barely more than one-third of Americans would support reductions in spending on education; roads, bridges and other infrastructure; science and medical research; or aid to the unemployed and poor.

In New York, doubts about Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to fiscal responsibility predate his election as governor in November. Mr. Cuomo’s tough language in his State of the State address a few weeks ago failed to sway many skeptics.

This “show me” attitude is understandable, given Albany’s history of failed promises.

But when Mr. Cuomo lays out his plan next week to deal with the state’s estimated $10 billion deficit, the real question that might remain is this: Will New Yorkers have the stomach for it?

1/28/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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