Home On the Agenda New Yorkers on Taxes: Contradictory or Common Sense?

New Yorkers on Taxes: Contradictory or Common Sense?

October 14, 2015

New York area residents say high taxes are a big problem, yet they want more government spending on housing and education. What gives?

Listen to the related story on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show.

New York area residents are concerned with keeping up with the high cost of living in the region. That includes high taxes, which they view as a serious problem. But at the same time, 70 percent say they favor raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for efforts to help people get ahead.

What’s more, even as residents favor higher taxes on corporations, they also favor tax breaks for new companies to bring jobs to the region and for developers to build more affordable housing.

These findings are not as contradictory as they may seem at first glance.

The results, from the Public Agenda/WNYC New York Metro Area Survey, provide a clear sense that people are looking for greater investments to improve opportunity for everyone. Remember, area residents also say the costs of living, housing, and college and are among the region’s most serious problems. And they’re willing to tax the wealthy in order to make these investments.

Residents may also sense another element that may be in play here is a sense that taxes are not necessarily well spent in the current system. Taxpayers may also feel they have not had enough of a voice in how their money has been invested. Focus group participants expressed these sentiments:

“The way the government and state spend money. Where does it all go? That’s the baffling thing.”

“I’d like to have more of a say when someone is ready to get a raise in the state [tax] level or certain other issues, they want to put a park here or that. You know what? Let’s get to the facts, the most important things that people really need, and have something where you could vote or have more influence on it as far as a decision.”

“…we should have a say in where that other [government] funding goes. We should be able to vote on it. We should be able to know X, Y, and Z funding is here. We should have the right to say how it gets distributed.”

Ultimately, taxes, like many public issues, are a complicated issue for people to weigh. There are trade-offs to government spending that residents may not yet have considered. Before we look to poll responses like these to give us policy direction, people need more time and better conditions to consider the way tax policies might affect their lives and their cities or towns.