David Lombardo: Earlier this month in her State of the State address, Governor Kathy Hochul outlined some of her big-ticket priorities for this year's legislative session in Albany. The to do list for the Buffalo Democrat includes raising the minimum wage, putting a price on pollution, allowing public colleges and universities to increase tuition, and increasing the use of pretrial detention.
This week, the Siena College Research Institute surveyed voters about these proposals and much more. So, we're going to dive into the minds of New Yorkers with Siena pollster Steve Greenberg. Thanks so much for joining us, Steve.
Steve Greenberg: Great to be with you, David.
DL: I want to start with the proposal from the governor that got the biggest applause in a speech that did not have a lot of applause lines, and that has to do with increasing the minimum wage, that it's tied to inflation in the future. How do New Yorkers feel about this proposal?
SG: They are overwhelmingly in support. In fact, more than three-quarters of New Yorkers support it. 76% to 19%. David, you and I have talked about the partisan divide we see on so many issues. There's a lot of issues in this poll that go against that grain, and this is one of them. 88% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 57% of Republicans all support tying minimum wage increases to the rate of inflation.
DL: When we talk and think about the minimum wage in New York, there's sometimes a geographical differentiation, in part because the most recent minimum wage increase was phased in with consideration for different parts of the state. Is there a geographic divide when it comes to this proposal?
SG: Not really, in fact, 68% of upstaters supported it. The only demographics where it falls below 70% support are Republicans, conservatives, independents at 69 and upstaters at 68. Every other demographic is at least 70% support, so this is one of those issues that crosses every line.
DL: In light of the broad support for this proposal, you think of the makeup of the state legislature, which is controlled in both houses by Democrats with very large majorities. Does that indicate to you that this proposal from the governor in some form or fashion is going to be adopted in the state budget?
SG: I think it would be surprising if it wasn't, given that policy wise, the Assembly, Senate and governor all supported raising the minimum wage, and when you have this kind of public support, it would almost seem like political malpractice not to pass something that addresses this issue that voters overwhelmingly support.
DL: Well, turning to an issue then that does not have broad support among voters, according to your poll, the governor wants to give the state's public colleges and universities authority to increase their tuition in the near future. How unpopular is this idea?
SG: Well, this is another bipartisan agreement, but in this case, Democrats, Republicans, independents all disagree with the governor. Only 26% of New Yorkers support this proposal to give SUNY and CUNY the ability to raise tuition. 62%, nearly two thirds oppose it, and it's opposed by 52% of Democrats, 64% of independents and 79% of Republicans.
DL: Well again then, let's put on your political prognostication hat. With these numbers, does that mean this proposal is dead on arrival? When you think about the power of the governor, both politically and in terms of the institutional power she can exercise in the state budget, should we think that this is something that will actually be on the table despite these numbers?
SG: I think even the legislature is concerned about the level of funding for SUNY to be able for the 4 university centers and the other 60 colleges and community colleges to be able to serve students here in New York and the students we bring in from out of state. So that's always an issue. The question is, is it going to be state money that goes or are they going to try and raise more money from students?
New Yorkers don't want to see it raised from students. We didn't ask the question, do you want to see the state give more money to SUNY? But certainly, New Yorkers don't want to see tuition increases at SUNY schools this year.
DL: I thought it was telling when we spoke with the new Assembly Higher Education Committee chair Pat Fahy on our show, The Capital Pressroom. I asked her about this increase and thought that she would come down either one way or another, essentially saying, yes, SUNY needs this money, we're going to have to tap into the students pockets or no, we've held the line in the past.
She was much more receptive to this, but didn't want to prejudge it, which seemed to indicate to me that they're going to probably go along with this in the end, unless, like you said, they find the money somewhere else and somewhere else probably means raising taxes, which will be a whole different fight.
SG: Look, there is one huge 150-billion-dollar budget for the state. And budgeting is making priorities and spending the money for those priorities. So, we will see. SUNY has always been a priority for every governor, Democrat and Republican in my lifetime, and it's always been a priority for the legislature. That said, there have been times where SUNY has not gotten the kind of funding that it was seeking or looking for or needed. So, we'll have to see.
I think what Assemblywoman Fahy was saying is, look, we're just starting. The governor hasn't even put out her budget yet. We're starting that budget process now.
DL: One of the big environmental policies that the governor announced in her State of the State address is this idea of creating a cap and invest program, something that she doesn't necessarily need the legislature to do. She's directing DEC and NYSERDA to come up with a program where polluters are charged for emissions that they release, as well as creation of a gradual cap to limit the amount of pollution, and then take some of the revenue from this program and invested into green initiatives.
That's a lot, that's complicated, and I'm sure there's going to be a lot of debate about this, but right now, in terms of that type of framing, how do New Yorkers feel about this?
SG: That's very similar to the question that we actually asked the voters when we spoke to them. Right now, their support for it is fairly strong. 61% of New Yorkers support the idea of creating this kind of cap and invest program, 29% oppose it. But now we're back to where we've been for the last several years in terms of the partisan divide.
84% of Democrats support this measure, 52% of independents support it, but 62% of Republicans oppose it.
DL: I think it's important to remember that when we're talking about polls, we're talking about a snapshot in time. This is not a fixed set of numbers, right?
SG: Oh, no. I anticipate that next week the governor, when she releases her budget, will include a lot more detail on many of these programs, bail, SUNY, and certainly cap and invest. At that point voters will learn more.
New Yorkers will learn more about what the program does. They'll hear advocates, you know, advocating for it and they'll hear advocates advocating against it.
Then voters will make a decision of how they feel at that moment. As you say, every poll is a snapshot in time. So, we'll certainly take a look at this issue moving forward.
DL: When you think about how these types of environmental debates have occurred in the past, those particularly in Albany, when we talk about the cost of energy, does it seem like one side, the pro or the cons have typically been better at selling that story? If so, what do you think that means for this program in the future? Do you see that there will potentially be growing support for it or potentially a wave of opposition?
SG: I think really, it'll depend on which side has the better argument and the louder megaphone. These are complicated issues. What we do know is that generally speaking, New Yorkers are pro-environment, Democrats and Republicans. Governor Pataki, the last Republican governor, was a big environmental governor. So yeah, New Yorkers are generally pro-environment.
The question is, how much are you spending? How does that affect my pocketbook? What does that do to energy costs, etc.?
It's a very complicated issue, but voters take a look at it from their perspective.
DL: Let's turn finally to an issue that is going to be controversial during the budget process, but is not necessarily super controversial for voters. This is a proposal from Governor Kathy Hochul to give judges more discretion to keep people behind bars, pretrial, when they are charged with serious crimes. What does the majority look like on this?
SG: The majority supports the governor on this. Again, this is bipartisan support that may surprise people. 61% of Republicans support giving judges more discretion to set bail for those accused of serious crimes, 63% of independents and 68% of Democrats. Democrats even slightly more than Republicans support this idea.
I can't talk to the policy aspects of that. I leave that to the legislators and the governor, but from a public perception point of view, where the public is at on this issue, there is no question that across-the-board New Yorkers want to see judges given more discretion to keep serious offenders in jail while awaiting trial.
DL: I think this is a reflection of the fact that a lot of New Yorkers think that crime is a serious problem in New York, right?
SG: More than 90% of New Yorkers think crime is a serious problem, and more than half of New Yorkers think that crime is a very serious problem across the state. It's that way this month, it was that way last month, and it was that way last year. New Yorkers are very concerned about crime. They want the issue addressed, and they're saying to their state leaders, we like the idea of giving judges more discretion on bail.
DL: Well Steve, I look forward to the polls that you guys come out with for the rest of the year, and hopefully we'll have more time to talk about it.
We've been speaking with Steve Greenberg from the Siena Poll Institute. Thank you so much, Steve.
SG: Thank you, David.
THIS INTERVIEW IS A TRANSCRIPT OF THE ORIGINAL BROADCAST VERSION OF THIS CONVERSATION AND HAS BEEN EDITED FOR CLARITY.
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