Survey Finds Rochester Area Voters Share Common Ground on Federal Spending and Taxes

In an innovative survey of Rochester voters that gave respondents the opportunity to make changes to the discretionary federal budget and federal taxes, a majority of Republicans and Democrats converged on steps to reduce the deficit by $251.3 billion, making significant changes on spending and taxes.

The survey, part of a joint project of the nonpartisan organizations Common Ground Solutions and Voice of the People, was conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation with a representative sample of 414 registered voters in New York’s 25th Congressional District, which covers the greater Rochester area.

Today in Rochester, local residents gathered at the Democrat and Chronicle to take the same survey, in person, and be part of a discussion of the issues led by the leaders of the sponsoring organizations.

“With Congress so polarized that it cannot effectively negotiate, our tax and spending policies are hostage to gridlock,” said Howard Konar, director of Common Ground Solutions and Rochester resident. “This survey shows our elected leaders that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground, and that it’s time for them to come together.”

How it Works

The survey was conducted with a unique online instrument, called a ‘policymaking simulation,’ that aims to put the public in the shoes of policymakers.  Respondents were presented discretionary spending levels for FY2017 & FY2018, current sources of general revenues and proposals for new ones.  They were given the opportunity to propose changes to spending areas and specific revenue sources for FY2019, getting constant feedback on how their choices affected the projected deficit.

Anyone can participate in the interactive policymaking simulation that lets them make changes to tax and spending levels as they see fit.  The simulation is available at http://vop.org/budget.

“This survey gives everyone a tool to make their voice heard,” said Konar, “and shows our leaders that there are common ground solutions to our hardest problems.”

Findings

Majorities of Republicans and Democrats converged on $65 billion in spending cuts. The deepest cut was $47 billion in defense spending, followed by a $9 billion reduction to Homeland Security, a $3 billion cut to the Department of Justice’s enforcement of laws, $2 billion to operations in Afghanistan and Syria, as well as other smaller cuts.

The biggest changes, though, were on the revenue side, with majorities of both Republicans and Democrats converging on a total of $186.3 billion in tax increases. These included:

  • a new tax of 0.1% on financial transactions ($63 billion),
  • partial rollback of the tax cuts for corporate taxes ($50.5 billion)
  • partial rollback of the tax cuts on incomes over $200k ($44B),
  • a new fee on the uninsured debt of large financial institutions ($10 billion),
  • a new tax of one half cent per ounce of sugary drinks ($10 billion),
  • an increase in the alcohol tax ($6.6 billion)
  • repeal of treatment for hedge fund managers income as “carried interest” ($2.2 billion).

“Clearly Americans are concerned about the deficit and are ready to make some tough choices to bring it down—more than Congress is even prepared to consider,” said Steven Kull, President of Voice of the People.

The overall majority of survey respondents (though not a majority of both Republicans and Democrats) also took a number of additional steps and generating additional revenue, including:

  • partially rolling back the cuts in the new tax law for incomes of $100,000 to $200,000 ($28B)
  • fully rolling back the tax cuts for incomes over $500,000 (a total of $33.2 billion).
  • deeper cuts in spending, especially to defense (a total of $75 billion) and Homeland Security (a total of $19 billion).

All told, the overall majority reduced the deficit by a total of $389.9 billion, with $104 billion in spending cuts and $285.9 billion in revenue increases:

  • a majority of Democrats cut the deficit by $539.2 billion, including a net$120 billion cut in spending, and $419.2 billion in revenue increases.
  • a majority of Republicans cut the deficit by $259.3 billion, including a net $73 billion cut in spending and $186.3 billion in tax

The sample included a representative sample of 414 registered voters from New York’s 25th Congressional district, which covers the greater Rochester area. The sample was provided by Precision Sample and Survey Sampling International from their opt-in internet panels.

Questionnaire with Findings: http://www.publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Fed_Budget_FY19_Quaire_NY25.pdf


The latest budget news from Capitol Hill – that the Republicans on the House Budget Committee are postponing markup of the annual tax and spending framework until March – sure sounds like a tune we’ve all heard before. Instead of coming together to move the budget process forward, another round of partisanship is moving us toward gridlock. The net result, instead of coming up with a budget that reduces the deficit the way Congress has agreed they will, Congress is simply kicking the can further down the road.

There is a way to help get beyond the current impasse: members of Congress can look to what an informed representative sample of Americans – called a Citizen Cabinet – has said on the budget and use that as a guide for finding common ground.

Voice Of the People’s recent, national survey of the Citizen Cabinet included nearly 7,000 registered voters and found majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree on measures that would reduce the projected deficit by $52 billion. Yes, actual bipartisan agreement that would cut the deficit.

The in-depth survey was developed by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland and was vetted with congressional staffers from both parties. The panel was recruited by Nielsen Scarborough. Once the survey is completed by the representative panel, the simulation is made available at VOP.org for anyone to try for themselves.

In it, respondents were presented the president’s FY 2016 budget and sources of general revenues, and then given the opportunity to propose their own federal budget. After a briefing on the deficit and hearing strong pro and con arguments whether or not it should be cut, clear majorities agreed on $10 billion in spending cuts. No spending areas were increased by a majority of Americans.

Perhaps even more noteworthy: The biggest deficit reductions came from revenue increases totaling $41 billion that drew bipartisan support. Despite what many in Congress are saying, the American people seem open to a balanced approach that includes both cutting spending and raising taxes (on the wealthy, at least).

The most striking difference between the president’s proposed budget and the people’s budget is that the majority of the people go further than the president in cutting the deficit, even though they had fewer options for making changes. If the president were to get all the changes he proposes – a big if, given congressional dynamics – he would reduce the projected deficit $113 billion for 2017.

The majority of Americans, however, reduce the projected deficit more than twice as much – $277 billion, through a combination of $58 billion in spending cuts and $219 billion in revenue increases. Eighty two percent find convincing the argument that reducing the deficit should be a top priority.

At the same time, the public does have some similarities to Congress, as there were substantial differences between Republicans and Democrats. Their level of spending cuts is similar, but they target different areas; and while Republicans do raise revenues, they do so much less than Democrats.

Nonetheless they are able to find substantial common ground. Majorities of both parties converge on $10 billion of spending cuts, led by cuts to subsidies to agricultural corporations ($3 billion), and followed by $1 billion cuts to seven other programs.

Interestingly, many of the areas of agreement for revenue increases are ones proposed in Obama’s budget. While he is not entirely precise about how he plans to do so, the president proposes increasing revenues from the wealthy by $56 billion in 2017, increasing to twice that amount by 2024. In the survey a majority of both Republicans and Democrats favor a 5 percent increase in the income taxes on incomes over $200,000, generating $34 billion. The overall majority (but not Republicans) go further and raise income taxes on incomes over $1 million by 10 percent, raising the total revenue generated to $49 billion – nearly matching Obama’s proposed short term increase for 2017, but not his long term one.

Very large majorities from both parties also adopt two other ideas that appeared in Obama’s 2016 budget and reappeared this year. One is taxing carried interest as ordinary income (i.e. doing away with the hedge fund manager’s tax break), generating $1.8 billion. Another is requiring large financial institutions to pay a fee of seven-tenths of a percent on their uninsured debt, generating $6 billion.

Another proposal from the president – to raise the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends from 23.8 to 28 percent (yielding $15-22 billion) – is supported by three quarters overall and half of Republicans.

So, when members of Congress complain that finding common ground on the federal budget is too hard a task, it is important to note that the American people can do it – in less than half an hour. Perhaps it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and start listening to the common sense of the American people.

— Steven Kull

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This op-ed first appeared in The Hill on March 1, 2016




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