Poll: Voters want to give judges more discretion

ALBANY — A new statewide snapshot of public opinion finds strong support for increasing discretion for judges in bail matters as well as for an income tax surcharge on New Yorkers with annual incomes of at least $5 million The survey results from Siena Research Institute come in the same week lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul are trying to put the finishing touches on a state government budget expected to exceed $230 billion.

The findings on the bail issue suggest voters are more in line with Hochul on that criminal justice issue than the Democrats in charge of the Assembly and Senate. The latter have suggested there is insufficient data available to warrant a rollback of the legislation that made New York the nation’s only state that blocks judges from using their discretion to set bail based on public safety concerns.

Criminal justice concerns have been in the forefront of the state political dialogue in recent years, and Hochul spent more than $50 million in campaign assets to weather a late surge in last year’s election by her GOP rival, Lee Zeldin, then a Long Island congressman.

“If the Legislature fails to read these polls, it will likely lead to more Democratic losses at every level of government,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic campaign strategist.

Retooling the bail law to arm judges with more discretion was backed by 76% of Democrats, 69% of Republicans and 71% of voters who aren’t affiliated with a party, Siena found Sheinkopf said voters respond to strong criminal justice policies because “crime represents disorder and chaos.”

But bail reform advocates and their progressive allies in the Legislature argue the existing law has reduced pre-trial jailing and increased court appearance rates without leading to more re-arrests.

Among Democratic voters, 83% signaled they support a measure framed by progressive Democrats that would increase income taxes on those earning at least $5 million New Yorkers. Among Republicans, the proposal was favored by 64%.

Republican lawmakers and some moderate Democrats have generally argued the proposal will drive many high earners out of the state, leaving those who remain to share an increased tax burden to support the existing array of government services.

Gerard Kassar, chairman of the state Conservative Party and an important ally of New York Republicans, said the public support for higher taxes on the wealthy suggests a knee-jerk reaction rather than critical thinking by those who responded to the poll questions.

“It’s easy for people to want this tax because they are not in that income category,” said Kassar. He argued New York will set itself up for more population loss if Albany leaders continue to raise taxes, object to stronger public safety measures and limit the ability of local communities to keep their own zoning rules intact without state interference The Siena survey found New Yorkers are divided by party lines over Hochul’s proposal to ban flavored tobaccos, with 68% of Democrats supporting the plan while only 45% of GOP voters backing it.

A proposal designed to provide undocumented immigrants with health insurance also left voters divided, with only 45% welcoming that initiative while 49% are opposed, Siena reported.

Those who responded to the Siena survey were slightly more supportive of the legislative Democrats’ plan for expanding affordable housing, with 45% favoring the Hochul housing plan.

The survey determined 83% of all voters are concerned about the supply of affordable housing.

“New Yorkers say the issue of affordable housing statewide is equally as serious a problem as is crime,” said Steven Greenberg, spokesman for the Siena poll.

The state’s simmering debate over affordable housing policies has left 45% supporting mandates on municipalities to boost housing stock. But 54% support a proposal that would provide local governments with incentives designed to increase housing supply.

The survey found Hochul’s favorability rating has slid from 48% in January to 43% in the new poll.

In a hypothetical political matchup, former President Donald Trump, already a 2024 presidential candidate, leads Florida Gov.. Ron DeSantis among New York Republicans, 52% to 27%.

The same poll found President Joe Biden has worn out his welcome among some New York Democrats, with 51% of them telling the Siena pollsters that they want a different candidate to get their party nomination in 2024.


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