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Another Voice: New Yorkers weigh in with ideas for federal budget

By Steven Kull

As members of New York’s congressional delegation consider the president’s proposed budget, wouldn’t it be great if they could hear what the citizens of New York think about the federal budget? A unique new survey from a nonpartisan organization called Voice of the People has made this possible.

A representative panel of 412 registered New York voters, called a “Citizen Cabinet,” went through an online process where they were presented the discretionary budget for fiscal year 2016 and sources of existing and possible revenue (including ones proposed by the president), and asked to craft their own budget. They were told about the deficit and as they made up their budget, got constant feedback showing the impact of their changes relative to the deficit. The survey was developed by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland and was vetted with congressional staffers from both parties. The results revealed some striking differences and similarities between the president’s budget and “the people’s budget” of New York. 

The biggest difference is that the majority of New Yorkers go further than the president in cutting the deficit. If the president were to get all the changes he proposes – doubtful given the dynamics in Congress – he would reduce the deficit $113 billion for 2017.

The majority of New Yorkers surveyed, however, reduce the deficit more than twice as much – $281 billion, through a combination of $50 billion in spending cuts and $231 billion in revenue increases.

At the same time, New Yorkers, like Congress, have substantial differences between Republicans and Democrats. Nonetheless, there is considerable common ground. Majorities of both parties converge on $9 billion of spending cuts, led by cuts to the intelligence agencies ($3 billion) and cuts to subsidies for agricultural corporations ($2 billion).

But the big money, when it comes to bipartisan agreement among New Yorkers, is in the revenue increases both sides embrace – totaling $64 billion.

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, raising income taxes on incomes over $500,000 by 10 percent, increasing the total revenue to $56 billion.

People can visit, make their own budget and send their recommendations to their representatives in Washington.

Certainly, New York’s members of Congress should not simply follow the views of their constituents in a mechanical fashion, but it is important for members to know what the people think and, effectively, give them a seat at the table.

Steven Kull is the director of the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation and president of Voice of the People.