Sometimes it’s difficult to come out looking good to the electorate after a tough and, at times, dirty fight over a central piece of legislation like the state budget, but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has pulled it off. According to a poll conducted by the Siena Research Institute at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, the Governor’s approval rating among the state’s voters rose from before the budget tussle.
The news wasn’t quite so rosy for the state’s unions. Those polled felt that public employees should be compelled to contribute more towards both their medical insurance and pensions. The voters also felt that, in light of the fiscal difficulties facing the state, government employees should agree to a salary freeze of at least a year as part of negotiating new contracts and as a show of good faith.
The unions could take comfort in the poll finding that, by a narrow margin of 51 to 46, voters favored giving public employees the right to go on strike. Currently, striking by public employees is forbidden by the Taylor Law, so presumably, a movement to repeal it currently has the support of New York’s voters. Whether people supported or opposed the right to strike was strongly correlated with their age, party affiliation and income level. Those making $100,000 or more, identifying as Republican or over 55 years of age were strongly against turning back the Taylor Law. Those in the lower income bracket, particularly making $50,000 or below, Democrat voters, and those younger than 35 tended to be in support of a repeal. Not surprisingly, union households favored the right to strike by 13-point margin at 55% for and 42% against, while the opinion ran almost equally for and against in households that didn’t have a member who belonged to a union.
One of the more surprising findings was the support expressed in the poll for New York’s Triborough Amendment which allows public employees to continue under the terms of their old contract until a new contract is negotiated. The strong support for the Amendment was universal in nearly every demographic group, according to one of the Siena College pollsters Steven Greenberg.
Overall, the public employee unions lost some ground in the eyes of the voters over the budget battle.
“By big majorities, voters say that teachers’ unions (61-13 percent) and their local school districts (57-16 percent) were losers – not winners – as a result of the budget, by a smaller 44-17 percent margin, they see their local hospitals as budget battle losers as well.
Paradoxically, even though the poll showed that New York residents overwhelmingly viewed themselves as “losers” in the budget fight, nearly 44% thought that the new budget would herald an improvement in the state’s fiscal fortunes. Only 16% thought that the new budget will mean bad things for the state’s future.