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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

NY-23: Owens to Raise YOUR Taxes?

Voters in New York’s 23rd congressional district – where a special election has been forced by the appointment of former GOP Rep. John McHugh to be secretary of the Army – may be finding themselves a bit confused. Dede Scozzafava is pro-choice and has supported gay marriage, and has been endorsed by Markos Moulitsas, creator of the liberal Daily Kos blog. But she’s the Republican in the race. The conservative Club for Growth, meanwhile, is backing a third-party candidate, Doug Hoffman. Businessman Bill Owens is playing up his military background and wasn’t even a registered Democrat until he started his campaign.

But the National Republican Congressional Committee is doing its part to get the candidates back in their traditionallly defined party slots with an ad accusing Owens of being a tax-hiker just waiting to pounce.


The announcer misleads, however, when he says: "Now, Bill Owens wants to help Nancy Pelosi raise your income taxes."

As support, the NRCC cites Owens’ Web site, where he says that he supports "allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire." The NRCC also cites a brief from the National Center for Policy Analysis, a group whose stated goal "is to develop and promote private alternatives to government regulation and control." The paper describes the effect on small businesses if they faced three simultaneous tax hikes.

We know of no one who has called for enacting all three of the proposals laid out in the paper, but we needn’t venture further into that tangle. Suffice to say that the only tax increase Owens has said he supports is the one above, allowing the expiration of the tax cuts for the "wealthy," which is scheduled to happen in 2010. (Under Bush, the top marginal tax rate was cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent.)

What’s "wealthy"? Owens’ Web site doesn’t specify. During his presidential campaign, though, Barack Obama used a threshold of individuals making $200,000 or more, and households making at least $250,000. Under those limits, how many constituents of the NY-23 would be affected by Owens’ proposal?

Not a whole lot. According to the most recent Census data, 2,728 households in the district had a total income of more than $200,000 in 2007. That’s just 1.1 percent of all the district’s households. Average household income was $52,801.

We’re not minimizing the fact that those relatively few households might be unhappy about the prospect of seeing their income taxes go up. We’re just saying it would affect, well, relatively few. Which is a lot less than the ad would have you believe.