Rich NY'ers would pay more in taxes in plan

In this May 27, 2020, file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Cuomo says he opposes raising taxes on the wealthy to help the state whether the coronavirus economic crisis, but it is clear that federal aid alone won't solve the state's fiscal woes. 

ALBANY — Ten influential unions and the state AFL-CIO have climbed on the bandwagon of voices urging state leaders to boost taxes on the wealthy to spare schools, hospitals and other public services from potentially deep budget cuts.

The push for a tax hike comes while lawmakers consider returning to the statehouse either before or after Christmas to consider proposals to increase revenue before beginning the 2021 legislative session Jan. 6. There is also increasing concern that the next round of stimulus legislation to emerge from Congress will not include aid for state and local governments.

ULTRA-MILLIONAIRES

In a joint statement, leaders of the unions said their revenue proposals would be aimed at "billionaires and ultra-millionaires" and would yield as much as $9 billion for state coffers.

"The stock market has soared in 2020 despite the pandemic and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow," said the unions involved in the coalition. They include New York State United Teachers, United University Professions, Communications Workers of America and the New York Nurses Association.

CONSIDER IT NOW

The chances of a tax proposal being put before lawmakers increased significantly this week when Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-the Bronx, told reporters that the state has immediate needs that higher taxes on high-income earners could address.

"If you want to get a full year's value from it, you would have to consider it now," the speaker said.

Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, said the uncertainty in state funding as well as the logjam over congressional proposals to provide local and state governments with direct federal assistance have created major fiscal and staffing challenges for mayoral administrations across the state.

"The majority of cities, at a minimum, have decide not to fill positions, leaving them vacant for next year so they can see what happens in Washington and in Albany," Baynes told CNHI.

STATE PRIORITIES

The tensions in the state governments relationship with local municipalities were apparent even before the pandemic.

"The municipalities haven't been a big enough priority with the context of a $178 billion (state) budget," Baynes said, noting the annual $700 million allotment in assistance to local governments has remained flat for a decade.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been reluctant to embrace the latest tax hike proposals, has argued the state can best shore up its finances with a major infusion of federal cash, contending the federal government owes New York because it was the nation's initial epicenter for the pandemic.

Balancing the state budget in 2021 and avoiding major cuts to public services "is going to be really, really difficult" without the federal aid, Cuomo said.

He also maintained it would be in the best interests of the national economy to assist hard-hit states.

"They'll bankrupt the nation if they bankrupt the state," he said.

ASK THE RICH PEOPLE

But it is increasingly unlikely that New York will get a windfall from Washington, given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is expected to have full control over the legislation that gets through Washington's upper chamber, said Michael Kink, director of the Strong Economy For All, a coalition of labor groups in New York.

His group is urging state lawmakers to embrace $10 billion worth of tax increases, slightly more robust than what the other cadre of unions has proposed.

"It is time for Albany to ask the rich people, the big corporations and Wall Street to pay more and to help us through this," said Kink, noting tax increases on the wealthy and corporations have helped the state several times when it faced economic storms. He also argued closing the budget gap through tax hikes on the the most affluent New Yorkers rather than slash jobs will avoid exacerbating the economic slowdown.

PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING

Republicans and several of their allies in the business community have come out against the proposed tax hikes, contending they will motivate wealthy residents to move out of New York. But Democrats hold lopsided majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, giving them full control over bills that reach the floor.

If lawmakers agree to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and get Cuomo to sign the measure before year's end, it could be made retroactive to the beginning of this year, said Ronald Deutsch, director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a labor-backed think tank.

"Waiting for Washington to act seems to be the governor's strategy of choice," Deutsch said. "But I think what we have learned is we need to address the situation right now. And right now people are suffering."

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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