municipal workers rally

NO REST FOR THE WEALTHY: Last fall, District Council 37 members rallied against Mayor de Blasio's threat of major layoffs by calling for a tax hike on rich New Yorkers before the union agreed to defer payment by the city to its benefit funds in return for a no-layoff guarantee. Although President Biden's relief plan has eased the budget pressure on the city and state, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido joined with other union and religious leaders March 29 in urging the state to raise taxes for those at the top, saying, 'For far too long, those with the most have gotten by without paying their fair share.'

A coalition of New York labor and faith leaders want tax hikes on the wealthy proposed by the Legislature but being resisted by the Cuomo administration in the home stretch of a budget process that's gone past the April 1 deadline.

The group, spearheaded by the State AFL-CIO and the New York State Council of Churches, warn that without the "fair-share reset" on the state's highest earners, it will by next year be threatened by public-employee layoffs after exhausting the billions of dollars in one-time pandemic relief from Washington.

Fear Fat-Cat Flight

Opponents of tax increases on high earners and corporations, including Mr. Cuomo, have argued that the "fair share" proposals could induce them to flee the state.

The state AFL-CIO countered that the "millionaire migration rhetoric is overblown and flies in the face of academic research" showing that "after the last millionaire surcharge was put in place, the number of millionaires in New York state doubled between 2009-2018. Millionaires are less likely to move than lower- and middle-income New Yorkers."

"The Federal aid coming into New York State will only do so much—it will help us for about the next two years but after that, the state will be addressing budget deficits on its own," State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said during a March 29 Zoom press conference. "These 'fair-share' revenue-raisers would affect a tiny portion of individuals in our state while ensuring we don't harm our health-care system and still help fund education, state services and our local governments into the future."

The Rev. Peter Cook, the executive director of the New York State Council of Churches, told reporters that even as the state's low-wage workers were struggling during the pandemic, its wealthiest residents saw a $156-billion increase in their wealth during the crisis.

'Worst Wealthy Inequality'

"In New York, we have the worst wealth inequality in the country," the Rev. Cook said. "The unwillingness of the state to address this inequality by correctly investing in our basic needs hurts our economy."

He added that "low-wealth New Yorkers spend an unbearable percentage of their shrinking household budgets on housing, food, child care, health care, and education because the state is underfunding these services."

Reverend Michael Livingston of Riverside Church said, "It is unethical to tolerate workers whose full-time work does not afford them a living wage in this wealthiest of cities. It is unethical for us to tolerate excusing those most able to contribute to the well-being of all when they have the resources, if not the will, to do so of their own accord."

Boosters of the Albany tax hikes claim such a reset is necessary after President Trump's 2017 $1.7-trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that slashed the corporate tax rate by 40 percent.

Who Would Be Affected

Under the tax hikes proposed in the Assembly and Senate, couples earning $2 million a year would see their rate go from 8.82 percent to 9.85 percent, with an 11.85-percent tax rate for households reporting over $25 million in annual income. Legislators also favor a one-percent boost in the state's capital-gains tax.

In January, before passage of President Biden's $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan, which includes $350 billion in state and county aid, Mr. Cuomo projected the state faced a $15-billion budget deficit.

Between better-than-expected tax revenues and the infusion of $12.6 billion in Federal aid, state Budget Director Robert Mujica now contends there's no need for "any significant level in tax increases."

"With the additional direct aid and the higher revenue 'consensus' forecast agreed to with the Legislature, enacting the Governor's Executive Budget would result in a $9.6-billion surplus over the fiscal years 2021 through 2023," according to the Citizens Budget Commission, a pro-business think tank. "This amount is sufficient to omit the proposed personal income tax increase and still leave $5.9 billion to fully reverse the spending reductions proposed by the Governor."

Eye on Future Problems

But the union/clergy coalition urged Albany to "look past the short-term relief we get from Washington and move toward sustainable revenue streams that ask the wealthy to pay their fair share that won't push public services off a cliff once the Federal aid is exhausted."

"The message to those negotiating the budget is simple: Fund our future," said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta. "One-shot federal funding is immensely helpful  for meeting the pandemic-related needs of K-12 and college students and our public hospitals in the short term. But fully funding public education and health care long term requires new revenues."

"It's time for progressive taxation in New York," said Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37. "For far too long, those with the most have gotten by without paying their fair share. That must end."

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