As N.Y. faces COVID-caused financial crunch, lawmakers and grassroots groups push to make the wealthy pay higher taxes

Denis Slattery, New York Daily News

ALBANY — A new coalition of progressive legislators and grassroots organizations wants New York’s billionaires to pay their fair share.

Lawmakers and advocates rallied Tuesday outside Gov. Cuomo’s Manhattan office as part of the Invest In Our New York Campaign, a push to lift the state out of its current financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic by closing legal loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy and raising revenue through updating the tax code.

“By ending tax breaks for the rich, Gov. Cuomo and our leaders in Albany can prove their commitment to small businesses struggling to keep their doors open, students who deserve quality education, and everyday New Yorkers who suddenly find themselves unemployed, on food lines and unable to pay their rent,” said Rebecca Bailin, who is managing the campaign.

The progressive leaders are calling for the passage of the Invest In Our New York Act, a legislative package they say will aid the state’s recovery from the economic crisis, close budget deficits and rebuild New York by raising at least $50 billion in revenue.

At the heart of the package is a collection of six bills that would create a tax system in which the wealthy would pay a higher tax rate and apply new levies on income earned from investments in stocks.

The revamped tax code could raise as much as $12 billion to $18 billion, according to a report issued by the group.

The report outlines how the COVID-19 crisis affected the state’s finances and public services, while also placing blame on Cuomo for lowering taxes on the rich over the past decade instead of saving reserves for a future catastrophe.

It also notes that while unemployment soared and lines at the food pantries grew, New York’s 120 billionaires saw their wealth increase by $77 billion during the pandemic to a total of $600 billion.

Other measures bundled into the new legislative push would create a progressive tax on large sums of inherited wealth and add an additional tax on billionaires, which would need a constitutional amendment.

The final two parts of the package include a small tax on Wall Street financial transactions and a bill to repeal the Trump tax cuts at the state level, by restoring taxes on the profit a corporation makes each year.

Dozens of electeds joined advocates outside the governor’s office, including a handful of newly elected progressives and Democratic Socialists who have vowed to swing the Legislature further to the left.

City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams addressed Cuomo directly, imploring him to back the slate of bills.

“We’re getting rid of the smoke and getting rid of the mirrors,” he said. “Right now, if you want to be remembered as someone different you have an opportunity to do so ... and that is get onboard with these progressive ideas to raise revenue.”

“This is not a time for cuts, this is not a time for austerity,” Williams added.

Cuomo has repeatedly said he wants to wait and see whether Washington passes another stimulus package that includes aid to states and localities before making any decisions about raising taxes or making permanent cuts to services.

Last month, the governor said he was skeptical that aid from Congress would be enough and that he sees a mix of taxes, cuts and other measures in the future, saying it was a matter of policy, not politics, and would be done as part of the state budget process.

The governor’s budget spokesman said Cuomo will outline his plans to address revenue shortfalls in his executive budget slated to be released this month.

“As we’ve said, the federal government must follow through on its promise to deliver funding so that the state can continue to support critical services and lead the national recovery,” spokesman Freeman Klopott said. “In the absence of federal funding, the state will consider spending reductions, borrowing and revenue increases to close the deficit.”

The report from the Invest in Our New York Campaign, which at one point mistakenly references the state population as 30 million instead of 19.4 million, argues that federal aid alone will not be enough to close the state’s projected budget gaps.

“A one-time infusion of aid will not address ongoing annual needs: New York requires at least $50 billion in new annual revenue to close the current budget gap of $15 billion and to fully fund our schools, health care, affordable housing, and more,” the report states. “Even if Congress passes additional aid, a federal bailout that mirrors previous relief will still leave New York with a $46 billion budget shortfall over the next four years.”

The Invest In Our New York campaign is made up of a collection of advocacy groups and political organizations including the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action, Empire State Indivisible, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, New York Working Families Party, NYC-DSA, Strong Economy for All, VOCAL-NY and Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance/Housing Justice for All.