Dems' letter to Cuomo: Keep tax on wealthy

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Jan 10, 2011)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Jan 10, 2011) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

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ALBANY - The overwhelming majority of Assembly Democrats have signed a letter urging their leader to fight to keep an income-tax surcharge on the highest-earning New Yorkers, the latest sign that the liberal wing of the party is unhappy with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's plan to cut state spending.

In the letter, Democrats criticize Cuomo's budget for relying too heavily on proposed reductions - especially to school aid - to close the deficit and say a "more balanced" approach is needed.

"The proposed cuts to education lead New York State in a retreat from its legal, social and ethical obligation to provide a meaningful education to all students," the letter states. It was signed by 69 of the 99 Democrats in the chamber, including all seven from Long Island.

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) said extending the "millionaires tax" was about fairness - noting that the federal government recently extended tax cuts for high earners. He said the governor's plan to reduce spending by $3.7 billion from the current fiscal year would hurt schools and community groups.

"While we want to help the governor restore fiscal sanity to New York State, our obligation is, as well, to provide a safety net for our citizens," Lavine said.

Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) said extending the tax "doesn't mean there won't be cuts, but it will provide some help and could prevent some job losses."

The surcharge kicks in for individuals who earn more than $200,000 annually. It is set to expire on Dec. 31; extending it would bring in about $1 billion for the 2011-12 budget.

The governor and the Republican-led Senate have strongly opposed renewal of the tax. Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has said although the Assembly will include the tax in budget bills it passes next week, the odds of the governor and the Senate agreeing are very long.

Silver spokeswoman Sisa Moyo said, "The Speaker wholeheartedly agrees that we should not be giving a tax break to the wealthiest New Yorkers while we are cutting teachers from our classrooms, closing senior centers and reducing aid to CUNY and SUNY."Cuomo aides declined to comment.

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