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17 arrested in Albany tax protest

Protesters after they were arrested during a demonstration

Protesters after they were arrested during a demonstration in favor of the "millionaires tax" in the Capitol in Albany. (March 2, 2011) Photo Credit: Yancey Roy

ALBANY - About 150 protesters demonstrated here Wednesday in favor of extending a tax on the wealthy, briefly shutting down walking access to the Capitol's main floor and resulting in 17 arrests.

The noisy but peaceful gathering came as the tax's prospects gained new life this week with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's statement that he would push to include its $1 billion in revenue in this year's budget.

However, the Capitol's two other power brokers, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader, Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), remain opposed to the tax.

Often called the "millionaires tax," it temporarily created higher income tax brackets for people who made more than $200,000 in 2009. The tax is set to expire Jan. 1.

Holding signs reading "Feed the needy, not the greedy" and "extend the millionaire's tax," the demonstrators' chants could be heard throughout much of the Capitol, including on the second floor, where Cuomo's office is located.

"We are trying to get the governor to be the governor of all people, not just the special interests, not just the rich," said Gloria Wilson of Manhattan.

The protesters were organized by a New York City group, VOCAL-NY. Lt. Glenn Miner, a New York State Police spokesman, said 17 of the protesters were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, a violation, for blocking hallways. They were arraigned in Albany City Court and released, Miner said.

The fight over the personal income tax is shaping up as Cuomo tries to cut $1 billion from the 2011-12 budget. New York City and some suburban Democrats support extending the tax, including 20 Senate Democrats who sent a letter to Cuomo Wednesday urging him to change his mind.

Advocates say the tax would soften the blow of cuts to health care and schools.

"It makes it a little bit easier and causes a little less damage," said Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst).

Silver said Wednesday the tax would be included in an Assembly budget resolution, due March 15. But such bills are largely symbolic and are not binding on the final budget worked out between legislative leaders and the governor.

Silver has suggested an alliance with Senate Republicans could be forged by linking the tax extension to restoring school aid, an issue dear to Long Island senators. And Wednesday, he said the Assembly's version of the tax "might" affect only those making $500,000 or more.

Still, Silver said, "I don't think the other sides will support it, but that doesn't mean we're not going to advance it."

Indeed, a Cuomo spokesman said Wednesday the governor remained opposed. And Skelos said he wouldn't support the tax under any circumstances.

"No new taxes," he said. "For many it's a middle-income tax, and it's a very negative small-business tax."

With Yancey Roy

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