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Tax wealthy before considering cuts, 100 state lawmakers say

The State Senate Chamber at the Capitol in

The State Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany on June 20, 2019. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — New York should raise taxes on the wealthy before cutting spending to balance the pandemic-ravaged state budget, a group of 100 state legislators said in statement released Thursday.

With New York’s projected deficit hovering around $13 billion and Congress in no hurry to approve another assistance package, the 100 lawmakers — out of 213 legislative seats — said the state is in dire straits and will soon have to consider its options.

The signatories want higher income tax rates for New Yorkers with $1 billion or more in assets, as well as other assessments such as a stock transfer tax. They said the state’s first option shouldn’t be to reduce aid to schools, health care and other programs.

“To get through this crisis, we are going to need both massive federal aid and a significant contribution from New York’s most well-heeled residents,” the lawmakers’ statement said. “The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers will not be affected by our proposals to raise taxes on high wealth.”

The statement was released through the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute.

The list of backers is almost entirely Democrat — except for Republican Sen. Phil Boyle of Bay Shore.

“As a fiscal conservative and a bit of a libertarian, I haven’t supported a tax increase in my 25 years as a state legislator,” Boyle said in a statement. “But, during this unprecedented crisis, I would rather ask some extremely wealthy New Yorkers to pay a little more rather than raising property taxes on my constituents who are already suffering financial hardships.”

Ten of Long Island’s 15 Democrats in the State Legislature also signed the statement, as did Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), an Independence Party member who is aligned with the Democratic conference.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has threatened to cut state aid to schools as much as 20 percent if Congress doesn’t provide more help to New York — the state hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic so far.

At the beginning of the crisis, the State Senate and Assembly granted the governor extraordinary powers to slash the state budget.

On Thursday, the Democratic governor didn’t directly respond to questions about the legislators’ call to raise taxes on the wealthy, calling it an abstract question. He said he had no current specific plan for the budget.

“You can’t do that in the abstract,” Cuomo said.

New York’s revenue plummeted in April by 68% compared with the previous year, although some of that was attributable to the postponement of Tax Day to July. The state’s May cash flow showed revenue down 9% for the month, compared with May 2019.

In their statement, legislators said: “Times like these require shared sacrifice. In every economic downturn for the last 90 years, our state government has asked the wealthiest to pay more in taxes in order to meet the needs of all the people.”

Besides Boyle, other Long Island supporters were:

  • Sens. John Brooks (D-Seaford); James Gaughran (D-Northport); Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach); Anna Kaplan (D-North Hempstead) and Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown).
  • Assembly members Taylor Darling (D-Hempstead); Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights); Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove); Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) and Thiele.

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