By Howie Hawkins
March 20, 2022
I spoke today at rally for tax justice in New York representing the Green Party of Onondaga County. The state faces a fiscal deficit due to the covid recession, but it faces an even deeper needs deficit concerning jobs, income, housing, schools, health care, infrastructure, municipal fiscal crises, and building a clean energy economy to stem the climate emergency.
Today the movement for tax fairness is much stronger than when I campaigned against Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2010 on the slogan of Tax the Rich for a Green New Deal. When I debated Cuomo on TV in 2010 arguing for progressive tax reforms instead of Cuomo’s proposed austerity budget, Democratic politicians said it was politically impossible and Republican politicians said I was crazy.
Today progressive tax reforms are on the table in Albany as it considers its 2022 fiscal year budget thanks to the efforts of a broad statewide coalition ranging from progressives oriented to working inside the Democratic Party like the Working Families Party and Democratic Socialists of America to those of us like the Green Party who are independent. We are united behind a program called Invest In Our New York, embodied in six pieces of legislation, that will institute more progressive state tax structures for income, capital gains, inheritances, wealth, corporate profits, and financial transactions.
We know where the money is. The rich have it. New York has the highest income inequality of any state in the nation. The rich can easily afford to pay more.
In 1980, the top 1% took in 12% of all income in New York. By 2015, the top 1% took in 32.4% of all income. That’s like ordering 10 pizzas for the 100 or so people at the rally and letting one person take three of the pizzas all for themselves. They can’t eat that much. The rich don’t need that much money when our schools are underfunded, Medicaid has been cut, state revenue-sharing with cities has been cut, when the homeless need homes, and the jobless need jobs.
The inequality got even worse during the covid pandemic. US billionaires’ wealth grew by over $1 trillion dollars last year while most people lost income. With a national GDP of $21 trillion, that like all of us paying 5% of every purchase to the billionaires.
Meanwhile, as income inequality grew in New York, the tax structure became more regressive. Since 1980, the state has flattened its tax income structure, cutting in half the top marginal tax rate and doubling the tax on the lowest marginal income bracket. In 1981, it started rebating 100% of the stock transfer tax. This tax was instituted in 1906, but since 1981 the state has collected the revenue, now worth about $15 billion a year, and rebated it right back to Wall Street.
The progressive tax reforms in the Invest In Our New York program would reverse these regressive tax changes and raise an additional $50 billion in recurring revenues though progressive tax structures. That is what New York needs to do to not just cover its fiscal deficit, but also to cover its deficit in meeting the people’s basic needs for jobs, income, schools, health care, housing, and the environment.
New York faces a $15 billion deficit due to the covid recession. The federal $1.9 trillion covid relief package provides $12.5 billion to the state to help cover that fiscal deficit. But it doesn’t begin to cover the needs deficit we face. The federal money is a just one-year injection of revenue.
The Invest In Our New York campaign has won some results. The “one house” bills out of the state Assembly and Senate last week partially employed our tax reform proposals to increase revenues by more than the remaining $2.5 billion deficit after the federal aid. The Assembly bill would raise $6.5 billion in additional revenue and the Senate bill $8.3 billion in additional revenue. That additional revenue will go a small way toward covering the needs deficit our people have on top of the state’s fiscal deficit.
The Invest In Our New York has made some progress in getting progressive tax reforms on to the negotiations table for the state budget bill due in April. But we are not satisfied. We will keep pushing for the full six-bill package of progressive tax reforms during the budget negotiations, during the remainder of the legislative session through June, and beyond if we have to.