COVID-19 has brought New York to its knees. It has taken tens of thousands of lives too soon, left millions of New Yorkers without work, and the state struggling with a more than $15 billion budget deficit.
Our state is home to some of the wealthiest corporations and people in the world who benefit the most from federal tax cuts and are the least tax-burdened among the economically advanced nations of the world.
An estimated 27 percent of New Yorkers are without work. Essential workers — from ICU nurses to Instacart deliverers — put their lives on the line, with inadequate protections, to do their jobs. Meanwhile, billionaires in the United States have gained more than $200 billion in wealth since mid-March.
As working New Yorkers suffer, instead of recycling Republican austerity measures that slash funding to schools, Medicaid and other services, now is the time for New York to ask its wealthiest to pay their fair share.
We need to pass a wealth tax.
Long before this pandemic, decades of federal and state fiscal policies led to historic income and wealth inequality in New York. In 2018, the top 1 percent of New Yorkers made 44 times more than the other 99 percent. The gap between the rich and poor is echoed nationally: At the end of 2019, wealth inequality hit its highest rate since the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting data a half-century ago.
Inequality is not benign. Kids born to low-income homes are less likely to achieve in school. Income inequality helps drive the vicious cycle of mass incarceration, and studies show that wealthy and poor Americans have markedly different health outcomes.
COVID-19 has taken this reality and injected it with steroids. If inequality was pulling the social fabric of New York apart before, now COVID-19 threatens to tear it in two.
State leaders should be demanding measures to raise more revenue from this “billionaire class” and their companies. Instead, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many in the state senate have stuck to a single, regressive script of austerity and budget cuts.
Gov. Cuomo has doubled down on his push for deep cuts to Medicaid and education. When asked by a reporter about the growing state deficit and what local officials should do to prepare for looming cuts, he deflected by saying, “call Washington.” No doubt Washington has to step up big time, but that alone will not be enough. For New York — one of the wealthiest states in the country — to sit on its hands and not ask the richest among us to pay their fair share borders on criminal.
“Tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich. Now, God forbid, the rich leave,” Cuomo said in 2019, and in recent months he has been notably silent amidst growing calls for a wealth tax. If this point of view sounds familiar, it’s because it’s part of the same coddle-the-rich fiscal policies the Republican Party has championed since the ‘70s.
But as noted by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, “Few economic doctrines have been as thoroughly tested and thoroughly refuted as the claim that low taxes on the rich accomplish great things for everybody.” Mainstream research “consistently finds that millionaires are no likelier than other taxpayers to relocate — and when they do, it’s rarely due to taxes,” highlighted the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The rich aren’t going anywhere. Raising revenue for New York state by asking our wealthiest residents to pay their fair share must be on the table.
Refusing to do so isn’t only immoral, it’s economically foolish.
After enacting a modest millionaire’s tax in response to the 2008 recession, New York’s economy outperformed its neighbors in job growth, personal income growth, and private sector gross domestic product growth.
Albany must lead with an eye toward ensuring safety, health and recovery for all. The response to the COVID epidemic and massive budget crisis shouldn’t be held hostage to fiscal policies that are only designed to enrich the wealthy.
Giving the wealthy a pass and solving the health and economic crisis on the backs of working New Yorkers is unacceptable and unpopular — a majority of Americans enthusiastically support asking the very rich to contribute more.
The rich will protest, but Gov. Cuomo and leaders in Albany should listen to New Yorkers and have the courage to pass a wealth tax to prevent more economic suffering, disease and death.