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Andrew Pallotta: A Matter Of Will

While this legislative session will look different than previous years, the goal of my organization will be exactly the same. We will continue to highlight the need to fully fund public schools and colleges. This year, in particular, the need is overwhelming. The coronavirus has stretched many education budgets to the breaking point.

Over the next four to five years, experts estimate that New York State will face a $60 billion dollar deficit. And although Gov. Cuomo’s announcement last month that the state will provide $1.5 billion to help out in the near future, with a funding shortfall that large, it’s just not enough.

While we’re crossing our fingers that Washington will provide our state with desperately needed pandemic relief in the coming months, any money we get would be a one-time bailout. And although welcome, a one-time federal bailout wouldn’t help close New York State’s budget deficit in the long term. What we need are commonsense, annually generated revenue streams at home. A big part of that is increasing taxes on our state’s ultra-wealthy.

New York State has 141 billionaires. During this pandemic, while the rest of us have suffered and struggled, their wealth has grown – so far — by more than $80 billion. Mike Bloomberg, our state’s richest billionaire, saw his wealth balloon by 22 percent since March. Thirty-two other billionaires saw their wealth grow by 10 percent or more.

Consider this — the combined wealth of 141 New York State billionaires now totals more than $600 billion.

This pandemic has been a boom for billionaires, and for giant corporations as well — all on the backs of working families.

Since the pandemic began, 45 of the 50 biggest corporations in America have turned a profit. And of those 50 companies, at least 27 laid off workers last year, collectively cutting over 100,000 jobs.

In total, New York State has lost more than two million jobs — 98 percent of those held by workers who earn $68,000 a year or less. Many of them are public employees. We’ve seen those cuts firsthand in our communities. Public schools and colleges forced to institute massive layoffs, cut education programs and increase class sizes. Changes that mean lost opportunities for students.

It’s just not fair.

It’s the same old story. As the rich get further ahead, everyone else gets left behind — including New York State’s schools and students.

But while it may be the same old story, it doesn’t have to have the same old ending. Rebuilding New York and recovering from this pandemic is not a matter of resources. It’s a matter of will.

The time has come for corporations and the ultra-wealthy to pay their fair share. It’s time for them to help rebuild schools, roads and jobs. It’s time for those who can afford to pay more, to help Fund Our Future.

A tax on luxury second homes in New York City would raise $650 million in new revenues.

A tax on ultra-millionaires could provide $2.7 billion.

A wealth tax on New York's billionaires would raise $5.5 billion.

Restoring New York State’s corporate tax rate to 2017 levels would raise $9 billion.

There’s plenty of money to collect from corporations and New York State’s wealthiest. For me – and the hundreds of thousands of working families I represent — it’s a simple choice. Either raise revenue and rebuild New York State, or continue to subsidize the ultra-wealthy.

We need to make sure our focus is on rebuilding after the COVID crisis, not on creating another Gilded Age for people who already have more than they need. It’s time for the ultra-wealthy to pay their fair share.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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