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Future Of Millionaire's Tax At Stake In NYS Senate Races

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If the New York State Senate is controlled by Democrats after the election, there could be some differences over taxing and spending policies.  Many Democrats favor extending an income tax surcharge on millionaires when it expires next spring.

New York currently has a temporary income tax surcharge on the wealthy. The additional taxes affect those making more than $300,000 a year, with the rates growing higher for incomes over $1 million, and the highest rate for those making around $2 million or more.

The tax was first imposed during a budget crisis in 2009. Governor Andrew Cuomo, after an initial hesitation, has agreed with the Legislature to extend the surcharge two more times.

Many more Democrats than Republicans back the tax on the rich, and Democrats have the best chance in years in controlling the Senate after the November 8th elections.  

Ken Giardin, with the fiscal watchdog group the Empire Center, says the tax should not be renewed.

“There’s a big danger in becoming too dependent on these sorts of income tax revenues,” Giardin said. “Because of their volatility. New York is the third most dependent state in the country on income tax revenue and in this case our revenue is especially volatile because so much of it comes from the financial sector." 

He says the income tax, which many businesses also pay, is susceptible to economic slowdowns and declines on Wall Street. The state’s income tax collections are already lower than originally projected for this year.

Jessica Wisneski, with the progressive group Citizen Action, says keeping the tax is one way of offsetting income inequality.

“I hope to see them extended so the richest among us pay their fair share,” Wisneski said. “ And relieve the burden on local taxpayers. So I do think that will be an issue and the Senate Democrats will support that extension with their colleagues in the Assembly." 

Giardin’s group the Empire Center is non-partisan. But he says it may not matter which party ultimately rules the Senate when it comes to the millionaire’s tax. He points out that it was the GOP-led Senate that went along with extending the millionaire’s tax, twice. 

“I don’t think you can say that one party is more likely than another to raise taxes here,” he said. "Remember that in 2011 it was the Senate Republicans and the Assembly Democrats, together, extending the higher tax rate. They did the same thing again in 2013." 

Governor Cuomo, who has been attending rallies to promote Democrats for the Senate, is also warning them to be fiscally conservative. Cuomo’s been a supporter of the state’s property tax cap, and has held the growth of state spending down to 2 percent per year.   

“We’ve shown you can be fiscally responsible and you can be socially progressive,” Cuomo said at a rally on Long Island on October 24th.

But the governor has not said whether or not he thinks the millionaire’s tax should be extended, saying he prefers to deal with the issue next year.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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