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In NY, Tax The Rich Advocates Increase Pressure

New York state Capitol
Jim Levulis

The New York State legislature is due back in Albany Monday for a session that is expected to last several days. A growing number of lawmakers want to see new taxes on the wealthy on the agenda, and they are getting some help from Queens Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

One hundred state Senators and Assemblymembers have signed a letter supporting increased taxes on the richest New Yorkers to help close the state’s $13 billion budget gap. The Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie, supports the idea, but Democrats who lead the Senate have not yet signed on. And Governor Andrew Cuomo is not on board either. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is featured in a video that tries to change that.

“Governor Cuomo, we need you to pass a billionaires tax in order to make sure that we are providing for our working families,” Ocasio-Cortez says in the video. “It’s time to stop protecting billionaires.” 

The four-minute piece was created by the Fund Excluded Workers coalition, and backed by nearly three dozen state lawmakers. It also features immigrants who are ineligible for unemployment benefits telling of their struggle to provide food and housing for their families. 

The video claims that the state has 118 billionaires, many of whom have grown richer during the pandemic, heightening already existing income inequality. 

The proposal would increase taxes on the wealthy to establish an unemployment insurance fund for workers who don’t qualify for regular unemployment, including undocumented workers. 

Other measures include increasing the state’s top income tax brackets. 

There was other action to mobilize support for taxing the wealthy.   

A number of Democratic state lawmakers joined in a 24-hour fast and sleepout outside the 5th Avenue penthouse of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who is considered to be the richest person in the world. Bezos, according to Bloomberg News, is believed to have added $35 billion to his net worth so far during the pandemic, as people confined to their homes ordered more products online. 

Senator Robert Jackson, a Democrat from Manhattan whose district includes Washington Heights and West Harlem, says his constituents are feeling the effects of the pandemic and the economic shutdown. 

“I know people are suffering, because they tell me and my staff,” Jackson said. “They sign up for food, they sign up for information.” 

The group also protested outside Governor Cuomo’s office in New York City. Cuomo was in Albany.   

In a conference call with the media earlier in the week, Cuomo once again voiced his opposition to New York raising taxes on the wealthy. 

“If you take people who are highly mobile, and you tax them, well then they’ll just move next door,” Cuomo said. “Where the tax treatment is simpler.” 

And the governor turned the focus on Congress, saying, without naming her, that Ocasio-Cortez and the other lawmakers could better spend their energy helping  get a federal relief package passed that would help states and local government with economies devastated by the coronavirus and related shutdown. He says if there are going to be any tax increases, they need to be for the wealthy in all of the states, not just for New York. 

“Democrats control the House,” Cuomo said. “And let Democrats stand united and say ‘we won’t pass another piece of legislation for you President Trump, until you provide the funds to help the poorest Americans.' That’s what they should be doing.” 

Congress is due to recess in early August. Democrats back a $3 trillion relief package that would aid state and local governments hit hardest by the pandemic. Republicans who control the Senate want to spend $1 trillion, and direct more of the money to businesses. They are trying to work through differences.  

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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