(The Center Square) – Saying that the gap between the wealthy and working class grew wider during the pandemic, a consortium of New York labor organizations representing 2.5 million workers called on state lawmakers to return to Albany before the year ends and pass new taxes, including levies on “billionaires and ultra-millionaires,” to address the state’s looming budget crisis.
The labor groups have some support as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Monday that legislative leaders and the Cuomo administration are talking about such a session.
A statement Monday from 10 labor unions and the state AFL-CIO said the Legislature needs to raise taxes on the wealthy and raise up to $9 billion. The unions are Communications Workers of America; District Council 37, AFSCME; New York State Nurses Association; New York State Public Employees Federation; New York State United Teachers Union; 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East; Professional Staff Congress/CUNY; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; United Auto Workers Region 9-A (UAW); United University Professions (UUP).
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has cited the state faces a $30 billion dollar deficit over the next two years, and that doesn’t include deficits faced by cities, counties and public agencies like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The unions say without new revenue, the state will be forced to make “disastrous” reductions in such services as education and health care. In addition, there will not be enough funding to help renters, small landlords, small businesses and bars and restaurants.
“Our leaders must ask the richest New Yorkers to truly step up to the plate,” the statement read. “The Legislature must enact a package of revenue increases, starting with increased taxes on billionaires and ultra-millionaires that adds $7 [billion]-9 Billion to the state coffers – anything less will not come close to meeting the state’s desperate needs and is unacceptable.”
Talking to reporters in Albany, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the state would be better off trying to get something done in the next couple of weeks so that the new rates could take effect on Jan. 1.
“It’s our belief that you can’t pass a tax increase in March and retroact it back to January,” Heastie said, according to New York Now. “The constitution is clear when it says you have to give people notice.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has held out hope for the federal government – which he blames for putting the state in the quandary that caused the economic upheaval – would make the state whole and avoid raising taxes. He’s previously opposed hikes on the uberwealthy out of fear they may leave New York City or the state.
On Monday, the governor sounded more willing to raise taxes, but first, he would prefer to find out how much the federal government will divvy to states. Federal lawmakers are still working on a $908 billion COVID relief bill that would provide some relief for local and state governments.
He added though that doing a tax increase without a budget is just a “political gesture,” and trying to orchestrate a tax increase and budget cuts now – especially if the incoming Biden administration provides more funding in February – would cause chaos and disruption as agencies would be firing people in January only to bring them back weeks later.
“I think it’s smarter to get the number from Washington,” he said.
While Cuomo has pushed for the feds to provide $30 billion over the next two years, E.J. McMahon, founder of the nonpartisan think tank Empire Center, said the governor has toyed with the numbers. The state may have a deficit, and there may be a worthwhile case for Washington to assist state governments, but McMahon believes the state’s shortfall is closer to $4.2 billion for this year and $12.6 for next.
Even New York City’s deficit, which Mayor Bill de Blasio has cited as $9 billion this year, is more like $3.7 billion for the next fiscal year, McMahon said.
“Cuomo has not helped his case by… repeatedly exaggerating the amount he actually needs – and by avoiding any action to permanently reduce spending, lest it suggest to Congress that he actually needs less,” McMahon wrote last week.