Thursday, October 20, 2011


Rochester, N.Y.-- New York State has been navigating stormy waters in a battle over the millionaire's tax for quite a while now. A bill was eventually signed by former Gov. David Paterson in 2009 to help close the state's massive deficit.  It created two new tax brackets, designating families with incomes of $300,000 at a rate of 7.85 percent and those over $500,000 at 8.97 percent (which the New York Times points out is the same as neighboring New Jersey's highest rate).

Allowing the tax's expiration would amount to a $5 billion tax cut for New York's richest. Lately, New York's political leadership seem interested in austerity measures only-- not new forms of revenue. It's becoming clear that they're not interested in solving a budget crisis, they're more concerned about giving the rich their "payback" and maintaining the status quo while the working poor and middle-class continue to suffer.

The fact that Cuomo is thumbing his nose at the 99 percent clarifies our national conundrum why and how big money influences public policy even when it's not in the best interest of the State. So, it should be no surprise that Cuomo opposes the tax considering his financial relationships on Wall Street. And, Cuomo has an ambivalent relationship with his own party-- even as momentum created by Occupy Wall Street has politicians from Barack Obama on down realizing that the time is ripe for some economic populism, Cuomo appears committed to protecting the interests of the rich.

OWS supporter marches to Foley Square
in NYC on Oct.5, 2011 to meet 15,000 others.
photo: Ove Overmyer
The Governor and the 1 percent

Before winning the governorship, Cuomo served as New York's attorney general, but unlike his predecessor in that role, Eliot Spitzer, or his successor Eric Schneiderman, Cuomo didn't exactly make a name for himself going after the big banks. Instead of fighting the tenacious battles Spitzer waged, Cuomo tended to look for quick settlements rather than a long, drawn-out, protracted legal fights.

Albany Project blogger and longtime New York political activist Phillip Anderson said, “Cuomo went after Wall Street just enough as AG to maintain the fiction that he gave a damn. Worked out well for both parties and he has been rewarded accordingly.”

Alyssa Katz wrote of Cuomo's election at The Nation, “The big money in New York State politics-- from real estate and Wall Street-- is backing Cuomo against Tea Partyer Carl Paladino and expects to be taken care of in return.”

And the numbers back her up. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, nearly ten percent of Cuomo's total campaign funding for 2010 came from securities & investment firms, a total of $2,057,027-- only the real estate industry gave him more. Not only that, but he got approximately 50 times more than his largely self-funded Republican opponent, Carl Paladino, who raised $39,800 from securities & investment firms, and twice as much as Eliot Spitzer, who was elected New York's governor in 2006 before having to step down after a sex scandal.

Over his career, Cuomo's gotten $4,148,597 from securities & investment firms, $841,300 of that when he ran for Attorney General.  That is nearly twice as much as his successor Schneiderman got from that industry during last year's election.

New York's election laws allow individuals to give large amounts to candidates-- several gave Cuomo over $55,000 each. One would assume that individuals giving $55,000 in an election cycle are probably making well over $200,000 a year. That amount is the cutoff for the surcharge for a single earner.
Cuomo says he supports a tax on the rich on the federal level, but doesn't want New York to be the only state with one, claiming that it'll put the state at a competitive disadvantage. But it's hard to see how that could be true-- no matter how much cheaper it might be to live in New Jersey, for example, New York's richest are hardly going to give up their lavish park side views and status parties for the pedestrian suburbs.

Ron Deutsch of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness dispelled what he called “the myth of the moving millionaire” at a press conference for 99 New York, the new coalition pushing for the tax. Hundreds of Rochester folks gathered at the Liberty Pole on October 18 to kick off the local effort. In an interview with Capitol Tonight's Liz Benjamin, Deutsch pointed out that between 2003 and 2005, when the state imposed a post-9/11 surcharge on the rich, they actually saw a 30 percent increase in wealthy tax filers, and that a 2007 study found that New York's richest are its least likely to move-- whether that's because of those posh penthouses, the social scene, or the ease of the commute, the wealthy simply aren't going to pack up and leave.

Cuomo's attempt to appear to support the people while actually enacting business-friendly policies isn't exactly new to Democrats, but the sudden rise of economic populism in the form of Occupy Wall Street has him looking extraordinarily out of touch with his constituents on this issue.  We say Andrew-- you can’t have both ways.

Here in New York, the public support from even Republicans has the 99 New York coalition poised and ready to utilize all their resources to make the rich pay their fair share. As the occupations continue to gain momentum here in Monroe County, N.Y. and around the country, politicians who ignore the turning of the tide may find themselves left behind-- on the wrong side of the battle lines. Even the GOP in the NY State Senate are starting to waver on the millionaire's tax, especially because the largely rural districts they represent are filled with municipalities that are in serious financial trouble.

Editor's Note: This commentary is the expressed written opinion of The Voice Reporter only and does not reflect the views of CSEA as an organization.

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