Labor and activists take to Albany to scream for taxes on wealthy

Stephon Johnson | 3/12/2020, midnight
The battle against millionaires and billionaires waged on in the state capitol this week.
New York State Capitol Wikipedia

The battle against millionaires and billionaires waged on in the state capitol this week.

More than 500 union members, activists and supporters rallied in Albany demanding that elected officials raise taxes on the “ultrawealthy” as part of the upcoming state budget and push to add investments in the state’s public services.

“In our travels across New York, we have heard from educators, school administrators and parents who say our public school students lack the basic necessities they need to thrive,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said. “Their message is simple: Fund our future. And there’s no reason the champagne-and-yacht class shouldn’t be paying their fair share to help New York do just that.”

Pallota was joined by members of unions like the United Federation of Teachers, United University Professions, Professional Staff Congress, New York State AFL-CIO, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, District Council 37, and the New York State Nurses Association.

The unions in attendance represent everything from educators to health care workers to autoworkers to retail workers and tenant advocates. They all want the state government to add a billionaires wealth tax, an “ultramillionaires’ tax, and a pied-à-terre tax. According to a coalition that descended on Albany, there are 112 billionaires in New York State with a combined $525 billion in wealth and almost 50,000 multimillionaires in the state as well. Tax increases could allegedly bring in billions of dollars for the state.

“Our children, the sick, the elderly cannot be made to carry the burden of closing Albany’s budget gap,” stated UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Albany has to find its way out of the budget mess it created without shifting costs onto communities that cannot handle the extra burden. We have offered a way out—new revenue from asking billionaires and ultramillionaires to pay their fair share.”

The unions cited a recently released survey conducted by Hart Research Associates (a public opinion research firm) that showed that out of 1,000 registered New Yorkers polled, 92% would prefer to address the budget shortfall by raising taxes on wealth over $1 billion, incomes over $5 million and on luxury homes. According to said survey, the support wasn’t politically based either, with 95% of Democrats, 87% of Republicans, and 89% of unaffiliated voters supporting the tax increases.

“Another New York is possible—one with fully funded public colleges, great schools for all, quality health care and housing. All that stands in our way is taxing the super-rich fairly,” stated PSC President Barbara Bowen. “The state’s billionaires and ultramillionaires are radically undertaxed. How can it be fair that a half-million students struggling for an education at CUNY lack basic necessities like books in campus libraries, and access to full-time faculty and counselors, when they are paying a higher effective tax rate than the super-rich?

“The wealth of this state, and of the very rich, was created by its working people,” continued Bowen. “Working people should share it.”

Last December, President Donald Trump’s administration established new rules that would restrict who qualifies for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Trump out for corporatism giving out tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting programs that benefit the poor. Luke Grandis of VOCAL-NY, a member organization of the Housing Justice 4 All Coalition, said that state legislators need to address the plight of the downtrodden.

“Albany and cities all across New York State are suffering from record-high levels of homelessness and an overdose crisis that is devastating the very fabric of our communities,” Grandis stated. “I know too many people who are cycling in and out of shelters, and right now, are watching the temperature closely, hour by hour, to see if they might qualify to be able to sleep on a cot tonight. We have some supportive housing, but not enough. We have some treatment options, but not enough. At the same time billionaires and ultramillionaires have more wealth and more income than ever before.”