March 26, 2008

Assembly proposal would provide revenue for education, health care

Source: NYSUT News Wire

A proposal by Assembly Democrats to bring in additional revenue for education and health care by passing a temporary income tax surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers is winning overwhelming public support.

Independent polls by the Siena Research Institute and Quinnipiac University show New Yorkers favor the so-called "millionaire's tax" by better than two-to-one margins. New York State voters support the plan to temporarily adjust income taxes for those earning $1 million or more a year by 77-19 percent, with 4 percent undecided. Even Republicans support an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers, backing it by a 65-31 margin (Quinnipiac).

NYSUT analysts said a temporary income tax surcharge on those who earn more than $1 million per year would enable the state to reverse devastating cuts to public higher education and health care, while also "keeping the promise" made in last year's state budget to school districts struggling under the burden of too few resources. If enacted, the proposal would raise an estimated $1.5 billion for education and health care in 2008-09.

If the proposal, advanced by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, is enacted, New York's top rate would increase from 6.85 to 7.7 percent for five years. The change would impact less than 75,000 taxpayers - less than 1 percent of all New York taxpayers - and 46 percent of those already live out-of-state. Analysts also noted that this new top tax rate would still be significantly lower than neighboring New Jersey's top rate of 8.97 percent, helping to lay waste to the false argument that a "millionaire's tax" would drive the wealthiest New Yorkers away.

Silver is expected to address the issue at a news conference Wednesday.

Experts have also concluded that a more progressive income tax - in which those who can afford to pay more, do pay more - is the least damaging way to balance state budgets during a recession. A similar adjustment to the top rate in 2003 helped Gov. George Pataki to avoid harmful cuts to services during the last economic downturn.

And, the proposal is also generating support from some unlikely quarters. Prominent philanthropist Arlyn Gardner, who owns homes on Fifth Ave. and in Westchester County, declared herself fully in favor of the additional tax. She told the New York Times, "I say, 'Why not? We pay taxes to help those who need it."

Her additional share of state income tax could, for example, go to lower class sizes or hire additional teachers.