As demonstrators in New York City and worldwide protest income inequality and corporate greed, activists gathered Monday inside the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to extend a "millionaire's tax" on New York's wealthiest residents.
"The income gap in New York state and New York City is horrendous," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta. "At a time when the poor and middle class are suffering, it almost seems like a joke that we would give millionaires and billionaires a tax break on New Year's Eve."
The state's surcharge on its wealthiest residents - passed two years ago to offset New York's budget problems - is set to expire Dec. 31. At stake is $5 billion in revenue at a time when vital public services including education and health care have sustained billions of dollars in damaging budget cuts.
Nikki Jones of the Alliance for Quality Education said to let the millionaire's tax expire when students are seeing critical academic programs slashed and thousands of teachers have been laid off "sends the wrong message about our priorities."
While Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he supports extending the tax, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has expressed his opposition.
Still, proponents of the progressive income-tax plan were encouraged by the findings of a Siena Research Institute Poll released Monday showing 72 percent of state voters favor increasing taxes on those making more than a million dollars. Particularly important, activists said, was that while the poll showed 83 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents are in favor of the tax, the majority of Republican voters - at 55 percent - also support the surcharge.
Pointing to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Ron Deutsch of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness said the Siena poll reflects what is happening in America.
"The general mood and tenor of the public has changed," he said. "People are fed up with the corporate greed and the income inequality and they want change."