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March 03, 2020

Hundreds of union members and activists rally for taxes on ultrawealthy

Source:  NYSUT Media Relations
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rally at the capitol
Caption: Photo by Matt Smith.

ALBANY, N.Y. March 3, 2020 — More than 500 union members and activists converged on the state Capitol Tuesday to demand new taxes on the ultrawealthy in the upcoming state budget and press for significant investments in public services that millions of New Yorkers rely on.

Representing educators, K-12 and higher ed professionals, health care workers, autoworkers and retail employees, tenant advocates and Patriotic Millionaires, unionists and activists called for lawmakers to implement a new billionaires wealth tax, ultramillionaires tax and a pied-à-terre tax. With 112 New York billionaires sitting on $525 billion in wealth and more than 46,000 multimillionaires calling the Empire State home, they say that mandating that the ultrawealthy pay their fair share in taxes would generate more than $12 billion in revenue for the state.

That’s revenue that could be used to fully fund critical state services, such as public education, public higher education, health care, public housing and transportation.

Supporting the push for new taxes are NYSUT, United Federation of Teachers, United University Professions, Professional Staff Congress, New York State AFL-CIO, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, District Council 37, New York State Nurses Association, United Auto Workers Regions 9 and 9A, and Communications Workers of America, as well as other groups.

Earlier this month, the labor unions released a poll showing that the overwhelming majority of New York voters (92 percent) support new taxes on the super-rich. That support cuts across all regions of the state and party lines, with 95 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of unaffiliated voters backing the tax proposals.

What’s more, 64 percent of voters say that implementing these new taxes on the ultrawealthy would have a good impact on New York’s economy. And 72 percent say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who favors passing new taxes on ultramillionaires.

PART ONE

“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,” NYSUT 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.”

“Our children, the sick, the elderly cannot be made to carry the burden of closing Albany’s budget gap,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. “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 people of New York are overwhelmingly in support of commonsense revenue enhancers that will fund our future and pay for the needed investment in higher education and other essential state services,” UUP President Fred Kowal said. “It is time for those who can most afford to support a just society to begin paying their fair share. Smart and targeted revenue raisers will allow New York to make real progress for SUNY.”

“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,” PSC President Barbara Bowen said. “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. Working people should share it.”

PART TWO

“Health care, education, transportation, sanitation, law enforcement and infrastructure are not conceptual, they are practical realities in our everyday lives,” New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said. “With a $6 billion budget deficit, we must raise revenue in order to maintain these vital services all New Yorkers rely upon. If we don’t, the burden will fall on lower and middle income New Yorkers because the alternative is to make cuts in the budget. Any diminishment of services, or the workers who deliver them, is unacceptable. It’s time the wealthy pay their fair share.”

“Albany cannot just cut its way out of this budget crisis,” said Bob Master, CWA District One assistant to the vice president. “Given the staggering levels of income and wealth inequality in New York State, the only fair solution to the budget shortfall is to require the most fortunate among us to contribute a little more in taxes so that vital public services like education, health care and housing can be protected.”

“New York State can’t afford to not address the significant funding gaps the state is facing this year,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “From preschool, to college, to health care, to housing, to transportation, New Yorkers rely on these state programs to raise their families, to get to and from work, and to contribute to its vibrant economy. Taxing the ultrawealthy and implementing a pied-à-terre tax will raise these essential revenues. These are proposals that are supported by a majority of New Yorkers. We urge the state to adopt them to raise the necessary revenue to continue to provide all of its critical services.”

“Year after year we are forced to do the budget dance with the state because they refuse to seek new revenue or raise the state spending cap,” District Council 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said. “It is past time for the wealthy to pay their fair share, and there are numerous proposals on the table that are feasible and just. I urge the governor to take a closer look at the revenue we could be generating in order to fill the gap and expand, not diminish, services to taxpayers.”

“NYSNA nurses join our brothers and sisters in labor to demand that the budget shortfall be met with revenue enhancements tapped from the wealth of the super rich,” New York State Nurses Association Executive Director Pat Kane said. “New York’s elites are dripping with wealth. Meanwhile, a multibillion dollar cut of absolutely essential services is threatened, certain to do very serious harm to the health and well-being of the people. As nurses, we loudly protest these cuts and urge that Medicaid, and all services, be left fully funded. This is a critical juncture in the setting of priorities in our state and a stark choice: Will we abandon the needs of the people as wealth of the elites spills over?”

“With a $6 billion budget deficit looming over our heads, we simply cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of everyday New Yorkers,” said Beverley Brakeman, regional director for United Auto Workers Region 9A. “We also cannot continue to ignore what has been right in front of us all along: The wealthy in this state do not pay their fair share of taxes. The income generators that we are calling for today will generate much needed tax revenue to save us from watching funds for public education, health care, public housing, legal services for poor and low-income New Yorkers, and other vital social safety net programming be gutted. As the level of income inequality in our state continues to grow, average New Yorkers will need to rely on these programs now more than ever.”

“People from all over the world come to New York to start businesses, not in spite of New York’s taxes, but because of them,” said Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires. “They come here because our state has the workforce and has the money to pay for the services and infrastructure that make it an incredible place to live, to work and to start businesses. If we want New York to remain an international leader, our legislators need to increase our investment in the state’s economic future by asking the richest New Yorkers to contribute just a little more.”

“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," said Luke Grandis of VOCAL-NY, a member organization of the Housing Justice 4 All Coalition. “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. It’s time to tax the ultrawealthy to end homelessness and care for our people — it’s time for our lawmakers to demonstrate the courage and political will to make billionaires pay so that we can end these injustices across our state.”

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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