November 2011 Issue
October 25, 2011

Call for tax reform gains allies

Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta urges New York lawmakers to extend the state tax on high wage earners. Photo by Andrew Watson.

President Barack Obama and billionaire Warren Buffett are echoing labor's call for a progressive income tax hike.

Obama proposed a new minimum tax rate for individuals who make more than $1 million a year as a way to help narrow the budget deficit and ensure the wealthiest Americans pay at least the same percentage of earnings as middle-income taxpayers. Buffett has called for a change to tax structures for years, most recently in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

Add their voices to a growing swell of support for a tax on the wealthy. A recent Siena College Research Institute poll found 83 percent of New York Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans in favor. Likewise, a Quinnipiac University poll of voters in New York City, where most of the state's millionaires live, supports an extension of the tax by 61 percent to 28 percent, with Republicans favoring it by 55 percent.

"We're happy to have everyone on board," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said. NYSUT has long shown the reasons why a progressive income tax hike is needed: Working families, students and the elderly continue to bear the brunt of devastating state and national budgets that deeply cut services. The union continues to press for a better way to fund services by pushing for a more progressive income structure at the state level.

Consider that 34 percent of the federal tax cuts for the current year will go to the wealthiest 1 percent. Figures released by the Fiscal Policy Institute show the richest households in New York, on average, will receive a $124,000 tax cut in 2011; the middle fifth of New Yorkers a $1,500 tax cut, and the poorest 20 percent a $300 tax cut.

"This is simple math. The wealthiest New Yorkers got a tax cut equal to what many working families earn in that same year to pay all their bills," Pallotta said. "If now is not the time for a progressive income tax, then when?"

The statewide union and several coalitions are urging lawmakers to raise the income tax on New Yorkers who make $1 million or more annually, and to impose an additional increased rate for those making $5 million or more. The coalitions continue to hold lawmakers accountable for the sacrifices working class families have made while the wealthy are scheduled to receive yet another tax break when a state tax on those earning more than $200,000 expires on Dec. 31.

According to the New York state taxation and finance department, 27,844 tax filers had incomes at or above $1 million in 2009, the most recent year figures are available. The biggest concentration, 12,415 of the filers, lived in Manhattan, followed by 5,145 in Westchester County, 3,719 in Nassau County and 1,755 in Suffolk County.