Opinion: Budgets, bonds, rates, relief

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As I started writing this, the New York State legislature and beleaguered, stubborn, and bullying-prone Governor Cuomo agreed on a $212 billion state budget. The most significant changes to the budget from last year are that New York State will finally fund our public schools and get excluded workers, ineligible for various benefits due to undocumented status, much-needed relief. The budget also funds much-needed aid for renters, homeowners, and small businesses.

Yes, it also legalizes online sports betting but don’t confuse headlines with what’s important. The headlines will also focus on, and already have started focusing on, increased tax rates for wealthy New Yorkers. The city’s top earners could pay between 13.5 percent to 14.8 percent in state and city taxes when combined with New York City’s top income tax rate of 3.88 percent. The attempt of significant elements of the media to garner sympathy for and side with multi-millionaires and billionaires is already underway.  

The Daily News described the increased rates as “silly overkill,” the Wall Street Journal called it “Madness” and the Financial Times asked, “Is New York turning on the wealthy?” and all raised the specter of the rich and their businesses, fleeing for places like Florida. Surprisingly publications have, perhaps begrudgingly, noted that such tax increases haven’t historically shown that people move in any more significant numbers than they otherwise would. I’d have more concern about this if there were evidence to prove it, but it isn’t the case. I also didn’t hear these same voices saying anything about Cuomo’s unconscionable act of cutting Medicaid during a pandemic or about education being underfunded long before we wore masks on days besides Halloween.

Of course, you can dig up anecdotal evidence of people leaving New York due to taxes. However, we also have proof that the NY State Bond rates remain at, as Bloomberg News called it, “bargain rates” despite knowledge of the tax increases. After years of the rich getting richer and life getting more challenging for the rest of us struggling to make ends meet, it’s a step toward a long-needed balance in our state budget.

Though imperfect, it is a far cry from the austere budget that a less chastened Governor Cuomo was prepared to promote. That assumption is based on his long-standing opposition to tax increases on the wealthy, willingness to shortchange and cut services such as, during and headline-grabbing gimmicky hype for supposedly on-time budgets ( April 1st). Gimmicks like the “Grand Slam Budget” when baseballs were sent and signed by Andrew Cuomo to state legislators back in 2014 I remember when I worked for Assemblywoman Joan Millman. As she always is, Joan was nice to give me the ball. Still, I was not too fond of the budget.

I digress. Budget baseballs aren’t necessary. The work that went into this critical step in the right direction is vital. The legislators and the activists that pushed them deserve a lot of credit, but they know there’s more work to be done. To that point, after the budget deal was announced, I spoke with Invest in New York’s Rebecca Ballin and Citizen Action’s Stanley Fritz, and they know, despite winning significant achievements this year, the fight for New York’s future and budget justice isn’t over. They won this round, and I hope they keep winning.