On Monday afternoon, during a call with reporters in which he refused to take questions about the numerous investigations into his alleged misconduct, Governor Andrew Cuomo asked his budget director to make an announcement. The state had just "identified" an extra $5 billion in the annual budget, and there would be no need to go through with any planned budget cuts, or substantially raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers.

"So as of right now we have the resources necessary so that there would be no cuts in the governor's budget so you wouldn't require any significant level of tax increases to pay for the restorations," Cuomo's budget director, Robert Mujica, told reporters. "So now the conversation is to go to what additions to the budget we have and then how you finance those additions."

The governor's budget maneuvering comes after the state legislature proposed a raft of new taxes on corporations and the wealthiest New Yorkers to raise $7 billion in new revenue. In addition to rolling back the governor's cuts, the legislature says that money would help eliminate the need for tuition increases at CUNY and SUNY, bolster a $3 billion rent relief fund, and create a $2.1 billion pot of money that would pay for direct aid to undocumented New Yorkers, who were left out from state and federal pandemic assistance over the last year.

"We're not talking about anything punitive here, we're talking about ending a few tax breaks so the rest of us can survive," said Rebecca Bailin, the campaign manager for the Invest In Our New York coalition, the group that is lobbying for the increases.

The legislature's proposals include raising the income taxes on New Yorkers who earn between $5 million and $25 million annually, and those who earn $25 million or more. Currently, New York city residents who report around $2 million in income pay the same overall tax rate as those who report earning $100 million or more.

Other taxes proposed by the legislature include a 1% capital gains "surcharge," a tax on "owners of high value second homes" (which is a version of the pied-a-terre tax that has been circulating around Albany for years), higher corporate tax rates, and a 4% hike on the top estate tax rate.

In New York City, there are more than 10,000 people who report a yearly income of $2 million dollars or more, according to recent data from the Independent Budget Office. And 1,700 or so New Yorkers report making more than $10 million dollars a year, comprising nearly $57 billion in income alone.

Initially, the Invest In Our New York Coalition had their sights set on considerably more ambitious tax increases, like a wealth tax on billionaires and a stock transfer tax, that would raise $50 billion. Bailin called the current proposals a "downpayment."

"It does not address the decade of austerity and budget cuts that Cuomo has imposed on us," she added. "We would not be seeing lines around the block for food pantries if the governor had invested in New York before."

According to recent data compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research institute dedicated to anti-poverty policies, 19% of all tenants in New York, comprising some 1.1 million renters, are behind on their rent; 1.4 million adults reported difficulty in getting enough food, including 510,000 who live with children.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in the legislative chamber in Albany, wearing a mask, in January.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, in the legislative chamber back in January.

arrow
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, in the legislative chamber back in January.
Hans Pennink/AP/Shutterstock

A spokesperson for the governor's budget office, Freeman Klopott, provided a breakdown of the extra $5 billion: $2.5 billion in higher-than-expected tax revenue, $1.5 billion in federal Medicaid assistance, and $1 billion more in general federal aid. Of that $5 billion, $3.7 billion would be used to restore cuts that the governor initially proposed to education funding ($1.9 billion), 5% budget cuts to localities and agencies ($1.2 billion), and stalled wage increases for state workers ($580 million).

"On the remaining $1.3 billion: Funding would be available for one-time, COVID-related investments and will be discussed with the Legislature," Klopott wrote. This means that some of the programs proposed by the legislature, like enhanced rental assistance, and funds for undocumented New Yorkers, would need to come from this considerably smaller pool of money.

Spokespersons for both legislative leaders said that they were unswayed by the governor's new proposition.

"Our families and neighbors demand sustainable solutions to problems that existed long before COVID struck, and that will require additional revenue which our Assembly budget proposal supports," said Michael Whyland, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

"It is amazing that they found $5 billion dollars just a week after our one house budget passed," quipped Mike Murphy, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. "Our position remains the same: we need to ensure all New Yorkers are protected and we can pass a budget that doesn't rely on one shots and austerity but creates long term equity."

Hours after the governor's announcement, a group of 250 business leaders, including the CEOs of Con Edison, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Empire BlueCross BlueShield, wrote a letter to Cuomo and the two legislative leaders, urging them to stop any tax increases.

"This is not about companies threatening to leave the state; this is simply about our people voting with their feet," the business leaders wrote. "Ultimately, these new taxes may trigger a major loss of economic activity and revenues as companies are pressured to relocate operations to where the talent wants to live and work."

As for the communities hit hardest by the pandemic, the business community offered a solution.

"We understand your need to respond to these urgent human needs and we will continue to support these efforts through expansion of partnerships for education and workforce development, hiring and small business assistance," the letter stated.

The letter was prepared by the business organization, the Partnership for New York City. "Enacting a permanent solution at the federal level is the priority but we would not oppose an interim aid fund to provide humanitarian assistance to undocumented residents," Natasha Avanessians, a spokesperson for the Partnership wrote in an email. "That could likely be accomplished without raising taxes, given the increased revenue projections the state came out with yesterday."

A recent Quinnipiac poll showed that 59% of all voters, including 35% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats support proposals to raise taxes on the state's top earners. That same poll showed that 49% of voters believed that Cuomo should not heed calls to resign because of the investigations into his administration, while 43% did. In an interview with Spectrum News, Kathryn Wylde, President of the Partnership for New York City, affirmed the business community's unwavering support for Cuomo, insisting that even if Cuomo was found guilty of any of the allegations for which he is currently under investigation, business leaders would stand by him.

“The governor is the governor,” Wylde told Spectrum News. “The business community is not playing politics. That’s not our job.”

Queens State Senator Michael Gianaris called the arguments against raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy "nonsense."

"It is the same tired argument that the wealthy always trot out to scare people away from raising their taxes, and the data doesn't back it up even one iota. We raised taxes ten years ago during the great recession, and we have more millionaires today than we had then," said Gianaris, who is also deputy majority leader of the Senate. "We've had a period of great economic growth during that time."

He added, "The one group that has not suffered is the extremely wealthy, who have had a banner year and are richer than ever. To not ask them to contribute more to help us recover, would be outlandish."