Open letters from lower-ranking politicians to chief executives are usually the tamest forms of political action: a nice gesture, quickly forgotten. But Governor Andrew Cuomo has managed to put some electricity back into the ritual. On Monday, 42 local Democratic officials, including several New York City Council members, sent a letter questioning Cuomo’s credentials as a progressive; hours later they were blasted as a bunch of nobodies by the governor’s handpicked leader of the state Democratic Party. “I read the breathless AP story about local Democratic officials who disagree with Governor Cuomo’s budget,” his ally Charlie King said. “I looked at the list and recognize only some of the names and I am the Executive Director of the Democratic Party. The lack of state legislators on the list would have been the more fair and important story to report.”
King’s mocking call for resistance from real state legislators was soon answered. Just this afternoon, Bronx state senator Gustavo Rivera sent Cuomo a letter, co-signed by nineteen of his colleagues, imploring the governor to help close the state budget deficit by continuing the “millionaire’s tax,” which currently applies to New Yorkers with incomes over $200,000 but is scheduled to expire this year. “Keeping taxes for the wealthiest New Yorkers at their current level will lessen the cuts to critical services,” Rivera and company write. “It has become clear to us … a disproportionate burden will be placed on low-income communities and communities of color. While these cuts are being touted as a path to recovery, to many of our constituents these cuts could easily be a path to ruin with hospitals closing, classes becoming overcrowded, and streets becoming less safe.”
Cuomo has adamantly opposed the tax extension, claiming it will drive business out of the state. But the state assembly’s Democratic majority keeps agitating for it. And the signers of today’s letter include thirteen black and Latino pols, a group with whom Cuomo’s relations are complicated: Two weeks ago, he was heckled during a speech to the Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators. Rivera’s letter was firm but polite. We’ll see if Cuomo goes any easier on him.
The text of the letter:
Governor Andrew Cuomo
New York State Capitol
Albany, NY 12247
Dear Governor Cuomo:
In your budget presentation on February 1st, you urged the State Legislature to join you in making tough decisions. We are prepared to do just that. And we join you in wanting to provide New Yorkers with a more efficient, effective and streamlined government. We know this year’s budget will require a heavy dose of sacrifice and a heavy dose of responsibility. However, we write you today to urge that the sacrifice and responsibility be shared across the state.
As we continue to hold public hearings on the impact of the proposed budget cuts, it has become clear to us, particularly in the areas of education, health and public safety, a disproportionate burden will be placed on low-income communities and communities of color. While these cuts are being touted as a path to recovery, to many of our constituents these cuts could easily be a path to ruin with hospitals closing, classes becoming overcrowded, and streets becoming less safe.
This is a path we do not have to take. Instead, we ask that this year’s budget reflect shared sacrifice and shared responsibility for all New Yorkers. That is why we are writing to request your support for keeping in place the personal income tax (PIT) at current levels.
As you said in your budget presentation, we will not be able to cut our way out of this budget crisis. We must also ensure higher revenue for the state to offset what will otherwise be damaging budget cuts for our districts and those who have sent us to Albany to represent their interests. If we just keep the PIT rate where it is for those wealthiest New Yorkers, it would provide more than $1 billion in revenue this fiscal year and up to $5 billion in fiscal year 2012-2013.
Those revenues should be used to offset the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts proposed to education (including CUNY and SUNY), public health, human services, mental hygiene, and public safety.
We have heard from our constituents. Those who would be impacted the most - students, low-income families and teachers - were not the cause of the economic crisis but will be the ones to bear the brunt of it. Those hit hardest by the proposed budget and the economic crisis will once again do their part and make sacrifices. But they look at this budget and wonder why it is those at the top aren’t being asked to do the same. In fact, the only change for highest income earners is they receive relief in the form of a TAX CUT. This comes at a time when New York’s low-income earners are paying more than ever before in personal income tax, while the wealthiest New Yorkers pay less than they ever have in personal income tax.
Given the fact that the federal government extended the Bush-era high-income tax cuts, it’s fair to question whether we should be giving the wealthiest New Yorkers a state tax cut too. During these difficult financial times sacrifices must be shared by all. Should wealthy New Yorkers really receive two tax cuts?
We would have far preferred that the federal government done the right thing with tax policy. But it did not and as a result all the states (most of which are in equally bad shape for revenue) are left with the reality that they will not see much-needed revenues from Washington for at least the next two years.
Keeping taxes for the wealthiest New Yorkers at their current level will lessen the cuts to critical services like education, Medicaid and public safety funding that impact people like the residents of our districts. This is an essential first step in keeping with the ideal of a budget that truly shared sacrifice and shared responsibility.
We hope you will consider supporting our proposal and look forward to working with you as we continue to discuss this budget process. Please let us know when we can discuss this project further and set a meeting at your convenience.