Moral Low Ground


With New Budget, “Progressive” N.Y. Governor Cuomo Flips the Middle Finger to the Middle Class and Poor

Cuomo to New York's poor: 'Screw you.' (Photo: Pat Arnow)

“This budget brings the power back to the people,” New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew M. Cuomo had the audacity to proclaim on the heels of securing his $132.5 billion budget, one that is rife with cuts to the poor and middle class but plush with tax deals for the rich. Sure, the Empire State is facing the prospect of its first on-time budget in five years. Yeah, this budget will be the first to cut overall spending for the first time in over a decade. But at what cost?

Cuomo’s budget will slash spending, impose no new taxes and usher in a major overhaul of the state’s Medicaid programs, which provide desperately needed subsidized care to low-income New York families. It would make any hard-core Republican proud.

In the country with the greatest disparity between rich and poor in the developed world, New York is the state where this gap is the widest. What’s needed here is more spending on people’s basic needs– housing, health care, education and infrastructure, not on giving handouts to the rich in the form of tax breaks. But Cuomo’s budget screws the former in favor of the latter. Not only will his cuts harm the most vulnerable New Yorkers– the poor, the sick, women, children, the elderly and others who benefit from the now reduced state services, it also throws red meat to the rich by ending the “millionaire’s tax” enacted during the depths of the recession. Add this break to the massive financial industry bailout, and you can see why wealthy New Yorkers are happy to have a “progressive” like Cuomo in office.

While unemployment hovers around 9%, Wall Street execs are doing even better than they were before the crash that they themselves caused with their criminal market manipulation, speculation and outright fraud. Some 1.3 million New Yorkers are either unemployed, underemployed, or have dropped out of the labor force altogether. Food stamp use has soared by 60% over the past three years. A million people– 5% of the state’s population– has lost employer-provided health care. Medicaid rolls have gone up by 18%, with 40% of the state’s children relying upon the service for their medical care. More than 3 million New Yorkers, or more than 1 out of 7 people in the state, are now poor. Yet Cuomo’s cuts are aimed directly against these people.

According to Mother Jones, those figures you just read are the reason why New York imposed a personal income tax surcharge on the state’s top earners. Prior to the so-called “millionaire’s tax,” the top income tax rate for anyone making more than $40,000 annually was 6.85%. The surcharge upped that by a whopping 1% on individual incomes over $200,000 and family incomes over $300,000. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, ditching the “millionaire’s tax” will cost the state $5 billion in lost tax revenue, money that could have been used to avert the painful cuts that will now hurt the poor at the expense of 1% tax savings for people who really have no problem paying another 1%– or 10%, for that matter!

I’m not exaggerating. Just look at these numbers: in 1990, the top 5% of New York taxpayers had 30.9% of all income. In 2007, that top 5% had 49.4% of all income. During that same period, the bottom 50% of New York’s taxpayers went from having 13.9% of all income to 9.1%.

Who, exactly, is in need of a tax break? Who is not?

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