Op-Ed | It’s time to make New York’s wealthiest pay what they owe

Panoramic aerial view of Manhattan in New York City, NY, USA.
Panoramic aerial view of Manhattan in New York City, NY, USA.
Photo via Getty Images

The national fight for tax justice has powerful roots in New York. After the Great Recession of 2008, New Yorkers fought for and secured progressive income tax reforms, including the first-ever modest tax increase on New Yorkers who earn more than $1 million. We fought to maintain these reforms with Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Albany activists to prevent cuts to essential public services.

Twelve years later, during the global pandemic, labor groups and the transformative Invest in Our New York Campaign worked with lawmakers to raise billions of dollars in new public funds from tax increases on billionaires and wealthy corporations to fund initiatives.

The additional public funds – which continue to exceed economic projections –  were directly invested in programs and services that benefit all of us—expanded child care and healthcare, full funding for public schools, emergency benefits for immigrant workers, and new investments in truly affordable housing.

But we can’t stop there – these investments have yet to meet the level of need New Yorkers currently face. Policymakers have an obligation to ensure millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations that continue making record profits pay what they owe in taxes, and invest those public funds directly into our communities.

That’s why dozens of New Yorkers and elected officials rallied earlier this month as part of a multi-state effort to demand tax justice and new investments in working people to fund our future. Our wealth tax rally took place at 740 Park Avenue in Manhattan, where residents have hoarded over $100 billion in wealth. The ultra-rich are extraordinarily comfortable in New York, and their lives will continue to be luxurious after a reasonable tax on their wealth is implemented.

Governor Hochul’s budget proposal, released yesterday, continues to prioritize corporate giveaways while failing to invest in the services and programs that keep all New Yorkers safe and thriving. That’s why we’re calling on our State legislators to do the right thing and ensure that ultra-wealthy New Yorkers and wealthy corporations pay back into the system they profit from. We deserve a budget that uplifts and prioritizes middle, working-class, and low-income New Yorkers.

According to a recent Targetsmart Research poll, 84 percent of New Yorkers – almost all voters – believe that taxes on billionaires are necessary. And we shouldn’t let a handful of corporate politicians rig the rules to redirect resources from our communities to their coffers.

Governor Hochul has the opportunity to unrig the system and raise $40 billion in public funds by ensuring the super-wealthy pay what they owe.

We can use that money to invest in public services to make our lives more affordable and easier: universal child care, higher education, and affordable housing for every New Yorker facing homelessness or housing insecurity.

Opponents of increasing taxes on super-wealthy New Yorkers always claim that millionaires and billionaires will flee en masse if their taxes go up. But actual evidence points otherwise—and we can’t rest on modest increases to billionaire and corporate taxes when, even with those increases in place, they still aren’t paying what they owe.

When Governor Hochul outlined her plans for the 2023 legislative session, she said all New Yorkers deserve to live their best lives possible – not just the billionaires on Park Avenue. She quoted Frances Perkins, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Labor Secretary, who once said, “A government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

It’s a bold statement, but it’s an achievable one.

Pro-labor progressive New Yorkers have made it happen by implementing revolutionary new ideas that center working people, backed by transformative public investments funded by progressive tax policies.

Governor Hochul can and will be a popular, successful leader if she follows this path. We’ll be watching to see if she will practice what she has preached.