Silver: Chances of Keeping Millionaires Tax Are 'Poor'

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, speaking a month before the state budget is due, said the likelihood of retaining the so-called millionaires tax in New York was "poor" as support  for the temporary income surcharge appeared to wane.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Republican leader of the State Senate have repeatedly said they do not favor extending the millionaires tax — a temporary income tax surcharge on New Yorkers earning more than $200,000 a year — as a means of alleviating some of the $10 billion in budget cuts that the governor is proposing.

In the Assembly, where Democrats are in the majority, some members had expressed interest in continuing the tax, which is set to expire at the end of the year. But now, with just one month before the budget deadline, Silver said that although there is support in his Democratic conference for the tax on the rich, he does not think he can overcome opposition from the governor and the Senate.

"I think the likelihood of it actually being put into law, I recognize, is pretty poor," Silver said.

The speaker spent two hours in a closed door meeting with Cuomo on Monday. When asked about the topics discussed, he answered in generalities, saying they talked about a "host of substantive issues." But Silver did say he has some concerns about the governor's spending plan and it’'s impact on mental health and human needs. 

When asked if there were any other possible taxes or fees being discussed, besides the millionaire’s tax, he said "not really."

The speaker did point out that assessments on hospitals and other heath care providers recommended by the governor's Medicaid redesign panel could be viewed as a tax.

Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, a supporter of extending the income tax surcharge on the wealthy, agreed that realistically it may not happen, and said it's becoming increasingly likely that Governor Cuomo’s budget may be adopted by the legislature largely intact.

"The governor's budget, I believe at this point in time, will be pretty much approved as is," Canestrari said.

A coalition of groups affiliated with the teachers union and other advocates for school funding say despite the speaker's seeming attempt to throw cold water on the tax extension, they aren’t giving up. Ron Deutsch, with New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, said a rally is planned at the Capitol on Tuesday in favor of taxing the rich. He said public opinion polls favor it.

"The public is very much behind continuing these surcharges," Deutsch said. "When so many of us are being asked to sacrifice, the wealthy should indeed also help in the solution of our state’s budget problems."

And some Assembly members said they don't intend to throw in the towel yet either. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton of Ithaca said her constituents told her during five town meetings she held during the President’s week break, that the "feedback was pretty clear."

"We ought to be taxing the multi-millionaires and billionaires of our state instead of cutting our kid’s schools and the hospitals and nursing homes," Lifton said.

Cuomo did not comment after the private meeting with Silver. But he did release a proposal to cap the pay of school superintendents as an additional avenue for saving money. The school superintendent's lobby group in Albany says a cap could undermine the capacity of schools to attract quality leaders.