Streams

Opinion: Governor 1% & The Rise of the Millionaires Tax

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 11:40 AM

Groups organizing under the banner '99 New York' called for the extension of the so-called 'millionaire's tax' at City Hall. (Natasja Sheriff/WNYC)

Governor Cuomo has run a savvy administration. He knows the least he can do to keep liberals satisfied and focuses on keeping conservatives in the room, a balance that has led to success in Albany and popularity around the state. What happens, though, if he loses his grip on progressives and upstate Republicans at the same time?

New York sees an extension of the Millionaires Tax - good policy that will benefit New Yorkers of all stripes.

We're not there yet. Though the state surtax on its wealthiest citizens has contributed essential funds to the public coffers, pressure by the big-bucks-backed, self-proclaimed "Committee to Save New York" has succeeded in an unbroken string of commitments by the Governor to let the tax expire. Since it's not a new tax, proponents argue, the governor would have cover in supporting its extension.

However, Cuomo has sided against his party's caucus and labor, dismissed the widespread popularity of the tax and even compared his position to it to his father's principled opposition to the death penalty.

In the era of OWS-infused populism, his decision to side with his wealthiest constituents has earned him the moniker "Governor 1%."

While Senate Democrats in DC talk about a millionaires surtax of their own and the fight to end Bush tax cuts for the top handful, the governor is siding with New York City's 1% Mayor. This has given progressives an opening.

The events in Zuccottii Park have energized new supporters for organizations like Strong Economy For All, which fights for fair economic policies. Proponents for the tax even took on the name "99 New York." to align themselves with the Occupy movement.

Since NYPD has cleared the physical center of the occupation, protesters are going to find new outlets for their activism: and pushing the Millionaires Tax is an obvious avenue for many.

If it were just a rejuvenated Left, Governor 1% would probably go on with business as usual. But he now may face a more surprising challenge… from the Right. Upstate Republicans, realizing that they have few of the 1% in their rural districts, but many constituents in need of public support, are starting softening their opposition to the tax. When the influential State Senator Thomas Libous is willing to prioritize flood relief over anti-tax ideology, it suggests the Millionaires Tax isn't dead yet.

Progressives should see and seize this opportunity, finding common ground with GOP voters and representatives to argue for an appropriately-funded state treasury that addresses the real needs of New Yorkers. This alliance will truly make the Millionaires Tax not just a policy preference of liberals, but something that serves the 99%.

And then the Governor will have to decide: if he wants to maintain his popularity in the 60s and 70s, can he afford to go against the 90s…or is it time the 1% pay their fair share?

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."

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