Victory for Progressive Taxes!

We did it.  After your countless calls, emails, and rallies to stop devastating budget cuts, Albany listened!

The budget that will pass this week isn’t perfect, but many of the most painful cuts to classrooms, hospitals, and everything else are restored because the wealthiest New Yorkers will finally pay a higher tax rate than a nurse, or trucker. 

Here’s an internal memo from WFP Executive Director Dan Cantor summing up what this victory means:


March 30, 2009 (expanded EC Update)

To:       Exec Committee, Chapter Leaders, Coalition Partners, Staff, Volunteers….
Fr:        Dan Cantor/Bill Lipton
Re:       Fair Share Tax Reform, The Budget and Building Power for the Long-Term

It’s been all over the news for the last 48 hours: There’s a deal on the state budget. And as you almost surely know by now, it includes substantial elements of the “Fair Share Tax Reform” plan to increase taxes on the top 3% of wage earners in order to avoid deeper cuts in government spending for the common good.

So, first of all, hats off to — well, all of us. This is a serious accomplishment. We have simultaneously defended a lot of people who needed defending and begun the task of restructuring the state’s tax code. The state budget may be abstract, but it has concrete, day-in and day-out effects on people’s lives, whether they are young (child care), old (nursing homes), parents (school aid), in danger (domestic violence prevention), a new mother (visiting nursing service), low-income (legal services), an addict (drug treatment), breathing or drinking (environmental protection) and a thousand other categories besides.

The budget deal is far from perfect. Promised school aid has been put on ice, and home care workers are still being forced to care for the sick and elderly at a disgraceful wage – to name but two imperfections.

That said, we can’t help but note that there are budget gaps in states across America, and nearly all are solving their problems with only one tool: cuts that disproportionately affect working- and middle-class people. Here in New York, the Fair Share campaign insisted on “real shared sacrifice.” Asking the wealthy to pay a little more, said one key ally, provides the thread to secure our social fabric — our schools, our health care system, our safety net — and in so doing demonstrates our belief that we truly are “in this together.

The final deal established two new income tax brackets of 7.85% and 8.97% for earners above $300k and $500k, respectively. This was not as good as our proposal, which had promoted a third new rate at $1m. That would have been smarter, as it would have produced another billion dollars or so and made the cuts to taxes ratio more like 50-50, instead of the 60-40 ratio that was agreed to. Had they done so, some of the most painful cuts and lay-offs could have been avoided.

We also note that the new rates are temporary instead of permanent, which is just plain wrong. It’s not like we won’t need this money in the future, especially after the federal stimulus ends. No doubt we’ll be involved in fighting for permanency in the years to come. We still have a regressive tax system in New York.

But, all in all….we pushed back hard against the Governor’s original proposal (gigantic cuts and regressive sales tax increases), pushed back hard against the conventional wisdom of the last thirty years (government is the problem, tax increases on the rich are a form of “class war”, etc.), pushed back hard against the right-wing ideologues who claimed that the wealthy would move out of state if they had to pay even a little more in taxes, educated our elected officials on the actual structure of the tax system (those pie charts were amazing), knocked on more than 70,000 doors (collecting some 12,000 hand-written letters along the way) in support of Fair Share, and organized countless events with our allies and partners to shine a light on the services that would be cut if we did not ask the rich to pay. We out-worked, out-thought, and out-hustled our opponents, and it paid off.

Of course, we should also note that one additional reason we won on this issue fight in 2009. Namely, elections matter. And we won enough of them over the last 5 years to produce today’s Democratic Senate Majority. No Legislature or Governor is ever eager to raise taxes, even when it’s totally justified (as in this case). But having a non-Republican Senate majority meant we had a toe-hold to start with, and then our “outside game” only strengthened the progressives in the Senate, which meant that the Speaker and the Assembly Democrats finally had a partner to work with.

So, a huge THANK YOU to everyone, whether you did a lot or a little, wrote a letter or a check, came to Albany or stood up in your home district, knocked on a door or knocked some sense into an elected official — this is what organizing can accomplish.

Onward to the next battle, which starts….today. We’ve got an ambitious agenda — on housing, green jobs, family leave, public financing of elections, Unemployment Insurance, IDA reform. We don’t expect everyone to do everything, but our chances definitely improve if we all do our — we can’t help it – our fair share.




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