Though they may be sparring in the press, when it comes to deciding how to deal with their respective budget messes, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo are two of a kind. By marking essential services for cuts, both men have threatened to balance the budget on the backs of those that can least bear it: schoolchildren, the impoverished, and the elderly. Both the mayor and the governor, when describing their fiscal predicament, have pointed fingers at working men and women in the public sector as those responsible. And both men have steadfastly refused to consider asking the state's most wealthy residents to contribute more, despite spouting rhetoric of "shared sacrifice" to the public.
This is the state of politics in one of the country's most liberal cities and states.
If you were to hear Cuomo or Bloomberg tell it, you would think that there really is no alternative. Public workers must be stripped of their retirements, services that working families rely on must be slashed.
But there is an alternative, and it is one that Bloomberg championed himself nearly eight years ago. In 2003, faced with ugly budget deficits at the state and city level, Bloomberg worked with Republican and Democratic state lawmakers to raise revenue and keep essential services. The deal included a three-year income-tax increase on high-income earners in the city and across the state.
The mayor called the tax increases "painful," but added that they were "the right thing to do."
Bloomberg said of the tax increase,
The alternative would be to implement our contingency plan, which would force 10,000 additional layoffs, would really destroy the safety of the city, would have terrible impacts on the less fortunate and would be very damaging to our educational system.
Ten years later, city and state budgets are once again in tatters, a result of the worst recession since World War II. Just as they would have done in 2003, budget cuts in 2011 would have terrible impacts on working families and the less fortunate. But this year Bloomberg has ruled out tax increases on the wealthy, even though high-income earners are doing better than ever.
And Governor Cuomo, far from calling for the wealthy to share the burden, is actually advocating a tax break for the wealthy. That would mean $2 billion less for education, for preventing homelessness, for job creation.
Bloomberg and Cuomo have defended their stance with a popular myth: raising taxes on the wealthy would lead them to move out of the state. This is flatly untrue. A study of the city's tax increases of 2003 found that those making over $250,000 were the least likely to leave the city.
There is no proof or evidence to suggest that the wealthy would move, and I find it hard to believe that the mayor and governor are unaware of this. But truth should not be confused with politics.
It's time that we tax fairly and cut wisely, not let millionaires off the hook while cutting services for our children, seniors, and hardworking families. A majority of New Yorkers oppose rolling back taxes on high-income earners.
Instead, Bloomberg and Cuomo are feeding into a narrative that government spending caused our current budget problems, never mind the Wall Street-fueled recession and long-term unemployment. Unfortunately, this is a narrative that will do little to improve the lives of working families, the middle class, and the aspiring middle class. These families are going to have to find a way to get to work after their bus line is cut, to find a way to care for their elderly family members once senior centers are shuttered, and deal with encroaching homelessness, all on their own.
And for these families to take on these challenges while high-income earners get a tax cut -- that is not just, it is not right, and it is not fair. This isn't the democracy that New Yorkers deserve.