February 10, 2020
The push to generate revenue for SUNY and public services around the state gained momentum Feb. 10, as UUP President Fred Kowal and dozens of unionists and lawmakers made the case that New York’s ultra-rich residents should pay more taxes.
Kowal, above center, was front and center at an Albany news conference called by UUP’s statewide affiliate, NYSUT, at the Legislative Office Building in a show of support for lawmakers’ efforts to increase state revenue. That effort mostly focuses on a group of bills that vary in approach, but which amount to the same goal: a tax increase on the state’s billionaires and multimillionaires.
“Our state’s leaders must embrace every step necessary to create a tax system that requires those who have benefited from a growing economy to pay more for the privilege of living in the greatest state in this union, and for many of them, for living in the greatest city in the world,” Kowal said. “To not take up the challenge of fixing the regressive tax system in New York this year will mean that our leaders are surrendering to the inevitable decline of our institutions of public higher education.”
Kowal touts several plans in testimony
UUP had embraced the idea of new revenue streams well before the show of strength exhibited at the news conference, as it became clear that the state faces a budget shortfall of $6.1 billion, and that SUNY campuses once again face flat funding and increased costs for construction projects—if the SUNY administration’s proposal that campuses pay $1 out of their own budgets for every $2 spent on construction is approved.
Kowal endorsed “the creation of new sources of revenue to fund SUNY and CUNY and to reverse a decade of disinvestment,” just a week earlier, during his testimony on higher education funding before the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
Although UUP has not exclusively backed any one such bill in the Legislature, Kowal told lawmakers during his testimony that UUP is reviewing all potential revenue enhancers, and he listed five such plans. All but one of those five bills would either remove loopholes in the state’s tax law or increase taxes on advantages enjoyed by affluent New Yorkers, such as luxury apartments that are not primary residences in New York City.
Campuses, towns, cities desperate for help
Whether any of several bills now before the Legislature that propose a variety of revenue-generating plans make it to the governor, and whether the governor would even sign such a bill, cannot be predicted.
But more than a dozen lawmakers and New York City government leaders—including City Comptroller and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Corey Johnson—who stood with UUP, NYSUT and other unions at the news conference said that working people in the state are sacrificing too much.
They described public school buildings and university campus buildings in deplorable condition, roads pitted with potholes, and a general decline in public services in cash-strapped municipalities – even as residents pay shockingly high property taxes.
NYSUT cited a poll conducted by Hart Research Associates that showed that 92 percent of New York voters in a sample size of 1,000 registered voters support new taxes on the ultrarich, in the face of the state’s $6.1 budget shortfall. Even so, lawmakers urged their union partners in this effort to stay the course during what could be a difficult budget season.
“I am asking the billionaires and millionaires to spend pennies—pennies—on the dollar,” said state Sen. Robert Jackson, a Democrat from the 31st District in Manhattan, as he held up a dollar bill. “I say onward. We walk. If we walk, we run. If we run, we win.”