A Call for Progressive Taxation

Kevin S. Parker

March 31, 2009

New York’s budget crisis is not just the result of lower revenues from Wall Street, but the natural result of New York’s inequitable and regressive system of taxation. The consequence of decades of unfair tax hikes has led us propose a fair share tax policy that recognizes financial responsibility and reduce the impact of painful cuts to essential services that New Yorkers rely on every day, from healthcare to education.

We must prudently examine how we devised a more progressive way of generating revenue, while reducing overall spending by eliminating waste, enforcing existing law, and redesigning government to operate efficiently.

We can neither apply Band-Aids to our fiscal problems, nor do just enough to fill the holes in this year’s budget. If we only focus on the budget without looking at the broader economic picture, we are doing nothing to address the larger problems confronting our constituents – increasing job losses, crushing taxes, and until now, advocate for a more transparent government.

Senate Democrats cannot continue the behavior of previous majorities that increased spending and cut taxes for the wealthy regardless of the economic climate. In this crisis, our mandate is to deliver the change our constituents need.

Now we are in a position to provide the oversight and leadership to do something about that problem.

Special interests have carved out loopholes or special protections in the law that costs us billions of dollars in annual revenues – now we are in a position to make sure that everyone meets their responsibility to invest in our shared recovery and future prosperity.

Multiple entities within state and local governments are duplicative and wasteful, and some form of consolidation must take place to save money and reduce taxes.

Yes, we are in a crisis, and as usual, we have been told that "everything is on the table" and that "everyone should share the pain." Well, decades of state budgeting prove everything has not been on the table and that everyone has not shared the pain. A progressive tax system protects our poor and middle class families from bearing the higher tax burdens demanded in a purely proportional system.

If everything is truly on the table, we should consider reversing some of the Pataki tax cuts. We should consider reinstating the stock transfer tax. We should consider re-defining the federal and state definitions of income.

Raising taxes, fees, fines, and fares on workers and retirees is regressive, wrong, and will not work. Alternatively, across-the-board spending cuts will not actually give taxpayers relief.

Cutting our investments in health care, education, or family planning will only shift those burdens to counties and municipal governments, who will in turn be forced to raise local taxes.

We also risk losing federal aid when we cut programs, either because they fail to meet federal performance benchmarks, or because we fail to meet spending guidelines that trigger federal aid.

From difficult experience we also know that cutting the state workforce may look good on paper, but cutting the staff doesn’t cut the work. Inevitably, overtime costs for retained workers offset any short-term gains.

Millions of New Yorkers rely upon state funded services to meet basic needs. Those with means have many options and opportunities; those without means now need government more than ever. Throughout our state’s history we have met those commitments. We cannot stop now, and there is a better way.

New York’s budgetary shortfalls cannot be addressed in piecemeal. We need sustained increases in revenue, which requires an overhaul of our tax code towards a more progressive system and better enforcement of existing tax law and collections.

But most important, we need good paying jobs. Government must improve the business and employment climate in New York State by reducing overall taxation and government spending, while continuing to provide quality services.

To get there, we need more than one-shots, or short-term fixes. We need systemic change that will put our constituents first. We do that by protecting critical service investments while reducing overall spending, enforcing existing law, reforming our own governmental operations and then paying down our debt.

We also need to lead on property tax relief in ways that do not adversely impact educational quality or local services. We have to give our constituents confidence in ethical government by closing the door on the special interests. We must continue to support efforts to reduce crime and maintain our quality of life.

As we accomplish these goals, we will be well positioned to provide further meaningful tax relief to our constituents. Businesses will be much more inclined to come to New York, jobs will be created, and our tax base will grow, enabling us to meet our commitments to future generations and compete not just with other states, but every other country on Earth.

Once we achieve that that, we can proudly call ourselves the Empire State again, and our best days will again be ahead of us.