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UFT: Tax on ultra-wealthy needed to prevent service cuts

New York Teacher

It’s budget season in Albany, and the UFT is fighting to make sure New York City public schools receive adequate funding. With the state facing a $6.1 billion budget deficit, the union is calling on state legislators to have billionaires pay more in taxes so public schools and other vital services are not gutted to fill the budget gap.

“There is broad support across the state for revenue-generating proposals as opposed to financial cuts to our social services, including funding for our public schools,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, testifying at a joint budget hearing of the state Legislature on Feb. 11. “The fact of the matter is that our investment in our public school students cannot fall behind.”

In addition to a fair-share wealth tax on billionaires, the UFT advocates that the state expand the millionaire’s tax, which has raised more than $4.4 billion annually since it was adopted in 2009. Since that time, New York has gained 73% more millionaires and could raise an additional $2.2 billion by increasing the top rate of the millionaire’s tax for those making between $5 million and $100 million.

The UFT formed a partnership with other local unions to commission a poll, released on Feb. 10, that shows that 92% of the state’s voters support new taxes on the ultra-wealthy.

“Albany cannot balance its budget by shifting its costs onto the backs of our children, sick, elderly and struggling families,” said Mulgrew. “We know there are better solutions to deal with the deficit — millionaires and billionaires shouldering more of their fair share.”

New York State has 112 billionaires sitting on $525 billion in wealth, and an additional 46,000 multimillionaire residents. A 2% wealth tax on the state’s super-rich would generate more than $10 billion annually in new revenue for the state, according to the unions that commissioned the poll.

“Instead of asking the wealthiest to help fund the public services we deserve, the state budget has been kept on a starvation diet since the last recession due to the self-imposed 2% spending cap,” said Mulgrew, as he called on legislators to lift the 2% property tax cap that was implemented in 2012.

Mulgrew also called attention to a “dangerous cost shift” of Medicaid expenses from the state to New York City in the governor’s proposed budget. That shifting of responsibility for Medicaid expenses would leave the city responsible for an additional $1.1 billion in costs, he said.

Mulgrew asked lawmakers to reject Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to increase funding for charter schools and the number of charter schools permitted to open in New York City. He also urged them to pass legislation to hold charter schools more accountable for how they treat all students and how they use tax dollars.

The governor’s budget, Mulgrew warned, “seeks to break the cap on the number of charter schools permitted to open in New York City by reviving 18 so-called ‘zombie charters’ and his budget also provides increases in funding for charter school students that are disproportionately higher than the proposed increases in school aid funding for traditional public-school students.”

Mulgrew explained that if the 18 charters of defunct charter schools were allowed to be reissued, it could result in 54 more New York City charter schools because a charter operator who receives a charter to open a K–5 school can eventually introduce a middle school and a high school.

Noting state support for Teacher Centers has declined in recent years, Mulgrew called on Albany lawmakers to restore funding for these vital professional development providers to the prerecession level of $40 million.

Other budget priorities for the union include $5 million to support its United Community Schools initiative, which has established 32 schools in high-needs communities as community hubs that provide a wide range of needed services, and $1.5 million to continue expanding the Positive Learning Collaborative program to improve the culture in participating schools.

This story was first published on on February 18, 2020.