When it comes to income inequality, New York State and New York City rank number one. Less than 5% of New Yorkers earn over $200,000 and less than 1% of New Yorkers earn $1 million or more. On December 31st, the New York State PIT surcharge, which increased rates by 1-2 percent for these groups, is set to expire and with it, almost $5 billion in revenues to the State budget every year. Instead of maintaining this funding stream that is supporting critical services, wealthy New Yorkers are set to receive a $5 billion tax break.
Spending cuts to critical services cannot continue to be the only solution for balancing government budgets. On October 13, 2011, the Human Services Council (HSC) and 99 New York, a group of service advocates, community groups, and unions, held an “Austerity Breakfast at Tiffany’s” as part of a week of events to build public awareness of revenue alternatives to government spending cuts. The Austerity Breakfast was organized by HSC to thank wealthy New Yorkers who are willing to give up this “tax break” to pay for services to those in need.
The surcharge amounts to about a $20,000 tax on every million dollars. Many wealthy New Yorkers, like Bill Samuels and Sarah Stranahan who were in attendance, believe this tax increase is fair and necessary, especially during this tough economic time. Moreover, their presence and support of the PIT’s extension debunks the myth that the wealthy will leave New York if the PIT surcharge continues.
The “breakfast” was held outside the iconic Tiffany’s jewelry store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and featured Holly Golightly – the character made famous by Audrey Hepburn in the classic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s – happily “exchanging” a $20,000 necklace for 9,300 senior lunches, a $7,000 watch for 3,500 emergency meals to street homeless, and a $25,000 bracelet for 2,000 family food packages at food pantries. With each transaction, the number of food services that could be provided with revenue from the PIT surcharge was illustrated dollar for dollar.
Representatives from the Hunger Action Network, Coalition for the Homeless, and Queens Community House were on hand to make the exchanges, accompanied by Community Voices Heard, New York Communities for Change, and VOCAL-NY – community groups who rely on these services. Several other human service organizations were also present to demonstrate additional services that will be impacted by this loss of revenue.
According to a Siena Poll released on October 17, 2011, approximately 72% of New Yorkers favor a tax on millionaires. It is crucial to voice your support for the Millionaire’s Tax before its December 31st expiration. In doing so, you are helping to save critical human service programs for millions of New Yorkers. Please contact your State representatives today. Urge them to preserve the Millionaire’s Tax and maintain $5 billion of the state’s budget annually.
Watch the “Austerity Breakfast at Tiffany’s” press event:
Contributed by Nicole Lee from the Human Services Council