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New push looks to tax New York's wealthiest

Karen DeWitt

Proponents of raising taxes on New York’s wealthiest say they have a new impetus to increase the state’s revenue — the continued bad news from Washington about deep federal cuts to health care and other areas.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has called an amendment to the federal repeal of the Affordable Care Act that would force the state to pick up county Medicaid costs “unconscionable.”

The potential $2.3 billion loss in federal aid from the amendment, proposed by Buffalo-area Congressman Chris Collins, comes on top of an expected $4.5 billion hit to Medicaid under the GOP’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. The governor’s Medicaid adviser predicts that up to 7 million New Yorkers could be at risk of losing their health care.

Heastie addressed a rally with progressive activists to promote the Assembly Democrats’ plan to extend an existing income tax surcharge on millionaires and expand it by adding higher tax brackets for those earning more than $5 million, $10 million and $100 million a year.

Afterward, Heastie said there are growing reasons why the money could be needed.

“The more we start to see what’s coming down in Washington … the state has to come up with a way to pay its bills. And right now, we have no answer.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also spoke at the rally. He plugged his proposal to add a surcharge — known as the mansion tax — to the purchase of high-priced homes to pay for housing for seniors. He said the average price of the homes covered is $4.5 million.

“I think we can all agree if someone can afford to buy a $4.5 million home, they can give a little more so our seniors can have affordable housing, right?” de Blasio said.

Neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo nor Republicans who lead the state Senate support the mayor’s mansion tax or an expansion of the millionaires’ tax.

Cuomo does back an extension of the existing millionaires’ tax, which is due to expire later this year, but the governor has said he thinks adding to that tax could drive people out of the state.

“The fear is that you could raise taxes so high that people leave the state,” Cuomo said Feb. 7. “And I do believe there’s a tipping point.”

Heastie said he’s not deterred by the statements. He said he’s seen other measures that were once considered a long shot — such as increasing the state’s minimum wage — become law.

“There’s been items that we’ve pushed in the past that people thought never had a shot,” Heastie said, noting that in the end, “they happened.”

Cuomo said in a statement that New York would have to raise everyone’s income taxes by 10 percent to make up for the threatened health care cuts that continue to add up from Washington. The governor said if the Obamacare-related taxes on the wealthy are also eliminated, then the state’s middle class might have to see their taxes go up by 26 percent.

Cuomo, in the second day of attacks on the Collins amendment, said Republican leaders in Congress are trying to “buy votes” in exchange for support on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, and he said if that’s the case, then the federal government should “pay for it.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.