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Calls to tax the rich prevail, as state budget deadline approaches

Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Some calling for higher taxes on the rich want the new revenue spent on environmental and other issues.

The deadline for New York's budget is weeks away and there are still major revenue and expense issues, even with the billions of dollars in federal stimulus cash approved on Saturday. A coalition of progressive groups is pushing controlling Democrats to raise taxes on the rich.

It's a long-running battle in Albany. When Republicans controlled the state Senate, there was counter-pressure against tax hikes on the rich. With the Democrats in control of all branches of state government, the issue is a civil war within the party, particularly downstate.

Republicans remain adamantly opposed, pointing to alternatives for the rich, like moving to Florida. Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said 1% of the population pays 48% of the taxes.

"That 1%, all it would take is a small fraction of it to leave to go to Florida for a couple extra days or weeks or months and we have a real problem," Ortt said. "So I don't know if that is the right economic answer. I know it might sound good to some folks: Yeah, those people got tons of money."

Former President Donald Trump did move to Florida and Florida's tax structure. Some progressives say entire industries have moved, taking their jobs and pollution to other places. They want some of the proposed tax hikes to pay for the clean up.

University at Buffalo Management School Accounting and Law faculty member Brandon Szerwo said that is a big issue.

"How easy is it for the individual or possibly a corporation to move? In some cases, it's fairly easy and in some cases, it's not so easy," Szerwo said. "You're seeing a lot of headlines recently, not necessarily about people, but about corporations leaving California and going to places like Texas. A lot of the cited reasons are regulations, but regulation and taxes are often pretty heavily correlated."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
PUSH Buffalo demonstrates for higher taxes on the rich.

Higher tax supporters from the progressive wing of politics rallied outside a state office building in downtown Buffalo last week, with one speaker pointing to Niagara Square and reminding those present of the Occupy Buffalo protesters who took over the sqaure to push their point of view in 2011.

PUSH Buffalo's Kelly Camacho told the rally it is a race and class issue.

"We have problems in our neighborhood and we need it to be fixed," Camacho said. "We need to get the outdated methods of transportation, we need to get them improved and fixed. We need jobs in our neighborhood. We need to to end the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to protect our communities from these environmental threats that nobody else seems to see but us. But then when I look at our rich white neighborhoods, I don't see these problems there."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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