In his second public appearance since he announced his candidacy back in September, 40th District challenger Justin Wagner descended upon Mount Kisco Public Library last Wednesday to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to extend the state’s millionaire’s tax, which was set to expire at the end of this year.
“I believe it is wrong to be cutting taxes for millionaires at the same time we’ve been asking the middle class and poor New Yorkers to be doing more with less,” Wagner said. “Ultimately, the choices we make affect that middle class and the state government needs to make decisions that are rooted in the values and the aspirations of our middle class.”
New York’s so-called millionaire’s tax was enacted in 2009 as means to make up for the state’s budgetary shortfalls. The tax actually applies to individuals making over $200,000, or $300,000 a year for families. According to Wagner, an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers is in favor of extending what was once seen as a temporary tax.
On Tuesday, Cuomo decided to overhaul the state’s income tax by creating a higher tax bracket for the highest income resident and reducing the tax rate for middle class citizens, which could result in additional $1.9 million in revenue per year.
“A recent Sienna poll showed that 72 percent of New Yorkers favor extending the millionaire’s tax—75 percent of self-identified moderates favor extending the millionaire’s tax,” Wagner said. “Even a majority of Republicans favor it, it’s one of those rare issues that we have consensus.”
With the tax generating nearly $5 billion in revenue annually, Wagner said he believes the state could use it to cut New York’s projected budget deficit of more than $2 billion for 2012. The main tenet of his policy proposal, however, calls for the state to initiate an “Innovation in Education Fund.”
Wagner’s proposal would create a new revenue stream outside of the normal budget process dedicated solely for education.
“If New York wants to be the Empire State again, it needs a public education system that matches the dreams and aspirations of its people,” Wagner said. “Due in part to the state’s budget deficit, in the past few years education has been hit hard in the budget process—money has been cut and it’s at the same time where our children actually need more support and more funding than ever before.”
According to Wagner, the education fund would be split into two separate schemes, the first being education initiatives that are state- and goal-based. The second measure would highlight Wagner’s plan for “innovation,” as it would provide local school districts an opportunity to apply for money for programs that are either in the working phase or the stage that have the potential to “really take off.”
The dissemination of funding would be left up to a panel of education professionals, and not policy-makers. All of these steps, Wagner said, would help children more easily integrate into the competitive global marketplace.
“No longer are students just competing with the pupil in the classroom next to them, they’re competing against pupils in Shanghai and New Delhi,” Wagner said. “The new economy requires a new commitment to education and that’s what my new education fund is posed to do.”
Wagner has been critical of his opponent state Sen. Greg Ball, who he said has been noted for saying the state needs to “kill” the millionaire’s tax.
“I have not heard of any other position from him, and so if he wants to come out for extending the millionaire’s tax, I think that would be excellent,” Wagner said. “But so far all we’ve heard is a lot of generic language and no real leadership on this issue.”
Ball, on the other hand, said he believes that a tax increase on anyone would create a heavy burden and essentially misses that need for fundamental changes within the system.
“We need a complete overhaul of the tax code that makes it fairer for working families and small business owners—any new tax increase now, on anyone, would simply compound a much deeper problem of inequality,” Ball said in an official statement. “We need to start from scratch, simplify the process, eliminate many loopholes for corporate giants and gazillionaires and free up some of the tax and regulatory burdens currently killing the middle class and small business.”
For now, Wagner said he will focus on the voice of the people to drive his education initiative into affect.
“Governing is about choices, and when faced with the choice of cutting taxes for the very wealthy in New York or funding our kids’ schools, I’ll take our kids’ schools every day of the week,” Wagner said. “I think voters in the Hudson Valley will, as well, and I will spend the next year taking that choice to voters across the district.”