New York needs to enact a bold, innovative economic plan and tax code reform to create jobs at this difficult time. To achieve that, we will need bipartisan political cooperation and a plan the people of the state support.
I believe economic development, popular support and political consensus must all be built on the same foundation: fundamental fairness.
Last year, when we were preparing the state budget, I exposed that the system was inherently biased against the taxpayer. The very definition of the state's budget deficit included statutory annual increases for individualized programs marbleized through the state's budget laws. In short, "deficit" meant the amount necessary to fund a 13 percent increase. The taxpayer didn't have a chance.
Our current tax system is also unfair.
I have posed the following question to Albany veterans, befuddling almost all: At what income level does the state's top personal income tax rate become effective? Answers range from about $100,000 to $1 million. Virtually no one guesses the correct answer: only $20,000 for an individual taxpayer and only $40,000 for a two-earner family. So in New York under the permanent tax code, an individual making a taxable income of only $20,000 pays the same marginal tax rate as an individual making $20 million. It's just not fair. While New York's earned income tax credit, child care credit and high standard deduction help working poor families, New York has left the middle class with an undue burden which also hinders our economic recovery.
From a competitive point of view, New York's tax system is behind. Other states and the federal government have an income tax code that is fairer than New York's. Unlike New York, 22 states apply their highest rate to incomes higher than our $40,000 level. Also unlike New York, where the range between its lowest rate (4 percent) and its highest rate (6.85 percent) is only 2.85 percent, 28 other states have larger ranges that reflect a fairer distribution of the tax burden. Even the federal system has more progressivity: a range of tax brackets that spans from 10 percent to 35 percent, and the top not kicking in until taxable income exceeds $379,000.
New York is the progressive capital of the nation, yet there have been no real tax reform efforts in the state in decades, only periodic gimmicks. From 2003 to 2005, we added two new temporary surcharge brackets. In 2009 we enacted the "millionaire's tax," which expires at the end of this year. The millionaire's tax purported to shift the tax burden to the super-wealthy to alleviate the burden on the middle class. But it failed on both counts. It actually raised taxes on people who were making $200,000 - hardly "millionaires." And it did absolutely nothing to lower the disproportionately high tax burden on middle-class families, who continue to pay the same marginal rate whether they make $40,000 or $299,000 in taxable income.
We must reform our tax system to stimulate the economy and restore fundamental fairness.
First, we need to reform the code in a way that creates jobs and grows our economy. To do that, we need to put more money in New Yorkers' pockets and inject it back in to the economy. There are also tax credits that can incentivize private-sector job growth.
Second, true reform for fairness has two factors: income brackets that fairly group income levels and progressive rates increasing with income. Simply put, to me, "fairness" dictates that the more you make, the more you pay, and the higher your income, the higher your rate. Also, you should be treated the same as people with similar incomes and differently from people who make significantly more, or significantly less, than you earn. I would create multiple brackets and rates increasing on a graduated basis throughout and indexed to inflation. I would add more income brackets for the middle income and add high-end brackets. The actual rate span should be several points from low to high.
Our state legislature will need to act, swiftly and effectively.
I believe we can avoid partisan gridlock and make government work by forging a plan that is based on fundamental fairness rather than political ideology.
During these difficult times, New Yorkers will step up and do their part to create jobs and revive our economy - but the system must be fair for all. Our state deserves nothing less.