LIPC Board Member's Op-Ed About NYS Budget

LIPC Board Member David Sprintzen had an Op-Ed published in the Friday, April 3rd edition of Newsday.

Here is the article:

Budget’s a reasonable compromise in tough times


David A. Sprintzen is an emeritus philosophy professor at C.W. Post and founder of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

We’ve heard much bemoaning the state’s effort to close a record $16-billion budget deficit, as each special interest complains about its impact on them.

Business leaders attack the increased tax on the wealthy and predict job losses and capital flight. Politicians and the press criticize both tax increases and cuts in service. But few offer detailed alternatives to maintain basic services, cushion the economic downturn, and close the state deficit, itself the result of the Wall Street crash and the national recession.

Yes, this budget is far from perfect, but it does a reasonable job of “sharing the pain,” as the governor says, at minimal cost to the Long Island economy. It balances cuts to vital services with modest tax increases.

The budget cuts more than $5 billion in state spending. While, due to the federal stimulus, schools on Long Island won’t be seeing the cuts next year they had recently feared, they also won’t be getting increases they once had planned on – particularly some struggling districts. There are also cuts in health care.

In fact, with the help of the federal stimulus money, this week’s deal increases spending paid for by state taxpayers by just 1 percent – well below the rate of inflation.

At the same time, the budget also recognizes that significantly slashing essential services like health care, education, and aid for seniors and the disabled will do more harm than good during a deep economic downturn. Many hardworking New Yorkers who never needed help during the boom years are now finding themselves forced to seek assistance for the first time.

The agencies and organizations serving them will still have to do more with less – but this budget averts the most drastic cutbacks by asking those who are still financially comfortable to pay their fair share.

For years, New York’s economic elite has been allowed to skate along, paying the same marginal income tax rate as individuals earning just $40,000 per year. These incredible tax breaks were pushed through by Gov. George Pataki when Wall Street was raking in billions. Now that the financial industry has led our nation’s economy off a cliff, it’s time for the wealthier New Yorkers to be responsible again.

This budget simply restores a small amount of progressivity to New York’s income tax by adding new brackets for the wealthiest 3.5 percent of the state’s population. While that percentage will be somewhat higher on Long Island, still, the majority of families here won’t be affected.

This measure acknowledges that someone earning $300,000 or $500,000 per year should pay a slightly higher marginal tax than middle and working class families. That higher rate only applies to net income in excess of $300,000 (or $200,000 for single-filers). Who among us – the other 90-plus percent of the population on Long Island – would not gladly pay that additional amount if we could earn more than $300,000?

Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, recently explained that such an increase in the tax on the wealthiest is the least damaging way to balance state budgets during recessions.

In contrast, cuts in government spending on goods and services that are produced locally (like education and health care) and cuts in transfer payments to lower-income families, are most damaging to the economy, since they come closest to taking dollar for dollar out of the local economy.

If working-class New Yorkers can afford more crowded classrooms, longer waits at emergency rooms and extra nuisance fees, surely our richest residents can afford this income tax increase of just 1 or 2 percentage points. Our highest tax rate will be comparable to that of neighboring New Jersey, and even opponents of this tax measure concede that few of our wealthy citizens will actually leave.

As with any good compromise, this budget doesn’t make anyone completely happy. Poor school districts are harmed and too many hospitals will have to strain to give their patients the care they need.

But this deal stands on a strong foundation of shared sacrifice. It’s a reasonable compromise in extremely difficult circumstances accomplished by Gov. David A. Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. It asks all New Yorkers to give up a little so that none will have to lose too much.
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