Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says tax rates will drop for the middle class as long as they remain high for the rich.
As state budget talks begin to heat up, that is his pitch for extending what’s called the millionaires’ tax - an 8.82 percent income tax on those earning more than $1 million annually. That rate will fall to 6.85 percent if the tax is not extended.
The additional tax bracket was created under former Gov. David Paterson and then extended by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2013. It's due to sunset at the end of this year. But Cuomo wants to extend it for another three years. In return, he promises lower taxes for the middle class.
"We want to start right out of the box by doing an additional tax cut for the middle class because the best thing we can say to our middle-class brothers and sisters is, 'You know what, government is going to take less of your paycheck every week.' "
Critics say Cuomo is misleading the public. They say the tax cuts Cuomo is talking about were already passed in last year’s budget. Those rates are scheduled to be the lowest in 70 years when phased in.
"Senate says drop the millionaires’ tax. Assembly says raise the millionaires’ tax. I say, continue it as is," Cuomo said. "I also propose in my budget a middle income tax cut. But if you allow the millionaires’ tax to expire, that $3.5 billion loss of revenue devastates the budget. And forget all the proposals."
So, which is it? Are there new tax cuts in Cuomo’s budget, or were they already passed last year?
A promise or threat?
It is true that state tax rates for the middle class are slated to go down. Last year's budget included tax cuts for married filers making between $27,750 and $321,050, as well as for single filers making between $13,850 and $214,000.
The cuts are scheduled to be phased in from 2018 through 2025.
But Cuomo’s proposed budget legislation doesn't contain any additional cuts. It extends the millionaires' tax through 2020.
A Cuomo administration spokesman says that still counts as a tax cut this year. Without an extension of the millionaires’ tax, last year's cuts could be amended or eliminated to balance the books, the spokesman said.
"That’s not the governor fighting for a middle-class tax cut. That’s the governor threatening to take away a middle-class tax cut," said Ken Girardin of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a non-partisan, non-profit think tank based in Albany that calls for policy reforms based on free-market principles, personal responsibility and effective and accountable government.
Cuomo’s budget proposal won’t change anything for the middle class compared to last year’s agreement, Girardin said.
"The legislature could take a one-year hiatus to Saint Lucia and middle-class tax rates would still go down," Girardin said.
Cuomo said he’s proposing "an additional tax cut for the middle class" in this year’s budget.
The tax rates in Cuomo’s proposed budget are not new. They were approved in last year’s budget but are not scheduled to begin until 2018. Middle-class tax rates will decline as scheduled if lawmakers leave them alone.
Granted, everything is up for negotiation in a state budget, including tax rates. Legislative leaders could agree to change tax rates as part of this year’s spending plan.
But Cuomo’s statement ignores facts and gives a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.