AOC urges Cuomo to support wealth tax on New York billionaires

New York has 118 billionaires worth an estimated $566.4B

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pushed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to tax billionaires who live in New York state and use the money to aid people hurt by the coronavirus-induced economic crisis.

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Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, is part of a coordinated movement, known as the Fund Excluded Workers, pushing Cuomo to pass legislation that would tax the state's 118 billionaires, who are worth an estimated $566.4 billion.

Although similar efforts have previously stalled in New York's Republican-controlled state Senate — Cuomo, a three-term governor, also has a long history of opposing measures that raise taxes on the wealthy — Democrats won control of both state legislatures in 2018.

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Under the bill, sponsored by Jessica Ramos, a state senator from Queens, the unrealized capital gains of the state's billionaires would be taxed. It would raise an estimated $5.5 billion in revenue, which would go toward workers not eligible for unemployment benefits or federal relief measures.

"We need you to pass a billionaire's tax, in order to make sure that we're providing for our working families,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a video released by the group on Thursday. “It's time to stop protecting billionaires, and it's time to start working for working families.”

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More than 1 million New Yorkers are excluded from aid provided by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, the massive federal relief package passed in March, according to a recent report by the Fiscal Policy Institute. Of those excluded, about 801,000 are undocumented immigrants.

The state legislature will reconvene Monday for a rare summer session; since the start of July, more than 178 pieces of legislation have been introduced or amended. One of the biggest questions is whether state lawmakers will address 2020 budget shortfalls triggered by the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. The state estimates it needs more than $10 billion to avoid major cuts in education, health care and public safety.

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Still, even with Democrats in control of both chambers, the legislation is likely to face opposition from business leaders and Republicans.

Cuomo has also previously argued that taxes that target high earners could drive them out of the state.

The governor's budget director, Robert Mujica, echoed that sentiment on Wednesday, telling the New York Times the state already has one of the highest tax rates for the wealthy in the country. He argued the only effective way to ensure that billionaires pay more is for Congress to enact a wealth tax.

“It’s interesting when you have people elected to Congress pushing for state action when they can’t get action in Congress,” Mujica told the TImes. “It’s absolutely necessary for the federal government to step up and provide the support we need.”

Other individuals pressuring Cuomo to pass the wealth tax include Ramos; two Assembly members, Carmen De La Rosa and Yuh-Line Niou and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

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