Cuomo rejects AOC push to hike taxes on New York billionaires

'If you take people who are highly mobile, and you tax them, well then they’ll just move next door where the tax treatment is simpler,' Cuomo said

Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejected a call from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 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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On Thursday, Cuomo said taxes that target the 118 billionaires living in New York could drive them to relocate and argued the state already has one of the highest tax rates for the wealthy in the country. (According to a 2018 analysis published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, New York imposes an 11.3 percent levy on the top 1 percent of earners -- the second-highest in the country).

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"Don’t make New York alone do a tax increase, then they just have the people move to Connecticut, let the federal government pass a tax increase, and let them apply it all across the country, so you don’t hurt any one state," Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters. "Because if you take people who are highly mobile, and you tax them, well then they’ll just move next door where the tax treatment is simpler. It has to be done on a federal level."

Cuomo's comments came after Ocasio-Cortez, part of a broader, coordinated movement, pressured him to pass legislation that would tax the state's billionaires, who are worth an estimated $566.4 billion.

"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 Thursday. “It's time to stop protecting billionaires, and it's time to start working for working families.”

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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

"The issue of addressing the difficulties from COVID is not just a New York problem, it’s a nationwide problem," Cuomo said. "I'd like to see those officials demanding that Washington do what it needs to do to help New York and the other states."

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