Millionaire New Yorkers say: Tax us, please

Group pushing pied-à-terre tax among others for wealthy

Abigail Disney

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, a coalition of 35 millionaire New Yorkers, including Abigail Disney and Morris Pearl, retired managing director at asset manager BlackRock, signed onto a letter asking Albany to tax them higher. The reason, they explained in their open letter, which was in the works even before the coronavirus, is to help meet the “urgent” budget needs the state is currently facing.

“If we want our state to continue being a national leader, we need to continue investing in our people and our communities, and that requires higher taxes for wealthy New Yorkers,” said Pearl. “There’s no reason that millionaire investors who have profited the most from our state’s success should have lower tax rates than regular New Yorkers who have to work for a living.”

Among the taxes they’d like to see include the proposed “pied-à-terre tax” on second and additional homes over $5 million, which is having a second go in Albany after being previously shot down. Other taxes the wealthy letter signers say they ought to be saddled with are what they’re calling a “strengthened millionaire’s tax,” with a new marginal rate of 9.62 percent on income over $1 million, and new income brackets starting at $5 million (10.32 percent marginal rate), $10 million (11.32 percent) and $100 million (11.82 percent). This tax, they said, would bring in roughly $4.5 billion per year. They’re also calling for a “modest” annual tax on net assets, applied to households with over $1 billion in assets.

Asked about the pied-à-terre tax bill sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman, which is being fought tooth and nail by the real estate industry, Pearl said in an email he didn’t think any losses in sales would be significant.

“I look at the Hoylman bill as having graduated tax brackets for the real estate tax,” said Pearl. “Just like the income tax has brackets (low wage people pay 10 percent, higher earners pay 20-something percent, etc.) the real estate tax can have brackets too. Maybe people who live in regular homes should pay a lower percentage (not just a lower dollar amount) than people who live in very expensive homes. And it is also differentiating between people who live in their homes (primary residences) and people who own homes either as pied-à-terres or as investment property, etc.

“Yes, I suppose that the tax could, at the margin, be a tiny influence in people investing in the stock market rather than high-end real estate. I doubt it will make any difference to the super-rich who are buying apartments to live in part time – I don’t think that taxes will make a big difference to them.

“And, honestly, I am thinking more about the gross inequality in New York, and the need for funding for schools to help our less fortunate neighbors fully participate in society, and not as much about the commissions of real estate brokers who sell multi-million dollar properties.”

Filmmaker and philanthropist Disney, whose great-uncle is Walt Disney, said she and others in her income tier wouldn’t even feel the extra taxes.

“If my taxes go up by a few thousand dollars, even tens of thousands, it won’t affect my standard of living in the least,” said Disney. “But if all of us in the top one percent are asked to pay our fair share, it means New York will be able to meet the needs of millions of New Yorkers who don’t have a little extra to give. I would be overjoyed to pay a higher tax rate to help our state provide resources and opportunities for all our citizens.”

Meanwhile, with the state, along with the city and federal government focused mainly on stopping the spread of COVID-19, it’s unclear if these suggestions will get noticed, even while the state budget is being worked on.

Mike Lapham, project director for the United for a Fair Economy’s Responsible Wealth coalition, who sent out the letter, said he understood legislators need to respond to the health crisis “first and foremost.”

But he noted that the virus will cause additional budget issues and that state leaders have asked wealthy New Yorkers to pay more in taxes before, during the 2009 budget crisis. So working with the Fiscal Policy Institute and other millionaires he sent the letter.

“They know that the voice of wealthy people speaking out against their financial self-interest and saying ‘Tax Us’ is powerful in a very different way than organizations and individuals saying ‘tax the rich.’” Said Lapham, who said he inherited his own wealth.

For the past 23 years, he’s been project director for Responsible Wealth.

Meanwhile, in response to the letter, a spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo, suggested the governor’s plate was a little too full at the moment to focus on budget requests.

“We are dealing with a pandemic,” said Richard Azzopardi, a spokesperson for the governor. “Generally speaking, the Albany advocacy crowd needs to show responsibility and stop trying to shoehorn their pet causes, no matter how worthy they may be, into this very serious situation.”

2 thoughts on “Millionaire New Yorkers say: Tax us, please

  1. I’m not aware of any prohibition against Malevolent. Disney and the others writing a check to the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, Perhaps they can attach a seven figure check to their petition? It would likely get more notice from Albany lawmakers than the countless petitions New Yorkers send that are routine sent to the “circular file”.

    • Not sure how “malevolent” got in there for Ms. The hazards of writing on a phone screen. Apologies to Ms Disney

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.