December 21, 2012
City Comptroller John Liu presented his vision for tax fairness and opportunity for working New Yorkers for the New Year and beyond at his State of the City address at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Thursday, December 20.
He made some bold proposals that would create thousands of jobs, offer free CUNY tuition for top-performing students, eliminate taxes for small businesses and eliminate tax breaks for big corporations and private equity.
Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay, told the audience that as an immigrant from Taiwan, it was fitting for Liu to give his address at a CUNY institution.
“We think the Comptroller represents the best of our university. We have one million alumni serving the city in different capacities. It has welcomed immigrants and children of the working class,” said Travis.
Before introducing Liu, Reverend Clinton Miller of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, said that Liu has provided consistent examples of true and authentic leadership.
“Because he has stood with the people he serves and promoted policies that level the economic playing field, he has clearly shown that he has an educated heart,” said Miller.
Liu noted that while the city’s economy is improving, stubbornly high unemployment and growing income inequality pose a threat to the city’s long-term economic growth.
He warned also that with declining support from Washington and Albany, the city’s budget faces a dangerous structural imbalance. But he welcomed the challenge.
“So what do we do in the face of all these economic difficulties? We face them head on—and we come up with creative and sometimes unorthodox solutions,” Liu said.
One solution calls for financing the required work to eliminate dangerous PCBs in 700 schools via Green Apple Bonds, which would create 3,000 jobs.
“The debt service on these bonds would be more than made up for by the savings we gain from lowering energy bills,” he said.
Also, Liu highlighted the Capital Acceleration Plan to grow the economy, which he announced in his last State of the City address. The $1 billion plan accelerates already-approved construction projects such as school repairs and repaving roads.
“It will save taxpayers $200 million in debt service by taking advantage of historically low interest rates. And it creates 8,000 jobs,” said Liu.
According to Liu, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the city who work, but still live in poverty. He believes that in order to reduce income inequality, the city needs to raise the minimum wage. He called for a wage increase from the current $7.25 to $11.50 over five years.
“New York should be a city where working men and women can afford to make ends meet and support their families.”
One way the city can recoup millions in revenue, noted Liu, is by taxing big corporations. He questioned why small businesses are being taxed by the city’s General Corporation Tax while insurance companies haven’t been subjected to the tax since 1974, costing the city $300 million annually. In addition, the city loses $200 million annually because private equity firms aren’t paying the Unincorporated Business Tax on assets and carried interest. And one of the country’s most popular sports arenas, Madison Square Garden, enjoys a $15 million a year real-property tax exemption.
“We thank the city’s Independent Budget Office for continuing to shine a bright light on these little-known but very costly tax breaks,” Liu said.
While the debate in Washington, D.C. rages over cutting or raising taxes, Liu called for equalizing the tax burden in the country’s richest city.
“New Yorkers also believe in tax fairness, and demand that the costs of maintaining this civilized society are borne equitably; that those with the highest incomes should shoulder their fair share as well,” said Liu.
Multiple labor leaders attended to hear Liu’s address.
Vinny Alvarez, President of the NYC Central Labor Council, commended Liu for his focus on job growth.
“I thought he did a terrific job outlining a vision for the city to make sure we’re lifting up all people and that we’re growing the economy from the bottom up and the middle out. I’m particularly happy with his support for an increase in the minimum wage.”
Arthur Cheliotes, President of CWA Local 1180, was impressed by the presentation.
“I was particularly impressed with the proposal to end tax breaks for big corporations and giving more help to small businesses. Those who have done well should pay their fair share. Progressive taxation gives the city the ability to provide services that are necessary.”