Tax the rich, urge protesters at New York City’s ‘Towers of Power’

Lawmakers demonstrating outside famous Manhattan apartment building promise to fight to ensure wealthy are fairly taxed

Lawmakers and activists gathered in the rain on Thursday outside a Manhattan apartment building once dubbed the “Towers of Power” and famous for being the home of millionaires and billionaires, calling for higher state taxes on the super-wealthy.

“I’m asking you now, help the people of New York City by sharing some of the wealth that you have,” the New York state senator Robert Jackson shouted up to the apartments above, most of which had their blinds drawn. “If not, we’re going to pass legislation that makes you pay for it.”

The art deco co-op on the city’s Upper East Side has been home to dozens of wealthy financiers and celebrities since it opened in 1929. The building at 740 Park Avenue has been home to John D Rockefeller Jr, Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman, David Koch of the Koch brothers and Donald Trump’s treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. An apartment in the building currently on the market is going for $27.5m.

Umbrellas up, outside the building, the lawmakers promised to fight to ensure the wealthy in New York are fairly taxed.

“A little rain is not going to stop us and neither are decades of trickle-down economics,” said Jabari Brisport, a state senator.

“I’m asking you now, help the people of New York City by sharing some of the wealth that you have,” State Senator Robert Jackson shouted to the apartments above. “If not, we’re going to pass legislation to make you pay for it.”

— Lauren Aratani (@LaurenAratani) January 19, 2023

Lawmakers across seven states, including New York, are working together to introduce higher taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations in their respective legislatures. Along with New York, legislators from California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and Washington have been working on bills that would increase taxes for the wealthy living in their states.

Many of the new proposals include taxes on the overall wealth of the rich, not just on their annual income. In 2021, ProPublica released a report based off a trove of tax documents from the wealthy that showed how the rich avoid paying income tax. It showed that in some years, the wealthiest billionaires sometimes avoided income tax altogether by holding and adding to their wealth through stock and property ownership, which are taxed at lower rates than income.

Joe Biden introduced a 20% “wealth tax” at the federal level, which would apply toward an individual “total income”, including growth in their assets like stocks, when proposing his budget last spring. But with Republicans showing no interest in wealth taxes, progressives are hoping that taxes on the super wealthy can happen at the state level.

In New York, progressive lawmakers are looking to pass the Invest in New York package, which will include a slate of tax reforms on extreme wealth. The tax reform includes adding new tax brackets for the highest earners, higher corporate taxes for the wealthiest companies and wealth taxes on capital gains, including unrealized capital gains, and inheritance. Over a dozen state senators have signed on to the proposal.

“We are tired of subsidizing billionaires here in New York. For a long time, we see how they underpay employees at work and then at home, the workers who help them are also unpaid,” said state senator Jessica Ramos, who is proposing a tax on unrealized capital gains. “When that happens, we end up having to step up with services to help those families make ends meet.”

State Senator Jessica Ramos talking about how the wealthy underpay their employees at work and at home. “And when that happens, we end up having to step up with services that help these families make ends meet,” she said.

— Lauren Aratani (@LaurenAratani) January 19, 2023

State senator Gustavo Rivera, who is proposing higher taxes on long-term capital gains, said the lawmakers are unconcerned about the wealthy leaving New York, a point often brought up by opponents of a wealth tax.

“This notion that they will leave is not true. It does not happen. They live here, they have Broadway, they have restaurants, they have culture, they have Central Park. They’re not going to move,” Rivera said.

Activists and lawmakers at Thursday’s rally called on the New York governor, Kathy Hochul, to work with them to pass higher wealth taxes. Hochul last month said she did not think raising taxes “makes sense” after the state passed tax cuts, primarily aimed at the middle class, last year.

“I don’t believe that raising taxes, at a time when we just cut taxes, makes sense,” she said in December. “We are not going to turn around and say last year we lowered your taxes, now we are raising them. So, I don’t foresee that.”

Thursday’s rally and the unveiling of the wealth taxes across the blue states coincided with Wednesday’s release of a letter from 205 members of the global super-rich elite who called on governments around the world to “tax us, the ultra rich, now”. The letter signers, including Abigail Disney and actor Mark Ruffalo, urged lawmakers to “tackle extreme wealth” via taxes.

“Defending democracy and building cooperation requires action to build fairer economies to build fairer economies right now – it is not a problem that can be left for our children to fix,” the letter said.


Lauren Aratani in New York

The GuardianTramp

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