Governor Talks a Good Game but His Actions Hurt Working Families in the Wallet

February 10, 2006

In his State of the State address, the governor boasted of numerous tax cuts for the middle class. But in his budget proposal, released just a week later, those tax cuts for families who need them most were conspicuously absent.

Instead, the governor’s budget gave the well-off yet another generous break, and imposed tax increases on top of health care and education cuts that will fall hardest on working families.

The New York Daily News recognized the grossly unfair strategy: “Gov. Pataki has proposed a tax-cutting plan that betrays working and middle-class New Yorkers while favoring the well-to-do and even the ultra-wealthy.”

Under the governor’s proposal, a married couple with two children making $50,000 a year would get a 2 percent tax cut – about $24 a year – while a married couple with two children earning $120,000 a year would get a 9 percent tax break – worth $578 annually. Unfortunately, the inequity doesn’t stop there. The governor also wants to eliminate the estate tax, which will benefit only the 200 richest families in New York.

If the governor has his way, working families will once again get socked with nothing but taxes and fees. He attempts to make cuts to critical health care programs that many of us rely on. To further hurt working families taking care of elderly parents or grandparents, the governor is pushing for a 6 percent sick tax on nursing home revenue. He also wants to increase non-emergency co-pays for Family Health Plus by more than eight times – from $3 to $25 per visit. This will only discourage families and seniors from seeking early treatment for conditions before they deteriorate into serious – and costly – emergencies.

Across the state, the governor wants to cut $1.3 billion in health care that could eliminate 29,700 jobs – many of which are in Onondaga County, where the health care industry is a leading employer. Instead of extending a helping hand to those who can’t afford their medications, the governor pushes vulnerable seniors away by forcing them to give up their benefits under Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage, and leaving them alone to struggle with the federal drug benefit mess.

Beyond that, the governor wants to continue his assault on health care by failing to call upon the federal government to give New York its fair share of Medicaid funding, when just a 1 percent increase would provide over $450 million in state and local savings. He also attempted to repeal a law (Ch. 293 of 2005) to provide price comparisons for prescription drugs on a state Web site – leaving consumers in the dark. Fortunately, the governor realized the necessity of this program and decided to fund it in his budget.

The governor’s audacity continues, however. He goes so far as to impose a new tax on pre-paid wireless phones – the kind often purchased by families on tight budgets for use in emergencies. Plus, he renews the state sales tax on clothing and footwear purchases – equaling about $600 million in taxes collected from the middle class. Coincidentally, that’s the same amount those 200 richest families in New York will save, thanks to the governor’s proposal to eliminate the estate tax, according to the Daily News.

On education, the governor wants to increase the number of charter schools while cutting funding for new school buildings, special education and at-risk youth programs. This will undoubtedly cost homeowners more of their hard-earned money, as these cuts will result in higher property taxes.

The governor’s proposal for $189 million in cuts to the Tuition Assistance Program will only make college more costly – or unattainable – for the 354,000 students and their families who currently depend on it. On top of this, he’s also hitting SUNY students with a $500 tuition increase.

Beyond his empty boasting, the governor’s budget contains nothing more than a series of unfair tax hikes and service cuts aimed at the heart of our health care and education systems. Gov. Pataki has had 12 years to create a legacy of sound economic policy and bold leadership. Instead his tenure will be remembered as one of failed leadership that unjustly hurt working families.