Several community groups, including VOCAL — Voices of Community Activists and Leaders — staged a demonstration this afternoon to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stance against extending the temporary higher income-tax surcharge on New Yorkers who earn more than $200,000 a year. About 200 people marched around the lobby of the Capitol, shouting things like, “Hey you millionaires, pay your fair share.”
Some of the protesters sat down in front of the multiple entrances and exits to the lobby, including escalators that lead to and from an underground walkway that connects the Capitol and the Legislative Office Building. That led to some pushing and shoving by people who weren’t involved in the protest and wanted to get by the demonstrators. State Police got involved. The police turned off the escalators and assisted people in stepping over the banner the five seated protesters were holding, which said, “We need jobs and housing. Are you in favor of Wall Street or Main Street?”
When the demonstrators wouldn’t move, the police arrested them, prompting cheers from the crowd. VOCAL had decided before the action started which members were willing to be arrested. All told, 17 people were arrested.
Cuomo has said he doesn’t want to increase any taxes or fees to help New York balance its budget, and he has included an extension of the income-tax surcharge part of that category. The state has a $10 billion deficit. Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, also are against renewing the tax, which took effect in 2009 and runs through the end of 2011. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has said he doesn’t think passage of an extension is likely, given the opposition.
Protesters said the consequences of not having the extra $5 billion or so the surcharge brings in each year would be devastating, and cuts to education, health care and other areas are not acceptable. They also called on the governor to support a new banker’s bonus tax; fully fund health care education, social services and jobs programs; stronger rent laws, protections for families facing foreclosures and policies that prevent homelessness; and address the growing income divide in New York, including policies that address the disproportionate impact on people of color, women, youth and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
The other groups that participated in the protest are CAAAV, Community Voices Heard, FUREE, Picture the Homeless, Queers for Economic Justice, and the action was endorsed by Right to the City — New York City chapter.
“This is not the time to have tax breaks for the rich, when schools are being closed, hospitals are being shut down and social services are being cut,” said Robert Tolbert, 58, of the Bronx.
Wayne Starks of Brooklyn spoke out against Cuomo and the Committee to Save New York, which was formed to help advance the governor’s agenda. The committee has held fundraisers.
“They’re going to use the money to fight us. It’s a waste of time,” Starks said.
“He’s giving them a tax break when they don’t really need a tax break,” he added.
Miguel Adams of Brooklyn said the movement to empower working-class New Yorkers is just getting started. “This is just the beginning of the oppressed moving forward in New York and through other states. The working class against the billionaires and the rich, that’s why I am here today,” he said.