New York, NY—A new group is representing taxpayers because they say that New York City is on an unsustainable financial path and one of their objectives is to gather 30,000 new signatures to create a tax oversight board so that taxpayers have a voice in government.
The Union of Taxpayers recently rallied in Sutton Place to bring attention to what they say is a high tax burden for the approximately one-third of New Yorkers out of a population of nearly 8.4 million who pay taxes and carry nearly all the individual tax burden.
The group stresses that it isn’t anti-tax, that it recognizes that taxes are necessary to fund a modern society. The issue is that taxpayers have no real voice in governance.
According to the group citing records, there are 1 million New Yorkers who pay by and large both property tax and income tax, and then there are 1.46 million New Yorkers who only pay income tax. That means that this group of 2.46 million New Yorkers, out of nearly 8.4 million, is carrying 90 percent of the individual tax burden, they argue.
“Taxpayers need a group that represent their interests and puts their interests first and effectively reminds the politicians and elected officials that taxpayers are a group that they should pay close attention to because without taxpayers, we really have no city, or no state or no country,” said Chris Davis, one of the organizers of the Union of Taxpayers.
According to the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit civic organization, New York City had at the end of fiscal year 2018 outstanding debt of nearly $120 billion. Davis argues that when you spread that debt across 2.46 million, it adds up to a lot of money on a per taxpayer basis—$48,780.
“So, what a lot of the city reports do are misleading—they’ll spread that total amount over the total population of 8.4 million, and then they say ‘Oh, it’s not that much’. In reality, if you only apply that….based on the actual number of taxpayers rather than all residents, it’s actually quite a lot.”
Now, people might be surprised to learn from the group’s research that only 2.46 million New Yorkers out of 8.4 million pay the lion’s share of New York City taxes. Surely, every New Yorker pays sales taxes. Again, Davis says not necessarily.
“The sales tax is not covered by everybody in New York City. There is no sales tax on food, there is no sales tax on any retail items like clothing that cost less than $110, so there are exceptions to the sales tax that result in the sales tax not being paid across the city; the sales tax burden falls largely on higher income people,” said Davis.
“But it’s even more than that, the bulk of the sales tax is paid by tourists because the biggest part of the sales tax in reality is on hotel rooms. Roughly half of the sales tax is paid by the several million people a year who come to New York and stay in the hotels.”
That’s why the group is pursuing 30,000 signatures for a referendum—it’s collected roughly 1,000 signatures thus far—for the creation of a tax oversight board. It’s not a new idea. In the 1970s the New York State Financial Control Board was created by the State Legislature for the purposes of oversight of New York City’s finances as the city was reeling from a financial crisis, but it was disbanded in 1986.
A big difference with the board that the Union of Taxpayers is in favor of compared to the 1970s-era board is that it would be comprised of taxpayers from New York City rather than controlled by Albany.
“This board would be non-political and be composed of people who pay taxes in New York City and reside in New York City. They would be chosen the same way that we choose jurors,” said Davis.
As the coronavirus has plunged New York City into another financial crisis, there are growing calls among some elected officials such as State Sen. Jessica Ramos and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and grassroots activists such as New York Communities for Change to impose higher taxes on New York’s 118 billionaires.
They cite a recent report from the state comptroller’s office that argues that New York’s financial sector posted $27.6 billion in profits over the first six months of 2020, an increase of 82 percent compared to the same period last year.
But the Union of Taxpayers says while the concept is appealing, in practice it is counterproductive.
“Taxing billionaires is a dangerous approach because they are the most mobile of any tax group. If they believe they are being treated unfairly, they will leave the taxing jurisdiction and it will be hard to replace them and their tax contribution,” Davis said.
The group is planning another round of rallies in Queens this weekend, and they’re confident that their message will have an impact.
“It’s our intent that we will eventually touch all the taxpayers in New York City, and we expect to, the result of that could be some type of mandate to represent their interest,” noted Davis.