The long shadow of Occupy Wall Street fell across the New York Legislature Tuesday, when its leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to changes to New York State's income tax, which will cut rates for many in the middle class, while adding a new bracket for those making over $2 million a year, according to the New York Times and other reports. And we, the middle class, owe that rag-tag OWS group of small-d democrats our gratitude.
First, the deal's details. For the last three years, on top of the relatively flat 6.85 percent rate charged on individuals making $20,000 and up, or couples making $40,000 or more, there's been a sur charge on earners of $200,000 to $500,000 of 7.85 percent and 8.97 percent over $500,000. Couples got hit with the surcharge at $300,000.
The new plan calls for tax rates of 6.45 percent for earners of $40,000 to $150,000 for married couples and 8.82 percent over $2 million, with brackets indexed to inflation rates. The top rate is higher than Connecticut's but lower than New Jersey's, according to the paper.
This all came about just as the so-called millionaire's tax was nearing expiration within the month.
Okay, those are just the facts. But here's what I find so interesting. In this era of rabble-rousing punditry and crazy bomb-throwing debate in the public square, all this had to be done quietly in the smoke-filled back room, so to speak. That is, there was no public debate, no hearings, no nothing.
How dare politicians get together without the full input of the public! That is, without the endless gridlock of heavily-funded interest groups dead set on scorching the earth, if they don't get their way. On both, if not all, sides conservative and liberal groups have decried this with all the sounds typical when out there, somewhere, an ox is being gored.
From the Alliance for Quality Educations executive director Billy Easton: The money raised was Not enough, quotes the Times. And from the president of the Public Employees Federation Kenneth Brynien: The compromise doesn't solve the problem of making a fair tax system, says the paper.
On the right, the usual reflux-inducing beefs. Assembly minority leader Brian M. Kolb (R-Canandaigua), ...Taxes are being raised in New York State and we are still not debating our state's serious spending problem. He adds the patently false assertion that tax hikes have never created more private sector jobs or long-term prosperity. New Deal ring a bell? Like those folks with government jobs, or on Social Security, don't spend those government dollars at the local laundromat?
And, even more ironically, praise as well from conservative and liberal groups--from labor, from teacher's groups. And from the State Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos (R-Long Island), and the Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) support that followed the same line of reasoning, to wit: Those making $50,000 a year won't pay the same tax as those making a half-million dollars. And they will be taxed at the lowest rates in 50 years.
And for me? I say, hurrah! It's about time that the cold light of the sun be avoided by politicians of all stripes as they do what we hired them to do. Make the sausage that may taste good, but is pretty nasty to watch being cooked.
New York, the Empire State, may prove the tipping point for extremists of all stripes. And it's about time.
It restores my faith in democracy as a functioning method of governance to see, at last, the ugly deal-cutting so essential to actually govern, far from the light, hidden from the madding crowds overly extreme and uneducated scrutiny and input--and from the cash-rich special interest lobbyists, whose only interest is in tilting the system to serve their civically-mindless masters.
Most of us want a world that is fair and reasonable. And that's a tough balancing act that never really satisfies any constituent 100 percent of the time. That is why we need representatives strong enough to get together in the dead of night and hammer out unpalatable deals that must be done for problems, like huge budget shortfalls, to be addressed.
That the mythical family around the kitchen table that anti-government types, of all persuasions, are so fond dragging into the discussion--sometimes the parents have to cut the kids' allowances. But sometimes, they have to take a loan to make sure the kids get to college and have a shot at paying back those loans someday.
And who do we owe this too? As I've said before, Occupy Wall Street and its rabble-rousing ways. They were the first to say, hold it! The emperor has no clothes. The rich have grown too rich and the center, the middle-class, will not hold. Have you heard anyone talking seriously about the so-called debt ceiling lately?
Instead, we now have a general acceptance of the idea that wealth disparity has grown too great to be appropriate in a democracy. I am the first to say that it is not that the rich have grown too rich, but that the poor have grown too poor. Democracy requires that the middle is where the strength is--and most of the wealth is. Without that, sooner or later, the uber-rich control it all, the laws start to favor them unfairly and we have a permanent oligarchy that passes that ever-increasing wealth through the generations. Some call it an aristocracy, if the excuse is that God favored these bloodlines. Others call it an oligarchy, if the favoritism comes from the strength of raw power, corruption and police (and taxation) control. Or you might just call it cronyism.
But whatever you call it, it will destroy a democracy every time.With this backroom deal between Cuomo and the leaders of the State Legislature, I hope we are seeing a sea-change. A stiffening of spines among our elected officials in New York...and maybe an example for politicians across the nation. Because, if we want our economic--and even social--problems addressed, someone has to do the dirty work of compromise.
And that's why we elected the guys we all love to hate for their sleazy, compromising ways: Politicians. Thankfully some have finally lived up to their dubious, flip-floppy moral code. And just in time.