It was a sports weekend on the Barrett tube and my only companion, throughout the hours of playoff baseball, was Bill Thompson. Not his ad, of course, but the latest one Mayor Mike has on every channel endlessly about Thompson, railing about the comptroller’s supposed flip-flop on a millionaire’s tax. We could close the city budget gap simply by taxing a billionaire’s television commercials about a millionaire’s tax.
The ad is a shout-out for the hypocrite vote.
Thompson obviously did deliver the speech the ad throws at you twice in 30 seconds, saying in October 2008 that a millionaire’s tax wasn’t “a good idea” and that tax increases “should probably be across the board.”
Thompson reversed course on that in March, explaining that “the financial situation has changed dramatically,” the same rationale Bloomberg used to justify his own flip-flop on term limits (can a mayor whose candidacy itself is a flip-flop ridicule another acrobat?).
What neither Mike, nor the Mike media want you to know, is that first step of the Thompson rate increase in the city personal income tax (PIT) — from 3.65 percent to 4.3 percent for people making from $500,000 to a million — is less than the one Bloomberg himself imposed in 2003. Bloomberg imposed a three-year surcharge on everyone earning more than $500,000, elevating the bracket to 4.45 percent, more than Thompson urges now. (Thompson does add a second bracket at 4.8 percent for those above a million, which Bloomberg did not do; but Bloomberg’s 2003 surcharge raised taxes on families making over $150,000, and individuals over $100,000, to 4.25 percent).
The Bloomberg ad also quotes Thompson’s argument against a millionaire’s tax, namely that “we don’t want to drive people out of New York,” which happens to have become Bloomberg’s 2009 mantra. A Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman explained their own ad by saying “Mike Bloomberg opposes the millionaire’s tax because it would drive residents out of New York, the same position Thompson had before he flip-flopped.”
But it’s actually not hard to figure out who the leading New York politician was who convinced us in 2003 that a PIT hike wouldn’t drive the rich out of New York, as unlikely as it is that the dailies will discover it in their own clips. “I don’t think anyone’s going to leave,” Mike said then, “because no matter where they go, every state, every city is facing a similar situation.” If Bloomberg thought that about New York in the aftermath of 9/11, wouldn’t it go double now? But all Bloomberg says now is that “the first rule of taxation is — you can’t tax too much those that can move.” If you’re thinking that this might be a lesson he learned from the hikes of 2003, think again. A study released in 2005 by none other than Bill Thompson revealed that the people least likely to leave the city in the early Bloomberg years, when the PIT hikes and the largest property tax boost in history were imposed, were those making $250,000 or more.
To grasp the full circle of Bloomberg hypocrisy on the issue, though, let’s also recall his shifting position on state taxes on the rich, which help fund state aid to the city. Bloomberg opposed the hikes on the wealthiest that virtually every state legislator from the city backed in the budget approved earlier this year, but he supported similar state PIT boosts in 2003 and screamed when Governor Pataki moved to end them in 2005. “I am deeply depressed,” Mayor Mike said in January 2005, when Pataki proposed rescinding the 2003 increase from 6.85 percent to 7.5 percent a year earlier than it would expire legally.
“Rather than accelerating the sunset of the PIT surcharge,” said the altogether different Mike Bloomberg of the first term, “I urge instead ending the sales tax on clothing and shoes.” Bloomberg actually argued then that “the PIT surcharge only applies to the top two income brackets in the state,” but that “everyone pays the sales tax on clothing.” He said eliminating the clothing tax would “provide much fairer tax relief to a much broader set of New Yorkers than the PIT proposal would.” Of course, this year he preferred a general sales tax increase and opposed picking on the wealthy, who he said he loved.
In fact when the state surcharges were initially passed over Pataki’s vetoes in 2003, that was the issue that sealed Bloomberg’s political alliance with Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and made him the GOP majority’s biggest donor. “In our time of need,” Bloomberg said then, “the majorities in both houses put politics aside and did what was right for New Yorkers.” Asked how his fellow millionaires and billionaires would feel about the tax hikes, Bloomberg said in 2003: “They’re not going to be happy. But that’s where the money is.” Could we re-elect that Bloomberg?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 12, 2009