ALBANY—Now, David Paterson seems very much like a man looking to reach an accommodation with his liberal critics over the budget.
In a conference call with reporters, Paterson said, "If you listen to the opponents of this deficit, and you ask them, what's your proposal, they may talk about personal income taxes."
Of course, if Paterson is indeed ready to listen to those deficit-opponents by raising taxes on the wealthy, it will be little comfort to the people who have criticized his budget proposals from the right.
E.J. McMahon, director of the conservative Empire Center, points to Paterson's proposals to trim the size of state government and claims they don't go nearly far enough.
"My canary in the cage is the Consumer Protection Board," he said. "If it's still around, they haven't cut enough. There's still fat in this budget."
Paterson proposed the merger of seven state offices, shedding 521 jobs. McMahon said that was "underwhelming." Assemblyman Jack McEneny, a Democrat from Albany who is by no measure a normal critic of Paterson, said the governor could have found further savings by going after some larger agencies.
"If, say, he proposed consolidating the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, that could bring enormous savings," McEneny said on budget day last week.
As the pressure has mounted (and the economy worsened), David Paterson told The New York Times that it was likely he would raise personal income taxes on higher-income New Yorkers. One proposal for increases on those earning more than $200,000 could bring in $5 billion a year, according to an estimate by the Working Families Party.
WFP Executive Director Dan Cantor said it was "heartening" Paterson was headed in that direction. "All parts of society will need to sacrifice to end our fiscal crisis. And it's economically and morally sound to require wealthy New Yorkers to pay more in order to prevent even deeper cuts to school children, the elderly and the disabled. The wealthy in New York have seen their taxes cut in half, and that simply isn't fair."
Earlier this week, the WFP was aligned with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and the Conservative Party in attacking the budget. In putting an income tax back on the table, Paterson will bring a cluster of traditional constituents back behind him. As the budget fight rages on, it was an alliance he needed to form.
That's where the power is. Democrats will control both houses of the legislature in January, leaving the forces of the right relegated to a vocal minority. Now, the question becomes whether those advocates will be able to make an effective case in the public mind that raising taxes on the wealthy could harm New York in the long term. It's not going to be easy: One poll already indicates that 61 percent of voters surveyed support an increase in taxes on people earning over $250,000, and 78 percent support a hike on those earning over $1 million.
McMahon said that it's always so.
"There's never ever been a poll that does not find people don't oppose taxes on people making more than them," he said.