In light of the passage of Governor Cuomo’s tax bill last week, The Observer decided to informally poll the rich. What’s your take, you happy few?
“Look, nobody likes to pay higher taxes, but everybody has to contribute or we’ll never get anything done,” the real estate investor and periodicals publish Mortimer Zuckerman told us a day after the new taxes were announced. “In that sense, it’s what I always call the evil of two lesser. I’m very comfortable with this thing. It was done, and we had to do it.”
His contempt for Washington has not lessened, however. “We have to do it at the federal level, now, and it wasn’t done, and the consequences of that have been disastrous. The greatest issue now facing it is the debt this country is assuming. Look what’s happening in Europe.”
Mr. Zuckerman is not alone in support for the governor. Ken Langone, the Home Depot founder, has spoken widely of his responsible moves. On Fox Business in November, he called for a tax on the wealthy and praised the governor, comments he echoed last week on WNYC. “I thought he’d made significant progress on the expenditure side and the thing we didn’t need in New York was gimmicks,” Mr. Langone told the radio reporters. “So I think what he’s done is to eliminate a gimmick.”
There is widespread agreement, that unlike the president, Mr. Cuomo was making fiscal decisions, not poltical ones, and he did the challenging work of cutting first, raising taxes later, and even then, it’s less than everyone had been paying. “I think taxes are headed in the right direct,” Mr. Zuckerman said with a chuckle.
The millionaire marvel has swept the state, too. Setting aside his champagne at the French Institute gala last week, Robert Wilmers, CEO and chairman of Buffalo’s M&T Bank said he was conflicted about the tax proposal, but he ultimately sided with the governor. “On the one hand, I’m feeling that taxes in the state of New York are very high,” Mr. Wilmers said. “On the other, I have great respect for the governor, and he’s in a very difficult position.” He said he saw the taxes coming, given his membership on the governor’s committee on finance, which lessened the sting.
“Everyone saw this coming,” another Wall Street executive told us. He agreed that it was inspired leadership, though the risk remained that if the tax stayed too long, there was nothing to stop jobs and millionaires from fleeing to states like Florida or Texas. Never mind the recent studies that have shown New York gained millionaires after the 2009 surcharge was added.
A financial planner representing numerous millionaires said the state taxes were nominal compared to what was being debated in Washington, so that is what really has his clients on edge. “It’s not so much the taxes as the not-knowing that is driving everyone crazy,” this person said.
Still, not everyone is convinced. A healthcare executive at the French Institute soirée said the governor was the same as the rest of them. “This is all politics, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just lying to themselves,” the bow-tied gentleman said. “When he proposed never raising taxes, the political mood was very different, you had all these Tea Party wackos running around. The governor is very cautious, as I’m sure you know, so he was attuned to that. Now you have all these Occupy Wall Street wackos running around, so those are the people the governor is paying attention to.”