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Left, right and center can support the 'millionaires tax'

Debate over continuation of New York's current income tax surcharge on high-earning households -- known as the "millionaires tax" -- is often viewed as yet another liberal versus conservative face-off.

But support for the tax is extraordinarily high. Strong majorities of New Yorkers in urban, suburban and rural areas support it, as do majorities of men and women, blacks, whites and Latinos -- even majorities of Republicans.

As legislators and the governor head into the final round of negotiations on the state budget in Albany, they'll have to decide whether to keep the current surcharge (75 percent of which is paid by those making more than $1 million per year), approve an Assembly alternative (only on those with yearly income of more than $1 million) or eliminate the surcharge altogether.

A lot is at stake: Nearly $5 billion that goes to local schools and services could be redirected into new tax breaks for the wealthiest New Yorkers.

Public support for the "millionaires tax" reflects the fact that there are liberal, moderate and even fiscally conservative reasons for New Yorkers to want to keep the surcharge.

Liberals support it as progressive taxation that funds needed public services and protects jobs:

*Without the surcharge, New York's tax system won't really be progressive; Donald Trump will pay the same tax rate as the doormen in his buildings. With it, those who can afford to pay more will.

*Continuation of the surcharge can pay for significant public investments in local schools, transportation, middle-class property tax relief and front-line social services.

*Funds from the tax will allow state and local governments to limit layoffs in a period of high unemployment.

*Moderates focus on fairness and shared sacrifice when considering the measure:

*Basic principles of fairness suggest that our state can't close an $11 billion budget gap with program cuts alone -- everyone must contribute.

*More concretely, it's simply not fair to cut schools, police, firefighters and programs for low-income children while giving a $5 billion tax cut to the wealthiest among us.

Fiscal conservatives focus on the long-term stability of state finances:

*The Division of the Budget's four-year fiscal plan has a hole in it about the size of the millionaires tax -- only 85 percent of out-year gaps are closed by the current proposal.

*Continuation of the surcharge would close the remaining 15 percent gap and put state finances on stable ground going forward.

In Albany this week, legislators from all ideological perspectives should recognize that the millionaires tax makes sense in human terms, in fairness terms and in terms of responsible fiscal planning. And with such broad popularity, it makes political sense as well.

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Michael Kink is executive director of the Strong Economy For All Coalition, a union-community coalition.

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