The Battle Against Regressive Taxation

Creating change costs money.  The residents of Syracuse, New York want change.  Syracuse must create or capture revenue to pay for the changes.  A graduated progressive income tax is good for the city as a whole because everyone who lives or works or does business in the city benefits from good city services.

Most candidates running this year are calling for more jobs, paying down our debt, additional programs for youth, and increasing services, yet provide no actual numbers for consideration of capturing the needed revenue to do so. I review budgets regularly, in my daily work as a NYS Business Advisor, and as Board President of Cooperative Federal Credit Union.  What I can say for certain is that although cost savings in our budget may be found, there is no guarantee that they will be significant, nor will they prevent the city from compromising on the services it provides.

Let’s consider our closest neighbors to the north.  Looking at a recent May 2016 report of municipal cost-saving initiatives surveyed across Canada by The Manning Centre, one of the largest hard cost savings found was Calgary’s “Cut Red Tape” Program. This collection of measures intended to remove unnecessary procedures, forms, licences, and regulations only resulted in a savings of $14.6 million over 5 years since it was implemented in 2010.

Five years to save what we are going to indebt in only one year in Syracuse – not nearly enough, even if we can find similar savings here, which considering how much smaller of a city we are, is not likely.  If we look at the $14.6 million in ratio from Calgary’s population to ours, the results would only be a savings of $1.60 million for Syracuse.  Regina, a city with population of 216,000 implemented recommendations for 61 service area improvements that only saved the city $8.5 million total.

Our own experience, that we see from the first year’s submission to the State County-Wide Shared Services Initiative (per the report from SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government), shows that Syracuse is only identified in one line item for savings, a total of only $4.4 million over two years of 2018 and 2019 in the form of a “Joint Request for Proposals for a Medicare Advantage Plan”. Again, not nearly enough to dig us out of our budget deficit.

Our elected officials have year after year passed the buck on implementing sidewalk municipalization legislation that would maintain the condition of our sidewalks and keep them clear of snow in the winters.  During this time, many of us in different neighborhoods have stepped up as volunteers to clear sidewalks in front of abandoned and vacant properties, or to clear pathways to buses at “accessible” CENTRO stops and intersections. The political will finally seems to be in favor of passing this legislation if we can believe the comments from the candidates running this year.

So note, this will be an additional expense to property owners in Syracuse (albeit a small one with estimates pointing to under $100 annually per property owner).  Point being that recognition and acceptance of raising money for public services and the public good from the public pockets is not a foreign concept or antagonistic belief of our incoming and remaining council members.  Another examples lies in the proposed hotel and use tax which incoming councilors have spoken favorably of.

Yet, they balk at the proposed graduated income tax for the city citing that it will keep businesses away and slow the growth of downtown.  No matter that this is the same play from the playbook that we have been using for decades – in the hopeful yet failed track record of trickle down economics – during which time we have reached our highest number of poverty ridden census tracts, our greatest number of homeless children, our greatest amount of segregated blacks and Latinos, and a budget deficit leading us to insolvency in less than two years from now. The profits aren’t trickling down to the poor and working class. Income levels and activity downtown are increasing, but these developments are not translating to improved quality of life in our other neighborhoods.

They fail to peel the onion back even one layer, lacking an analysis of the difference between tax types, applications, and results.  We already have sales and property taxes, the two most regressive forms of taxation in the play book, meaning that they impose a greater burden (relative to resources) on the poor than on the well-off.  This is why we need the 1% income tax – and this is a line I will not surrender.  This is a line which on one side calls for a tax policy focus on downtown development over the poor and working class interests, while my side calls for a shift from regressive taxation to a progressive tax that is fair across the board of economic classes while saving our city from insolvency.

Frank Cetera is the Green Party Candidate for Councilor-At-Large in Syracuse.