Saturday, Jul 24, 2021

Cuomo Under Fire for Covid Disaster in NY Nursing Homes

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has come under intense criticism since state Attorney General Letitia James issued a devastating 76-page report on the disastrous impact of the coronavirus on the residents of the state’s nursing homes, which were woefully unprepared to protect them from the threat of infection and care properly for elderly residents who came down with the virus.

The most explosive finding of the report was its confirmation of suspicions that Cuomo and his state Department of Health engaged in a coverup of the disastrous impact of the order issued on March 25, transferring thousands of senior Covid-19 victims to nursing homes to free up more beds at New York City hospitals, which were nearing collapse due to the crush of Covid-19 patients during the initial peak period of the pandemic in New York City. Cuomo and his state Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, insisted on enforcing the transfer orders, ignoring urgent warnings they received from nursing home administrators and industry leaders that the order would endanger the health of thousands of vulnerable nursing home residents.

While many fatal errors were made by New York city and state government officials and hospital administrators during the hectic early days of the pandemic, Cuomo refused to rescind his deadly order transferring infectious patients to nursing homes until May 10, long after the urgent need to free up more beds in city hospitals had passed.

In the report issued last week, James, a fellow Democrat, accused Cuomo and his administration of deliberately undercounting the number of elderly nursing home patients who contracted the virus and subsequently died by an average of 56%, based upon a review of statistics from 62 nursing homes. The report estimated that the actual number of Covid-19-related nursing home deaths in New York State was more than 13,000, compared to the official figure released by Cuomo’s Department of Health of 8,711.

The attorney general’s report estimated that at least 4,000 of those elderly Covid-19 victims died as a result of the Cuomo’s March 25 order. It also suggested that by ordering nursing homes to admit “medically stable” coronavirus patients, Cuomo “may have put residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities.”

“As the pandemic and our investigations continue, it is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate,” Attorney General James continued. “While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents.”

HIDDEN STATE NURSING HOME FIGURES SUDDENLY APPEAR

Just a few hours after the attorney general released the shocking nursing home death estimate, Commissioner Zucker scrambled to release an update roughly confirming the numbers in the attorney general’s report, increasing the Department of Health’s official total of nursing home deaths to 12,743, as of January 19.

The prompt release of the new number stood in sharp contrast to the previous 6 months of department stonewalling of demands for the same information from the state Senate Investigations Committee, as well as the Health and Aging Committees. The last time Cuomo’s Health Department reported the number of Covid-19 deaths in state nursing homes was back in May, when the official toll stood at about 6,500.

Zucker’s department had also defied requests filed under the state’s Freedom of Information law by the conservative Empire Center for Public Policy several months ago. Eventually, the organization filed a lawsuit against the department’s multiple requests for extensions to the legal deadline for releasing the requested information.

CUOMO ENTRENCHED IN DENIAL

Cuomo’s response to the attorney general’s report revealing the nursing home death coverup was both dismissive and self-righteous.

In a press conference the next day, Cuomo contended that the New York death rate was slightly below the national average. “If you look at New York state, we have a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states. A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes. New York State, we’re only about 28% — only. But we’re below the national average in number of deaths in nursing homes. But who cares — 33 [percent], 28 [percent] — died in hospital, died in the nursing home? They died.”

Cuomo’s callous remarks sparked an angry backlash. Timothy Dunn, who runs a consulting company in Malta, New York, tweeted, “My uncle died in a nursing home from COVID two weeks ago. I care @NYGovCuomo.” Even some who had defended Cuomo after he continued to deny that his March order had been a fatal mistake, were appalled by his response to the attorney general’s report.

The New York Post, whose reporting helped to initially expose the Cuomo nursing home coverup, quoted a Democrat source in the state legislature who called Cuomo’s remarks “outrageous. For months, they [Cuomo administration officials] said they were compiling info and it would take time — and then, they release it immediately [right after the AG report]. Then, his performance today was embarrassing. He has no real answers and can’t simply say he is sorry so many people died. It raises more questions.”

Cuomo rejected earlier reports on the nursing home Covid-19 coverup published by the New York Post as motivated by a partisan desire to “kill all Democrats.” In July, Cuomo’s Department of Health misleadingly suggested that the main cause spreading the virus in nursing home was asymptomatic staff members.

Adding insult to injury, Cuomo sought to dismiss continued criticism of his March 25 order as a partisan “political attack” by members of the Trump administration. Michael Caputo, a former Trump assistant secretary of public affairs for Health and Human Services, quickly fired back that experts in his department had early on in the pandemic identified Cuomo’s “foolish” executive order as a primary cause for thousands of nursing home deaths and that the governor, therefore, must be held accountable.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General James said that Cuomo himself had requested the investigation from her department in April, and that the report was written based on what it found, including the failures of nursing homes to follow infection-control protocols and problems that were exacerbated by a lack of staff. The report also called for the state legislature to repeal a liability shield for nursing home operators which was snuck into Cuomo’s New York state budget at the last minute in April.

“The findings — publicly available for anyone to examine — are a result of arduous efforts by dedicated investigators and attorneys,” said the spokeswoman. “To inject politics would be an insult and take away from all the hard work of the professionals in this office.”

Nevertheless, the harsh criticism of Cuomo from a fellow Democrat was a significant blow to his carefully crafted public self-image as a trustworthy elected official whose policies are motivated by science and the public good rather than political ambition.

CUOMO “AT WAR” WITH HIS OWN HEALTH DEPARTMENT

Cuomo was embarrassed further on Monday when the New York Times reported the wholesale departure of at least nine high-level officials in the state’s Department of Health. The story claimed that many of them were insulted by Cuomo’s decisions to bypass their advice in formulating the state’s Covid-19 lockdown guidelines and for scrapping the department’s carefully worked out plan, coordinated with every local health department in the state, for vaccinating their residents.

That plan relied on years of preparations at the local level in reaction to fears of bioterrorism following the 9/11 attack, and on the experience county health departments had gained dispensing vaccine during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

New York City Health Department officials had planned to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine by significantly expanding the system it has used for childhood vaccinations, in which the city ordered vaccine doses directly from the federal government. However, in October, the Cuomo administration sent a letter to federal officials telling them to only work with state officials in the distribution of the vaccine. A spokeswoman for Mayor de Blasio told the Times that as a result, “extensive red tape and unnecessary rigidity over who we could vaccinate and when — all with the looming threat of millions of dollars in punitive fines — made an extraordinarily difficult task all the more challenging in those first initial weeks of the rollout.”

According to the New York Times report, the nine senior state health department officials who have either transferred out, resigned or retired in recent months include Elizabeth Dufort, the medical director in the division of epidemiology, and Dr. Jill Taylor, in charge of health data and the head of the Wadsworth laboratory which is responsible for detecting virus variants. In addition, the Health Department’s No. 2 official and another who oversees virus contact tracing are leaving their posts for jobs in other departments of state government.

HEALTH DEPARTMENT MORALE AT AN “ALL TIME LOW”

The Times report was based upon interviews with current and former health officials who refused to be quoted by name because they feared retaliation from the governor. “Morale certainly was and continues to be at an all-time low,” one former health official said.

The article states that “Cuomo has all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy.” While Cuomo has repeatedly claimed that all his Covid-19 policy decisions are based upon the best available scientific knowledge, he acknowledged at his press conference the day after the attorney general’s report was released, “When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts. Because I don’t.”

Dr. Howard Zucker is reportedly the only official in the Department of Health with significant input on Cuomo’s policies. Instead, Cuomo has relied upon advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert; Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota; and an informal group of longtime advisors, professional business consultants, and the in-house lobbyist for the Northwell Health private hospital system. That revelation suggests that the selection in December of a nurse working at a Northwell hospital to be the first person in the nation to receive the Covid-19 vaccine was not a coincidence.

CUOMO GOVERNING BY PRESS CONFERENCE

Department of Health officials said that “they often found out about major changes in pandemic policy only after Mr. Cuomo announced them at news conferences.” Cuomo would announce new state lockdown rules for businesses such as restaurants and gyms, set arbitrary capacity limits for churches, shuls and social gatherings, and chose who would be designated as “essential workers” eligible to be tested for the virus. He would then demand that the Department of Health alter its health guidance to match his new orders.

More recently, “state health officials were blindsided by the news that the [Covid-19 vaccine] rollout would be coordinated locally by hospitals,” the Times said.

Instead of using the existing state Department of Health vaccination plan, Cuomo decided, at the last minute, to develop a new, hospital-based program on the fly, which started out badly. Instead of designating New York City’s 6,000-person Health Department to coordinate the city’s vaccination effort, Cuomo delegated the job to the Greater New York Hospital Association, which is known for its lobbying activities in Albany and as a major donor to Cuomo’s election campaigns and other political causes.

According to Dr. Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at the City University of New York, Cuomo’s decision to make hospitals responsible for the vaccination program created the “bottleneck. . . To put hospitals in charge of a public health initiative — for which they have no public health mandate, or the skills, experience or perspective to manage one — was a huge mistake, and I have no doubt that’s what introduced the delays,” Nash told the New York Times.

The fact that the Times, the intellectual bastion of mainstream liberal politics, has now seemingly joined Cuomo’s critics, is an ominous sign for his future political ambitions.

CUOMO STILL SEEKING COVER FROM THE MEDIA

Cuomo’s most blatant effort to dodge personal responsibility for the Covid-19 deaths took place a few days after Joe Biden entered the White House. In interviews on MSNBC and CNN, Cuomo tried to blame it all on former President Trump, with a statement that could be equally applied to himself: “Incompetent government kills people. More people died than needed to die in Covid-19. That’s the truth.”

One of Cuomo’s outspoken critics has been Janice Dean, a senior meteorologist for Fox News, who lost both of her in-laws to Covid-19 in New York nursing homes. Dean was outraged once again at a broadcast interview by NBC News anchorman Lester Holt over the weekend, whom she accused of trying to protect Cuomo’s political reputation.

“[Holt] censored one of my friends who lost a loved one in a nursing home,” Dean tweeted. “She wanted to say ‘[Andrew Cuomo] failed us’ in the interview and they told her to say ‘New York failed us’ instead.” Dean’s conclusion was, “The mainstream is still protecting this guy. Disgusting.”

In an effort to show compassion for the grieving relatives who have criticized him so bitterly, Cuomo said at his press conference last Friday, “I feel the pain and I get the anger. . . The pain is so incredible and inexplicable. . . It’s tragedy. . . When my father died, I wish I had someone to blame. . . My heart goes out to each and every one, and I feel it personally.”

Janice Dean rejected Cuomo’s analogy as totally inappropriate. She responded with an angry tweet, saying, “His father [former governor Mario Cuomo] didn’t die in a nursing home thanks to his son ordering Covid positive patients into their facility.”

CUOMO’S OTHER PANDEMIC BLUNDERS

The state attorney general’s nursing home report marked the first time that James, who was elected in 2018 with Cuomo’s endorsement and fundraising support, had put the governor on the political defensive. Cuomo had already long been embroiled in ongoing disputes over jurisdiction and policies with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both have been successfully sued in court for unfairly discriminating against Orthodox Jewish and Catholic communities by prohibiting public prayer services and religious celebrations in violation of the First Amendment.

In November, a New York State Supreme Court barred Cuomo from enforcing 10- and 25-person attendance limits at churches and shuls in Brooklyn and Queens infection hotspots. In late December, the US Court of Appeals ruled that Cuomo’s attendance limit on house of worship “discriminates against religion on its face” and ordered the federal district court to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the limit in red and orange Covid-19 infection zones statewide.

Cuomo has destroyed much of New York City’s economically important restaurant industry by repeatedly singling the city as the only area of the state in which indoor dining is prohibited. Since the ban on indoor dining in the city was reinstated after the spike in Covid-19 infections in early December, restaurant owners pointed out that the state’s own Covid-19 statistics show there is no scientific basis for keeping their dining rooms closed while allowing other indoor businesses to remain open.

CUOMO SAYS NYC RESTAURANTS WILL REOPEN — MAYBE

Cuomo finally relented over the weekend by announcing that indoor dining in New York City restaurants will be permitted to resume at 25% capacity on February 14, but only if the positivity rate for Covid-19 testing in the city remains at current reduced levels compared to the post-Thanksgiving Day surge.

Cuomo’s decision came two weeks after a state court ruling struck down his ban on indoor dining in other areas of the state. At that time, NYC Hospitality Alliance executive director Andrew Rigie and the organization’s counsel, Robert Bookman, said in a joint statement that, “Continuation of the indoor dining ban in New York City is divorced from any of the data and criteria the state has articulated and must be ended now.”

Rigie welcomed Cuomo’s belated decision to lift the city’s indoor-dining ban, but added that restaurants already engaged in outdoor dining shouldn’t have to wait two weeks and are ready to safely reopen their dining rooms now. He also complained it was unfair for Cuomo to arbitrarily limit restaurants in the city to 25% capacity, when those operating elsewhere around the state are being permitted a 50% occupancy.

Rigie noted that the city’s restaurants have already been forced to lay off more than 140,000 of their workers due to Cuomo’s orders banning indoor dining, and that it will not be possible for many restaurants to survive much longer if they remain limited to 25% of their indoor seating capacity, even if they continue with takeout and outdoor dining service.

Cuomo responded to the criticism by restaurant orders by saying, “Look, 25% is better than zero. And that’s where we are now.” Cuomo warned he might shut down indoor dining again, along with re-imposing other lifted restrictions, if Covid-19 testing positivity rates start spiking. He also said that if positivity rates remain low, he will permit wedding receptions to take place, starting on March 15, with 50% of the hall’s seating capacity and up to 150 participants, provided that all of them test negative for Covid-19 on site, using one of the new rapid testing processes.

ATTORNEY GENERAL VS. THE GOVERNOR

Former state Attorney General Robert Abrams, another Democrat, said that some tension between any attorney general and governor was inevitable. Abrams cited an old saying popular among New York State political professionals that the acronym for attorney general, AG, also stands for “aspiring governor.”

Cuomo himself had risen to prominence in New York state politics by issuing a report when he was state attorney general in 2007 criticizing then-governor Elliot Spitzer for the misuse of State Police aircraft, leading to a scandal known as “Troopergate.” Spitzer had also risen to prominence by using his powers as New York State attorney general to expose abuses and launch successful legal actions against major corporations and Wall Street financial firms.

Veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf predicts that the nursing home report will further increase Letitia James’ standing as an up and coming Democrat party leader. “She’s been able to capture national headlines through the investigations of Trump [finances] and taking on the NRA [National Rifle Association],” he said. “This is obviously someone who has long-term plans, and what better way to make those plans real [than showing] you can draw even with a national player [like Cuomo] in the Democratic Party?”

Most veteran New York state political observers do not believe James is considering a challenge to Cuomo’s re-election in 2022, but that could change if more damaging information emerges about his handling of the nursing home scandal. However, according to former NYS Attorney General, Republican Dennis Vacco, her report does means “she is declaring her political independence” from Cuomo, which likely means a rockier future relationship with the thin-skinned governor.

CALL FOR A FEDERAL INVESTIGATION

NY Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a rising young star in the national GOP, said in a Fox News interview that at the very least, Dr. Zucker should resign as state health commissioner. She also urged President Biden to support her call for an independent federal investigation of the state health department’s nursing home death undercount and “not play politics” with the issue.

“This has been not just a nursing home scandal but a criminal coverup, a corruption scandal at the highest levels of New York state government,” Stefanik explained. “I want to see a federal investigation because I think there were criminal acts conducted by the governor, by his senior staff. I want a very public and transparent investigation. I think he should resign if there’s a criminal coverup, which I believe there is…”

“There are more questions than answers when you look at the 76-page report,” Stefanik continued. “This is the beginning of pursuit to justice, not the end. I would urge the attorney general to continue moving that process forward.”

Stefanik urged committees of the state legislature whose requests for this information had been stonewalled by the Cuomo administration to issue subpoenas “immediately” to reveal more information about the scandal to satisfy the need for “accountability and consequences.”

Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of Long Island is also demanding further action against those responsible for the nursing home coverup. Speaking with Maria Bartiromo of Fox News, Zeldin said, “Whenever you hear [Cuomo] say ‘who cares,’ every time that video is played, I think of the family that lost a loved one — a mom or dad, grandma or grandpa. I don’t look at this story about being about data, statistics, numbers. This is a coverup . . . of a policy that ended up resulting in that grandmother or grandfather losing their lives. . . [When] New York State ordered these nursing homes to take in infected patients and place them with healthy residents. . . it spread like wildfire — which is even a term that Gov. Cuomo has used, and then they covered it up.”

He was referring to a statement by Cuomo last March, who said “coronavirus in a nursing home is like fire in dry grass … The only question is how many people will die?” In June, he used the same metaphor saying the to spread the virus in a nursing home: “All you need is one person — an air-conditioning repairman, a delivery person — and once that virus gets in the nursing home, it’s fire through dry grass.”

Zeldin said that now that the attorney general’s report has verified their accusations, “the families [of the victims] want even more. They want not just more information and transparency — they also want accountability. This is criminal what happened.”

CUOMO’S CLOUDY POLITICAL FUTURE

Cuomo had been under consideration by Biden’s transition team to become US attorney general before Biden selected Judge Merrick Garland for the post, and he had reportedly been considering a run for president in 2024 if Biden does not seek re-election.

But now Zeldin believes that Cuomo’s dream of attaining higher federal office is over, and that his chances for re-election as governor are now also in jeopardy. “I think much of New York State is done with Andrew Cuomo,” Zeldin said. “He’s up for reelection again in 2022. We don’t have term limits in New York statutorily … [but] when New Yorkers go to the ballot box, they don’t have to keep reelecting him.

“This is someone who will be going for his fourth term [as governor] and there’s a certain amount of arrogance as if his tough work is done,” Zeldin continued. “Now it’s about … writing books [about his success in fighting Covid-19]. He’s not talking about restoring freedoms [by ending lockdowns]. He’s not talking about cutting taxes. He’s not talking about public safety. Instead, they [New York State Democrats are] going the other way with cashless bail, and you see the defund the police movement in New York City, so hopefully New Yorkers take action and save our state next November 2022.”

Four Republican New York State senators — Phil Boyle, Alexis Weik, Mario Mattera and Anthony Palumbo — issued a joint statement declaring, “Yesterday’s scathing report released by the Attorney General confirmed our suspicions that the Cuomo Administration and New York State Department of Health intentionally underreported Covid-19 nursing home deaths by up to 50% to mislead the public. We believe the final number could be even higher. We are demanding full transparency and the disclosure of the true number of those who died after contracting Covid-19 in our nursing homes and adult facilities.”

REFUSING TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY

Cuomo has sought to redirect the blame for his March 25 decision to transfer patients from hospitals to nursing homes by claiming he was only following CDC guidelines. However, weeks before he issued that order, Cuomo spoke publicly about the added vulnerability of residents in nursing homes to Covid-19 in explaining his strict ban on visits to those residents by their family members.

Ron Kim, a Democrat in the state Assembly whose Queens district includes several nursing homes ravaged by the virus, said at the time, “We all [knew] that nursing homes are seriously understaffed and under-equipped. It was never their mission to treat Covid-19 patients. . . The [March 25] directive treated nursing homes as if they were hospitals, and they’re not. . . The fact [that] we maintained and pushed Covid-positive patients into facilities that were not equipped to handle them. . . was a fatal error.”

Last May, Kim reminded the governor about what he had said in mid-March when he canceled the Irish community’s annual Manhattan march to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day due to the Covid-19 infection threat.

“You can’t go on national TV one day and say ‘The buck stops with me, blame me,’ and the next day [when] things don’t go well, blame everyone else,” Kim said of Cuomo. “He’s unwilling to say there’s anything [he] did [regarding the nursing homes] that was wrong, and he doesn’t seem willing to learn from his mistakes.”

Kim also warned at that time, “The governor is allowed to make mistakes. But not being able to recognize mistakes so we don’t repeat them in a possible second wave of the pandemic is dangerous.” That prediction apparently came to pass with the governor’s failed vaccination plan.

CUOMO HAD BEEN WARNED

Nursing home officials insist they had sent petitions and emails warning Cuomo at the time about the dire consequences of his March 25 order, but they did not dare reject the directive from the Department of Health which has jurisdiction over their operations.

The Covid-19 crisis was very predictable, given the long-standing and well-documented scandals about unacceptable conditions at New York State nursing homes going back to the 1970s.

One of the initial problems when the pandemic began to spike in mid-March was a critical shortage of PPE for nursing home workers. Even when large numbers of nursing home residents and staff members began to get sick due to the virus, many could not even gain access to the available Covid-19 tests.

Scott Amrhein, the longtime president of the Continuing Care Leadership Coalition, a nursing home trade-association, was deeply involved in trying to secure adequate supplies. According to his son, Justin, his father became so distressed by the situation and his realization that it would get much worse if more patients were transferred to nursing homes, that he took his life on March 30 after state officials ignored his pleas to cancel Cuomo’s order.

ANGRY FAMILY MEMBERS

The group most furious with Cuomo are family members of elderly people who became infected with Covid-19 while living in a nursing home and subsequently died from it.

Vivian Zayas, who founded the Voices for Seniors advocacy group in memory of her mother, who died from the virus in a Long Island nursing home last year, said that “our jaws dropped” upon reading the attorney general’s report. It “shows that Cuomo’s book on his great leadership during the pandemic is a fraud,” she said, “and [an] insult to the families.”

In late March, Dottie Hickey got a call from Luxor Nursing & Rehabilitation, the Long Island nursing home where her 79-year-old sister lived. They said her sister was being moved to make space for incoming hospital patients recovering from the coronavirus, whom the nursing home was being forced to take in because of Cuomo’s order.

For the next several days, Hickey was unable to get an update from the nursing home staff on her sister’s condition, and finally found out why. According to the only staff member willing to talk to her, the nursing home had been completely overwhelmed by the arrival of all the new Covid-19 patients. A spokesman for the nursing home would later confirm that account to a Wall Street Journal reporter, and then added that Luxor “would not have accepted [the patients] without this directive.”

The same story was repeated, with Covid-19 running wild at nursing homes across the state, and several reporting the deaths of more than 50 residents due to the virus. Finally, on May 10, Cuomo announced at a news conference that he was modifying his order so that hospitals could no longer send patients to nursing homes unless they tested negative for the virus.

In April, emails revealed that the head of the Cobble Hill Health Center, a Brooklyn nursing home, pleaded in vain with state health officials to send its residents showing signs of Covid-19 to the under-utilized makeshift hospital set up at the Javits Convention Center or US Navy hospital ship Comfort, weeks before 55 of the nursing home’s residents died of the virus.

According to the report released by Attorney General James last week, more than 20 nursing homes across the state are now under investigation for failing to enforce Covid-19 infection-control measures.

DEMANDING FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR NEW YORK’S DEFICIT

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo accused the federal government of singling out New York State for financial punishment by capping the SALT itemized deduction for state and local income and real estate taxes at $10,000. The cap was implemented to help pay for former President Trump’s 2017 tax cut, generating an estimated $77 billion in federal tax income annually. Some of that added revenue was used to increase the standard deduction enough so that most taxpayers no longer have to go through the effort to itemize their deductions.

Before it was capped, the SALT deduction was a financial boon for high-income taxpayers who owned expensive houses and who itemized their tax deductions. If the federal government complies with Cuomo’s demands and abolishes the SALT deduction cap, the wealthiest one percent of households would receive 56% of the tax savings, while the bottom 80% of American households by income would only receive 4% of the tax benefits. In other words, uncapping the SALT deduction would effectively be a tax break for the very rich.

Cuomo argues that since the cap on the SALT deduction went into effect for the 2018 tax year, it has been costing New York state taxpayers a total of $15 billion annually. He has publicly threatened to sue the federal government if President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cannot get Congress to approve a $15 billion grant that New York State needs to cover its projected budget deficit for the current year.

In his multi-part State of the State address last week, Cuomo delivered two executive budget proposals for the current year. In one, which he called the “fair funding scenario,” the state would receive the $15 billion federal grant that the governor has requested, presumably from the passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid package, which includes $350 billion for state and local funding.

CUOMO’S TAX THREAT TO NEW YORKERS

But if that level of federal funding for the state does not materialize, Cuomo has proposed an alternative budget, which he calls the “worst case scenario,” in which the state receives only the $6 billion of federal aid that Cuomo believes is already in the pipeline. In that scenario, Cuomo threatened to raise the state’s top income tax bracket from 8.82% to 10.82% on income over $100 million, and add four higher intermediate tax rates on income over $5 million. For New York City residents, the top combined state and income tax rate would reach 14.7%, the highest in the country.

Cuomo claims that the new state tax rate increase would be temporary. But that promise should be viewed in light of the millionaire’s tax that Albany imposed during the 2009 recession, which was also supposed to be temporary, but which still is in effect.

In addition, President Biden has proposed to raise the top rate for the federal income tax from the current 37% to 39.6%, and other increases which apply to upper income taxpayers, including extending the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax to income over $400,000, and eliminating the tax break for capital gains.

Cuomo has claimed that New York State’s current financial plight is not the fault of New York taxpayers. He prefers to blame the federal government and Covid-19, but the nonprofit Tax Foundation notes that New York was already facing a $6.1 billion budget gap for 2020 before anyone was aware of the coronavirus. It blames that structural budget deficit on the New York’s overspending for Medicaid and generous union contracts for its government workers.

A Wall Street Journal editorial notes that despite the deficit, Cuomo is proposing an increase in the 2021 state budget of about $1.5 billion, instead of cutting spending. The editorial also observes that if “Democrats in Washington don’t rescue Mr. Cuomo from his self-inflicted budget wounds,” his solution is to “punish New Yorkers” by raising their taxes even further.

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