New York, like other states, has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, the public-health-driven closure of many segments of the economy, and by our continuing crises of racial injustice and economic inequality.
The pandemic exposed our worst-in-the-nation income and wealth inequality, our profound racial disparities in healthcare, housing, transportation, and employment, and our continued disinvestment in essential public goods like public hospitals and public health systems.
And it blew huge holes in the New York state budget, and in the budgets of New York City and other cities, towns, and counties around the state.
We’ve faced big crises before: the Great Depression, 9-11, the Wall Street explosion of 2007-8 and other big recessions.
And each time, New York governors like FDR, Herbert Lehman, Nelson Rockefeller, and David Paterson have insisted on taxing the rich to pay for things all New Yorkers need.
Our currently famous governor has a different approach. He’s protecting the billionaires.
When asked at a press conference about raising taxes on the wealthy to fund New York state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I don’t know how you raise taxes on people who are out of work and their businesses are closed because government needs more funding.”
That was not the only time Cuomo has implied that the ultra-rich have been as ravaged by the pandemic as working class New Yorkers.
However, Cuomo’s assertions about everyone suffering are not borne out by data.
While pre-existing structural inequities have caused the disease and its side effects to devastate New York’s working class communities and communities of color, the state’s billionaires have increased their wealth substantially over the course of the pandemic.
Our new analysis of Forbes wealth data has found that New York state’s 118 billionaires increased their net worth by an estimated $44.9 billion, or 8.6 percent, from March 18 to May 15. Even amidst the wreckage of the pandemic, the billionaires’ collective net worth has rebounded and surged to $566 billion.
Thirty-two of the state’s billionaires have increased their wealth by 10 percent or more. The estimated net worth of the wealthiest New Yorker, Michael Bloomberg, now stands at $58.5 billion, a $10.5 billion or 22 percent increase since March 18.
Since 2019, the number of billionaires in New York state has increased from 112 to 118. New York billionaires who joined Forbes’ billionaires list in 2020 include Wall Street money managers David Golub, Lawrence Golub, and Wesley Edens.
Over the same period, as the state’s billionaires have added nearly $45 billion to their wealth, people of color and working class New Yorkers have faced a very different picture.
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More than two million New Yorkers have lost their jobs. According to the NYS Department of Labor, from the week that ended March 21 through the week that ended May 9, people filed 2,026,869 initial unemployment claims in New York.
Working class people and people of color are far more likely to contract the coronavirus, be hospitalized, and die.
In this context, Governor Cuomo’s policy orientation amounts to a pandemic wealthcare plan.
Cuomo has put billionaires in charge of shaping New York’s response to the pandemic and economic recovery. Six members of the billionaire class sit on his re-opening advisory board.
Cuomo has prioritized the wealth and influence of billionaires — many of whom are his donors — over the physical well-being of the most vulnerable communities that he represents. He has refused to enact measures that would address the crisis for working class people. Cuomo has rejected raising taxes on billionaires to pay for vital social infrastructure and canceling rent and mortgage payments while rolling back bail reform and proposing cuts to public services.
And Cuomo has put billionaires in charge of shaping New York’s response to the pandemic and economic recovery. He’s tapped Michael Bloomberg to create a contact tracing program for the state, Bill Gates to “reimagine” New York’s public education system, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to “reimagine” telehealth and internet access.
Cuomo has also appointed six billionaires—Kim Pegula, Jeremy Jacobs Jr, Jonathan Gray, Leonard Schleifer, Robert Sands, and William Berkley — to his re-opening advisory board. The aggregate net worth of these six, plus Gates, Bloomberg, and Schmidt, increased over 10 percent, by $18.3 billion, between March 18 and May 15, according to our analysis of Forbes billionaire data.
Our new report, released by the Public Accountability Initiative with support from the Hedge Clippers and Make Billionaires Pay campaigns, shows how New York State billionaires’ wealth has surged, identifies features of Cuomo’s pandemic wealthcare plan, and profiles key billionaires that have expanded their fortunes, mistreated workers, and landed influential policy planning roles during the pandemic.
Cuomo’s plan for New York’s state budget and our economic future won’t work. To fund a strong recovery that achieves economic and racial justice, we’ve got to tax the super-rich and Wall Street to pay for the jobs, education, healthcare, housing, transportation, and green energy investments that will broaden prosperity beyond billionaires, to all New Yorkers.
It’s time for Cuomo to work with elected officials in the state legislature. They—not the billionaires—are the representatives of the people in our democracy.
And it’s time to pass progressive tax bills that will raise over $25 billion per year from those who can afford to pay, including a billionaires tax, an ultramillionaires tax and a pied-á-terre tax on the luxury second, third, fourth and fifth homes of the billionaires.