New York City residents got a break last week. City Council leaders and the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani agreed to eliminate the personal income tax surcharge starting January 1st. The 14 percent surcharge, first imposed in 1991 under the administration of then Mayor David Dinkins, will be halved for the first $50,000 of taxable income for a single person and the first $90,000 of taxable income for a couple filing jointly.
City Council Speaker Peter Vallone noted that the cut “will make the city more affordable for the majority of people who live here.” He’s right. The cut is intended, according to other city officials, to return the most money to low- and middle-income taxpayers–the people for whom taxes take the biggest proportional bite out of their wages and salaries.
New York City is obviously a great place to live, otherwise so many people wouldn’t be here. Young people don’t graduate from college and go to Dubuque, Iowa or Olathe, Kansas, to make their fortunes (although these are fine cities and we applaud them). They come to New York City. The city’s nicknames–“Gotham”, “The Big Apple”, “Fun City”–carry a cachet shared with no other metropolis on earth. Possibly never have so many dreams, hopes and aspirations been so connected to one piece of real estate as have those of the millions who set their sights on New York City as the place to find and fulfill their ambitions. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” runs the song lyric, erroneous in only one respect–people who make it here don’t want to be anywhere else. The city is at the forefront of fashion, art, theater, literature, business and just about every other human endeavor imaginable. Just knowing that we live at the epicenter of all this excitement is enough for many of us to choose to be here rather than somewhere else.
Most of the people who make up the great majority of our citizens, of course, are not “name” fashion designers, actors, artists, authors or public figures. New York functions because of the anonymous millions who take the subway, bus or sidewalk to work, put in a day, sometimes with overtime thrown in, and return to their families in the homes they have established in the five boroughs where they confidently plan to spend their working and possibly entire lives. The workers, be they blue, white or pink collar, are truly the backbone of New York City.
Of course, nothing in this life is free, and New Yorkers accept that. It costs to live here in more ways than one, and New Yorkers are among the most heavily taxed residents of any municipality in America. For the most part, we accept the financial and emotional obligations of life in this city because we still would rather be here than anywhere else. But that the city is willing to forego 25 percent of its total revenues in order to make living here a little easier on the pocketbooks of its citizens is an indication that our efforts and in some cases sacrifices are noted and appreciated. After all, it’s our money in the first place.
The cut in the surcharge came about because top city executive and legislative officials agreed that the taxpayers deserved some relief. Now a scramble for the right to take the credit for the cut, which will return $181 million to taxpayers in its first year, seems to be going on. Frankly, we don’t care who takes the credit for the cut. All New Yorkers deserve it and all city officials can feel good about their respective roles in bringing it about.