Photo by Can Pac Swire, via Flickr
The Buffalo News editorial board’s March 16 column in opposition to raising taxes on the ultra-rich is filled with misleading and untrue claims about the impacts of the legislature’s proposed tax hikes. It also fails to disclose a significant conflict of interest – specifically that the News is a dues-paying member of, and News publisher Tom Wiley sits on the board of directors of, an organization that is currently lobbying against taxing the rich.
In the column, the News editorial board rails against what it refers to as “reckless” state spending. But the only example of the “spending spree” provided in the column is an increase in aid to public schools, which is not only not reckless, but long overdue. The News’s characterization of increasing funding for public education as a reckless spending spree stands in stark contrast to its recent full-throated support of spending public money – suggesting an “opening bid” of $1 billion – to lure Amazon, a company owned by the richest man in the world, to build in Buffalo. Spending public money, it appears, becomes reckless in the News‘s eyes if it is to be used on a universal public good rather than padding corporate profits.
Instead, most of the column is actually a screed against raising taxes on the rich, argued in a spectacularly dishonest fashion.
The first sentence of the column warns readers to “watch your wallet” as the state legislature and Governor Cuomo negotiate over a budget for the 2021 fiscal year. However, the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers would see no increase to their income taxes from the legislature’s budget proposal. Even the most ambitious plan to tax the rich would only raise personal income taxes on the 2.17% of income tax filers that earn $300,000 or more per year. It would raise taxes on only 1% of taxpayers in Erie County. The impact would be even less in Niagara (0.45%), Chautauqua (0.44%), Genesee (0.40%), Cattaraugus (0.39%), Allegany (0.35%), Wyoming (0.34%), and Orleans (0.11%) Counties.
The legislature’s tax proposal, which only raises taxes on people earning more than $1 million per year, would affect still fewer people.
The column goes on to invoke the well-worn, but specious “fleeing millionaires” myth to argue against raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy. The editorial board says that “millionaires have the means to pack up and move to states with lower taxes” and points to the state’s overall population declines as evidence of this. However, data from the IRS shows that New York’s population of millionaires has increased substantially, even after the state raised taxes on the wealthy in 2009. The number of tax filers with residency in New York State earning $1 million or more increased nearly 60% from 2010 to 2018 – precisely the years after the millionaires tax was imposed.
Besides the editorial board’s demonstrably untrue claims about the impact of the proposed tax hikes on the ultra-rich, they also fail to disclose that the News funds – and News publisher Tom Wiley sits on the board of directors of – an organization lobbying against taxing the rich. The Buffalo News is a “leadership circle” member of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership on the Partnership’s website and News publisher Tom Wiley is a member of the Partnership board of directors.
The Buffalo Niagara Partnership is a lobbying organization that represents the interests of big local businesses and their wealthy owners. All of the companies owned by local billionaires – the Jacobs family’s Delaware North, the Rich family’s Rich Products, and the Pegula family’s Pegula Sports and Entertainment – are “major investors” in the Partnership along with the Buffalo News. In its most recent lobbying disclosure, filed on March 12th, just four days before the News editorial board’s column, the Partnership reported lobbying on the state budget, targeting every one of the local legislators called out by name in the column.
Last week Tom Wiley, along with Buffalo Niagara Partnership CEO Dottie Gallagher, billionaire Delaware North owner Jeremy Jacobs, and other local business elites affiliated with the Partnership, also signed onto a letter opposing taxing the rich promulgated by the Partnership for New York City, Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s downstate counterpart.
The News’s failure to disclose its funding and governance role at a billionaire-backed lobbying organization targeting the same lawmakers and policies as the editorial board column is a major ethical lapse.
Since March 2020, just as pandemic lockdowns began and thousands of working people lost their jobs, 120 billionaires residing in New York saw their combined wealth grow by $156 billion, an increase of 30%. New York’s ultra-rich can afford to invest in the social institutions that make their vast wealth possible and polls show that New Yorkers overwhelmingly support taxing the rich to fund public services. Lawmakers should repudiate anti-tax activists’ phony scaremongering against raising taxes on the wealthy.