New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, is expected to announce on Monday a tax on the wealthiest residents in the city to pay for much-needed improvements for the city’s deteriorating subway system, according to multiple reports. And unless you’re a millionaire who thrives on the misery of the poor or whose life would be debilitated from—maybe!—having one less extreme fine dining experience per month, this is good.
The new tax would raise an estimated $700 million to $800 million annually, according to The New York Times, with $500 million allocated for capital costs and $250 million for a program to reduce the cost of a subway pass in half for low-income riders.
Imagine you’re a billionaire, and you pay a little extra per year to benefit someone who lives in the same city as you, a billionaire, but doesn’t happen to earn a billion dollars per year. Is this a situation you could emotionally handle? Or do you revel in the image of someone crying on the platform of a 7 train, somewhere out past Astoria, crying because they’re going to be late for work, again, and potentially lose their job? Are you happy?
The subway system is 113 years old and carries an annual ridership of 2.7 billion across 5,000 square miles, dropping them off at 472 stations throughout the city. If you don’t have a social media stream infiltrated by New Yorkers bellowing about the current state of the subway, and need to brush up on why de Blasio’s pitching this idea, here’s what you need to know: the system is falling apart.
There’s endless delays, derailments, overcrowded stations, nightmare rides, all leading to lost wages and jobs, and it’s because of a significant lack of funding that’s plaguing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway. An additional tax on the most well-off residents in the city—at the benefit of all NYC residents, thereby reinforcing some semblance of the idea that government, and government services, exist to serve the people, and in order to do that the government needs a reasonable amount of money to adequately provide those services—makes sense.
The city is the home to 82 billionaires, and, according to the Times, de Blasio’s proposed tax would barely put a dent in their annual gross income. The plan—which requires approval by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature, according to the New York Post—calls for raising the city’s highest income tax rate by about a half a percentage point for married couples with incomes above $1 million, to 4.4 percent. Individuals who earn more than $500,000 would also be included. Officials estimated the tax would be paid by about 32,000 residents, “or fewer than 1 percent of those who file their taxes in the city,” the Times says.
What would a jump from 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent mean for the person making, say, $1 million this year? The New York Post, which expectedly drenched the top-half of their story about the proposal with language to enrage the upper class, explains:
The tax hike would amount to an additional $2,700 levy on an individual earning $1 million a year, and an additional $8,000 on an individual earning $2 million, according to City Hall.
So, even at its lowest, the individual making $500,000 this year would pay an additional ... $1,350 per year, or about $112.50 per month. In other words, it’s one—maybe two!—very nice dinners per month for this person. The compromise sure seems reasonable when stacked against the resident who lives in the outer boroughs and has to cobble together $120 for a monthly pass to get into Manhattan for a restaurant job, but it didn’t take long for some observers to inject objectively dumb points of view into the situation. Take Ari Fleischer, a flack who made a living by selling the nation lies about the Iraq War and now exists to willingly apologize for Donald Trump:
Putting Fleischer’s moronic flat-tax argument aside for a moment, floating the idea that it’s acceptable to tax someone who earns $10,000 per year—in one of the most expensive cities in the world—at the same rate as a millionaire should relegate him to irrelevancy for good, but we live in a country where the largest media outlets value the morally bankrupt views of guys like Fleischer and continuously give him a platform to weigh in. (Fleischer’s earlier point was that de Blasio’s tax would give low-income residents access to the subway for free, which is demonstrably untrue, but a lie hasn’t stopped him before.)
Why would a flat tax be dumb, though? Hamilton Nolan summarized it excellently a couple years ago in Gawker:
Our whole progressive tax code, in which tax rates go up as income rises (broadly speaking), is based on the idea that as people get richer and richer, they can afford to contribute more to the public good, whereas people who are very poor cannot afford to contribute as great a percentage, because they need that money in a much more acute way. The progressive tax code, in other words, is based upon reality. A flat tax is based upon a fantasy that a millionaire and a minimum wage earner can both afford to pay the same percentage their salary towards the public treasury. The flat tax’s appeal is a millimeter deep— “the percentage is the same, therefore fairness exists!”—but a moment’s contemplation of it will reveal that it is a terrible policy for the poor.
Until rich, contemptible morons like Fleischer and politicians who agree with him are either driven out of public life for good, or have a stunning come-to-Jesus moment, it’s hard to see the New York state legislature signing on to de Blasio’s plan. But it should.