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New York Legislature to Address Virus-Related Bills

May 22, 2020, 5:44 PM

New York state lawmakers will reconvene next week to consider a host of coronavirus-related bills, including proposals for tax increases on the wealthy, relief for small businesses, and aid to essential workers.

The state Senate and Assembly members went into recess at the beginning of April after passing a state budget that gave Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) broad, unprecedented powers to make midcourse spending adjustments in response to the pandemic. Their plans to return later that month were derailed by the public health emergency. The legislative session is slated to end June 2.

Committee meetings will take place on Tuesday with session scheduled for the days following, according to a joint legislative announcement. Proceedings will take place using web-based tele- and video-conferencing.

“While the work may look different, it very much continues,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said Friday in the news release. “From helping the hungry and unemployed, to virtual town halls and legislative hearings, to coordinating with state agencies, Senators have continued working to serve New Yorkers and provide the government action and leadership needed during these difficult times.”

It’s unclear what legislation will come up for consideration in the truncated proceedings, but the agenda is likely to be limited to the priorities of legislative leaders. Housing and rent relief issues appear to be on the list, along with health care and labor questions raised by the pandemic.

Tax Credits, Bailout Money

New York state is the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. with 358,154 positive cases and 23,195 virus-related fatalities as of May 21, according to state data.

State lawmakers have introduced numerous bills to address the impact of the pandemic over the past two months, dealing with everything from taxes to unemployment. New York has 167 virus-related bills pending, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures database.

One bill (A.10291/S.8230) would prohibit corporations that receive federal bailout money from receiving state tax credits within three years of buying back their own shares.

Front-line medical workers and first responders could see an income tax deduction for up to $5,000 in expenses for personal protective equipment and transportation related to the outbreak, under another proposal (S.8195/A.10347).

And another bill (A.10414/S.8277) would create a mark-to-market tax on billionaires and direct the added revenue to a worker bailout fund.

Taxing the Wealthy

Some lawmakers in the Democratic majority also have renewed their calls for the state to tax the wealthy as New York faces an ever-rising revenue shortfall due to the economic impact of the health emergency and a delayed tax filing deadline.

The state is currently projecting a $13.3 billion shortfall, a revenue decline of about 14% from January’s budget projections, according to the state budget office. The state income tax deadline was pushed to July 15, in line with the revised federal due date.

One revenue-raiser bill (S.7378A/A.10363) would set a top state income tax rate of 11.82% for taxpayers whose New York taxable income is over $1 million, with rate increases also set for lower brackets.

Another proposal (A.10450/S.8329) would add a 10.9% rate on income over $5 million, with the proceeds dedicated to higher education funding.

Although left-leaning legislators are adding more tax-the-rich bills to the hopper, decisions on how to fill the state’s revenue hole will probably await word from Washington. State budget officials have said they’re waiting to see how much bailout money New York will receive before making changes to spending.

Remote Session

The Cuomo administration has sent signals that it “isn’t sold on the idea of new revenue-raisers right now and shares our concern about what the impact would be on an economy that is slowly coming back to life,” said Ken Pokalsky, vice president of the Business Council of New York State.

Also, he said, a “huge share” of taxable income of high-wealth taxpayers comes from capital gains, which have “fallen off the table” in the economic downturn.

New York relies heavily on high-income taxpayers with volatile investment gains, according to the Citizens Budget Commission, a private fiscal watchdog. The state typically collects about one-fifth of its operating revenue from the top 1% of personal income tax filers, with tax on capital gains ranging widely from 12% to 29% of the total, the CBC said. In recent years, income from capital gains swung from a 32% increase in 2014 to a 22% decrease in 2016, the group said.

The majority of lawmakers are expected to participate in sessions remotely from their home districts, as a safety precaution.

The Senate and Assembly in March approved resolutions allowing members to vote remotely through tele- or-video conferencing during declared states of emergency.

“Across the state, members have been delivering food to essential workers and constituents, helping to establish testing sites, conducting wellness checks, aiding constituents with unemployment applications and distributing masks and hand sanitizer,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said in the release. “We were able to see firsthand what our communities need to get through this, and we look forward to passing legislation to address these issues and concerns when we convene next week.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at; John Herzfeld in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at; Sony Kassam at