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By Michael Kink

New York State has the worst income inequality in the country. If lawmakers are serious about improving the economy and helping local communities, they will need to take action to reduce inequality as they work toward a final budget in Albany this month.

Income inequality is not just political rhetoric here in New York – it’s economic reality. We’ve got the biggest divide between the rich and the poor in the United States, and the division is getting worse.

In the last 30 years, the incomes of the bottom half of New York’s population have actually gone down by 13 percent, while the incomes of the top 1 percent of the population have gone up, and up, and up – up by 368 percent.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed state budget will make things even worse by giving more than $1 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest New Yorkers and cutting local budgets that serve everyone else.

The governor wants $750 million per year in estate tax cuts that primarily benefit the super rich. The bulk of this windfall will go to the state’s 200 wealthiest families – millionaires and billionaires with estates valued at more than $10 million.

And Cuomo’s budget proposal also includes a big gift to Wall Street. It gives a $300 million tax cut to New York’s largest and most profitable banks, the very same banks that helped create the fiscal crisis that led to the Great Recession in the first place.

Our schools are suffering after years of austerity budgets and cuts. Teachers have been laid off, and class sizes increased. Now the governor wants to leave these cuts in place to pay for his tax cuts for millionaires and bankers. That’s the wrong choice for New York.

We just can’t afford to give out new tax cuts to Wall Street banks and millionaires. We should use that money instead to fund our schools, maintain services for our senior citizens and prevent tuition hikes at SUNY and community colleges. Investing in our people is the right growth strategy for New York.

Lawmakers have a chance to replace the Cuomo tax cuts for the wealthy with a better budget that invests in rebuilding our schools and services and growing the middle class.

Polls show New Yorkers want a state government that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and well-connected. Fighting inequality is good economic policy – and it’s probably good politics, too.

Michael Kink is the executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition. For more information, visit facebook.com/nyinequality.