By Mario Cilento
Be it conservative media outlets or corporations and their think tanks, everyone has a suggestion on which taxes to cut, but shockingly, there is nary a mention of the corresponding services that those taxes support.
It’s quite simple: You can’t look at supply without looking at demand, yet that is what we’re all being asked to do.
Do you want to pay less in taxes? The answer is inevitably yes, particularly when asked in a vacuum. That is why the more important question to ask is what services are you prepared to sacrifice? Education, police and fire, transportation infrastructure, public health care and care for the disabled are all funded by taxes.
There are no free lunches; if you don’t pay for the services we value as a society, they’re not just going to magically continue. And in reality we’ve already been starving vital services.
Over the last several years, all we’ve done is cut. We’re no better off, despite promises that we could cut our way to prosperity. Too many New Yorkers are still out of work, or under-employed. New Yorkers have also seen increasing poverty, and the state is home to the worst income inequality in the nation.
If we’re going to turn this around, then we need to do things differently. The only path to a sustainable recovery, in which all of us share in the prosperity, is to start investing in hard-working New Yorkers and the services they rely on, not cutting them further, and to create good, career-oriented jobs.
Roads, bridges, public transportation, quality schools and other services are assets to businesses and should be treated as such.
We also should take a look at the $7 billion in tax breaks that the state and its local governments give out each year to attract and retain business. In 2011, for example, 46 percent of projects receiving support from IDAs lost jobs, failed to create jobs or never promised any jobs.
We can’t afford to subsidize businesses that fail to create – or even promise to create – jobs. If businesses don’t live up to their end of the bargain, then we need a way to recoup our money. We also need to ensure that there is a focus on long-term, generational jobs that meet basic standards. As a state, we should not be in the business of subsidizing poverty jobs.
Ultimately, we must remember that tax cuts alone are not economic development policy. Without investment in the people who make our state great, they are destined to fail.
The focus on taxes, jobs and economic development programs – and all public policy debates, for that matter – should begin and end with making New York work for hard-working New Yorkers. That’s how we succeed together.
Mario Cilento is president of the New York State AFL-CIO, which represents 2.5 million members and retirees and their families.