The national debate about income inequality in the presidential campaign is also fully playing out in this state legislative session with calls for paid family leave and a minimum wage increase to $15/hour. Now, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie wants to extend a higher tax on households with income of one million dollars, add a new rate for those making more than $5 million or more while offering a tax decrease for middle income households. This issue was supposed to take center stage next year when 2011 tax increases on the wealthy expire but Heastie wants to have that battle this year and wants to raise over a billion dollars to pay for education increase and infrastructure projects.
Though Governor Cuomo has moved to the left on paid family leave and the minimum wage, he is not endorsing tax increases for the wealthy . The State Senate Republican leadership is also opposed. Heastie’s decision to boldly put a tax increase on the wealthy as a key part of the agenda is a clear indication of how much the political climate has changed from the days when tax increases were only discussed during times when there were budget deficits to be balanced. Heastie is proposing the tax increases while there is a budget surplus.
Governor Cuomo has now officially put forward a change in his 30 day budget amendments to make his proposed paid family leave proposal gradually reach a 2/3 wage replacement rate though it will start at 35%. Previously the Governor was only willing to propose raising the amount of the paid leave to equal up to 50% of a worker’s weekly wage up to 50% of the statewide average wage. By agreeing to raise the paid leave to 2/3 of a worker’s weekly wage, he is more in line with the Paid Family Leave Coalition though it wants to start the program at 50% of a worker’s salary and raise it to two thirds.
Meanwhile Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Caucus proposed last week his own paid family leave proposal which would be entirely employee paid and would address an increase in the temporary disability insurance program separately. That idea will be more amenable to the Senate Republican leadership which is also trying to shield business from added costs for paid family leave.
Cuomo’s agreement to enhance his proposal came after pressure from the Paid Family Leave Coalition which balked at his plan to only provide 50% of weekly wages. The Governors new proposal is an indication of how seriously he wants to build support to pass paid family leave this year.