“That is totally ridiculous,” former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino told the Business Journal in reacting to Gov. Andrew Cuomo blaming a dramatic state tax revenue shortfall on the new federal limit on tax deductions for state and local taxes, known as SALT.
“Look at the mindset in Albany. It’s just spend like crazy. And what was the first thing that Democrats locally did in Westchester once SALT took effect? Raise taxes, which made it doubly worse,” Astorino said.
Astorino, a Republican, served as county executive for eight years and ran for governor against Cuomo in 2014, receiving more than 40 percent of the vote compared with Cuomo’s 54 percent. During his two terms as county executive, Astorino maintained his campaign pledges not to raise county property taxes.
Cuomo, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Budget Director Robert Mujica held a news conference on Feb. 4 at which they announced that the state experienced a drop in income tax collections during December and January to the tune of $2.3 billion. Cuomo has proposed a $175 billion budget for 2020.
“The federal administration’s SALT policy is an economic civil war that helps red (Republican controlled) states at the expense of blue (Democratic controlled) states, and we are now seeing the potentially devastating effect of it in the form of significantly lower tax receipts,” Cuomo said.
The SALT changes mean residents of states with higher state and local taxes have less to deduct when doing their federal tax returns, resulting in higher adjusted gross incomes. A higher adjusted gross income means a higher number on which the person’s federal tax burden is based, even though the person is not receiving any additional income.
Cuomo, DiNapoli and Mujica were promoting the position that SALT encourages high-income New Yorkers to move to other states. As they go, the state loses tax revenues critical for education, health care, infrastructure and maintaining a program of tax cuts for the middle class.
“This is the most serious revenue shock that the state has faced in many years,” DiNapoli said. He pointed out that wealthy New Yorkers, who pay a lot in state and local taxes, are also the most mobile and would find it relatively easy to move their legal residence to some other state.
Cuomo pointed to other non-Republican states also feeling a revenue squeeze. “New Jersey is down 35 percent, Connecticut 55 percent, Massachusetts 50 percent, California 24 percent. What do these states have in common? They are all blue states. If you look at the non-SALT states, you don’t see the same drop in revenue. That can’t be a coincidence.”
Astorino, who has a contract with CNN to appear as a contributor and commentator, said the issue goes beyond the tax changes enacted under the Trump administration.
“You’ve got to stop with the Trump excuses because New York was going down the tubes before Donald Trump even thought about running for president. People have been leaving in droves for a reason; because they’re being taxed out of this state.”
New York was one of nine states that lost population recently, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released in December. It said 48,510 had left the state between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018. Other states to lose population were: Illinois, 45,116; West Virginia, 11,216; Louisiana, 10,840; Hawaii, 3,712; Mississippi, 3,133; Alaska, 2348; Connecticut, 1,215; and Wyoming, 1,197. Florida gained 2,494,745 in population since 2010 and now has 21,299,325 residents compared with the 19,542,209 living in New York,according to the Census Bureau.
Astorino points out that there are differences between blue states and red states that go beyond the effects of SALT. “Just look at how the blue states are doing in America versus the red states.
The states with lower regulations that help businesses and lower taxes and lower costs of living, that’s where everyone is going and it’s for a reason,” Astorino said.
Cuomo, on the other hand, took the position at the news conference that with SALT, “A taxpayer in Florida would see no increase, probably would see a decrease, and Florida also has the advantage of no estate tax.”
But, it’s not just SALT that makes Florida and some other states attractive for relocation these days, according to Astorino. “It’s always been sunny in Florida. People have always gone down there, but they’ve always come back after a vacation. Now, they’re going to move. And the jobs are plentiful, taxes are low and the middle class has a chance to survive. In New York, it’s more giveaways and it’s always the middle class that has to pay.”