Opinion: New York’s inequality is a policy choice. Our budget can fix this.

Gov. Kathy Hochul should be investing in our communities instead of proposing education and health care cuts.

In 2020, activists participated in a “March on Billionaires” event in Manhattan.

In 2020, activists participated in a “March on Billionaires” event in Manhattan. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Our state has a serious problem: As economic inequality worsens and the rich get richer, too many leaders in Albany are turning a blind eye to the multiple crises facing working people.

Right now, New York is one of the least affordable states in the country. It’s also the most economically unequal. Our neighbors and family members feel those financial pressures every day – when they’re deciding whether they can afford fresh produce at the grocery store, when they have to skip a doctor’s appointment because of the cost and when the rent comes due each month.

New Yorkers are resourceful. When the going gets tough, we figure out a way to make it work. But living and raising a family in our state shouldn’t feel like you’re constantly treading water. It should not be a luxury.

The very wealthy are doing better than they ever have. Over the past decade, the number of millionaires in New York has increased 48%. There are over 350,000 millionaires in our state and 744 people with at least $100 million in wealth. All told, the ultrarich in our state hold a combined $6.7 trillion in wealth.

This extreme inequality is not because the rich are smarter or work harder than the rest of us; it is a direct result of the policy choices made in Albany. Every delayed bus or transit desert, every neighbor priced out of our communities, every underfunded school is a policy choice.

For far too long, our state has prioritized real estate CEOs, corporate shareholders and Wall Street bankers over working families. You don’t have to look further than the budget process that is currently underway for an example: the governor has proposed a fiscal year 2025 budget that cuts funding for public schools and health care, while promising tax breaks to wealthy developers.

The state Senate and Assembly have put forward their own budget proposals, which reverse the governor’s cuts, make new investments in our social safety net, back tenant protections and call for marginal tax increases on people who earn more than $5 million a year and corporations whose profits exceed $5 million annually. These proposals are a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, not every legislator is on board with these proposals. Our opponents – who are backed by the real estate industry, corporate interests and dark money PACs – are among the roadblocks to winning the kinds of investments that New Yorkers need to be able to make ends meet.

We are running for office because we believe that every single New Yorker deserves to stay in our state, should they want to. Every New Yorker deserves the opportunity to succeed. Our government has the tools to improve the lives of working people. And we believe that our communities – whether upstate or downstate – should have quality public schools, clean air and water, and housing that is affordable for working-class and low-income families.

With budget negotiations happening as we speak, we join the vast majority of New Yorkers who want to see the ultrawealthy pay their fair share in taxes, families be protected from no-cause evictions and double-digit rent hikes, and our state make new and expansive investments in education, housing, health care and more.

New Yorkers deserve nothing less from their elected leaders.

Claire Cousin is an Assembly candidate in District 106 in the Hudson Valley. Claire Valdez is an Assembly candidate in District 37 in Queens. Jonathan Soto is an Assembly candidate in District 82 in the Bronx.

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