Bill de Blasio, who won the Democratic mayoral nomination vowing to tax New York’s richest residents to pay for universal pre-school, called himself a “fiscal conservative” in a speech to business leaders.
Speaking before 800 executives hosted by the Association for a Better New York today, de Blasio, 52, was interrupted by applause at least 10 times as he told the civic group he would use the mayoralty to fight economic inequality. In a speech to ABNY exactly one year ago, a smaller audience sat in silence.
“I want to pleasantly shock the room and say I’m a fiscal conservative,” de Blasio said, responding to a questioner seeking lower hotel-occupancy taxes. “I’m a progressive-activist fiscal conservative, but I’m still a fiscal conservative. We can’t talk about tax cuts in any sector until we sort out our financial situation.”
De Blasio, elected to the watchdog post of public advocate in 2009, won the nomination in part by decrying economic inequality in a city where the richest 1 percent took home 39 percent of all earnings in 2012, up from 12 percent in 1980. About 46 percent of all four-person families had incomes of no more than $46,000 in 2011, or about 150 percent of the poverty level, according to city officials.
He used today’s speech to return to that theme, trying to win over an audience that he said probably included many who earn more than $500,000 a year and would be taxed to pay for his plan.
“We all benefit when the middle class is growing and more of our fellow citizens are lifted out of poverty,” de Blasio said.
He said he would build on several of the economic-development programs started by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whom de Blasio criticized during his campaign.
Bloomberg, 71, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, will finish his third term Dec. 31 and is barred from seeking a fourth term.
De Blasio led his Republican rival, Joseph Lhota, 58, a top aide to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, 71 percent to 21 percent, in a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday. Several in the audience, which included former Governor Mario Cuomo and former Mayor David Dinkins, both Democrats, addressed questions to de Blasio as if he were already the mayor-elect.
Lhota’s first televised ad, which aired this week, describes the former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as similar to de Blasio in supporting gay marriage and decriminalizing marijuana, while depicting the Democrat as someone who “wants to raise taxes and supports reckless government spending.”
Lhota is scheduled to speak before ABNY Oct. 8. He responded to the speech today by saying, “It’s delusional for anyone to think Bill de Blasio is a fiscal conservative.” He said in an e-mail statement that de Blasio was pandering to the audience.
In his remarks, de Blasio presented an array of economic-development policies focused on expanding job and career training in the city’s public colleges, increasing opportunities for television and film production, and adding requirements on developers to mix luxury apartments with more affordable housing. The city faces “a crisis of affordability,” he said.
“We cannot resign ourselves to the mindset that says rising inequality is a necessary byproduct of urban success,” de Blasio said. “We must recognize that the economic insecurity steadily creeping into the middle class is a threat to our city’s long-term future.”
In his ABNY appearance last year, de Blasio first proposed a tax increase on the wealthy to raise $532 million for universal all-day pre-kindergarten and after-hours middle-school programs.
“My members clearly agree with him about the importance of pre-kindergarten,” said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, who attended today’s speech. “It’s critical and will have a great impact on children.” It’s too early to decide whether a tax increase is the best way to finance it, Spinola said in an interview.
About 20,000 of New York’s 68,000 4-year-olds get city-funded full-day pre-kindergarten classes, with 38,000 enrolled in three-hour programs and 10,000 in none. The added pre-K slots would cost about $342 million, de Blasio said.
Almost a third of middle-schoolers participate in after-hours extracurricular programs, and to enroll the rest would cost about $190 million, according to de Blasio’s plan. The tax would affect about 1 percent, or 44,200, of city taxpayers, with an average income of $2.7 million, de Blasio’s office said. To close budget deficits, the city imposed a surcharge on incomes above $150,000 per household from 2003 to 2005 and increased property taxes 18.5 percent.
De Blasio’s plan would raise the marginal tax rate on incomes above $500,000 to 4.4 percent from almost 3.9 percent. For the 27,300 city taxpayers earning $500,000 to $1 million, the average increase would be $973 a year, according to the Independent Budget Office, a municipal agency.
For those making $1 million to $5 million, the average extra bite would rise to $7,793, the budget office said. At incomes of $5 million to $10 million, it would climb to $33,518, and for those earning more than $10 million, it would mean paying $182,893 more.
The top 1 percent account for 46 percent of the city’s personal income tax revenue, while top 5 percent provide 64 percent, according to the city Finance Department.
“I understand some of them may not agree with my plan, but it’s the right thing to do,” de Blasio told reporters following the speech. “I didn’t come here for love; I came here to foster understanding of my vision and to let people know I want to work with them.”
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