For a few weeks last month, the main outpost of Murdoch-ism in the US—the New York Post—ran the same headline on its opinion page day after day: “Read Andrew’s Lips.” It was the Post’s way of reminding New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of his “no new taxes” pledge, and the potential harm that would befall him if he reneged on it.
The Post is not known for subtlety. Or, for that matter, accuracy. But journalistic ethics aside, the paper is immensely powerful in New York State politics. And it did not want the right’s favorite new governor—even the Club for Growth praised Cuomo—to return to anything even remotely progressive on tax policy.
Cuomo is a contradictory figure. He describes himself as progressive, but spent most of 2011 in a warm embrace with the state’s Republican leaders. His is the progressivism that is good on social issues (marriage equality) and not-so-good on economic fairness. He solicited and received immense financial support from the business community, and when it came time to propose a budget, he insisted on letting the state’s “millionaire’s tax” expire. His argument was that he needed to do so to improve the “business climate” in the state. In so doing he rejected the views of the Assembly Democrats and the Working Families Party (WFP), who had united to win the tax in the first place. The expiration of the tax meant a $5 billion windfall for the top 2 percent of taxpayers in the state that, as the WFP pointed out repeatedly, “they do not need and we cannot afford.”
Fast forward six months to today. The Post is in a rage, calling the Governor a “rate-fink” and—even more odious in their eyes—comparing him to his father, the first Governor (Mario) Cuomo. They’re fuming and frothing at Cuomo’s change of heart over the last week that resulted in a partial re-establishment of the millionaire’s tax. It’s almost as if after eleven months of governing like New Jersey’s Republican Governor Christie, he converted back to the Democratic principles of Connecticut’s Dan Malloy. For his part, Cuomo has cited the state’s worsening fiscal situation as the reason for the change of heart, and no doubt that played a part. But the deeper reason, and the more interesting reason, was Occupy. As the WFP’s Dan Cantor wrote recently, and as many others have likewise noted, the Occupy movement changed the conversation in America “from austerity to inequality.” And this new tax deal in Albany, which will manifestly improve the lives of many working and poor people, is a result of that changed conversation and atmosphere.
For the WFP, it’s a particularly satisfying moment. As the New York Times reported, neither the WFP nor its labor allies (SEIU, CWA, Teachers, Hotel Workers and others) opposed Cuomo’s coddle-the-rich budget plans last winter, even as one suspects they all hated what he was doing. The WFP backed him in 2010, and was under pressure to stand down in the first budget debate. Cuomo’s 2010 victory was of course a landslide, and his early alliance with the Senate Republicans did not leave much maneuvering room for opponents. He is a masterful tactician, by all accounts, and the left was mostly silenced in the first quarter of the year. And so at the end of March, Governor Cuomo delivered his tax cut to the wealthy, and balanced the budget with massive cuts in spending to programs for the young, the poor and the non-powerful.