Giving to the opera is fine, but nothing beats contributing to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
More than 40 wealthy New York residents affirmed their willingness to pay higher state taxes in a letter published in The Guardian. The list of signatories includes a number of prominent figures from the New York City philanthropic community. Their call for a more progressive income tax structure relies on research from the Fiscal Policy Institute, which concludes that the current system (a “mildly progressive” one) doesn’t adequately offset low- and middle-income spending on sales and property taxes. As a result, the top 1 percent shoulders an 8.1 percent tax burden while the rest of society must pay average rates over 10 percent.
The Fiscal Policy Institute and Responsible Wealth put together the letter.
Although philanthropic giving is widespread in areas like education and the arts, funders have fewer avenues to directly support public spending, like for mass transit. Lewis Cullman, whose giving has benefitted the arts, sciences and education, said, “Those of us in the top 1 percent of incomes have a particular responsibility to contribute to the public sector at a higher marginal tax rate than everyone else.” Cullman expressed a desire to help pay for things like public schools and physical infrastructure—items usually outside the scope of private giving.
The letter defends the proposal as a matter of patriotism and pride in New York State as well as a means to push back against rising income inequality. At a time of national disquiet over income and wealth disparities and private giving in politics, progressive voices from the “1 percent” may ease the tension. In addition to Cullman, notable philanthropists who signed the letter include:
- Abigail Disney, documentary filmmaker and granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, who co-founded his brother Walt’s company.
- Barbara Fleischman, philanthropist and wife of late art dealer Lawrence Fleischman.
- Agnes Gund, arts philanthropist and former president of the New York Museum of Modern Art.
- Catherine Gund, daughter of Agnes Gund (above), documentary filmmaker, and trustee of the George Gund Foundation.
- Leo Hindery, chairman of InterMedia Partners and education philanthropist.
- Marion Hunt, trustee and program officer for the Roy A. Hunt Foundation.
- Joshua Mailman, impact investor and long-time philanthropist.
- Jan Nicholson, president of the Nicholson Foundation and the Grable Foundation.
- Steven C. Rockefeller, fourth-generation member of the Rockefeller family, longtime trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and supporter of environmental causes.
- Sarah Stranahan, board member of the Needmor Fund and co-founder of the New Economy Coalition.
- Elspeth Gilmore, who famously held a sign reading “Rich Kid for Redistribution” at Occupy Wall Street and was executive director of Resource Generation, an organization that supports ways for wealthy younger people to distribute wealth more equitably.
- Karen Pittelman, who used a $3 million trust to found the Chahara Foundation and co-founded the Trans Justice Funding Project.
- Jessie Spector, current executive director of Resource Generation.