We start with the silly — and we all need a bit of levity each of these frightening days — by again getting the Kinks out, as we did in last Thursday’s official County email, but today it’s a timely Kinks parody, featuring our very own former Westchester DA Jeanine (“IT’S A VIRUS! LIKE THE FLU!!”) Pirro. A warning: the video may be unsuitable for the very young, the very old, people who are pregnant, think they are pregnant, may become pregnant after watching this video, or who are generally allergic to satire and/or potty humor.
Back to serious, although not without a touch of irony, we should all be reading and re-reading the lengthy editorial in this past weekend’s NY Times Sunday Review, which discusses racial disparities in wealth, health, safety and housing, as well as our widening gulf in terms of resources available to the haves and have-nots.
The essay talks about the fact, as you have heard in many messages you have received from me, that there are great numbers of people who have always been just one or two missed paydays away from the disaster we now have, doubling and tripling and quadrupling the lines at our church food pantries, soup kitchens and bread lines. The most resonant part of the Times piece for me is in these lines:
“ ‘We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence,’ [President Franklin D] Roosevelt told the nation in 1944.
“The goal, of course, was never realized in full, but since the late 1960s, the federal government has largely abandoned the attempt. The defining trend in American public policy has been to diminish government’s role as a guarantor of personal liberty.
“Advocates of a minimalist conception of government claim they too are defenders of liberty. But theirs is a narrow and negative definition of freedom: the freedom from civic duty, from mutual obligation, from taxation. This impoverished view of freedom has in practice protected wealth and privilege. It has perpetuated the nation’s defining racial inequalities and kept the poor trapped in poverty, and their children, and their children’s children.”
The touch of irony was the Sotheby’s real estate advertising insert that was in the same thick packet of the hard copy version of the Sunday edition — property porn, really — with lush photos of multi-multi-million dollar homes for sale around the tri-state area. All of which says to me it’s time for us liberal Democrats to saddle up again, as we did under the leadership of FDR, to ride to the rescue of market capitalism, reining in its most outrageous excesses.
There are some things I would like my colleagues on the County Board of Legislators to consider to shore up our local social safety net and promote real movement toward equity and sustainability.
We can do this by reallocating resources. There were 501 inmates held at our County Jail this morning, of whom 218 are under the control of the feds, who are quickly reducing their cohorts of detainees and convicts here and across the nation. Yet, the number of very well-compensated public employee positions at our jail stands at the same number as it did when the daily population there averaged 700, and as it did when there were 1400, and as it did at 2100. Meanwhile, we need services for defendants diverted from incarceration; more investment in the first three years of child development by properly funding our struggling daycare providers; and the opportunity of community college at lower or even zero tuition. Among other things.
The money for the reallocation of our priorities and a movement toward greater equity must ultimately be part of a federal solution. The feds can and should print the money to do this. But is there anything that county government could do now to raise revenues in a fair and progressive manner? What so-called “wealth taxes” are within our power to enact? Our neighbors across the CT line in Greenwich and Stamford pay an additional $5 per thousand above the base rate transfer tax rate for sales of single-family homes for over $800K and another $10 per thousand on top of that on sales exceeding $2.5 Million. The cities and townships of northern New Jersey have similarly graduated real property transfer taxes. Why not try something like that, which could have additional, graduated steps in between $800K and $2.5 Million and even some above that number? Why not a graduated surcharge on annual property taxes on homes with fair market values above $2 or 3 Million?
What do you think? Are there other fair means of raising revenues and reallocating resources? Do you have other ideas on what kinds of “wealth taxes” could be workable on a county, state or federal level?