Who wants to be a New York City billionaire? Contrary to what the mayor thinks, Gotham needs its superrich.
Last week, The New York Times asked: Which political leader, in this crisis, is going to champion New York as a place where businesses and wealthy people want to be? Kathy Wylde, head of the Partnership for New York City, a coalition of business interests, said we need “a plan.”
To City Hall, the request smacked of outrageous entitlement. “Kick rocks, billionaires,” said the mayor’s spokesperson. The mayor himself was more circumspect. “I am not going to beg anybody to live in the greatest city in the world,” he said.
It’s one thing to opine that the rich must pay their “fair share,” as de Blasio ineffectually nattered on about for years. It’s another thing to say that New York doesn’t need — or want — them.
OK, so what does New York without billionaires — and their envious relations, millionaires — look like?
First, taxes. In 2017 (the last year for which full data is available), 65,053 New York households — about 1.7 percent of tax filers — made above half a million dollars, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. They paid a whopping $6.1 billion in income taxes to the city, or 53 percent of local income taxes.
If this share of personal-income taxes has held up, they likely paid $6.7 billion in income taxes for the fiscal year that just ended — or more than 10 percent of the city’s total tax collections.
The richest of the rich? In 2017, 1,818 families earned above $10 million each — and paid $2.8 billion in local income taxes, or nearly a quarter of total income taxes.
It’s fine if New York City doesn’t want that cash — but city leaders will have to explain to middle-class people why trash isn’t being picked up as often, explain to poorer residents why it can’t keep crime down and explain to uniformed public-sector workers that they can no longer retire in their 50s.
But taxes are only one aspect. Wealthier people get to choose where they live, more so than many people can. They want to live here, for the same reasons many normal people do: restaurants, shopping, Broadway, the opera, museums, baseball games.
They just also happen to fund those things more than the rest of us. An opera-goer’s ticket doesn’t cover the cost of the show, just as a museum admission price doesn’t cover the cost of displaying its paintings.
Arts organizations depend on the people whose names are on the walls. Donors, in turn, don’t act entirely out of selflessness: They give to a cause whose product they and their peers enjoy.
You may never go to the opera, or Saks, or the museum — but wealthier people cross-subsidize these attractions with big donations or spending, attracting tourists and upper-middle-class residents to the city, further firming up the tax base.
Finally, there’s livability. The wealthy New Yorker perusing The Post from his Hamptons or Florida “second home” may read the article about a robbery spree on the Upper East Side — and decide it’s yet another reason not to return right now.
New York needs wealthier people to stay and care — partly because people in poorer neighborhoods, focused on survivability, have less time and resources to organize themselves in favor of better policing.
Nearly two decades ago, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg clumsily called New York a “luxury city.” But he had a point: Wealthier people would pay higher taxes here because they got a good quality of life.
Now what’s the calculation? Come back to New York — and worry about getting sick from a second wave of COVID-19 (keep in mind you’re probably old), worry about being mugged on the street, be unable to attend a classical-music show at least until next year and have protesters target you at home with deafening middle-of-the night protests?
The rejoinder from the socialists is: People shouldn’t be so rich. On a practical level, wealth distribution cannot be achieved on locally, when financial assets are mobile — and especially when that locality is falling apart.
The rejoinder from the urbanists is de Blasio’s line: Disloyal people should be shamed for being disloyal. But nobody has signed a blood oath to a New York City that doesn’t want them. That leaves poorer New Yorkers who can’t leave — with fewer education and job opportunities, and a greater risk of being felled by a stray bullet.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.
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