The “Tax Reform” That Wasn’t

by E.J. McMahon |  | Albany Government Law Review

One year ago, as Andrew Cuomo was about to wrap up his first year in the New York governor’s office, the governor and state legislative leaders agreed on a series of personal income tax provisions they described in a joint news release as “fair tax reform that achieves the first major restructuring of the tax code in decades.”

In reality, the bill passed in December 2011 simply tacked three more years onto a temporary “millionaire tax” first enacted in 2009 — something Cuomo and Senate Republicans previously had said they would not do. This $2.5 billion tax increase on the state’s highest earners was coupled with a token (and also temporary) tax cut of $690 million for 4.4 million taxpayers in middle- to upper middle-income brackets. As a result, the state’s personal income tax code is more unsettled than it has been in decades, even as the federal government prepares to make major tax changes that will further raise the net cost of New York’s high taxes.

The full story of the widely misunderstood December 2011 tax law — and a useful history of changes to New York’s personal income tax since the late 1970s — is laid out by E.J. McMahon in this Albany Government Law Review article.