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Activists in New York Target 'Governor 1 Percent': Cuomo Under Fire for Refusing to Extend Millionaire's Tax

Tuesday night, Occupy Wall Street protesters marched to give New York Governor Cuomo the message: Stand with the people, not the 1%.

"Where is Cuomo? Protecting the 1 percent!" 

That was the chant outside the Skylight SoHo according to Democracy Now! reporter Ryan Devereaux, who accompanied a group of about 150 Occupy Wall Street protesters on a march to protest Governor Andrew Cuomo's stance on taxing New York's wealthy. Cuomo was in town to receive an award at the Huffington Post/AOL's "100 Game Changers" event; the Democratic governor was apparently named "Game Changer of the Year." Author Naomi Wolf was attending the event, along with Arianna Huffington and reality TV star Kim Kardashian, among others, but Wolf joined the protesters and wound up taken away in handcuffs after marching in front of the restaurant where the event was held. 

Reporter Allison Kilkenny told me the protesters decided to target Cuomo, whom they called "Governor 1 Percent," because of his refusal to extend a temporary tax on the rich that is set to expire December 31, despite widespread support for keeping the tax in place. The so-called "millionaires' tax" is the only thing  polling better in New York right now than the Occupy Wall Street crowd, it seems. Seventy-two percent of the state, including a clear majority of Republicans and a huge majority of Democrats, support keeping the tax. That's according to a  Siena College Research Institute poll. A separate Quinnipiac poll just of New York City residents showed those voters support extending the tax by 61 percent to 28 percent, with Republican support holding steady at 55 percent.

New York State has been in the throes of a battle over the millionaire's tax for a while now. Instituted in 2009 to help close the state's massive deficit, it created two new tax brackets, hitting families with incomes of $300,000 at a rate of 7.85 percent and those over $500,000 at 8.97 percent (which the  New York Times points out is the same as neighboring New Jersey's highest rate).

Allowing the tax's expiration, said advocates, would amount to a  $5 billion tax cut for New York's richest.

Olivia Leirer, spokesperson for  New York Communities for Change, said that New York's politicians only seem interested in austerity, not new forms of revenue. “It's becoming clear that they're not interested in solving a budget crisis, they're interested in getting benefits for the rich off the backs of the poor,” she said.

It's no surprise that billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn't support the millionaire's tax. It should be a little bit more surprising that Cuomo, son of liberal icon Mario Cuomo, opposes the tax as well. But Cuomo has long had an  ambivalent relationship with his own party—and even as momentum created by Occupy Wall Street has politicians from Barack Obama on down realizing that the time is ripe for some economic populism, Cuomo appears committed to protecting the interests of the rich. In a press conference recently, he actually compared his opposition to the millionaire's tax to  his father's fight against the death penalty:

“My father was governor of this state. He was against the death penalty. Everyone in the state wanted the death penalty — everyone. It was near 80 percent. And he was the governor of the state and he said he wasn’t going to sign it. Every year — go back and talk to some of the people who know the history — every year we had to scramble and make sure there wasn’t an override of the veto. . . .

“The point is, we don’t elect — the governor isn’t a big poll taking machine. And that’s what we do, we take a poll and do whatever the poll says and you wouldn’t need me … so the fact that everyone wants it, that doesn’t mean all that much. I respect the people, their opinion matters, but I’m not going to go back and forth with the political winds.”