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COVID-19 stimulus eliminates need for NY tax hikes, expert says

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The massive amount of federal aid heading to New York under the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill eliminates the need for Albany to raise income taxes or other levies — unless the pols are just interested in “punishing the rich,” the head of the city’s top business group said Wednesday.

“The ARP [American Rescue Plan], together with higher than expected income tax revenues, definitely closes the state and city budget gaps and makes tax increases this year or next unnecessary,” said Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the New York City Partnership.

She noted New York State and its residents will receive a total of $100 billion in federal aid — including $10 billion for education, $2.2 billion for rental assistance, grants for restaurants and Broadway, loan forgiveness for small and minority-owned businesses and money for coronavirus vaccine distribution.

Just as important, the relief measures provide $6 billion in unrestricted aid to the city government and $12.6 for the state government to deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

“We are flush!,” Wylde told The Post.

“If the state acts to raise taxes, it is a political statement aimed at punishing the rich — not a reflection of economic need,” she said.

Before knowing how much federal aid Albany would receive, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed raising incomes taxes for the wealthiest New Yorkers to a top rate of 10.86%, up from 8.82%, when he submitted his budget plan in January. New York City’s well-to-do residents would pay a combined top state and local income tax rate of 14.7%, the highest rate in the nation.

Cuomo — who is battling sex harassment and nursing home scandals — said on Sunday that tax hikes are still on the table despite the infusion of federal aid.

The House of Representatives passed the COVID relief bill Wednesday.
The House of Representatives passed the COVID relief bill March 10, 2021.
Caroline Brehman/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“It is on the table…. It is the difference between $12.5 and $15 [billion]. And don’t get me wrong, the $12.5 billion is very, very helpful. But as you know, because I’ve said it a hundred and fifty times, we needed $15 billion in my opinion,” Cuomo said.

Meanwhile a left-leaning coalition — which includes the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez linked Democratic Socialists of America — is pushing for up to $50 billion in a slew of tax hikes on the wealthy and Wall Street investors.

Democratic lawmakers who run both the state Senate and Assembly are reviewing the federal pandemic relief package, and haven’t taken tax hikes off the table.

Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said the Democratic conference has not yet taken a final position on taxes.

But many Democrats in the Assembly said Albany should still raise taxes on the wealthy because the federal aid only covers one-time expenses fueled by the pandemic, and doesn’t address the pressing, long-term needs of the state or a structural imbalance when the one-shot federal stimulus dollars disappear.

“We need to raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers who aren’t paying their fair share. There is a tremendous backlog of needs. There is a desperate need for revenues to fund our schools, for housing and health care,” said Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Nanuet).

Abinanti also said a more stable state revenue base will lessen the need for local governments to raise property taxes.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the pandemic stimulus package wipes out New York government’s projected deficits.

“Ok. Thanks to @SenSchumer NYS budget deficit for this year is…..Zero, nada, niete, zilch (NY terms),” Schumer rep Angelo Roefaro tweeted.

Critics said Cuomo — mired in scandal — is compromised and should resign instead of negotiating a budget.

“Cuomo is asking for more time so he can use federal dollars and the budget to curry favors with Democrats,” said Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), who has called for the governor’s impeachment.

Senator Chuck Schumer said the COVID bill will eliminate the deficit in New York.
Senator Chuck Schumer said the COVID bill will eliminate the deficit in New York.
AP

Cuomo said he will not resign and urged New Yorkers to await the results of state Attorney General Letitia James’s investigation of sexual harassment claims leveled against him by former staffers.



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Glasses retailer Warby Parker eyeing IPO as soon as this year

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Hipster glasses retailer Warby Parker is eyeing an initial public offering.

The 11-year-old business, which started out as an e-tailer before rolling out some 130 stores across the US, is considering an IPO as early as this year, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

The New York-based company has amassed a huge customer following by offering less expensive prescription glasses. Warby Parker raised $120 million in its most recent funding round giving it a $3 billion valuation, according to the report.

“We’ve always explored various financing opportunities in both the debt and equity markets,” the company said in a statement. “To date, we have successfully and deliberately raised money within the private market on favorable terms and have plenty of cash on our balance sheet. We’ll continue to make strategic decisions in line with our commitment to sustainable growth.”

Founded by college buddies Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, who met at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Warby Parker has attracted some large investors including the mutual fund company, T. Rowe Price.

It turned it first profit in 2018, Gilboa told The New York Times at the time.

Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal
Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal
Brian Ach/Getty Images

Customers can get prescriptions through their apps on their smartphones and use cameras to pick out frames. The company also has an optical lab in Sloatsburg, NY where it produces lenses.

While Warby Parker is not the least expensive option, it beats Costco in a recent comparison with Costco charging as little a $126 for a pair of prescription glasses compared with Warby Parker’s least expensive pair at $95.

“As consumer walk into a LensCrafters or Sunglass Hut, they see 50 different brands of glasses but don’t realize that all those brands are owned by the same company that owns the store that they’re standing in, that probably owns the vision insurance plan they’r using to pay for those glasses,” Gilboa said in a recent CNBC interview.

“And so, it’s no surprise that a lot of those glasses are marked up 10 to 20 times what they cost to manufacture,” he said.

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Dogecoin hits new high boosted by DogeDay hashtags

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Dogecoin prices hit an all-time high on Tuesday, with a market capitalization above $50 billion, after social media fans used hashtags to fuel a rally in the meme-based cryptocurrency.

An 8,000 percent price surge this year has seen Dogecoin, which was launched as a satirical critique of 2013′s cryptocurrency frenzy, overtake more widely-used cryptocurrencies like Tether to become the fifth-largest coin.

While Dogecoin, whose logo features a Shiba Inu dog at the center of the meme, a represents only a fraction of bitcoin’s $1 trillion value, it can be traded on crypto exchanges and more popular mainstream trading apps.

“The Doge rally represents an interesting convergence,” said Diana Biggs, CEO of crypto start-up Valour, after Dogecoin’s price soared by more than five-fold in the last week to a record 42 cents, according to CoinMarketCap.

“A meme coin created as a joke for early crypto adopters whose community found that kind of thing to be fun, with now a new generation of retail investors for whom memes are a native language,” Biggs added.

Dogecoin fans used the hashtags #DogeDay and #DogeDay420 to post memes, messages and videos on Twitter, Reddit and TikTok, referring to the informal April 20 holiday to celebrate cannabis which is marked by smoke-ins and street parties.

“GIMME THAT DOGECOIN LAMBO!!! #DogeDay” one tweeted, referring to the Lamborghini car popular in crypto culture.

Dogecoin’s rise has come amid a surge in online trading of stocks and crypto by retail investors, stuck at home with extra cash because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has not coincided with a growth in usage of the coin for payments or in commerce.

The same trend has spurred a boom in usage of online trading apps like Robinhood, and also fueled the social-media driven rally in GameStop stock that pitted retail investors against hedge funds earlier this year.

“It’s an extension of the same phenomenon that has led Tesla stock to be valued well beyond fundamentals and more recently to the GME (GameStop) short squeeze,” said Ajit Tripathi, head of institutional business at decentralised finance startup Aave.

Like other cryptocurrencies, Dogecoin’s price is heavily influenced by social media users including Tesla chief Elon Musk, whose tweets on the cryptocurrency in February sent its price soaring over 60 percent.

“If this goes as planned and everybody including Mr. Musk go ahead and just pour money into Doge on April 20th all at once Doge will reach prices that originally were not even conceptual,” a TikTok user said in a video promoting the coin.



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Amazon is opening a beauty salon in London

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Amazon is opening a hair salon in London — its latest odd lurch into new businesses as the pandemic continues to fuel the e-commerce giant’s torrid growth.

The Amazon Salon, unveiled in a Tuesday blog post, will occupy a two-story, 1,500-square-foot space in Spitalfields, a trendy neighborhood in East London that is also home to Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.

Indeed, the new salon, which will be open seven days a week, initially will only cater to Amazon workers. Members of the public will be able to make bookings in “the coming weeks” by calling, emailing or visiting the salon, the company says.

“This will be an experiential venue where we showcase new products and technology,” Amazon said in a blog post on Tuesday, adding that there are no plans to open other salons.

That will include making Amazon’s Fire tablets available at each station, allowing customers to use augmented reality technology to see what they look like as a platinum blonde, brunette or with highlights, the company said.

The salon is located at Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.
The salon is located at Amazon’s UK headquarters, which houses about 5,000 employees.
Amazon

The salon will also test new “point-and-learn” technology, where customers can point at a product they are interested in on a display shelf and the relevant information, including brand videos and educational content, will appear on a display screen.

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