New York was facing a deep and long-lasting recession. Jobs were disappearing. There were calls to increase taxes on New York's wealthiest residents. But a group formed composed of business and civic leaders who instead supported the approach Gov. Andrew Cuomo was taking: Find ways of controlling spending, don't increase taxes.
That was 2011 and the Committee to Save New York.
"Throughout New York's history from the fiscal crisis of 1975 and the economic crisis of 1991 and even the great recession of 2008, there have always been leaders who came together and talked about these issues," said former Governor David Paterson in an interview on Tuesday.
Paterson is the public face and leader of a new group, the Campaign for New York's Future. It includes Virginia Fields, the former Manhattan borough president and former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión.
The overarching goal is to boost New York's economy amid a recession induced by the coronavirus pandemic. And it's opposed to increasing taxes.
In way, Paterson's leadership is both ironic and apt: He presided as governor as the recession of 2008 battered New York's finances just as Eliot Spitzer's tenure imploded.
Paterson sought to slow spending, but he also backed tax increases on rich New Yorkers which were eventually altered by an overhaul of the tax rates.
More than a decade later New York is in a different place politically than the 2008 recession or the first year of Cuomo's term in office. Progressives who identify as democratic socialists have won a string of primary victories in the state Legislature, and the top leaders support tax hikes on the rich to make up a yawning budget gap.
For progressives, taxing the wealthy would offset the worst damage of a crisis that has exposed inequalities and fault lines just below the surface.
“As millions of New Yorkers struggle to put food on the table or pay their rent, the governor is choosing to cut funding from schools, hospitals and housing instead of raising taxes on the rich. Now New York’s millionaires are proudly backing the Governor’s cuts to working people," said Michael Kink, the executive director of Strong Economy for All.
“The choice is simple: New York State can continue to cut essential services for New Yorkers in need during a pandemic, or billionaires can pay more so everyone can survive. It’s clear the governor and his wealthy donors are more interested in protecting their wealth than protecting the immigrants, communities of color and working families who make New York run.”
Paterson in the interview told me Cuomo, to his knowledge, has not had a hand in creating the Campaign for New York's Future.
He does think, though, that there "should be a shared sacrifice" as the state faces a deep economic hole.
"But what I'm hearing are presentations where the only these individuals feel is the only way to balance the budget is through taxation and economically and mathematically that's impossible," he said.
And New York is running out of options: So far, a federal stimulus package that could include an aid package for state and local governments who lost revenue trying to contain the virus appears to have stalled in Washington.
New York relies on a small set of very wealthy filers to fund its budget each year. Cuomo has called for a tax hike on the rich nationwide while opposing one at home, in large part because wealthy people can live anywhere.
Progressives dispute this mobile rich argument, but the pandemic has cast new concerns as New York's elite decamp to second homes in the Hamptons or the Hudson Valley.
Paterson understands the sentiment of lawmakers who want to raise taxes. He once sat in the state Senate himself.
"I hope that they will take the time to look at the economics of it," he said, "because there are so few people left in New York who pay these high taxes that it won't really put a significant dent in the deficit that the state is going to get right now."
For now it's not clear what actions the campaign will take. Paterson said he wanted there to be a "public dialogue" surrounding the fiscal issues facing the state.
He called for "workable and sensible and achievable ways of the state moving forward."