(photo: Governor's office)
As we near the final days of state budget negotiations, a familiar anxiety is growing as advocacy groups and everyday New Yorkers await the fate of critical policy and funding decisions.
Despite a fast start to the legislative session and optimism abounding from a Democratic trifecta that seemed focused and committed to delivering on campaign promises, the realities of the same-old behind-closed-doors budget process are setting in ahead of the April 1 deadline.
For far too long, the state budget has contributed to growing inequality and deteriorating services across the state. While state budgets tread water or move us backwards, the continuing “strength” of the economy has further tipped to the wealthiest among us.
The recently re-elected Governor and newly-elected members of the Assembly and the Senate ran on the promise to chart a new course.
Make no mistake: It is THAT vision of a fairer, cleaner, kinder, and more equitable New York that helped take down the Independent Democratic Conference, strengthen the Democratic majority in the Assembly, and elect 39 Democratic Senators for a new majority that voted to put Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins into her rightful place as the leader of the Senate.
Grassroots organizations like ours, Empire State Indivisible, have spent the first three months of 2019 in the streets organizing in support of that vision. But strangely it’s now many of these same elected officials who are pushing back against the fight for fairness and democracy.
Exhibit A: the continued resistance from many members of the Assembly to finally pass through both houses legislation for publicly-funded elections.
For years, the Assembly championed this issue: 88 current members are on the record for past support. Yet, now that there’s a viable path to passage, many of those former champions now claim there are too many open questions.
Grassroots organizers across the state have reported consistent questioning from many of their electeds like “how would the program be implemented?”, “what would be the model of oversight?”, and “where would the funds come from?”
It turns out these reasonable questions already have incredibly thoughtful and effective answers. Organizations like Citizen Action and the Brennan Center for Justice have been bending over backwards to work with the conferences in the Senate and the Assembly to answer the questions and make the legislation as effective as possible. It’s disingenuous to claim that last-minute questions are the reason support for the measure is lacking.
The fact is that our elected officials are sent to Albany to solve complicated problems with conviction.
They are the ones responsible to design policies that solve the challenges New York faces. The irony of elected officials refusing to participate in the process of crafting the details of policy they claim to support is lost on no one.
Exhibit B: skittishness among many lawmakers on establishing fair tax and fiscal policies.
Governor Cuomo’s budget proposals consistently create a battle for funds amongst the most critical services. His penchant for “horse trading” (as many insiders refer to it) pits public school funding against healthcare spending, support of clean energy and municipal infrastructure projects against investments in affordable housing, and so on and so on.
We and many other New Yorkers have been asking legislators about increasing revenue through new fair-share tax proposals like the “ultra millionaires tax,” which extends the current millionaires tax and adds brackets for people whose annual income exceeds $5million, $10 million, and $100 million.
Too often, the answers have been truly dismissive and patronizing -- particularly from the new Senate majority and the Governor. The pushback is a status-quo run-around: lawmakers fear that raising taxes -- even on multimillionaires and billionaires who got huge new tax breaks from President Trump -- might cause them to lose elections in 2020.
The numbers and the polling suggests otherwise.
Insisting that the ultra-rich pay their fair share of a burden that has for too long been shouldered by the poor, the middle class, and the upper middle class will in fact be answering to the will of the people. It will allow all the members of the Democratic majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate and the Governor to deliver on the promises that galvanized voters to elect such a strong slate of Democrats in the first place -- and will inspire us to do so again.
The ask is simple: No more excuses. We simply can’t afford them.
Ricky Silver is co-lead organizer of Empire State Indivisible. On Twitter @es_indivisible.