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A Proud Progressive New York or a Declining Empire State? - Citizen Action's Progressive State of the State Address

A Proud Progressive New York or a Declining Empire State? - Citizen Action's Progressive State of the State Address

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Published by: Citizen Action of New York on Jan 25, 2011
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02/10/2011

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A Proud Progressive New York or a Declining Empire State?
Speech by Karen Scharff to Citizen Action of New York Members and ActivistsJanuary 26, 2011Hello, I¶m Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York, and I want speak to you today about the direction of our great state.My remarks are a response to the first State of the State address by Governor Andrew Cuomo.I was glad to hear our new governor call for a restoration of our pride in New York State, and hisdesire to ³remake our State into the progressive capital of the nation.´I know as members of Citizen Action and as activists in your communities, you share my pridein the things that truly make New York great. We are proud to be New Yorkers because of whatwe¶ve built together ± our world class public universities, our public school system that is thesecond best in the country, our parks, our community colleges, our health care providers and our  public services have all made our state a good place to live and to work.I agreed with the Governor¶s call for us to ³build a new New York for future generations.´ AndI was very happy to hear him call for the reforms necessary to make our government responsiveonce again to the people of our state, including replacing our current µpay to play¶ campaignfinance system with publicly financed voter-owned elections. We at Citizen Action look forwardto working with the Governor to achieve that goal.But, while I support his goal of bringing back pride and stability to our state, I have strongconcerns that the Governor¶s approach to the state budget will harm New Yorkers and will harm New York State¶s future. Although he talked about becoming the progressive capital, when itcomes to fiscal policy, I do not believe he advanced a progressive vision for New York. I amconcerned that we may end up putting the priorities of the wealthiest ahead of the needs of all New Yorkers.And I am not alone with these concerns. I have heard from people who work in the fields of education, health care, social and economic justice, and community building that the Governor seems to be headed toward proposing a budget that undermines the very systems and publicstructures that make New York a great place to live and raise our families.Why am I so concerned? Because the Governor blamed what he called the µspecial interests¶ for overspending and creating the deficit. Are the millions of New Yorkers struggling with poverty,hunger and sickness, the school children of our state, our college students, and the vast majorityof working and middle class New Yorkers who are simply trying to get by - are they all specialinterests?The Governor is right that we face a serious budget deficit. But to get a full and accurate
 
appraisal of the state of the state, we must look at the real causes of that deficit. New York State¶s deficit is tied to the overall economic crisis facing our state and our country.Did investments in education, health care and public services cause our state¶s economicdecline? No. Our economic decline was caused by the national financial crisis brought on byWall Street and the banks, the real special interests. And now, despite Wall Street making record profits, they want a state budget that protects their interests and wealth instead of the publicgood.A full and accurate appraisal of the state of the state must take into account widening incomegaps in New York. Growing income inequality is destroying our economic future. And Governor Cuomo¶s budget priorities will only lead to more money being concentrated in the hands of therich, by taking that money away from New York¶s shrinking middle class.Did you know that the Fiscal Policy Institute found that over the last three decades, the incomesof the richest one percent of New Yorkers grew 36 times as fast as the rest of the population?And they still pay a much smaller percentage of their income in total taxes than the rest of us.Wall Street pay more than doubled, and now the richest 5% of New Yorkers receive nearly oneout of every two dollars that are received in wages and other income by New Yorkers.But for the rest of New Yorkers, here is what is happening:
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median hourly wages have only gone up less than 1% over the last two decades ± that¶sover that entire period;
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median family income increased by less than half a percent a year;
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the average real earnings of a young college-educated worker actually fell by awhopping14%.How would Governor Cuomo address these widening gaps? What is his plan to raise thestandard of living for the middle class and young people entering the job market? How will herejuvenate the upstate economy?His State of the State didn¶t answer these questions. In fact, his budget is expected to makematters worse.His budget is expected to slash programs and services for average New Yorkers and give tax breaks to the wealthy.That¶s right. He has said he will cut education and health care by billions of dollars, and give atax break to millionaires and the wealthiest 3% of New Yorkers.What will this mean? We will know what it means when the Executive Budget is released nextweek. But we know from his State of the State what it¶s likely to mean. It¶s likely to mean:
 
 
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the elimination of programs for students who are falling behind and larger class sizes for all students;
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reduced levels of care in hospitals and nursing homes;
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thousands of layoffs at the state and local level, reducing the services provided to all NewYorkers, and causing even more people to hit the unemployment lines.It is likely to mean undermining the very things that make New York great and that make us proud to be New Yorkers.Again, all of this while giving a tax break that goes only to the richest 3% of New Yorkers.And that tax cut comes on top of a federal tax windfall from extension of the Bush-era tax cuts ± a windfall worth more than $8 billion to those New Yorkers making over $250,000 a year.A group of wealthy wall street executives and New York City¶s largest landlords have joinedtogether to promote these tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts for the rest of us. These arethe special interests who are paying millions to get their agenda passed in Albany.At Citizen Action, we think this is wrong. It does not give New Yorkers a progressive vision or afuture that will restore our pride in the Empire State.Yes, we have to economize, but we must continue to provide essential services, and we mustcreate a budget that invests in New York State and New York¶s working families, so that we canrebuild our economy.There is way to do that. It involves sharing the burden, and asking the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay their share of taxes, doing their part to rebuild our economy after they wrecked it. Here¶show:1. We should extend the current income tax rates on the wealthiest 3% of New Yorkers, thosewith incomes over $200,000. If the Governor lets these tax rates expire, New York will lose a billion dollars this year and over $4 billion next year. We cannot afford to take a billion dollarsout of our children¶s classrooms or our local hospitals or soup kitchens to give a tax break to thewealthy. In these fiscally difficult times any proposal that will increase next year¶s state budgetdeficit by nearly $5 billion is irresponsible.2. We should add a top tax bracket specifically for millionaires ± adding 1% to their tax ratewould raise $1.4 billion.3. Or, we could recapture a portion of the $8 billion federal tax windfall to the wealthy from theextension of the Bush tax cuts. A surcharge that captures just half of their windfall would givethe state $4 billion and help avoid the worst of the cuts.

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