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Criminal Justice Activists Denounce Governor Cuomos Veto of the Justice

Equality Bill and Weak Record on Reform


Governor Cuomo has presented himself as a champion of progressive causes, and has lifted up
New York State as the progressive standard other states should aspire to be. But when it comes to
criminal justice, Governor Cuomo has opposed progress at almost every turn, and the reality
remains that in counties all over the State, court processes look a lot like Ferguson, Missouri:
poor people and people of color are facing judges without a lawyer, locked up on low amounts of
bail for minor crimes, and pleading guilty to accusations they may or may not be guilty of just to
get out of jail and go on with their lives. This isnt justice.
Most recently Cuomo vetoed bi-partisan legislation designed to ensure that all New Yorkers
facing criminal charges are provided with an attorney, a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
Across the State, our government is failing this basic obligation to its residents, as shown in the
settlement of Hurrell-Harring, a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union. While
this impact is felt throughout New York, it is in poorer and more rural parts of our State where
this impact is felt most acutely.
The Governor vetoed the legislation just before New Years Eve, claiming it was too costly, too
far-reaching and importantly, did not give his office final authority over the bills possible
expenses. Placing the balance sheet above justice is nothing new for Cuomo, but its especially
striking at a moment when the State is set to renew the millionaires tax, and could easily
increase taxes on the top 1% of income earners so that justice could be afforded to all, not only
those that can pay for it. New Yorks income tax brackets are outdated and need to be adjusted to
reflect the explosive income gains by billionaires and millionaires over the past few decades.
New progressive brackets at the highest levels, as proposed by Assembly Speaker Heastie just
this week, could yield $2.2 billion more per year than we are currently collecting. Closing the
carried interest loophole at the state level and reform of wasteful, scandal-plagued corporate
subsidies and economic development programs could raise another $5 billion or more.
Everyone agrees that many New Yorkers are being robbed of their basic rights, and while there
may be a debate about the best way to ensure that everyone no matter their income has an
attorney with the appropriate resources to provide a zealous defense, it is the job of a progressive
Governor to figure out a way to close the deal. Every day that he doesnt, thousands of New
Yorkers--frequently the most vulnerable--are robbed of a fair shake.
Few other criminal justice reform proposals are possible without an adequately funded public
defense; but many more are needed and Cuomo often stands in the way. He vetoed bi-partisan
legislation that would resolve dramatic racial inequities in the enforcement of pocket knives, and
has failed to show any leadership on meaningful reforms such as the right to a speedy trial,
transparency in police oversight, and fixing New Yorks criminal discovery laws, which rank

among the worst in the country. Its time for Cuomo to lead on these important issues or to get
out of the way.
While we applaud Governor Cuomos actions to oppose the recent Executive Order of our new
President, we are committed to demanding justice and progressive policy setting by all our
elected officials. We do not want to protest our Governor. But we will oppose injustice wherever
we see it, whether from Washington, DC or Albany.