“The four men in a room have produced a rich man's state budget,” said Howie Hawkins, a Green candidate for Governor who is a working Teamster.
“The average income of New York State's richest 1% is over 40 times greater than the average income of the 99%. But the leaders of both major parties want to make the rich even richer with hundreds of millions in tax cuts for the 1%. To pacify the 99%, they want to send small property tax rebate checks and rent tax credits to voters. But that's just a maybe – only if your municipality can afford to stay below the local tax cap without going broke,' Hawkins said.
Hawkins called on state legislators to vote down the proposal. “The legislature should come back with a budget for the 99%,” said Hawkins.
Hawkins also decried the elimination of the bank tax, the cuts in corporate tax rates and estate taxes, and the complete tax exemption for manufacturers. “These corporate tax breaks just shift more of the tax burden on to the property taxes that working people pay,” Hawkins said.
While he was glad that the legislature rejected Cuomo's push to eliminate the stock transfer tax, he was disappointed that they agreed to continue to rebate the estimated $12 billion to Wall Street traders rather than using it to pay for local revenue sharing, education, public jobs, mass transit and other critical needs.
Property tax program a “new state mandate”
Hawkins said the budget's property tax rebate program is “a new top-down state mandate that forces schools and municipalities to cut services and stay under the cap in order for their homeowners to qualify for the rebate.” He said a better way to cut property taxes is to restore revenue sharing and let local communities decide for themselves how to distribute those revenues between local property tax relief and paying for municipal services.
State revenue sharing is 75 percent lower than it was in 1980 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Hawkins said the cuts in revenue sharing, not excessive local spending, is why property taxes have become the highest in the nation.
Hawkins said he supported the renters tax credit to protect lower income renters, but said it should be statewide, not limited to New York City. “If it's good for New York City renters, it's good for upstate renters as well,” said Hawkins who lives in Syracuse.
Budget “promoting a dual school system, separate and unequal”
Hawkins also felt the Pre-K funding proposal short-changed upstate school districts. “I'm glad New York City is getting most of what it needs to expand Pre-K, but $40 million for upstate school districts doesn't begin to address the need. Plus New York City as well as other local governments should have local control to raise revenues in a fair manner,” he said. Lawmakers rejected Mayor de Blasio's call to allow the city to enact a small tax on the richest NYC residents to finance universal pre-k.
On state aid to education, Hawkins said the state should eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, fund the full Foundation Aid Formula, and start catching up on the cumulative shortfall of over $9 billion below the Foundation Aid Formula created over the past five years. State aid as a percentage of overall school funding is at a 65 year low.
“Cuomo and the legislators call their school aid a funding increase. But it is still a cut below the Foundation Aid Formula enacted in 2007 to provide adequate funding for a constitutionally-mandated sound basic education,” said Hawkins.
On the protection of students from Common Core, Hawkins said the protection of children from over-testing and privacy invasion were steps in the right direction, but that schools and teachers need protection from high-stakes testing linked to Common Core as well.
“The education policies coming from the leadership of both major parties and embodied in this budget – from under-funding public schools and promoting charter schools to modifying but not ending the high-states testing regime – are pro-privatization and anti-public schools. They are promoting a dual school system, separate and unequal. We need to address the root causes of low performing students and schools in poverty, segregation, and under-funding schools in low-income communities,” said Hawkins.
A report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles released last week found that schools in New York State are the most racially and economically segregated in the nation and have become more so over the last 25 years. New York State has the seventh most unequal distribution of school funding between school districts among the 50 states, according to “National Report Card” on school funding from Rutgers University.
Hawkins expressed opposition to the Governor's successful push to divert more tax funds to charter schools at the expense of public schools. "Cuomo and Skelos were all for giving Mayor Bloomberg unilateral power to run the schools but now that de Blasio wants to do something else, suddenly Cuomo wants the state to increase their interference." Hawkins has opposed giving Mayors control over schools, advocating for increased community control.
For the first time, the privately operated schools will be eligible for government funds to cover the costs of leasing classroom space in private buildings. And NYC we’ll be barred from charging rent to any charter school co-located in a public school building. The charter schools provide significant profits to wealthy hedge fund managers who spent $5 million on attack ads against Mayor de Blasio and who have heavily contributed to Cuomo.
Public campaign finance pilot program is “pathetic”
Hawkins called the budget's proposal for pilot program of matching funds public finance system for the Comptrollers race “pathetic.” Cuomo also plans to shelve the Moreland Commission, which he set up allegedly to probe political corruption.
“They are not serious about public campaign financing. They are pathetic. The Comptroller didn't write this terrible budget. The Governor and legislative leaders did. But they exempt themselves from public campaign financing,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins has been critical of the partial public funding program that Governor Cuomo, legislative Democrats, and many good government advocates have been promoting. He says all of their proposals provide only a small amount of public funding, while allowing the continuation of unlimited private funding.
“It's a reform that doesn't reform,” Hawkins said. “The rich will still dominate elections. Look at how big real estate interests dominated campaign finance the New York City mayoral race.”
Hawkins said he favored a system of full public campaign financing where candidate who opt in receive equal grants of public money and use no private money. Arizona and Maine have full public campaign finance systems. A bill for full public campaign finance by a Clean Election Campaign Finance Fund has been introduced both the Assembly (A4116-2013) and the Senate (S4501-2013).