Howie Hawkins, the recent Green Party candidate for New York Governor, said today that Cuomo's proposed state budget will do little to improve the quality of life for the average New Yorker.
Hawkins was especially critical of Cuomo’s education proposals, saying that they reflect the privatization program of hedge fund campaign donors, not a program to improve poorly performing public schools.
Hawkins also said that the corruption charges against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was just the most recent evidence of the cesspool of greed that dominates Albany. He called on the Assembly to strip him of his leadership if he fails to resign.
Hawkins also said that Cuomo should be investigated by the US Attorney for similar crimes. The real estate mogul apparently at the center of the Silver case, Leonard Litwin, gave over $1 million to Cuomo's campaign fund. Hawkins said the investigation should look into the contributions of hedge fund managers who would benefit from Cuomo's education privatization agenda. Silver fought subpoenas from Cuomo's Cuomo Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. Cuomo shut the Commission down once it began asking questions about his own campaign contributors.
Cuomo Escalates His War on Students and Teachers
“Cuomo declared war on public schools and teachers in his State of the State address. His proposals to determine the fate of teachers' pay and jobs and schools' funding and survival based on students' standardized test scores look like more pay-to-play politics in Albany. Cuomo's policies will punish teachers, students, and schools in communities disadvantaged by poverty, segregation, and under-funding, while they will reward the hedge fund managers who invested more than $10 million in last year's election and stand to profit from their charter school investments,” Hawkins said.
“Cuomo said he based his decision to ban fracking on science. He should do the same with education. Most academic studies find that teachers account for between 1 percent and 14 percent of variability in student test scores, while Cuomo wants to base 50 percent of teacher evaluations on test scores. A half century of research shows conclusively that student's socioeconomic status accounts for the majority of the variation in test scores. The way to improve student performance in New York is to fully fund schools in disadvantaged communities, attack poverty these communities, and desegregate New York's schools, which are the most segregated schools in the nation,” said Brian Jones, the recent Green Party candidate for Lieutenant Governor who taught in New York City schools for nine years.
The Greens have called for Foundation Aid to be fully funded immediately, for the school aid formula to be reformed so it is more need-based, and for the state to support school desegregation programs such as intra- and inter-district public school choice, consolidation, and incentives (such as magnet schools).
Hawkins criticized a power point bar graph in Cuomo's presentation Wednesday as “deliberately misleading.” The bar graph that purported to show that poorly performing schools receive more funding that other schools and therefore that more funding will not help. Hawkins noted that the graph just showed state aid and did not include local funding. “When all funding for schools is considered, that bar graph would slope the opposite way,” Hawkins said. “The gap in per student funding between the poorest 20 percent and richest 20 percent of school districts is $8,733 and has grown over the course of Cuomo's tenure.”
Cuomo’s Energy Proposals Fall Far Short of Actions Needed on Climate Change
“Cuomo ridicules increased spending on public education as 'throwing money at a problem.' But that is exactly what he is doing with respect to energy, where we need objective numerical goals for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas reductions. The energy policies he presented focused on spending, not measureable results. They fall far short of what we need to address climate change and use the building of a green energy system to create jobs, reduce poverty, and improve the economy,” Hawkins said.
"New York should set a goal of 100 percent green energy by 2030 and then scale up its policies and investments to meet that goal," he said. Such an investment would create 4.5 million jobs created while cutting energy costs in half by the 2020s, according to the Solutions Project study by Stanford and Cornell researchers. Hawkins said that would be a far stronger economic stimulus that Cuomo’s competitive grants program.
Hawkins said Cuomo should have improved upon California Governor Jerry Brown's recent State of the State address that set three 50 percent by 2030 green energy goals: 50 percent renewable electricity (Renewable Portfolio Standard), 50 percent electric vehicles (halve oil consumption for motor vehicles), 50 percent more efficient buildings (double building energy efficiency). "Cuomo says he likes competition and New York should lead. Here is his opportunity," Hawkins said.
Hawkins said Cuomo's renewable energy proposals to increase the cap in net metering to six percent, to promote shared renewable energy microgrids, invest in renewable energy in the Southern Tier and upstate cities, invest in research on battery storage for renewable energy, and others are good but only baby steps in the right direction.
Poverty Is a Statewide Problem Demanding Statewide Action
“The problem with competitive grants for $1.5 billion of the bank settlement money is that four of the seven regions will get nothing. A better approach would be to make such funding available to every region that meets reasonable standards in their proposal. Then every region with a good approach can get some help,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said that Cuomo's anti-poverty initiatives were similarly small steps in the right direction but insufficient.
“Let's end poverty, not make it slightly less onerous. $10.50 is still a poverty wage. It should be at least $15 and indexed, with local governments having the right to raise it higher in their jurisdictions. A useful job should be a right. We should have public jobs in public works and services meeting unmet community need that pay a living wage for every person who is willing and able to work. For those who cannot or should not work, we should have a guaranteed income above poverty,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said that he supported a hike in the welfare grant, as well as a public jobs program funded by the Stock Transfer Tax. The Stock Transfer Tax has raised between $12 billion and $16 billion in recent years, but has been rebated in full to Wall Street speculators. Hawkins said that Senator Klein's proposal to spend $1.5 billion of the bank settlement money on a community jobs program is flawed because it is a one-time program funded by one-time revenues. He said a public jobs program needs a recurring and larger revenue source like the Stock Transfer Tax in order to achieve full employment.
Cuomo's Fifth Austerity Budget
“Cuomo's fifth austerity budget will make poverty worse. He wants another $350 million in cuts to human services on top of the over $1 billion in cuts since 2009. He is imposing more cuts in local government services by tying the state tax relief programs to municipal compliance with the 2 percent property tax cap while simultaneously freezing revenue-sharing aid to municipalities at 75 percent below its 1980s level,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins called for a restoration of the progressive tax structure and revenue sharing that New York had in the 1970s. He noted that Democratic governors in Maryland, Minnesota, and California have won progressive tax reforms in recent years. “Where are their counterparts among the Democratic leaders in Albany? Where are their prominent legislative advocates for progressive tax reforms to fund a progressive budget?” Hawkins asked.
Hawkins would increase state revenue sharing to local governments to 8% of state revenues. Hawkins recently testified in support of a state single payer program that would make health care a right for all residents while eliminating the county and New York City contribution to Medicaid, a major driver of high property taxes.
End the New Jim Crow
Hawkins said he agreed with many of Cuomo's proposals regarding the justice system, but that they were still far short of what was needed. Hawkins participated in the Black Lives Matter protest organized by Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration outside the State of the State address on Wednesday.
“Cuomo's initiatives do nothing to reduce the mass incarceration of poor people of color,” Hawkins said. “Over-policing poor communities of color under the war on drugs and broken windows must stop. We need a statewide public defender’s office to ensure the right to effective counsel. We need to reverse the flow of military weapons to police departments. Our communities need peace officers, not an occupying army."
“The destruction of lives of the incarcerated, their families, and their communities must be redressed. Cuomo's proposed reconciliation commission sounds limited to improving community-police relations, not the investigations, accountability, and reparations we have called for in a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission,” Hawkins said.