“Andrew Cuomo is reading from the same 30-year old major party script, which says the bad economy and fiscal problems are the fault of big government and the solution is to cut taxes and spending. It’s the same old banker’s agenda to take capital off the tax roles and make labor pay all the taxes. The result has been an unprecedented concentration of income, wealth, and power in a tiny elite and stagnant or declining income, wealth, and public services for the rest of us. Wall Street blew up the economy, but Cuomo wants to blame public employees,” said Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s 2010 gubernatorial candidate and recently elected co-chair.
Peter LaVenia, the other co-chair of the Green Party, added that “Cuomo is using this crisis to advance a ‘shock doctrine” on NY just like the bankers and Wall Street had been doing with the IMF and third world countries for decades. Slashing public spending for essential services and selling off public assets to pay off debts and deficits only works for looting the economy. Cuomo is continuing the bipartisan push to bail out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. How is his austerity plan supposed to help an upstate described 4 years ago by Spitzer as part of Appalachia? Cuomo is advocating class war on behalf of the rich, and we think it’s time working NYers fought back. ”
“We say that the problem is concentrated wealth and power and the solution begins with progressive tax reform to make the rich pay their fair share of taxes again so government can invest in what the people want: secure jobs, good schools and health care, clean energy, and a sustainable environment,” Hawkins said.
Speaking at a news conference in Albany, Hawkins also responded to Cuomo’s proposals for government reform and a green economy. Hawkins said that the state needs to go way beyond Cuomo’s government reform measures to full public campaign financing and independent redistricting into multi-member districts for proportional representation. He said Cuomo’s proposed $100 million competitive grants program for green economic initiatives was far short of what is needed.
Joining Hawkins in the news conference were Betty Davis and Ralph Poynter of the Green Party’s Black Caucus and public education committee who said Cuomo’s proposal for competitive grants for school performance would serve as a means for Cuomo to force reluctant parents, teachers, and school boards to accept his education reform agenda of charter schools, mayoral control, and union busting. They said schools instead need full funding, community control, and programs to redress the poverty and alienation at the root of low achievement in the schools of low-income communities.
Progressive Tax Reform
The Fiscal Emergency Plan that Cuomo outlined in his State of the State address called for a public employee wage freeze, no new taxes, a spending cap, and no borrowing. Hawkins countered that “progressive tax reform is a better solution to the state fiscal crisis than Cuomo’s financial austerity plan.”
“The richest 1% of households increased their share of all income in New York State from 10% in 1980 to an incredible 35% in 2007. The rich can easily afford a restoration of progressive taxation,” Hawkins added.
Hawkins called for restoring the progressivity of the personal income tax in New York to the level that prevailed before the first governor Cuomo began flattening the tax bracket rates in the 1980s. If New York State went back to the progressive income tax structure of 1972, the state would raise $8 billion more in revenue while giving 95% of New Yorkers a tax cut. In 1972, New York State had a personal income tax with 14 graduated brackets, ranging from a low of 2% to a high of 15%. Today New York has only five flatter brackets, between 4% and 6.85%. Most people with a full-time job reach the top bracket. A single person reaches the top 6.85% rate once his or her taxable income reaches $20,000, a married couple at $40,000.
The state also has two temporary higher tax brackets of 7.375% on income between $100,000 and $500,000 and 7.7% on income over $500,000. Mr. Cuomo proposed to eliminate these higher brackets. Those temporary tax rates on the rich bring in $5 billion a year.
“The state can’t afford more tax cuts for the rich. It’s fiscally irresponsible. Cuomo is pandering to the rich, to his political base of wealthy campaign contributor with that proposal,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins noted that Congress just gave hundreds of billions in tax cuts to the wealthy by extending the Bush tax cuts. An increase in the state income would recapture some of this massive federal tax giveaway to help bailout New York’s economy which is reeling from Wall Street’s financial misdeed with the housing mortgage crisis.
Hawkins called for ending the rebate of the Stock Transfer Tax, which brought in $13 billion in 2010 but was immediately rebated to the traders and brokers on Wall Street. The Stock Transfer Tax is a tiny sales tax on stock purchases, with a graduated scale topping out at 1/20th of 1 percent or $350, whichever is less, on large purchases of a stock. By comparison, sales taxes on consumer goods are 8 percent in most New York counties. The Stock Transfer Tax has been collected since 1915. But since 1981, it has been collected and then immediately rebated.
“The Stock Transfer Tax is not a new tax. We just need to keep what the state already collects instead of giving it back. That reform alone will cover the project deficit,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins also called for 50% Bankers’ Bonus Tax, which he said would raise at least $10 billion. “A few thousand New York bankers and traders whose companies were bailed out with trillions in Federal subsidies, low interest loans, and guarantees turned around and paid themselves at least $20 billion in bonuses in 2009 and look to surpass that in 2010. While Main Street has been depressed since the financial meltdown in 2008, Wall Street has had its two most profitable years ever in 2009 and 2010. It’s time for them give something back to New York,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said a much more powerful form of property tax relief than Cuomo’s proposed property tax cap would be a state takeover counties’ Medicaid costs, which now accounts for 45 percent of their property tax revenues. Hawkins also said that a “circuit breaker” on property taxes that caps the property tax at a percentage of income would better address the problems low-income and retired homeowners like the 80 year old Rochester woman that Cuomo acknowledged in his address.
Hawkins said the best way to takeover county Medicaid costs would be through a state single payer health care system, which the state’s own July 2009 study said would save New Yorkers $28 billion a year in health costs by 2018 compared to the Congressional mandated insurance plan adopted last year.
“Mr. Cuomo says he’s looking for efficiencies in Medicaid. He should dust off that study to see the efficiencies and cost controls that a single payer system would achieve across the whole health care system,” Hawkins said.
Turning to Governor Cuomo’s many proposals for government reform, Hawkins said, “We’re all for transparency, disclosure, and ethics reforms. But we need to go much further. Albany dysfunction is rooted in the two-party-system of corporate rule, where the big banking, real estate, and corporate interests call the shots.”
Hawkins said he was glad that Mr. Cuomo mentioned his support for public campaign financing in his State of the State address. But Hawkins said he hoped that Cuomo would support full campaign financing, not the matching funds model in use in New York City. Hawkins noted that the matching funds system in New York City still excludes the poor, working, and middle classes from participation. Hawkins said the Clean Money, Clean Elections model of public campaign financing would open the public financing system to candidates representing low and moderate income people. The Clean Money, Clean Elections model provides full public campaign financing for candidates who raise a reasonable number of $5 contributions and petition signatures that demonstrate a serious candidacy with real support.
“The reform that would go furthest to open up the political system would be proportional representation, where each party gets legislative representation proportional to the vote it receives. Yes, we need independent redistricting and I’m glad Governor Cuomo expressed support for that. But independent redistricting into single-member districts for winner-take-all elections would still create mostly non-competitive, one-party districts dominated by one or the other of the major parties with the most party enrollment. What we should have is redistricting into multi-member districts for proportional representation elections. That would create to competitive elections in every district, higher turnouts, and full representation of all political viewpoints in the legislature,” Hawkins said.
Green Jobs and Economic Recovery
Hawkins said Cuomo’s State of the State message was disappointing when it came to green jobs, clean energy, and environmental protection.
“$100 million for his ‘NY Cleaner, Greener Communities Program’ is far too little to meet the urgency of the jobs and climate crises. Cuomo said nothing about breaking through the stalled implementation of the Green Jobs/Green NY weatherization program. He also said nothing about the Climate Action Plan just completed under the Paterson administration. He avoided again taking a position against hydrofracking for natural gas. We should ban fracking in order to protect our water and the climate from this dirty fossil fuel industry. Natural gas development would divert precious time and resources from developing clean renewable energy. We should investing billions in clean energy, energy efficiency, smart grids, mass transit, organic agriculture, and green tech manufacturing. That is the road to jobs, economic recovery, and climate protection. Cuomo is only proposing baby steps when we need a massive crash program,” Hawkins said.
Betty Davis and Ralph Poynter of the Green Party expressed their opposition to Cuomo’s education agenda.
Davis, a retired school teacher and principal and veteran of the Ocean Hill/Brownsville fight for community control in the 1960s, said, “Cuomo’s proposal for inter-school competition for performance grants is just going to be way for the state to force down the throats of reluctant parents, teachers, and school districts the agenda of Bush’s No Child Left Behind and now Obama’s Race to the Top. It’s all about high-stakes testing and public school closings, charter school openings and privatization, mayoral control and union busting. The first thing the state needs to do is fully fund the public schools, particularly in inner cities and rural communities with limited property tax bases, as mandated by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision.”
Poynter, a retired teacher who helped organize the United Federation of Teachers and also was active in the Ocean Hill/Brownsville community control movement, noted that “People in affluent suburbs and the private schools of the very wealthy are not clamoring for charter schools, high-stakes testing, and mayoral control. This is being imposed on the school districts of the poor and minorities. We know that the best predictor of school performance by far is family income background. It’s time to address the poverty and alienation at the root of poor education outcomes instead of scapegoating teachers, elected school boards, and poor communities for school problems that start outside the classroom.”
# # #