March 01, 2011

Sending a strong message to Albany on education funding

Author: Bernie Mulligan
Source: NYSUT Communications


View All | Full Screen | Photos by Andrew Watson and El-Wise Noisette

Hundreds of public employees, college students, seniors and library workers rallied outside the Capitol today to tell legislators to protect the many, not the few, by extending the income tax surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers.

"Is the governor cutting $9 billion from the budget a job-creating strategy? The richest New Yorkers need to do their fair share," said Ron Deutsch, a leader in New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness.

"We want to make sure the pain is shared in New York," state Senator Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat, told the crowd. "Fixing the millionaire's tax is not a sin, it's a moral obligation."

Perkins and other speakers cut to the heart of the debate on taxing the wealthiest New Yorkers. With the state facing a deficit, and schools facing $1.5 billion in cuts which would devastate services and lead to layoffs, they asked why the legislature and governor would support a $1.2 billion tax cut for those who need it the least. NYSUT and many other organizations have been outspoken against this tax break.

NYSUT's Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta drew big cheers when he said, "New York should be a leading state, not a losing state. Our students should not suffer. We have to reverse this trend and fund education."

The pain caused by the budget is being strongly felt in small school districts, like Norwood-Norfolk in St. Lawrence County in the North Country.

"My job is being cut," said Marcia Eggleston, the district's grades 7-12 school librarian, who was lobbying legislators in Albany with hundreds of members of the New York Library Association, a strong NYSUT partner for advocacy and funding issues. "My district will lose about one million dollars in state aid."

Eggleston said the hundreds of library advocates lobbying with her all had the same question: "The funding for library systems is under attack. At a time that information is so important, why are we cutting libraries?"

Madeline Olano, a student at CUNY's Hunter College in Manhattan, raised a similar question. "How can I become a teacher if TAP and Pell grants are cut? I need you to help me graduate so I can become a leader in this state."

Members of the Professional Staff Congress, a NYSUT affiliate, teach at Hunter and the other CUNY campuses.

Senator Perkins reminded the rally attendees of their role in bringing democracy to the legislature, "Your visibility, your voices, and your placards help us remember our responsibilities. Keep it up."

The crowd enjoyed - and lustily booed - the presence of several mock billionaires who came to spread their message of "Feed the greedy, not the needy." After a few minutes of debating the activists, the wickedly wealthy fled to their limousines and sped away.