NYSUT members can greet the New Year with cautious optimism, as a welcome infusion of $2 billion in much-needed state revenue lays the foundation for lawmakers to restore cuts to education and health care.
Now, the momentum must continue. The new year will be a busy time for NYSUT activists and our coalition partners as we make the case for what students need and tell lawmakers how waves of cuts have impacted our classrooms, campuses and health care facilities.
Thanks to NYSUT's non-stop activism, efforts of our union and parent coalitions, and the added support for education sparked by the "Occupy movement," there is light at the end of the tunnel. Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature acted to reshape the tax code, improving equity and generating $2 billion from the wealthiest New Yorkers.
This "gets us closer to the New York we all want," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi. "Now New York state must restore the cuts that have so burdened our schools and campuses."
Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said NYSUT will ask state elected leaders to not only honor, but also to increase their promised restorations to school aid and health care, noting that a 4 percent restoration in state aid, while essential, is not enough to mitigate the impact of new local tax caps that will disadvantage districts in funding schools.
"It is equally essential that the state do right by public higher education," Pallotta said, "which has suffered from repeated cuts at a time when it is most needed to help propel gains in the state's economic recovery."
In the days leading up to the swift action in Albany, NYSUT and parent coalition partners engaged in a series of rallies, marches and press conferences, calling on lawmakers to do the right thing and institute a new system in which all taxpayers pay their fair share. In the hours leading up to the revenue agreement, members all over the state acted on NYSUT's request to contact their state legislators in the Assembly and the Senate. The statewide union activated a system of robo-calls, email blasts and its newly expanded PAC network — and it worked.
The state's projected revenue gains will be fueled by fairer tax rates that will cut taxes for 4.4 million middle-class New Yorkers, saving the average household $300 to $400, beginning next year.
The new rates will continue to collect much-needed revenue from the state's highest earners, who would have received a huge tax windfall had the governor and Legislature not acted.
Some of the income generated by the changes are earmarked for new initiatives, including $50 million in additional relief for flood-ravaged areas of the state; $37 million for an inner-city youth employment program; and a tax credit for employers who hire inner city youth.
The economic plan also proposes a fund to fix the state's roads and bridges, which potentially might be an investment opportunity for private or public pension plans. New York State Teacher's Retirement System retirement fund investment decisions are controlled by a 10-member TRS Board of Trustees and are based on the recommendations of independent financial analysts who must evaluate an investment's soundness and whether it has an appropriate rate of return.
The governor has until Jan. 17 to submit his proposed budget. In February, local unions will ramp up meetings with lawmakers in their home districts. The union's Committee of 100, which actually involves nearly 700 members across the state, will take its message to the Capitol on March 20 and May 22. Advocacy days are also planned for BOCES, higher education members and health care professionals.