Happy New Year! … Happy New Year?
I guess that question will remain unanswered until we hear Gov. Cuomo's State of the State address and actually see his proposed budget. The question of how much joy there will be in 2012 also will depend on the efforts of our friends in the New York State Assembly and Senate.
What road will the governor lay before us? Will the Legislature travel down that road or will they veer to the left or the right? While "happy" may not be the most appropriate word, we will know how "happy" the new year will be very soon.
If the close of last year is any indication, the thinking among elected officials may have started to coalesce around a more progressive agenda — one good for students and patients, educators and health professionals, indeed all New Yorkers.
Last month, the state Capitol was abuzz with activity and progress as the governor and members of the Senate and Assembly reconvened to pass legislation reshaping New York's tax code, making it more equitable for our state's taxpayers and, at the same time, providing another $2 billion in much-needed revenue.
The tax reform and related initiatives, including funding to help flood-ravaged communities and programs designed to create jobs, came together at break-neck speed — at least by Albany standards — and exemplified how bipartisanship can work. It's a lesson that we hope won't be lost in Washington, D.C. As political bickering in our nation's capital remains center stage, lawmakers continue to squander opportunities to address some of our nation's most serious problems.
Yes, the governor and state legislators deserve credit for the collaborative and forward-looking way they began dealing with some of the most glaring inequities in our society. They're off to a good start. And, in just a few weeks when the governor and Legislature start tackling the 2012- 13 state budget, we will know if, as a result of those deliberations, the good work from last month translates into a down payment on the American Dream for poor and middle class New Yorkers.
NYSUT United and nysut.org have routinely documented the pain caused by three years of cuts to public education: more than $3 billion lost over three years; 11,000 education jobs cut this year; and students jammed into overcrowded classrooms while important programs like art, music and sports are curtailed. The quality status of — indeed even access to — SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges is threatened. Health care also has been seriously hurt. Investment in public hospitals and health care programs that primarily serve the poor have been seriously reduced or eliminated.
December's positive efforts in Albany are far less than what is needed when weighed against the draconian tax cap approved last spring. More has to be done. Our schools need more resources as they grapple with the unrealistic and unbending tax cap that takes effect this year. The need for full-time faculty and full funding of our higher education campuses must be viewed and supported as the engine that can power New York's economy. We must ensure that every public-sector worker in education, health care and municipal service is provided with fair conditions of employment and that they continue to have a dignified retirement.
More importantly, what happens in Albany must be about equity, fairness and excellence. NYSUT continues to advocate for policies that use the collective bargaining process to create a professional atmosphere where you define excellence. But, excellence without equity is meaningless, and equity will only be achieved through fairness in how revenue is raised and how it is allocated.
Sisters and brothers, as we begin a new year, know that with your continued support your union is resolved to be a champion for the issues important to you, your professions and your communities. NYSUT will continue to be your voice in Albany and Washington, and anywhere else policymakers convene to make decisions that affect our lives, in and out of the workplace.
With your guidance and support, equity, fairness and excellence are achievable.