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May 27, 2020

New York unions call on state leaders to raise taxes on the rich to address COVID-19 budget shortfall

Source:  CWA, DC37, PSC, NYSNA, PEF, NYSUT, RWDSU, SEIU, UAW, UUP
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Unions Call for Increased Revenue to Prevent Devastating Budget Cuts

NEW YORK — Ten unions representing well over 1.5 million workers in New York on Wednesday called on Albany to increase revenue through higher taxes on the wealthy in order to address the state’s dire fiscal crisis. With a $61 billion revenue shortfall projected over the next four years due to COVID-19, New York State is facing extreme budget cuts that will disproportionately impact those already hit hardest by the pandemic, including the poor and working people, particularly in communities of color. 

See video of press conference here.

In addition to advocating for the federal government to provide critical stimulus funding for state and local governments, the coalition called for increased taxes on those earning $1 million a year and above, a pied-à-terre tax on secondary residences in New York City, and a new capital gains tax on the more than 100 billionaires who live in New York State. Together, these measures could generate upward of $5-7 billion a year in revenue, which will be desperately needed to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic and prevent a devastating reduction in public resources. 

The union coalition includes the Communications Workers of America (CWA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 37 (DC37), Professional Staff Congress at CUNY (PSC), New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF), New York State United Teachers Union (NYSUT), Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Service Employees International Union Local 1199 (SEIU), United Auto Workers Region 9-A (UAW) and United University Professions (UUP). 

The economic crisis caused by this pandemic stands only to exacerbate long-standing issues with providing access to high-quality public services for New York's working class and the poor, in particular. Public schools already are dealing with high-class sizes, a lack of mental health services, and the loss of enriching arts and music classes in recent years. Public hospitals, the safety net for New Yorkers who lack access to affordable health care, are teetering on the edge because of the strain placed on them by this virus. Local governments have made due with limited state funding for critical services. Twenty percent cuts across the board, as the state is proposing, would create only further strain on these essential public services.

Earlier this year, the coalition released a poll showing that 92 percent of New Yorkers supported new taxes on the ultra wealthy to deal with the state's fiscal problems. That poll showed that nine-in-10 New Yorkers supported new taxes on the ultra-wealthy over cuts to critical services. Eighty-one percent said they opposed cuts to health care for low-income families and seniors, 81 percent opposed cuts to public schools, and 75 percent opposed funding cuts for local governments. The polling memo with full results can be found here

“Cutting funding for public schools, colleges and hospitals is not how we build back better after this pandemic,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “If we really want to reimagine New York, then it’s long past time that policymakers ask the ultrawealthy to pay their fair share toward education, health care and the essential services New Yorkers rely on. Our message is clear: No state cuts without raising revenue from those who can most afford to pay their fair share.”

“Times like these require shared sacrifice, which is why New York State must ask the wealthiest among us to contribute their fair share of resources to soften the impact of COVID-19 on our 19.5 million residents,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President for CWA District One.

“Cuts to healthcare, education and other public services will exacerbate the structural inequalities that exist and have been highlighted during this pandemic,” DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said. “We encourage the Governor and the legislature to pass a revenue package which will help close the deficit and allow the state to reinvest resources into our most vulnerable communities.”

Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez RN, the President of NYSNA, added, “Our health care system, already strained to the breaking point by the pandemic, simply cannot absorb further reductions in funding. That is why the legislature must take action to raise revenue by guaranteeing that the ultra-wealthy pay an equitable amount, rather than continue cutting back on programs that vulnerable New Yorkers need more than ever.”

“1199SEIU members have been on the frontlines of fighting this pandemic and have made untold sacrifices to save lives,” said Helen Schaub, Vice President and Director of Policy and Legislation for 1199SEIU. “As we do everything we can to pressure Congress to increase funding for vital programs like Medicaid, we are also asking our State Legislature to be ready to fill the gap that is left to avoid devastating cuts and layoffs in healthcare and other public services. They can do so by ensuring that wealthy New Yorkers pay their fair share.”

“CUNY will be essential to any economic recovery for New York State,” PSC President Barbara Bowen said. “The communities that have suffered greatest loss of life and employment during this crisis are exactly the communities that will turn to CUNY as they seek to gain new skills and college degrees, to rebuild their lives. Instead of laying off thousands of adjunct faculty and cutting course offerings and services for CUNY’s traumatized students, Albany must restore fair and progressive taxation. We are talking about people’s lives here: faculty who have kept CUNY afloat for decades are being tossed aside and are losing health insurance - in a pandemic.  If New York refuses to tax the rich fairly, it is choosing to risk the lives of working people to protect the wealth of the super-rich. The only lasting solution is restoring revenue to New York through fair taxation of wealth.”

“New York is home to tens of thousands of millionaires and over 100 billionaires. We now need the wealthiest in our state, individuals who make over $5 million every year to step up, pay their share, and insure that our communities, our schools, and our colleges and universities have the resources they need to protect residents, educate our children, prepare the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow and provide healthcare to our most vulnerable,” UUP President Fred Kowal said. “We are facing a massive budget deficit amid record-breaking unemployment and depression. Never in our history have we cut our way out of a recession or depression. Now is not the time to start. Our cities and towns, especially across Upstate, in places like Buffalo, Binghamton, Syracuse, and Plattsburgh cannot afford to see the types of cuts being considered for local governments, school districts and our SUNY institutions. New York’s leaders cannot abandon our state to the ravages of this depression. We have to act together to build a better New York out of the economic and human destruction of the Coronavirus. The time is now; history will judge us harshly if we choose not to act aggressively and decisively to save our economy and our future.”

“The members of PEF have put their lives and the lives of their families on the line delivering essential services for New Yorkers during the fight against COVID-19,” PEF President Wayne Spence said. “We can’t wait for Washington to act. In order to fund the programs and services necessary to pave the way for a successful and sustainable rebound from the health and economic ravages of this pandemic, we need to ask those with the financial means to pay a little more.”

“New York State has the responsibility of ensuring that vital services and programs across the state are funded at needed levels for New Yorkers,” said David Mertz, New York Director of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. “Now more than ever, New Yorkers need the assurance that state programs will be there for them to help with their children’s childcare and education, ensure their commute to and from work isn’t disrupted, and resume their contributions to rebuilding the state’s economy. Proposals to tax the ultra-rich to raise the necessary revenues are supported by a majority of New Yorkers. We urge the state to adopt them to raise the necessary income to continue to provide all of its critical services.”  

While the parent unions of the coalition members are working hard to support Speaker Pelosi’s HEROES Act, there is little confidence that Mitch McConnell’s Senate will ultimately appropriate enough funding to make New York State whole in the face of the billions of lost revenue and sharply increased costs associated with the pandemic. 

The coalition reminded Albany that “New York State has always been a beacon of fairness to the rest of the country.  As Governor of New York during the early years of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt experimented with many of the social programs which would later evolve into the New Deal.  During the current crisis, New York’s leadership has confronted the pandemic with an approach rooted in science, honesty, and compassion. As we deal with the economic crisis engendered by the pandemic, our progressive values must come to the fore. We are all in this together, and sacrifice must be shared.” 

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