Legislative session ends... ish.
You may recall at the beginning of the year the state Legislature planned to hustle through budget negotiations, take care of business and wrap up its session by the first week of June. Hey, we’ve got primaries to run, right? That was unusual.
But then, COVID-19 changed everything. An unusual session became unprecedented.
The economy went in the tank, the state’s projected deficit doubled, and lawmakers settled on a budget that flatlined state aid. The agreement also gave the governor’s budget office new authority to cut further three times during the year if federal funding and revenues falter. The scheduled session has ended, but lawmakers continue to work. We will continue to work with them. Two big wins in the statehouse will help to mitigate the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers passed and the governor signed a law granting death benefits to the families of frontline workers who have died of the coronavirus.
It provides an accidental death benefit that is more substantial than the regular death benefit that public workers’ families receive. “So many of our NYSUT members are essential workers who did not have the option to shelterin- place or work from home,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “They responded to the danger with valor. This is the least the state can do to honor their sacrifice.” The governor also signed an executive order directing all schools in New York to remain closed and suspended the 180-day instructional requirement.
“This necessary step will ensure consistency in instructional time for this extraordinary school year,” Pallotta said. Technically, the legislative session is not over until the end of the calendar year.
The union’s legislative department is poised for the federal government to pass an additional stimulus package that the governor says he needs to fund the budget without cutting as much as 20 percent of state aid to education, health care and localities. In the meantime, NYSUT and the labor movement continue to push for revenue bills that would increase the taxes on the ultrawealthy in order to address the state’s dire fiscal crisis. “We don’t expect to get all the funding needed from the feds and we will need more,” Pallotta said.
“We need the Legislature to step up and act to raise revenue to fight back any proposed cuts.” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has announced he is ready to bring the Assembly back if the governor puts forth cuts. In May, 10 unions representing more than 1.5 million workers in New York called on Albany to increase revenue.
With a $61 billion revenue shortfall projected over the next four years due to COVID-19, any impending cuts will disproportionately impact those already hit hardest by the pandemic, the labor leaders said, including the poor and working people, particularly in communities of color.
In addition to federal assistance, 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.