N.Y. Affiliates Keep the Heat on as Budget Deadline Looms

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Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his proposed budget earlier this year, AFT affiliates in New York have been working nonstop to get the message out to lawmakers and the public that the proposed cuts will undermine communities and the state's economy.

Most recently, the New York State United Teachers and its allies delivered nearly 40,000 personalized postcards to the state Capitol March 24 urging lawmakers to reject the $1.5 billion proposed cut to preK-12 public education. NYSUT warns that the enormity of the cut would result in the loss of 10,000 teachers and school staff, on top of last year's elimination of 10,000 positions. NYSUT executive vice president Andy Pallotta says "that would translate directly into wholesale losses for students in preschool, foreign language programs, AP classes, counseling, music, art, athletics and more."

At the center of the budget battle is Cuomo's steadfast refusal to continue taxing higher-income earners at a higher rate. On March 22, more than 2,000 teachers, state employees and activists participated in a rally at the Capitol in Albany to call on lawmakers to reject Cuomo's tax breaks for the wealthy. Over the 10 days preceding that rally, more than a dozen similar rallies were held across the state, drawing more than 12,000 protesters.

Terry Melvin, secretary-treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO, told the Albany crowd that the governor's proposed tax breaks would take $5 billion out of the pockets of working men and women and give it to millionaires.

The State University of New York, the City University of New York and community colleges would lose $1 billion over the next three years if the proposed budget goes through. That total is "a dirty little secret," Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College and a NYSUT board member, told the crowd.

"The governor has proposed a budget that cuts spending for state agencies by 10 percent," New York State Public Employees Federation president Kenneth Brynien, who also is an AFT vice president, said at the rally. "He has threatened my members with thousands of layoffs unless we make concessions worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet wealthy New Yorkers are going to realize a tax cut on Jan. 1.

"The unions, the students, the advocates for the poor, and thousands of others who have protested here in Albany, as we are doing today, are being ignored," Brynien continued. "As it turns out, those who 'vote' with large amounts of cash are the ones being heard loud and clear. New York's wealthiest have committed more than $10 million to fight against the rest of us so they can keep their millions and billions."

New York's new fiscal year begins April 1. The Albany Times Union reported March 25 that legislative leaders are optimistic that a budget agreement could be announced today, and that the plan would mirror Cuomo's proposals. [NYSUT, PEF, Kathy Nicholson]

March 25, 2011