Small Victories Amid Painful Cuts

 

The following oped was published in today's Our Town.

By Liz Krueger

Even in the best of economic times, it’s never “easy” to balance the State’s budget. This year it was particularly difficult because our state government had less money and more debt, while the need for public services has only increased. This is not a problem unique to New York: 44 states are facing a combined budget deficit of over $112 billion this year, as the nation struggles to climb its way out of the recession.

I knew that painful cuts had to be made to vital programs, but I believed that the only fair scenario was one in which the sacrifices were shared by all. Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues didn’t feel the same way. Sadly, this budget disproportionately hurt poor families, the disabled and women and children, who rely on government more than others, while the richest individuals and companies enjoyed an increase in tax breaks.

Revenue that could have been used to save services was simply ignored, and roughly $29 billion in tax expenditures was left on the table, untouched.

Many of you have heard the debate over the high earners tax, or the millionaire’s tax, a surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers that could generate billions for the state of New York in just two years. While I adamantly argued, along with my Democratic colleagues, that this surcharge should not expire, the Governor and Senate Republicans insisted that we exempt those in the most affluent tiers of society from contributing their fair share, allowing the rich to get richer while the poor shoulder the burden of cuts.

But, as I’ve often said, this was never about just one tax proposal. It’s disturbing how many other tax credits are worked into our budget. For example, did you know that a rehabilitation credit for historic barns cost the state $93.2 million in revenue; or that a sales tax exemption on precious metals cost the state $99 million? Sure, there may be some legitimate arguments as to why such expenditures are needed, but I find it hard to believe these breaks provide the public a greater service than that of, say, schools or hospitals, two groups that took monumental cuts.

Also frustrating was the fact that the renewal and strengthening of rent-regulation laws was not included in the budget, as I, and many others, had hoped and fought for. While the Governor has fiercely stated that he will not introduce any new taxes, the irony is that an expiration of rent-regulation laws would actually be an overwhelming tax on middle-class New Yorkers. If we don’t protect the millions of units of affordable housing in and around New York City, then we will effectively be taxing people out of their homes.

Fortunately, there was some silver lining to the otherwise bleak budget. I am happy we were able to successfully restore money to senior centers, allowing them to keep their doors open. Another bit of good news, which is of particular importance to Manhattan, where we face serious overcrowding in schools, is that the final budget did not include the Governor’s original proposal to cut 50 percent of school building aid. This proposal would have cost NYC between $400 and $600 million in school construction reimbursement next year and, Mayor Bloomberg claimed, would result in the city reneging on the already approved school capital development plans. Luckily, we legislators from NYC were able to remove this language from the budget.

There is also some solace in the fact that very difficult fights were resolved in an orderly and timely manner, but I would argue that deference to punctuality should not be overly praised when so many groups and communities have lost so much.

I do recognize the needs for cuts, and voted for those budget bills that I felt implemented cuts in a responsible manner. But when it came down to it, I could not vote yes on those portions of the budget that granted reprieve to individuals and corporations that have the most, while balancing the budget on the backs of those who have the least. I therefore voted against parts of this budget because it did not demand sacrifices from all, only some, and it was not the best we could have done.

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