The governor’s budget proposal has plenty of people up in arms — and few more so than the state’s most powerful unions.
The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Civil Service Employees Union (CSEA) have all launched campaigns criticizing the governor’s budget, saying it cuts necessary programs and doesn’t explore alternative options for additional revenue.
“This budget cuts services to the people who need them most,” said Denise Cleary of the Syracuse chapter of the SEIU, Local 200 United. “It does not help us.”
“It perpetuates the assault on the middle class,” said Stephen Madarasz, director of communications for CSEA. “It cuts essential services to people who depend on them, and it ignores the inequities in the income tax system.”
“We don’t underestimate the seriousness of this once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis,” said Richard Ianuzzi, president of NYSUT. “But we also can’t discount the hard truth that the very future of a generation of students teeters on the edge [This proposal] would set schools back years.”
NYSUT Vice President Alan Lubin echoed that statement.
“After all the progress our schools have made toward raising test scores and closing the achievement gap, budget cuts of this magnitude would set us back many, many years,” Lubin said. “We cannot afford to jeopardize even a single year of a student’s time in school.”
Most importantly, the budget may cut state costs, but it doesn’t help taxpayers.
“This just shifts the property tax burden from the state to the local and municipal level,” Madarasz said. “Taxpayers aren’t going to see a big difference.”
All three unions support the so-called millionaires’ tax, which would assess a higher tax rate on those New Yorkers earning more than $1 million a year.
“Right now, you and I pay the same tax rate as a millionaire,” Cleary said. “That’s not fair. The state has this huge potential source of income that it’s not tapping into, and that’s money that can be used to invest in jobs and put back into the state.”
“There has to be more equity,” he said. “The current system favors the rich at the expense of the middle class, despite all of the chicanery on Wall Street. It’s not right.”
NYSUT wants to take it a step further, requesting a “modest” tax increase on those who make more than $250,000 a year. Instituting such a tax could generate substantial revenue, Lubin said.
“Asking those who can afford to pay a little bit more could generate $6 billion in revenue,” he said.
Cleary also suggested that the state look at other places to trim the fat.
“In the first place, let’s take a look at all of the consultants the state hires to do work public employees can do at half the cost,” she said. “These are outrageous and unnecessary costs.”
“We need to consolidate some state departments,” he said. “There’s a lot of waste that can be eliminated.”
The unions also emphasized that their members are taxpayers, too.
“We’re a microcosm of the state of New York,” Madarasz said. “There’s not a lot of difference between a CSEA member and the average New Yorker.”
And they’re suffering, too.
“Our members experience the stresses of the declining economy and have also been hurt by the economic downturn,” Ianuzzi said. “Teachers, too, have seen their savings evaporate, their housing values decline and are anxious about their jobs and the economy’s future.”
In such desperate times, the unions said they’re more than willing to work with the state to come up with a proposal that satisfies all needs.
“We want this to work,” Madarasz said. “If it fails, it’s bad for every New Yorker.”
Madarasz said CSEA representatives have made several suggestions to the governor’s office, including the millionaire’s tax, departmental consolidation and enforcing the collection of taxes on cigarettes sold to non-Native Americans on reservations, but those suggestions have “been ignored.”
“We’ve offered a number of ideas, and they’ve been ignored,” he said.
In all, union representatives say this budget proposal fails New Yorkers.
“This budget nickels and dimes the average New Yorker, and we’re just trying to pay our bills,” Cleary said. “It just does not make sense.”
For more on the budget, see “Special Budget Report: Gov. Paterson’s Budget Proposal Explained” on cnylink.com
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.