Hawkins: Cuomo's 5th Straight Austerity Budget Escalates His War on Public Education

April 6, 2015

The state budget just adopted is an austerity budget that assaults public schools, students, and teachers, underfunds needed social and environmental programs, and fails on ethics. He also criticized the failure to raise the minimum wage or pass the Dream Act.

"The state budget adopted in the wee hours of April Fool's Day is no joke," Hawkins said. "In Cuomo's fifth straight austerity budget, hedge funds and yacht owners win and public education, ethics, and urgent social and environmental needs lose."

Hawkins said he will be working with allies during the remainder of the legislative session to win policy reforms that were proposed as part of the budget but dropped, including raising the state minimum wage and allowing local governments to set higher than state minimum wages, the Dream Act, criminal justice reforms, and public campaign financing. Hawkins said Greens will also work to defeat bills for tuition tax credits.

Education

Hawkins thanked NYSUT, the statewide teachers union federation, for its call on lawmakers to vote down the ethics and education budget bill for its terrible policies on teacher evaluations, tenure and merit pay based on high-stakes testing and its destruction of local control in its state receivership plan for struggling schools.

"The NYSUT call took courage. Unfortunately, too few lawmakers heeded their call. But the call was still right thing to do because it made clear what the fight will be about going forward," Hawkins said.

"Every struggling school threatened by the state with receivership is in a poor community. Real education reform would include broader social reform that attacks poverty, segregation, and under-resourcing of schools in poor, segregated communities," Hawkins said.

Hawkins also said he supports NYSUT's call for parents to opt out of high-stakes testing. Hawkins' running mate for Lt. Governor, Brian Jones, contributed a chapter on "Standardized Testing and Students of Color" to a just published book promoting the opt out movement called More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, edited by Jesse Hagopian with a preface by Dianne Ravitch.

"Cuomo's war on public education is provoking mass civil disobedience by disgusted teachers, parents and students in the growing opt out movement. It is fast becoming even bigger than the anti-fracking movement," Hawkins said.

Hawkins said, "The new tenure rules effectively end due process for teachers. They practically render the anti-tenure lawsuit by Campbell Brown moot. The Governor and lawmakers should have fully and equitably funded public schools in order to render moot other lawsuits by the small cities, the NYC Parents Union, and Schenectady charging the state with discrimination based on race and class in its school aid."

Public Austerity

"It is bad economic and social policy to continue underfunding public schools, child care, public transportation, public housing, and environmental programs with another austerity budget that limits growth in the budget to 2 percent when state revenues are up 4 percent," Hawkins said.

Hawkins noted that while the proposed property tax circuit breaker for renters and homeowners was dropped, a tax break for yachts was added. "This is a rich man's budget once again," Hawkins said. "Instead of progressive tax reform, more progressive income tax brackets, retaining stock transfer tax revenues, cutting corporate welfare, this budget imposes austerity on local governments with revenue sharing frozen at a historically low level and the 2 percent property tax cap."

Ethics

"The new income disclosure rules touted as ethics reform would please the U.S. Supreme Court that opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections in the Citizens United case with the excuse that disclosure would tell voters who was in whose pocket. Breaking the pay-to-play corruption culture in Albany requires much stronger reforms, including full-time legislators who cannot take outside income and full public campaign financing on the Clean Money model used by Arizona and Maine," Hawkins said.

Environment

Hawkins condemned the budget's raid of $40 million from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative account to fund the Environmental Protection Fund and renewable energy tax credits.

"These worthy environmental initiatives should have been funded by tax revenues, not by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. And they should have been funded at higher levels. The state should commit to the public investments and private incentives needed convert to 100 percent green energy by 2030 in order to address the climate crisis, create full employment, and reduce energy costs," Hawkins said.

~ Howie Hawkins serves as Full Employment Council Vice-Chair at the Green Shadow Cabinet