ALBANY, N.Y. – In a State of the State address derided by trade union and community leaders as well as Democratic state legislators, New York Governor George Pataki declared he would both cut taxes and balance the state’s budget. While promising to protect services, he revealed little about the actual budget, except that spending cuts would have to make up for the state’s nearly $10 billion projected shortfall. He went on to say that “with the exception of public security, no part of the budget will be exempt.”
Pataki called for New York to retain its place as the “tax cutting capital of America,” and made the case for special tax incentives for corporations moving to the state. He emphasized, “the budget I propose will not delay the tax cuts we’ve already passed.”
“It’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a major battle around revenue,” Assemblyman Roger L. Green (D-Brooklyn) told the World. “The major debate will come down to progressive taxation to preserve essential services versus continuing the present taxation policy which encourages a further division between rich and poor. It is irresponsible to rule out tax increases.”
Pointing out that Pataki had failed to provide any hard numbers or real ways out of the current crisis. State Democratic committee chair Herman Farrell, Jr. said, “He did not answer questions that New Yorkers desperately need to know.”
Arthur Cheliotes, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1180, argued, “Couple this [the Pataki plan] with Bush’s tax stimulus program, which will only help the rich. It will be a disaster for working families.”
State Sen. Tom Duane told the World, “Tax reductions will benefit the wealthiest people [and] cuts would hurt education, services for older people. They would take away funds for important services like AIDS treatment programs.”
Among the crowd gathered to hear the State of the State address, there was a clear divide. Republicans applauded vigorously throughout, the rest sat in silence. “The governor says he wants more bipartisanship,” said Cheliotes. “In the first sentence the governor took away the opportunity to make everyone equally share the pain, the tax increases. He said that he wanted to work in a bi-partisan way, but he presented the tax cuts as an absolute. … This doesn’t bode well for the state.”
Outside the gubernatorial address, a number of organizations held informational pickets in protest of Pataki.
Mothers of the Disappeared protested the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Although the governor did pledge to reform the state’s notorious laws, which require mandatory sentencing for drug offenders, a spokeswoman from the group said Pataki said the same thing last year, but failed to follow through.
Others were disappointed that the governor’s speech didn’t mention the issue of rent control. One of the most important issues in the New York State legislative session will certainly be rent control, according to Friends & Neighbors, a statewide tenants’ rights organization. The state’s rent control and stabilization law expires on June 15, and the state legislature must decide whether or not to renew it.
“It is almost incomprehensible that the governor would say absolutely nothing about the preservation of 1.2 million units of affordable housing,” said Diane Kline, a member of the group. “In an economic crisis, with taxes going up and incomes either static or going down, New Yorkers need to know that are homes are going to remain affordable.”
Housing Works, an AIDS service organization, distributed literature showing its version of a solution for the problems facing New York State. Their program calls for investing in education, health care, environmental care, transportation, and public services in general. The organization calls for a temporary tax on the rich and a closure of loopholes for corporations.
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