NEW YORK – In response to what New York Gov. Cuomo called his ‘opportunity agenda’ outlined in his state of the state address, the New York Working Families Party called on the governor and the state legislature to enact an agenda that puts “working families first.”
While applauding Cuomo’s proposals to raise the minimum wage, relieve student debt, and reform the criminal justice system, WFP state director Bill Lipton said “the governor’s proposals simply don’t deliver the kind of change we need.”
Saying this is his opportunity to be “a leader in the fight against inequality” in a Times Union op-ed Lipton called on Cuomo to follow San Francisco and Seattle leads by raising the minimum to $15 an hour and not just his proposed $10.50 which would still leave many New Yorkers below the poverty line.
Speaking on the education system at his inaugural earlier this month Cuomo said, “We have one for the rich and one for the poor.” While making proposals to alleviate college student debt, he didn’t address the significant funding inequality in the state’s public education system that a state supreme court ruling in 2007 mandated it solve. Rather, he focused on teacher evaluations and expanding charter schools.
He also linked the DREAM Act which would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants to a GOP-supported education tax credit, forcing the state legislature to adopt both or nothing. Rejecting education policies that “cynically pit New Yorkers against each other” the WFP called for the expansion of Universal Pre-K to the entire state, full and equal funding of public education and a return to free higher education at public universities.
Admitting the proposals as “ambitious” Lipton said “this is about the choices we make as a society . . . education is a good investment, taxpayer subsidies for 100 million-dollar condos, not so much.” Instead, Lipton said, “We can meet that commitment by returning the millionaire tax to 2009 levels, reversing estate and bank tax cuts that benefit the super rich, and curtailing wasteful subsidies and giveaways to real estate developers and businesses that fail to create good jobs.”
The WFP supported Cuomo’s proposal to end the treatment of 16 and 17 year-olds in the criminal justice system as adults, but said that the recent Grand Jury decision in the Eric Garner death had “shaken faith in the guarantee of equal justice,” and that “Cuomo should enact legislation to put in place a special prosecutor for all complaints of excessive police force against a civilian.” The party said that as a first step, the attorney general should be given temporary authority to investigate the deaths of “unarmed civilians killed by law enforcement.”
Lipton called Cuomo’s recent ban on fracking historic but urged him to reverse his decision rejecting a plan for renewable energy windmills off Long Island and to match or exceed the state of California’s goal to transition to 50 percent renewable energy and to “create hundreds of thousands of jobs” by building a green economy.
While in the past the governor has been able to push significant legislation through the state legislature, like important gun control measures after the Newtown Creek massacre in Connecticut and a gay marriage law that was considered the tipping point on the issue nationally, with the state senate firmly under GOP control after last November’s election strong resistance is expected.
The recent arrest of the powerful Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Democratic-dominated Assembly, could throw that body into turmoil for the near future as well.
The WFP endorsed Cuomo for Governor last spring after he committed to a series of progressive issues, including campaigning to win back the state senate from GOP control. Since then the party has been critical of Cuomo’s lack of commitment to pursuing a progressive agenda.
Listing a series of other issues like election campaign finance reform, universal voter registration, paid sick days and family leave and strengthening rent-laws Lipton said “Cuomo needs to put working families first, so New York works for all of us, not just the wealthy and well-connected.”
Photo: Working Families Party Facebook page