‘Don’t balance budget on backs of working people’

NEW YORK — Tens of thousands of people— unionists, community members, religious leaders and elected officials—came out here, March 5, at City Hall and in cities across the state to demand a fair budget for working people, and that the rich pay their fair share in taxes.

New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson told the nearly 75,000 people gathered, “We must ensure that City Hall and Albany put forth proposals that take into account the needs of all New Yorkers. We cannot balance the budget on the backs of working people.”

New York State has a budget deficit of around $14 billion, and the City has a $4-5 billion hole to fill. While the state is poised to receive more than $24 billion in stimulus funds, the governor has argued that New York has a “spending problem” and that the funds will not cover future deficits. He has proposed regressive sales taxes and $2.5 billion in education and $3.5 billion in healthcare cuts, gradually ending aid to all cultural institutions, and huge cuts to libraries, among other things.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his part, has echoed the governor’s rhetoric, and proposed similar cuts at the city level. While Paterson has been pushed to retreat—due in large part to public outrage and actions such as the Rally for New York—Bloomberg won’t budge. He has proposed $127 million in cuts to the city’s medical institutions and nearly $1 billion in cuts to city schools. Bloomberg has also demanded another tier be added to the contracts of public workers.

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told the crowd in NYC, “As President Obama has said over and over, we cannot simply cut our way out of this economic crisis because that would be a recipe for disaster. That is why we pushed so hard for passage of the stimulus package.”

Weingarten is also president of the American Federation of Teachers, the national parent union of UFT.

In a show of solidarity, the rally demanded no cuts to anything: the Untied Federation of Teachers demanded no cuts to healthcare, while 1199 SEIU, which represents healthcare workers demanded no cuts to education, for example. Instead, everyone demanded Fair Share Tax Reform, in which the wealthiest New Yorkers would pay slightly more in taxes.

Currently, New York’s highest marginal tax rate is 6.85 percent, whether you make $40,000 or $40,000,000. The plan would add a few new brackets, and would raise $6 billion. However, Bloomberg, and others of his ilk, argue that the rich would not pay, and would simply move out—though New Jersey and California have similar tax brackets, and, as 1199 SEIU President George Gresham said, “there are a lot of rich people there.”

Gresham noted that “study after study” have shown that the rich do not move when their income tax is raised. Further, “this is New York,” he told the cheering crowd. “Where are they going to move? To Iowa?”

According to Thompson, “all New Yorkers must play a part in bringing New York back.”

A huge cross-section of the city’s unions were represented, including the teachers, SEIU Local 32 BJ, the Working Families Party, most AFL-CIO unions. Many community and civic groups, like Citizen Action, Brooklyn’s Make the Road New York, ACORN and others, were also out in force.

dmargolis @cpusa.org