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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

State Budget: Revenue, not cuts!

Assistant Director, DC 37 Legislative Department

The New York State budget for FY21, initially passed days before the April 1 deadline, will truly be a fluid document as Governor Cuomo and the state legislature consider cutting an additional $10 billion in the weeks to come.

Usually, this “fluidity” is limited to constitutional questions; yet, nothing is normal since the COVID-19 pandemic erased years of economic recovery in a matter of weeks.

As we hunker down at home dealing with the devastation wrought by the pandemic, news of the initial state budget will provide some analysis of the process and the results that are both unique and troubling.

This year’s budget process itself was unusual. Not only were traditional lobbying efforts thwarted by the physical closure of the Capitol and legislative offices two weeks before the budget was finalized, but Governor Cuomo appeared to control the process as his political capital skyrocketed with his handling of the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

DC 37’s priorities were those issues that the city had a stake in. We shared New York City’s concerns about cost shifting of state financial responsibilities. The budget places $3 billion in capital MTA costs and 50% of Access-a-Ride costs on the city.

The budget also withholds $200 million in sales tax revenue from New York City. Although the federal financial assistance provided in the initial stages of the pandemic required states to withhold cuts to Medicaid, the changes recommended by the Governor’s Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT II) were included in the budget. These reductions loom large in the future after the pandemic subsides.

Public hospitals are still sifting through the myriad pots of state and federal funding to determine if they can continue to serve the public after the pandemic.

Finally, education funding remains stagnant. Yet, with the Governor’s newly gained authority to adjust the budget in the next several months, no hospital, local government, or school district will be able to make concise plans this year.

On the positive, the union’s demands, such as facilitated enrollment childcare subsidy, SAPIS workers, Nurse Family Partnership, NYC OTB retiree health benefits, and funding CUNY programs such as the Worker Institute at Cornell, the Domestic Violence Program, and worker educational programs and occupational safety and health, were funded.

DC 37’s statewide labor coalition priorities this year included strengthening the Janus law, making “Buy American” permanent, expanding design-build programs, and a prevailing rate for the building trades.

Unfortunately, despite our invaluable work, the nominal 3% salary increase for direct-care human service workers was not included.

Largely due to the pandemic and the November elections, this years’ budget included bills that normally would have been considered outside of the process and the list is extensive.

In all, our work is never done. As the first round of adjustments come due, our legislative leaders must accept or pass their own proposals.

However, we hold fast to the demand that despite the pandemic, we need revenue — not cuts!