Long Island Residents Rally for Fair Share Tax Reform

Hundreds of community members and local leaders gathered in Melville on Friday, March 6th with handmade signs to urge Governor Paterson to meet New York’s budget shortfall by raising state income taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers instead of slashing health care, education and other vital services.

The Governor has proposed to close a record state budget deficit by making more than $9 billion in devastating cuts to institutions and services that working families depend on – schools and colleges, hospitals and nursing homes, and organizations serving the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Citizens across the state are pushing bank by calling for Fair Share Tax Reform, a plan to raise $6 billion to offset the deepest cuts by adding more progressive state income tax brackets for individuals earning $250,000 per year or more.

At the rally, Wilkens Young of Patchogue highlighted the impact of the Governor’s cut on one particularly vulnerable group, homeless veterans. “Programs that provide housing for homeless veterans and other displaced people could see a 25% cut under this budget,” Smith said. “The Governor is asking these men and women who have given so much to sacrifice even more so that the well-off don’t have to sacrifice at all. Those just aren’t the right priorities.”

Amparo Sadler, a Central Islip education advocate with the Long Island Progressive Coalition, spoke about the impact the cuts would have on working families and students. “The budget cuts would have a drastic impact on the quality of education in our local schools and weaken so many other organizations and services in our community. The Governor is asking everyone to sacrifice, except the New Yorkers who can most afford it. We’re rallying on Long Island to remind Governor Paterson that shared sacrifice means everyone.”

“As everyone here today knows, we are facing very challenging financial times,” said Suffolk County Legislator DuWayne Gregory, who represents the 15th Legislative District. “We can no longer afford the income tax cuts that have allowed the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay the same rate as a nurse or librarian who makes $20,000 a year. If we’re going to preserve health care and education for our most vulnerable and the next generation, we need Fair Share Tax Reform now.”

Today’s rally is one of many across the state highlighting the local human impact of the Governor’s proposed cuts and advocating Fair Share Tax Reform as a way to alleviate the worst of the cutbacks, while achieving truly shared sacrifice.
Related website: www.fairesharereform.com

Confronting Bush on Social Spending

Education Info 101

11-13-07, 10:13 am

President Bush has found his veto pen again.

This time he is threatening to kill a bill that would increase funding for veterans’ mental health programs, displaced worker retraining, Head Start, college financial aid, elementary and secondary education programs, special education programs for students with disabilities, cancer treatment studies, studies of traumatic brain injuries, aid to working families to help pay expensive home energy costs during cold winters, home delivery of nutrition for poor seniors among other programs.

Both houses of Congress overwhelmingly approved the bill last week.

The confrontation with Bush over spending on social programs that benefit working families signals the sharp contrast between the free market, anti-worker ideology of the Bush administration along with his ultra-right Republican friends in Congress and the pro-working families agenda mandated by the people’s upsurge that changed Congress in the 2006 elections.

Scott McConnell of the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities sees the confrontation with Bush’s anti-working families agenda as a clear indication of the differences with Bush and the Republicans over national priorities.

Said McConnell, “This isn’t a struggle over a single program or even a single bill. It’s really a struggle over where our priorities lie, and what type of a country we want to live in.”

McConnell also connected Bush demand to cut social programs with his renewed requests for new cash to fund his failed war policy in Iraq.

“How can members of Congress and President Bush say we can afford $10 billion a month in Iraq when we can’t afford the priorities here at home,” he added.

Trudi Renwick of New York’s Fiscal Policy Institute stated that the cuts demanded by the Bush administration would have a huge negative impact on working families.

“While the money, when looking at the overall federal budget, is really miniscule, less then 1% of total expenditures, is what this fight is about,” Renwick argued, “the impact on particular states and the programs in our states is really devastating.”

One of the many programs on Bush’s chopping block is the low Income Home Energy assistance Program, which helps literally hundreds of thousands of working families pay expensive energy costs during the winter months, according to Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition/Citizen Action on Long Island.

“In a nation where the president can find the money to spend almost half a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq, no one should have to fear that their local utility is going to shut off their power in the winter,” Tyson said. She added that Bush’s cuts to this program will force many working families to choose between paying their heating bills or buying enough food to feed their families.

Flo Tripi of Civil Service Employees Union Local 1000, an affiliate of AFSCME, said the battle with Bush over domestic programs will have an enormous impact on the 2008 elections.

“People are going to look at where they are in this country and that they are not better off now than they were five or six years ago, that things are getting worse, and that it is much more difficult to raise families,” Tripi said. the declining situation of working families under Republican control of the government will influence how people vote in November 2008, she stated.

–Reach Joel Wendland at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net

Central Islip, Brentwood, and Wyandanch unite to support Governor Spitzer's fair funding budget

Brentwood, NY)- The members of Long Island Progressive Coalition’s Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) gathered Tuesday, March 20 to rally the communities of Brentwood, Central Islip and Wyandanch in support of Governor Spitzer’s proposed education budget. The State Senate voted for a counter budget that would largely reverse the Governor’s basic funding reforms. It was this charge that lead an overflowing crowd to voice their emphatic claim that the State Senate budget was both unfair and immoral.

A diverse mix of speakers ranging from students, parents, teachers, and school superintendents followed the theme of the night by answering the question “What if our schools had the fair funding we deserved?” Amparo Stadler a Central Islip parent said, “We’re only asking for our share, nothing more and nothing less. If we got our fair share we could at least know that every kid here has a fighting chance. The status quo has them fighting against the odds.” School superintendent Michael Cohen added, “The Governor’s budget takes bold steps to address the shameful history of separate and unequal schools right here on Long Island.”

The Governor’s education budget is nothing short of an historic investment that will deliver a $3.8 billion increase for schools on Long Island and upstate. These increases will be phased in over four years. For example, the schools in Senator Trunzo’s district alone will receive $157 million in annual classroom operating aid by 2010. More importantly, the Governor’s budget proposal would create a new funding formula that is fair and equitable and targets future investments at the state’s most needy districts. While the Senate Majority’s plan would provide many high needs districts, including many on Long Island, an increase in 2007-08 that is on par with the Governor’s plan, in future years the Senate Majority plan would mean wealthy districts receive a substantially higher percentage increase than poorer districts.

The State Senate had released their version of the budget, which they were referring to as “Foundation plus”. This budget offers 1.2 billion dollars more in school aid. Schools like Central Islip and Brentwood stand to receive little of that increase while the wealthiest school districts in the state would receive a 96% increase in school aid on average. “We support increases in school aid and we want every school district to benefit, but only if it’s given in a fair and equitable way. The Senate is purposing a bill that locks in a lifetime of inequality. Why would Senators Trunzo and Johnson support this budget?” said Leila Warren of North Bay Shore. Though the State Senate bill provides more dollars, students in high needs districts will lose out in the long run due to a fundamental shift away from basing aid on need. Bree Wright, a sophomore from Wyandanch emphatically stated, “It’s like the Senate is offering us $20 today instead of $5 more in our allowance. I’ll take the $5 extra allowance money every time.”

Just as the Governor’s budget places a focus on the educational needs of high needs districts, there is new tax relief in other parts of the budget designed to focus on the needs of those communities of average needs. The result means Long Island as a region will truly benefit. Schools that need smaller class sizes, more programs, and better strategies to boost student achievement will get the attention they need. While communities that are being crippled by property taxes, largely a result of school costs, get significant tax relief. Mr. Andres Rios, a Brentwood resident, sums it up like this, “Our kids finally get money to make sure they graduate and folks who live in districts with high graduation rates and good programs get a break on their crazy property taxes. It’s like we all get what we need.”

The Alliance for Quality education saw this last budget fight as a question of basic justice and ethics, not simple funding increases. “The lack of consideration to high needs districts is unacceptable. The Governor’s formula will give every school district an increase while targeting funds in high needs districts. Included in this are accountability measures to make sure every dollar reaches the classroom,” says Danielle Asher of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “It’s not about the money, it’s about basic fairness.”

Many of the students from Central Islip, Brentwood and Wyandanch are highly aware of the circumstance around what was being invested in this budget decision. Most of the pupils have a real interest in the future of educational achievement. Maria Peña, a senior at Central Islip high school had this to say at the end of the event, “Governor Spitzer’s proposal is the first time in all my school years I do not feel ignored by the State. We need to make sure they do right by us and the next generation.”

On April 2, 2007 Governor Spitzer held a press conference in Manhattan announcing the substantial breakthrough of our fourteen year struggle to deliver a quality education to every child. Based upon Governor Spitzer’s proposal New York State is making a record statewide increase in school funding this year. Parents have gained the strong system of accountability proposed by Governor Spitzer that will drive funding to key educational strategies including smaller classes, full day pre-kindergarten, teacher quality, after school program and other reforms.

The fair school aid formula proposed by Governor Spitzer has been adopted largely intact. We have established the essential tool we have always lacked in order to fairly and fully fund our schools. In this budget we partially use that tool, next year, we must fully use the tool. The formula adopted this year makes an historic commitment to a fivefold growth in classroom operating aid by 2010-2011 with the lion’s share of this money going to high needs schools.

“This year, by adding his voice to the struggle for quality education, Eliot Spitzer forged a fair funding formula against fierce opposition,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education. “Now the Governor and our communities must continue hand in hand to secure an enduring legacy of educational excellence by ensuring this formula becomes the centerpiece for how we distribute every dollar of classroom funding.”