Hawkins Blasts Cuomo and Duffy for Attacks on Unions, Schools


Howie Hawkins - Green for Governor
Media Release
www.howiehawkins.org - www.gpny.org

For Release – August 10, 2010
For More Info: Howie Hawkins, 315 425-1019
Mark Dunlea, 518 860-3725

 

Rochester, NY – The Green Party candidate for Governor, Howie Hawkins, today accused the Democrats' Cuomo/Duffy ticket today of attempting to balance the state budget on the backs of school children, teachers, and property tax payers.

 

Standing before the Rochester City Hall presided over by Mayor Robert Duffy, the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, Hawkins said that as Governor he would support working families in New York, rather than seeking to "tangle” with public employees and protect Wall Street and the wealthy as Andrew Cuomo and Robert Duffy have stated they would.

 

Hawkins, a member of the Teamsters union, said it was time for labor to realize that the Democrats are taking their support for granted without providing any help in return as over 800,000 workers have lost jobs and over 100,000 families have lost their homes to foreclosure in New York during the current Great Recession.

 

Hawkins said that Cuomo appears to be particularly targeting teachers with his open attacks on public employees, his promotion of charter schools as the new "civil rights movement," and his support for undercutting funding for schools through proposals such as a state spending freeze and a property tax cap.

 

"We need stronger unions and more workers organized into unions in order to promote the interests of the vast majority of New Yorkers who live by their labor. We need a stronger and united labor movement to stand up to the power of Wall Street and the wealthy at the State Capitol. Cuomo is going in the opposite direction, threatening to cut pay and jobs for public employees and cut essential services to close the budget deficit while the Wall Street and the wealthy pay lower rates of state and local taxes than working people,” stated Hawkins.

 

Hawkins noted that Cuomo introduced Duffy to the state Democratic convention in Westchester County in May by saying he chose his running mate, Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy, because he was willing to "tangle” with public employee unions. In introducing Duffy, Cuomo said, "That’s what Mayor Duffy did in Rochester. He was not a push-over, he was not a roll-over. Yes, he tangled with public employee unions. Guess what? We’re going to be tangling with public employee unions going forward." http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/27323/cuomo-were-going-to-tangle-with-public-employee-unions/

 

Hawkins also noted that a "source" in the Cuomo campaign told Daily News political columnist Liz Benjamin that Cuomo makes a distinction between "bad" public sector unions and "good" private sector unions. "The Cuomo campaign is very sensitive to possibly being labeled 'anti-union', and so is making a clear distinction between private unions that, as one source explained to me, 'represent real working people', and public sector unions whose expensive contracts and pensions and refusals to agree to give-backs has labeled them special interest No. 1 in many minds," Benjamin wrote in her political blog on August 2.
http://capitaltonight.com/2010/08/labor-by-any-other-name/

 

"Do Cuomo and Duffy stand behind this 'source' in their campaign? Do they want to pit private sector workers against public sector workers? Do they believe public sector workers are not 'real working people'?,” Hawkins asked.

 

"The average public employee in New York State makes $40,000 a year, slightly less than the average wage in the US. The average public employee pension is $16,000 a year. Labor costs are less than 10 percent of the state budget. When the Democratic gubernatorial ticket tries to scapegoat teachers, transit workers, and other public employees for the state's fiscal problems, they are not only engaged in an ugly political maneuver to mobilize private sector workers against public sector workers, they are not even offering a solution to the state's fiscal problems,” Hawkins said.

 

Hawkins said that the state's fiscal problems can be easily resolved by keeping the $16 billion Stock Transfer Tax instead of rebating it to Wall Street, by raising $10 billion from a 50 percent Bankers' Bonus Tax on the $20 billion in cash bonuses the Wall Street elite paid themselves in 2009, and by returning to the more progressive income tax structure that prevailed in New York before the 1980s.

 

"The Democrats' various tax proposals, including their opposition to making the rich pay their fair share again, means that already under funded schools, especially in inner cities and rural areas, will face more funding cuts and teacher layoffs in the coming years,” Hawkins said.

 

A four-year plan to invest an additional $7 billion in school aid to districts across New York has been delayed due to the state's budget problems, even though the Courts found that state lawmakers were illegally underfunding school systems with poor property tax bases.

 

The NY Times has reported that Cuomo is receiving significant campaign contributions from hedge funds that want to continue and expand the lucrative tax breaks available to charter schools. Charter schools divert tax funds from public schools and dispense with democratic public oversight while weakening the rights of teachers and their unions.

 

Duffy is spearheading an effort to transfer control of public schools away from the elected school board to the mayor in Rochester. Stephanie Miner, the Democratic Mayor of Syracuse, has also raised this proposal in that city.

 

"A century ago education reform meant replacing mayoral control with elected school boards because school systems had become corrupt crony networks in which mayors dispatched patronage jobs to people unqualified to be teachers and administrators and contracts to construction and maintenance firms in return for campaign contributions. The old corruption is now coming back in Chicago, New Orleans, New York, and other cities with charter schools and mayoral control. Not only are charter schools diverting money from public schools, but politicians allied with real estate interests have closed public schools on valuable urban land in order to profit from their redevelopment," Hawkins added.

 

Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter school construction. The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.

 

Hawkins said that he opposes the idea of a property tax cap being promoted by Cuomo and Duffy. Hawkins said a targeted property tax circuit breaker is a much better way to cost-effectively provide relief to low and moderate income New Yorkers, including those on a fixed income. A 2008 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the Massachusetts property tax cap forced a number of communities to lay off teachers, police officers and other public employees; close libraries and senior centers; and scale back school programs.

 

Many educational groups have come out against such a cap, saying that it would not address rising costs that are beyond the control of school districts, while worsening existing inequities between school districts.

 

"I agree that property taxes are unfair because they are regressive, forcing low and middle income New Yorkers to foot an unfair share of the bill. I support having both the state and federal governments pick up most if not all of the costs of education, rather than sticking it to local taxpayers. But capping the property tax without combining it with reform of the overall tax system just cuts funding for essential services like schools, libraries and local fire departments without making the wealthy pay their proper share. Local property taxes are so high in New York because for the last three decade state lawmakers have slashed the income tax rates for the wealthy, shifting more of the tax burden onto regressive local sales and property taxes," said Hawkins.

 

Hawkins noted that if the state went back to the state income tax system of the early 1970s, with the brackets adjusted for inflation, 95% of the state taxpayers would see a cut in their taxes while the state would get an additional $8 billion in revenues. The state should use the additional revenues to comply with state law (Section 54 of the State Finance Law), passed during the Rockefeller era, to share 8% of state revenues with local governments. The Governor and state lawmakers instead waive the law every year, only providing 2%, forcing major hikes in state local property and sales taxes.

 

"A tax cap, as evidenced in any state that has attempted one, clearly limits a community's choice to invest in quality education, leaving no option but to cut programs and services,” said Maria L. DeWald, president of the New York State PTA said at a June 10, 2010 news conference in Albany held by tax cap opponents. "In addition, an intrinsic inequity is inherent in a community's ability to override the cap and creates a greater gap between rich and poor. Why, when the goal of foundation aid is to close that gap, would we revert to a regressive measure?"

 

Hawkins added that in addition to a circuit breaker to make property taxes less regressive and fairer, a single payer health care plan for New York would do more than any other measure to reduce the high property tax rates that afflict most of New York State.

 

A major factor driving up local property taxes is skyrocketing health care costs, both for Medicaid (increasingly for long term care for seniors) and for public employees health benefits.

 

"Unlike the health insurance mandate just passed by the Congressional Democrats, a single payer health program would significantly reduce overall health care costs, including for local governments and the Medicaid program. Medicaid expenditures account for more than half of county spending in most New York counties. Single payer would enable us to reduce property tax rates while devoting more of their revenues to our schools. By 2019, single payer would also save New Yorkers $28 billion a year in health care expenses while provide universal access to comprehensive health care benefits, compared to the federal program enacted in March that mandates that individuals buy private health insurance if they do not qualify for an existing employer-sponsored or public health care program. That is the finding of a study authorized by the state legislature released a year ago. But the leadership of both major parties have ignored the study and the enormous savings single payer could realize in both health care costs and property tax burdens,” Hawkins said.

 

"Cuomo won't take the ballot line offered by the Working Families Party, a vehicle backed by some unions to serve as a second ballot line for Democrats, because their campaign finances are being investigated. But he showed no hesitancy in grabbing the ballot line of the so-called Independence Party, started by two billionaires, Tom Golisano and Ross Perot, which faces far more serious and numerous investigations into political corruption involving the potential sale of their ballot line. Cuomo's litmus test on taking ballot lines seems far more about undermining unions' political influence than it does about integrity and ethics," stated Hawkins.

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