Chanting "Banks got the gold mine, the people got the shaft," "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out," and waving signs calling for living wage jobs, affordable housing, affordable schools and universal Pre-K, labor and community groups rallied outside the Bank of America office in Great Neck to call attention the growing wealth gap in New York State and to call for investment of state dollars in schools and communities, not tax breaks for the largest banks, as Governor Cuomo is proposing.
The #NYInequality campaign is organized by a statewide coalition of labor, faith and community organizations that is pushing back against three specific tax breaks proposed by Cuomo in his 2014 budget: the bank tax cut, estate tax cut and the property tax freeze.
So far, the group is seeing some favorable sign from the Assembly which seems to be pushing back against Cuomo's proposal for a tax rebate for municipalities that stay below the property tax cap (what he calls a property tax freeze is really a rebate), in favor of a circuit breaker that ties property tax to income, said Lisa Tyson, director of Long Island Progressive Coalition/Citizen Action on Long Island.
The property tax cap is causing severe strain on Long Island school districts. Many have had to cut out music and art programs. A school in Copiague is holding classes in closets.
Meanwhile, Bank of America is one of the six largest banks in the country, which together raked in more than $76 billion in profits in 2013.
"Tax cuts and rate reductions proposed by the Governor for banks specifically will cost between $250 and $320 million per year," Tyson said. "This is money the banks don't need but which will be paid for through the continuation and expansion of austerity cuts for our schools and communities."
The LIPC has taken the Governor to task for his Executive Budget, which included only $608 million increase in education funding, an amount that LIPC insists "falls well short of the $1.9 billion that legislators and advocates have been calling for these last few weeks. While Long Island schools would receive a $73,732,021 increase under the Governor’s proposal, this amount would potentially increase by $232,392,585 with a $1.9 billion increase statewide."
New York State never made up for the millions of dollars in cuts in state aid abruptly made in reaction to the 2008-9 financial crisis.
Gene Lopez, a grandparent who lives in Wyandanch who was carrying a sign that read "Strong Communities, Not Tax Cuts for the Rich," said "The district has been cutting programs over the past few years and my grandchildren's education is suffering It's time the governor actually makes education a priority instead of giving tax cuts to banks. It's time to give our children what they need and adequately fund our schools."
Cuomo has mocked school board members and education advocates for seeking more funding, stating, "The educational groups [saying] we don't spend enough money [are] funded by the teachers' union, which has a vested interest in making the answer “It's about more money; it's about more salaries and more benefits.” That's not what it's about. [They have names like] the Blessed Virgins for Education, the Good Citizens for a Better Tomorrow. [They] should be called Lobbyists for the Teachers' Union. Otherwise it's misleading."
Another resident, Patti Zerafa, came out for the rally because she feels the millions it will take to provide a bank tax cut could be used to keep an important local health facility open. "My son was a patient at Sagamore Children's Psychiatric Center," she said "The quality care he was able to access at that facility helped him greatly This will all disappear if the state moves ahead with its plan to close Sagamore. We all know that family support is a vital component in the recovery process so such a scenario is certainly not conducive to productive family-based treatment."
Cuomo has insisted there is wide support for his proposed tax cuts and the property tax freeze, offering up quotes from local politicians.
“I support Governor Cuomo's tax freeze plan and urge the Legislature to pass this measure as homeowners and renters need tax relief now," Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said. "My policy of freezing property taxes for the past four years has led to local job growth and the Governor's proposal will further assist residents in keeping their homes affordable while stimulating job creation. I thank Governor Cuomo for his constant leadership in addressing the burden of property taxes while working tirelessly to reduce the size of government and grow our State’s economy.”
A final agreement on the budget is due by April 1 and based on the recent one house budget proposals released last week, legislators are starting to hear #NYInequality's message, Tyson said.
"New York State has the nation's highest inequality in the nation. Governor Cuomo's tax cuts for the wealthy are funded by budget cuts from us. We want to tell the Governor, change your priorities. People before banks! The middle class before the wealthy! Healthy children, healthy schools and healthy communities before profits and bonuses!," Tyson said.
NYInequality coalition members participating in the rally included the Long Island Progressive Coalition, the Alliance for Quality Education, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, A Strong Economy for All, CSEA, CWA, 1199 SEIU, MoveOn.org and NY Working Families Party.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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