News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

$1 Billion Slashed from Budget; TAP Preserved

It's official. The New York State Assembly, Senate and Governor have agreed on a package of cuts in Albany, culminating an emergency session of the legislature.

They cut $400 million from the 2008 budget (this is on top of the big cuts made to the budget in last April) and $600 million in cuts to next year's budget. While the final agreement fell well short of the proposed $2.6 billion in cuts originally proposed by Governor William Paterson, the measures will have a devastating impact on working people in the state.

The biggest hits were to And $50 million was cut from the City University of New York (CUNY), which missed big cuts in the Spring. The state's Tuition Assistant Program (TAP), however, escaped cuts. The student groups which mobilized to oppose higher education cuts this week condemned the CUNY cuts but claimed the preservation of TAP as a victory in a press release yesterday:
While many of the cuts implemented today and in recent months have wounded higher education deeply, we were pleased to see that funding for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) was at least spared the chopping block. By not cutting TAP — even in this time of strained
resources — our legislators have demonstrated a commitment to accessible higher education.

That said, the cuts to CUNY, SUNY, community colleges and opportunity programs and the governor's recent administrative cuts to SUNY will sting. We hope that the reductions in services that the cuts bring about will be short lived, that the support structures that
opportunity programs provide to students will remain intact, that the quality of education at SUNY and CUNY will not be undermined, and that affordability will not suffer.

New York should be increasing aid to higher education. Investing in the students of New York is a sure way to help pull out of our economic tailspin.
The agreement implemented now new taxes to address the crisis. Some Democratic legislators and local advocates—including New York city Council Member Charles Barron— had pushed for various measures to tax the rich in the State.

The cuts still leave a predicted $5.4 billion deficit in the 2009 budget which means there will be pressure too come back next year and cut even deeper. We have to build a movement now to point to real solutions to the fiscal crisis: progressive taxation, which makes the ultra-rich and big corporations pay their fair share.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

NY students fight higher ed cuts

NEW YORK — On Aug. 19, Governor David Paterson called the legislature into special session to address the state’s growing fiscal crisis. One of the biggest targets is the higher education system. Students are not taking it lying down.

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Student Assembly of the State University of New York (SUNY), and University Student Senate of the City University of New York (CUNY) are jointly urging legislators to reject the cuts. NYPIRG program coordinator Fran Clark called them a “buffet of awful choices.”

The student groups told legislative leaders in a letter, “We submit that the benefits of affordable, accessible, high-quality public higher education far outweigh the costs. Higher education’s power as an economic engine and its potential for workforce development and innovation… represent the state’s best chance to pull quickly out of this economic nosedive.”

Students already took a big hit last April, along with seniors, people with AIDS and millions of others receiving human services. Then, SUNY suffered a whopping $150 million in cuts. Now the governor proposes further cuts of $100 million to SUNY, $50 million to TAP (the Tuition Assistance Program), $51 million to CUNY and 6 percent to all “opportunities programs.” The proposal would even cut funding for the new Veterans Tuition Awards in half.

“When you propose cuts to financial aid you take money out of the pockets of students and their families,” Clark told the World in a phone interview. Most programs to be slashed aim to provide low-income New Yorkers with college access.

Students aren't the only ones up in arms. “Slashing the CUNY budget is a terrible policy and absolutely the wrong way to address the budget shortfall,” said Barbara Bowen, president of CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress (PSC) representing 22,000 faculty and professional staff.

The PSC and New York City Council Member Charles Barron held a press conference with students at City Hall Aug. 15. Barron was the lone city council member to vote against the recent city budget cutting many human services.

The higher education cuts are among $1 billion in cuts the governor is asking lawmakers to pass this week to stave off the $6.4 billion deficit projected for 2009.

Unions, community groups and some legislators in Albany have proposed a different course: taxing the richest New Yorkers.

Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver’s bill for a new state tax on millionaires passed the Assembly but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now Paterson has even proposed to cap property taxes, which state teachers’ unions say would cripple K-12 public education.

A Paterson advisor, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, also recommended taxes over cuts. Stiglitz wrote in a letter to the governor published by the New York Sun, “When faced with such an unpleasant choice, economic theory and evidence gives a clear and unambiguous answer: it is economically preferable to raise taxes on those with high incomes than to cut state expenditures.”

Originally published by the People's Weekly World

Monday, August 18, 2008

One Year Since Deutsche Bank Fire

It's hard to believe it has already been one year since the tragic Deutsche Bank fire. Not only are New Yorkers memorializing Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino, the two firefighters killed in the blaze, but several new developments are underway on the case.

The fire was apparently caused accidentally by construction crews while demolishing the building permanently damaged in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The contractor (which had a history of mob affiliation and corruption) cut the standpipes that bring water to each floor for fire hoses. Firefighters were stuck in the smoldering hulk with no water and no escape. The suffocated when their oxygen tanks ran out.

As we pointed out previously, this was not simply an accident, but the culmination of corruption, incompetence and mismanagement of the Ground Zero site by City officials. Now the Manhattan District Attorney's Office is considering bringing charges against the City for negligent homicide.

Also, the New York Post reports that "a grand jury has been eyeing evidence of racketeering and money laundering against the contractors in charge of the structure."

Also, the Uniformed Firefighters Association is proposing new rules that would protect the lives of firefighters and other first responders. Simply, the Fire Department of New York would have to notify firefighters when there is no water available.

This is a good beginning. The Bloomberg administration should also be investigated for awarding sweetheart contracting bids, poor building safety standards and cronyism.

For fighters and construction workers, the memory many will have of Bloomberg will be crashing cranes and the horrifying inferno of the Deutsche Bank building.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Students Protest Proposed Higher Ed Cuts in Albany

Governor David Paterson, faced with an even larger deficit than expected in 2009, seems determined to solve New York State's economic problems by cutting benefits, services, government jobs, and yes, higher education.

The Gov has called for an emergency session of the State Legislature beginning Tuesday, August 19 and has proposed $1 billion in new cuts for this year purportedly to stave off deeper cuts next year. Of course, you can't cut yourself out of the crisis. Judicious use of new taxes on the rich and the big corporations can address the immediate budget problems and help put money back into the pockets of working people, which is the only way to really help the economy in the long-run.

Unfortunately, Paterson is also proposing a cap on taxes along with the cuts. By rejecting the proposal by some Albany Democrats for a new 1 percent tax on millionaires, Paterson leaves little room to do anything more than cut.

One of the biggest proposed cuts is to higher education spending in the state. Already in the budget adopted in April, the State University of New York (SUNY) had a whopping $150 million in cuts, and now the Governor's proposal would additionally cut $50 million from TAP (Tuition Assistance Program), $51 million from the City University of New York (CUNY), and 6% across the board from all "opportunities programs." The proposal even put on the chopping block the new Veteran's Tuition Assistance Program, which stand to lose 50 percent of its budget.

But students aren't having it. The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), the Student Assembly of the State University of New York, and University Student Senate of the City University of New York have come together to call on the State Legislators to reject the Governor's cuts.

In a letter to the leadership of the State Assembly and the State Senate, they stated argued,
"Students understand the gravity of the state’s economic situation, but we submit that the benefits of affordable, accessible, high-quality public higher education far outweigh the costs. Higher education’s power as an economic engine and its potential for workforce development and innovation has been well documented, and represent the state’s best chance to pull quickly out of this economic nosedive."
The student groups point out the obvious: that cuts to higher education disproportionately impact low-income and working class youth and their families. At a time when gas, grocery, transportation and housing prices are digging deep, cutting tuition assistance programs and financial aid doesn't spread the pain, it concentrates it on this already hardest hit.
"Some students who need TAP to pay for school could end up deeper in debt or unable to pay for school at all," said Cheryl Lynch, NYPIRG's Chairperson, and Stony Brook University student in a press release. "Just as bad, students enrolled in opportunity programs could find the support structures they've come to depend on severely weakened."
Today, a press conference was held with New York City Council Member Charles Barron, the lone member of that body to vote against the recent City budget that included many cuts to human services. Students plan to lobby their representatives in Albany beginning Monday. A call from you wouldn't hurt either.

For more on the nationwide crisis of State Budgets, check out the article, "Got Money?" By Marilyn Bechtel.

Look for a full article on proposed education cuts in next week's People's Weekly World.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Judge Orders Police to Release Info on 2003 RNC Protest Arrests

Despite their many attempts to hide the details of their illegal and unethical behavior at the Republican National Convention in 2004, a judge has denied the NYPD's request to keep the information secret.

If you remember, massive protests were organized the week of the RNC here in new York city to protest President Bush and his Party's role in planning and pushing the Iraq War, their anti-immigrant policies, the curtailment of civil liberties, anti-workers policies, etc. The police responded with surveillance, spying, infiltration of peaceable organizations and then "preemptive arrests." On the second day of the Convention, hundreds of activists were rounded up and arrested, not for breaking laws, but to prevent them from breaking some future law. Bystanders who were not protesting were alsso arrested. Protesters were corralled into a makeshift holding area, where they suffered in substandard and downright dangerous conditions before being released, many held as long as 66 hours. A court order forced the police to release hundreds who remained stuck in detention as the Convention droned on.

It is this group of detainees who, together with the New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the police to release the info pursuant to their civil case charging that the arrests were unwarranted.

The police will appeal the court decisions stating against that the reams of police logs and records will expose undercover agents, police techniques, and other sensitive info. What they fail to address is that the police—under the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg who pursued the RNC to come to the Big Apple and guaranteed the GOP smooth sailing in their deliberation—were engaged in political repression not peace keeping or protecting safety and security. Plus, the lawyers for the plaintiffs have agreed to redact any information about undercover agents. They only seek what information was collected about protest groups that justified the arrests.

Like the attempts to hide racial data on New York City policing, the police attempt to hide their behavior at the RNC shows that there is something afoul at the NYPD. If there is nothing to hide, why are you hiding it? Time to come out into the light.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

NYCLU Sues NYPD Over Racial Data

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit yesterday against the New York City Police Department (NYPD), which refused to provide data on race related to police shootings.

An article in New York Newsday reported that the department's annual report on police shootings contained racial data up until the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo, when then-Police Chief Louis Anemone was ordered to remove the data by then-Commissioner Howard Safir.

Perhaps the thinking is that if there is no evidence of racial disparities, there are no racial disparities. Or moreover, that if there is no race data, then people of color can't get angry about the department's institutional racism. The strategy hasn't worked so far.

The shooting of Sean Bell last year and the huge community response to the no guilty verdict for the police involved with the shooting show that the NYPD maintains racially tinged police practices and reenforce the experience in communities of color that the police are more likely to shoot someone who is Black or Latino than someone who is not.

The NYPD should open its books and show everyone the data. The only way to get control of the out-of-control police in the city is to begin with full information. As Anemone told Newsday,
"'Sunshine is the best disinfectant,' Anemone said, repeating a lesson he learned under a previous commissioner, Bill Bratton. 'Open the place up. We have nothing to hide.'

'This is how you get the trust of the public -- I believe in this 110 percent.'"
Whether or not the police have something to hide, revealing the full impact and racial significance of their policing is the key to addressing community concerns for real safety and fairness.