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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Communist Party Statement on MTA Fare Hike Vote

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted 12-1 to raise fares by more than 20 percent and to impose dramatic service cuts, including the elimination of two subway lines and dozens of bus routes.

But their vote is far from the final word.

These are nothing more than empty scare tactics; no one expects such draconian measures to actually pass. The MTA is cynically attempting to manipulate public opinion in order to push Albany to enact the Ravitch Plan, which would also raise fares by a smaller amount and impose new tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges.

Why should we choose between bad and horrible? Why should working people pay more to commute into Manhattan? They surely aren’t driving in for fun or because they like to drive—there just isn’t enough public transit in many of the outer boroughs, Long Island and Westchester.

What about the stimulus money? They are using it in such a way that it’s not going to benefit the budget problem in our region. Instead they are using it for pet projects, like the extension of the 7 line, something only of interest to the big developers.

The MTA should open its books so that the public can see exactly how much money they need, how much is wasted or spent on projects that can wait.

The federal stimulus money gives $1.4 billion to the MTA, and $24.4 billion for the state and city. We need to set up a public control council for the use of all this money, to make sure that it’s used in the interest of regular, working people and not for the pet projects of the billionaires and big developers.

Also, New York straphangers pay a higher percentage of operating costs for our mass transit system than almost any other city in the country. Money from the general funds should be directed to transit, and a tax on those making more than $250,000 yearly would help fund that and other necessary services.

The MTA itself should be radically altered, so that its leadership represents the people of New York. Look at its board. Its voting members are mainly a bunch of big developers and Wall Street financiers, the kind of people who have brought disaster to the U.S. economy—does anyone really think that these people can represent New York’s working population? The board should be more representative of New Yorkers, and should include labor, as well as organizations of the racially and nationally oppressed, and people involved in the fights for better education, health care, really affordable housing and against foreclosures.

If the MTA board wants to do what’s right for New Yorkers, they should resign.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This just in: If we raise taxes, New York's wealthy elite will not move to Idaho

While Mayor Bloomberg has been telling anyone who would listen that we can't raise taxes on the rich (the ones who caused the whole financial mess in the first place), because they would leave New York City for Montana or some other place with lower taxes, he's been proven wrong (again).

The New York Times, in a recent article, finally acknowledge what the Fair Share Tax movement has been saying for a long, long time: Raising the taxes on the rich will not cause an emigration of wealthy New Yorkers.

Facts are facts: When New Jersey raised their taxes, only 50 to 350 people or households with an income of $500,000 relocated. How many households at that income level are there in New Jersey? About 44,000.

Those who did leave took with them about $38 million in revenue—at max. But the higher taxes, paid by those who stayed, generate $895 million annually. The same has been proven true in California.

What’s more, both New Jersey and California have higher tax rates than New York.

And this is New York we're talking about. In the words of the SEIU 1199 President at the Rally for New York, “Where are all these rich people going to go? To Iowa?”

So... What is the State Senate waiting for? We need to pass a fair share tax bill now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama needs you: "Keep on Organizing for the Change we need in America"

A few weeks ago, the President submitted a historic budget to Congress, a budget that would reverse nearly 30 years of Bush/Reagan policies, in which the super-rich were given tax cuts while services for working people were slashed. Obama's budget isn't perfect, but is huge break with that unfortunate past: It restores taxes on the wealthy and puts money into education, health care and the environment. Obama makes this perfectly clear.

This is a fight of historic importance, and, if it is victorious, will better the lives of millions of people across this country, and prepare the groundwork for even better things.

We want to join in with the millions of other democratic and progressive-minded people who are seeking to make the priorities expressed in this budget law.

Now click here to find a local canvass!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thousands demonstrate against NY State for fair budget, taxes

By Dan Margolis

NEW YORK—Tens of thousands of people—unionists, community members, religious leaders and elected officials—came out here, March 5, at City Hall and in cities across the state to demand a fair budget for working people, and that the rich pay their fair share in taxes.

New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson told the nearly 75,000 people gathered, “We must ensure that City Hall and Albany put forth proposals that take into account the needs of all New Yorkers. We cannot balance the budget on the backs of working people.”

New York State has a budget deficit of around $14 billion, and the City has a $4-5 billion hole to fill. While the state is poised to receive more than $24 billion in stimulus funds, the governor has argued that New York has a “spending problem” and that the funds will not cover future deficits. He has proposed regressive sales taxes and $2.5 billion in education and $3.5 billion in healthcare cuts, gradually ending aid to all cultural institutions, and huge cuts to libraries, among other things.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his part, has echoed the governor’s rhetoric, and proposed similar cuts at the city level. While Paterson has been pushed to retreat—due in large part to public outrage and actions such as the Rally for New York—Bloomberg won’t budge. He has proposed $127 million in cuts to the city’s medical institutions and nearly $1 billion in cuts to city schools. Bloomberg has also demanded another tier be added to the contracts of public workers.

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told the crowd in NYC, “As President Obama has said over and over, we cannot simply cut our way out of this economic crisis because that would be a recipe for disaster. That is why we pushed so hard for passage of the stimulus package.”

Weingarten is also president of the American Federation of Teachers, the national parent union of UFT.

In a show of solidarity, the rally demanded no cuts to anything: the Untied Federation of Teachers demanded no cuts to healthcare, while 1199 SEIU, which represents healthcare workers demanded no cuts to education, for example. Instead, everyone demanded Fair Share Tax Reform, in which the wealthiest New Yorkers would pay slightly more in taxes.

Currently, New York’s highest marginal tax rate is 6.85 percent, whether you make $40,000 or $40,000,000. The plan would add a few new brackets, and would raise $6 billion. However, Bloomberg, and others of his ilk, argue that the rich would not pay, and would simply move out—though New Jersey and California have similar tax brackets, and, as 1199 SEIU President George Gresham said, “there are a lot of rich people there.”

Gresham noted that “study after study” have shown that the rich do not move when their income tax is raised. Further, “this is New York,” he told the cheering crowd. “Where are they going to move? To Iowa?”

According to Thompson, “all New Yorkers must play a part in bringing New York back.”

A huge cross-section of the city’s unions were represented, including the teachers, SEIU Local 32 BJ, AFSCME, most AFL-CIO unions. Many community and civic groups, like Citizen Action, Make the Road New York, ACORN, the city's immigration coalition, tenants' organizations, and others, were also out in force.

Tax the rich -- A fair budget for New York!

Below are some suggestions from the NYS Communist Party on how to fix the NYC and state budgets, in a way that is not harmful, but actually beneficial to working people, the vast majority of New Yorkers. This was distributed in pamphlet form at the March 5 Rally for New York, a hugely successful project of the labor movement and the community.

The Economic Crisis:
Who's to Blame and How Can we Solve It?
Issued by the NY State Communist Party, CPUSA

We now know that our city and state are getting $24.4 billion from the stimulus package.

Now that we’re getting more stimulus package money than the combined deficits, one would think Bloomberg and Paterson would use it to fill the holes. Instead, both are arguing that the infusion of Federal money will not cover two full years and that there will be greater deficits down the road. Both say the basic problem is the city and state are overspending and need to cut back substantially for years to come.

Working people should expect and insist that all levels of government – federal, state and city help bring the economic crisis to an end and help close the on-going gap in income between the wealthy and big corporations and all working people and especially the poor, who are disproportionately African American, Afro-Caribbean, Latinos and Asians.

In hard times can this be accomplished? Is it true that working people and the poor must sacrifice more to get us out of the economic mess that Wall Street set off?

People like Bloomberg are against taxing the rich and are for new cuts in worker pay and benefits, for layoffs and cuts in vital services like education and health care. But that is a policy that will make it harder to get out of the economic crisis while inflicting even more pain on working people.

When working people lose their jobs or otherwise have less income, their spending declines and small businesses from which they buy suffer and the big manufacturers and distributors of what they buy cut back and lay off still more people in a spiral downward.

We don’t have to describe the crisis and its affects—people already know. In the words of President Obama:

You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It's the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It's the job you thought you'd retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that's now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

Who and What Is Responsible?
Working people aren’t the problem. We want jobs, and we want to have money to spend on the things we need for a decent life. And there is plenty of work that needs to be done: to restore our roads, bridges, water, sewer, electrical, gas and other systems, for school construction, for updating and greening buildings, for transit system updating, repair, extension, etc. We need decent health care for all.

Responsibility for the crisis lies with greed of the Wall Street financiers who still insist on huge annual income, and their political enablers in Washington, DC and elsewhere. But they are only doing what the capitalist system propels them to do: To be greedy, to seek maximum profit at the expense of the rest of us.

The Obama Administration represents the victory of a vast coalition of labor, the racially and nationally oppressed, women youth and many others over the most reactionary section of finance capital. But as we see in Congress, the Republicans still try to block all progress. At the same time the Obama Administration tries to press forward to begin to challenge wider sections of big business, not always in a fully consistent way, but still on a forward-moving path.

Working People Need Help from the City and State, Not More Pain
What do working people need now to make it through the economic crisis for themselves and their families? Help from the Federal Government! Help from the State Government! Help from the City Government! With President Obama’s urging and pushing the Congress, the stimulus package was passed. It provides some $24.4 billion to New York City and State and the MTA.

So what do Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson propose to do with their 2010 city budget (which begins July 1) and the 2009 state budget that begins April 1? You might expect the city and state to make up the difference, certainly not to add to the problems. But that is exactly what Bloomberg and Patterson are trying to do. Since they learned how large the help will be for our city and state, Bloomberg and Patterson claim huge cuts in health care, education and other necessities are still required.

Bloomberg and Patterson argue we spend too much and only cuts in spending can fix the problem. Before the start of the economic crisis, the percentage of people in our city living at or below the poverty line was 25 percent. 2 million people in the city were entitled to food stamps but only 1.3 million received them. Were we spending too much on poor people, or not enough to bring them up to a decent living standard?

Bloomberg has already cut spending and increased regressive taxes in the current budget year by several billion dollars. Starting in July, Bloomberg foresees a further budget gap of $4-5 billion which he proposes to fill with givebacks by workers on pensions and health care—especially new hires—and a big increase in sales taxes. He wants city employees to take a pay cut by having new hires pay for a significant part of their health benefits and pensions.

Governor Patterson has already won a couple billions in cuts in the budget for the current year, including increases in tuition at all SUNY schools. For the April 1 fiscal year, the deficit to be made up is $14 billion. He proposes that be done by imposing $4 billion in regressive sales taxes and fees that working people, not the rich or big corporations, would have to pay. $6 billion would be cut from spending on health care and education and some amounts from elsewhere: speed-up for a shrinking state work force and poorer services for working people.

The MTA says its income is not enough to continue as is and has proposed a big increase in fares, reduction, and cut in services, such as bus and subway lines and their frequency of running. All this means layoffs or otherwise shrinking the work force. It also does not have the capital to complete planned improvements and expansions such as the Fulton Street station, the 2nd Ave. subway line and the extension of the #7 train across Manhattan to 11th Ave. The Ravitch Commission Plan is supposed to be the alternative to these draconian measures. It provides for hefty new tolls on bridges and tunnels within the city. This would mean again a regressive tax almost entirely on working people, along with a smaller 8 percent fare increase. We agree that corporations should be taxed, but the Ravitch Plan’s proposal for payroll taxes would also include small businesses, self-employed people and others. These are regressive taxes that we shouldn’t support.

Pitting Us Against Each Other
The Mayor, the Governor and the MTA are asking impossible questions: Which way do you want us to reduce vital services? Or would you rather your coworkers be laid off? Or fare increases? Or higher sales taxes? How do you want to slit your own throat, or your neighbor’s?

But we’re not responsible for the crisis. It was the leaders of Wall Street and the top Bush government figures and some in Congress who let the bankers run wild making money. And the capitalist system as a whole is responsible. These people control it.

In fact, there is no need to have to pick among these bad alternatives. There is money available. Take your pick of how to solve the budget problems without hurting working people:

Sources of Funds to Meet Deficits for the City, MTA & State
Tax increases on those who can afford it
• Restoring a graduated tax to people earning over $250,000 $6 billion
(on $300,000 adds $71 weekly; on $2 million adds $55,516 a year)
• 1% surtax on people with incomes over $1 billion (60 within city) $1 billion
• 1% stock transfer tax on those with net assets of $500,000 $1 billion
• Graduated increase of City income tax on wealthy (Quinn proposal) $1 billion

Cuts in spending that benefit only the wealthy & big corporations
• End of subsidy for industrial development zones $4 billion
• Reduction of governmental units in NYS from present 10,000 $4 billion
• End subsidies and tax breaks to developers of athletic stadiums and housing
for those above the community medium income - both state and city $3 billion
• Elimination of city tax abatements except for religious and educational $1 billion
institutions and recovery of abatements given over the past 10 years to
big corporations and real estate developments
• Abatement repayment $8 billion
• Repayment by big banks of tax abatements for jobs to be retained
but never substantiated $550 million
• Repayment of Republican legislators abnormal perks $120 million

Finally, a crucial need of working people to protect their interests especially in this crisis is passage of the Employees Free Choice Act. 56 percent of workers say if they could they would want a union to protect their wages and interests. But only about 13% are now unionized because the cards are stacked against them. EFCA would make joining a union much easier: all that would be necessary to form a union would be for a majority of workers at any shop to sign recognition cards – EFCA needs to be passed so workers have protection during an economic crisis and as a result can maintain their buying power which the whole economy needs. President Obama supports it and believes unions “are part of the solution.”

What can be done to prevent the present situation developing again and again? Restoring strong, tight regulation and transparency over the financial institutions and outlawing derivatives, credit default swaps, hedge funds and all the complicated, exotic financial products and institutions that are highly risky and hidden. This will help slow a rapid repeat of the present situation. But it is not enough in the longer run. Democratic public ownership of financial institutions, in whole or part, with the ability of the people to prevent a repeat of the present practices will help even more. But in the long run, even that will not be enough. So long as there are huge corporations owning and controlling the use of huge amounts of capital for the purpose of maximizing their private profit, there will be economic crises and great disparities of wealth and many other social ills. Only the social ownership of these institutions and broad democratic planning for the welfare of the people can change that. And that will require a government run by the working class, the racially and nationally oppressed and all working people. That is U.S. socialism.

Winning the Fight
There have been tens of thousands at demonstrations at Wall Street, in Albany and elsewhere. Unions and various issue coalitions have been very active 1199 SEIU has done all of the above and is running TV ads. It has put out a mailer to hundreds of thousands of homes. The UFT and its allies have been campaigning against education cuts; TWU 100 has been campaigning around transit issues. The MTA hearings in each borough were packed with angry opponents for hours. The Working Families Party and many others are campaigning for the increase of taxes on those earning $250,000 and up. The movement needs to get even bigger and more united. We all need to stand together and reject all the cuts/regressive taxes.

There are many unions and community organizations here. If you’re a union member, work in your union’s campaign! Everyone can work with these community organizations for Fair Share Taxing!

Encourage your friends, relatives, neighbors, unions, community organizations, and religious organizations you are related to, to express themselves to the Mayor, the Governor, legislators and city council members!