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Don’t Cut Us

Union members and advocates for the poor demand a millionaires’ tax

by Taylor Morris on March 3, 2011

Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday in opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, which includes a $9 billion cut in state spending and a $5 billion tax break, dubbed the “Millionaires Tax cut,” to New Yorkers making more than $200,000 annually. Groups including the Hunger Action Network, New York State Public Employees Federation, New York StateWide Senior Action Council, New York Library Association, and more, assembled under the name of GrowingTogetherNY, waving signs reading “leave no senior behind” and “stop Cuomo’s tax cuts for millionaires.” While an array of representatives voiced the concerns of their individual programs, the protest centered around one rallying cry: “Tax the rich.”

Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) addressed the crowd first, warning that “labor is under attack.” He urged Gov. Cuomo to end the tax cuts for upper-earners, and reminded the crowd of their importance, saying, “Your voices matter, your placards matter.”

Perkins reinforced the idea that the issues are still local, not national. “This is not Wisconsin, this is New York,” he said. “We have a great tradition at risk. LIFO [New York’s Last In First Out educator employment policy] is a part of it, in terms of trying to demonize public servants and demagogue against the benefits they earn.”

While Perkins was not ready to liken the growing hostility between state unions, social programs, and the Cuomo administration to the problems seen in Wisconsin between Gov. Walker and the state’s public workers, others were.

Joe Lombardo, a state employee and CSEA member, celebrated the “courageous and wonderful Wisconsin workers” for “fighting back.” He asked the crowd if they were ready to “protest day after day” until their demands were met—the crowd erupted.

Mark Dunlea, one of the organizers of the rally and director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State, slammed Cuomo for a budget that he believes will not create jobs. He urged the governor to add a $100 million provision to the budget for jobs funding, as well as a welfare grant increase of $1 per day for a family of three, a grant that has not seen in increase in 19 years.

Andy Pallotta, executive vice president of New York State United Teachers, spoke in defense of teacher’s unions and education funding, demanding New York be “the leading state, not the losing state,” and urging Cuomo not to take apart “what we built over the last century.”
Pallotta referred to this year’s proposed $2 billion cuts to education funding, even more drastic than last year’s roughly $1.3 billion cuts. The state’s federal education stimulus money has been spent in full; this year’s cuts try to account for the gap.

Pallotta mentioned Massachusetts, a state with no cuts to education in either 2010 or 2011, saying we should follow their lead on funding and remove the “millionaires’ tax cut” as well.

Pat Baker, vice president of New York State Public Employees Federation, also spoke, demanding the crowd to “tell the governor his budget . . . don’t make not one lick of sense” and that “trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, the working people . . . and the children of this state, is unfair.” As Baker finished her speech, she asked the crowd how to fix the current economic woes of New York. The crowd yelled back, “Tax the rich!” The call and response continued, each time louder than before: “Tax the rich!”