I close all my letters with “In Unity.” And I mean it. Not an empty, feel-good gesture of convenience, but a true, fire-tested strength in unity.
Progressive, people-centered policies, their advocates, and us elected public officials who support them are riding an exciting wave in New York State.
But this year presents unique challenges to our unity. Climate, education, healthcare, housing—these are urgent budget priorities set against the backdrop of a roughly $6 billion shortfall. While Governor Cuomo plays a magic cup game of austerity, hemmed in by his own arbitrary spending cap, we true progressives have already drafted revenue-generating legislation that will fill budget holes and support these people-centered priorities. So what’s the problem?
To offer a winnable alternative to an austerity budget, we all have to be on the same page about how much money, from which pieces of legislation, should go to what budget items. I have been speaking about this need for unity with progressive advocates in my district for several months, but now is the critical time to make it happen.
Take my bill S7378, carried by my colleague Linda Rosenthal in the Assembly. Drafted in collaboration with statewide education advocates, this bill adds a new bracket to create a small increase in income tax on New York’s highest earners, generating an estimated $4.5 billion in revenue. New York’s students, by law, are owed $3.8 billion in Foundation Aid, so this bill also allocates the revenue directly to fill that gap.
Anybody who knows me also knows that I believe education is the key to uplift all people. But if you follow education funding, we are spending less per child in majority Black, Brown and low-income school districts than we are in wealthy districts—despite the overwhelming research that, to create educational equity, we should be doing exactly the opposite. By raising revenue and allocating it toward public education, we can ensure finally that no child will be denied opportunities because of where they live, the color of their skin, or their ability to learn.
And yet, as important as I believe education to be, I am not going to buy into the belt-tightening rhetoric that pits education against the climate crisis or healthcare or housing justice. We must reject this scarcity mentality, these politics of fear and division.
I am heartened by the growing chorus in support of revenue-generating legislation for our vision of justice in New York State. But we have to come together to earmark this revenue. Maybe it involves allocating a stock transfer tax to public housing capital needs. Maybe it involves setting aside proceeds of a pied-à-terre tax for frontline environmental justice communities. I just know we can’t resolve these issues without greater revenue and we have to decide collectively how to designate it so it gets to where it needs to go.
It’s time for our state to act for budget justice to protect the 99% of New Yorkers and ask the state’s thousands of millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. Let’s come together—in unity—to ensure the revenue goes where we need it most: toward people-centered policies that serve us all.
Robert Jackson represents District 31 in the New York State Senate that spans 13 miles of Manhattan from Marble Hill to Chelsea. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.