DSA Electeds Grill Cuomo’s Austerity Plans

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From left are DSA lawmakers including State Senators Jabari Brisport and Julia Salazar and Assemblymembers Phara Souffrant Forrest and Marcela Mitaynes.

Five state legislators affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have expressed outrage as Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announces his plans to cut spending to salvage the state budget amid his State of the State Address. 

In a Thursday night Zoom gathering, the group offered alternative proposals to address Albany’s budget woes. 

The six bills in the legislative package, collectively called the “Invest in New York Act,”  include a more progressive state income tax with more brackets, a surcharge on capital gains taxes, a transaction fee on traded stocks, bonds, and derivatives, an overturn of Trump’s tax reforms, an inheritance tax on the top one percent, and an amendment to the state constitution that would allow a “real wealth tax.”

Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook) opened the meeting, called “The State of Our State: a Response to Austerity.”

“None of us could have imagined we’d start our term during a pandemic, but we’re here, and there’s never been a more necessary time to fight,” she said.

“We know that the governor has been using this past week to lay out his vision of austerity politics, but now it’s our turn to lay out our vision for New York State.”

Senator Jabari Brisport (D-Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Red Hook, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Sunset Park, Gowanus, and Park Slope) noted the many adverse public health and economic impacts of the pandemic, including the risk of the eviction moratorium ending “in just a few short months.” 

“While nearly all the people of our state are struggling, the richest among us are having their best year ever. Billionaires in this country have seen their wealth increase by over half a trillion dollars since the start of this pandemic,” he said. “They are profiting off of our suffering.”

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights) agreed and noted Cuomo’s prior support for corporations at the expense of key social services helped contribute to the current crisis.

“At the start of the pandemic, Governor Cuomo had the audacity to push forth with a multi-billion dollar budget cut to New York’s Medicaid services while our hospitals were being overwhelmed,” she said.

“For months, we also heard about the troubles facing our teachers to adapt to remote learning, but it should come as no surprise that our already underfunded and understaffed school system would struggle in the face of this difficult adjustment.”

Senator Julia Salazar (D-Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, East New York) criticized Cuomo’s call for relying solely on a federal bailout to help with the budget in order to return to a sense of normalcy, adding that increased taxes on the rich were necessary. “That’s not gonna fix the fundamental injustices in our state, tax code, and economy,” said Salazar. 

“We were not elected to return New York to normal, and we were not elected to fight for the same thing. We were elected to fight for a better New York. We should seek federal aid and we should be pushing forward with a bold plan to fix the underlying economic injustices in our state.”

Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani (D-Astoria) cited economic data showing that there is no reason that the state cannot prioritize the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers over those of corporations. “We had a $1.8 trillion GDP in 2019. If we a country, we’d be the tenth largest economy in the world: bigger than Canada, Russia, or South Korea,” he said.

“We have a higher GDP per capita than countries like Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands: all of which easily afford the kind of social support and economic security that we have been told is just a dream for us. Even with the toll that COVID-19 has taken, much of New York’s economy is still intact and continues to turn a profit. The issue that our state faces isn’t a lack of resources. It’s who owns these resources.”