New York is still leading the country protecting reproductive health-care rights. (Credit: Dave Sanders)
When election returns indicated that New York lost three Democratic seats in the US House of Representatives to Republicans, contributing to a much narrower than predicted handover of control to the GOP, the blame game started immediately. It was the fault of former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s appointments of Republican judges. It was the fault of the state legislature overreaching with an extremely partisan gerrymandering that was quickly ruled unconstitutional. It was the fault of Governor Kathy Hochul for running a lackluster campaign.
My personal first reaction was to put at least some of the blame on Governor Hochul. MAGA candidate Lee Zeldin, a Republican US congressman, who represents parts of Long Island, was able to run a spirited gubernatorial campaign that cut what should have been a two-digit margin to only seven points. In fact, the Hochul campaign was worried and poured extra resources into efforts to counter some of Zeldin’s highly effective campaign ads and slogans. In the end, Zeldin did not win, but his campaign energized many Republicans who probably would not have bothered to vote if he was not running. Perhaps that made the difference in seats the Democrats should have won.
Instead of “piling on” the blame, I want to highlight some important achievements by Governor Hochul in the months since she took over after Cuomo resigned. The areas I want to focus on are women’s reproductive rights and funding for CUNY.
When I moved back to New York State in 2009, I started what ended up being four very rewarding years teaching at John Jay College. As a PSC member, I had a front-row seat observing the frustrations of dedicated CUNY students and the workers responsible for their education with Governor Cuomo, who despite his Democratic designation, displayed palpable hostility to CUNY and its unions.
At that time, the state senate was effectively controlled by the Republicans because for many years, a small minority of nominally Democratic senators aligned with Republicans, thus giving the GOP enormous power over CUNY budgets. During those years, Governor Cuomo seemed perfectly content to go along, permitting one legislative chamber to low-ball the needs of students at CUNY. Funding for CUNY, per full-time student equivalent, fell over the course of Cuomo’s terms as governor, leading to a host of unmet needs. And: “Cuomo has governed New York since 2011. State aid to CUNY, adjusted for inflation, has declined by nearly 5% during his tenure, though the state’s gross domestic product has increased,” according to the Nation.
During Cuomo’s tenure, the PSC proposed the New Deal for CUNY, which would make CUNY tuition-free and increase the number of full-time faculty and staff. Among the proposals in the New Deal for CUNY were an effort to bring the ratio of full-time faculty to students up to the national average, to provide for a return to free tuition, to provide a five-year plan for capital repairs and to
finance CUNY with taxes on higher income people. Though the state legislature did not pass the ND4C bill, once Hochul became governor, the state did increase CUNY funding dramatically, in many of the ways sought by the New Deal for CUNY, in the budget agreed to this past spring.
Operating support for CUNY increased by $240 million, which included $53 million to hire full-time faculty. As the union noted in supporting the New Deal for CUNY demands, the ratio of full-time faculty to students had fallen dramatically over the years.
Though it did not go as far as the proposals for a New Deal for CUNY, the increased funding in the budget was a welcome change from the experiences CUNY has had negotiating with Cuomo, especially when the state senate was effectively controlled by Republicans. The budget also included $69 million in increased tuition assistance for part-time students. Distinct from the operating support is over $950 million in capital funds. When public organizations are strapped for funds, routine maintenance is often the first budget item to be cut. Years of such penny-pinching left much of CUNY’s infrastructure in disrepair. Here are some details from a recent CUNY report on its five-year capital improvement plan: “Since 2007, CUNY has analyzed and reported on the state-of-good-repair of its facilities. Most recently, in 2020, CUNY undertook a self-audit of its 254 owned buildings using life-cycle methodology. The analysis identified the University’s backlog of deferred maintenance and projected anticipated future needs, which together are used to shape CUNY’s Facilities Renewal request. This analysis identified a $4.3 billion backlog, with $6.8 billion needed over the next five years, to fully address both the deferred maintenance backlog and ongoing renewal.”
Due to declining enrollments at CUNY community colleges as a result of the COVID pandemic, community colleges had been slated to suffer $80 million in budget cuts. The legislature froze tuition at all CUNY colleges for a year.
I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the legislature would have had to fight Cuomo to get such good results for CUNY and would undoubtedly have had to compromise on all of these expenditures.
On reproductive rights, the state legislature and Governor Hochul enacted several laws that provide strong defenses of abortion rights and abortion providers. Three of these laws, for example, protect anyone who comes to New York who might be sued or prosecuted in states that have criminalized abortion. Among the new laws is an exception to the rules governing extradition. Beyond that, law enforcement agencies in New York State are prohibited from cooperating with institutions in states which have criminalized abortion activities, which, remember, remains totally legal in New York.
Another law prohibits professional misconduct charges against health-care practitioners if that practitioner, acting within their scope of practice, performed, recommended or provided reproductive healthcare services for a patient who resides in a state where such services are illegal.
Another law prohibits medical malpractice insurance companies from taking any adverse action against an abortion or reproductive health-care provider who performs an abortion or provides reproductive health-care that is legal in the State of New York on someone who is from out of state.
Finally, another law protects the privacy of reproductive health-care services providers, employees, volunteers, patients or immediate family members of reproductive health-care services providers, allowing them to enroll in New York’s address confidentiality program to protect themselves from threats.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
Yes, there is plenty of blame to go around for the disastrous showing of New York Democrats in some congressional districts in the past election. But citizens of New York should praise what has been accomplished in the current budget and continue to pressure the governor and legislature to increase support for CUNY.
And praise is due to the legislature for acting decisively to defend reproductive rights. The state government should enforce those laws and vigorously defend abortion providers, abortion seekers from other states, and those who help people from states where abortion has become illegal to travel to New York and receive services in New York.
For now, I’m very glad to live in New York State.
Michael Meeropol is a retired visiting professor of economics at John Jay College. Versions of this essay appeared on air at WAMC and online at WAMC’s website. An edited version of this commentary appears here with Meeropol’s expressed permission.
Published: January 10, 2023
Last Modified: January 17, 2023