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Home » Clarion » 2023 » October 2023 » What budget restorations teach us

What budget restorations teach us

Preparing for the next fight By ARI PAUL

The union engaged leaders, including City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. (Credit: Gerardo Romo/NYC City Council Media Unit)

The union engaged leaders, including City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. (Credit: Gerardo Romo/NYC City Council Media Unit)

When Mayor Eric Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams announced the most recent city budget deal this summer, the speaker made it clear that funding CUNY was a major goal for city lawmakers.

“CUNY, near and dear to my heart, is one of the most effective pathways to equitable economic opportunities for New Yorkers,” Adams said. “As such, CUNY was a major funding priority for the Council. The $32.4 million restored to this budget for our public institutions of higher education will help avoid the bulk of programmatic cuts they faced.”

This restoration was certainly welcome news for PSC members. The union had been organizing for months with community and student groups to fight against the mayor’s proposed budget plan, which cut so deep that vital CUNY programs faced extinction. Proposed changes included budget cuts for Accelerate, Complete, Engage (ACE) and Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).

COUNCIL INTERVENTION

“Without the Council’s intervention, the mayor’s budget would have dramatically compounded years of city cuts to community colleges,” said PSC President James Davis in a statement. “Even with these much-needed restorations, the mayor’s Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) cuts over the last two years have left CUNY on a dangerous financial path and undermined students’ success. Since 2020, city-funded community colleges have lost over 300 full-time faculty and staff.”

As PSC members gear up to campaign for more state budget funding, the union is aware that Mayor Adams will likely seek more austerity budgeting at the city level next year. For now, the union looks upon the hard work of organizing, lobbying and community outreach it did over the last year as a guide to fighting against austerity next year.

Heather James, an assistant professor of social science at Borough of Manhattan Community College, was one of the activist union members who led the PSC’s city budget campaign.

“Highlights of this Council funding include: $9.1 million in restorations to ACE, which was threatened with a cut of the same amount; $5 million in new funding for ASAP; and $5.9 million in new money for full-time academic advisors,” James said. “In particular, advising was a hard-fought PSC priority, [and it was] part of our effort to increase wraparound services for students without creating an unbearable and unfair workload for faculty and staff.”

ENGAGING WITH LEADERS

Luke Elliott-Negri, the PSC legislative representative, reiterated: “This year, the speaker, her budget negotiating team and effectively the whole Council prioritized CUNY in negotiations with the mayor. The PSC worked directly with Speaker Adams and many council members to ensure that our issues were at the center of the conversation.”

As James pointed out, despite all of the union’s hard work and all of the City Council’s pushback against cuts, the mayor’s commitment to austerity remains strong.

“The mayor absolutely refused to restore his cuts by writing the funding back into his executive budget,” James said. “[The Council] funded us themselves using the discretionary funding allocated to the legislative branch. This money is limited; the funding we secured was a feat of which we should be very proud. However, the fight for this funding also highlighted the structural and cultural pressures that have weakened the Council as compared to the mayor with regard to the budget process. Looking back on this cycle, I am proud of our wins but also hope to engage in a conversation about changing city governance, specifically the budget process, for the better.”

COALITION BUILDING

The PSC has worked with The People’s Plan (TPP) NYC, an anti-austerity coalition that fights for a fair budget. TPP was sour on the final agreement, saying in a statement: “Advocates and council members worked tirelessly during this budget process to protect New Yorkers from a mayor who repeatedly lied to the public and sowed division by scapegoating asylum seekers. We were able to claw back bare minimum funding for libraries, 3-K conversions and Promise NYC, affordable housing and NYCHA, among other vital restorations. These restorations demonstrate the power of organizing, and the critical opposition role of the Council. But the fact that these fights were necessary in the first place shows just how low Mayor Adams has set the bar.”

PSC members and students march for a fair city budget earlier this year. The union organized with other anti-austerity groups throughout the spring. (Credit: Scott Heins)

PSC members and students march for a fair city budget earlier this year. The union organized with other anti-austerity groups throughout the spring. (Credit: Scott Heins)

GETTING INVOLVED

Susan Kang, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College, said that a major lesson from this latest city budget fight is that the PSC must engage aggressively with city lawmakers throughout the year in order to advance the faculty and staff agenda.

“We should be cultivating our relationships with city council members early and often because city funding is so important for our community colleges,” she said. “We should be in their faces right away, like in the fall, so we can be a priority because so many groups are competing for their attention.”

In order to accomplish this, Kang said, the union would need the support of its members to show the city government its strength.

To this end, the union encourages members to join the union’s legislative committee and participate in early lobbying and campaign efforts this year.

Progressives are already fighting the mayor, who has called on “city agencies to cut 5% of their budgets” and warned “agencies to prepare for future cuts – possibly amounting to 15% across the board,” citing the influx of migrants, according to Gothamist.

“It would be great if more members got involved in our electoral and legislative program, because it builds our power and builds our relevance with elected officials,” Kang said.


Published: September 27, 2023

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