Albany, March 23, 2011 — Thirty-three people were arrested in a peaceful, non-violent direct action protest by CUNY faculty and staff, after they sat down and blocked access to the New York State Capitol’s Executive Chamber. Demonstrators demanded that Albany not pass an austerity budget that pays for a hefty tax break for the wealthy with deep cuts to the City University of New York, schools, healthcare and social services.
Joined by hundreds of supporters from community groups, schools and colleges across the state, members of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) chanted and held signs that said, “It’s a revenue crisis!” “No Cuts to CUNY” and “Kids or Millionaires?” They demonstrated loudly in front of the Governor’s office because of the Governor’s key role in negotiating the budget.
Arrest of Sarah Durand, assoc. professor of biology. .
“We made the decision to risk arrest because we cannot allow the injustice of this budget to stand,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC, who was among the protesters. “We have lobbied and rallied and written in support of a fair budget, but our voices have not been heard. Albany is on the verge of passing a budget that is so damaging to our students and so fundamentally unjust that we had to take a stand. We are educators – we spend our lives teaching students how to challenge false premises, and the false premise of this budget must be challenged.”
Senior colleges at CUNY will lose $95.1 million if the budget passes without change. CUNY’s community colleges would lose another $17.5 million.
The CUNY faculty and staff were joined in their act of civil disobedience by CUNY students. Members of New York Communities for Change, the Real Rent Reform Campaign, and Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY) also took part in the protest. Together, they argued that the state budget should not put the interests of corporations, the wealthy and the super-rich above the needs of ordinary New Yorkers.
Research from the Fiscal Policy Institute shows that the richest 1% of earners receives 35% of all income collected in New York State. In New York City, income inequality is even more dramatic: 44% of all income is collected by the top 1% there.
“We are disappointed that Governor Cuomo, who first said he wants stronger rent laws included in the state budget, has now stated that rent reform is ‘too complicated’ to include in the budget,” said Michael McKee of the Real Rent Reform Campaign. “The only way to make sure that the rent laws are not further weakened is to link renewal and strengthening of the rent laws to the budget. Allowing this issue to carry over until June plays into the hands of the Senate Republican majority and their real estate masters. They will let the clock tick until June 15, while everyone gets increasingly nervous, then at the last minute they will pass a bill renewing the laws in their current weakened form and leave town. The result will be to allow landlords to continue the displacement of middle class families from their homes, and the continued erosion of the supply of affordable homes in New York City and suburban counties.”
Chants ring out inside the State Capitol.
The financial services industry is once again making record profits and real estate interests have spent millions on PR and lobby campaigns to weaken rent control, undermine teachers’ contract rights and cut services for working New Yorkers. The wealthy, the protesters argued, can afford to pay their fair share.
“We need a budget that protects kids and not millionaires. As a parent of a middle schooler in the South Bronx, I have seen our schools decimated by cuts year after year,” Gail Gadsden, a parent leader from New York Communities for Change. “This budget contains the largest transfer of wealth from low-income communities to wealthy individuals in New York State history. Governor Cuomo really needs to search his soul and rethink these cuts.”
The Governor’s refusal to continue the Personal Income Tax (PIT) surcharge on high earners will blow a multi-billion-dollar hole in the state budget. Continuing the PIT surcharge at its current rate would generate $5 billion in revenue next year—money that could help offset proposed cuts to CUNY and other programs that serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers.