Fighting for Fairness
Just about everyone is feeling the pinch of the current economic crisis, and that includes governments, corporations and individuals alike. The times certainly dictate that we all look for ways to cut costs and stretch our dollars as far as we can.
But even in difficult times, our federal, state and municipal governments must be mindful of their duty to provide a safety net to protect society’s weakest and most vulnerable citizens.
That doesn’t mean that anyone should argue against elected officials being concerned about the financial burdens being heaped upon taxpayers as they seek to curb government spending, cut costs and streamline agency and departmental services. But the zeal to cut must be tempered by a constant awareness of those most likely to be hurt by severe budget cuts in education and social services, particularly children, the needy and the elderly living on fixed incomes.
For example, as head of the labor union representing New York City’s public school educators, I know first-hand how education cuts made during the fiscal crisis of the Seventies caused so much pain and damage that it has taken our school system decades to recover. And now that our nation is facing its most dire economic challenge since the Great Depression that is global in its scope, we in New York must again worry about not only education but also a host of other crucial social services being on the chopping block.
That is why the United Federation of Teachers has joined with more than 100 civic and community organizations, labor unions and advocacy groups to form the One New York Fighting for Fairness Coalition. Keenly aware that tough times call for tough choices, the coalition member groups are united in a struggle for fair treatment in city and state budgets. We in the coalition maintain that our city and state governments should not depend solely on budget cuts but also:
· Invest in our communities to address local concerns, protect the neediest New Yorkers and stimulate our economy.
· Make the fiscally prudent and fair choices necessary to raise revenues.
· Ask those New Yorkers who have the most to contribute their fair share rather than balance budgets on the backs of the neediest.
Coalition organizers are particularly concerned about governments making across-the-board budget cuts that do not take into account the various missions and the particular needs of our member groups and the clientele they serve. The sorts of budget cuts being proposed by the city and the state run the risk of compounding job losses in the private sector, further slowing the economy. We propose instead that the city and state make every effort to protect funding for core and safety net services to counteract what is likely to be an extended economic downturn with greatly increased demand for social services.
The State Legislature convened for a special session to address the fiscal crisis. The coalition proposed that legislators make no immediate budget cuts and instead use alternative revenue actions along with $1.03 billion from the Tax Stabilization Reserve Fund to help close the gap in the current fiscal year, which is precisely what the fund is meant to do. This will allow legislators to take care of this year’s gap without hurting working families and give them time to address the budget for the coming fiscal year in a comprehensive manner.
In addition, we need a tripartite program, a federal economic stimulus package that includes local and state subsidies, additional revenues and a careful review of expenditures.
Those of us in the coalition have been around long enough to know that the city and state cannot simply cut their way out of this fiscal plight. They must address both sides of the budget ledger—namely revenues and expenses—in a balanced approach to protect the most vulnerable from bearing a disproportionate share of the burden. Addressing budget problems in the next fiscal year will require a lot of shared sacrifice that should begin with rolling back portions of the tax breaks given to high income earners over the past 30 years.
You will see and hear much about the coalition’s efforts in the days and weeks ahead as we take our fight for fairness to City Hall and Albany. We invite you and other concerned New Yorkers to join us in lobbying elected officials to maintain the integrity of the social safety net for the neediest and middle-income New Yorkers as we make our way through these troubled times. With the economic crisis likely to get worse before things get better, we’re asking everyone to stand with us and be prepared for a tough and lengthy campaign as we work together to weather this storm. #
Randi Weingarten is the President of the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.