In response to New York State’s $6 billion budget shortfall, Community Board 9 passed a motion opposing projected spending cuts to Medicaid and insufficient increases to education, which were outlined in the New York state midyear financial report.
According to the CB9 resolution passed on Thursday, 37.2 percent of the population of Manhattan Community Board 9 receives income support in the form of Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and/or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in 2012. The resolution also states that public schools in Districts 3, 4, 5, and 6 are owed $65.7 million in education funding.
CB9’s resolution directly opposes Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which is slated to slash $2 billion from Medicaid funding and trim planned increases to education, an area to which he had previously promised a $1 billion increase, according to his 2019 State of the State address. Although the budget in its current form adds $826 million to education funding, advocates believe that this number will not properly fulfill the needs of schools and have asked for an increase of $2 billion.
Cuomo has stated that he has no intention to raise new revenue channels to address the deficit.
In response, the board has voted in favor of budget justice, a movement that was started in order to demand more taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, particularly those who make above $50 million a year, to account for the deficit and leave more room in the state budget for areas like healthcare and education. Advocates have proposed 14 taxes on New York’s wealthiest, including a billionaire wealth tax, an ultra-millionaire wealth tax, a corporate landlord tax, and more.
CB9 will now send a resolution to New York City’s five state-elected officials, the Governor’s office, the Speaker of the State Assembly, the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and other government agencies in an effort to pressure lawmakers to increase the budget size. CB9 is the first community board in New York City to pass the resolution, and Barry Weinberg, the chair of CB9, said it was the first community board to “speak up and encourage [other] community boards to take a look at this issue.”
He also added that passing the resolution is only the first step in the fight for budget justice.
“When we pass a resolution, it’s not the end of our work, it’s the start of our work,” Weinberg said. “But now if I go into my elected official’s office, I can say, ‘I support these things and I am speaking with the full force of the body of Community Board 9.’ ... It’s an uphill battle, but it’s a battle that ultimately can and will be won.”
Local educators and state representatives have also voiced concern over insufficient increases to education funding.
At A. Philip Randolph High School, a partner with Columbia’s Double Discovery Center that aims to support college readiness for first-generation low-income students, additional funding would allow the school to hire more teachers. David Fanning, the principal of the school, said the money would dramatically improve the academic experience by allowing the school to decrease class size and offer more support to students seeking higher education counseling.
“Research is clear that all students benefit from a certain magic number of students in the class,” Fanning said. “If I had my way, there wouldn’t be 34 students in the class like there is now. Thirty-four students is way too large.”
Fanning added that, in lieu of funding, his school has had to get creative in filling certain gaps. For example, A. Philip Randolph High School can only afford one music teacher for its 1,400 student population. Luckily, Fanning was able to hire another music teacher only after receiving a grant.
Robert Jackson, who represents Manhattan in the state Senate and is a longtime advocate for greater education funding in New York City, condemned Cuomo’s proposal in a statement, claiming that New York students would be left behind “yet again” if Cuomo’s budget was passed.
“The increase of $826 million is a slap in the face to all New York state public school students,” Jackson wrote in a statement. “Educators, administrators, parents, and other allies on the front lines know how under-resourced our public schools are, and they will understand how woefully inadequate Governor Cuomo’s proposal is.”
Advocates also claimed the state still owes New York City public schools around $4 billion. In 1993, a group of parents sued the state for what they viewed as severe underfunding of New York City schools in the case Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York. They won their case in 2006, and a court-appointed panel decreed that the state owed New York City schools $5.6 billion in basic operating funds. However, following spending cuts in the wake of the 2008 recession, advocates claim the government has failed to fulfill the promises of the case. Cuomo dismissed the CFE as a “ghost from the past,” but Jackson, who himself was a plaintiff in the case, condemned Cuomo for his “deliberately misleading” language, according to his statement.
“I expect Governor Cuomo to stop playing politics with our children’s future and immediately fund the formula as it’s written,” Jackson wrote in the statement.
This sentiment was echoed by state Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who represents New York’s 69th Assembly District which includes Morningside Heights. He wrote in a statement that “this funding is long overdue and would provide critical support to underfunded schools across the State.”
Allison Downing, an advocate at Indivisible Harlem in the “Budget Justice” movement, said these cuts to Medicaid funding will negatively impact healthcare for low-income communities. Organizers from the budget justice movement, which include advocates from groups like Indivisible Harlem and the Alliance for Quality Education, have visited New York City Community Boards, which are local advisory boards who act as liaisons between neighborhoods and New York city council, to gain local support.
Downing lambasted Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team, calling it “a joke.”
“It’s a sham for Cuomo to get away with whatever he wanted to get away with,” said Downing said. “The people chosen were all his pals, and it defies belief that they could suddenly find billions in ‘waste and fraud,’ and it’s not going to affect any programs.”
In addition, Weinberg said if Cuomo’s budget is passed, the burden of funding will fall on the city government. While the city government cannot raise income taxes without the permission of the state, it may raise property taxes in order to fill the gaps in funding, which will impact more middle-income and low-income residents in New York City.
“It would hit a lot of small co-op owners or free-family homeowners. It would hit landlords, who would then raise rent,” Weinberg said.
The state proposed reducing Medicaid spending by $2.5 billion. Currently, Medicaid accounts for $4 billion of New York’s $6 billion deficit. But advocates, like Downing, aren’t convinced that cutting this money will eliminate inefficiencies within Medicaid spending, noting that the spending cut would reduce the quality of Medicaid coverage for low-income residents.
“This is all theater, but we can solve this,” Downing said.