Why won’t they tax Wall Street?

February 12, 2010

Doug Singsen reports on the plans of teachers and other New York workers who are organizing against Gov. David Paterson's budget ax.

WITH THE worst economic downturn since the Great Depression entering its third year, on January 19, New York Gov. David Paterson proposed yet another state budget that makes major cuts to vital public services--most notably, public education and health care.

Paterson's budget reduces funding for K-12 public schools by $1.1 billion and health care funding by $1 billion. In New York City, this will mean cuts of $469 million in school aid, $302 million in local government aid, $53 million in funding for social services and $4 million for transportation.

Higher education is also being cut, to the tune of $104 million for the City University of New York (CUNY) and $118 million for the State University of New York (SUNY). These cuts come on top of $410 million in cuts to SUNY and $160 million to CUNY in the last two years.

But the recession's pain isn't being felt equally by everyone. Wall Street firms recently handed out massive bonuses to their employees. The Wall Street Journal estimated that total compensation for employees at major Wall Street firms will reach $145 billion, an all-time record.

New York Gov. David Paterson
New York Gov. David Paterson

A windfall tax of 2 percent on these payouts would be enough to prevent all the proposed cuts to health care and education. It's also worth recalling that it was the financial crisis caused by Wall Street's irresponsible speculation on home prices that caused this recession in the first place.

Billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others say that any attempt to tax bankers will only cause them to change their legal residency away from New York to avoid the tax increase, which only goes to show the total lack of responsibility that these banksters feel for their fellow citizens. However, despite Bloomberg's protestations, if the politicians wanted to, they could find a way to tax New York's wealthiest citizens.

WHILE THE cuts to health care and other services haven't yet been met with significant resistance, a fight is shaping up against cuts to higher education, and against other attacks on K-12 public education.

The attacks in public higher education go beyond budget cuts. For one thing, tuition is going up. Annual tuition at CUNY went up by $600 in 2009, to $4,600, which followed an $800 increase in 2003.

Paterson's current budget proposal will allow CUNY's board of trustees to raise tuition without getting approval from the state legislature, which will make it dramatically easier for the board to raise the costs of attending CUNY schools--something the board has already proposed doing in fall 2010 and spring 2011.

The budget cuts are made worse by the fact that enrollment is surging at both schools, which is making it impossible for students to register for the courses they need to complete their degrees. Meanwhile, student services, such as child care at Hunter College, are being threatened.

In the last two years, a number of small-scale struggles have taken place against these attacks. Between December 2008 and November 2009, protests and walkouts drawing up to 400 students and faculty were held at Hunter College, City College, Brooklyn College, Baruch College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, City Hall and Gov. Paterson's Manhattan office.

Meanwhile, Paterson, Bloomberg and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) are proposing additional attacks on the K-12 public schools. Bloomberg announced the closing of 19 schools, given public schools' space to charter schools operating in the same building, and attacked teachers' salaries and tenure. Paterson recently announced his own plans to close or restructure 34 schools in New York City.

On top of this, the MTA has threatened to cancel student MetroCards that previously were provided to students free of charge so they can travel to schools that--thanks to Bloomberg's restructuring of the public school system--are often increasingly far away from thei home neighborhoods. In January, Paterson promised to provide funding to save the student MetroCards, but then failed to come through with the money when he released his official budget proposal.

The struggle against school closings in New York City has taken off in the last month. On January 21, 400 teachers, students and parents protested across the street from Bloomberg's house, while on January 26, 800 teachers, students and parents protested a meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, which went on to rubber-stamp Bloomberg's plan to shut 19 schools.

The proposal to cancel free student MetroCards also met with resistance, with high school students organizing protests MTA headquarters several times in the last month.

The struggles against the attacks on CUNY and SUNY, the K-12 public schools and student MetroCards will all come together on March 4 as part of a national day of action to defend public education, which has been called by groups in California and around the country.

The Grassroots Education Movement, a coalition involving teachers, students and parents, and several rank-and-file groups within the United Federation of Teachers helped organize the anti-school closings protests. They have endorsed the March 4 actions. So has Professional Staff Congress-CUNY, which represents CUNY's 20,000 faculty, adjunct lecturers and graduate assistants.

March 4 organizers have also been receiving assistance from activists from Take Back Our Union (TBOU), a former opposition group inside Transport Workers Union Local 100 that recently won control of the local, which represents 38,000 MTA workers.

Actions are being planned for March 4 at Hunter College, Brooklyn College, City College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY Graduate Center and Queens College. Outside New York City, actions are being planned at SUNY Stony Brook and SUNY Purchase. The demonstrations will take place in the morning and early afternoon, and will be followed by a joint rally at 4 p.m. at Paterson's Manhattan office and a march to MTA headquarters.

Hopefully, these protests will be the beginning of a fightback against not only the attacks on education, but all budget cuts. The participation of teachers' groups, PSC-CUNY and TBOU in a united action is an important development, and suggests the possibility of a broader struggle against budget cuts.

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