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Digging out from under, is there hope?

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 4:45 p.m.

As the city lies frozen under an inch of frozen rain and what is left of a snowstorm that continues to haunt us, we now have to begin to dig out. Not just from under the snow and ice, but out from under the bitter pill that is the New York State budget.

We knew that the budget would be lean. We knew that there would be a price to pay because of the financial situation our state is in, but we did not know that it would be mostly on the backs of the children, working people and the poor from New York City and communities around the state.

While the budget is a Herculean task, a formidable opponent to governor and legislature alike, it is a necessary evil, especially in a time when money is scarce--or so we are told. Wall Street seems to be doing fine. The market is hovering around 12,000 again, and John Paulson, that really rich hedge fund guy, made $5 billion in 2010--yes, that is $5 billion last year by himself.

But we are told that despite these record amounts and the fact that the good times have returned to the bankers and the rich hedge fund guys, we can't do a millionaire's tax because these really rich guys will run away from our state and go someplace else and make all that money.

So we are told to believe that there is just not enough money to take care of all those Black and Brown and white people who expect and need government services and agencies. The governor who won with our coalition is telling us that there is just not enough money, the state must cut back, combine agencies and become a leaner, meaner fighting machine.

At this point, many in our coalition are biting their tongues waiting to see how this budget process plays out. They are giving the governor the benefit of the doubt, waiting to see what his intentions are. On this editorial page, we gave the governor our somewhat tepid support. We wondered whether he was really trying to speak to our community--which gave him more than 90 percent support--or to more conservative white suburban communities around the state, where too few people either look or think like people of color.

We are concerned about cuts to Medicaid, which could exceed more than $3 billion and would disproportionately hit communities of color. We are very concerned when we hear about cuts to education that could set schools in our communities back after a long hard struggle to get buildings, equipment and general educational funding-equity moving in the right direction.

We do have some hope. It seems as though the governor is following through on his promise to end the prison-industrial complex upstate, which has all too often warehoused our kids and young people. But we are not being told where the resources will come from for their reentry into society, making us wonder whether they will really get the help they need or will they simply be dumped back into our communities, leaving us to figure out the best means to help them without adequate resources to really change their lives?

At this point, there is no talk of any new or appropriate revenue streams. No one will talk about the most well-off making any sacrifice. Instead we ask the poor or the middle class to bear the burden. And so we are expected to have less money for health care and education, and our children and our people are supposed to figure out a way to survive. Already our community is underserved when it comes to health care, and our children have unacceptably low graduation rates and levels of education achievement.

We do need change, but we can't afford to allow our legs to be cut off at the knees in the name of that change.