A budget of missed opportunities

SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS | 4/27/2017, 1:13 p.m.
As we’ve seen, New Yorkers are concerned with what is happening in Washington and are now more engaged with what ...
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As we’ve seen, New Yorkers are concerned with what is happening in Washington and are now more engaged with what is happening in Albany. While Donald Trump and his allies are trying to strip away rights and roll back the clock, it is more important than ever for New York to step up as a national progressive leader. That is why my conference, the Senate Democrats, fought tirelessly to include real progressive action in the State Budget, which is the main tool state government has to advance policy. Although some good things were included in the budget, unfortunately, because of backroom deals between breakaway IDC Democrats and the Senate Republicans, too many were half-measures and too many important issues were completely left out. At a time when New York should be leading the nation and resisting President Trump’s agenda, state government fell short. This budget made some progress, but let’s be clear, it is not progressive.

The Raise The Age compromise will help some of the 16- and 17-year-olds who run afoul of the law, but the sad reality is that much more should have been done. A progressive budget would have recognized that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised immediately, not phased in over several years. A progressive budget would have sealed criminal records after three years, not 10, meaning kids would be able to get their lives back on track much sooner. A progressive budget would have kept children accused of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies in Family Court, but this compromise budget will require all violations and felonies to be sent through the Criminal Court system. These were all issues that my colleague, Senator Velmanette Montgomery, has led the fight on and were included in her legislation.

Additionally, a progressive budget would have addressed other crucial criminal justice reforms, including ensuring a speedy trial and reforming the bail system. These two issues have plagued New York’s most vulnerable, and yet they were completely ignored by the Senate Republicans and the breakaway IDC Democrats who empower them. What’s worse, for the sake of compromise they were able to actually weaken gun laws and block funding for an ammunition database, which would keep our streets safer.

Although some progress was made to improve college affordability, a progressive budget would have included the Senate Democratic EducateNY plan, which would have offered more tuition assistance and provided aid for education costs such as books, transportation, room and fees. Additionally, a progressive budget would have included the DREAM Act to help the thousands who only want a fair shot at earning an education and achieving the American Dream. At a time when an advanced degree has become more essential for the modern workplace, this budget failed to remove barriers and failed to help ALL New York students reach their full potential.

Progress was made in investing economic development aid and more housing options, but a progressive budget would have allocated more state dollars to create and maintain truly affordable housing in communities throughout the state. Additionally, a progressive budget would have provided more state aid for public education and directed resources to create more community schools and to help rebuild crumbling school facilities. Too many of our kids are attending classes in buildings that are falling down around them, and that is unfair and hampers our students’ success.

With Trump constantly demanding the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a progressive New York budget would have ensured universal access to quality health care. My Senate Democratic conference pushed to extend health coverage and to allocate emergency aid for Planned Parenthood in case the federal government makes good on threats to defund this critical organization. Unfortunately, these measures were blocked by the Senate Republicans and the breakaway IDC Democrats.

The stakes are too high for us to accept half-measures and compromises. That is why my conference, the Senate Democrats, fought so hard to include all of these important issues in the State Budget. Now more than ever, New York needs to step up, lead and be a progressive beacon to the nation. New Yorkers deserve real action to resist President Trump, and that is exactly what the Senate Democrats and I will keep demanding of state government.