Assemblyman Charles Barron (183411)
Assemblyman Charles Barron

The New York State Budget is infamously and traditionally called “The Big Ugly” because it has so many “ugly” moving parts to it and the good parts are either watered down or underfunded. One example of a good part of the budget is Speaker Carl Heastie responding positively to our demand for 100 percent affordable housing. We define affordability by our neighborhood area median income. For Black and Latino neighborhoods, the area median income is half of what H.U.D defines as affordable. Heastie secured $100 million for 100 percent affordable housing for our neighborhoods, and only community-based not-for-profit organizations can apply for it. We need much more, but this effort is a start. In addition, while I fought for securing more than $100 million for CUNY/SUNY students to pay for non-tuition cost, $20 million was put in the budget for that purpose. However, this year’s $150 billion-plus 2017/2018 budget has too much “ugly” in it. I refuse to vote for a budget that fails to adequately address poverty, underfunds the education of our children, raises tuition on CUNY/SUNY students, keeps thousands of our youth in adult criminal court and in adult prisons and gives huge tax breaks to the rich real estate industry to build luxury housing in our neighborhoods that most of us can’t afford to live in—gentrification. Check this out!

Raise the age (watered-down)

We wanted to raise the age so that crimes committed by 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds would be dealt with in family court. This change would mean that all felonies, misdemeanors and violations committed by 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds would be taken out of the youth part of the adult criminal court and sent to the adolescent family court where they belong. However, the NYS Donald Trump Republican Party wanted to raise the age for only 16- and 17-year-olds, not 18-year-olds. Also, they wanted all felonies (non-violent and violent) committed by 16- and 17-year-olds to remain in adult criminal court and have only the misdemeanors and violations sent to family court. Gov. Cuomo (the not so closet conservative Republican who calls himself a progressive Democrat) and Sen. Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Caucus (the sellout Democratic Party traitors who now align themselves with the Donald Trump Republican Party), both want to raise the age for 16- and 17-year-olds only, like the Republicans.

Unfortunately, the NYS Assembly, the NYS Senate, the Independent Democratic Caucus and Cuomo came up with this watered-down compromised agreement. First, they are only raising the age for 16- and 17-year-olds. This deal means that all 18-year-olds’ cases will remain in criminal court and they will be sentenced to adult prisons. It could ruin them for life.

Second, all felonies committed by 16- and 17-year-olds will go to the youth part of the adult criminal court first. The non-violent felonies will automatically be sent to family court, but, if a district attorney can convince a judge that a case has “extraordinary circumstances,” then it stays in criminal court. The violent felonies will have to pass violence tests before they are sent to family court. This requirement gives too much discretion to district attorneys, judges and tests in determining the future for our youth.

Perhaps the most egregious part of this so-called compromise is that our youth will have to wait 10 years before their records can be sealed. This requierment can also ruin them for life. This agreement doesn’t go far enough! Thousands of our youth will be sent to adult prisons. They need jobs—not jails!

Foundation aid/campaign for fiscal equity (underfunded)

NYS owes $4.3 billion to high-needs schools in predominantly Black and Brown communities. The NYS Board of Regents said that the state should pay at least $1.4 billion of the debt this fiscal year to begin the process of making them whole. Gov. Cuomo proposed an insulting, measly $428 million. The final compromised agreement was $650 million out of a $150 billion-plus budget. This meager amount is unconscionable and unacceptable! Our children are too precious for us to fail them! An investment in our children is an investment in our future!

CUNY/SUNY tuition raised

The State Budget agreement has in it a $200-a-year tuition hike for four years for CUNY/SUNY students. Incredibly and contradictorily Gov. Cuomo says out of one side of his mouth, “free tuition,” then out of the other side of his mouth “raise tuition.” What a hypocrite! The state budget gives the governor $124 million this fiscal year to provide families with a yearly household income as high as $125,000 (by 2019) with an Excelsior scholarship to pay their tuition. This scholarship is geared for middle class students and for tuition only. There is a hitch to this scholarship—upon graduation students have to stay in New York for the same amount of years they received the scholarship. If they leave, their scholarship money is converted into a student loan that they have to pay back. Poor struggling students who come from low-income families are already getting their tuition payed for by T. A.P. Their challenge is paying the non-tuition costs, such as text books (can be as high as $2,500 a year), college fees (can be as high as $1,300 a year), food, transportation, child care, room and board and college debt. This cost can be as high as $20,000 a year. The Excelsior scholarship doesn’t help poor students because they can’t apply for it to help them with non-tuition cost. This state budget prioritizes middle class families over poor struggling working class family who are predominantly Black and Brown. Race and class still matters!

421a housing program

This program gives huge tax breaks to rich real estate developers to gentrify our neighborhoods by building luxury housing that we can’t afford to move into. They utilize the 80/20 formula for building housing, 80 percent market (luxury) and 20 percent affordable. Affordable to who? The 20 percent isn’t even affordable to us! We should eliminate this sweet deal for the rich and no deal for the poor!

A budget states more than numbers, dollars and cents. It is a moral document that prioritizes your values, principles and commitment to the neediest people of this state. This budget does not deal adequately with poverty, unemployment and economically underdeveloped neighborhoods in general and Black and Brown neighborhoods in particular. The rich will get richer, and the poor will get poorer. Especially poor Black folks! With a $150 billion-plus state budget they can do much better for you with your tax-paying dollars. THIS IS YOUR MONEY! We must demand more and fight for more! Ultimately America’s greedy, racist, parasitic, capitalist system needs a revolution, and it needs to start state by state! Forward Ever! We Will Win!