Contact: Jeff Maclin
(212) 614-5538 (office)
(718) 309-2346 (cell)
In his joint State of the State/ Budget Message, Gov. Cuomo declared that New York is back after four years of fiscal discipline, keeping spending down, cutting taxes to businesses, and strategic investments to reverse economic decline in places like Buffalo and Western New York. The Governor’s “2015 Opportunity Agenda” presentation highlighted billion dollar investments in infrastructure, upstate revitalization, transportation and initiatives meant to keep the state’s economy growing. Some of the funding for these capital needs would come from the $5.4 billion in bank settlement funds.
But the Governor also pointed out that income inequality in New York is at its highest since the 1920s. Helping low and middle income New Yorkers share in the economic resurgence occurring in the state, and the city, appeared to be the intent behind several of his proposals. That included raising the state minimum wage, more affordable housing, relief to renters in the form of tax credits, investing in jobs for urban youth and creating a new state unit to coordinate community development and assistance in high poverty areas of the state.
The shift in priorities for the Governor comes at a time when nearly half of New York City residents (47 percent) think that the policies of Cuomo’s first term benefited business interests the most, with only 23 percent saying the middle class and only 6 percent thinking the poor benefited most (about one in five were unsure). These views are nearly identical across income groups according to Community Service Society’s most recent annual Unheard Third poll.
For all its superlatives, we are disappointed that the Governor’s presentation hardly mentioned public housing or the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), home to more than half a million low and moderate income city residents. A total of $257 million is proposed for a range of capital needs, including public housing. But this will have a marginal impact on helping to meet NYCHA’s outstanding infrastructure needs. Given that help from Washington for public housing is unlikely, and that the State is partly to blame for NYCHA’s financial decline, public housing residents were once again largely ignored.
Although the Governor called for increasing the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour for New York City and $10.50 an hour for the rest of the state -- an acknowledgement that the $9.00 an hour minimum wage to be enacted at the beginning of 2016 is inadequate -- left out of the Governor’s minimum wage proposal were the more than 172,000 workers who rely primarily on tips, workers whose minimum wage remains at $5.00 an hour. In New York City, 12 percent – or over 70,000 – workers who earn less than $11.50 an hour are in tipped occupations, and would be left at a $5.00 an hour minimum wage, even under the Governor’s latest proposal. The Governor need not wait for legislative action to give these workers a fair wage. His own Wage Board is expected to issue its recommendations for tipped workers by mid-February, and the Governor could use that mechanism to eliminate or drastically reduce the gap between the tipped minimum wage and the overall minimum wage next month.
Finally, a day after the President used his State of the Union address to boldly call on Congress and states to initiate paid family leave programs, the Governor missed an opportunity to urge state lawmakers to do the same. Ironically, enacting paid family leave was a top recommendation of Gov. Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team. The program would be financed entirely through modest employee payroll contributions and would not add a dime to the state budget. But there is still time for the Governor to act. Let’s hope he does, for the economic security of the state’s working families.