Testifying in Albany on Jan. 31 on the governor’s proposed budget, UFT President Michael Mulgrew called on state lawmakers to help insulate public schools from fiscal threats from the federal government.
“There’s no question that the Trump administration’s policies are meant to damage progressive states such as ours,” Mulgrew told the assembled legislators, calling for a $1.5 billion investment in state education aid and “a state budget that protects our children and public schools.”
Mulgrew pointed to the threat contained in the federal tax overhaul that became law at the end of 2017.
“Working families across our state will see their property and income taxes rise, possibly by up to 25 percent, before it’s all over,” he said.
Mulgrew also raised the alarm about federal health care cuts, which he warned could cost New York State about $5 billion in the coming years.
“We need your help in the months ahead to insulate our schools and communities from these devastating cuts,” he said.
The governor’s executive budget is the opening volley in the back-and-forth with state lawmakers to finalize a budget by April 1, the start of the next state fiscal year.
Mulgrew gave the governor credit for inserting an additional $769 million in education aid, including $338 million in foundation aid, in his executive budget despite having to close a $4.4 billion deficit. He said he agreed with the governor’s goal of sending more funds to the highest-need schools.
The UFT president suggested that the state pay for necessary public investments, such as education, by recapturing some of the funds lost to federal tax cuts for the rich. “The smart response would be to raise taxes and fees on corporations and the wealthy,” he said, since they “are benefiting the most from the Republican largesse in Washington, D.C.”
Specifically, Mulgrew urged state lawmakers to impose a “claw-back” tax on large corporations that pass the savings from their federal tax breaks along to top executives and shareholders instead of financing new jobs and higher salaries for workers. He also called for a state income tax surcharge on multi-millionaires and a state surtax on wealthy estates.
Mulgrew gave the union’s strong support for the governor’s efforts to close the carried interest loophole, which allows hedge fund managers and private equity bankers to pay a lower tax rate. “Gov. Cuomo’s proposed Fairness Fix would address this inequity and generate an additional $1.1 billion in new revenue,” he said. “We stand ready to help Gov. Cuomo in his efforts to make this legislation a reality here in New York, as well as in Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, so that hedge fund managers can’t simply shift their profits across state lines.”
Mulgrew celebrated recent public school successes including the restorative justice practices used by the Positive Learning Collaborative, the professional support provided by Teacher Centers and the progress being made by the UFT’s 29 Community Learning Schools. He implored state lawmakers to continue to support these and other successful initiatives
Mulgrew warned of the threat posed to public schools by privatization advocates like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “We need only look as far as Michigan to see what happens when elected officials allow profiteers like Betsy DeVos to drain resources from public schools and weaken the regulations that govern private, religious and charter schools,” he said. “That laissez-faire attitude left Michigan families with a deeply dysfunctional school system that continues to fail kids. We can’t let DeVos’ toxic influence harm our public schools here at home.”
Until transparency and accountability in the state’s charter school sector increases, he said, the UFT opposes co-locating more charter schools in New York City public school buildings, any increase in the charter cap or any form of additional state financial support for charter schools.