A People’s Budget: Advancing Housing, Health, and Shared Wealth for All

“We cannot cut our way out of this crisis,” say three democratic socialist candidates for City Council who are calling for higher taxes on the rich to fund investments in poor and working-class communities most harmed by the pandemic.

Adolfo Abreu, Jaslin Kaur and Brandon West Feb 26, 2021

Every year, our city and state budgets provide an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to caring for our communities. The budgets our legislators pass reveal a set of choices about what we value and, more importantly, who we value. One year into a pandemic that has caused tremendous social and economic harm, it has never been more clear that we need a People’s Budget that puts the needs of everyday New Yorkers first.Yet at a time when we, and our elected leaders, know how important social services and infrastructure are for recovery, the State and City’s preliminary budgets cut deep.

Governor Cuomo has proudly unveiled high-cost initiatives to support working New Yorkers, policies he will putatively fund with his calls on Washington to increase federal funding and raise taxes on the wealthy. But he refuses to raise the necessary progressive state taxes to do the same. Mayor de Blasio has called on Cuomo to tax the ultrarich to save him from slashing housing and homeless services, public health and mental health services, youth and community services, and emergency management. Meanwhile, de Blasio proposed a whopping $200 million increase for the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the most expensive school policing budget in history. Everyone is kicking the can up the chain of command.

While the priorities of a people’s budget would center the needs of New Yorkers who are most affected by city budgetary decisions, its benefits would extend to all city residents.

We cannot cut our way out of this crisis. History makes this clear. In past cases of strong recovery, governors and mayors across party lines have succeeded by raising taxes on the wealthiest of New Yorkers. We also know what happens when we fail to spend amid crisis. As candidates running to represent Council Districts in three outer boroughs, we live with the lasting impacts of the city’s 1970s scheme of disinvestment to this day.

For all the harms in which our government is complicit, past and present—redlining and segregation, police violence and surveillance—New York City and State also have a legacy of social democracy. In moments of great need, we have invested in public goods for all people: tuition-free CUNY, public housing, and rights for tenants and workers against discrimination and predation.

If New York passes “austerity” budgets–balanced on the backs of Black and Brown communities and poor and working families–we know what to expect: reduced support for students struggling to learn in a pandemic, increased homelessness and unemployment, rampant food insecurity, a further frayed safety net, deteriorating neighborhoods, and shuttered small businesses. Those in power continue to shore up their resources by pretending that there is no choice but to cut. But we have a choice.

We cannot allow our elected representatives to pass the buck or make baseless claims to evade doing the right thing. The evidence and our lived experience demonstrate that more cops doesn’t make communities safe. And the idea that marginally increasing taxes on the wealthiest residents will trigger their mass exodus is a myth, an old and overused scare tactic that has been clearly disproven. More likely, their decision to leave would be driven by mass homelessnes, unemployment, and reduced public services–the very outcomes of the cuts our leaders contend are necessary to keep them here. What’s at stake is not the flight of New York’s tax base, but the lives of everyday New Yorkers.

A People’s Budget fundamentally rejects the fear and falsehoods of austerity rhetoric. Instead, it prioritizes care for those who have been most impacted during this crisis while shifting our path towards a just, equitable, and sustainable city. We must not only address the immediate hardship brought on by COVID-19, but also the underlying reasons all forms of crisis–be it housing, health, unemployment, or policing–disproportionately impact communities of color and poor and working families.

Today in the state house, there is the Invest in Our NY Act, which would raise over $50 billion annually by ending tax breaks on the wealthy.

The six bills in the Invest in Our NY Act would create a true progressive tax system and correct decades of economic policy that has benefited the wealthiest New Yorkers at the expense of the working class.

We can use that money to refund the communities most harmed by the pandemics of COVID-19 and racist policing–and to invest in the public necessities that keep us all safe and healthy. We can invest in affordable housing, high-road job creation, public hospitals and education, transportation, and the social economy. This is the economic development assistance that a just recovery and a sustainable future require.

These choices require political courage. But they will expand what is possible. Rather than cutting hundreds of millions from housing, we can cancel rent, protect tenants rights as we rebuild NYCHA, and create shared ownership over where we live for the long haul. We can strengthen job security and protections for essential workers, expand worker and community ownership of businesses, localize city procurement to invest in our communities, and build local modern production. We can pass a Green New Deal to build infrastructure for environmental resilience, new high-road jobs, and community ownership of our energy system through measures like micro grids and localized wifi systems. Instead of pouring billions into private elite educational universities, we can resource public education from kindergarten to CUNY to prepare our youth to build the next economy that invests in our people. We can give labor and community a consequential stake in laying a blueprint for our city’s future rooted in community health and shared wealth.

In the midst of crisis, long-lived inequities in our city are starkly clear. Our budget must address those inequities at their root rather than stalling or even exacerbating them. It is now, when the pain is all too present, that we must begin to pave the long road toward a just city–for the benefit of everyone who hopes for a successful recovery. That future path needs to be set by and with residents. Deepening democracy is our way out of crisis and our best chance for meaningful change in our city.

Adolfo Abreu (District 14 in the Bronx); Jaslin Kaur (District 23 in Queens); and Brandon West (District 39 in Brooklyn) are running for City Council in the June 22 Democratic primary. 

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