NEW YORK STATE BUDGET
On Aug. 5 – more than four months late – the Legislature finally agreed to a $73.3 billion budget for New York State. A special session in September is likely, to deal with the many issues that were not addressed during the regular session as a result of the budget gridlock. However, one important piece of tenant legislation (the loft law, which had expired on June 30) was extended for two years before the session adjourned.
Many of the appropriations finally adopted by lawmakers were priorities of the State AFL-CIO. “This is a great example of what the labor movement can accomplish when we are active, aggressive and mobilized,” said Denis Hughes, President of the State AFL-CIO. “Obviously, the Governor and Legislature heard labor’s message loud and clear.” Following are some highlights:
- Arts funding in the new budget is $4 million more than Gov. Pataki originally recommended. A total of $54 million was appropriated ($45 million for programs and $9 million for operating expenses), compared to last year’s funding of $49 million ($42 million for programs, $7 million for operations).
- NYCOSH was appropriated considerable funding for workplace safety and health training.
- The new budget nearly doubled the amount the state spends to subsidize child care for low-income working parents, providing at least 100,000 new slots across the state. Another labor priority was an increase in the Earned Income tax credit for lower income families.
- Lawmakers raised operating aid to school districts by 7.7 percent, to $12.7 million. Of that, $140 million is to expand pre-K and related programs. They provided an additional $430 million for school construction and renovation, and made a special appropriation for workers’ education.
- The governor backed away from his efforts to make deeper cuts to Medicaid, and some cuts made in earlier years were reversed. Funding for the Office of Mental Health was restored and additional funds were allocated to provide care for the uninsured.
With Mayor Giuliani poised to run for the U.S. Senate in 2000, but no city elections scheduled until 2001, the mayor appointed a commission to recommend revisions to the rules of succession and other aspects of the City Charter. (Unless the rules are changed, Public Advocate Mark Green will serve out Giuliani’s term.) Charter revision will be voted on in November, probably by a tiny percentage of registered voters.
The commission recently issued preliminary proposals which will, essentially, remove powers that the city council, public advocate and comptroller were given in 1989, the last time the Charter was revised. The commission proposes to:
- Require a two-thirds city council vote to increase taxes, and an unprecedented four-fifths vote to override a mayoral veto of any such tax increase;
- Create a 4 percent cap on annual spending increases, and give the mayor sole authority to exceed the cap;
- Create a $50 million mayoral fund for education (e.g., for private school vouchers);
- Enhance the Executive’s power to overrule the comptroller’s objections to city contracts;
- Greatly reduce the council’s land use and budget modification powers;
- Institute nonpartisan elections, which would neutralize NYC’s huge Democratic majority, while virtually eliminating any role for independent parties.
- The revision would change succession proceedings by requiring a special election two months after the mayor has left office, erasing the public advocate’s rightful succession to finish out the mayor’s term.
Many unions have already gone on record against these anti-democratic proposals. More information will appear in next month’s Allegro.
ERGONOMICS STANDARD BLOCKED
The 600,000 workers a year who suffer repetitive stress injuries on the job got no relief from the House of Representatives, which voted 217-209, early in August, to ban OSHA from issuing ergonomic rules or voluntary guidelines aimed at reducing the nation’s most prevalent workplace injury. Backed by Big Business groups and their Republican House allies, HR-987 would delay an ergonomics standard until another scientific study is completed about two years from now. A similar Senate bill (S-1070) is expected to be voted on this fall.