Governor Cuomo presented his State of the State and Executive Budget proposals on January 13, 2016, outlining his legislative agenda and $145 billion budget plan for 2016. With such an expansive set of initiatives, there is certainly a lot for us all to look through and begin to understand as lawmakers begin negotiating a final budget deal and sending legislation to the Governor’s desk. Outlined here are the summaries of some of the issues that are of particular interest and concern to RJV; a review of the specifics and details will follow shortly. The full budget proposal can be accessed here.
This post will focus on four major areas of the Governor’s proposals: Economic Justice, the Environment, Criminal Justice and Ethics. Stay tuned for another post discussing the Governor’s education initiatives.
The budget calls for a statewide, phased-in increase in the minimum wage from $9 per hour to $15 per hour by 2018 in NYC and 2021 in the rest of the state. It also includes a proposal for 12 weeks of job-protected, employee funded paid family leave to bond with a new child or care for sick relative. Governor Cuomo also wants to expand a number of anti-poverty programs. The budget also includes an initiative to extend food stamp benefits to another 750,000 households by raising eligibility for households with income at 130 percent of the federal poverty level. It also proposes allocating $20 billion over five years for expansion of Housing and Homelessness Plan, and $25 million for the Empire State Poverty Initiative, to provide planning and implementation grants and access to grants for 10 upstate cities with high concentrations of poverty. Our tradition reminds us to support policies and programs that lift people out of poverty, in keeping with the Book of Proverbs’ injunction to “champion the poor and the needy” (31:9).
Governor Cuomo’s proposals included major initiatives to mitigate New York’s impact on climate change. His budget includes $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund (increased from $177 million). He also created a ten year $5 billion Clean Energy Fund with a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 and 50% of energy produced by renewable sources by 2030 and called for an end to coal-produced energy by 2020. Recognizing our role as partners in the work of creation, the Reform Movement has long advocated for policies that mitigate the effects of climate change so that our descendants may live on a healthy, vibrant planet.
Governor Cuomo also laid out budgetary and policy proposals to address disparities in the criminal justice system, an issue where our Movement is also working to advance reforms on the federal level. These include an investment of $55 million in the Urban Youth Jobs Program, efforts to expand and modernize the use of alternatives to incarceration and initiatives to reduce criminal behavior through educational programming in prisons. He also proposed reforming the juvenile justice system by raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. Finally, the Governor called for the establishment of an Independent Special Counsel in matters relating to the death of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement officers.
Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform
Responding to recent convictions of high-profile legislators for corruption, the Governor made a number of policy proposals, including some related to campaign finance and voting rights. He proposed closing the LLC loophole by designating LLCs as corporations rather than individuals. Doing so would lower the contribution limits LLCs currently have, reducing the overall likelihood that an individual could use an LLC to avoid limits on political donations. The Governor also called for adopting a voluntary public campaign finance system, something that the Reform Movement has supported as well. In addition, the Governor voiced support for automatic voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles and legislation to allow New Yorkers to vote early (12 days leading up to Election Day) in all elections.
Don’t miss out on your opportunity to advocate on issues of importance to our Movement this session! If you are a teen, you can register now for Albany Teen Advocacy Day (March 6-7). Save the date for RJV Advocacy Day, which will take place on May 9. We hope to see you there!
Join in on the discussion! Feel free to add questions or comments below.
Feature Image courtesy of Ron Cogswell.