Facing another round of deep cuts to health care and education as a result of ongoing revenue shortages caused by the slow economic recovery, and on the heels of a new national survey reporting that most state budgets have now seen spending fall below pre-recession levels, some states are signaling that they will be pursuing more balanced approaches to their budget troubles in 2012 than they have in previous years.
Over the past two years, workers have made impressive advances in about a half dozen states to protect themselves and their livelihoods from unscrupulous employers. But conservatives are increasingly mobilizing to undo these gains. Two separate efforts within the past month alone would make it harder for workers to recover stolen wages from employers — completely ignoring overwhelming public support for labor standards that safeguard workers’ rights and narrowly safeguarding the interests of the 1%.
As the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads across the nation and occupations promise to continue into the winter months, the physical presence of the protesters and their effective communication of the widely shared concerns of “the 99%” about the consolidation of wealth and political power is already having a significant impact on the public debate. Reeling from Occupy-inspired criticism and watching as hundreds of thousands of their customers move their money to smaller banks and credit unions, big banks like Bank of America this week backtracked on their plans to institute yet another proposed fee for debit card use. With gridlock in Congress continuing, the most significant political impact of the Occupy protests may ultimately be felt in statehouses, where the renewed national focus on the consequences of historic levels of inequality are showing signs of revitalizing prospects for a host of progressive economic policies, including one key demand of the protests: asking the 1% to pay their fair share.
On the eve of its adjournment, New York’s state legislature provided a new opportunity to create thousands of jobs for New Yorkers. The new law, the Power NY Act of 2011 (AB 7006-A), establishes the first statewide “on-bill recovery” program — allowing charges for retrofitting a home or business to be included in a utility bill statement and paid over time, with monthly payments calibrated to include energy savings so that the loan doesn’t increase the bill. The passage of this bill is considered a next step to New York’s Green Jobs/Green NY Act, legislation that was enacted in 2009 to retrofit one million homes in five years and consequently create 14,250 full time jobs. The Power NY Act of 2011 comes at a time when most Americans believe that their government’s number one concern should be the creation of jobs.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced a misguided compromise with conservatives in the state legislature to place a hard cap on the annual growth of property tax revenues. The cap would limit revenue growth to the lesser of a 2% annual increase or the rate of inflation. The only exception would require a restrictive super-majority vote of 60% in municipalities where the residents wish to opt out of the program. If passed into law, this proposal will lead to a drastic reduction in essential services for hardworking New York families and place an additional burden on middle class communities which have already been battered by the economic downturn.