Advocating for State & Federal Policy
County, city, town and village governments are the bottom tier of our state and federal governments. The City of Syracuse is dependent on state and federal aid for 25% of its 2013-14 budget. The Syracuse City School District is dependent on state and federal aid for 74% of its 2103-14 budget. Given this situation local elected officials have both the right and the responsibility to advocate for the people of Syracuse on state and federal budgets and policies. Green Party candidates who win election for local offices will use their office as a platform for advocacy and as an organizing center for mobilizing the community and labor to demand responsive state and federal, as well as local, government.
In the absence of a real urban policy, federal and state policies such as the interstate highway system and subsidies to the private housing market have hollowed out inner cities and made sprawl the de facto development policy. For fifty years, progressives have called for an urban policy to rebuild the infrastructure and public services of deteriorating central cities. The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was not only a call for civil rights, but also a call for economic justice. The march was initiated by A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, President of the Negro American Labor Council, and Vice President of the AFL-CIO. In his “I Have a Dream Speech” at the 1963 march, Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
“...we have come to our Nation's Capitol to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.... It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'”
Randolph followed the march with demands for a Freedom Budget to serve as a “Marshall Plan for the Cities.” He called for $185 billion over ten years to put the unemployed to work building affordable housing, modern schools, public transportation, and the other physical and social infrastructure needed to revitalize the slum conditions growing in our cities. King went on to organize the Poor People's Campaign of 1968 to demand jobs, housing, and an income above poverty for all Americans.
Inner city conditions were better in 1963 than they now are. The unemployment rate and the poverty rate were both far lower than they now are. City schools weren't as devastated. Neighborhoods still had businesses. Abandoned housing and storefronts were far fewer. The gap between rich and poor was much less. Adjusted for inflation, Randolph's $185 billion translates into $1.3 trillion today.
The Randolph and King initiatives drew explicitly on President Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union address calling for a second, economic bill of rights and urging Congress to enact legislation securing for every American the right to jobs, living wages, food, recreation, adequate income for the sick, disabled, and elderly, decent housing, good education, and comprehensive health care.
It is time for Syracuse and other cities to collect our promissory note. It is time for city officials to work with other cities, our state and federal representatives, and the public to demand a fair return on the state and federal taxes Syracuse citizens pay. That fair return should include increased revenue sharing and state and federal funding to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, build a clean energy system, fully fund our schools and city services, and guarantee economic rights to jobs, income, health care, housing, and education.
Advocating for State & Federal Policy
8-1. Enact Progressive State Tax Reforms: There are many progressive tax reforms that the Green Party advocates at the state level, including cutting corporate tax breaks, but here we will highlight three that could provide significant revenues for the state. If the rich would pay the tax rates they paid 40 years ago, the state would have revenue to cover both its own expenses and its spending mandates on local governments.
8-1a. Retain Stock Transfer Tax Revenue: We support keeping the $15 billion a year collected by the Stock Transfer Tax enacted in 1906 instead of rebating 100% of the tax to the stock traders as it has done since 1981.
8-1b. Restore the More Progressive State Income Tax Structure: We support restoring the more progressive state income tax structure of the early 1970s, when the lowest bracket was half of what it is today and the top bracket was almost double what it is today. 95% of New Yorkers would get an income tax cut while the state would take in about $10 billion more a year.
8-1c. Establish a Bankers' Bonus Tax: The Wall Street financial elite has been paying themselves over $20 billion a year in bonuses since the federal government began bailing out their banks out in 2008 and which it continues to do through a variety of Federal Reserve programs to the total tune of trillions of dollars. We call for establishing a 50% Bankers Bonus Tax on bonuses over $50,000, which would yield about $10 billion more a year.
8-2. Provide State Mandate Relief: The two biggest state mandates are health care related: Medicaid expenses that counties must cover, and public employee health care costs. The state Finance Law, until recently, had a provision requiring the state to share 8% of revenues to cover state spending mandates to local governments; but the state routinely wrote itself an exemption in each year's state budget and now shares only about 2%. The Green Party calls for targeting these areas for immediate mandate relief, rather than attacking public employee bargaining rights to cut their wages and health care coverage and calling for consolidation, which does not have sufficient savings to rescue cities, towns, and school districts from insolvency.
8-2a. Enact a Single Payer Health Care Plan: We call for enacting a single-payer health care plan for all New Yorkers. This would take county Medicaid costs and public employee health care costs off the budgets of all local governments. A 2009 study commissioned by the state found that single payer would save New Yorkers $28 billion a year in health costs by 2018 while providing comprehensive coverage free at the point of delivery to all New Yorkers. A single payer bill has been introduced in the state legislature. It is time to get it passed.
8-2b. Restore the 8% New York State Revenue Sharing Obligation: We call for New York State to reinstate in finance law the obligation to share 8% of its revenues with local government and to fulfill this obligation annually.
8.2c. Provide Equitable State Funding for the Big 5 Schools: We call for full implementation of the Foundation Aid Formula established through the Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007 that was designed to ensure adequacy and equity in state school funding by establishing a relationship between state aid, the needs of students and a district’s ability to raise revenue; and the restoration of all funds lost in the intervening years due to state budget cuts that have disproportionately impacted the Big 5 Districts, including SCSD (see also 2-2a).
8-3. Maintain Existing Funding Levels for Social Security, Medicare, & Medicaid: The Green Party is opposed to all proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. Social Security can be funded indefinitely by lifting the Social Security tax exemption on income over $113,700 a year. Medicare and Medicaid costs can be controlled by creating a universal Medicare for All system. Medicare for All would save $570 billion a year from administrative efficiency and the end of monopoly profits by drug, medical supply, and hospital corporations. Private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume 31% of every health care dollar. Medicare administrative costs are 3%. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save nearly $400 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans. Medicare for All would save an additional $180 billion per year in monopoly profits now captured by the drug, medical supply, and hospital corporations.
8-4. Create a Freedom Budget – A Marshall Plan for Cities: Cities like Syracuse do not have the income, sales, or property tax bases to sustain themselves while paying for national policies that promote imperialism abroad, environmentally and socially destructive segregationist suburban sprawl at home, and services for tax free institutions like hospitals, colleges and government properties. The Green Party believes it is time to answer the call of the 1960s civil rights movement as it turned to economic human rights and called for a Freedom Budget to rebuild our deteriorating cities. The need is greater today than when the call was first issued.
8-5. Pass an Economic Bill of Rights: The Green Party support legislation to realize the economic rights President Roosevelt called on Congress to secure, including the rights to jobs, living wages, income and retirement security, decent housing, and good education. Bills in these areas have been introduced, such as the H.R. 870: Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act of 2013.
8-6. Include a Green New Deal in an Economic Bill of Rights: The Green Party support making a sustainable environment one of the economic rights included in an Economic Bill of Rights. We call for a World War II scale program to put Americans back to work building a sustainable clean energy system that is carbon-free and climate friendly by 2030. A generation is losing its jobs, homes, and educational opportunities. The planet is accelerating toward climate catastrophe. We have no time to lose.
8-7. Support the “We, The People Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution: The Green Party calls on the Syracuse Common Council and the Onondaga County Legislature to pass resolutions urging Congress to support the proposed “We, The People Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution in order to establish that people, not corporations and money, govern our country. The “We, The People Amendment” would assert that inalienable rights belong to human beings only. It would also declare that money is property and not a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment. The amendment would repeal the doctrine of “corporate personhood” and establish that corporations are legally artificial persons (not natural persons) granted privileges by the people through our government and therefore regulated by “We, The People.” The amendment would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decisions related to campaign finance regulations, including Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which permitted direct corporate funding of election campaigns, and Buckley v. Valeo (1976), which equated money with speech in abolishing limitations on campaign expenditures, on independent expenditures by individuals and groups, and on expenditures by a candidate from personal funds. The amendment would thus constitutionally establish regulation by “We, The People” of political campaign funding in public elections.
8-8. Implement Cuts in Military Spending & a Just Transition Program: Our government has yet to take to heart these words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1953 “Chance for Peace” speech:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
Syracuse residents now pay $95 billion a year in taxes to the Department of Defense. Those military related taxes swell to over $140 million in military-related expenses when nuclear weapons, Homeland Security, and war-related interest on the national debt are added in. That is almost half of the city budget and a quarter of the combined city and school budget.
The Green Party calls for an immediate 50% cut in military spending, back to the level of the 2001 budget when the United States still spent nearly as much as the rest of the world combined on the military. We also call for redirecting those savings to needed domestic spending, including a Just Transition for all workers who lose their current jobs in the military and in military contractors due the reallocation of spending from military to civilian purposes. The Just Transition Program should maintain these workers' income and benefits until they find new employment at comparable compensation. Cuts in military spending should not result in cuts to compensation or benefits to active duty military personnel or cuts to benefits for military veterans.