New York politicians have recently barreled forward with plans for massive cuts to public spending for services needed by workers now more than ever. This comes despite praise from the mainstream media for their supposedly “progressive” response to the coronavirus, at least compared Donald Trump.
The cuts are being justified by the economic downturn from the coronavirus crisis. However, a deeper look reveals that across the board, corporate politicians are choosing not to make up this shortfall by raising taxes on the wealthy or using eminent domain to seize necessary resources; instead, they favor capitalist interests at every turn.
A “wartime” budget waged against the working class
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has called his drastic cuts a “wartime” budget, as he strips away already thin programs such as the Summer Youth Employment Program, and aims to drastically cut public services like education. This budget must pass through the City Council first. Some Council members have at least on the surface disagreed with the cuts and proposed instead reducing expensive consultancies or scaling back long-criticized student testing. However, there are other calls on the Council for additional cuts, simply to other programs.
State-wide, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has made clear there will be drastic reductions with a shocking lack of detail and transparency, receiving backlash even from conservative advocacy groups. What appears to be on the cutting block, though, are services most vital to the working-class: social services like healthcare, housing, and transit.
A clear alternative is already in state legislature, which would raise $13 billion from Wall Street. However the governor has openly said “I don’t believe raising taxes on the rich,” and is instead setting the stage to lay the cost of the virus squarely on those most vulnerable while painting it as inevitable.
In marked contrast, activists have been fighting for common-sense solutions like canceling rent which is a demand raised by the Party for Socialism and Liberation as part of a detailed program of policies that would benefit working class communities.
Public health and housing still on the chopping block
Cuomo was also widely critiqued for having slashed Medicaid funding leading up to the coronavirus crisis. One glance at his new proposed budget shows that even a pandemic has not truly shifted priorities, as he proposes to simply delay the cuts by one year to take advantage of a loophole to access more federal money.
Cuomo’s proposal also includes a $400 million cut to hospitals–he justifies the cuts as budgetary “savings” since hospitals already received grants from the federal stimulus package. While vital healthcare services and funds are still set to be slashed, New York to this day faces shortages of medical supplies and personal protective equipment for both health care workers and the general public.
New York began its shutdown in mid-March and still lags in establishing contact-tracing and taking adequate public health measures; in contrast, Vietnam, a country guided by socialism, quickly acted to begin rapid testing, contact tracing and quarantine measures.
Housing has also become a focal point of both the cuts and activist resistance, with many groups mobilizing for a cancellation of rents and mortgages. Now, as New Yorkers struggle to pay rent more than ever before, the city proposes a shocking $513 million cut in affordable housing. Governor Cuomo also made homeless New Yorkers a focus of his scorn and launched a new campaign to criminalize them.
The recent conversion of hotels into housing must be expanded and include all who need it, such as those in crowded apartments who need to self-quarantine, and should extend long-term to seize the many, often-empty, luxury apartments scattering the city for public housing.
Spending money to criminalize the working class
The cost of New York City Police Department patrols reveals a deeper flawed logic in the coronavirus budget cuts: no cost is too high to criminalize working people. From fare evasion policing to removing homeless people to arresting people not wearing masks, the aggressive policing ends up costing taxpayers and even more money that isn’t there.
The stark contrast in NYPD’s policing was seen recently. On the first weekend of May, there was a viral photo of large crowds of people in the hyper-gentrified West Village clearly going against social distancing orders. On that same weekend in the nearby Lower East Side, there was a video of a police officer violently attacking a Black man, a bystander. In the working-class neighborhood of East New York, NYPD officers were filmed violently arresting yet another Black man for violating social distancing orders.
It’s clear how the police view the public: people crowding together in a wealthy neighborhood park receive masks from police officers and get to carry on with their day yet working-class residents in Black and Latino neighborhoods face radically different treatment for the same thing.
Not only are police officers themselves violating social distancing measures but they put people at risk. When poor and working class people can’t afford to buy a mask, they get harrassed and sent to jail. New York politicians would rather spend money to jail innocent people for not having a mask, than simply provide free masks as Vietnam did early on.