Race matters in New York’s budget crisis

By Michelle Chen Mar 06, 2009

New York’s budget crisis is hitting the entire state with major cutbacks, and a public interest advocacy group has detailed who will be hurt the most under Governor David Paterson’s budget proposal. Not surprisingly, in many areas, the budget is being slashed along the color line, as economic disadvantage overlaps tightly with racial divides. The report, published by Citizen Action New York (with support from the Applied Research Center among others), concludes:

• Education – The $2.5 billion cut in school aid falls disproportionately on students of color and undermines the goals of the landmark 2007 school aid reform law; the analysis in the report shows that school districts with greater numbers of students of color and students with limited English proficiency will receive larger per-pupil cuts than other districts. • Higher Education – Cuts to [the City and State University of New York systems], combined with tuition increases, are threatening to restrict access to the public higher education institutions that have traditionally served as a means for low and moderate income students of color to enter the middle class. • Child Health Plus – Increased premiums for Child Health Plus, a highly successful program aimed at providing comprehensive low-cost health coverage for children, will increase racial disparities in health coverage. • Criminal Defense – The lack of funding for criminal defense will have a serious impact on low income people of color, given the already large racial inequities in the criminal justice system. • Human Services – The cuts to civil legal services to the poor and to nutrition advocacy programs will vastly undermine the ability of low-income people of color to obtain public benefits, and potentially exacerbate existing racial inequities. Small but effective programs that assist immigrants, three-fourths of whom are people of color, have also been cut.

But Citizen Action also lauds some modest measures to address racial inequities, particularly juvenile justice reforms that help alleviate some of the racial disparities in the system, and an expansion of public health insurance programs, which disproportionately serve people of color. Noting that many of the new taxes and fees proposed by the Governor regressively target lower-income people, the group calls for an overhaul of the income tax structure to draw more revenue from the wealthiest strata. As Albany politicians are fond of saying, dealing with the budget requires “shared sacrifice” and “tough choices.” But it also demands that lawmakers recognize that for many communities, the crisis has left few options for survival and virtually nothing more to give.