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Guest Op-Ed: Legislature Needs to Act on Climate, Housing and Inequality This Session

By Danielle Brecker

The 2024 New York State Legislative session commenced this past week and on January 9th, Governor Hochul will deliver the State of the State. This is the time for our State Legislators and Governor to deliver substantive, far-reaching policy solutions for climate change, affordable housing, failing infrastructure, and attacks on our democracy. There will be those who say this is an election year, so little will get done. I think this is the time for our legislators to remember that they work for the people and, as they face reelection, deliver for the people. 

They can start by reforming our State taxation policy, shifting to a progressive taxation where the wealthiest individuals and corporations pay more because they have more. In many cases, they make their money using New York State’s resources, workforce, and infrastructure. They should be paying their fair share of taxes. 

There are five progressive taxation bills that could lead this change. A capital gains tax, a corporate tax on the most profitable corporations in our State, more progressive income tax so that the top 5% of earners pay their fair share, a tax on billionaires’ wealth, and an heirs tax. Enacted together these proposals would raise $45 billion annually. If big-moneyed donors contributing to our elected leaders’ campaigns don’t like these proposals, we need to remind our elected leaders that they work for us, not wealthy donors.

Later this month, I will travel to Albany to deliver thousands of letters from New Yorkers calling on Governor Hochul, State Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Heastie to enact three crucial climate bills. The Climate Change Superfund Act will make the state’s worst polluters, ultra wealthy major oil companies, pay for the harm they have caused. The New York Home Energy Affordable Transition Act (NY HEAT Act) will transition New York to pollution free heating and cooling, provide relief from expensive gas heating, and put justice at the center of building electrification. The Just Energy Transition Act (JETA) will provide a plan to guide the replacement and redevelopment of New York State’s fossil fuel facilities and sites by 2030.  

The New York State Senate passed these climate bills in 2023 and it is imperative that they do so again in the early months of 2024. That will give the New York State Assembly ample time to bring these bills to the Assembly floor and get them passed. Once both the State Senate and Assembly have passed these bills, our Governor must immediately sign them into law. 

There has been much talk that this year we will finally enact policies to create affordable housing. There is no question that this is needed but it needs to be done in a thoughtful way that commits to creating truly, deeply affordable housing in perpetuity for working families, immigrants, artists, all of us. Affordable housing must be created in all communities throughout our State. Every community must do their part so we are not displacing New Yorkers in some areas and creating a new layer of crisis. 

Affordable housing must be created in a way that does not add to the climate crisis. Directly related to this, we must deeply fund infrastructure to make it green and resilient, fix what is crumbling, and build new to support new housing. It is not enough to create affordable housing, we must make sure all of our communities are livable and resilient for the future.

Sometimes the threats to our democracy seem insurmountable but New York State can continue to play a role in abating these threats. One way is to successfully implement and fully fund New York State’s landmark Public Campaign Finance Program (PCFP.) This program enables legislative and statewide candidates to receive a match on small contributions. The approach of this program gives the smallest contributions the most meaningful match. The PCFP will uplift the voices of all New Yorkers in our State elections, in our State Budget process, and in our policy making. That will ultimately  strengthen our democracy and  is the best way to remind our Legislators and Governor that they work for the people, they work for us.

 

Danielle Brecker is a resident of Long Island City, Democratic State Committee Member for AD-36, and Co-lead Organizer of Empire State Indivisible.

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