New York’s Left Eked Out a Few Victories in an Otherwise Dismal Austerity Budget

Socialists and progressives won a few key demands in the New York state budget battles. But overall, Gov. Kathy Hochul rammed through an awful budget that will make life much worse for the state of New York’s working class.

For the most part, New York governor Kathy Hochul made sure that the state budget this year was as punitive and stingy as possible. (Lev Radin / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, thanks to socialist and progressive organizing, New York enacted the biggest state-level climate bill ever, one that is destined to become a model for governments everywhere. Socialists and their allies can also claim credit for significant improvements to New York City’s public transit system. The budget that passed with these policies is otherwise an awful austerity budget across a range of issues, but these wins are significant and demonstrate the power of socialist organizing on popular, urgent issues.

After a four-year fight, the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA), the beginning of a Green New Deal in New York, is a reality. This bill uses a New Deal model of public ownership to advance renewable energy and ensure that it remains a public good, affordable to New Yorkers and a source of tens of thousands of good, unionized, green jobs.

BPRA includes labor protections — written by the state AFL-CIO and resisted by the governor — as well as an Office of Just Transition to ensure that fossil fuel workers can move into good green energy jobs. BPRA also improves public health and attacks environmental racism by shutting down toxic fracked gas power plants in black and brown communities. It ensures that New York will have access to the funds offered by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and that the state will be able to use that federal funding to create lasting structures for public green energy.

The previous day, socialists and their allies also won victories in a campaign called #FixtheMTA. They secured funding to save the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) from serious fiscal trouble, reduce a proposed fare hike, provide more frequent subway service on nights and weekends, improve enforcement of bus-only street lanes, and make several bus lines free. This victory will greatly ease many New Yorkers’ everyday lives. And every improvement to transit gets cars off the street, cleaning up our air and reducing carbon emissions.

These wins are especially remarkable because otherwise, the governor made sure that the final budget was as punitive and stingy as possible. The state assembly and state senate initially passed draft budgets that included good-cause eviction and other left demands; had those budgets passed, they would have been the most progressive budget in New York State this century, a testament to the power the Left has been building in this state, especially over the last five years.

Instead, Governor Kathy Hochul rejected those progressive proposals in the budget bills that she signed, and failed to invest in public schools, choosing to fund privatization of the education system, a remedy beloved by her hedge-funder donors. She rolled back bail reform, a move that will make no one safer from crime and will result in more poor and working-class New Yorkers spending time in jail just because they can’t pay to get out. She also rejected tenant protections even though housing precarity and homelessness is wreaking havoc on people’s lives and contributing to crime and instability in our communities. Her refusal to compromise on the housing issues, or to increase taxes on the rich, amounts to unconscionable violence against ordinary New Yorkers.

The defeats were so significant that Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is not celebrating, despite the significance of BPRA and the transit wins. The socialist state senators and assembly members voted no on the budget and put out a joint statement yesterday, denouncing Hochul’s “austerity budget.”

Still, the movement matters. None of the good in this budget would have happened without hard work of not just DSA but the broad coalitions that include other groups who have been working on the issues for many years.

On the MTA campaign, groups like Riders Alliance and New York Communities for Change were crucial. On BPRA, DSA and Sunrise chapters throughout the state worked with Sane Energy Project, Food & Water Action, and other left environmental groups as well as labor unions like United Auto Workers Region 9A (of which I am a member and serve on its Community Action Program council). The grassroots organizing for publicly funded renewables and transit bult a broad base of engaged support for policies that are already incredibly popular.

Socialists organized for BPRA for years, making it the centerpiece of three electoral campaigns, two of which were victorious: Queens state senator Kristen Gonzalez and Hudson Valley assemblywoman Sarahana Shrestha. According to NYC-DSA, more than four thousand New Yorkers participated in the #FixtheMTA campaign that led to the public transit improvements, canvassing fellow New Yorkers at subway and bus stops. As socialist assemblymember Zohran Kwame Mamdani says, “It was powerful to speak to people about the very service they were waiting to use.

Another, perhaps obvious lesson: the Left must get strong enough to win executive power at the mayoral and gubernatorial level. Socialists and progressives can get their ideas heard and even supported in the legislature now to a degree that would have been unthinkable five years ago. But just as we’re seeing at the city level, a conservative Democrat in an executive position, working with the real estate industry, can lay waste to many good redistributionist plans.

Governor Hochul needs to go, no question, and the crimes she has perpetrated in this budget against tenants and all working-class New Yorkers will be remembered. But New York socialists won big victories this week, and those wins, too, deserve our attention.