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Hard times are here. Every state in the union is facing budget shortfalls, major job losses and sharp cutbacks in services like education, health care and sanitation. But some unions are resisting.

By G. Dunkel
New York

Hard times are here. Every state in the union is facing budget shortfalls, major job losses and sharp cutbacks in services like education, health care and sanitation.

In New York, unions of public employees are looking for strategies to hold onto their members' jobs. Major demonstrations are scheduled in New York and Albany, the state capital.

This crisis has hit even before the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and the vast increases in military spending take huge bites out of the income and living standards of working and poor people in this country.

The increases in military spending are indeed major.

Congress passed an $80-billion supplemental appropriation to pay for what the war cost to the end of March. Estimates of the cost of occupying Iraq with U.S. forces range from $3 to $5 billion a month. That bill won't come due
for a while, and no one can know how long the occupation will last, or how hot and expensive it will wind up being. But there are still 20,000 troops in Kosovo after six years, and 37,000 U.S. troops in Korea after 50 years.

The Bush administration is obviously expecting to use Iraq's oil wealth to pay for the war, the occupation and whatever rebuilding it does of Iraq's infrastructure. The government has published no firm figure on what it will cost to repair enough of the damage to get Iraq shipping oil again.

Economist William Nordhauss, in a report published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in December 2002, estimated $30 billion as "the minimal rebuilding needs in postwar Iraq (including the oil sector)." Other estimates
range much higher.

A good chunk of this $30 billion will have to come from the U.S. Treasury before Iraq's oil starts to flow. Even after it does, Iraq's debts--from the reparations it "owes" to Kuwait to loans from foreign companies amounting to $100 billion--and its domestic needs will keep the U.S. government from recouping all its outlays. U.S. oil companies and military contractors,
however, will be making billions.

Yet even with all these additional expenses on top of its $400-billion military budget, which equals the combined total military budgets of the
rest of the world, the Bush administration is determined to give the richest millionaires and billionaires of this country a $550-billion tax break.

This profligate military spending plus tax breaks for the richest of the rich means more misery and harder times for the working and poor people of this country.


President George W. Bush told the National Governors Association in February not to expect any significant help from the federal government, even though it was imposing major new burdens on the states in education and in domestic security. "It's because we went through a recession and we're at war," he said, neglecting to add that the war was of his own making.

The city of New York suffered major human and financial losses on 9/11. It has lost 250,000 jobs since then, but not all of them due to that assault. Since its economy depends on Wall Street and the financial industry, it was
already in decline. The city is now facing a $4-billion budget shortfall that by law it cannot carry into next year.

It's not getting much help from the state. The state of New York is facing its own budget deficit of $11.5 billion and has shifted the cost of some federally mandated programs onto the city.

Millionaire New York Gov. George Pataki plans on covering the state's shortfall by reducing funds that go to local school boards, higher education
and medical care. He's cutting about $4 billion, raising fees by $1.4 billion and borrowing $4.2 billion. Part of the fee raise would come from increasing tuition in state-funded colleges by $1,200 a year, which would deprive many
students of their chances for higher education and a better life.

Pataki is opposed to raising taxes and is opposed to letting the billionaire mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, impose a commuter tax on the 3 million or so people who live outside the city but work in it. Bloomberg has
already raised real estate taxes, the only tax over which the city has control, by 18.5 percent.

Bloomberg's solution is to hit the municipal unions for big givebacks, at least $600 million worth this year. He has already sent out layoff notices to 5,000 city workers and put 10,000 more on notice. If the unions cave in, he
will go to the state legislature with a tough-guy victory in hand and push the commuter tax.

But the unions have their own solution: tax the rich by adding a surcharge on income over $100,000 and an additional one on income over $200,000.

AFSCME DC 37, which represents about 125,000 city workers making from $15,000 to $80,000 a year, is willing to bargain, but feels it doesn't have to take Bloomberg's deal. During the boom time of the 1990s, it accepted 3-1/2 years of zeroes--that is, no wage increases.

To make its point, DC 37 has called for a major rally at City Hall Park on Tuesday, April 29, at 5:30 p.m. It is demanding "Stop layoffs! Stop
contracting out our jobs!" and is urging the people of New York to "Stand up with DC 37 for your community and to stop the layoffs that hurt us all."

It is expecting 25,000 to 35,000 of its members and members of other municipal unions to attend this rally.

On the state level, New York State United Teachers, a joint council representing all the AFT and NEA locals in the state, has called for a major rally in Albany on May 3 to support full state funding for education, from pre-kindergarten to postgraduate. Hundreds of buses have already been reserved and three trains--two from New York City and one from Buffalo.

If there are not enough buses in the state for the teachers, staff and their supporters, NYSUT says it will rent some in Canada.

While the more conservative leadership of NYSUT turned down an anti-war resolution at its April convention, the Professional Staff Congress, a major affiliate representing faculty and staff at the City University of New York, intends on bringing placards saying "Money for education, not war." It is also planning to send at least one bus from each of the 19 CUNY campuses.

The May 3 NYSUT march is intended to be the largest in Albany's history and will make the point that education is a right, not a privilege, as strongly as possible.

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