NY State Budget Is National Example


Abraham Gross, Deputy Opinion Editor

On Thursday, New York State legislators moved to pass a budget of more than $150 billion. Proposals for the budget — including state cuts to CUNY budgets — had riled great fears in the weeks leading up to the deal. But now that the dust has settled, the results exceed expectations. With a phased-in $15 minimum wage increase, funding for environmental and infrastructure projects and tuition freezes for public universities, New York State’s new budget is a model for compromise legislation and progressive change.

The signature policy in the proposal is a minimum wage increase. The coming year will usher in a statewide increase from the current $8.75 an hour, though the plan charts different paths to higher wages for different businesses and regions. By 2018, New York City will have a minimum wage of $15 for fast-food establishments and businesses with more than 10 employees, while smaller employers and more economically challenged areas will see more gradual changes to their minimum wage. The current budget is more nuanced than past proposals for a statewide $15 minimum wage by 2021, mirroring California’s historic but uniform approach which was also approved on Thursday. This is precisely why New York State’s minimum wage plan is a prototype for the nation: it proves that compromise legislation that works with more conservative policymakers can still create long-lasting progress, while easing the transition for small and vulnerable businesses.

Less publicized aspects of the budget proposal are no less profound. The budget apportions over $500 million for water system improvements and the Environmental Protection Fund. In addition to lead testing for school drinking water, the EPF will also offer rebates for purchases of some clean vehicles. The budget also invests in the New York’s educational future by increasing school aid and freezing tuition in CUNY and SUNY schools. The nation has witnessed how crumbling infrastructure and environmental carelessness spawned a catastrophe in Flint, Michigan. We have witnessed how state cuts to public universities have shot up tuition costs across the country. New York’s multilayered budget addresses issues beyond the Empire State’s borders.

If states are the laboratories of democracy, as former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, then New York’s 2016 budget is an experiment with nationwide implications. The boldness of the new proposals demonstrates that even in today’s highly polarized political environment, progress can be achieved through common-sense implementation. Investing in infrastructure, clean energy and education flouts a national predilection towards hope-and-pray spending slashes. New York may be treating its own ills, but its remedies can lead the cure for national ailments which have left many Americans disillusioned, sickened and indebted. 

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 4 print edition. Email Abraham Gross at [email protected].