Saturday, June 13, 2020

Budget Priorities

The COVID crisis has had profound effects on New York City, the state, and the nation. There is plenty the federal government could do to protect arts organizations, but with NYC looking into its budget for the coming year, it's time to talk about budget priorities for the city.

As an adjunct professor at City College, I have had to struggle to help my students adjust to online learning. The City University of New York is chronically underfunded, and New York City primary and secondary schools are in dire shape as well. Now, this virus has put additional strains on our educational institutions and our students.

Perhaps nothing is a better investment in our nation's future than spending on education. We need to be spending more money on education, not less, and every dollar cut from education probably leads to huge amounts of money we'll have to spend later on down the line. Already, employers are complaining about having to train graduates on things they should have learned in school, and I don't think there's any serious doubt that our current mass incarceration problem is fueled in part by inadequate educational opportunities.

Closely related to education are our public libraries. In the past, I have been a frequent user of multiple branches of the New York Public Library, including the Epiphany Branch, which (when it was open) provided a meeting space for a the Friends of Dickens New York. In addition to providing books, DVDs, and other resources, libraries provide lifelong learning opportunities and community events that are vital to public life. Yet the public has been cut off from our libraries during this current health crisis. In order to come back and provide these essential services in the future, libraries are going to need more funding, not less.

In spite of our current COVID intermission, the arts are what make New York City a vibrant place to live. Whether it's the free outdoor performances by the Public Theater and Classical Theatre of Harlem, or the many other programs offered throughout the city, the arts are why people come here, and they contribute to the social and economic vitality of New York. Sometimes, politicians see the arts as "extra" and "discretionary" while continuing to fund deadbeat cops who contribute nothing to our community and frequently abuse and harass us in our own neighborhoods. It is time for that to stop.

The New York Police Department currently has a budget of $6 billion, which is far more than it needs. In spite of the outrageous actions by certain police officers, I know that there are many good, honest cops out there who really do have our community's best interests at heart. However, we cannot turn a blind eye to the huge amount of waste, corruption, and abuse in the NYPD. Once upon a time, we had a few bad apples. We refused to get rid of them, and now the whole bunch is spoiled. Our refusal to reform the NYPD has left us with an agency that today serves nobody but itself.

Members of the city council have found $1 billion in the NYPD's budget that could be cut and reallocated to other programs. Honestly, while $1 billion sounds like a good start, I think that if they kept digging, they could find plenty more to cut, and not compromise the safety of New Yorkers one bit. As a matter of fact, we would probably be making New York safer, since many of the criminals who rob, beat, and murder us in this city often wear badges.

Unfortunately, the mayor has continued to support a bloated and corrupt NYPD that attacks peaceful protestors while allowing crimes committed by those within its own ranks to go completely unchecked. It's time to cut back the wasteful spending on policing and save the programs that actually make a positive difference in the lives of New Yorkers.