Socialist state lawmakers on Monday unveiled a package of proposals ranging from universal child care and single-payer health care, to criminal justice law changes such as record sealing and making it easier for older people in prison to gain parole.
But can the measures actually get anywhere in Albany, where Gov. Kathy Hochul has ruled out further tax increases on the rich? State Sen. Jabari Brisport believes the priorities can get accomplished, pointing to the last 16 months or so of changes in state government.
"These are all possible," he said in a Capital Tonight interview. "My biggest lesson in my short time in Albany is that we only win the things we fight."
Democratic lawmakers in the last year have approved a state budget that increases direct aid to schools at record levels while also providing billions of dollars for workers not covered by federal pandemic relief — many of them undocumented residents.
At the same time, Democrats were able to convince then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to raise taxes on upper income earners to pay for it. Brisport acknowledges the money for the programs, including $5 billion for child care and $5 billion for public housing improvements, would need to be funded.
"The previous governor also ruled out taxes on the wealthy and we were still able to win some of the largest increases in my lifetime," Brisport said.
The Democratic supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly over the current term have been able to flex their muscle when it came to the state budget. And with billions of dollars in surplus money available over the next several budget cycles, lawmakers could seek even further funding for tenants and landlords facing financial headwinds from the pandemic as well as the excluded workers fund.
Hochul has embraced measures like the Clean Slate Act, which would seal many criminal records that have been considered hindrance to employment and housing for people with convictions on their records. She has left billions of dollars in unallocated money for lawmakers to divvy up — either for tenants, small businesses or undocumented immigrants.
The last year has emboldened lawmakers on the left to further press for single-payer health care. But the measure faces opposition from some public worker unions who are concerned about the effect it would have on pre-existing collective bargaining agreements.
"I feel like I've been making good in roads with my old union, the UFT," Brisport said. "For the labor movement at large for a union I know it's about solidarity. The best way to win is when we're bargaining together and what better way to be a bargaining unit than be with all 19 million New Yorkers."
And then there are moderate Democrats who are less enthusiastic about seeding more ground to left-leaning colleagues. The party is expected to suffer deep electoral losses this year and some lawmakers have called to dial back the agenda, especially in areas like criminal justice law changes.
But Brisport believes if Democrats back these priorities, they will have success with voters in the process.
"This agenda, because it's what the people need, is probably the best thing for the chances of Democrats getting re-elected," he said.