Where Politics and the Public Interest Meet

Where Politics and the Public Interest Meet

Where Politics and the Public Interest Meet
January 28, 2014

This year’s state budget could hold a pleasant surprise for the DREAM Act and the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program.

I can hear the skeptics scoffing. Immigrant advocates, especially Hispanic legislators, were crestfallen when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State message did not even mention the DREAM Act, which would provide funding for the college education of undocumented immigrant students who came to this country as minors.

My optimism is grounded in a brass tacks analysis. The governor and both houses of the Legislature should conclude that by doing the right thing in terms of public policy on the DREAM Act and spinal cord program, they will also be helping themselves politically.Nor was there any mention of the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program, which is supposed to be funded by a surcharge on moving traffic violations enacted in 1998. Back in 2010 that annual pool of $8.5 million was swept away as a deficit reduction measure. Will the program’s capacity for restorative research finally be restored in this year’s budget?

The DREAM Act has become the highest priority of not only Hispanic legislators but also the Democratic majority in the Assembly. At the same time, the dramatic shifts in political demography argue for its enactment.

The 2010 U.S. Census revealed that the Hispanic share of the state’s population grew by 19 percent, to 18 percent of the overall population. Hispanics in New York City grew to become 29 per-cent of the city’s population, and growth in Latino communities on Long Island propelled minorities to become 31 percent of that region’s total population.

In New York’s 2010 gubernatorial election, the Hispanic share of the statewide vote went up to 9 percent, increasing the aggregate minority share of the statewide electorate to 29 percent. In New York City’s 2013 mayoral race, despite there being no Latino nominee from a major party for citywide office, the Hispanic share of the total vote grew to 19 percent in the general election, helping elevate New York City’s minority majority to 55 percent of the overall electorate, its highest share in history.

These facts have created a new math in New York politics. As the aggregate minority share of the vote heads toward a full third of the statewide electorate, no Republican can seriously compete for statewide office unless he or she can net at least one-third of that minority third. Alternatively, no Democrat wants to leave the door open for a Republican to reach the more than 40 per-cent of the Hispanic vote won by Bloomberg in 2001 and Pataki in 2002.

Nor is the Hispanic vote a factor only in gubernatorial elections. In five state Senate districts held by the GOP on Long Island, the Hispanic vote is approaching or exceeding 10 percent of registered voters. Furthermore, in two of the districts held by IDC members—Senators Jeff Klein and David Carlucci—Latino voters are a rapidly growing political factor. Thus it is in the self-interest of all three factions of the Legislature—Democratic, Republican and independent—to pass the DREAM Act.

Obviously, demography is not the political motivation for why the funding for spinal research could very well be restored. Recent budgets have contained no small degree of pain for the public to stomach. Passing feel-good provisions offsets some of the sting of other parts of the budget. Spinal research could be just such a remedy. Last year the Legislature put back $2 million of the $8.5 million, but those funds run out this year. Full restoration could yield far more political return than again diverting that money to plug a faceless hole in the budget.

If my optimism is warranted, some may quote Shakespeare that “all’s well that ends well.” However, it would perhaps be more accurate to remember Gladstone’s admonition that nations don’t have “likes or dislikes”—they have “interests.” And it is in everyone’s interest that both programs are funded in this year’s budget.

Gyory discussed his column and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget plan in a video interview with Morgan Pehme.

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Bruce N. Gyory