Albany Agenda

Progressive state Dems unveil ‘Compassionate’ agenda

Assembly Member Jessica González Rojas right speaks at an April 15 rally in Manhattan promoting the Compassionate New York legislative agenda

Assembly Member Jessica González Rojas right speaks at an April 15 rally in Manhattan promoting the Compassionate New York legislative agenda Photo by Katie Schaffer

Progessive lawmakers are pushing back at criticisms that they are just a bunch of tax-and-spend liberals. The state Legislature might even save New York billions of dollars if only ideas like single-payer health care, parole reforms and increased tenant protections make it through the state Senate and Assembly in the coming weeks. 

The fiscal virtues of progressive proposals are at the heart of the “Compassionate New York” agenda unveiled by Democratic state lawmakers Thursday morning. Getting all aspects of their agenda passed before the legislative session ends in June will be a challenge, but the push to do so is the latest sign yet that the political left is more energized than ever.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in this year’s legislative session, but we still have more to do,” Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried said at a Thursday morning rally in Manhattan where he was joined by other Democratic colleagues and activists from advocacy groups like New York Communities for Change. “For every New Yorker, health care is a constant worry ... We don’t have to live that way.” Democratic state Sens. Gustavo Rivera, Brad Hoylman and Jabari Brisport also appeared at the rally as well as Assembly members Jessica Gonzáles Rojas, Carmen de la Rosa, Harvey Epstein, Ron Kim and Emily Gallagher. A Rochester rally featured Assembly Members Demond Meeks, Sarah Clark and Harry Bronson alongside state Sen. Jeremy Cooney. 

A new report released by the newly established coalition and released in tandem with the “Compassionate New York” plan, argues that nearly $12 billion could be saved next year if three outstanding proposals get passed. According to the report, more than half a billion dollars in savings would come by approving two proposed parole reforms. The first would make more incarcerated people over the age of 55 eligible for parole. A second bill would require parole boards to assume somebody is ready for release, no matter their original crime, as long as they serve the minimum length of their sentences. Another $1.6 billion in savings could happen by limiting evictions across the state via a “Good Cause” eviction bill that has fallen short of passing the Legislature in recent years. And the report says single-payer health care would reduce total health care spending in the state by more than $10 billion per year.

The proposed New York Health Act would require the state to roughly double its annual spending while somehow figuring out how to keep billions in funding flowing to the state through the various byzantine restrictions of the federal Medicaid program. A 2018 study by the Rand Corporation found that total health care spending in the state would go down by 3% by the early 2030s if the legislation were passed and tens of millions of dollars in federal funding could still be used. That assessment is much more modest than the big savings that Democratic lawmakers like Gottfried are touting in the short-term. The new report cites the Rand study but does not directly account for this discrepancy on the potential savings to the state.

Whether the state would really save $12 billion next year is somewhat beside the point at this political juncture. Democratic legislators are looking to seize the political momentum coming out of a budget season where they appeared to get nearly everything they wanted from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to oppose all three of the efforts included in the “Compassionate New York” agenda. Arguing the fiscal benefits of these proposals at the very least helps progressives argue that while their proposals might be controversial, they are not as expensive as their political rivals claim.

That could go a long way toward getting a fiscally moderate governor on board with ideas like single-payer, which he has said is best pursued at the federal level. With Republicans doing everything they can to present New York Democrats’ recent political victories as expensive setbacks for taxpayers, a little attention to the fiscal side of things never hurt. This is especially the case if left-leaning lawmakers can convince their colleagues in the upcoming weeks that their proposals are not only good for people, but also the bottom line for a state still facing a structural deficit after passing its biggest state budget ever earlier this month.

“New York of the near future can be a better, more just, and more compassionate place for everyone to live,” reads the new study, which leans on previous research conducted by advocacy groups like the Center for Community Alternatives as well as more politically neutral sources like the U.S. Census and Columbia University. “A more compassionate state is both morally right and fiscally responsible.”