From Jacob Fischler of the Gannett Albany Bureau:
Armed with signs and boxed lunches, more than 300 protestors scattered to nearly every corner of the Capitol today, demanding the Legislature reinstate funding to education and adopt a millionaires tax.
The protesters plan to stay in the Capitol through the night, and they have ordered 70 extra-large pizzas to the Capitol to help feed the frenzy. The Senate and Assembly have been adopting portions of the 2011-12 budget, which will cut education funding by more than $1 billion, and are expected to meet well into the night. The new budget year begins Friday.
The rowdy crowd gathered on the fourth floor outside the Senate gallery to chant and listen to several speakers voice their opinions.
“We are here to express our disappointment in our state and the governor who controls this building but also who has proclaimed that this is his budget,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. “It is his budget — it is not the people’s budget.”
Teachers, parents and students came to argue against education cuts for kindergarten through grade 12 and for the State University of New York. The budget reduces funding for four-year SUNY schools by $100 million, the state’s portion of community-college funding by $20 million, and $75 million for SUNY hospitals, which are located in Stony Brook, Suffolk County; Brooklyn; and Syracuse.
The protesters support including a higher income-tax surcharge on millionaires in the new budget, which is something the Democrat-controlled Assembly backs, but the GOP-led Senate and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo do not. An income-tax surcharge on individuals who make more than $200,000 a year and couples who earn more than $300,000 expires Dec. 31. The Assembly had proposed including the tax on people with incomes of $1 million and higher in the budget, and some of the money would have been used to reduce cuts to education.
“School is not about surviving, getting by on the basics,” said fourth-grader Hannah Thompson, who goes to school in Galway, Saratoga County. “It’s about being excellent. Isn’t that what we all want from our schools?”
The Senate chamber was blocked off to all protestors, but a few legislators came out to speak.
“This is about the future of our state, about our children, about people with disabilities,” said Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn.
“Your voice is being heard in the chambers, so continue to raise them,” he said.
Loud chants echoed those from recent protests, including “Hey you millionaires, pay your fair share” and “Hey hey, ho ho, these budget cuts have got to go.”
Several protestors said that if they didn’t get their way, lawmakers’ stint in office may be cut short.
“We will take you out if you don’t stand up for us,” said Eliza Sampson, whose children go to school in Syracuse.