AV’s Stephanie Berberick speaks with Green Party’s Howie Hawkins:
Howie Hawkins is the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate, running on a platform called the “Green New Deal,” which focuses on stimulating economic recovery and stopping climate change.
“The Democrats have abandoned their New Deal legacy, which is what most Democrats hope they are voting for,” Hawkins says. “We want to bring back the demands they are asking for.”
Demands like single payer healthcare, fully funded public schools, colleges and universities, progressive income tax reforms, and increasing employment statewide are at the top of Hawkins’s Green New Deal, which he believes can reinvigorate the economic climate.
“There is not enough demand because consumers are over-indebted. They lost wealth with housing and stock markets and business is not investing because they don’t see the consumer that will invest,” Hawkins says. “The only entity [businesses] can get demand of is the government, and if they government doesn’t spend we end up in economic stagnation.”
Government spending, however, is a phrase many New Yorkers could do without after the billions spent in bailout money that did anything but stimulate the state economy, which is still suffering an 8.3% unemployment rat,e according to the Department of Labor. Hawkins says his Green New Deal works to decrease unemployment through strategic spending.
“Things won’t get any better unless government steps up spending and makes useful investments and employs people who are unemployed,” he says.
The Green New Deal would give public works and services positions to unemployed New Yorkers who can’t find work in the private sector.
“The local community would assess their needs, like elder or child care or arts programs, and what public works they need, like road, sewer, building retrofits, and civic buildings. [Localities] plan these jobs so instead of going to unemployment office, the unemployed go to the employment office and say, ‘I want my job.’ And the private sector would have to pay more to get people back to work for them.”
Hawkins says a program like this would pay for itself after costs saved from programs like unemployment, Medicaid, and food stamps.
The Green New Deal also places great emphasis on funded education systems, which would provide free tuition at SUNY and CUNY universities and colleges—a move that Hawkins believes would have great economic benefits in the long run by opening the door to affordable education for professional, long-term job placement.
The second component to the green new deal is a clean energy transition through building renewable energy sources. Hawkins believes the state can cut its carbon footprint in half by developing and utilizing solar, land and wind power to generate electricity.
Hawkins proposes replacing natural gas with geothermal heat pumps. The pumps, which act as a cooling and heating system, work by extracting ground heat during cold months and pushing heat down into the ground during warm months.
Hawkins says Auburn City Hall is retrofitted with a geothermal system and the payback on such a system is about three years. “The whole Green New Deal can be paid for with progressive tax reforms, and there are a three big-ticket items,” says Hawkins.
The first is to eliminate the stock transfer tax rebate. Currently, when a person buys stock shares they pay around 1/20th of a percent in stock transfer taxes, but that money is rebated back to Wall Street, Hawkins says, which is allowed under New York’s tax law -Article 12 – 280-A.
Ralph Nader, fellow Green Party member, frequent presidential candidate and political activist, believes the stock transfer tax rebates is the most important fiscal issue for NY gubernatorial candidates to address.
“The budget deficit in New York State is about eight billion, so there is no more ready and justifiable source of revenue than a tax that is already assessed,” Nader says. “It would make up the deficit and provide for critical needs like health insurance. It would prevent job loss. It could build or renovate some public works, upgrade mass transit, provide for clinics, schools, public building and court rooms that are often in a state of disrepair.”
The second tax reform Hawkins proposes is to establish a 50% cash bonus tax for bankers.
Controversy and outrage over bonuses for bankers and Wall Street reached full boil after big government bailouts by both the Bush and Obama administration during the recession. Hawkins says that these bonuses must be taxed and in doing so New York can close its budget gap.
“Last year bankers gave themselves about $20 billion in cash bonuses,” explains Hawkins, “so we would raise $10 billion.”
Finally, Hawkins advocates a return to a progressive income tax system.
In the 1970s the income tax was structured of 15 tax brackets with each bracket representing an income level. The tax levels progressively graduated as income level increased, but that is no longer how taxes are assessed, says Hawkins.
“During Mario Cuomo’s terms they flattened it out around when you reach the 40th percentile,” he says. “If they make a million a year they pay the same amount as someone who makes 32,000 a year. If we just flip that over and make it progressive [again] we will have the money we need to fund jobs, health care, and clean energy.”
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) released a report in November 2009 that says New York families in poverty (earning less than $16,000 annually) pay 9.6% of their income in New York state and local taxes, whereas the middle class ($33,000-$56,000 thousand annually) pay 12%, and the wealthy (over $3 million annually) pay only 9.4%.
“No one would ever design an income tax with lower tax rates for the best-off taxpayers,” says Matthew Gardner, ITEP’s executive director and lead author of the study, “but that is exactly what New York’s tax system overall does.”
Hawkins says his platform, unlike those of Paladino and Cuomo, is designed to end “regressive” tax traditions.
“We have a prosperity plan and the major parties have an austerity plan,” he says. “We pay for it by making the rich and Wall Street pay their taxes again.”
The Angus Reid public opinion poll places Howie Hawkins in third place behind Paladino and Cuomo, but with only 2% of the popular vote. Still, Nader argues that Howie Hawkins is the best choice New Yorkers have, because his interests are the same interests as the people he would govern.
“He is most qualified because he has a well grounded community organizer background, he is a worker for UPS, a graduate of Dartmouth, and a former marine. He is as honest as the day is long and he knows how to put people first and that is the most important qualification to resist the corporate supremacist that is bringing people to their knees,” says Nader.
“The irony of third party candidacies they don’t represent far-out issues,” he continues. “They are for single-payer [healthcare] and so is the majority of people. He wants to save tens of thousands of jobs, but the system is ranked against third parties.”
Nader is right.
The chances of Hawkins taking the Governor’s seat are slim to none, but there is a chance that his platform can earn 50,000 votes. If 50,000 votes are earned the Green Party will, for the first time in history, achieve permanent ballot status for four years.
The Green Party has a great number of obstacles standing in the way, like campaign financing that pales in comparison to that of the democrat and republican parties, a lack of press coverage, and, in New York, voting machines that may cancel out their votes.
Lawrence Norden, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, worries that the state’s new voting machines may impact the parties ability to get 50,000 votes. “With the old lever machines if I went to vote for governor and pressed, let’s say Cuomo, and then I see Hawkins further down the line and I actually wanted to vote for Hawkins, I would have to lift the lever back up for Cuomo and pull down for Hawkins because you couldn’t vote for two candidates,” Norden explains.
New York has since purchased new voting machines that require a paper ballot, the same used in Florida during the 2008 presidential elections that caused more than 20,000 votes to go unaccounted for. With the new machines an individual could easily “overvote,” which would result in their vote being cancelled.
Norden says that with the new paper ballot system you may not see the name of the candidate you wish to vote for so instead you mark a different name. If you later try to erase your vote and fill in the ballot for the candidate you wish to vote for the machine may not record your vote for either candidate.
The gubernatorial race worries Norden because there are so many candidates running.
“The race is going to be run over two columns and in most locations voters may accidentally select one candidate from each column because it looks like it is two separate races,” he says.
In most states the new paper ballot machines return the ballot to the voter and they are told that they voted too many times and must fill out a new ballot. In New York the machine does not return the ballot, instead the machine displays a message that an “overvote” has occurred and the voter is given a green light with a check mark that instructs them to cast their vote or a red light with an X that cancels the vote.
If someone who receives the overvote message pushes the green light, their vote will be thrown out; if they push the red button, their ballot is returned and they can cast another that is not in danger of being thrown out.
“With somebody like the Green Party, where they were so close to 50,000 in the last election, the fact that even a small number of people could overvote could have a huge impact on the status,” Norden says.
The Brennan Center has brought a lawsuit against the new voting machines on behalf of New York NAACP and other groups, but Norden says no change will be possible before the November 2nd elections.