Occupy Albany protesters are long gone from the park where they camped out more than two years ago, but a coalition of progressive protesters, angry about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed tax cuts and posing a number of demands descended on the Capitol Thursday for a demonstration and sit-in outside the governor’s office.
Among their issues are campaign finance reform, the Dream Act and more school funding.
After a roughly four-hour, loud-but-orderly demonstration, 59 people were arrested and escorted away.
As the protest proceeded in the Capitol hallways, Cuomo and legislative leaders hunkered down behind closed doors just yards away in an effort to hash out their 2014-15 budget, due for completion April 1.
Among the big issues: school aid, pre-K funding and how to pay for a property tax freeze the governor badly wants.
Demonstrators, adopting the “mike check” call-and-repeat style popularized by the Occupy movement, railed against the “1 percent,” or richest New Yorkers who could benefit from a bank tax repeal and other breaks the governor wants as part of a larger tax-cut package.
They chanted, “No justice, No peace,” and “We don’t live in a 1 percent world, they live in ours.”
The demonstrators, by their own account, were “carefully organized,” said Charlie Albanetti of Citizen Action, one of several progressive groups that arranged to bus people in.
Citizen Action was joined by union-backed groups like the Alliance for Quality Education and Strong Economy for All, as well as Make the Road New York, which has pushed for the Dream Act that would allow tuition assistance for illegal immigrants or their children.
Others were there to demand passage of campaign finance reform, including a New York City-style public financing plan, in the state budget.
“I feel very strongly about public financing of elections and that’s why I’m here,” said Betsy Malcolm of Manhattan, who came with the Act Now group.
The various demands were at times confusing — there was no overriding chant or theme other than “All of Us.” That prompted some confusion among observers in the Capitol. “What are they even protesting?” asked one woman getting on an elevator near the ruckus.
Meanwhile, legislative leaders and Cuomo started talking real numbers on their budget.
Lawmakers working in budget committees had “table targets” or spending amounts for different categories on Thursday. Those included another $240 million for education – more than what Cuomo initially proposed but less than what Assembly Democrats wanted.
Another $19 million each had also been added for several areas including mental health, public safety and economic development. They also are looking at $64 million more for higher education and another $59 million for health and $64 million in human services.
Earlier in the day, Cuomo stressed that getting his property tax freeze, which would provide rebates for those who live in communities that keep property tax growth below 2 percent, remained a priority.
“That’s my priority. That’s what I’ve been working on,” said Cuomo.
Those who were arrested included AQE chief Billy Easton and Bill Samuels, a major Democratic activist and donor who has criticized Cuomo for courting Republican donors.
Those arrested were released after being charged with disorderly conduct, a non-criminal violation.
Police said they wanted to process protesters by 4:30 since the groups scheduled charter buses to leave the Capitol at that time.