Over the past four years the New York DREAM Act has been at the center of Albany politics. The DREAM Act would grant access to our state's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) to the 3,500-plus undocumented students that graduate from NY public high schools each year. While various reports indicate economic benefits to the State, Democrat leaders, like Senator Jeff Klein and Speaker Sheldon Silver, have succumbed to politics rather than truly fight for the bill.
The economic benefits to our state associated with increased college access clearly support extending tuition assistance to Dreamers -- undocumented youth who arrived to the United States as children. An individual with a four-year degree earns an estimated $25,000 more per year than a high school graduate, and pays an estimated $3,900 more per year in state and local taxes.
Further, providing state aid to Dreamers would not divert resources. In fact, a report has shown that expanding educational opportunities for Dreamers actually increases school revenues by bringing in tuition money from students who would otherwise not attend college, revenue that can support all students.
It is no secret that Democratic politics have been far friendlier to Dreamers. Republican immigration polices like "self deportation" and Senator Greg Ball's Dreamers are "Burglars" comment are clear indications that Republicans, still fighting the extremist wing of their party, are opposed to the bill.
However, behind-the-scenes political maneuvering and lip service by Democrats could once again prevent our state from providing equal access to college. Indeed, some Democrats are claiming public support for the DREAM Act while privately distancing themselves for fear of electoral consequences. That is not the mark of a statesman.
Last December, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced his renewed commitment to seeing the bill's passage in the 2014 legislative session, and just a few weeks ago, for the second year in a row, the Assembly passed the DREAM Act with widespread support.
While advocates now move to push for Senate passage of the bill, Speaker Silver, the powerful Democrat, must demonstrate firm leadership by pressuring Democrats and Republicans. Speaker Silver has been successful time and time again when he places his full weight rather than take a spectator approach.
This week, Senator Klein will attempt to claim the title of champion of the DREAM Act by simply forcing a vote on the floor. Unless he fights tooth and nail for the bill, he is no champion. Simply requesting the delivery of all Democrats before reaching out to Republicans is mediocre politics.
On April 1, Governor Cuomo and New York's three most influential legislative representatives -- Speaker Silver and Temporary Senate Presidents Jeffrey Klein and Dean Skelos -- will convene to decide on the Governor's executive budget for the coming year. As arguably the most powerful New York state politician, Speaker Silver can use his influence to ensure that the DREAM Act is included in the budget.
The cost to taxpayers is literally the cost of a doughnut. A recent analysis found the legislation would cost the median taxpayer only about 87 cents each year. As a taxpayer, I rather invest in our state's future than gain few pounds before beach season begins.
If the New York DREAM Act dies in the Senate and fails to be enacted into law this year, the press will blame Senate Republicans. But those who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes for this bill's passage will know that blame falls on both sides of the aisle. If Senator Klein and Speaker Silver refuse to take leadership in making the passage of the DREAM act an Assembly priority, Democrats will be held accountable by the community they claim to champion.
Speaker Silver and Senator Klein can pass the Dream Act this year, thereby restoring New York as a national leader. New Yorkers, however, have no time for political games. Let us hope they distance themselves from the political games and put their full political weight behind New York DREAM Act.