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Opinion

New York Needs a Green New Deal


govcuomo vpgore

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


Think of it: a bold vision that simultaneously addresses the greatest existential threat facing humanity while providing thousands of good jobs across New York. Want an added bonus? There won’t be a need to increase taxes on ordinary New Yorkers.

A “Green New Deal” for New York could mean thousands of jobs and a pathway to 100% renewable energy, which will be necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change, all paid for by charging a fee on corporate polluters that pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  

We are coming off a record-breaking forest fire season on the West Coast while Hurricane Florence has ravaged the Carolinas, a year after Maria devastated Puerto Rico. And, at least in the short term, national leaders will keep their heads in the sand and continue to collect campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry. States have the opportunity to set the model for how to tackle climate change, and New York can and should be one of these states.

While Governor Cuomo has taken important steps to address climate change, including banning fracking in the state and creating the United States Climate Alliance (the coalition of states that committed to the Paris Accords following the country’s exit), New York actually lags behind other states. Only 5% of New York’s energy come from renewable sources -- compared with California’s 25% and Vermont’s 40% -- and there are multiple plans to build more fossil fuel infrastructure, guaranteeing a continued reliance on dirty energy.  

To truly be a climate leader and make the state the progressive model he often says it is (and position himself for any aspirations beyond Albany), Cuomo needs to pass bold legislation that puts New York on a path to 100% renewable energy. After all, just last week, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed into law major legislation that will do just that. What’s more, with the victories of a progressive wave of state senators on primary day, September 13, state government may be ripe for bold climate legislation this session. And that legislation already exists.

Two bills with strong support among grassroots and labor organizations, the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) and the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA), would put New York on a trajectory towards 100% renewable energy. The CCPA calls for a just and equitable transition to a clean energy economy, while the CCIA would force those most responsible for climate change to foot the bill by charging a fee on corporate polluters.

These bills would not only set a strong climate agenda, but would also launch a necessary jobs program at a time where there’s national concern over loss of jobs due to automation and outsourcing. By investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, New York could create thousands of jobs that pay a living wage including retrofitting buildings, installing solar panels, and updating our energy infrastructure. We could also put people to work making our state more resilient, and fix crumbling infrastructure that is increasingly vulnerable due to superstorms and sea level rise. By charging a fee on oil, gas, and coal, this all will be paid for by the fossil fuel industry, without a need to raise taxes on New Yorkers.

A “Green New Deal in New York” could be the benchmark for other states and eventually the country to follow. It is no longer enough for politicians to claim that they “believe” in climate change. We need a real, comprehensive agenda to address this challenge head-on. In order to demonstrate climate leadership, Cuomo, assuming he wins reelection, should work with the Legislature to pass the CCPA and the CCIA as quickly as possible and set the example for the rest of the nation.  

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Ari R. Lieberman is an attorney and the legislative coordinator for 350Brooklyn, a grassroots climate change organization affiliated with 350.org. On Twitter @the_greenmarble.

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Surging Democratic Voter Turnout in New York City May Mean Greater Importance in State Elections


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(photo: Mayor's Office/Kristen Artz)


There was an extraordinary turnout in New York City in the just-completed statewide Democratic primaries on Thursday, September 13. In the city alone, 855,000 Democrats came to the polls. That vote substantially exceeded the crowded and competitive 2013 Democratic mayoral primary (690,000), was nearly triple the city’s turnout in the 2014 Cuomo-Teachout primary (298,000), and came somewhat close to matching the Clinton-Sanders turnout in New York City of practically 1 million Democrats (996,000).

The good news about increasing voter participation may also foretell change in the dynamics of statewide elections. Democratic turnout in New York City was 57.3% of the statewide turnout of 1.49 million, a higher share than the geographic turnout model being used in two Siena Research Institute polls on the primary in July and September 2018, each of which assumed New York City’s share of statewide turnout would be 50%.

You might say ‘who cares about a bunch of polls?’, but polls are based on turnout from past elections, and those turnout models are also what candidates and campaigns use to allocate their time, energy, money, and resources. And, polls are frequently covered by the news media. If turnout in New York City is rising, campaigns must spend more money and time and volunteer effort there, and candidates’ positions must strongly appeal to residents of the nation’s largest city.

Turnout in the rest of the state also differed from the Siena Poll models. The final September poll modeled the turnout at 50% New York City, 13% suburbs, and 38% upstate. The actual results were 57% New York City, 18% suburbs, and 25% upstate. The number of Democrats outside New York City that came out to vote also rose substantially from 2014, more than doubling from 276,000 to 635,000, meaning there was far broader interest in the election this year across the entire state than in 2014. Cuomo won two-to-one in New York City, three-to-one in the suburbs, and 57-43% upstate.

While New York City had big increases in raw numbers and an increased share of the statewide primary vote, the real test of the city’s importance in statewide elections will now come in the general election. In the past three gubernatorial, off-presidential year elections -- 2006, 2010, and 2014 -- the city’s share of the statewide vote has been dismal.

Despite being 43% of the state’s population, the city’s share of the statewide vote in the past three general elections where the election for Governor was the top of the ticket has not reached 30%. In 2014, the city was 1 million of 3.8 million votes, a mere 26.5% of the vote. In 2010, when Governor Cuomo was first elected to the position, the city was 29% of 4.6 million votes. In 2006, when Eliot Spitzer won handily, the city was 28% of 4.4 million votes.

The question now becomes, was the surge in turnout in the city a one-off due to a few unique circumstances, or will it be sustainable because of a more engaged Democratic constituency in the age of Donald Trump?

[Read more: A Closer Look at Democratic Primary Turnout, Margins & Geography]

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Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

To Save the MTA, Push ‘Fast Forward’ Ahead Quickly and Responsibly


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(photo: MTA New York City Transit/Marc A. Hermann)


The fight to fix our ailing transit system took a significant step forward in May when New York City Transit President Andy Byford released his “Fast Forward” plan to dramatically accelerate comprehensive fixes to our city’s subways and buses. We, along with many other legislators and advocates, praised the plan and Byford’s work to create it. Fast Forward isn’t just a clear roadmap to a modern subway system; it’s also a very necessary roadmap to MTA reform.

Now it’s time for the MTA to take the next step toward transparency as the governor and Legislature begin the difficult work of finding sources for the billions of dollars necessary to pay for Fast Forward -- as well as the authority’s expected capital needs. While Byford estimates the cost of Fast Forward to be $40 billion, it is essential that the MTA provide a budget detailing the plan’s costs as well as its 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment. If state government is to do its job, we need to know what fixing our subways and buses will really cost. Without a detailed budget, the necessary revenue that must be provided to save our transit system will be unlikely to materialize and millions of riders will suffer the consequences every day.

The collapse of our subway and bus systems isn’t Byford’s fault. It is, in fact, ours. Decades of indifference, neglect, and underfunding from Albany has hamstrung our public transit and now threatens to irrevocably damage the fabric of our city. Make no mistake, without public transit; New York City ceases to be. So it is our duty to fix it.

Historically, Albany’s inaction has stemmed in part from the lack of a clear vision of how to fix public transit. Now that we have that framework in place, the final step still remains. The MTA must show us exactly how it plans to implement the plan and how much it will cost.

There have been many ideas for how to provide additional revenue to the MTA—congestion pricing, value capture, a millionaires’ tax, new corporate taxes—but not a single one of these proposals will ever gain enough support in the Legislature if lawmakers are in the dark as to the exact costs of the agency’s capital needs.

Time is of the essence. The governor will deliver the next State of the State on January 9 and the next preliminary budget a week later. The MTA cannot wait until then to submit to the Legislature its capital needs and a budget for the Fast Forward proposal. The costs of Fast Forward need to be factored into the governor’s executive budget long before its release, and the scope and importance of the Fast Forward plan requires that the Legislature is given ample time to review and hold hearings on the authority’s proposed costs well before budget negotiations begin in January.

Once the MTA shows us the numbers, then it becomes Albany’s task to make sure we raise the necessary revenues without unduly burdening already-frustrated straphangers. Unfortunately, Albany doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to securing real funds for the MTA.  The authority’s current capital budget, the 2015-2019 Capital Program, was only approved in 2016—sixteen months late—and of the $32 billion that was approved, the source of most of the state’s $8.3 billion share has yet to be identified. This type of delay and the lack of a clear identified revenue source cannot happen if we expect the Fast Forward plan to be successful.

Beyond submitting its Fast Forward and 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment budgets this fall, the MTA should submit future Capital Program budgets earlier, in order to demonstrate the need for dedicated, long-term revenue streams, the Capital Program should have a longer timeline than its current five years.

This year Assemblymember Carroll drafted and passed in the Assembly a bill, A.11094, which would have required the MTA to submit its capital budgets earlier than currently mandated—but the bill never came to a vote in the Senate. To facilitate long-term planning, the MTA should share the full cost of the 15-year Fast Forward plan rather than breaking it up into the five-year chunks.

The current system of temporary fixes is unsustainable and cannot continue. Without a budget and time for the Legislature to review it, the state will again fail to act on a concrete plan to finally fix and modernize our subway system. There might be some serious sticker shock in Albany, but it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. If we don’t, then Fast Forward will remain Byford’s dream, while millions of riders suffer the daily nightmare that our subways have become.

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New York State Assemblymember Robert Carroll represents the 44th Assembly District which is comprised of the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Victorian Flatbush and Boro Park. Nick Sifuentes is the executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation advocacy organization. On Twitter @Bobby4Brooklyn & @Nick_Sifu of @Tri_State.

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