Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/18 Tue, 19 Feb 2019 05:20:48 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) In Budget Testimony, De Blasio Critiques Cuomo Plans, Presents City Albany Agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8275-in-budget-testimony-de-blasio-critiques-cuomo-plans-presents-city-albany-agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8275-in-budget-testimony-de-blasio-critiques-cuomo-plans-presents-city-albany-agenda de Blasio city hall budget

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio received a warmer reception in Albany on Monday than he has in past years as he testified before the state Legislature on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2020 executive budget proposal and how it would affect New York City. Over the course of more than two hours, the mayor argued for more education funding, emphasized the need for a comprehensive revenue plan for the MTA, enlisted legislators to help fend off proposed funding cuts and costs shifts, and defended his administration’s work on multiple fronts.

In prior appearances before the Legislature, de Blasio has faced the ire of Republicans who controlled the state Senate and have used the annual budget hearing to criticize the mayor’s policies and management of the city. But with Democrats now in control of both legislative chambers, the mayor found himself largely in agreement with lawmakers and their priorities on everything from school aid and transit funding to criminal justice reform, rent regulation and marijuana legalization.

He called on the Legislature to give the city design-build authority for infrastructure projects, pushed for the expansion of a speed camera and red light camera program in the city, asked for repeal of Section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which prevents disclosure of police officer disciplinary records, and advocated for a commercial vacancy tax to fight a crisis of vacant storefronts in the city.

De Blasio appealed to the Legislature to aid New York City in avoiding what he said is nearly $600 million in proposed cuts and cost shifts included in the governor’s budget. He reiterated the city’s slightly more rocky budgetary prospects that he raised in his own $92.2 billion preliminary budget proposal last week, where he noted that his administration is implementing a PEG (program to eliminate the gap) for the first time, with the goal of $750 million in total savings across agencies by the time the mayor releases his own executive budget plan in April (at which point he’ll also have to factor in the final state budget, which is due by April 1). City agency cutbacks, he warned, would be exacerbated if the governor’s budget passes in its current form.

The mayor blamed nearly half the Cuomo “cuts” on education funding. Those include a $148 million shortfall in mandated spending on charter schools and special education services and a newly proposed school funding formula that de Blasio said would create a “winners and losers situation” by shifting existing funding away from needy schools. “Although I am certain the proposal’s well-intended, there are real problems with it,” he said under questioning from Assemblymember Ed Braunstein. The governor’s office has disputed de Blasio’s characterizations of “cuts,” noting that some of the mayor’s assessment is based on faulty expectations by the city.

De Blasio also insisted, as he has often done, that the state should provide full funding under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, which would mean about $1.2 billion in additional fair student funding for the city. “We should all be outraged that something that was decided by our highest court to help our children….somehow has not been brought to full fruition,” he later said. Again on this topic, Cuomo has disagreed with the mayor’s interpretation, which is shared by many Democratic officials, with the governor saying that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity has been paid off and is a thing of the past.

De Blasio did commend the governor for backing a three-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, which Republicans often used as a cudgel against the mayor in order to extract concessions from the city. At Monday’s hearing, the mayor was able to tout his administration’s success with little pushback, pointing to record-high graduation rates.

Senator Robert Jackson, however, did prod the mayor for more accountability within the system. “I don’t believe in control...I believe in authority with oversight at an appropriate level,” Jackson said.

De Blasio was willing to concede, “The phrase might be better called mayoral accountability.” At various points, he said that his administration is seeking greater input from parents on issues such as school closures and consolidation, though it could always do better. And he also defended his authority to appoint the schools chancellor through a discretionary process. A nationwide public process would undermine the city’s ability to hire top-notch educators, he said. “The power of [mayoral control] is, everyone here and all the parents of New York City get to hold me accountable,” he said. “That was not true in the past.”

Legislators focused a significant amount of time on the MTA and proposals to find sustainable sources of revenue for the beleaguered authority, responsible for the subways and buses, while making its operations more efficient. Cuomo has proposed a congestion pricing system with some details left undetermined, but that would, among other things, give the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority control over city streets. And he has said the city should split halfway any remaining MTA capital shortfall after congestion pricing revenue is counted. The governor has also been railing against the MTA structure and leadership, who he appointed, and has been arguing for greater control of the agency, which he already effectively controls.

De Blasio has rejected congestion pricing as a silver bullet to solve the MTA’s woes and has said he would prefer a millionaire’s tax to raise the requisite funds for subways and buses. He repeated that argument at the hearing and said the MTA would need a “multi-element” solution that includes several different long-term streams of revenue, including perhaps a mansion tax, an internet sales tax, and revenue from legalization of recreational marijuana use, and a lockbox to ensure congestion pricing revenue is not diverted away from the MTA. Splitting capital costs with the state, he said, would be overly burdensome on the city’s already massive ten-year capital plan, which hit $100 billion for the first time when he released it last week.

He also insisted he could only support a congestion pricing plan that had “hardship exemptions”, which went down well with some legislators but not others. For instance, Senator Jim Gaughran, a Long Island Democrat, agreed, saying he hadn’t seen a feasible proposal yet. He suggested a regional program that could also take into account commuters who use the Long Island Rail Road and bus systems, and a carve out for small businesses. Democratic Assemblymember Bobby Carroll of Brooklyn, on the other hand, said the mayor’s insistence on a progressive congestion pricing proposal seemed “disingenuous” since various carve outs would render the program insufficient.

“I think it’s a balance point,” de Blasio responded. “I think there’s a way to figure out what is a fair hardship exemption and what is not, what does it do to our revenue and what revenue we need.”

And though de Blasio has feuded with Cuomo over blame for the MTA’s failings, he generally supported the concept of giving more control to the governor. “I liken it to mayoral accountability for schools,” he said.

De Blasio also found himself defending his role in the deal to bring an Amazon campus and an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 jobs to Queens, which would give the tech giant $3 billion in tax incentives and grants. To persuade Amazon, the mayor and governor struck an agreement to circumvent the local City Council-led land use process, drawing widespread criticism.

De Blasio insisted on Monday that the $3 billion in incentives the company will receive is out of the city’s control -- most of the tax breaks are as-of-right incentives that Amazon would receive like any other company based on its location and job-creation, and $500 million of it is coming from the state in a capital grant. And he also revealed that he did not negotiate with the company to ensure neutrality if its workers attempt to unionize. When asked by Senator Jessica Ramos, a former de Blasio aide, he said he only insisted that the campus be built by union labor and that building services jobs should go to union workers. De Blasio has repeatedly said that he will continue to put pressure on Amazon related to its approach to employee unionization, and that the larger New York City pro-union environment will also play a role.

In back-and-forth with lawmakers, de Blasio also made promises, some concrete and some speculative. He said that a commission looking at the city’s property tax system would release its recommendations this year. He said the city could shave years off the Rikers Island jail closure plan if a variety of criminal justice reforms are passed by the state. He said he would work with legislators to introduce a commercial vacancy tax bill in the coming weeks. And he promised to invest in improved bus service in the city even if congestion pricing does not come to pass.

Of course, there were moments when de Blasio also pushed back. Senator John Liu, a Queens Democrat and 2013 primary opponent, pushed the mayor on his “seemingly magical solution” to expand healthcare access to 600,000 uninsured New Yorkers at an eventual cost of $100 million annually. Liu wondered whether that would mean the state could pass a single-payer program that doesn’t include New York City. “I would like to say yes to that but I can’t,” de Blasio responded, noting that single-payer healthcare would be a better option.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican who ran against de Blasio in 2017, noted that the mayor was raising alarms about budget shortfalls in the city while also increasing spending by $3 billion. “If we are anticipating all these problems with less revenue coming into the city, why are you continuing to increase the budget dramatically?” she wondered. She also asked the mayor to cap increases of the city’s property tax levy, one of the few tax burdens under the city’s control.

De Blasio did agree that the city needs a “more equitable solution” to property taxes though he disagreed that the city should cap the levy. He also defended the city’s budget more broadly, emphasizing that much of the increased spending has gone to pay increases for the municipal workforce in new labor agreements reached under his administration which had lapsed for years.

The state Legislature will continue budget hearings over the next few weeks before each house -- or perhaps both houses together -- release responses to the governor’s proposal. First, Cuomo will release 30-day amendments to his budget plan. Negotiations will heat up in March as the April 1 state budget deadline looms.

[Read: 9 Key Takeaways for New York City from Cuomo's State of the State and Budget]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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In Budget Testimony, De Blasio Critiques Cuomo Plans, Presents City Albany Agenda Mon, 11 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
9 Key Takeaways for New York City from Cuomo's State of the State and Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8217-9-key-takeaways-for-new-york-city-from-cuomo-s-state-of-the-state-and-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8217-9-key-takeaways-for-new-york-city-from-cuomo-s-state-of-the-state-and-budget govcuomo jus

Mayor de Blasio applauds Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech and accompanying $175.2 billion state budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 had something for everything. The 354-page policy book lays out proposals, big and small, on everything from criminal justice reform, transit and infrastructure funding, workforce protections to rent regulations, voting and ethics reform, farmer benefits, legalizing marijuana, women’s rights and reproductive health, LGBTQ protections, and environmental regulation, to name just a few.

The budget proposal, with its long list of policy priorities, has several measures that will have significant consequences for New York City and its own budget, the first draft of which Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon present. The state fiscal year begins April 1, the city’s begins July 1. Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, noted in its assessment that the governor’s budget proposal cuts nearly $100 million in reimbursements and aid to the city.

And while some of the governor’s initiatives may benefit the city or line up with de Blasio’s priorities, there are others that could end up being a burden and might prompt staunch opposition from the mayor and state legislators who represent districts in the five boroughs. De Blasio expressed concern about a few proposals in the hours after the governor’s presentation, while conceding that “there's a lot to like in the speech.” Below are eight key takeaways for the city from Cuomo’s policy and budget plans.

Cuomo wants the city to split MTA costs with the state. De Blasio disagrees.
Cuomo has embraced congestion pricing as a key proposal to garner resources for the MTA and stem the tide of years of disinvestment that have left large funding obligations and a crumbling subway system. While he has still not fully fleshed out a congestion pricing plan, Cuomo estimated such a system could bring in about $15 billion in revenue over a ten-year period, but also insisted that any shortfall to fund the subways and buses over and above that should be split 50-50 between the city and the state. He argued that over several MTA capital plans the city’s contributions to the MTA have been falling and the state’s contributions have been rising, a characterization that de Blasio later took issue with.

Cuomo, who effectively controls the MTA and appoints a plurality of its board members and its leadership, is proposing an overhaul of the agency’s management, which he has blamed for repeated failures over the years and again in his speech. “It was purposefully designed so that everyone can point fingers at everybody else, and nobody's responsible,” he said, even though he has claimed credit for its successes in the past and he has recently re-exerted control relative to the L-train shutdown.

The details of Cuomo’s MTA management reform plan are also still not fully clear.

De Blasio has repeatedly said the best solution to the MTA’s financial woes is a millionaire’s tax, an idea that is anathema to Cuomo. In his Albany news conference shortly after the governor’s speech, the mayor reiterated the proposal as he pushed back against the governor’s suggestions. “Now, there’s a lot of good ideas on the table and here's a chance to decide which combination of those ideas will actually solve the problem,” he said of funding the MTA. “But yet you can't take it out of the city budget, it’s not going to work.” Though he continues to say he prefers the millionaire’s tax, de Blasio’s rhetoric around congestion pricing has warmed considerably.

Reforms needed to close Rikers Island may soon be reality
The governor’s budget proposal includes support for several criminal justice reforms which de Blasio has said are crucial to the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex within 10 years. Among those are ending cash bail, among other reforms to pretrial detention processes, and passing Kalief’s Law, a speedy trial reform named for Kalief Browder, the Bronx youth who spent three years on Rikers Island on charges of stealing a backpack. Never convicted, Browder was released but later died by suicide, which was attributed to his harsh treatment while in detention.

De Blasio has said that bail and speedy trial reform would work in concert with ongoing efforts to reduce the population of Rikers down below 5,000, the threshold the city estimates it would need to reach in order to house detainees in borough-based facilities that are being planned. The city jail population is now under 8,000, de Blasio announced during his State of the City address.

Rent regulations will help de Blasio’s affordable housing plan
De Blasio’s ambitious plan to create and preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026 is on track according to city estimates and broke a record in 2018 by financing 34,160 affordable units, the most in one year for any administration. That plan could benefit massively from a push by the governor and the Legislature to strengthen rent regulations, which are set to expire at the end of June.

Cuomo has expressed support for ending vacancy decontrol whereby upon certain vacancies landlords can remove units from the regulated rolls, eliminating preferential rent limits, and reforming the process by which landlords can assess tenants for improvements to buildings and apartments. All are items that de Blasio praised while noting that he would have to see more details. Such regulations would have been “inconceivable” when Republicans controlled the state Senate, he said as he anticipated seeing stronger laws in place this year. “It's going to help us preserve affordable housing in New York City,” de Blasio said. “And certainly from what the governor said in the speech, I'm encouraged.

Education and mayoral control
Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase in education funding statewide -- an increase of $1 billion from the current year for a total of $27.7 billion -- and proposed a new school funding formula called “Education Equity,” emphasizing that current funding is not flowing to the poorest schools in poorer school districts.

The governor presented new data based on his administration’s analysis of numbers provided to the state by large schools districts that had been required by a law passed last year meant to assess exactly how districts are allocating education funds. Cuomo showed data that indicated all the largest school districts are funding their wealthier schools at higher rates than their poorer schools, though de Blasio questioned the presentation and said the city would have more to say soon. It’s not immediately clear how Cuomo’s administration calculated its numbers.

Cuomo’s proposal looks like it would set up a fight with the mayor, who insisted that the governor should fully fund the “Foundation Aid” formula as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, which Cuomo has argued is settled and a relic of the past.

De Blasio did praise the governor for proposing a three-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, which Cuomo has done in the past though he has appeared comfortable settling on multiple one-year extensions (last time it was two years) as a means of frustrating the mayor. “[U]nder a mayoral control model that we have in New York City for the last five years, we have consistently moved resources to schools in greater need,” de Blasio said, noting that Cuomo’s presentation “did not reflect the reality we know in New York City” and promising to correct the record.

Notably, Cuomo has not initially indicated a plan to raise the cap on charter schools in New York City, a statutory limit that will soon be hit. Cuomo has been a staunch supporter of charters (and de Blasio has mostly been an opponent), but he has been relatively quiet on the issue as he has moved left over the last few years and repaired his relationship with the teachers unions. Still, Cuomo has made sure that charters have secured key protections in state agreements, though this year could hold a different approach.

Speed cameras and bus lane cameras
Last year, a limited speed camera program around schools in New York City lapsed amid legislative intransigence led by state Senate Republicans but was revived through an agreement among the governor, mayor, and New York City Council. Cuomo has proposed reinstating the program in state law through 2022, expanding the number of camera zones from 140 to 290, as well as removing a cap on bus lane cameras and allowing automated cameras to enforce “block-the-box” violations in the proposed congestion pricing zone. The bill would also create a new camera program to combat violations in Manhattan that contribute to congestion.

Infrastructure program highlights include JFK, LaGuardia Airports
Cuomo touted an additional planned $150 billion investment in infrastructure in his third term, building on projects that are already underway and several new ones that he is expected to launch. Among those are the renovations of LaGuardia Airport, the new JFK Airport, four new Metro North stations in the Bronx, an expansion of the Javits Convention Center, and the opening of the Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn.

Anti-terror initiatives
New York City continues to be one of the most prominent terror targets in the world and Cuomo offered several measures to improve security and preparedness, including legislation to ban gun bump stocks, prohibit weaponized drones, and regulations on the sale of certain explosives.

Two measures were directly impelled by incidents in New York City -- the governor proposed a bill to require two pieces of identification to rent a vehicle, citing attacks carried out across the world and particularly the 2017 Halloween attack on the West Side Highway that claimed the lives of eight people. Cuomo also proposed investments in “infrastructure hardening” such as traffic bollards and crash barriers to protect civilians.

Lead exposure thresholds
Cuomo proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels that would lead to an immediate public health response, which could potentially become a prominent issue in New York City where residents of the New York City Housing Authority have been fighting with the administration for years over lead paint in their apartments.

Other policies apply to New York City
A variety of other policies the governor is backing would apply to New York City and have an impact in the five boroughs, including some measures that have already passed the Legislature, like voting reforms, a ban on gay conversion therapy, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. This list also includes the planned expansion of abortion rights, more gun control, the Child Victims Act to address child sex abuse, and the Dream Act to provide state tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and their children, among other policies. Also in this category is the expected legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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9 Key Takeaways for New York City from Cuomo's State of the State and Budget Mon, 21 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Promising Sweeping Change, Cuomo Outlines State of the State Policy Agenda and $175 Billion Budget Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8202-promising-sweeping-change-cuomo-outlines-state-of-the-state-policy-agenda-and-175-billion-budget-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8202-promising-sweeping-change-cuomo-outlines-state-of-the-state-policy-agenda-and-175-billion-budget-plan cuomo sotos ja

(photo via the Governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat starting his third term, laid out an ambitious social, economic, and racial “justice agenda” at his State of the State speech on Tuesday as he also presented a $175.2 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 state fiscal year that begins April 1.

Speaking at the Hart Theater in Albany, Cuomo celebrated full Democratic control of the State Legislature for the first time in his tenure and promised quick movement on a raft of legislation within the first 100 days of the new legislative session, which began last week. “We’re off with a bang,” Cuomo mused, as he began his roughly 80-minute speech by playing a video of the Tuesday morning demolition of the old Tappan Zee bridge. Indeed, the returning Democratic majority in the Assembly and new majority in the Senate have already begun passing bills long-stalled in what had been the Republican-led upper chamber, including several voting reforms and protections for LGBT New Yorkers -- all legislation Cuomo is expected to soon sign.

Cuomo had already articulated much of his State of the State policy agenda in the previous weeks, but added new elements both in his speech and the accompanying policy book, while also reviewing what he sees as his top accomplishments and connecting policy plans to his budget outline. He also repeatedly took issue with federal policies, such as tax reforms he said are causing crises in the state, and sought to juxtapose New York with the Trump administration on issues like immigration.

With both the Assembly and Senate under the party’s control, Cuomo and the Legislature are in a position to advance sweeping progressive bills and a budget that would make significant shifts in everything from education and health care to elections, women’s rights, the criminal justice system, environmental and rent regulations, mass transit, and labor protections, to name a few. The governor outlined policies from ending the use of cash bail to legalizing recreational adult use of marijuana to a “Green New Deal” for New York that increases investments in renewable energy. He also outlined sweeping campaign finance and government ethics reform plans, some of which may set up clashes with the Legislature, and made a surprise announcement that he and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli had come to an agreement about contract pre-review that the governor had previously resisted.

As he has done since running for reelection, and most forcefully in his inaugural speech on Ellis Island on New Year’s Day, Cuomo presented New York as a countervailing force to the federal government under President Donald Trump and as a vanguard for progressive policies in the nation. Though he has dismissed rumors that he harbors greater ambitions for 2020, the speech could easily sketch the outline of a presidential campaign.

“We face real challenges in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “We have a federal government that is assaulting our values, our liberties, our rights and our economy.”

Cuomo noted that the state would have to fill a budget gap of $3.1 billion, even as he boasted of his record on fiscal management, reduction in taxes to their lowest in decades, and positive credit ratings for the state. But he warned of slowing revenues, blaming the 2017 federal tax code overhaul that reduced the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction that New York taxpayers can claim. While pointing to an increased overall tax burden for many New Yorkers, especially those who pay high property taxes, Cuomo pitched proposals to reduce taxes on the middle-class at a cost of $1.8 billion and to permanently cap property tax increases at 2 percent annually (everywhere outside New York City), something the state has done annually for several years.

On both education and health care funding, which comprise the two largest chunks of the state budget, Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase. He proposed a total education budget of $27.7 billion, an increase of $1 billion, and floated a new funding method called the “Education Equity” formula, to ensure that state aid to poorer districts is distributed equitably to poorer schools, rather than what he depicted as the lopsided distribution under the current ‘Foundation Aid’ formula that does not dictate where money goes within districts. Education funding may also form the basis for disagreement with the Legislature, both houses of which are likely to push for more than a $1 billion increase in overall state funding to localities.

Health care spending would increase to $19.6 billion, up from $18.9 billion, though the governor also warned of federal cuts, including $2.5 billion to Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments and $1 billion to cost-share reduction payments, besides the perennial threat from Republicans seeking to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

A leader who wants to be known as a builder, and one who can get large projects completed, Cuomo touted his successful infrastructure projects and those that will come to completion in the next few years. At the same time, he took no ownership of the crisis at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), seeking, as he has done in the past, to deflect blame for the crumbling subway system and the mismanaged agency where he appoints the largest share of board members and its leadership. Cuomo proposed overhauling the agency to clarify who controls it, though he already does, in effect, but did not offer specifics. He also reiterated a push for a congestion pricing proposal that he said could bring in $15 billion for the agency (apparently over a ten-year window, though details have not been released), far short of its estimated needs, and insisted that any other need should be split evenly between the city and state, setting up another battle with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of women’s rights protections, including codifying the protections of Roe v. Wade by amending the state constitution, passing the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act. He also said he would enact the Equal Rights Amendment, outlaw revenge pornography, eliminate the statute of limitations for rape, modernize the pay equity law and take efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates and the related racial disparities.

Touting the state’s passage of strong gun protections in his first term -- Cuomo mentioned he was speaking on the sixth anniversary of passage of his signature SAFE Act legislation -- the governor pushed for enacting new regulations including a “red flag” bill, expanding the waiting period for background checks, and banning bump stocks, all of which appear likely to sail through the Legislature.

The governor also put forth his version of a Green New Deal, which would move the state towards 100 percent clean energy by 2040. He said he would create a new Climate Action Council to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, establish a $70 million property tax compensation fund to incentivize localities to close obsolete power plants and transition to clean energy, and announced several investments in clean water infrastructure and expanding environmental protection efforts.

Cuomo called for the passage of several other bills that languished for years when Republicans controlled the Senate, including the Jose Peralta Dream Act (renamed for the state Senator who passed away last year and had championed it), the Child Victims Act, and reformed rent regulations to protect tenants and the state’s affordable housing stock.

He also reiterated a call for a criminal justice reform package that would eliminate cash bail and enact speedy trial reform and discovery reform. In further outlining his support for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, Cuomo said it is expected to bring in about $300 million in annual tax revenue for the state, though the governor’s proposal would allow municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana stores. He insisted that legalization would have to go hand-in-hand with decriminalization, pushing for automatically sealing certain marijuana-related criminal records, and investment in communities.

“Let's stop the disproportionate impact on communities of color," he said. “Let's create an industry that empowers the poor communities that paid the price and not the rich corporations that come in to make a profit.”

Toward the end of his speech, Cuomo again performed the annual ritual of discussing the need for building public trust in government and preventing the repeated scandals that have rocked the state, including his administration and many legislators. The governor outlined a host of proposals -- many repeated from past years, several new -- meant to ensure greater transparency in government and prevent public corruption.

He unveiled a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” which would lower the threshold for financial disclosure of lobbying, expand the period of time that legislators and policy-makers in state government are banned from lobbying after they leave their positions, and require increased conflicts of interest disclosures by lobbyists. If the Legislature refuses to take up the idea, Cuomo said he would unilaterally prohibit any lobbyists that do not voluntarily follow the code from lobbying the executive branch. Additionally, he proposed a number of campaign finance reforms -- banning corporate contributions, establishing a public campaign financing program, reducing contribution limits, and completely closing the LLC loophole (with expressed intention for further action, the state Legislature passed bills on Monday to severely limit contributions from LLCs but it remains open to exploitation).

Cuomo also announced a proposal to expand the Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, an idea that has been around for decades but rejected by legislators, and the state procurement reforms on which he reached an agreement with Comptroller DiNapoli.

In a news conference in Albany after the governor’s speech, Mayor de Blasio broadly praised the platform that Cuomo set out to achieve. In particular, he was encouraged that Cuomo separately proposed extending mayoral control of New York City schools, set to expire in June, by three years. In previous years when it was due to expire, the governor had also suggested a three-year extension but he and Republicans in the Senate had used mayoral control as leverage to extract concessions from the city. There may still be some appetite in both branches for pushing de Blasio on his leadership of city schools.

The mayor did strike a note of caution about a few items. He insisted on the need for a long-term funding stream for the MTA -- he has been hesitant to fully embrace congestion pricing and has instead said a millionaire’s tax would be the best solution -- and said Cuomo’s portrayal of the history of the agency’s funding -- that the state has stepped in to fund it in recent years while the city has been reducing its contributions -- “simply wasn’t accurate.” As he has indicated in the past, he disagreed that the city should bear half the costs of funding shortfalls in MTA needs. He also pushed back against the governor’s critique of the city’s school funding formula, insisting that the city has consistently sent money to the schools that need it most.

De Blasio promised he would have more to say as he and his team review Cuomo’s proposals in fine print, and offer their own rebuttals to Cuomo’s depiction of MTA and school funding.

The governor’s speech now sets the stage for negotiations with the Legislature, which will soon issue its own budget priorities. However, it appears that the pace of action in Albany will be far different from past years where almost every significant legislative action was lumped into a big budget agreement right around the April 1 deadline. Legislators have already shown they plan to pass legislation and send it to Cuomo to sign.

And for the first time this year, there will no longer be the infamous “three men in a room” negotiating the spending plan for the next year, as Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first female leader of a legislative chamber, will join the governor and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in hashing out policy and budget deals as those negotiations are needed.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Promising Sweeping Change, Cuomo Outlines State of the State Policy Agenda and $175 Billion Budget Plan Tue, 15 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Lessons from 'Hell': What’s Cuomo Really Doing with the L Train? http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8203-lessons-from-hell-what-s-cuomo-really-doing-with-the-l-train http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8203-lessons-from-hell-what-s-cuomo-really-doing-with-the-l-train Cuomo MTA L train

Cuomo tours the L tunnel (photo: The Governor's Office)


There’s far more to what Governor Andrew Cuomo is saying than what he says at a major announcement. And when an announcement concerns New York’s public transportation, you can bet it’s a calculated communications decision with serious long-term implications.

On Thursday, January 3, Governor Cuomo announced he was slamming the brakes on the L train shutdown. After consulting for three weeks with an independent panel of experts, his team insists repairing the Canarsie Tunnel connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan can be done with only night and weekend disruptions for 15 to 20 months, tossing aside the 15-month full closure three years in the making by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and scheduled to begin in April. It was a bold bet by New York’s most powerful politician, who has inconsistently taken responsibility for and interest in the transit authority that he has de facto control over.

Many commuters and real estate interests rejoiced, some transit advocates rang the alarm, and several transit officials masked frustration with bewilderment. For the public, there’s a fair bit of confusion to clear up -- it’s hard to make sense of conflicting messages and a lack of comprehensive information. How are riders supposed to think about this new plan? Does the MTA have any idea what it is doing? Where was the governor all this time?

Ultimately, what can the public consider to be truthful?

While the governor insisted that he had now involved himself with the L train plan -- which would disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of commuters, business owners, and others -- because of the magnitude of the issue and the pleas of multiple constituents, many questions linger. Along with the aforementioned, one especially important one: What’s Cuomo really doing here? Cuomo has manipulated public opinion to execute transit repairs before, and it’s happening again during this L train saga. He’s again taking a calculated political risk.

Consider the governor’s role in 2017’s “Summer of Hell.” Originally, the “Summer of Hell” had nothing to do with a subway system in decline. The catchy name’s source was none other than Governor Cuomo. He created this crisis narrative at a May 23, 2017 announcement to brace LIRR commuters for six weeks of Amtrak’s necessary repair work at Penn Station. Yes, that was it. But it became much more.

Amtrak’s plans were already two years in motion and announced one month earlier. Yet, Cuomo parachuted in to blame Amtrak for Penn’s state of disrepair, tell Long Islanders to adjust their established commuting routines, and present new contingency plans (ferry, bus and ticket supplements). The weeks leading up to the “Summer of Hell” were terrifying for many Long Islanders who commute into Manhattan.

In the end, Cuomo’s exaggeration made the “Summer of Hell” anything but. The crisis narrative drove Long Islanders off the LIRR, the underused ferry and bus services were curbed in the first week of repairs, and trains ran better during a supposed “hell” than at any time in the past two years. Cuomo manufactured a crisis worth his addressing by lowering expectations, then being able to take credit for exceeding the low bar he set. However, the “Summer of Hell” phrase he applied to Penn quickly became used to capture the state of transit more broadly, and liberally wielded against the governor by electoral opponents and other critics.

Cuomo’s “Summer of Hell” announcement and L train un-shutdown announcement were strikingly similar in format, with the governor intervening at the eleventh hour to shake things up when a great deal of planning, both on the infrastructure and commuting sides, had already been done. On the L train, Cuomo went after the MTA and city Department of Transportation, reassured Brooklynites their neighborhoods can survive the partial closure, unveiled his new plan, and touted the state’s (read: his) willingness to innovate -- all the while trying to sweep under the rug the fact that he stayed away from shutdown plans for the previous three years.

Again, what’s the Governor really doing here? I spent more than a year researching the “Summer of Hell” and New York’s transit management, uncovering why Cuomo would popularize impending doom and what his transit priorities are. He seizes opportunities to be, or appear to be, a savior who is helping commuters, while minimizing his political risk.

As he’s swooped in on the L train shutdown, Cuomo’s entire frame of discussion relates to commuters and commuting disruptions, with his plan presented as one that will drastically reduce challenges for L riders.

Cuomo’s team and various Cuomo political appointees, like Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, relentlessly use the phrase “customer experience” to describe their project selection choices. They’re looking to improve transit’s touchpoints with the commuting public, they say. Yet, the terrible MTA customer experience was a major flashpoint in the gubernatorial primary and general elections that Cuomo nevertheless won by wide margins last year.

Cuomo’s particular project focus is controllable (ideally media-intense) situations: ones he can use to demonstrate tangible success to the public, because he’s fairly certain the outcome will raise a pathetically low bar for service. Though plowing through bureaucracy makes projects like the new Tappan Zee Bridge tough to execute, Cuomo uses it as an opportunity to brandish his image as a “doer,” even if he oversees the entrenched bureaucracy he maligns, and has positioned himself as a champion for infrastructure by taking some service bar layups, per se. He replaced the truly hellish Goethals Bridge, is renovating JFK and LaGuardia Airports (the country’s worst), installed WiFi and LED lighting in ugly subway stations, and built an app to more conveniently buy train tickets. And he made sure the new Tappan Zee is named after his father: the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.

For the L train shutdown, Cuomo’s making his willingness to innovate visible relative to that of the MTA, which he does control despite his protestations. Presenting his advice from engineering experts, Cuomo touted big names like Tesla, Cornell, and Columbia so lay people understand how “outside the box” and the traditional bureaucracy he is going to address the tunnel and its users. He talked about never-tried-here methods that will make New York a national model, using European infrastructure methods considered superior, giving him another public relations advantage.

It’s difficult to know just how productively innovative Cuomo’s proposal is, though evaluations are ongoing, with the MTA Board briefed on Tuesday during an “emergency” meeting held at Cuomo’s behest. His language is reminiscent of when he solicited outside proposals to modernize the subway in 2017, as part of a “Genius Challenge” that ultimately bore little fruit. Ideally, the new L train plan will make a much bigger impact than the Genius Challenge did, but at this stage, there are plenty of questions to be answered.

Here’s one: Just how obvious is the new shutdown fix? Cuomo’s team feels it’s tremendous, Andy Byford, the still new and heralded president of MTA New York City Transit, admitted it’s enticing, some MTA board members are shocked but intrigued, and advocates like Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin remain skeptical. It’s astonishingly unclear in whom the public should place faith in making the correct project decision. Making matters more complex, the MTA Board's independence can’t be completely trusted in deciding which project is better. Interim Chair Freddy Ferrer has put his finger on the scale from the January 3 press conference onward.

In the past, Cuomo’s used project delivery as conduit to more power, and he’s clearly using the L train in a similar fashion. Situations where he’s able to beat the poor transit status quo are opportunities to show the state should be directly in charge, when it suits his narrative.

Cuomo’s projects at and around Amtrak-controlled Penn Station cultivate a potential takeover there, too. For starters, the governor is spearheading Moynihan Train Hall at Penn’s western edge without including New Jersey Transit on the project. Cuomo’s involvement in 2017 track repairs also saw him propose that New York State, not the federal government, operate Penn Station. Since then, Cuomo’s attempted to take control of the whole neighborhood around Penn.

For the subway, Cuomo has repeatedly questioned the MTA’s convoluted governing structure and wants to “blow it up.” He’s forcing the MTA Board’s hand in deciding which L train project is best, and some members (largely Mayor Bill de Blasio appointees) are publicly frustrated. However, the public’s discontent with the MTA and warranted aversion to a full shutdown gives the governor leverage in changing shutdown plans today, and blowing up the MTA tomorrow.

Cuomo needs public support in order for his takeover to work -- that’s why analyzing his communication is critical. Cuomo knows tearing things down with “outside the box” solutions appeals to desperate commuters, especially those seeking relief from the L-pocalypse. Under the guise of repeated complaints from people in Brooklyn, Cuomo is saving New Yorkers from the pain they’ve already been told is coming.

It’s a stunning reversal in government communication. For three years, officials at the MTA and city DOT were upfront about disruptions with locals and assumed the risk that comes with accountability; in exchange, riders would accommodate changes to daily life. This tacit agreement amounts to a commuting social contract.

Ironically, Cuomo helped write this script during the “Summer of Hell,” except this time (by virtue of association with running the MTA), Cuomo was stuck with accountability for a project he wasn’t running directly. Cuomo prioritizes controllable situations, and fallout from the possibly the greatest planned transit disaster in history does not qualify as such. So, Cuomo is hastily withdrawing himself from the original shutdown agreement -- let’s call it a breach of contract.

If the Board sticks with the original plan, Cuomo’s more off the hook than he would have been otherwise, but transit agencies’ jobs become harder. Floating an alternative is a tease to communities that, in all likelihood, face serious hardship. It hinders the MTA and DOT’s ability to get everyone on board (again) in surviving the “L-pocalypse.”

But, if Cuomo’s plan gets approved, which appears to be the more likely scenario, it spreads pain into more distant, seemingly manageable chunks. Yet, in the quest to absolve himself of responsibility for the old plan, the governor is creating an alternate, riskier scenario: he’s directly accountable for making the L-pocalypse a bearable experience.

Cuomo may have just thrown a low-pressure system into a brewing superstorm, like when the “Summer of Hell” crisis narrative Cuomo created blew up in his face. By intervening on behalf of 230,000 Long Islanders, Cuomo unintentionally gave millions of subway and bus riders city-wide a succinct term to express their long-festering frustrations, plus point the finger his way. Backed into a corner, Cuomo and former MTA Chair Joe Lhota enacted a Subway Action Plan for short-term fixes, though Andy Byford’s long-term Fast Forward plan remains unfunded.

If the L train shutdown plans are scrapped, and the governor does “blow up” the MTA, can Cuomo really pick up the pieces? Only one person ever, former MTA Chairman Dick Ravitch, has proven capable of successfully overhauling the MTA; it took him a decade of nonstop, focused effort. With that in mind, will Cuomo be around long enough and truly committed to implement meaningful structural reform?

Over the coming weeks, it will be critical to translate what Cuomo tells the public into his future transit action items. In the meantime, it’s essential all the questions about the new proposal are answered, and to remember 2017 as we examine Cuomo’s words and actions with a critical eye.

***
Tim Lazaroff is a freelance journalist specializing in transit.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Lessons from 'Hell': What’s Cuomo Really Doing with the L Train? Tue, 15 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo's SOTS, MTA 'Emergency' L Meeting & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Jan. 14 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8193-cuomo-s-sots-mta-emergency-meeting-more-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-jan-14 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8193-cuomo-s-sots-mta-emergency-meeting-more-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-jan-14 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

While there is a lot going on, the main event this week will be Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address and executive budget presentation, set for Tuesday afternoon in Albany. Cuomo, who reportedly moved up the speech by about two weeks due to the Legislature’s plans to start moving significant bills, has already outlined a lengthy and ambitious policy agenda, and he has been adding to it in recent days with announcements of policies he will include in his budget plan, such as raising the statewide age for buying cigarettes and nicotine products to 21 and banning plastic bags throughout New York.

The Legislature will be in session on Monday and Tuesday and both Democratic majorities plan to move a number of high-profile pieces of legislation, including several voting reform bills.

In the city, we’re watching for more from Mayor de Blasio after last week’s State of the City address and its multitude of plans and proposals. The mayor may follow the speech with events this week to discuss certain proposals further. He may also provide additional information about his stated plans to travel around the country talking up his progression policies -- the mayor appeared Sunday morning on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper and repeatedly declined to rule out a presidential run. De Blasio will also be in Albany Tuesday to attend Cuomo’s speech. [Read: De Blasio Gives Little Mention to Several Major Challenges in State of the City Speech]

Regardless of how much the mayor does, it will be an eventful week in New York City, where there are key deadlines and more forums in the race for Public Advocate. The special election is six weeks from this Tuesday, on February 26. [Read: Everything You Need to Know About the Special Election for Public Advocate]

It’s also a very busy week of hearings at the City Council -- see details below.

And connecting the city and state, the MTA, where there will be an “emergency” board meeting on Tuesday to discuss the recently-announced alternative L train tunnel rehabilitation plan from Cuomo and his team that still needs to be fully fleshed out, vetted, and voted on by the MTA board, which will also need to approve changes to the prior contract that had been set for the full shutdown of the tunnel that had been long-planned.

There's a lot to know as the week begins -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 1 p.m. Monday, O"Mayor de Blasio will make an announcement about the NYC Ferry expansion" at P.S. 188 in Brooklyn.

The State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany. The Legislature is in session on Monday and Tuesday this week, and both houses are expected to pass several long-awaited Democratic priorities, from multiple voting reform measures to the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and more. The Senate Democratic majority will hold a noon press conference on Monday to discuss the "historic voting reforms" that will be passed.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday.

Candidates for New York City Public Advocate in the special election set for Tuesday, February 26 have until Monday to file their petition signatures to the Board of Elections in order to appear on the ballot.

On Monday at 11 a.m., Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will be a guest on The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter. In the afternoon, Hochul will preside over the state Senate session.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding housing lotteries, as well as to discuss several proposed laws relating to housing lotteries, to create a “preferred list of contractors,” to require reporting on waiting lists for Mitchell-Lama, and to require that developers receiving city financial assistance on developments of at least 15 units to set aside 15 percent of units for the homeless.
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law authorizing the creation of “legal defense trusts” by public officials able to solicit donations to pay their legal bills.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “impact of new development on Long Island City’s emergency services.”

Starting at 11 a.m. Monday, the Let NY Vote coalition, which is led by Common Cause NY, will hold a day of action in Albany to lobby state lawmakers to pass “comprehensive, equitable voting reform,” several planks of which appear set for passage that day.

On Monday at 11 a.m., "Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will join NYC Health + Hospitals President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz, MD, as well as NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island President and CEO William Brown, dieticians, and health care advocates in launching a new initiative to remove meat on Mondays from food menus at all 11 public hospitals across the NYC Health + Hospitals system. The expansion of plant-based menu options addresses a growing crisis of preventable diseases citywide; according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), an estimated 987,000 New Yorkers are living with diabetes, with other chronic preventable diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity growing in prevalence."

At noon Monday, Riders Alliance will gather at the Canal Street A/C/E stop to unveil data showing that “signal problems delayed trains during 92% of morning rush hours last year.”

Tuesday
Governor Andrew Cuomo will deliver his State of the State address at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Albany, where he will also unveil his executive budget proposal. The speech will be delivered at Albany's Egg Center. Mayor de Blasio, among many other officials, plans to attend.

At the City Council on Tuesday: The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on the Interagency Coordinating Council on Youth.

The State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

End of the night Tuesday is the first campaign finance filing deadline for candidates in the special election for Public Advocate. Some filings may be available during the day on Tuesday via the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The election is February 26.

At noon Tuesday, “MTA to Hold Emergency Board Meeting” so that the Board can be “briefed on matters related to L train project.” “At the meeting, which will be open to the public, the Board will be briefed by WSP on the alternative Train design modifications to the original tunnel restoration plan, also designed by WSP. WSP has studied the proposed design alternatives and the preliminary new construction schedule developed by the construction manager. WSP will be recommending to the Board that it pursue the modified plan as a better alternative, as it does not require a total shutdown of train service. The Board will also be discussing the concept of hiring a new consultant reporting directly to the Chairman and the Board to oversee operation, oversight and precautions for the train and the tunnel reconstruction.”

At noon Tuesday in Albany’s Legislative Office Building, “on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday,” there will be a press conference to call for “immediate reform to New York State’s Discovery Laws. This is the key criminal legal system reform, the foundation from which bail and speedy trial reform can flow.” There will be announcement of “an amended bill supported by Democrats in both the Assembly and the Senate, and a wide-range of advocacy groups around the state, including legal groups and labor unions.” The press conference will include “Bishop Rosario and other faith leaders, Assemblyman Joe Lentol, Senator Jamaal Bailey, People impacted by NY’s bad discovery laws, Discovery for Justice, VOCAL-NY, the Innocence Project, JustLeadershipUSA, It Could Happen to You, Citizen Action-New York and additional members of the Repeal the Blindfold Coalition.”

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners meeting.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York League of Conservation Voters will host a forum focused on environmental issues for candidates for Public Advocate, at Brooklyn Law School. Politico New York’s Gloria Pazmino will moderate more than a dozen candidates set to participate.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City & State will host “Health Power 50,” honoring the 50 most powerful people in health care in New York. The event will take place at the Mezzanine in the Financial District. Speakers will include Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera; Greater NY Hospital Association President Kenneth Raske; Tom Moriarty, Executive Vice President at CVS Health; Dr. Ramon Tallaj, Board Chairman of SOMOS Care; Denise Gonick, CEO of MVP Health Care; and Holly Lynch, a “citizen advocate.”

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “evaluating programs that aim to reduce recidivism among justice involved youth.”
--The Committee on Civil and Human Rights will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law “recognizing 1/27/19 as Holocaust Remembrance Day and the week beginning on 1/27/19 as a citywide week of Holocaust Education in NYC.”
--The Committee on Hospitals will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “charity care funding for New York City hospitals.”
--The Committee on Education will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “health and wellness instruction in NYC schools.” The Committee will also discuss three bills, to require all schools to stock opioid antagonists, to require the city to establish a task force on start times for middle school and high school, and to require DOE to submit an annual report on nutrition education in city schools. Finally, the Committee will discuss resolutions calling on DOE to ban processed meats from being served in schools and to create a “diabetes and prediabetes health based curriculum.”

This week's Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio will feature interviews with three candidates for New York City Public Advocate: Assemblymember Michael Blake, Assemblymember Danny O'Donnell, and attorney Dawn Smalls. Recent shows have featured other candidates: an interview with City Council Member Rafael Espinal about his candidacy and an interview with City Council Member Eric Ulrich about his candidacy. The show airs at 5-6 p.m. Wednesdays on WBAI, 99.5FM or wbai.org, and is available as the Max & Murphy Podcast shortly thereafter.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Higher Education will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding careers in health care at CUNY.
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed bill banning employers from requiring employees to check work emails and other communications in non-work hours.
--The Committees on Governmental Operations and Technology will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “311 customer experience and operations,” as well as to discuss proposed laws to require 311 to “stop referring non-emergency, anonymous calls about harassed properties to agencies for follow-up” and to “require the development of a protocol for identifying the languages spoken by callers to 311.”

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Reimagining Domestic Violence Services,” discussing the “current and future state of domestic violence services.” Cecile Noel, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, will deliver welcoming remarks. Afterwards, a panel will convene, consisting of Albery Abreu of the Children’s Aid Society; Tanya Apparicio, Deputy Chief of the Domestic Violence Unit at the Manhattan DA’s office; Ana Bermudez, the City’s Probation Commissioner; Juliana Chereji of Brooklyn Defender Services; Bea Hanson, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Domestic Violence Task Force; and Quentin Walcott, co-Executive Director of Connect.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law will host a “CityLaw Breakfast” with former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Lippman, who now chairs the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, will discuss “the closing of Rikers as a catalyst for criminal justice reform in New York.”

Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

This year’s Women’s March will be Saturday.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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Cuomo's SOTS, MTA 'Emergency' L Meeting & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Jan. 14 Sun, 13 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
LIRR’s Heavy Subsidies and the Coming Debate Over MTA Funding http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8182-lirr-s-heavy-subsidies-and-the-coming-debate-over-mta-funding http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8182-lirr-s-heavy-subsidies-and-the-coming-debate-over-mta-funding 2 29916410110 9953f914b2 z

(photo via the Governor's Office)


This fall Governor Cuomo signed a campaign pledge with Long Island State Senate Democratic candidates, many of whom won their elections, to make New York City bear greater responsibility for the subway and bus system’s capital needs. The campaign pledge was the continuation of a long-standing demand by the governor that New York City contribute more toward the enormous costs of the MTA capital budget. He even suggested in his budget proposal that the city take full financial responsibility for the MTA New York City Transit capital plan, but it was not accepted by the Legislature at the time of budget adoption in April 2018.

The political candidates from Long Island who signed that pledge may not have realized that today the Long Island Rail Road is the most heavily subsidized operation of the three transit systems, including New York City Transit and Metro North.

These excerpts from the new MTA budget, adopted in December, show that LIRR riders pay the lowest share of the respective operating budgets of the three systems. Called the FareBox Operating Ratio, the table shows the percentage of each system’s costs paid for by the fare and other basic operating revenue, like advertising. The data come from the MTA Dec. 2018 Adopted Budget, p. 1-7, Vol.2.

FAREBOX OPERATING RATIOS

  November Forecast 2018 Final Proposed Budget 2019 Plan 2020 Plan 2021 Plan 2022
New York City Transit 52.50% 51.10% 49.90% 48.50% 47.10%
Long Island Railroad 47.80% 43.40% 42.30% 39.30% 38.30%
Metro-North 54.20% 54.80% 54.90% 56.20% 56.40%


The data show the LIRR farebox will contribute 43.4% of the LIRR’s operating costs in 2019 and declines to about 38% by 2022. New York City Transit’s fare provides 51.1% in 2019 and about 47% in 2022. Metro North riders contribute a higher share than either system. The costs do not include debt service, which must be paid, of course, or an item like depreciation, for which there is no out-of-pocket cash charge but still measures wear and tear on the original costs of putting assets in service. The MTA also provides the FareBox Recovery Ratio, which shows theses fare revenue and cost figures.

Is there a dollar figure that can be put on the LIRR’s higher loss ratio, compared to the other MTA systems? I have made an estimate that adds debt service to operating expenses.

First one can look at the amount of fare and other revenue each part of the system contributes to the total amount of revenue. New York City Transit fare revenue brings in $4.87 billion a year, 75% of total system revenue. The Long Island Rail Road brings in $790 million a year, about 12% of total system revenue.

FAREBOX AND OTHER OPERATING REVENUES

  Revenue (000) % Total System Fare & Other
NYCT $4,870,000 75.2
LIRR $790,000 12.2
MN $815,000 12.6
TOTAL $6,475,000 100


Then one can compare the percentage of system revenue contributions with the total deficits each part of the system experiences. The deficits have to be made up from taxes and other subsidies.

  OptgExp DebtSvc TotalExp Deficit %ofDef Compare %RevCont
NYCT 8,754 1,324 10,078 5,208 70.9  Over $312
LIRR 1,686 449 2,135 1,345 18.3 Under $448
MN 1,322 285 1,607 792 10.8 Over $134
 TOTAL 11,762 2,058 13,820 7,345    


This analysis shows that the Long Island Rail Road’s deficit is $1.345 billion a year and is more than 18% of the MTA’s total deficit, although its fare and other operating revenue provide about 12% of the MTA’s total revenue. The difference -- 12% vs. 18% -- amounts to an under-contribution by the Long Island Rail Road from the fare of $448 million a year that has to be made up by taxes and subsidies. New York City Transit is about 71% of the system’s total deficit. If one measured NYCT’s percentage of contributing revenue, compared to the percentage of the deficit, NYCT fares are over-contributing $312 million a year more than the taxes and subsidies needed to make up the deficit.

New York City Transit’s deficit, $5.2 billion, is numerically far larger than the deficits of the other two systems, but that is not really an issue because the New York City economy is the main generator of the taxes and subsidies within the region that are used to make up the deficits.

The money to make up the system deficits comes overwhelmingly from a group of taxes enacted by the state Legislature levied on the metropolitan region but not Upstate New York. Begun in the early 1980s and continued into the 21st century, the regional taxes include a payroll tax, a surcharge on corporate profits, a sliver of the sales tax, the mortgage recording tax, and a New York City stand-alone commercial real property transfer tax. The commuter rail systems and New York City Transit split about $590 million in surpluses from the bridge and tunnel tolls about 60%-40% for the suburban systems pursuant to an early ‘70s formula. The state, city, and county governments contribute small amounts from their general funds.

About 75% of the wages paid within the region go to persons employed in New York City, according to 2017 data from the state Labor Department, and that compensation forms the base of the payroll tax. A Rockefeller Institute of Government estimate of business profits surcharges from 2009 data showed nearly 78% of taxes from business profits in the region came from the city (and the city is a larger share of the regional economy today than nine years ago). This surcharge is the second largest dedicated regional tax contributor for the system.

One large dedicated tax to the MTA is the city’s commercial real property transfer tax, which provides a sum of more than $600 million a year for New York City Transit. Looking at where these streams of revenue come from leaves little doubt that taxes collected within the city cover New York City Transit’s farebox deficits and, must, by logical extension, cover some of the Long Island Rail Road’s deficits too.

The governor justifies his demands that the city cover more system cost by citing a 1953 law that created the New York City Transit Authority and required the city cover its capital costs. With cost estimates of the MTA’s next capital plan, and New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward Plan, reaching $40-$60 billion, who should pay is a very important question. But the answer already exists.

As the transit system deteriorated during the New York City-State financial crisis of the ‘70s, Governor Carey and the Legislature devised a solution to the problem of the city’s obligation to cover the NYCT capital costs. That solution was the set of dedicated taxes just listed above, the enactment of which began in 1981-82.

Since the city only has the power to increase the property tax and has many basic governmental obligations already (schools, police, social welfare), the city would have needed the Legislature to approve a group of special new taxes to cover the transit system’s costs at that time. The Legislature just required the region’s residents and businesses to do indirectly -- pay new taxes going to the MTA -- that which the city and the other local governments would have had to do directly -- levy new taxes -- for the same purpose. If the city was forced to contribute billions in new revenue to the transit system it would need to get permission from the Legislature for new taxes now, just as it would have had to do nearly 40 years ago. Otherwise funding for the basics like schools, cops, sheltering the homeless, etc., could be seriously impaired.

The net effect of the regional taxes was that New York City residents and businesses continued financial responsibility for the system anyway since most of the taxes collected came from the city. The taxes from the suburbs contribute to the commuter rail system, except the Long Island Rail Road’s riders don’t cover a proper share of that system’s costs and get subsidized by taxes collected from the remainder of the region.

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

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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LIRR’s Heavy Subsidies and the Coming Debate Over MTA Funding Wed, 09 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Stabilizing the MTA’s Rocky Finances in 2019 and Beyond http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8179-stabilizing-the-mta-s-finances-in-2019-and-beyond http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8179-stabilizing-the-mta-s-finances-in-2019-and-beyond MTA modernization

(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)


New York’s colossal and crumbling mass transit system is headed toward another cliff -- this one financial. The MTA’s just-adopted budget says it will have a $500 million deficit in 2020 and the deficit will rise to about $1 billion a year by 2022, even with two fare and toll hikes, in 2019 and 2021. The authority’s summary of its situation actually says it is running deficits right now (2018 and 2019), which are being addressed by using all of its reserve funds, drawing down its inventory, and other methods of scraping cash together. Its expenses already exceed its revenues.

This is not actually a revelation. In February 2018 the MTA publicly reported these problems and its bond rating was dropped by Standard & Poor’s. Information about the problem has been public for several years. MTA budgets passed in July 2016 and November 2017, both public documents, presented the gloomy outlooks, as quoted in these MTA Board excerpts:

Presentation to the Board, July 27, 2016: “FINANCIAL PLAN IS BALANCED THROUGH 2019 WITH A 2020 DEFICIT OF $ 371 MILLION”
Highlights of the 2018-2021 November FInancial Plan - November 2017: “BUDGET CONTINUES TO BE BALANCED THROUGH 2019: 2020 and 2021 GAPS HAVE INCREASED TO $352 MILLION AND $643 MILLION RESPECTIVELY”

The ability of the MTA to sustain its operations is contingent on securing recurring revenue sources beginning in 2020 and beyond. The budget adopted in December 2018 forecasts through 2022 and reports the MTA will issue $12 billion in bonds to pay for asset replacements, like tracks, signals, trains, and buses, and continue the Expansion Projects, like East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway. Paying the interest on these bonds will cost the MTA an extra $500 million a year by the end of 2022. The MTA also projects that by the end of 2022 its labor costs will rise by 10%, from $10 billion a year, to $11 billion a year, including pension and health care for retirees.

Although the Governor and the Legislature added a tax on certain rides in for-hire vehicles, including traditional taxis, in the 2018 budget, to take effect on January 1, 2019, these funds will be going directly into the Subway Action Plan to sustain maintenance improvements to reverse the deterioration of basic service (and that congestion charge has been at least temporarily blocked by a judge). The separate long-term financial deterioration of the MTA was not addressed in either 2017 or 2018 by the Governor nor the Legislature.

At the time of state budget adoption in April 2018, the MTA Sustainability Advisory Workgroup was created, consisting of appointees of the Governor, the Mayor, the Assembly, and the Senate, and others. The mission of the group was to advise the state’s political leadership on critical choices and offer policy guidance. The group, chaired by the Partnership for New York City President & CEO Kathryn Wylde, an appointee of the Governor, issued its report on December 17, 2018.

The Workgroup report had many thoughtful recommendations, including supporting congestion pricing as the immediate revenue priority. Governor Cuomo’s support for congestion pricing is now well-known, but neither the Assembly nor the Senate have ever taken a vote, not even a vote in a committee, on congestion pricing, and the recommendation were not binding on the members of those institutions.

The Workgroup report confirmed that the MTA still has not fully costed out, or provided a detailed plan, for its Advanced Technology Fast Forward Plan, or the next phase of capital construction, the 2020-2024 Capital Plan, estimated to cost somewhere between $40 and $60 billion. The sums of money involved still have no clear overlap between MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward Plan and the new MTA Capital Plan.

At the end of the legislative session in 2018, the State Assembly passed a bill to require the MTA to advance the release of the 2020-2024 Capital Plan, due under current law in October 2019, to January 2019, in an effort to have the Capital Plan become contemporaneous with the state budget, but the then Republican-controlled Senate did not pass it. It is now possible the Capital Plan and the Fast Forward Plan will not be available to act on during the 2019 Albany legislative session.

The Workgroup suggested that the state should proceed with congestion pricing despite the lack of information about future costs, because of the obvious need for immediate revenue; the Workgroup also said the capital planning process might be better aligned if it moved to a ten-year plan like the Port Authority --- a useful idea for the future while the existing plan’s shortfalls get addressed.

The MTA’s current 2015-2019 Capital Plan is seriously incomplete. To date, the MTA has received only $7 billion of the $33 billion cost of the plan, and the huge deficits reveal new revenue is needed to continue. Providing the MTA a revenue source for its 2022 deficit -- an extra $1 billion a year-- will provide the money for the $12 billion borrowing and address the operating deficits. Federal funds and bridge and tunnel bonds are still available sources that can feed into the pipeline for the current plan, leaving it about two-thirds funded through 2022, if the agency gets that extra $1 billion a year in a timely fashion -- meaning now.

The projected October 2019 MTA submission of its 2020-2024 Capital Plan, which presumably will incorporate the Fast Forward Plan, at least some version of it, presents an even more severe political test for the state’s governing authorities than congestion pricing itself. That is because MTA investments that cost $40- $60 billion will require revenue sources that bring several additional billion dollars a year to the agency beyond congestion pricing.

Moving to a ten-year capital planning cycle could allow the Governor and the Legislature to separate the additional billions in revenue needed to pay for such mammoth expenses into two five-year phases to avoid excessive tax hikes for the unpopular agency. But the difficulty of finding such a new level of revenue could bring about the return of the divisive regional conflict between funding the New York City Transit Authority and the suburban commuter rail systems.

This conflict was presaged by Governor Cuomo demanding that New York City and the state split the MTA’s shortfalls 50/50 in both 2017 and 2018. He followed up on that demand during his campaign this fall, when the Governor co-signed a pledge with Long Island Democratic State Senate candidates that they would force New York City to bear the cost of the New York City Transit system’s new capital needs. Mayor de Blasio and Assembly Democrats had resisted the Governor’s demand on this point in the legislative session in 2018.

These Long Island political newcomers may not realize that the Long Island Rail Road’s (LIRR) operating costs are the most heavily subsidized, on a proportional basis, of the three MTA transit systems, far more so than New York City Transit or Metro North. The MTA’s poster child for cost overruns is East Side Access, the giant construction program to link LIRR commuters to Grand Central Station at a final cost of $11 billion -- by far the largest drain on the capital budget. A pushback demand from New York City and Metro North legislators to force Long Island residents to pay their true share of LIRR costs could become an unpleasant regional counterpoint to add more political stalemate, not less, in the legislative process, enabling each constituent piece of the MTA system to drown separately, rather than keep everybody in the lifeboat and make progress.

Let me offer a few suggestions to provide a disciplined approach to this total mess:

1. Stabilize the MTA’s immediate funding crisis with the adoption of a $1 billion-per-year plan for congestion pricing, which will keep the capital and operations budgets in balance through 2022. This is the most logical and efficient way to address the immediate crisis and offers some relief for Manhattan’s horrible traffic, too. If the Legislature could do this by budget time, April 2019, the system could be in operation hopefully within a year. To avoid disruption to the construction program from implementation delays, the state and the city could provide the MTA cash from reserves or short-term borrowings, and even get repaid.

A component of congestion pricing could serve as the source for the state’s unfunded $7 billion obligation to the current 2015-2019 Capital Plan, triggering New York City’s $2.5 billion matching obligation, and bring the current plan to about three-quarters funded.

2. Do a Capital Program Ten-Year Restart: Require the MTA to integrate Fast Forward, the unfunded balances of the current plan, the Expansion Projects, and other essential investments into a 10-year Plan, 2020-2030, with two five-year cycles. The first five-year cycle would have a linkage to the revenue requirement necessary to proceed. The 2015-2019 plan elements funded from congestion pricing would be recognized in the cycle. This was a concept advanced by the Workgroup.

3. Use the Cash Windfall to Businesses from the 2018 40% Federal Corporate Income Tax Cut: A divisive regional confrontation is unwise and potentially politically catastrophic for all involved. The most efficacious revenue on the horizon is a restructuring of the state’s corporate income tax in the metropolitan region to capture a portion of the multi-billion cash windfall to corporate New York from a 40% cut in their federal corporate income taxes. The Legislature could exempt smaller businesses and still find $1 billion a year as a recurring source of revenue from the windfall. (I wrote more about this idea in a prior column.)

Corporate taxes, unlike income taxes, remain fully deductible as a business expense, and avoid more damage to New York from the inability of our taxpayers to deduct most of their New York personal income taxes from their federal taxes after the new federal cap on those deductions (a matter of litigation itself). Further revenue sources would probably still be needed, but the vehicle-for-hire surcharges could be enhanced for the app-based services like Uber and Lyft and further differentiated from the traditional taxis. Charges for for-hire vehicles in the outer boroughs and suburbs, which were excluded from the first round of this tax, could be brought into the vehicle-for-hire fee system, and be linked to transit improvement.

4. A full overhaul of the MTA’s Capital Construction Program, with a plan to cut its costs 20-25%, remains a challenge that can be taken up with a Capital Plan realignment into a ten-year cycle. A separate new construction agency with aggressive powers to cut costs and innovate may be necessary.

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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 opinion@gothamgazette.com

Note: this article has been updated to remove an incorrect statement about how legislatively-appointed members of the MTA Workgroup were acting -- they were voting as representatives of their legislative body, not as individuals as originally stated.

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Stabilizing the MTA’s Rocky Finances in 2019 and Beyond Mon, 07 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Instead of Taking Responsibility for Its Failures, The MTA is Targeting People of Color http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8142-instead-of-taking-responsibility-for-its-failures-the-mta-is-targeting-people-of-color http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8142-instead-of-taking-responsibility-for-its-failures-the-mta-is-targeting-people-of-color MTA fare beating

(photo: MTA)


The MTA seems determined to blame New Yorkers for the mess it’s in.

The authority’s latest excuse is that poor people who jump turnstiles are responsible for the MTA’s financial woes. The MTA and the politicians and bureaucrats who control it should take responsibility for their own actions -- and inactions -- that have led to the city’s mass transit decline. Instead, the MTA seems to want to pit New Yorkers against each other.

The MTA and NYPD pledged last week to crack down on fare evaders. The MTA’s plan is to send agency executives and NYPD officers to subway stations and bus stops across the city. The executives will stand at subway turnstiles and on busses to create body blockades to bar anyone trying to get in without a Metrocard. More armed police officers at subway stations make an already harrowing commute for New Yorkers even more intolerable, and for many, will serve to add unnecessary fear into the way they start or end their day.

New York City Transit President Andy Byford also criticized Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s decision earlier this year to stop prosecuting subway turnstile jumpers.

The billions of dollars at the MTA’s and the city’s disposal must be spent on fixing the actual causes of the crisis -- aging infrastructure -- not tangential issues like fare evasion, a distraction in the pursuit of solutions.

The MTA claims that fare evasion is robbing the agency of $215 million a year, though how it actually reached that number is lacking in clarity and validity. The transit authority appears determined to pin the blame for its precarious financial position on poor black and Latinx people who, history tells us, will suffer the most from any increase in fare evasion arrests.

And another population that both our mayor and governor have spoken passionately about protecting would stand to suffer greatly as a result of a new enforcement policy: immigrants. Immigrants who have even minor contact with the criminal justice system face far more drastic consequences. Under the Trump administration, an arrest for jumping a turnstile or even a criminal summons could result in deportation, family separation, and destroyed lives.

An analysis of New York Division of Criminal Justice Services data from the last four years by the Marshall Project shows that nearly 90 percent of people arrested for turnstile jumping were black or Hispanic. Given the NYPD’s history of targeting people of color for arrests and summonses for low-level offenses, let’s call the new proposal to crack down on fare evasion what it is: a plan that would funnel thousands more black and brown New Yorkers into the criminal justice system, and to scapegoat people of color for the decades of underfunding and mismanagement that are responsible for the MTA’s current problems.

Police resources must be spent on working with the community and identifying the types of behaviors that cause the most harm—not physically harmless fare evasion.

Years of grappling with the ripple effects of Broken Windows policing have shown us that arrests are not the way to deal with minor offenses, like riding your bike on the sidewalk, having an open container of alcohol, smoking marijuana, or jumping a turnstile. An uptick in enforcement would reverse the recent positive trend of fewer fare evasion arrests. Through October, police have made 5,236 arrests for fare evasion. That is still 5,236 arrests too many, but it represents a 66 percent drop compared to the same period last year.

DA Vance’s policy of not prosecuting turnstile jumpers represents real progress away from the dangerous and discredited Broken Windows theory of policing, which posits that if minor crimes are allowed to happen, then they will lead to more disorder and eventually to serious crime. In practice in New York, the theory is used as cover for discriminatory policing and harassment of communities of color, with no measurable impact on crime.

Poor black and brown people should not take the fall for the sins of politicians who have allowed the MTA to become a laughing stock. Arrests won’t solve the MTA’s problems, but they could devastate New Yorkers.

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Donna Lieberman is Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Marco Conner is Deputy Director of Transportation Alternatives. On Twitter @JustAskDonna with @NYCLU & @marco_conner with @TransAlt.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Instead of Taking Responsibility for Its Failures, The MTA is Targeting People of Color Thu, 13 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
A Simple First Step to Help the MTA Re-Establish Credibility http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8116-a-simple-first-step-to-help-the-mta-re-establish-credibility http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8116-a-simple-first-step-to-help-the-mta-re-establish-credibility mta rf

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


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is teetering on financial collapse and still struggling to overcome a meltdown in subway service and collapse in bus ridership. No one doubts that the MTA has serious problems and riders are suffering. But before the State Legislature approves tens of billions of new funding, the MTA needs to show it is serious about improving its decision-making and transparency.

Politically, the MTA has met the enemy: its lack of credibility.

Former Chair Joe Lhota at the MTA Board’s October 2018 meeting acknowledged this, saying, “I’m aware that before we can credibly appeal for billions of dollars of public money, we must continue to advance a reform agenda.” New York City Transit’s Fast Forward plan is a whopping $40 billion appeal and promise to improve the subways and buses. Andy Byford, New York City Transit’s president and the plan’s architect, in unveiling the plan stated that NYCT is working on the “rollout of a new transit organization - one that is built around a customer centric, continuous improvement model, one that emphasizes transparency and accountability, and one that going forward delivers on its promises.”

One of the easiest ways for the MTA to show that it is serious about improving transparency is to bring its Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) process into the 21st century. This means putting it fully online with an OpenFOIL website, modeled on the successful platforms already used by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the City of New York, and as developed by the Obama administration for federal agencies.

The idea behind FOIL is that the public can ask for and get information that government decisions are based on -- information that we, the public, paid for with our taxes (and, in some cases, fares and tolls). Ideally, much of this information should already be online in an open format that is easy to search, download and use. But in 2018, the MTA is still a long way from putting important information online and in accessible formats. For journalists, researchers, and watchdogs that seek to hold the MTA accountable, that means FOIL is often the only way to get certain public records.

Gotham Gazette: Unfortunately, the way the MTA implements FOIL is not working for either MTA staff or the public. A recent report by my organization, FOIL that Works: Increasing MTA transparency and accountability by putting FOIL online, dug into the MTA’s FOIL process and found a dysfunctional and fragmented mess.

The MTA received nearly 9,000 requests in 2017 (see chart below), with those inquiries handled differently among its eight separate agencies. New York City Transit still responds to many FOIL requests with paper letters instead of by email. Complicated requests can take over a year to fill, and most FOILers don’t have the legal resources to take the MTA to court to speed things up. FOIL requests might be deemed “closed” by agency staff, but this does not mean the requestor actually received the information sought.

There is a better way to do things, and fortunately for the MTA, it doesn’t have to look far. The Port Authority in 2012 revamped its freedom of information access policy, and created an online portal for FOI requests. This reform was led by Pat Foye, then the Port Authority executive director, and now the MTA’s president, as well as Scott Rechler, who has since switched boards to the MTA. Now, once a record is released to the public, it goes online in a searchable portal for everyone else to benefit from. This saves both the Port Authority staff and the public time - a win-win.

mta image1

The City of New York also has an Open Records web portal, which eases the FOIL process for the public and agency staff. The code for the portal is available in open source, which is essentially free for the MTA to adopt and expand for its needs.  

The MTA also doesn’t segregate information requests the way it should. As shown in the chart above, in 2017 two-thirds of MTA FOIL requests - more than 6,000 - were for police incident reports. But these don’t have to go through FOIL. The state Department of Motor Vehicles has an in-house online collision reports portal where the public can privately request their own incident reports, and the MTA should do the same. The MTA’s FOIL staff should focus on other types of FOIL requests to ensure that they don’t languish for so long.

OpenFOIL and an online police incidents portal for the MTA are supported by 13 other city, state, and national organizations - a diverse group including good government, transportation, freedom of information, and environmental organizations including the National Freedom of Information Coalition, Riders Alliance, League of Women Voters of the City of New York, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Environmental Advocates of New York.

The MTA can and should put FOIL online on its own. But should it not, the public has another important backstop - the state Legislature. Newly elected and re-elected legislators, in particular Senate Democrats, have promised to tackle MTA reform, and if the MTA can’t reform itself, they should require it. Passing legislation requiring OpenFOIL for the MTA is a great start for legislators to take their oversight role seriously.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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Rachael Fauss is Senior Research Analyst at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @RachaelFauss & @ReinventAlbany.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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A Simple First Step to Help the MTA Re-Establish Credibility Mon, 03 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 3) http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8099-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-3 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8099-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-3 bus line

(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)


The first two parts of this series discussed the causes for bus ridership decline, the Fast Forward plan as it relates to buses and why its focus needs to be changed to reverse this decline, a plan that worked: the southwest Brooklyn changes, and MTA studies that did not achieve their desired results. Read part 1 and part 2. This third and final part discusses Brooklyn bus route changes needed now and larger conclusions about bus planning that should inform redesigns to come.

Brooklyn Bus Route Changes Needed Now

1. Routes need to be straightened so that a direct north-south bus route serves Maimonides Medical Center.

2. Service on 16th Avenue discontinued in 2010 needs to be restored using better routings serving additional areas so that it does not merely duplicate a nearby route with better service. 

3. Improved east-west access is needed across Bensonhurst and Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.

4. New shopping centers have been built in Spring Creek and in Canarsie that remain largely inaccessible by public transit. A 20-minute car trip from southern Brooklyn to Spring Creek should not take between 90 minutes and two hours by bus.

5. Service gaps on Empire Boulevard, Clarkson, and Albany Avenue require indirect travel to make simple trips accounting for the huge numbers of cabs outside Kings County Medical Center. 

6. Several new routes are needed to serve JFK Airport for employees as well as visitors. A single route from Bedford Stuyvesant is grossly inadequate and converting it to SBS is not a solution. 

7. Improved access is needed between Sheepshead Bay and the Rockaways, also a 20-minute trip by car, but up to a two-hour trip by bus.

8. The B44 SBS should have a branch to Kingsborough Community College when school is in session, operating non-stop from Avenue X.

9. Routing problems also exist in northern Brooklyn, but to a lesser extent. One example is the service gap caused by the elimination of the B71 on Union Street in 2010; residents and elected officials have been asking for its return in an extended fashion to also serve lower Manhattan, with no response from the MTA.

Most of these changes are described in greater detail on my website. All the proposals there with the exception of the B83 extension were rejected by the MTA in 2004, but are now under reconsideration. The fare also needs to be addressed to completely eliminate double fares by changing to a time-based fare instead of vehicle-based fare as described here.

None of these improvements will happen with the MTA's bus redesign plan unless the MTA starts thinking about its customers as people, not merely regarding them as numbers, and is less focused on operating costs.

Conclusions

1. The MTA must care more about its passengers and stop penny pinching. Service for the recent Staten Island express bus redesign, which went into effect this past summer was inadequately planned, leaving hundreds of riders stranded without enough buses and has been called a disaster by commuters. The MTA, in its concern to keep operating costs low, underestimated demand in terms of scheduling and spans of service. It has been tweaking the new system to satisfy numerous complaints. 

2. Reducing operating costs by eliminating bus stops and so-called duplicative routes must not be the highest priority. Nearby routes are often serving different destinations and are not duplicative at all, but only appear so if your analysis is limited to studying a bus route map.

3. Efficiency must be increased, for example, by better integration of New York City Transit and the MTA Bus Company so that each company can use each other’s depots reducing the number of deadhead or non-revenue service miles and centralizing administrative functions such as planning and scheduling. Presently, the MTA regards non-revenue miles as more productive than miles where passengers are carried, rather than as wasted mileage. That is because service levels are planned assuming all buses run on time; labor cost savings can be achieved when partial trips to and from the depot are made without passengers and in less time. Wasteful scheduling practices whereby buses can travel up to ten miles while not in service must end.

4. Increased efficiency must not be at the expense of the passenger, like when eliminating bus stops on a massive scale. Bus stops should only be removed on a case-by-case basis, not by increasing the walking standard so that it will be necessary for some to walk up to three-quarters of a mile to or from a bus.

5. Planning should not be done by only considering able-bodied riders on good weather days. Increased walking to and from bus stops is especially burdensome on the elderly, handicapped, those with temporary health issues, and those with packages or strollers whose needs must also be considered.

6. Passengers want buses that are not overcrowded so they can board the first bus that arrives. They also want buses to arrive on time. Increasing reliability was passengers’ number one concern 40 years ago, as it is today.

7. Cooperation is needed among all relevant agencies. The MTA cannot continue to claim reliability is solely caused by traffic conditions, which is out of its control because traffic is the responsibility of DOT. What was the point of putting DOT’s commissioner on the MTA board if the two agencies will not work cooperatively? The city claimed it was not involved in the MTA’s recent decision to halt the introduction of new SBS routes until 2021. As long as the NYPD, charged with keeping bus lanes clear, continues to block the lanes with its own vehicles, and as long as the MTA bus schedules do not reflect realistic running times, and each agency blames another one, with little cooperation, reliability will not improve.

8. The emphasis must be on reducing total trip time for passengers, which is a greater passenger concern than increasing bus speeds or time spent on the bus; impacts on other traffic should not be ignored. Connections must be made easier, and routes straightened where possible.

9. Investments must be made in additional service within budget constraints, to reduce service gaps and improve passenger convenience. Shuttle routes at 30-minute scheduled intervals should not be the wave of the future in developing areas.

10. Service planning should not be designed only for existing customers. Total demand including those who use services such as Uber because the routing system is inconvenient and unreliable must be considered. If the MTA continues to assume that increased service will not result in increased ridership and revenue, and that only operating costs matter, ridership will continue to decline. 

After 40 years, it is time to reflect on those 1978 southwest Brooklyn bus route changes, so the same type of successful changes that converted low-usage routes into highly-patronized routes can be duplicated. Simply providing straighter wider-spaced bus routes with fewer stops with little concern for serving destinations that are presently difficult to reach will not reverse the decline in bus ridership. Byford claims the bus route redesign will be customer driven. Let's hold him to his word. “Community consultation” does not mean that the community is merely informed of MTA changes they may not want.

This is part 3 of a 3-part series. Read part 1 and part 2.

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Allan Rosen is former Director of Bus Planning, MTA NYC Transit. On Twitter @BrooklynBus.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 3) Mon, 26 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000