Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/18 Sat, 21 Apr 2018 03:45:55 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) The Great Select Bus Service Conspiracy: Part I http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7599:the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-i http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7599:the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-i department of transportation

(photo via DOT)


This is part one of a three-part series

Select Bus Service (SBS), New York City's version of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), has been embraced by the media as well as by many organizations. This is in addition to the city Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) -- SBS is a joint project of the two agencies with DOT being the lead agency. Supporters include: Bus Turnaround Coalition, Move NY, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, Pratt Center for Community Development, New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, Riders Alliance, Rockefeller Foundation, Streetsblog, Transit Center, Transportation Alternatives, Tristate Transportation Campaign, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and the entire New York City Council.

Could they all possibly be wrong? Yes.

The Promises and The Reality
Supporters consider SBS to be a panacea for many of New York City’s bus problems. Whenever asked how the city is improving bus service, the response most often is that more SBS routes are being created. Yet SBS has not solved the problems that it promised to solve, such as stemming the loss of ridership, making buses more reliable, or significantly shortening passenger trip times.

A report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer, “The Other Transit Crisis: How to Improve the NYC Bus System,” highlights dozens of problems with local buses that SBS does not address or does not significantly reduce. Some of the problems mentioned are: buses are slow, ridership is declining, and service is unreliable. Yet SBS does not significantly improve bus speeds or reliability. Nor has it increased ridership in many cases.

The comptroller states, “Of the nine SBS routes introduced prior to 2016, five have experienced a ridership decline...SBS routes travel at an average speed of 8.7 miles per hour, or just slightly better than the seven miles per hour achieved by local buses...City-wide, SBS routes fail to maintain steady, evenly spaced service 19 percent of the time, while local buses fail 22 percent of the time.”

Transit Signal Priority (TSP) for buses, promised a decade ago, extends a green light for buses approaching an intersection or shortens a red light to speed buses. It is a promised feature for SBS, but according to the comptroller it is in effect on only five of the 326 bus routes and at only 260 intersections. (The routes are the B46, BX41, the S79, and the southern portions of the M15 and B44.)

SBS was originally proposed in New York City in 2004 with the first five corridors promised by 2009. However, only one corridor was implemented by then. Instead it took until 2013 for the first five corridors, which were the Bx12, M15, M34/M34A, S79, and Bx41. By 2016, there were 12 SBS corridors, with the addition of the B44, M60, M86, Q44, B46, Q70, and M23. The program was then about five years behind schedule. Last year the M79, Bx6, and Q52/Q53 were also converted to SBS routes, bringing the total number of SBS corridors to 15 (or 17 routes). Mayor de Blasio promised 20 routes by the end of 2017.

The unproven premise by DOT and the MTA is that SBS is a major improvement. The comptroller shows with data that the improvements have been marginal at best.

The Difference Between Bus Travel Time and Passenger Travel Time
SBS supporters confuse bus travel time with passenger travel time. They are different. SBS buses save time primarily because of fewer bus stops and exclusive lanes, if honored. In some cases, it is not because passengers pay their fares before boarding. The 86th Street bus saves only about two minutes, as shown in Figure 2 of the progress report for the entire crosstown trip because of passengers pre-paying their fares. The passenger saves even less time. 

The need to pre-pay your fare increases the likelihood of missing a bus and waiting up to an additional 20 minutes for one. That could double your travel time. Conversion of many SBS routes to the longer 60-foot articulated buses further increases wait times. Typically, four articulated buses replace five standard 40-foot buses. Articulated buses seat 60 passengers each, 50 percent more than standard buses. However, when compared to buses of the 1950s that seated 53 and PCC trolleys that also seated about 60, are they that much of an improvement?

The Eagle Team is in charge of fare enforcement on SBS routes. If the Eagle Team enters the bus to check SBS receipts, the bus is held for five minutes rather than proceeding with the check while the bus is in motion, delaying the bus five minutes. This could easily wipe out the time you saved using SBS. Also, completing your trip on a subway or another bus(es) is a component of passenger travel time but not included in the SBS bus travel time statistic. A savings in passenger travel time, the time it takes to complete your entire journey, is the real indicator of SBS improvement for passengers. No statistics for this are available.

Who Benefits from and Who is Hurt by SBS?
Passengers making bus trips exceeding five miles do save significant time, perhaps up to 20 minutes. However, the average local/limited/SBS trip is only 2.3 miles. Therefore, for the vast majority of bus passengers the three to five minutes they save on the bus is spent walking extra to and from the wider spaced bus stops which could be considered as a service cutback. Is that an improvement, especially during bad weather when someone would prefer to ride than walk?

Additional walking is especially inconvenient for the elderly, handicapped, infirm, and those lugging gear. Separate SBS and local bus stops are also inconvenient. This requires passengers to cross the street if they just want to take the first bus that comes.

Some passengers even have longer trip times due to SBS because some former limited riders have switched to the local rather than walk up to three-quarters of a mile to reach an SBS bus stop. Others would have to pay an extra fare for SBS where it or the local does not cover the entire route if a third bus is required. The B44 and B46 are examples. 

It was the city’s policy for over 50 years that no new service or service cutback should result in additional fares. This policy has not been strictly adhered to since MetroCard was instituted and the MTA eliminated numerous multiple-bus transfers that were instituted as a result of trolley and elevated cutbacks. When additional free transfers are created, they are not publicized anywhere, so you just have to know where they exist.

The MTA benefits with shortened bus trip times, but it still costs more to operate SBS routes because of the enforcement element, and if 60-foot buses are used, labor and fuel costs are higher. The current labor agreement provides premium pay for operators of articulated buses.

The negative effects of SBS on other traffic are ignored, dismissed, or attributed to other factors in the MTA SBS progress reports, which are only released to the public once for each route. Traffic on avenues parallel to Nostrand Avenue were shown to have increased when exclusive lanes were installed there (see pages 32 and 33 of the Progress Report.)

On Woodhaven Boulevard, the traffic increases were most apparent after exclusive bus lanes were introduced. A DOT report showed that traffic increased by 38 percent on one portion of the roadway if one did the arithmetic. The data was removed from DOT’s website after it was made aware of that.

Increased traffic means more congestion, generating greater air pollution with long-term health consequences and costs, slower trips for non-bus users, increases in trucking costs, which are passed on to the consumer, as well as other negative effects, such as impeding emergency services. None of this has been estimated or measured because there have been no environmental impact statements.

A transit improvement means that more benefit from a change than are harmed by it. Proper traffic analyses conducted by licensed professional traffic engineers should be undertaken and the economic impacts on businesses need to be studied. But according to the MTA’s SBS FAQ’s, everyone benefits.

How the Mayor, MTA and DOT Mislead
Let's review the claims made by Mayor de Blasio late last year when he announced 21 new routes over the next ten years. He touted reduced travel time and increased bus reliability with SBS, but confused bus travel time savings with passenger travel time savings. The comptroller’s data showed only marginal improvements to bus travel times and bus speeds, as already explained.

SBS buses, even with exclusive bus lanes, still bunch up to three buses at a time with long waits for the next bus, which the comptroller attributes to inadequate enforcement of exclusive bus lanes.

The mayor stated local buses are notoriously slow and unreliable. True, but examine the average speeds on some of the SBS crosstown routes: M34/34A: 4.6/4.4 MPH; M86: 5.0 MPH. Even the M15 with its exclusive bus lanes has an average speed of only 6.5 MPH, not exactly fast, when you consider bikes average about 9 MPH.

The MTA and DOT are using BRT successes in other cities and countries to justify SBS here, which really isn’t true BRT. They confuse and oversell by using the terms interchangeably. They selectively use data and manipulate statistics to give false and misleading impressions.

They claim SBS has increased ridership by 10 percent. Where ridership rose during the first year of SBS, that statistic is used and future year ridership declines are ignored as they did with the M15. Where ridership declined during the first year of operation, they cite second year increases as they did with the B44. Where SBS ridership rose, but local ridership declined, they cite only the SBS ridership numbers.

A 20 or 30 percent reduction in travel time is claimed but that is bus travel time, not passenger travel time. A bus travel time savings of 15 minutes for a ten-mile long route does not mean passengers save anywhere near that amount of time because, generally, no one rides an entire route. The average bus travel time savings is usually only three or four minutes.

Faulty methodology is used to claim about a 95 percent satisfaction for SBS passengers. Survey results for local riders who are dissatisfied with SBS are hidden. DOT claimed that B44 local passengers were never surveyed after SBS was instituted. A first year B46 SBS Progress Report was not issued although service began in July 2016. Ridership declined on that route by 400,000 annual riders in 2016, the year it was implemented. Statistics for 2017 are not yet available.

In the MTA's world, a rating of six out of ten, or 60 percent, from all passengers would translate into a 100 percent customer satisfaction rating.

DOT and the MTA are also very careful with language using statements such as all buses are equipped for TSP and it will be in effect, omitting it is in effect only at a miniscule percentage of intersections where bus routes operate and has been promised for a decade, as Comptroller Stringer stated.

They use percentages to their advantage rather than actual numbers. For example, they promise “up to a 30 percent travel time savings.” That may translate into an actual savings of only three or four minutes for an average passenger making a typical 45-minute trip.

Potential is stressed over reality in discussing SBS advantages. They state that a bus can carry 80 passengers while a car often carries one, or mention motorists potentially switching from cars to buses. They do not state how many actually did switch or how often the bus is nearly empty.

The True Costs of SBS
SBS is heralded as a low-cost alternative to rail. It is not low-cost, nor does it have similar benefits to rail. It is not "subway on the surface" as advocates claim. It might be if it were true BRT.

The mayor spoke only about DOT's annual SBS budget of $9.4 million. He conveniently neglected to mention the MTA and federal contributions. Each SBS route costs the MTA between $2 million and $5 million per year extra to operate according to MTA Staff Summary requests. That's $40 million per year the mayor is omitting.

Fifty million dollars per year over ten years is $500 million. Twenty-one promised new routes add another $500 million for the MTA and $130 million for DOT. That's $1.13 billion over ten years just for increased operating costs, if all routes were operating on day one. Then there are the initial construction costs where the numbers conflict. Sometimes the cost of acquiring new buses is included and other times it is not or the federal portion is omitted. Costs for a short crosstown route are cited for as little as $6 million, with longer routes costing as much as $40 million. If we assume an average construction cost of only $25 million, 36 corridors would cost $920 million.  

DOT estimated that the construction cost alone for the BRT full treatment for Woodhaven Boulevard would cost between $200 and $300 million. If $40 million was already spent, what could possibly be accomplished by spending more than an additional $200 million? That was never explained.

Constructing and operating 36 SBS bus corridors over a ten-year period would cost over $2 billion, without accounting for inflation. That is not “low cost.”

This is part one of a three-part series. Part two discusses the denigration of local bus service, problems with enforcement, other SBS problems, negative effects on traffic and local businesses, inadequate public participation, and why SBS is not a cure all.

***
Allan Rosen is a former director of Bus Planning for MTA New York City Transit. On Twitter @BrooklynBus.

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

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The Great Select Bus Service Conspiracy: Part I Thu, 12 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
After Forcing City to Fund Subway Plan, Cuomo Forecasts Next MTA Budget Battle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7607:after-forcing-city-to-fund-subway-plan-cuomo-forecasts-next-mta-budget-battle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7607:after-forcing-city-to-fund-subway-plan-cuomo-forecasts-next-mta-budget-battle govcuomobreakfast

(Don Pollard/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


Following completion of the fiscal year 2019 state budget late last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio was forced into a decision whereby the city will pay half the $836 million MTA Subway Action Plan. De Blasio had for months refused to match the state’s $418 million pledge, put forth immediately by Governor Andrew Cuomo upon MTA Chair Joe Lhota’s release of the plan.

Now, the mayor says, the ball is even more clearly in Cuomo’s court to get the subways running reliably. But just a week after the budget passed, Cuomo said that the Subway Action Plan could move ahead given the city money and that it was time to also start at the long-term plans to improve the subways.

With a modernization plan due soon from the new head of the MTA’s New York City Transit division and another five-year MTA capital plan looming, all signs point to the governor asking the city to yet again allocate additional funds toward the state-controlled MTA. Any funds put forth from city coffers are in addition to the significant portion of MTA revenue that comes from city residents who pay fares and tolls.

But just how much will Cuomo try to get the city to pay? After de Blasio increased the city’s contribution to the current MTA capital plan to record levels last time around, how many billions will the governor ask of the city for the full-scale modernization plan being readied by Andy Byford of NYC Transit?

In an interview on NY1 on April 2, de Blasio insisted the governor must now work with the money he has. “I was willing to put in the money,” he said of the Subway Action Plan funds, which he either had to put up or the state would have taken from city funding. “But let’s be clear: That’s one-time only. Now, the governor’s got everything that he’s asked for. Great. Take responsibility. Fix the subways. There’s no more excuses. There’s no more delays. Just go do it.”

This came before the governor appeared on April 5 at an event hosted by the Association for a Better New York (ABNY). After detailing highlights of the new state budget for the crowd of business and political elite, including the city funding for the Action Plan, Cuomo said that while there are various ways to raise the funds needed for a long-term MTA plan -- such as congestion pricing -- simply asking the city and state to directly allocate funds is the fastest and easiest way of doing so.

“We have to put in a new system, new signals and new cars and make up for the 50, 60 years that we have ignored this system. Where does the money come from? You can either raise fares and tolls and expand congestion pricing -- but that could take three years, if you expedite it,” he said. “Or government is going to have to ante up and put more money in the pot, which is the simplest and cleanest option.”  

Cuomo was looking ahead to the next MTA capital plan, which will include tens of billions of dollars over 2020 through 2024, and be adopted in 2019. Notably, the presentation slide displayed behind him read “NYC must step up,” implying the governor plans to request the city pays additional funds on top of its $2.5 billion committed contribution to the current capital plan, for 2015-2019, which also includes $8.6 billion from the state, much of which comes from the city, and other MTA revenue.

In addition, the flush city has more money to spare than the state, making it a more ideal source of funds than Albany, the governor and Lhota, a Cuomo appointee, have argued, despite the reality of where most MTA funding already comes from. And, they say, the city technically owns the subways.

“I know people don’t like it when I say this, but New York City does own the subway system. They lease it to us and we operate it,” Lhota said at the ABNY event, giving a presentation after Cuomo’s remarks. “The reality is it’s a commitment, they owe it, and they should be paying their fare share when it comes to the capital program.”  

Cuomo also ascribed blame to the city for the MTA’s lack of progress given de Blasio’s initial refusal to fund the emergency subway investment. “The state pledged 50 percent of the funding as soon it was announced by Chairman Lhota last year. The city refused to fund half the plan, we lost eight months before the plan could become fully operational, which was a terrible loss and waste of time,” he said.

Following the ABNY event, Lhota told reporters that if the MTA had had all of the $836 million pledged right away, it could have paid for more workers and repairs, performing its triage to the buckling system more quickly.

Last week’s back and forth is the latest episode in an ongoing dispute between the mayor and the governor over MTA funding. For the governor, if de Blasio would like to see improvements to the beleaguered MTA, the city needs to pay its fare share, which means more than it currently does. Its unwillingness to do so has thwarted progress on improving the subway, Cuomo maintains, and could stand in the way of long-term fixes.

For the mayor, the governor controls the MTA and the city already pays more than it should, and Cuomo is likely to only squander additional funds on initiatives that do not improve subway service. He doesn’t want the governor wasting city money on frills like WiFi and shiny new stations without investing in the subway’s outdated signal systems, for example. De Blasio wants a dedicated MTA funding stream through an added tax on top earners--the millionaires tax-- a call Cuomo has resisted, and has been open to some form of congestion pricing to produce revenue, though the governor only pushed through a first phase in the recently-adopted budget.

“The City of New York committed a record $2.5 billion to the last MTA capital plan, and just last week pledged to help fund a state effort to fix subways the state runs,” said de Blasio spokesperson Eric Phillips in a statement. “Instead of constantly asking New Yorkers for more money, the state and MTA should learn to do their jobs within their budget and finally seek a sustainable revenue source so riders aren’t continually victimized by their blame game.”

And regarding Cuomo’s argument that progress in recent months has been stalled by the city’s reticence to oblige Cuomo’s request for city money, Phillips said the funds would have “gone into the same hole of mismanagement that caused the subway crisis.”

“The Mayor’s advocacy ensured that riders' money couldn’t be diverted and would actually go toward a real plan for their subways rather than station facelifts and light shows,” he continued, of an apparent budget provision clarifying where the money must go. “We wish the Governor were even half as obsessed with fixing his subways as he is with Mayor de Blasio.”

In the debate over funding the Subway Action Plan, de Blasio repeatedly pointed to $456 million he said the state had diverted from MTA funds over the last several years. He said the state should put that money back into the MTA to fully fund the rescue plan.

An MTA spokesperson argued that the city’s criticism misrepresents the facts. “Of the $456M cited by the City, $235M went to pay debt service on MTA bonds, $169M was allocated for direct Capital Aid to the MTA (which freed up MTA operating resources), and $30M went to the MTA in additional operating aid. The final $22M was savings to the MTA by eliminating capital projects dictated by the legislature but paid for anyway in MTA State funding,” said Jon Weinstein, the MTA spokesperson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

In response, Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokesperson for the mayor, said in a statement prior to the adoption of the state budget, “The State can try fudging the numbers all they want,” but to achieve “true progress,” the investment “must coincide with the Governor putting the $456 million the State has previously diverted toward upgrades that get trains moving on time.”

“And he can support a tax on millionaires rather than send his MTA bill to working class riders,” she added, echoing de Blasio’s repeated calls for a millionaire’s tax to fund the subway, a proposal that neither Cuomo nor the Republican-led state Senate has supported, though the Democrat-led Assembly is in favor of it.

While the dispute over the “diverted” funds gets into especially complicated territory of budget buckets and funding streams, there is a clear difference of opinion over whether paying off debt is a wise use of those MTA funds given the immediacy and severity of subway woes.

“Paying off debt with any extra money is certainly unobjectionable, but practically speaking, the MTA has such capital needs, and the federal government’s contribution is so uncertain, that I don’t think that will be a realistic option anytime soon,” Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said in an email on Friday.

Regional Planning Association (RPA) senior fellow Julia Vitullo-Martin said the MTA paying off its debts is a good use of its money. “If you borrow money you have to pay it back, and the MTA has borrowed big: $38 billion. It isn’t really a question of paying off debt versus making repairs. The MTA can pay back now or pay back later,” she said in an email. “But there are good reasons not to defer debt repayment, which has its own set of high costs. And even though investors basically know the MTA will repay the bonds, the combination of huge debt and huge ongoing operating deficits has been making Wall Street uneasy.”

“One result,” she explained, “has been the downgrade in bond ratings.”

On the conflict between the governor and mayor overall, Gelinas casted doubt on the idea the emergency plan was in fact what Cuomo portrayed it to be. “This is not so much a temporary emergency plan, but an open-ended effort for the MTA to do what it should have been doing all along: properly maintain the subways,” Gelinas said. “If it does not have adequate resources to do that, then the state and the city need to work together on a rational cost-control and revenue plan.”

The argument that New York City residents already provide a large portion of the MTA budget has been a favorite of transit experts and local officials as a way of refuting Cuomo’s insistence that the city should pay up. In an August 2017 Gotham Gazette op-ed, for example, former Assemblymember Jim Brennan argued the city already pays the lion’s share of the MTA capital plan, and the mayor should make that better known.

“Even when the State finally comes up with the money, it will likely come from the MTA region, either through some form of congestion pricing or a diversion of some current tax receipts from the region,” he wrote, while also outlining how the next MTA capital plan will need a major influx of funds. “If the Mayor wants the public to understand why the City won’t contribute further funds to the MTA, he needs to clearly explain that the City’s residents and businesses already cover the costs.” 

Richard Barone, RPA’s vice president for transportation, said Cuomo and de Blasio should find common ground wherein the city believes resources are used in a way that meets its interests. “The city is in better fiscal health. The city should probably try to bring some more [funding],” he said. “The state needs to understand what the city’s priorities are as well. And there needs to be some compromise there. It’s been a power struggle and neither side is willing to give.”

Barone cited the state’s emergency action plan as an area where the state would have been wise to seek the city’s consultation and cooperation rather than the MTA crafting it on its own.  

“Do I think the mayor should be willing to spend more on something that’s critical to the functioning of the city? Yes,” he said. “Do I think the state needs to learn the city’s priorities more and give it a seat at the table when it comes to determining the MTA’s priorities? Totally. There needs to be a better dialogue between the two. Right now that’s not the case, unfortunately.”

But according to Gelinas, it is understandable that de Blasio is instinctually reticent to comply with Cuomo’s calls for the city to pay more money to fund his initiatives. “These were deficiencies in the MTA just doing its job,” Gelinas said in an interview on Friday. “There was no exogenous disaster to cause this to happen. This is just the MTA missing obvious things -- that ridership was going up, and they were not able to handle a record number of riders because they were not invested in the system well enough. So I don’t know why this is the city’s job to fix.”

The governor not only appoints the MTA chair, but also a plurality of the agency’s board members, while a handful are mayoral appointees. The recent de Blasio-Cuomo dispute also comes on the heels of reports in The New York Times detailing the sky-high costs for MTA projects as well as rampant waste and corruption at the agency.  

However, since “the city is a creature of the state,” resisting bad spending practices in Albany would prove a difficult task, Gelinas said.

Still, she said, the MTA would be wise to improve its spending practices before asking others for more money. “The MTA needs to look at its costs and what it spends its money on before it starts hitting anybody up for more revenue,” Gelinas said, echoing her calls in a recent City & State op-ed to reduce the high construction costs in the city. “But when it does need more revenue, it should be on a rational, permanent basis, not just, ‘It’s an emergency, we need money. Let’s ask the city for more money. And let’s ask them for more money later.’”

“It’s like If someone is extorting you,” Gelinas explained. “You pay once and they’re going to come back and extort you again.”

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After Forcing City to Fund Subway Plan, Cuomo Forecasts Next MTA Budget Battle Wed, 11 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key New York City Issues in Final State Budget Negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7567:key-new-york-city-issues-in-final-state-budget-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7567:key-new-york-city-issues-in-final-state-budget-negotiations Cuomo budget presentation

Gov. Cuomo during his budget address (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)


A state budget is due by the April 1 start to the new fiscal year, and lawmakers have pledged to have a spending plan -- which is likely to include several new policy items -- done before Friday, March 30, given the impending Passover and Easter holidays. As Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders negotiate a wide variety of policy and spending issues, many are important to New York City, not the least of which include determinations of state funding to the city for education, juvenile justice, public housing, and more.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has called Cuomo’s January $168 billion executive budget plan a mixed bag for the city, criticizing a handful of funding cuts or shifts, omissions, and proposals that he believes would hurt the city. Plans related to MTA funding, including a possible congestion pricing scheme, or at least one phase of such a program, are toward the top of the list of controversial measures being debated in Albany that are of utmost importance to de Blasio, other city-based elected officials, and city residents.

De Blasio testified in Albany in February, laying out the city’s state budget priorities and critiquing Cuomo’s budget proposals. Since then, controversy surrounding NYCHA, the MTA, design-build authority, and other policy and funding matters has only intensified.

Statewide tax reforms are at the top of Cuomo’s list, provoked by the federal tax code changes passed at the end of last year, and could have major implications in New York City. Beyond more basic negotiations over spending and funding, other statewide issues being debated in the state capital that are include sexual harassment prevention and punishment, voting reform, bail reform, and more.

Negotiations are largely being held among Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island, and Jeff Klein, leader of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, which has a ruling coalition agreement with Flanagan’s conference. Those “leaders meetings” as they are often called symbolize the “four men in a room” that is the oft-criticized phrase for Albany’s secretive, concentrated, and male-dominated decision-making. Making talks even more secretive this year is that they’ve mostly been held at The Governor’s Mansion, not at the state Capitol, home of the statehouse press corps and where rank-and-file legislators work.

Talks recently heated up after the Senate and Assembly passed their one-house budget resolutions, in which the majorities formalize their policy and spending priorities and proposals. The two houses, each with a different party in control, differ widely on a host of policy matters and budget priorities, though a large bulk of the budget is not controversial because education, Medicaid, and other funding is likely to be allocated from the state to localities largely as it has been for years.

Complicating matters is that this is a state-level election year, with Cuomo seeking a third term and all of the Legislature on the ballot as it is every two years. Party control of the state Senate hangs in the balance, in part through special elections set for April 24 that will fill two vacant Senate seats previously held by Democrats, which Cuomo purposefully scheduled for after the budget is set to be done.

A rundown of issues of special importance to New York City shows what’s at stake as state budget negotiations hit their final stages.

Public Housing and Infrastructure
During his state budget testimony, de Blasio singled out NYCHA as in need of reform and increased funding from the state. To that end, the State Assembly’s budget includes $275 million reserved for NYCHA repairs. The Senate included no additional funding for NYCHA in its spending plan. Cuomo has recently been appearing at NYCHA complexes, bashing de Blasio and the city for its management of the housing authority, and pledging state help, including a push for a new $250 million, design-build authority to speed repairs, and a state emergency declaration that would include use of a private company to manage fixes.

De Blasio has said he wants to see design-build authority for the city, including for NYCHA, additional state funds for the housing authority, and the release of millions of dollars in funds allocated in prior budgets. He has been skeptical or critical of the possible emergency declaration.

Cuomo had curiously left design-build -- a streamlined contracting and construction process -- for New York City out of his executive budget. The Assembly has passed a bill authorizing design-build for several projects in the city, but the Senate has not, and the Senate did not include design-build authority for the city in its one-house budget. Senate Leader Flanagan has not explained why, but there has been a lot of talk that design-build for the city will be one key piece of horse-trading that annually occurs in finalizing the budget.

A failure to allow for design-build, the de Blasio administration says, would impede the city’s efforts on projects such as NYCHA repairs, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway construction, and jail replacements for Rikers Island, which is slated to close within ten years. The state has used design-build on a variety of projects, often touted by Cuomo, to save billions of dollars and years in estimate project time.

Transportation
Problems with the MTA, namely the city’s subway service (but also bus efficiency), have been felt by most New Yorkers and well-documented over the past year in particular. De Blasio has waged a public relations campaign to ensure that New Yorkers know Cuomo controls the state authority -- where he appoints the leadership and a plurality of the board members -- and called on the state for better spending prioritization and a new source of revenue, which he has said should come from a tax on high earners, but Cuomo has said could be attained through congestion pricing. While de Blasio has been skeptical of congestion pricing, he was somewhat warmer to the three-step phase-in proposed by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel.

Those recommendations appear to be the basis for state negotiations, though Cuomo did not publicly embrace the plan, only backing portions of it publicly, while raising a few questions and leaving it out of his budget plan. Both legislative houses are cool to congestion pricing, though Cuomo has said he is pushing hard for a plan, indicating there could be an initial piece -- a surcharge on taxis and app-based for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft, in this year’s budget. The Assembly appears more friendly toward that possibility than the Senate.

Cuomo wants to institute “value capture” zones in New York City, which would use property tax revenue the state argues is generated by transit improvements. De Blasio maintains that value capture would “grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects,” cost the city much-needed funds, and violate city sovereignty.

Since February, Cuomo has amended the specifics of his value capture proposal since it was included in the initial budget in new draft of the legislation, Politico New York recently reported. City officials, however, are not persuaded by Cuomo’s value capture pitch -- Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan and Department of Transit Commissioner Polly Trottenberg came out against the proposal the same day.

Meanwhile, short-term, there are ongoing debates over funding for the “Subway Action Plan,” put forth by MTA Chair Joe Lhota and supported by Cuomo, which would allocate $836 million toward repairing the subway and take a variety of other emergency measures to improve subway performance. Cuomo quickly agreed to fund half the plan, and he and Lhota called on de Blasio to fund the other half from city funds, which the mayor declined to do, pointing to money he says the state has raided from the MTA over the years and the fact that city residents already contribute the bulk of the MTA budget.

Notably, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has said he believes the city should fund the other half of the Subway Action Plan, but the overall Council position has not been made clear. Comptroller Scott Stringer had said from the start that the city should match the state’s half, prioritizing the subway system and its riders over additional fighting over budget maneuvers and responsibility.

Along with the subway action plan, the governor’s budget includes $429 million for MTA repairs, according to a press release. The Assembly budget plan allocates $490 million in new funds to the MTA, would bring MTA funding in the next budget to a total of $5.3 billion, and $10.5 billion to transportation overall, according to a news release. The Senate’s one-house budget does not include new funding for the MTA.

Additionally, de Blasio and many in New York City are again calling on the state to allow the city to install more speed cameras in school zones. The Senate blocked the measure last year. The mayor recently added to this agenda, urging the state to enact multiple pieces of legislation to ensure dangerous drivers are kept off the road. It’s not immediately clear if there is any hope for such measures to be included in the budget.

Education
Unlike many other recent years, there are few education policy issues on the table this year, leaving funding levels as the central schools-related item of significant concern in budget negotiations.

The governor’s executive budget increases school aid across the state by $769 million over the current fiscal year, including $338 million in “Foundation Aid,” a supplemental funding formula to aid local school districts based on need. The increase brings the school aid total to $26.356 billion, an increase of 3% over last year. The executive budget claims that this is “double the statutory School Aid growth cap” and that school aid is the “state’s highest funding priority.”

Despite this, advocates have charged for years that the state’s funding formula leaves schools not fully funded, including as it relates to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling of more than a decade ago. Cynthia Nixon, who recently announced a challenge to Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, has worked extensively with advocacy organization Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) and has made “fully funding” public schools a top campaign plank, adding an additional political element to budget negotiations around this topic.

The fault supposedly lies in the flawed Foundation Aid formula; the formula is based on a wealth index that, according to an analysis by the Citizens Budget Commission, “make the neediest districts in the state seem less needy, while the state’s wealthiest districts seem less wealthy.” The 2006 court ruling required the state to provide a more equitable funding formula, which led to Foundation Aid, but local politicians and advocates say that the state has not lived up to its agreement and that high need schools do not receive the aid they require.

In his testimony in Albany, de Blasio said that there is a $211 million gap between what the city is designated to receive in the Executive Budget and what it is supposedly owed through the Foundation Aid formula.

The Assembly included a larger school aid increase in its own proposed budget, to the tune of $1.5 billion, to bring total school aid spending to $27.1 billion. This includes a $1.2 billion increase in Foundation Aid to $18.4 billion.

The Senate proposal, meanwhile, includes an aid increase smaller than the governor’s, at $717 million with $379 million in Foundation Aid increases, to bring total education investment to $26.1 billion. The Senate proposal also includes a plank calling for a removal of the cap on charter school growth, though after it was a key piece of negotiations and legislation last year, the charter school cap has flown significantly under the radar this year.

Both the governor’s and the Assembly’s budgets include increased investments in and expansion of the state’s public pre-kindergarten, but the scale is again different. Cuomo’s budget includes a $15 million increase while the Assembly’s budget include a $50 million increase. Both budgets also include a $50 million set-aside for community school aid, aiming to facilitate the creation and maintenance of schools that double as community hubs.

Voting
Cuomo’s “Democracy Agenda,” introduced in December, includes several reforms to the voting process in New York, which has often been described as among the worst in the nation. These include items Cuomo has backed in past years like early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration.

New York is not as behind the curve in enacting automatic and same day registration -- nine states have automatic registration and 15 have same-day -- but on early voting, the Empire State has been substantially outpaced. New York is one of just thirteen states not to have the measure, which is annually blocked by the Senate, though it is unclear how much weight Cuomo and Assembly Democrats have put behind it.

Cuomo last month announced 30-day budget amendments to provide 12 days of early voting and added $7 million to pay for it, a move celebrated by advocates and reform-minded legislators. The Assembly and Senate are less amicable to early voting: the Assembly proposal provides for eight days of early voting, while early voting is entirely excluded from the Senate proposal. Senate Republicans have historically been hostile to voting reforms.

Cuomo’s proposal does not address other areas of interest for advocates, such as the consolidation of state and federal primaries and easing some of the strictest deadlines in the nation for registration and for switching party registration.

Ethics and Transparency
Ethics reform is once again taking a backseat in budget negotiations. Cuomo, in his executive budget, called for closing the LLC loophole and banning outside income for legislators. Cuomo also called for social media companies to disclose who pays for political advertising on their platforms in the wake of the discovery of secret ad buys in the 2016 election by Russians. Cuomo also called for a new “Chief Procurement Officer” to “oversee the integrity” of the procurement process, where apparent abuses have occurred under his watch and he has been against reinstating pre-audit oversight to the state comptroller.

Cuomo’s executive budget and State of the State speeches devoted little attention to ethics reform, and the Assembly and Senate are not taking up the cause despite the recent high-profile trial and conviction of the governor’s former top aide, Joe Percoco, as well as the upcoming bid-rigging trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic. The Assembly has been more aligned with the governor on campaign finance reform, but the Senate has shown little interest in any additional ethics or campaign finance reform measures.

There is some discussion around watchdogs’ call for mandating a “database of deals,” which would create a public database of all economic development contracts in the state, tracking who is getting taxpayer money for development contracts and how it is being spent. Both the Assembly and the Senate included the deals database in their one-house budgets, but the governor has not signaled his support. As it did last year, the transparency and accountability measure could be bounced from the final budget as part of annual horse-trading.

Criminal Justice
In his State of the State address in January, Cuomo outlined a criminal justice agenda that he referred to as “the most progressive set of reforms in the nation,” aiming to reshape the criminal justice system in New York towards fairness and equity.

The marquee proposal of the pack is eliminating cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, which has largely received praise from criminal justice advocates and follows a nationwide push to end a practice that many say is discriminatory against low-income people and people of color. Some advocates, however, have said that it could go much further, such as eliminating bail entirely and abolishing the bail bonds system. Advocates have also voiced concerns about the broad jurisdiction of judges to keep people on “preventative detention,” or a judge deeming that a suspect is not fit for release. On the other hand, Senate Republicans have been cool to the notion of reform.

The governor also proposed changing discovery process. According to the governor himself, New York is tied for having the worst discovery laws in the nation. New York is one of 10 states that does not require the prosecution in a case to share evidence with the defense on a strict timetable; for instance, in New York, a prosecutor could share potentially exculpatory evidence with the defense just hours before the trial begins, leaving the defense with little room to mount an argument. The reform requires evidence to be shared “incrementally” and in a “timely and consistent manner.”

Also included in the governor’s proposal is a ban on asset seizure by police in the absence of an arrest, and the return of assets to those who are not convicted in a court of law. He also put forth proposals to speed up the trial process in order to prevent judicial backlog and long pretrial detention, which has come under fire in the wake of Kalief Browder’s suicide, and to remove “reentry barriers” for the formerly incarcerated, such as ending suspension of drivers’ licenses and removing certain fees such as the “parole supervision fee.”

While Cuomo's bail reform proposal has received some support from reformers, many advocates have voiced deep concerns about the governor's discovery reform. The criticism centers around a “right of redaction” of names in the evidence provided to the defense by the prosecution, which the Legal Aid Society told the New York Law Journal would give prosecutors “blanket authority” to black out identifying witness information.

The governor’s proposals are out-paced from the left by those of the Assembly (and the Senate Democrats, who are in the minority). The Senate Democrats’ proposal eliminates cash bail entirely; the Assembly’s approach is more in line with Cuomo’s, but eases certain restrictions on the payment of bail by charitable bail organizations such as the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. This would allow those funds to pay bail of up to $10,000, up from the current $2,000 cap, and allows them to operate in more than one county.

On discovery, the Senate Democrats call for “automatic, comprehensive discovery” of all material possessed by the prosecution while the Assembly’s bill calls for a deadline of 15 days after arraignment, similar to the governor’s. The Assembly and Senate Democrats both place greater restrictions on prosecutory redactions than the governor’s proposal.

The Assembly and Senate Democrats both have speedy trial language that is also beyond what Cuomo is pushing, though he has also included measures. Cuomo's speedy trial provisions have received some criticism from advocates: #FREEnewyork accuses the governor’s plan of failing to address the issue of “court congestion and under-resourced courts,” failing to eliminate speedy trial release for pretrial detainees, and that it would not fix the “speedy trial clock loophole” that allows prosecutors to stop the statutory time limits that govern New York’s current laws even if the defense isn’t ready, along with other criticisms.

The Assembly’s proposal would ban solitary confinement for those under 21, over 55, for people with disabilities, pregnant people or people in the post-partum period, or those in a “newborn nursery program.” It would also set limits on the “use and duration” of solitary.

The Assembly’s bill would also establish an “Office of Special Investigation” in the Attorney General’s office to independently investigate instances where individuals die in the hands of law enforcement, either in custody or during an encounter. In 2015, Cuomo named Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as the special prosecutor in charge of investigating civilian deaths at the hands of police officers; the special prosecutor was named as an effort to bypass the alleged closeness between District Attorneys and police departments.

Senate Republicans did not include language about the planks of Cuomo’s criminal justice reform package, and some are pushing back against the notion of limiting the use of cash bail. Their opposition represents a significant roadblock to the passage of the governor’s criminal justice agenda items, which could be his signature progressive accomplishment of this budget cycle. On Sunday evening in Albany, after a leaders meeting, Senate Leader Flanagan told reporters that "bail reform is probably going to be one of the policy matters that’s discussed outside the budget,” according to Politico New York.

Meanwhile, the Child Victims Act appears to be in for its now-annual legislative fight; Governor Cuomo strongly supports the legislation, which extends the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse, and included it in his budget proposal, as did the Assembly. But it was excluded in the Senate one-house budget resolution.

Celebrities such as Corey Feldman and Julianne Moore have attempted to raise the profile of the CVA and ensure it is included in the budget, but another high profile figure, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, recently met with legislators in Albany to lobby for the removal of the “lookback” provision, which would allow for the re-opening of “time-barred” cases within a certain window of time; the governor is proposing one year. Given the history of child sexual abuse associated with the Catholic Church, Dolan is claiming that the CVA will be “toxic” to the church with the lookback, prompting sharp rebukes from Cuomo and others.

Taxes
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of state budget negotiations is agreeing on an attempt to change the state tax code to mitigate the effects of the new federal tax code, established by law in December.

“The FY 2019 Budget protects New Yorkers against attacks from Washington and helps further our bold, progressive agenda to move New York forward," Cuomo said in a press release with his 30-day amendments to his executive budget. "After working with experts and stakeholders, I am advancing further reforms through these budget amendments that to safeguard our competitiveness and help protect residents from this federal economic assault."

Specifically, after amendments to it in February, Cuomo’s budget allows for employers to implement a 5% payroll taxes, which can still be deducted from federal returns, in order to avoid the federally-mandated $10,000 cap on state and local tax deduction. Cuomo would also create new ways for New Yorkers to pay for government services through charitable giving, which might be deductible from federal taxes, though the IRS may have to rule on any new systems put in place, and he wants localities to also be able to create such structures, which would result in state and local tax credits to individuals who give to the charitable entities for education and possibly other services.

And in order to avoid the the $1.5 billion of tax increases on New Yorkers due to the new federal tax law, Cuomo’s budget “decouples” state and local taxes from the federal tax code.

The Assembly “largely accepts the Executive proposal aimed at protecting New Yorkers from federal tax reforms,” according to a press release, and increases income taxes for New Yorkers who earn over $5 million annually.

The Senate, however adopted a different approach in its tax plan, leaving out the Cuomo tax code proposals, and omitting what Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan estimates as $1 billion in new taxes in Cuomo’s budget. “We rejected the new taxes and other proposals that would hurt families and businesses, and put forth a plan to give taxpayers the relief they need and deserve. We also make sound investments in education to help our students, fund critical infrastructure, and propose new measures to strengthen our communities,” Flanagan said in a March press release. The Senate’s budget also lowers taxes on utility bills, retirement income and bridge tolls.

Cuomo included the "revenue raisers" in his budget plan in order to help close the state budget deficit. Since Cuomo's budget presentation, estimates have changed that indicate the state is expected to take in hundreds of millions of dollars more in tax revenue than previously thought, in part due to reaction to the new federal tax law.

De Blasio is opposed to the new federal tax plan on ideological and practical grounds. “The tax bill passed by Congress was written by millionaires for millionaires, while everyone else suffers,” he said in a December press release following the bill’s passage. And, like Cuomo, has also spoken to the need for the state and city to respond to the tax plan, which he believes adversely affects New York City residents. Combatting what the two rivals both see as the harmful effects of the tax plan is one issue that de Blasio and Cuomo agree upon. “I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” de Blasio said during his February state budget testimony.

Sexual Misconduct
Amid a national reckoning with seuxal misconduct, including workplace harassment, Albany lawmakers have made an effort to enact legislation aimed at preventing and punishing such conduct. Cuomo unveiled several policy proposals in his State of the State, and the issue may be one where consensus can be found for a slate of new policies.

However, there is a lot of attention on both substance and process, as many are concerned about the possibility of four men -- one of whom, Senator Klein, has recently been accused of forcibly kissing a staff aide in 2015 -- deciding new sexual misconduct policies. There has been some talk of Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins being included in negotiations on the topic, but it is unclear to what extent she or any other women will be allowed to participate.

Cuomo’s budget language would prevent state funds from being used for settlements of sexual harassment or assault cases. He would also ban confidentiality agreements unless the victim chooses to agree to one, and mandates that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics creates a units to investigate sexual harassment allegations in state government. “Sexual harassment afflicts people of every gender, race, age and class, and there must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, including those of the State and local governments,” reads the budget summary.

Cuomo’s agenda would also institute uniform policies across state government, instead of the current situation where the executive branch and each of the two legislative houses has its own policy.

"The Assembly Majority recognizes that putting families first means making sure that everyone, especially women, never feel that they have to tolerate sexual harassment to earn a paycheck," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. "These new policies will empower individuals to hold harassers accountable and help put an end to the culture of harassment that plagued our workplaces for far too long."

To that end, the Assembly’s proposal lends the Attorney General more authority to prosecute criminal cases and defend victims in civil ones. The Assembly’s budget would also outlaw mandatory arbitration agreements and void clauses in contracts that “waive rights relating to discrimination claims.” In addition, the Assembly budget includes a provision requiring the state’s Division of Human Rights to craft a set of anti-sexual harassment guidelines and share it with the public and for state and local agencies, along with entities who “do business” with the state, to report to the state on sexual harassment matters.

Among the Senate’s proposals on sexual harassment is Senate Bill S7848A, sponsored by Republican Senator Cathy Young. Like Cuomo’s, the bill would institute a consistent policy on sexual harassment across all branches of state government, ban confidentiality agreements that prevent survivors from talking about incidents and would allow the state to “recoup” money spent on sexual harassment settlements. “Our legislation will help prevent sexual harassment and ensure all employees throughout this state are provided with the safe work environment they deserve,” said Flanagan of the legislation. However, the Senate's legislation has drawn criticism from lawmakers, advocates and experts due to certain language around false reporting and omissions.

But before the budget is passed, six women who have made sexual harassment allegations against state lawmakers have urged the governor to listen to input from survivors and for the state to take its time in passing legislation, extending past the budget into the legislative session to follow if needed.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Sam Raskin and Ben Max

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Key New York City Issues in Final State Budget Negotiations Sun, 25 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Council Speaker Boxes In Mayor on MTA Action Plan Funding http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7502:council-speaker-boxes-in-mayor-on-mta-action-plan-funding http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7502:council-speaker-boxes-in-mayor-on-mta-action-plan-funding Corey Johnson Mayor de Blasio budget briefing

Speaker Johnson talks with Mayor de Blasio (photo: William Alatriste)


The City Council is set to begin hearings next week on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $88.67 billion preliminary budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, with a smaller but significant figure likely to become an issue of controversy in negotiations between the two sides of City Hall.  

Council Speaker Corey Johnson seems to be gearing up to push the administration on funding half of the MTA’s $836-million action plan to stabilize the city’s ailing subways. The plan, announced by MTA Chair Joe Lhota in July, has become another point of contention between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, as Cuomo and his appointee, Lhota, have called on de Blasio to fund half the action plan, which the mayor has refused to do. De Blasio has pointed to more than $450 million he says the state has raided from the MTA and should return in order to fund the action plan.

While de Blasio fights the governor’s demand, Johnson may be closing in on the mayor from the other side.

“It is no secret that our subway system is in crisis. Though I am glad the Governor appointed Chair Lhota to fix the MTA’s ongoing problems, we still have serious concerns and we finally need to get the job done,” Speaker Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette on Friday, when asked about his position on the MTA action plan. “The New York City Council will consider a one-time payment to fund the proposed subway action plan and we look forward to working with the Mayor, Governor, the Senate and Assembly and MTA in repairing the transit system.”

Johnson’s remarks came after a recent interview with the amNew York and Newsday editorial board in which he indicated that perhaps the city should consider paying half the cost of the plan in exchange for more accountability from the MTA, and possibly more. “Maybe if the mayor were able to get some other good things for the city that are really important to him, maybe he would be more willing for the city to come up with a one-time payment,” Johnson said in the interview, perhaps previewing his role as a deal-broker on the issue.

Not only will all the parties be negotiating the action plan funding, but also long-term funding for the MTA, which may include a congestion pricing scheme. Johnson said he is worried that a potential “lock box” for revenue raised through congestion pricing -- a hotly debated policy issue that has taken center stage in the MTA funding conversation -- would not be failsafe. That concern appears to muddy de Blasio’s demand that any congestion pricing plan include such a lock box guarantee that any money raised in the city stays in the city for MTA subway and bus improvements.

At an unrelated news conference on Thursday, de Blasio brushed aside any concern about Johnson’s contrasting perspective, and denied that it may be undercutting his position in budget negotiations with the state. “I have a lot of respect for the speaker. We have talked about it. We have a different view but it’s with real respect,” de Blasio said, when asked by Gotham Gazette about Johnson’s openness to funding the MTA action plan. “He’s the leader of a separate part of government. He’s going to issue his opinions, the important thing is we always talk about them.”

De Blasio expressed appreciation that Johnson was pushing for “real checks and balances” to ensure money raised in the city is spent within the city and with oversight and approval from local officials. “So I think the speaker was right on point on those things he said about what the conditions would be. But no we’ve had a very collegial relationship. I’m very happy with it.”

It was a similar exchange to that de Basio had with Comptroller Scott Stringer last summer, when Stringer said that the city should put up half the action plan funds.

De Blasio and the City Council must agree on a new city budget deal by the July 1 start of the next fiscal year. The state fiscal year begins April 1, and negotiations in Albany are about to heat up.

At the Thursday press conference, the mayor reiterated his preferred policy of implementing a so-called millionaire’s tax that would both fund transit infrastructure and subsidized MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and called the new congestion pricing plan, put forth by the governor’s Fix NYC panel, that would implement a surcharge on taxis and for-hire vehicles “a very promising one.”  

“Look, there’s going to be a whole negotiation over the state budget. We’re going to be actively involved in that,” he said. “And we’re going to be listening for any plan that guarantees results for the people of New York City. If it doesn’t have a lockbox, we’re not going to part of it.”

As Johnson noted, any agreement on funding the MTA and on a potential congestion pricing plan will have to be negotiated between the governor, the state Assembly and the state Senate. But state elected officials have so far vacillated on how to move forward or presented options that have been unpalatable to de Blasio’s administration. The governor has not presented actual bill language around congestion pricing, though his panel put forth detailed recommendations with a three-year phase-in.

“We had an initial conversation internally,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, told reporters earlier this month. “I can clearly say the funding sources for the MTA is a priority for members, but I don’t think the members at this point are ready to go forward. But I do think we will come up with some ideas because the importance of funding the MTA — even the biggest critics realize some sort of long-term funding is necessary.”

The Senate leadership, on the other hand, has been far more hostile to the mayor’s priorities, as is typical. “The city has to ante up its share. The state has already made a commitment,” said Senate GOP Majority Leader John Flanagan, at an unrelated news conference on January 10. Flanagan has already come out against any new taxes and has been noncommittal on congestion pricing. During a Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum on January 26, he said, “When someone asks me about congestion pricing, I don't want to gratuitously say ‘no’ because we have not conferenced this.”

The Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, which helps Republicans control the chamber, has put forward separate legislation earlier this month that would force the city to bear half the cost of the MTA action plan by diverting a percentage of sales tax revenue.

That measure, among others, was also part of Governor Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, which includes cost shifts for MTA capital improvements from the state to the city and a proposal to create special tax zones in the city to capture revenue for the MTA from increasing property values around transit investments. The Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog, criticized the proposals and called the shifts “unjustified” and said they would require “a sevenfold increase in City capital contributions.”

“These proposals are an attempt to impose an onerous cost shift onto New York City residents and businesses, who already pay an estimated 72 percent of MTA dedicated taxes and subsidies,” said CBC President Carol Kellerman, in a statement on Cuomo’s executive budget in January.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Council Speaker Boxes In Mayor on MTA Action Plan Funding Tue, 27 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? $418 million, with Dana Rubinstein http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7477:whats-the-data-point-418-million-with-dana-rubinstein http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7477:whats-the-data-point-418-million-with-dana-rubinstein whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 31 -- $418 million, with Dana Rubinstein [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp dana rubinstein lg

$418 million is the amount that MTA Chair Joe Lhota and Governor Andrew Cuomo want Mayor Bill de Blasio to commit to the Subway Action Plan, the emergency plan to address essential subway repairs and -- in their own words -- stop failing customers. De Blasio has refused.

Dana Rubinstein, who covers the MTA and transit for Politico New York, joined the podcast to discuss the city-state disputes over the MTA, as well as other related topics, including congestion pricing, de Blasio's transit agenda, and more. Rubinstein recently wrote about Lhota's leadership of the authority and about his possible conflicts of interest given his work for Madison Square Garden and discussed those stories as well.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis) and guest Dana Rubinstein (@danarubinstein). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What's The [Data] Point? $418 million, with Dana Rubinstein Thu, 15 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Transit Crisis Without A Rescue Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7472:the-transit-crisis-without-a-rescue-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7472:the-transit-crisis-without-a-rescue-plan transit crisis rescue

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Even as the subways reach the breaking point, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers face an additional commuting crisis: the lack of fast, reliable transit service in huge swaths of the boroughs outside Manhattan. In neighborhoods from Flatlands to Queens Village to Castle Hill, getting to work is a grinding chore, even when the trains are on time. That’s because the transit system has failed to keep pace with the demand for better service outside the city’s core.

Unlike the subway meltdown, this crisis still lacks a rescue plan. New York needs to get serious about improving bus and subway service outside Manhattan.

These punishing commutes are especially painful for the nearly half-million workers in the New York’s booming healthcare sector. The workers who heal us are hurting the most.

They face the longest mass transit commutes of any private-sector workers citywide—a median of more than 51 minutes—as revealed in a new report from the Center for an Urban Future, and their commutes have increased at more than double the rate of all workers in the city.

Roughly two-thirds of all healthcare jobs are in the boroughs outside Manhattan, with many far from the nearest subway. Of the city’s major healthcare facilities—including 21 hospitals and nearly 40 percent of nursing homes—our research found that almost one third are more than eight blocks from the closest subway station. This has given these nurses, health aides, and medical technicians a front seat to the shortcomings of an antiquated and broken system—assuming they can find a seat at all.

The slow and unreliable bus system compounds these frustrations, though there is rarely an alternative. More than 80,000 healthcare workers (17 percent of all employees in the sector) rely on buses every day—higher than any other industry.

Some sectors, like finance, have seen commutes shrink for city residents over the past two decades, as employees have moved closer to work. But healthcare workers have instead been pushed to the city’s more affordable periphery, especially the swelling ranks of home health aides, who typically make less than $25,000 per year.

Healthcare workers may have especially arduous commutes, yet the challenges they face reflect a broader trend reshaping New York City, where much recent job growth is occurring outside the Manhattan core. Thirty years ago, the four boroughs outside Manhattan were home to 35 percent of the city’s private sector jobs. Today, it’s 41 percent.

The boroughs have also been home to 87 percent of the city’s population growth since 1990, and most of the gains in transit ridership. But transit service has not kept pace with these demographic and economic trends. Meanwhile, little new investment has gone into improving existing service in these parts of the city—much less adding new service to address gaps.

To build a city that works for all of its residents, New York City and State needs to prioritize improving transit service in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

New York’s local leaders need to get behind a congestion pricing plan, such as that proposed by the Fix NYC panel, that will create a dedicated revenue stream for transit improvements. Such a plan should absolutely fund much-needed subway fixes that help reduce delays and modernize signals. But part of these new funds must go into improving and expanding service in the boroughs outside Manhattan.

The MTA should also launch a Bus Rescue Plan to mirror the essential work happening in the subways, and New Yorkers should be heartened to hear that new New York City Transit chief Andy Byford mentioned the idea. He should waste no time in crafting one. For the two million New Yorkers who ride the bus each weekday, including more than 80,000 healthcare workers, buses are the only option. But bus service across the city is unreliable, too slow, and doesn’t run frequently enough.

The MTA and DOT should implement a host of best practices, including dedicated and enforced bus lanes, signal priority at traffic lights, and all-door boarding. These improvements would cost a fraction of what is needed underground.

With a new transit chief and subway action plan, New York City may finally be on the way to fixing the trains—a critical first step in turning around a failing system. Yet transit will forever remain on life support unless New York tackles the poor service plaguing neighborhoods citywide.

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Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. Chaban is CUF’s policy director. On Twitter @jbowlesnyc & @MC_NYC & @nycfuture

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

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The Transit Crisis Without A Rescue Plan Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Congestion Pricing Train Already Running Late in Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7467:congestion-pricing-train-already-running-late-in-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7467:congestion-pricing-train-already-running-late-in-albany andrew cuomo mta columbus circle trs

photo via the Governor's office


There is plenty of debate ongoing about the pros and cons of congestion pricing - but little discussion yet about the purpose of creating such a large flow of money -- $1-$1.5 billion a year -- that logically must be a way to fund the next MTA capital plan. That plan is due out in the fall of 2019 for a five-year cycle from 2020 through 2024.

The MTA had estimated that both the existing plan (2015-19) and the prior plan (2010-14) would cost about $30 billion each. For both plans, the MTA, the Governor, and the Legislature had trouble figuring out how to raise the money to cover such immense costs, and the 2010 plan was ultimately downsized. The next cycle will have the same problem: where to find money to pay for it. In fact, the problem of paying to keep the subway, bus, and commuter rail system in a state of good repair and pay for expansion projects will continue for decades.

In October 2013 the MTA put out its 20-year Capital Needs Assessment, 2015-2034, and identified needs which would cost $106 billion (in 2012 dollars) to pay to keep the system in a state of good repair, without even considering the cost of expansion projects. The cost of the expansion projects, East Side Access, Second Avenue Subway, and the LIRR Main Track, are $7 billion in the current plan. The State of Good Repair (replacing track, signals, stations, subway cars and buses, etc.) for the existing system is $25 billion in the current plan.

Governor Cuomo, MTA Chair Joe Lhota, and the Fix NYC panel have said very little about just how problematic the MTA’s long-term funding needs really are. There is a proposal in Gov. Cuomo’s new executive budget plan to force New York City to pay half the recurring maintenance costs of Lhota’s Subway Action Plan, estimated at $300 million a year by 2020, which Mayor de Blasio is refusing to support, but that is primarily for a step-up in regular maintenance, not capital projects.

The current capital plan had a shortfall of half the needed funds, $15 billion, until the Governor and the Legislature patched up the problem in 2016 by promising in state law the MTA would get the money when it needed it, meaning it would have to spend down what it had available first.

There is still no congestion pricing bill submitted by the Governor for the Legislature to consider, although in January the Governor’s Fix NYC panel issued its report that framed a congestion pricing scenario about the same time as he released his budget. A new state budget is due by the April 1 start of next fiscal year. That means the current discussions are more about whether the Legislature will even entertain the idea of charging vehicles to enter the Manhattan business district, without considering the specifics of the charges or what to do with the money.

The Legislature will skip convening in Albany during its annual mid-February break and not return until the end of the month at which point the Assembly and Senate will develop their one-house proposals for the budget. That begins a process in March to negotiate and adopt the next state budget by the April 1 deadline. The budget itself is controversial, as usual, with the Governor seeking $1 billion in new revenue to plug the deficit, and New York City complaining that his budget plan reduces or limits state aid to the city, or forces cost shifts, of $750 million, not counting proposed MTA cost-shifts.

For each house to prepare its budget proposal, scheduled for passage in mid-March, decisions will need to be completed by the end of the first week in March. With so many tough perennial issues to resolve for the budget, it is very possible that resolving major mass transit issues will be delayed until after the budget, with congestion pricing an open question.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli reported last fall the MTA was likely to face another $15 billion shortfall for the 2020-24 capital plan, and possibly much more because phase two of the MTA Subway Action Plan indicated a need for another $8 billion for New York City Transit. But right now the Governor, Chair Lhota, and legislators aren’t articulating this problem.

It is always important to note that it is an election year. If congestion pricing fails there will be a shortfall for the MTA of at least the sum of money congestion pricing would raise. If that was the case, there would be no place to go except another tax increase (and/or several large fare hikes) to fund the mass transit system. The City of New York can only raise the property tax. Only the state government can raise the payroll tax, the personal income tax, the corporate income tax, the sales tax, real estate transaction taxes, etc., or approve the City of New York raising any of its own taxes beyond the property tax.

Chair Lhota claimed the City is responsible for the capital needs of New York City Transit ($16-17 billion in the current 5-year plan) on the grounds that a 1953 law said so. That law, Section 1203 of the Public Authorities Law, did in fact say that but added that the City was responsible for $5 million a year, with anything more than that requiring mayoral approval.

That $5 million cap has not been changed since 1953; the law is an anachronism. When the MTA was created in 1968 the Legislature allowed the City to draw on bridge and toll surpluses for the mass transit system, and in 1981 began passing new state taxes within the MTA region, to dedicate to the MTA, for the obvious reason that the City can only raise the property tax. It is my considered opinion that the Legislature will not raise taxes (and the MTA will not do a fare hike) in an election year, so it’s congestion pricing or bust this year as far as mass transit is concerned.

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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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Congestion Pricing Train Already Running Late in Albany Thu, 08 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
In Albany, De Blasio Budget Testimony Centers on MTA, NYCHA http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7460:in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7460:in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha de Blasio Albany budget testimony

Mayor de Blasio testifying in Albany (Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Testifying in Albany Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $168 billion executive budget and outlined the city’s funding priorities for the next fiscal year.

De Blasio was the first to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing on local governments, making his annual journey to the Capitol, where he also met privately with Cuomo for an hour, and was scheduled to meet with three of five legislative conference leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

In his opening remarks, de Blasio had mixed reviews for Cuomo’s budget, praising some measures while also urging state legislators to help him beat back others as they negotiate toward a new state budget by the April 1 start of the fiscal year. The mayor outlined several of his own top priorities that require state approval, such as design-build authority, electoral reform, and renewal of the speed camera program.

The mayor’s initial testimony and subsequent back-and-forth with lawmakers included significant focus on transportation and housing issues, especially MTA funding and problems at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), though de Blasio also touched on uncertainty coming from the federal government; criminal justice reforms and their connection to the closure of Rikers Island jails; and other fiscal and policy items.

De Blasio noted the burden placed on New York City by the Trump administration’s recently implemented tax plan, and acknowledged the steep impact of the termination of Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) payments, which is expected to cost city hospitals $400 million annually.

“I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” he said, adding that the upcoming Trump administration budget proposal is likely to pose additional fiscal challenges for New York City.

De Blasio also outlined more than $750 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City contained in Cuomo’s executive budget proposal. These include $144 million in additional charter school costs, a $129 million cut to child welfare services, a $65 million cut to special education funding, $31 million less to juvenile justice programs, and a $9 million reduction in rental subsidies for working families leaving shelters. In addition, there is a $211 million gap between what the city was expecting in school aid and the amount designated in the executive budget, according to the mayor’s office.

The mayor criticized the implementation of “Raise the Age,” which requires that 16- and 17-year-olds be removed from adult jails, calling it an unfunded mandate that will cost the city at least $200 million per year. De Blasio noted the executive budget’s elimination of $41 million of state funding for the city’s Close to Home juvenile justice placement program, despite the fact the program’s utilization is expected to triple with the implementation of Raise the Age.

“This cut undermines the signature reform designed to keep kids closer to their families. And it will cost the City $15.3 million in Fiscal 18 and $31 million in Fiscal 19,” said de Blasio. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1, and de Blasio recently outlined his $88.7 billion preliminary budget plan.

De Blasio praised the governor’s inclusion of bail and speedy trial reforms in his executive budget. He said the passage of these measures would reduce the city’s jail population and help to accomplish one of his signature endeavors, “to close Rikers Island for good.”

When questioned about whether he could expedite the closure plan for the jail complex, which is currently seen as a ten-year project, de Blasio told Democratic State Senator Brian Benjamin, of Manhattan, that the passage of all of his policy objectives -- such as parole, speedy trial, and bail reforms, as well as design-build authority for the city -- would allow the city to shrink the timeline.

“Unquestionably, that would take years off the process,” said de Blasio, though he declined to provide an exact projected timeline.

De Blasio also emphasized comprehensive election reform and passage of the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, citing threats to immigrants from the federal government. “Given what is happening in our country and New York State can lead by example by helping all of our students,” said de Blasio, speaking on the same day that the Assembly would pass the Dream Act for the eighth time. It continues to stall in the Senate.

On transportation, de Blasio repeatedly cited the “millionaires tax” he wants to see that would create a dedicated funding stream for the MTA and support reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. But he also acknowledged that congestion pricing could work as a revenue-generator for the ailing transportation system run by the MTA.

De Blasio said he was ready to continue conversations and negotiations about how to best support the state-controlled transportation authority, but said that proposals contained in Cuomo’s budget should be taken off the table. He did express support for the general congestion pricing principles put forth by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel, but also indicated he wants to see tweaks.

De Blasio expressed concern that the money could potentially be diverted away from the subways and buses, suggesting a legal lockbox be created to restrict how congestion pricing revenue may be used. He also called for city approval for major transportation projects in the five boroughs.

The mayor took issue with the executive budget shifting the burden of MTA capital costs to the city, and battled with Senate finance Chair Cathy Young, an upstate Republican, over the 1953 law that specifies that city is responsible for all of the subway’s capital costs. While the city technically owns the subway system, the state has controlled it for more than 65 years.

“I absolutely disagree with your legal interpretation,” de Blasio said. “My counsel has looked at it too and has come to a very different conclusion…Let’s face it, the state has been running the MTA for decades now.”

The mayor criticized Cuomo’s “value capture” proposal, “that would grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects.” He said the proposal would cost the city billions of dollars and force the city to cut back on essential services like police, sanitation, and education.

“I was encouraged by the Governor’s recent comments that portrayed this as a choice for the city, not a mandate,” de Blasio said. “I would urge you to remove this provision from the enacted budget altogether.”

De Blasio made a similar argument about city services when asked by several lawmakers, including Young and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who lost to de Blasio in last year’s mayoral race, about capping property tax increases in the city. The city is the only area of the state not subject to a cap of 2 percent annual property tax growth. De Blasio, who again pledged that he is about to launch a property tax reform effort, has said that the city must continued to take advantage of increases in property tax values to fund city services.

De Blasio, who designated $200 million for new boilers and heating systems in public housing after thousands of residents suffered outages this winter, called for the state to commit to matching the city’s investment in NYCHA. He also complained that the state has taken months to fulfill a request from the city to allocate funds earmarked for NYCHA from two budgets ago. The city had itself delayed its ask for the funds by several months beyond when it could have filed the request.

The mayor was grilled intensely by lawmakers on his public housing record. Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island and the Independent Democratic Conference, called the living conditions “deplorable.” In another testy exchange, Senator Young drew attention to lapses in lead inspections at NYCHA apartments, and reports that children living in these residences were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. The scandal has prompted calls for de Blasio to fire NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye, including from Young on Monday. “Why is Shola Olatoye still at NYCHA?” Young repeatedly asked the mayor.

De Blasio acknowledged the mistakes but reaffirmed his previous statements, noting that the lapses began with the previous administration and credited Olatoye for turning the near-bankrupt housing agency around.

When Young pressed the mayor on issues at NYCHA, including unsafe conditions and crime that have “stacked up over the years,” the mayor responded tersely.

“Respectfully, I think it’s very reductionist to add certain facts up and say someone needs to be dismissed, even though they are getting a lot of work done for the people they serve. When you run a facility as big as NYCHA with years of disinvestment, of course there’s problems,” he said, adding that public safety has dramatically improved at NYCHA.

[Related: What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight?]

During more than two hours of question-and-answer de Blasio was also asked about the financially-struggling public hospital system, where a new CEO has taken over who is promising to build on reforms already underway. The mayor was also asked to support supervised injection facilities for drug addicts and said that a city report is due back soon on the topic. He said it had to be very carefully dealt with.

While the mayor faced many tough questions, especially from Young, he also received a number of kudos, especially from city-based Democratic legislators, like Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who said that you wouldn’t know from many of the questions that the city is actually doing quite well.

Later in the day, de Blasio met for an hour with the governor to discuss how to resolve transportation and fiscal challenges in the coming weeks and months.

“It was a productive meeting, we talked about a lot of the same issues that came up in the testimony and, you know, hopefully we can all work together,” de Blasio told reporters when he emerged from Cuomo’s office.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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In Albany, De Blasio Budget Testimony Centers on MTA, NYCHA Mon, 05 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
MTA Funding Fight May Dominate This Year’s City-State Budget Struggle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7447:mta-funding-fight-may-dominate-this-year-s-city-state-budget-struggle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7447:mta-funding-fight-may-dominate-this-year-s-city-state-budget-struggle 36468561375 7f08a42b5b z

Gov. Cuomo in the subway (photo: The Governor's Office)


Three key points of contention between the city and the state have emerged over transit funding, highlighted during Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Chair Joe Lhota’s testimony at the joint legislative hearing on transportation Thursday in Albany.

The hearing, which included discussion of the MTA plan to restore New York City’s ailing subway system, occurred amid an ongoing feud between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo over the funding of crucial repairs for the deteriorating transit system, which is controlled by the state.

In a four-hour session that was at times good-natured and at others tense, members of the Senate and Assembly repeatedly questioned Lhota on three controversial and relevant aspects of Cuomo’s 2018 agenda: cost shifts of capital funding for the city’s subway system from the state to the city as outlined in Cuomo’s budget; a “value capture” plan to allow the state to reap property tax revenue spurred by transportation improvements in the city; and the recently unveiled congestion pricing plan outlined by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel.

These issues were addressed by de Blasio officials in a press conference call with reporters two days earlier. “We are objecting strongly to language that was inserted into the budget that would create a new, capital liability, a new capital commitment liability on the part of the city for New York City Transit, which is breaking a long-standing history of how the MTA is funded,” said First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan during the call. He and the other officials on the call also pushed back against the value capture proposal, calling it an unprecedented intrusion into the city’s tax system.

Mayor de Blasio himself also expressed his opposition during his weekly appearance on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show, saying Friday morning.

“To take our property taxes which pay for our police, our schools, you know, our parks, our sanitation, to try and take from our property taxes for something the State wants is absolutely unacceptable…the first thing the State should do is return the $456 million diverted away from the MTA,” de Blasio said, referring to funds that were earmarked specifically for the MTA diverted by the State to other purposes over the last few years. “Put that money back and then we can discuss how to move forward.”

De Blasio will testify himself at a state legislative budget hearing in Albany on Monday, February 5. MTA funding, including the state’s insistence that the city pay about $450 million toward Lhota’s emergency subway stabilization plan, will likely be topics of discussion.

During his testimony Thursday, Lhota said the state’s $836 million Subway Action Plan launched last summer to restabilize the city's subway service is working, citing the MTA’s ability to prevent the predicted “summer of hell” in 2017, though the data does not necessarily support his claim, as explained by Nicole Gelinas of The New York Post.

“That’s not true — or only true if you compare summer and autumn to winter and spring, instead of a season to the previous year’s season. The latter is a far better measure because of similar crowding and weather,” Gelinas writes.

Despite this, Lhota said he attributes the MTA’s success at preempting a disastrous transportation summer to heightened “vigilance” on the part of the agency, something he said must continue year-round.

He also announced technological improvements coming to the MTA, such as a new signaling technology, a fleet of electric buses, and the Freedom Ticket, which allows Long Island Rail Road commuters to seamlessly transfer to the subway system. "I fully expect it to happen this year," Lhota said of the Freedom Ticket.

Cuomo's executive budget allocates $9.7 billion for the departments of transportation and motor vehicles, the Thruway Authority, and the MTA. However, the budget shifts all of the responsibility for capital costs to the City of New York, which would “require a sevenfold increase in City capital contributions,” according to Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann.

“What we are talking about here is a radical restructuring of where the [Capital] money comes from,” State Senator Gustavo Rivera, of the Bronx, said to Lhota on Thursday. “Is that correct?”

Lhota said this type of fluctuation is typical of past capital plans for transportation.

“When you look at funding over the last 20 or 30 years, sometimes the city has given more than the state, sometimes the state has given more than the city -- it goes back and forth,” said Lhota. “There was a period of time when the federal government gave more than the city and state in various different five-year capital plans.”

Mayor de Blasio is expected to continue to push back on the proposal in the coming weeks, while also relying on state legislators from the five boroughs to take up the cause in budget negotiations with the governor’s administration.

De Blasio has reluctantly agreed to consider the congestion pricing plan released by Cuomo’s advisory panel. The plan, which is similar to one previously proposed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Cuomo has indicated he will tweak as he also negotiates with the Legislature, outlines a three-year, three-phase program aimed at reducing congestion in Manhattan and raising funds for transit improvements, especially the subway system. It also includes calls for the city to increase enforcement of certain traffic measures, like double-parking and placard abuse, that currently contribute to congestion.

Fully phased in, the Fix NYC proposal would charge cars entering the most congested areas of Manhattan $11.52, while trucks would pay $25.34, and those riding in cabs or for-hire vehicles like Uber would see a $2 to $5 surcharge. The congestion fees would vary based on location and time of day, and would likely apply to non-commercial vehicles driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. The plan calls for new transit investments early on and estimates about $1.5 billion in annual revenue when fully implemented.

De Blasio has previously called general congestion pricing, with new tolls on the East River bridges, a "regressive tax" that would disproportionately impact low- and middle-income commuters from outer boroughs, though there have been holes punched in that argument given the low percentage of people who commute into Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn that are low-income. The mayor appeared less dismissive of the Fix NYC recommendations, calling them an improvement from prior congestion pricing plans.

At Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers were divided on the congestion pricing recommendations, which will be parsed through the legislative process in the coming weeks. Senator Diane Savino, who sponsored the Move New York version of congestion pricing, approves of congestion pricing as a way to make the city’s transportation system more equitable for commuters from the outer boroughs.

However, Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference representing parts of Staten Island and bits of Brooklyn, questioned whether appointees to the Fix NYC board considered the Move New York plan as a “better proposal” to eliminate “winner and losers” while enabling the city to generate transportation revenue without going through Albany. A key element of Move New York not included in the Fix NYC recommendations is lowering tolls on the Verrazano and other currently-tolled bridges, something Cuomo indicated he wants to consider.

Lhota said that panel produced a plan that they believe is a good starting point and that such concerns have yet be addressed during the legislative process. “The basic concept is there. Now, how do we make it fair?” he said.

“Fairness is important,” agreed Savino, adding, “We need to find a more steady stream of revenue for the MTA region, not just the transit system, but the region itself.”

Alex Matthiessen, the founder and director of Move New York, a group that evolved out of former Mayor Bloomberg’s failed attempt to pass a version of congestion pricing, has also thrown his support behind the Fix NYC plan despite its differences with his group’s proposal.

“I thought that we had created the gold standard of congestion pricing plans, especially for the City of New York, tailored for the City of New York, and these guys actually improved upon our plan in a number of ways,” Matthiessen told Gotham Gazette and City Limits during a recent podcast.

Other lawmakers and transportation experts are not yet sold on congestion pricing. Senator Leroy Comrie, a Queens Democrat, expressed skepticism of the plan, saying it does not solve the problem of congestion in Manhattan nor does it generate a reliable source of revenue for the MTA.

“My concern with congestion pricing is it doesn’t relieve the congestion,” Comrie told Lhota during Thursday’s hearing. “Why are we going to do a program where we are just taking more money from people and still the essential business districts will be crowded with the elements -- it won’t fix the truck traffic in the city, it won’t fix the issue of people coming from New Jersey into the City…so there’s a lot of things wrong with the plan.”

Regarding Cuomo’s value capture plan, the mayor’s office maintains that the administration was not consulted ahead of time, and just learned of it from Cuomo’s executive budget. The budget proposal, which targets zones around transportation projects such as the makeover of Penn Station, the 125th Street Metro-North Railroad stop, and expansion of the Second Avenue Subway, would deprive the city of control over its own potential revenue, de Blasio officials say.

“This is the City’s property tax base, it’s our major source of revenue,” said Fuleihan during the January 23 phone conference. "For the MTA to arbitrarily take City tax revenues, determine what those tax revenues are, on established neighborhoods...it’s outrageous and there is no logical argument for this.”

“The City has significant obligations that we need to keep, that we need to make sure we are able to commit to—safest big city in America, universal pre-K for four-year-olds, expansion of pre-K, we can go on, addressing the opioid crisis,” said Fuleihan.

At the hearing, Lhota fended off criticisms of Cuomo’s plan from New York City lawmakers, including Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. “I can't emphasize enough why I think that this is a terrible idea, and I was hoping you would agree with me,” Krueger said of the value capture proposal.

When asked by reporters why the city was not consulted in the drafting of the legislation, Lhota said he could not speak for the governor’s office. “You are asking me questions that should be directed at the [executive] chamber,” he said, but noted that Bloomberg used value capture to extend the 7 train to the Upper West Side of Manhattan (something de Blasio officials acknowledged but pointed out was a city decision).

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office addressed the criticisms saying that other major cities have used this strategy and they expected all affected to be on board with the plan.

“Transit systems in cities across the world use this method, including New York City,” said Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever. “We'd think anyone who wants to improve the subways would support it, and we will work with the legislature and all our local partners throughout the budget process to pass this law.”

Lhota indicated that the value capture tax could be extended indefinitely after the investment is recouped, arguing that there was a good case for the tax to be continued to maintain the quality of the subway service. “There’s unanimity in the entire MTA board that if we are using taxpayer dollars, we should try to recoup some of that wherever we can,” he said. He also said that the state is constitutionally authorized to utilize the value capture plan in other parts of the city, as needed.

Assembly Ways and Means Chairperson Helene Weinstein, a Democrat representing Brooklyn, noted the absence of communication between Cuomo’s administration and the community representatives of affected areas, questioning why the value capture wasn’t applied to suburban areas that are benefiting from major transportation investment. Of the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s West Side, she said, “That was a negotiated, agreed-to proposal, that both the city and MTA board worked out, and that worked on properties that were not really developed. There was clearly much more of a nexus between the extension of the 7 line [and the linked value capture program], than this sort of open-ended situation here.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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MTA Funding Fight May Dominate This Year’s City-State Budget Struggle Fri, 26 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Flanagan Provides Few Answers to Big Questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7442:flanagan-provides-few-answers-to-big-questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7442:flanagan-provides-few-answers-to-big-questions John Flanagan State Senate

John Flanagan at Crain's breakfast (Ben Max/Gotham Gazette)


State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan spoke publicly for nearly an hour Thursday morning in Manhattan, but said little on a variety of pressing topics. The Long Island Republican and key player in negotiations of the state budget and a variety of other legislative matters of great significance to New York City provided some indication of where he stands, but repeatedly gave evasive and unclear statements on issues related to housing, construction, economic development, and congestion pricing.

Flanagan was appearing at a breakfast forum hosted by Crain’s New York Business, where he gave a brief speech that appeared improvised, then answered questions from two journalists, all in front of a crowd of about 150 at the New York Athletic Club. Flanagan rarely spoke in complete thoughts, at times providing confusing anecdotes or referencing people in the room, and at one point admitting, “I feel like my mind is racing, jumping all over the place.”

Flanagan’s appearance came just a few weeks into the 2018 legislative session in Albany, where he is one of the three most powerful individuals, along with Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The three are also joined in top-level negotiations by Senator Jeff Klein, who leads the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with Flanagan’s Republican conference. Flanagan had kind words for all three of the other men when he spoke on Thursday.

The four must negotiate a budget by the April 1 start of the new fiscal year, and discussions were jump-started by Cuomo’s presentation of his State of the State policy agenda and $168 billion Executive Budget plan. There are no shortage of key fiscal and policy matters on the table this year, headlined by the need to respond to the new federal tax code that President Donald Trump signed into law just before Christmas and the $4.4 billion budget deficit the state is facing for the coming fiscal year.

Flanagan discussed both those topics and a variety of others, both in his opening remarks and during the question-and-answer session with Crain’s’ Erik Engquist and Ken Lovett of The Daily News.

In his opening, Flanagan called New York City “the economic engine for the state” and explained that his conference is focused on “affordability, opportunity, security,” which includes trying to lower or cap taxes, create jobs, and keep people from moving out of the state. He said he continues to believe New York City should be subject to the 2 percent annual cap on property tax increases that applies to the rest of the state. “I don't think the model that’s in the City of New York right now, frankly, is sustainable,” Flanagan said of property tax increases.

As Cuomo has floated possible alterations to the state tax system in an effort to blunt the impact of federal reforms that are likely to raise taxes on many New Yorkers due to the loss of most state and local tax deductibility from federal taxes, Flanagan said he is especially leery of shifting personal income taxes to payroll taxes, as the governor has discussed as an option.

“Just the whole notion of payroll tax scares me and my colleagues,” Flanagan said. “But I want to be clear that we are ready, willing, and able to work with the governor on all types of issues. And in this instance when you talk about something like that, I will give the governor credit for raising a thorny, difficult, challenging issue. But when people talk about how you want to shift something to an employer to try to help an employee, honestly I don’t know how that works.”

Flanagan added, as he did on several issues raised throughout the morning, that he and his colleagues will “conference” the issue, meaning that the narrow Republican majority will hold closed-doors discussions to come to their collective stance.

On congestion pricing, another especially hot topic of late where Cuomo is pushing reform, Flanagan was less cogent. In his opening remarks he said that many people may not know what congestion pricing is and that it is important to consider all stakeholders. He again gave Cuomo credit for tackling a tough issue and said he’d talk it over with his conference. He acknowledged “how hard it is just to traverse the city,” saying he used to worry about traffic coming from Long Island to Manhattan, but now it’s much more difficult to just move through the borough. He said there’s no enforcement of drivers “blocking the box,” an issue raised by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel that recently released its recommendations, which will form the basis of negotiations on the topic. Mayor de Blasio, as part of a congestion-fighting plan released last year, vowed greater cracking down on blocking the box and double-parking.

Flanagan talked about his state-issued vehicle and E-ZPass, and said that many New Yorkers with the electronic toll-paying devices have become “jaded to a degree because nobody thinks about it anymore. Your account gets replenished, you don't really know unless someone tells you there's something wrong with your debit card or your credit card. And I know I've had that happen to me, but I think about working people, can they afford that?”

During the Q-and-A, Flanagan was asked again about congestion pricing. He said on New York City-related issues he often defers to the three members of his conference who represent parts of the city: Senators Andrew Lanza, Marty Golden, and Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat who caucuses with Republicans. He agreed that Lanza, of Staten Island, probably disliked the Fix NYC recommendations because they did not include lowering the toll on the Verrazano Bridge. Though he has previously expressed a good deal of concern about adding new fees for entering Manhattan, likely to cost Long Island drivers, he said Thursday, “When someone asks me about congestion pricing, I don't want to gratuitously say ‘no’ because we have not conferenced this.”

Later in the Q-and-A, Flanagan said he’s glad there is now a framework put forward by the governor’s commission, apparently unaware that there had been a comprehensive plan put forth years ago by the Move New York coalition that is similar to what Fix NYC created. “I remember a couple of months ago people saying to me, ‘What do you think about congestion pricing?’ I don't know what it is; ‘cause there was no plan. Now at least we get something to be looking at and this is why it's actually very helpful for what I do,” Flanagan said Thursday.

When asked about closing the state budget deficit, Flanagan downplayed the issue, repeatedly calling the $4.4 billion estimate “fluid.”

“I’m gonna look at this cup right here, ‘United,’” Flanagan said, referring to the cup holding his beverage on the lectern branded by one of the event sponsors. “I’m sure the people at United change their plans on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually based on a variety of things and facts, so the State of New York, when someone says there's a deficit or a structural deficit or out-year deficit, that's been going on for like 30 years. It's not a new thing. The gravity of the number or the severity of the number is different.”

He said he believes that federal tax reform will spur more revenue for New York. “I think we're gonna have more money coming in...do I think it eradicates $4.4 billion? Probably not. But I think we're gonna have more money coming in. Think about Wall Street and the stock market -- what are people gonna do there? I think we're gonna generate more revenue based on bonuses and things of that nature. That number, it’s not static. It's something that we have to adapt to all the time.”

Flanagan has not offered his plan for closing the deficit, but his conference will at some point put forward their budget vision.

On economic development, Flanagan said he is opposed to the governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils because they pit regions against each other and don’t offer everyone the same resources. He said the state has too many regulations, stifling businesses.

“I think we have to do a massive overhaul of our regulatory structure in the state of New York. I've said this time and time again, we should do a cost-benefit analysis on every existing regulation. And we have to take a harder look when things like minimum wage, paid family leave, predictable scheduling, all those types of things are being discussed, because that's real life. I have grave concerns about the continued prosperous and economic viability of the City of New York because of a lot of things that are being proposed and some that are being implemented now.” He did not elaborate on what those policies are that he fears are dooming the city.

Flanagan appeared unprepared to discuss trimming costs at the MTA, seemingly unfamiliar by issues raised by a recent New York Times series.

He reiterated positions on government ethics, saying that issues with corruption in government make him “sick,” but that “the system is actually working. There's someone gets in trouble, someone gets indicted, someone goes to trial, someone gets convicted and has to serve time or something like that. I wish there were none of this. I truly wish that there was none of this, it’s not good. I think we have in the last five to seven years, we've made very significant change.”

Flanagan indicated that he has taken steps in the Senate to enhance policies on sexual harassment and that it is a positive development that Senator Klein has sought an independent investigation into a recent allegation by a former staff aide that the IDC leader forcibly kissed her at an after-work gather in 2015.

Flanagan did not give clear answers when asked about modifying the state’s Airbnb restrictions; altering statutes of limitation around child sex abuse claims; or repealing limits on the sizes of residential buildings.

When asked why the state would not grant New York City government permission to use design-build, a process for streamlining construction project bidding and execution that has saved the state billions of dollars, Flanagan was evasive. “First of all we have helped the City of New York,” Flanagan said. “We’ve definitely helped the City of New York. Just because the city may come and ask for everything, doesn’t mean they’re gonna get it.” [Related: Cuomo Omits Design-Build for New York City from Budget Proposal]

Asked about the state blocking New York City from instituting a five-cent fee on plastic carryout bags, Flanagan became especially animated. “I think the bag fee is just idiotic,” he said. “And I care about the environment as much as anybody sitting in this room.” Flanagan said part of why he had helped kill the city’s law, passed by the City Council and signed by the mayor, was because the fee would have gone to the retailer, not to an environmental cause. He did not acknowledge that the purpose of the fee was to reduce plastic bag use or that the fee mechanism was used by the city because the state controls taxes, so the city had gotten creative in assessing a fee that had to be collected by the business.

Moving from policy to politics, Flanagan was asked about this year’s elections, wherein all the statewide positions and every seat in the Legislature will be on the ballot. Is he concerned about a “blue wave” and the possible loss of the state Senate majority, which is Republicans’ last stronghold at the state level?

“If there is a hint of arrogance that comes with this, I'll apologize for that in advance,” Flanagan said. “We’re not going to lose. We're not going to lose.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Flanagan Provides Few Answers to Big Questions Thu, 25 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000