Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/nicole-gelinas 2017-12-12T12:02:00+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com De Blasio's Record on Budgeting and Fiscal Health 2017-11-05T04:00:00+00:00 2017-11-05T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7300:de-blasio-s-record-on-budgeting-and-fiscal-health Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/32386101031_825dc6f43e_z_1.jpg" alt="de Blasio city budget" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio during a budget presentation (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio inherited a city with a healthy economy and strong tax revenues, allowing him to add billions in new spending for his priorities and increase the size of city government while also saving substantial funds for a rainy day. Though fiscal monitors and budget experts generally agree that the city’s budget has been handled responsibly, they are cautious about the future. This is a mayor who has encountered few budgetary challenges, and numerous loom on the horizon, from slowing economic growth to federal policies that threaten to create a sharp financial crunch. There are also ongoing financial crises at the city’s public housing authority, NYCHA, and public hospital system, New York City Health + Hospitals.</p> <p>As de Blasio seeks a likely reelection on Tuesday, budget watchdogs warn that the incumbent Democrat might face his biggest tests in a second term, to which there are no easy solutions.</p> <p>Under de Blasio, the city’s operating budget grew to $85.2 billion for fiscal year 2018, an increase of $12.5 billion or 17.2 percent from the last budget that was modified under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Much of the new spending has come from an increase in the municipal workforce. The administration has added more than 31,000 employees in de Blasio’s first term for a total headcount of about 328,267 full-time and full-time equivalent employees, the highest it has ever been. That number is expected to grow to 329,055 by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2018. These new employees also come with future obligations in terms of pension and health care costs.</p> <p>The administration has simultaneously put aside what the mayor and others often refer to as “historic” levels of reserves. This includes $1 billion each year in the general reserve, $250 million each year till 2021 in the capital stabilization reserve, and $4 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust fund. Those reserves added up to a $9.8 billion or 11.1 percent budget cushion (reserves as a percentage of adjusted expenditures) at the start of fiscal year 2018, according to City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-analysis-of-new-york-citys-fiscal-year-2018-adopted-budget/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on the adopted budget. Stringer noted that the cushion remained at the same level as fiscal year 2017 since increased savings were matched by expenditures. He recommended an optimal cushion of between 12 and 18 percent, and has emphasized that the administration needs to create more savings through efficiencies at city agencies.</p> <p>De Blasio has eschewed targeted cost-efficiency initiatives at city agencies, which were a signature of previous administrations. He has opted instead for a voluntary Citywide Savings Program which identifies savings at agencies, more often through re-estimates of expenditure rather than efficiencies. He recently announced a partial hiring freeze at city agencies, though some see this as something of a gimmick given how many employees he’s already allowed to be hired.</p> <p>“My broad assessment is that [de Blasio] and budget director Dean Fuleihan have done an excellent job of managing the city budget,” said James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. “They’ve been fortunate that the revenue situation has been accommodating to an ambitious agenda and they’ve been fiscally responsible to build reserves.”</p> <p>In keeping with his progressive agenda, de Blasio has massively increased funding for social services and related to homelessness, education, public safety, and mental health services, among other major investments.</p> <p>The combined budgets for the Departments of Homeless Services and Social Services increased to $11.5 billion in the fiscal year 2018 budget, up from $10.6 billion in the modified fiscal year 2014 budget that de Blasio inherited from Bloomberg. Department of Education spending increased by $4.4 billion in the same period, owing in large part to the implementation of universal pre-kindergarten and its planned expansion to three-year-olds. NYPD funding increased by $600 million, largely from the hiring of 1,300 more officers, while the Department of Corrections saw a nearly $340 million increase in its budget despite a continued drop in the city’s jail population.</p> <p>“I think we're in a sustainable position,” de Blasio told the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/mayor-de-blasio-visits-daily-news-editorial-board-audio-article-1.3572377" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News editorial board</a> in an interview last month. “I think it also interacts. I think the investments we're making are strengthening our tax base. Safer city, better schools, stronger tax base. So it works. It's not limitless. You're absolutely right. It's not like you can just add all the time. There's a point -- and we'll have to watch Washington in particular very carefully – there’s a point where we may have to make tough decisions. But to date, I feel they've been responsible, and thank god, and I knock on wood as I say it, the economy continues to cooperate.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Parrott noted that the administration’s strongest achievement, begun early in 2014, was the settling of 99.1 percent of expired municipal labor contracts, which provided thousands of employees with retroactive raises and dispelled significant uncertainty about how the administration would handle a “daunting challenge” in a fiscally prudent manner. “That was an amazing feat,” Parrott said. “He gets four gold stars just for that, even if he hadn’t done anything else.”</p> <p>But, with an increase in the employee workforce and the new union contracts, the city also added significant long-term funding obligations. The last budget under Bloomberg <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/adopt14_fp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">predicted</a> that salaries and wages would be about $26.3 billion in fiscal year 2018, while <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/exec17-fp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">latest estimates</a> show them to be about $1 billion higher. In total, the city will spend about $47 billion in salaries, wages, pensions and benefits for the city’s workforce this year, increasing to $52.5 billion by fiscal year 2021. (The city’s pension contributions are estimated to be about $9.57 billion this year and are expected to grow to about $10 billion by 2021. City employees receive guaranteed pensions, funded by taxpayers, but the administration can do little to reform pension obligations since they are controlled by the state government.)</p> <p>“I think he’s just been very lucky,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “He’s had a good economy. He hasn’t had to make any decisions. He’s just increased spending on everything.”</p> <p>“The mayor has not used the good times to make any reforms in government spending, particularly on health care costs for government workers,” she added. The city will bear $10.1 billion in the cost of health care benefits this year, which will grow to $11.7 billion by 2019, and Gelinas insisted that the mayor should look to reduce that cost in the current round of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7121-with-some-contracts-now-expired-de-blasio-administration-begins-next-labor-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">contract negotiations</a>. “The city should really be thinking about how to bargain that workers pay some of the costs without putting the burden on taxpayers.”</p> <p>Currently, city employees pay no portion of their health care premiums, a fact that has been a point of contention over time but de Blasio has not shown any interest in changing.</p> <p>“I think it’s easy to be responsible when times are so good,” she added. “The real test will be if we have a recession. No two-term mayor has avoided at least a mild recession.”</p> <p>Most experts agree that some form of slowdown will hit the city’s economy, which is currently in the ninth year of an unprecedented expansion. Gelinas warned that though the city has reserves set aside, “it’s kind of easy to run through those.” In the 2008-2009 recession, she said, about $3 billion in tax revenue “sort of disappeared overnight.” In a similar situation, de Blasio would have to make some difficult choices, and signs of lower revenues are already evident. At the annual meeting of the State Financial Control Board <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/534-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-delivers-remarks-the-annual-state-financial-control-board-meeting" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in August</a>, de Blasio said his administration had already projected a $416 million reduction in revenue in the 2018 fiscal year.</p> <p>The biggest uncertainty the city faces is cuts in federal funding and changes in federal policy on health care, taxes and infrastructure, though those have all remained a nebulous since before budget season. Efforts by the Republican-led Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act have repeatedly failed; and a tax overhaul currently making it’s way through the two houses faces bipartisan opposition over a proposal to change the state and local tax deduction, which is a boon to filers in high-tax states like New York. Should it pass, however, tax revenues in the city will take a major hit.</p> <p>De Blasio made no significant adjustments for federal policies in his 2018 budget, insisting that the city periodically adjusts its budget to account for economic trends. The next budget modification is expected later this month. “We have an obligation and responsibility to provide New Yorkers with quality services now,” said Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson on budget issues, in an email. “We cannot and will not let threats of cuts to federal funding that have yet to be realized deter us from strengthening New York’s future.” The city has been cautious in revenue estimates, and tax revenues are expected to grow at 4.5 percent over last year, in keeping with the administration’s plans.</p> <p>Carol Kellermann, president of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, echoed Gelinas’ assessment of the mayor’s fiscal management. “He hasn’t really been tested in terms of fiscal policy,” she said, “because times have been so good so he hasn’t had to exercise as much restraint as CBC would’ve liked.” CBC gave the mayor’s last budget “<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/mixed-marks-nyc-adopted-fy2018-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mixed marks</a>” over the growth in employee headcount and compensation costs.</p> <p>Kellermann emphasized that many of the programmatic expansions made by the de Blasio administration are permanent and escalating in cost, making them harder to pare down in the future. “It’s very hard for public officials to cut back,” she said. “Every program has its constituency and it’s very hard to take those things away, and it’s very hard to layoff public employees.”</p> <p>Both Kellermann and Gelinas also pointed out that the mayor has repeatedly touted the Retiree Health Benefits Trust fund as a reserve, even though it should be solely used to fund retiree health benefits and not in cases of a general shortfall.</p> <p>The mayor has also significantly expanded capital investments to support his agenda. The ten-year capital budget increased by about $6 billion this year to $95.9 billion. The increase includes $1.9 billion in additional funding for affordable housing, $1.1 billion to create new borough-based jail facilities, $300 million to renovate 30 homeless shelters, among other investments. These investments also add to the city’s debt service -- the money spent to satisfy debt from borrowing each year -- which is $6.5 billion for fiscal year 2018, and is expected to grow to about $8.3 billion by fiscal year 2021. “If the interest rates go up, that’s gonna be a big burden down the road,” Kellermann said.</p> <p>Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, de Blasio’s Republican challenger in the mayoral race, has repeatedly criticized the mayor’s ballooning budget and his “tax-and-spend” policies. At the first mayoral debate in the general election, on October 10, she attacked the mayor for the 300 new special assistants he has hired at City Hall, and his administration’s overall expenditure. “When we’re spending $15 billion more and we still have roads that are broken, we have subways that don’t run, we a homeless crisis, we have so many issues that are plaguing our city, then that is...the epitome of mismanagement,” she said, insisting that the city needs to streamline agencies.</p> <p>She particularly noted the Department of Design and Construction’s consistent cost overruns for capital projects, which was a source of concern for the City Council as well when this year’s budget was adopted.</p> <p>Two crucial areas where the city already faces a budget crunch, which would be further exacerbated by federal budget cuts, are NYCHA and Health + Hospitals. “These are two so-called independent authorities that all mayors, particularly this mayor, have forthrightly stepped forward to subsidize,” said Kellermann. “They were both meant to be self-sustaining and depend on federal revenue streams.”</p> <p>NYCHA has a $17 billion capital backlog and though the mayor has made large capital investments -- including more than $1 billion to repair roofs at all NYCHA developments -- the agency’s woes are far from solved. The NextGen NYCHA plan has born some fruit, clearing the agency’s operating deficit for the first time in years, but progress would be threatened if the Trump administration follows through with funding cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>NYC Health + Hospitals, the municipal hospital system, handles about 5 million patient visits each year and serves about 500,000 uninsured New Yorkers. But the cash-strapped hospital systems depends heavily on the city bolstering its finances. Even though the city has increased funding to the system from $1.3 billion in 2013 to $1.8 billion this year, Health + Hospitals projects an expected budget deficit of $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2019, growing to $1.8 billion by fiscal year 2020.</p> <p>“[De Blasio’s] been hoping and saying that they will reinvent themselves into a new model, but it’s just not happening,” Kellermann said, referencing the city’s plan to overhaul the hospital system. “It’s the same thing with NYCHA. The [NextGen NYCHA] plan has the prospect of bearing fruit. But will it fill the $17 billion need? No...Both are open questions for which there are no answers at this point.”</p> <p>Parrott, who recently co-authored <a href="https://www.nysna.org/sites/default/files/attach/419/2017/09/RestructuringH+H_Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> on Health + Hospitals for the New York State Nurses Association, said the city’s approach to restructuring the system has been flawed since it only focuses on finances without taking into account the larger eco-system of healthcare. The city and state must work together, he recommended, to create an integrated system that involves private hospitals doing their fair share for a more equitable health care system overall.</p> <p>“The testing of the ability to manage these things will come sooner or later,” said Kellermann. “He gets an incomplete,” she added about de Blasio’s budget record, “That’s the grade I would give.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/32386101031_825dc6f43e_z_1.jpg" alt="de Blasio city budget" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio during a budget presentation (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio inherited a city with a healthy economy and strong tax revenues, allowing him to add billions in new spending for his priorities and increase the size of city government while also saving substantial funds for a rainy day. Though fiscal monitors and budget experts generally agree that the city’s budget has been handled responsibly, they are cautious about the future. This is a mayor who has encountered few budgetary challenges, and numerous loom on the horizon, from slowing economic growth to federal policies that threaten to create a sharp financial crunch. There are also ongoing financial crises at the city’s public housing authority, NYCHA, and public hospital system, New York City Health + Hospitals.</p> <p>As de Blasio seeks a likely reelection on Tuesday, budget watchdogs warn that the incumbent Democrat might face his biggest tests in a second term, to which there are no easy solutions.</p> <p>Under de Blasio, the city’s operating budget grew to $85.2 billion for fiscal year 2018, an increase of $12.5 billion or 17.2 percent from the last budget that was modified under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Much of the new spending has come from an increase in the municipal workforce. The administration has added more than 31,000 employees in de Blasio’s first term for a total headcount of about 328,267 full-time and full-time equivalent employees, the highest it has ever been. That number is expected to grow to 329,055 by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2018. These new employees also come with future obligations in terms of pension and health care costs.</p> <p>The administration has simultaneously put aside what the mayor and others often refer to as “historic” levels of reserves. This includes $1 billion each year in the general reserve, $250 million each year till 2021 in the capital stabilization reserve, and $4 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust fund. Those reserves added up to a $9.8 billion or 11.1 percent budget cushion (reserves as a percentage of adjusted expenditures) at the start of fiscal year 2018, according to City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-analysis-of-new-york-citys-fiscal-year-2018-adopted-budget/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on the adopted budget. Stringer noted that the cushion remained at the same level as fiscal year 2017 since increased savings were matched by expenditures. He recommended an optimal cushion of between 12 and 18 percent, and has emphasized that the administration needs to create more savings through efficiencies at city agencies.</p> <p>De Blasio has eschewed targeted cost-efficiency initiatives at city agencies, which were a signature of previous administrations. He has opted instead for a voluntary Citywide Savings Program which identifies savings at agencies, more often through re-estimates of expenditure rather than efficiencies. He recently announced a partial hiring freeze at city agencies, though some see this as something of a gimmick given how many employees he’s already allowed to be hired.</p> <p>“My broad assessment is that [de Blasio] and budget director Dean Fuleihan have done an excellent job of managing the city budget,” said James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. “They’ve been fortunate that the revenue situation has been accommodating to an ambitious agenda and they’ve been fiscally responsible to build reserves.”</p> <p>In keeping with his progressive agenda, de Blasio has massively increased funding for social services and related to homelessness, education, public safety, and mental health services, among other major investments.</p> <p>The combined budgets for the Departments of Homeless Services and Social Services increased to $11.5 billion in the fiscal year 2018 budget, up from $10.6 billion in the modified fiscal year 2014 budget that de Blasio inherited from Bloomberg. Department of Education spending increased by $4.4 billion in the same period, owing in large part to the implementation of universal pre-kindergarten and its planned expansion to three-year-olds. NYPD funding increased by $600 million, largely from the hiring of 1,300 more officers, while the Department of Corrections saw a nearly $340 million increase in its budget despite a continued drop in the city’s jail population.</p> <p>“I think we're in a sustainable position,” de Blasio told the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/mayor-de-blasio-visits-daily-news-editorial-board-audio-article-1.3572377" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News editorial board</a> in an interview last month. “I think it also interacts. I think the investments we're making are strengthening our tax base. Safer city, better schools, stronger tax base. So it works. It's not limitless. You're absolutely right. It's not like you can just add all the time. There's a point -- and we'll have to watch Washington in particular very carefully – there’s a point where we may have to make tough decisions. But to date, I feel they've been responsible, and thank god, and I knock on wood as I say it, the economy continues to cooperate.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Parrott noted that the administration’s strongest achievement, begun early in 2014, was the settling of 99.1 percent of expired municipal labor contracts, which provided thousands of employees with retroactive raises and dispelled significant uncertainty about how the administration would handle a “daunting challenge” in a fiscally prudent manner. “That was an amazing feat,” Parrott said. “He gets four gold stars just for that, even if he hadn’t done anything else.”</p> <p>But, with an increase in the employee workforce and the new union contracts, the city also added significant long-term funding obligations. The last budget under Bloomberg <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/adopt14_fp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">predicted</a> that salaries and wages would be about $26.3 billion in fiscal year 2018, while <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/exec17-fp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">latest estimates</a> show them to be about $1 billion higher. In total, the city will spend about $47 billion in salaries, wages, pensions and benefits for the city’s workforce this year, increasing to $52.5 billion by fiscal year 2021. (The city’s pension contributions are estimated to be about $9.57 billion this year and are expected to grow to about $10 billion by 2021. City employees receive guaranteed pensions, funded by taxpayers, but the administration can do little to reform pension obligations since they are controlled by the state government.)</p> <p>“I think he’s just been very lucky,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “He’s had a good economy. He hasn’t had to make any decisions. He’s just increased spending on everything.”</p> <p>“The mayor has not used the good times to make any reforms in government spending, particularly on health care costs for government workers,” she added. The city will bear $10.1 billion in the cost of health care benefits this year, which will grow to $11.7 billion by 2019, and Gelinas insisted that the mayor should look to reduce that cost in the current round of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7121-with-some-contracts-now-expired-de-blasio-administration-begins-next-labor-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">contract negotiations</a>. “The city should really be thinking about how to bargain that workers pay some of the costs without putting the burden on taxpayers.”</p> <p>Currently, city employees pay no portion of their health care premiums, a fact that has been a point of contention over time but de Blasio has not shown any interest in changing.</p> <p>“I think it’s easy to be responsible when times are so good,” she added. “The real test will be if we have a recession. No two-term mayor has avoided at least a mild recession.”</p> <p>Most experts agree that some form of slowdown will hit the city’s economy, which is currently in the ninth year of an unprecedented expansion. Gelinas warned that though the city has reserves set aside, “it’s kind of easy to run through those.” In the 2008-2009 recession, she said, about $3 billion in tax revenue “sort of disappeared overnight.” In a similar situation, de Blasio would have to make some difficult choices, and signs of lower revenues are already evident. At the annual meeting of the State Financial Control Board <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/534-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-delivers-remarks-the-annual-state-financial-control-board-meeting" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in August</a>, de Blasio said his administration had already projected a $416 million reduction in revenue in the 2018 fiscal year.</p> <p>The biggest uncertainty the city faces is cuts in federal funding and changes in federal policy on health care, taxes and infrastructure, though those have all remained a nebulous since before budget season. Efforts by the Republican-led Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act have repeatedly failed; and a tax overhaul currently making it’s way through the two houses faces bipartisan opposition over a proposal to change the state and local tax deduction, which is a boon to filers in high-tax states like New York. Should it pass, however, tax revenues in the city will take a major hit.</p> <p>De Blasio made no significant adjustments for federal policies in his 2018 budget, insisting that the city periodically adjusts its budget to account for economic trends. The next budget modification is expected later this month. “We have an obligation and responsibility to provide New Yorkers with quality services now,” said Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson on budget issues, in an email. “We cannot and will not let threats of cuts to federal funding that have yet to be realized deter us from strengthening New York’s future.” The city has been cautious in revenue estimates, and tax revenues are expected to grow at 4.5 percent over last year, in keeping with the administration’s plans.</p> <p>Carol Kellermann, president of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, echoed Gelinas’ assessment of the mayor’s fiscal management. “He hasn’t really been tested in terms of fiscal policy,” she said, “because times have been so good so he hasn’t had to exercise as much restraint as CBC would’ve liked.” CBC gave the mayor’s last budget “<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/mixed-marks-nyc-adopted-fy2018-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mixed marks</a>” over the growth in employee headcount and compensation costs.</p> <p>Kellermann emphasized that many of the programmatic expansions made by the de Blasio administration are permanent and escalating in cost, making them harder to pare down in the future. “It’s very hard for public officials to cut back,” she said. “Every program has its constituency and it’s very hard to take those things away, and it’s very hard to layoff public employees.”</p> <p>Both Kellermann and Gelinas also pointed out that the mayor has repeatedly touted the Retiree Health Benefits Trust fund as a reserve, even though it should be solely used to fund retiree health benefits and not in cases of a general shortfall.</p> <p>The mayor has also significantly expanded capital investments to support his agenda. The ten-year capital budget increased by about $6 billion this year to $95.9 billion. The increase includes $1.9 billion in additional funding for affordable housing, $1.1 billion to create new borough-based jail facilities, $300 million to renovate 30 homeless shelters, among other investments. These investments also add to the city’s debt service -- the money spent to satisfy debt from borrowing each year -- which is $6.5 billion for fiscal year 2018, and is expected to grow to about $8.3 billion by fiscal year 2021. “If the interest rates go up, that’s gonna be a big burden down the road,” Kellermann said.</p> <p>Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, de Blasio’s Republican challenger in the mayoral race, has repeatedly criticized the mayor’s ballooning budget and his “tax-and-spend” policies. At the first mayoral debate in the general election, on October 10, she attacked the mayor for the 300 new special assistants he has hired at City Hall, and his administration’s overall expenditure. “When we’re spending $15 billion more and we still have roads that are broken, we have subways that don’t run, we a homeless crisis, we have so many issues that are plaguing our city, then that is...the epitome of mismanagement,” she said, insisting that the city needs to streamline agencies.</p> <p>She particularly noted the Department of Design and Construction’s consistent cost overruns for capital projects, which was a source of concern for the City Council as well when this year’s budget was adopted.</p> <p>Two crucial areas where the city already faces a budget crunch, which would be further exacerbated by federal budget cuts, are NYCHA and Health + Hospitals. “These are two so-called independent authorities that all mayors, particularly this mayor, have forthrightly stepped forward to subsidize,” said Kellermann. “They were both meant to be self-sustaining and depend on federal revenue streams.”</p> <p>NYCHA has a $17 billion capital backlog and though the mayor has made large capital investments -- including more than $1 billion to repair roofs at all NYCHA developments -- the agency’s woes are far from solved. The NextGen NYCHA plan has born some fruit, clearing the agency’s operating deficit for the first time in years, but progress would be threatened if the Trump administration follows through with funding cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>NYC Health + Hospitals, the municipal hospital system, handles about 5 million patient visits each year and serves about 500,000 uninsured New Yorkers. But the cash-strapped hospital systems depends heavily on the city bolstering its finances. Even though the city has increased funding to the system from $1.3 billion in 2013 to $1.8 billion this year, Health + Hospitals projects an expected budget deficit of $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2019, growing to $1.8 billion by fiscal year 2020.</p> <p>“[De Blasio’s] been hoping and saying that they will reinvent themselves into a new model, but it’s just not happening,” Kellermann said, referencing the city’s plan to overhaul the hospital system. “It’s the same thing with NYCHA. The [NextGen NYCHA] plan has the prospect of bearing fruit. But will it fill the $17 billion need? No...Both are open questions for which there are no answers at this point.”</p> <p>Parrott, who recently co-authored <a href="https://www.nysna.org/sites/default/files/attach/419/2017/09/RestructuringH+H_Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> on Health + Hospitals for the New York State Nurses Association, said the city’s approach to restructuring the system has been flawed since it only focuses on finances without taking into account the larger eco-system of healthcare. The city and state must work together, he recommended, to create an integrated system that involves private hospitals doing their fair share for a more equitable health care system overall.</p> <p>“The testing of the ability to manage these things will come sooner or later,” said Kellermann. “He gets an incomplete,” she added about de Blasio’s budget record, “That’s the grade I would give.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
With Some Contracts Now Expired, De Blasio Administration Begins Next Labor Negotiations 2017-08-10T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-10T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7121:with-some-contracts-now-expired-de-blasio-administration-begins-next-labor-negotiations Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/23589013804_3bdd4cedec_z.jpg" alt="23589013804 3bdd4cedec z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at DC 37's union headquarters (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As numerous labor contracts for thousands of city employees begin to expire, the de Blasio administration is already in the midst of new talks with municipal unions. The process revisits a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s early tenure -- when the city faced an unprecedented situation wherein all the city’s labor contracts were expired -- and of the incumbent mayor’s first-term record: de Blasio regularly boasts of bringing to terms the outstanding workforce uncertainty he inherited.</p> <p>With negotiations underway with several unions, fiscal watchdogs say the de Blasio administration needs to implement cost cutting and efficiency measures while ensuring contracts are resolved without inordinate delay.</p> <p>Upon taking office, de Blasio and his team, led by labor relations chief Bob Linn and budget director Dean Fuleihan, moved to quickly settle the city’s labor union contracts, all of which had been expired for years under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the city’s 355,286 employees, 337,666 are represented by unions and the city settled contracts with all but 1,350 or 0.4 percent of them. But, even as the administration touts that success, both sides are already back at the table as 30 of the settled contracts have expired, between 2016 and 2017, and 27 more are set to expire in the next few months. Bob Linn and his team are in regular negotiations, according to mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, and he was not made available for an interview based on that busy schedule.</p> <p>Fiscal watchdogs generally praise the administration’s efforts in settling the expired contracts, particularly the inclusion of healthcare savings for the first time and reasonable wage increases, but recommend improvements that will ensure long-term fiscal stability. Some wanted to see municipal employees required to contribute to their health care, but that did not happen, while others said the administration should not have pushed the cost of retroactive raises as far into future budget obligations.</p> <p>Among those unions whose contracts have expired are the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents around 22,200 rank-and-file NYPD officers, and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents more than 8,000 firefighters. De Blasio and the PBA just celebrated coming to terms on a largely retroactive contract in January.</p> <p>In September, the contract for District Council 37, the union that represents the second-largest group of civilian employees in the city, is due to expire. With more than 84,000 city employees on its rolls, accounting for about 25 percent of unionized city employees, DC 37 is second to only the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the union whose deal was perhaps most-anticipated and, when reached in 2014, set the “pattern” for the other unions in terms of annual raises.</p> <p>Unions, including the likes of DC37, UFT, PBA,1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council, also employ significant political clout in the city. DC 37 and its affiliated political action committee, for instance, have made campaign contributions to candidates for mayor (they donated the maximum $4,950 to de Blasio), public advocate, comptroller and City Council.&nbsp;DC 37 endorsed de Blasio for reelection in January. The endorsement came just two days after the mayor released his preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018 that proposed creating 100 new school crossing guard supervisor positions, which were created for DC 37 workers. The mayor <a href="http://www.kingscountypolitics.com/de-blasio-denies-he-cut-deal-for-dc-37-endorsement/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">later denied</a> that the endorsement was part of the deal, and the positions were eventually included in the adopted budget that passed in June. De Blasio has also been endorsed for reelection by a number of other prominent city unions. The PBA, which has been a thorny opponent of Mayor de Blasio and the progressive-dominated City Council, has decided to <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/police-union-seeks-role-in-city-council-elections-1500888602" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">focus on</a> swaying City Council races in this year’s election cycle. It’s unclear if the union will get involved in the mayoral race. De Blasio is seen as an overwhelming favorite in both the primary and the general, in no small part because of his support from labor unions, which help drive voter turnout in what are expected to be very low participation elections.</p> <p>Union labor issues pose significant challenges to the city’s fiscal health, particularly if -- or when -- the city experiences an economic downturn, experts say.</p> <p>“One of the measures of prudence is what the costs were supposed to be when Mayor de Blasio took office compared to what they actually are,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. The last budget under Mayor Bloomberg <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/adopt14_fp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">predicted</a> that salaries and wages for city employees in fiscal year 2018 would account for $26.4 billion in the city’s budget, Gelinas pointed out, but have actually reached nearly $27.3 billion. “That clearly adds strain to the budget,” she said.</p> <p>Part of the increase stems from pay raises that didn’t match accompanying savings. “The mayor signed these agreements without really asking for givebacks in return,” Gelinas said.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, echoed Gelinas’ point. Doulis said the last round of negotiations lacked a needed focus on efficiency in work rules, for instance negotiating staggered shifts for NYCHA workers or the causes of overtime in uniformed departments. “Those are important but weren’t done last time because the pressure was to get [agreements] done quickly and responsibly.”</p> <p>But Doulis also said that the city had shown significant progress by working collaboratively with the unions on including health care savings in the negotiations. The de Blasio administration bargained with the Municipal Labor Committee, which collectively represents the city’s labor unions, to implement what it pegged as $3.4 billion in <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/olr/labor/labor-health-savings.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">health care savings</a> -- from $400 million in fiscal year 2015 to $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2018. There are a variety of measures in those savings plans, <a href="https://home.crainsnewyork.com/clickshare/authenticateUserSubscription.do?CSProduct=newyorkbusiness-metered&amp;CSAuthReq=1:273652725060778:AID:83A036C3E98167BEF02775656A37CE4B&amp;AID=/20160226/HEALTH_CARE/160229902&amp;title=City%20overhauls%20health%20plans%20for%20municipal%20workers%20in%20shift%20toward%20preventive%20care&amp;CSTargetURL=http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20160226/HEALTH_CARE/160229902/new-york-city-overhauls-health-plans-for-municipal-workers-in-shift-toward-preventive-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including</a> a focus on preventive care so that union members avoid costly emergency room visits. Savings in excess of that projection are meant to provide bonuses to the city workforce. Doulis said the administration should build on that success.</p> <p>The urgency with which the administration moved in 2014 to put labor agreements in place owed to long-expired contracts. But that also meant the city missed an opportunity to agree upon significant savings, Doulis said. “The savings that can come from productivity enhancements can only be recognized prospectively, not retroactively,” she said. “So it’s important to get contracts done in a timely way. Letting contracts go too long introduces fiscal risk to the city. And employees need to be able to plan their lives too.”</p> <p>Gelinas reiterated that urgency is costly in labor negotiations. “Expired contracts, de Blasio really used that as an excuse,” she said. “It’s not good to have them expired for years on end but it’s not good to do a bad deal just to say that you did a deal.”</p> <p>Gelinas said the city has fared well so far because of a strong and stable economy, and that a downturn after such an extended period of expansion would put the city in fiscal jeopardy as well as give the mayor less flexibility to cut costs. “Health care costs are increasing less fast than a few years ago,” she acknowledged, “but they’re still going up. The only reason the city can afford it is the economy is doing so well.”</p> <p>She insisted that any further salary and wage increases should be paid for with cuts in the costs of benefits, namely health care. Although pensions are another part of the equation, and the city’s pension obligations have ballooned over the years, the city has a limited role in that respect since pensions are decided by the state Legislature.</p> <p>In a view shared by other fiscal watchdogs, Gelinas suggested that workers share some of the costs, which currently fall almost entirely on taxpayers because of guaranteed benefits for city employees. She noted that health care benefits currently cost the city $10.1 billion and will grow to $11.7 billion in two years. “Keeping that from growing would be good savings,” she said. “Avoid the increase and share costs half and half with workers.”</p> <p>And the onus is on the mayor to devise creative solutions, she said. “Bill de Blasio certainly hasn’t wanted to cut labor costs in his first term,” she said.</p> <p>De Blasio, for his part, has recognized health care savings as an avenue where the city can go further. “I think the last agreement was very affirming to me that there's, again, much more where that came from,” he said at the annual State Financial Control Board meeting on August 2, referring to health care costs for public employees. “There's a willingness from our labor partners to think creatively. They understand this is about the longer term fiscal health of the city, they understand that if they want government to be effective, we have to keep finding healthcare savings, and I think there's a surprisingly strong atmosphere of partnership compared to, sort of, what the assumptions were previously. I think everyone has become sober together about the fact that we have to do a lot more on that front, and it is available to us.”</p> <p>Asked about the current round of negotiations, de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said the process was ongoing. “When this Administration came into office, no city worker was under contract,” Goldstein emailed. “Today, over 99 percent of the unions have reached a fair deal. As contracts begin to expire over the next year, we're confident we'll once again be able to reach deals that are both fair to workers and fair to taxpayers.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/23589013804_3bdd4cedec_z.jpg" alt="23589013804 3bdd4cedec z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at DC 37's union headquarters (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As numerous labor contracts for thousands of city employees begin to expire, the de Blasio administration is already in the midst of new talks with municipal unions. The process revisits a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s early tenure -- when the city faced an unprecedented situation wherein all the city’s labor contracts were expired -- and of the incumbent mayor’s first-term record: de Blasio regularly boasts of bringing to terms the outstanding workforce uncertainty he inherited.</p> <p>With negotiations underway with several unions, fiscal watchdogs say the de Blasio administration needs to implement cost cutting and efficiency measures while ensuring contracts are resolved without inordinate delay.</p> <p>Upon taking office, de Blasio and his team, led by labor relations chief Bob Linn and budget director Dean Fuleihan, moved to quickly settle the city’s labor union contracts, all of which had been expired for years under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the city’s 355,286 employees, 337,666 are represented by unions and the city settled contracts with all but 1,350 or 0.4 percent of them. But, even as the administration touts that success, both sides are already back at the table as 30 of the settled contracts have expired, between 2016 and 2017, and 27 more are set to expire in the next few months. Bob Linn and his team are in regular negotiations, according to mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, and he was not made available for an interview based on that busy schedule.</p> <p>Fiscal watchdogs generally praise the administration’s efforts in settling the expired contracts, particularly the inclusion of healthcare savings for the first time and reasonable wage increases, but recommend improvements that will ensure long-term fiscal stability. Some wanted to see municipal employees required to contribute to their health care, but that did not happen, while others said the administration should not have pushed the cost of retroactive raises as far into future budget obligations.</p> <p>Among those unions whose contracts have expired are the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents around 22,200 rank-and-file NYPD officers, and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents more than 8,000 firefighters. De Blasio and the PBA just celebrated coming to terms on a largely retroactive contract in January.</p> <p>In September, the contract for District Council 37, the union that represents the second-largest group of civilian employees in the city, is due to expire. With more than 84,000 city employees on its rolls, accounting for about 25 percent of unionized city employees, DC 37 is second to only the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the union whose deal was perhaps most-anticipated and, when reached in 2014, set the “pattern” for the other unions in terms of annual raises.</p> <p>Unions, including the likes of DC37, UFT, PBA,1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council, also employ significant political clout in the city. DC 37 and its affiliated political action committee, for instance, have made campaign contributions to candidates for mayor (they donated the maximum $4,950 to de Blasio), public advocate, comptroller and City Council.&nbsp;DC 37 endorsed de Blasio for reelection in January. The endorsement came just two days after the mayor released his preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018 that proposed creating 100 new school crossing guard supervisor positions, which were created for DC 37 workers. The mayor <a href="http://www.kingscountypolitics.com/de-blasio-denies-he-cut-deal-for-dc-37-endorsement/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">later denied</a> that the endorsement was part of the deal, and the positions were eventually included in the adopted budget that passed in June. De Blasio has also been endorsed for reelection by a number of other prominent city unions. The PBA, which has been a thorny opponent of Mayor de Blasio and the progressive-dominated City Council, has decided to <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/police-union-seeks-role-in-city-council-elections-1500888602" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">focus on</a> swaying City Council races in this year’s election cycle. It’s unclear if the union will get involved in the mayoral race. De Blasio is seen as an overwhelming favorite in both the primary and the general, in no small part because of his support from labor unions, which help drive voter turnout in what are expected to be very low participation elections.</p> <p>Union labor issues pose significant challenges to the city’s fiscal health, particularly if -- or when -- the city experiences an economic downturn, experts say.</p> <p>“One of the measures of prudence is what the costs were supposed to be when Mayor de Blasio took office compared to what they actually are,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. The last budget under Mayor Bloomberg <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/adopt14_fp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">predicted</a> that salaries and wages for city employees in fiscal year 2018 would account for $26.4 billion in the city’s budget, Gelinas pointed out, but have actually reached nearly $27.3 billion. “That clearly adds strain to the budget,” she said.</p> <p>Part of the increase stems from pay raises that didn’t match accompanying savings. “The mayor signed these agreements without really asking for givebacks in return,” Gelinas said.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, echoed Gelinas’ point. Doulis said the last round of negotiations lacked a needed focus on efficiency in work rules, for instance negotiating staggered shifts for NYCHA workers or the causes of overtime in uniformed departments. “Those are important but weren’t done last time because the pressure was to get [agreements] done quickly and responsibly.”</p> <p>But Doulis also said that the city had shown significant progress by working collaboratively with the unions on including health care savings in the negotiations. The de Blasio administration bargained with the Municipal Labor Committee, which collectively represents the city’s labor unions, to implement what it pegged as $3.4 billion in <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/olr/labor/labor-health-savings.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">health care savings</a> -- from $400 million in fiscal year 2015 to $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2018. There are a variety of measures in those savings plans, <a href="https://home.crainsnewyork.com/clickshare/authenticateUserSubscription.do?CSProduct=newyorkbusiness-metered&amp;CSAuthReq=1:273652725060778:AID:83A036C3E98167BEF02775656A37CE4B&amp;AID=/20160226/HEALTH_CARE/160229902&amp;title=City%20overhauls%20health%20plans%20for%20municipal%20workers%20in%20shift%20toward%20preventive%20care&amp;CSTargetURL=http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20160226/HEALTH_CARE/160229902/new-york-city-overhauls-health-plans-for-municipal-workers-in-shift-toward-preventive-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including</a> a focus on preventive care so that union members avoid costly emergency room visits. Savings in excess of that projection are meant to provide bonuses to the city workforce. Doulis said the administration should build on that success.</p> <p>The urgency with which the administration moved in 2014 to put labor agreements in place owed to long-expired contracts. But that also meant the city missed an opportunity to agree upon significant savings, Doulis said. “The savings that can come from productivity enhancements can only be recognized prospectively, not retroactively,” she said. “So it’s important to get contracts done in a timely way. Letting contracts go too long introduces fiscal risk to the city. And employees need to be able to plan their lives too.”</p> <p>Gelinas reiterated that urgency is costly in labor negotiations. “Expired contracts, de Blasio really used that as an excuse,” she said. “It’s not good to have them expired for years on end but it’s not good to do a bad deal just to say that you did a deal.”</p> <p>Gelinas said the city has fared well so far because of a strong and stable economy, and that a downturn after such an extended period of expansion would put the city in fiscal jeopardy as well as give the mayor less flexibility to cut costs. “Health care costs are increasing less fast than a few years ago,” she acknowledged, “but they’re still going up. The only reason the city can afford it is the economy is doing so well.”</p> <p>She insisted that any further salary and wage increases should be paid for with cuts in the costs of benefits, namely health care. Although pensions are another part of the equation, and the city’s pension obligations have ballooned over the years, the city has a limited role in that respect since pensions are decided by the state Legislature.</p> <p>In a view shared by other fiscal watchdogs, Gelinas suggested that workers share some of the costs, which currently fall almost entirely on taxpayers because of guaranteed benefits for city employees. She noted that health care benefits currently cost the city $10.1 billion and will grow to $11.7 billion in two years. “Keeping that from growing would be good savings,” she said. “Avoid the increase and share costs half and half with workers.”</p> <p>And the onus is on the mayor to devise creative solutions, she said. “Bill de Blasio certainly hasn’t wanted to cut labor costs in his first term,” she said.</p> <p>De Blasio, for his part, has recognized health care savings as an avenue where the city can go further. “I think the last agreement was very affirming to me that there's, again, much more where that came from,” he said at the annual State Financial Control Board meeting on August 2, referring to health care costs for public employees. “There's a willingness from our labor partners to think creatively. They understand this is about the longer term fiscal health of the city, they understand that if they want government to be effective, we have to keep finding healthcare savings, and I think there's a surprisingly strong atmosphere of partnership compared to, sort of, what the assumptions were previously. I think everyone has become sober together about the fact that we have to do a lot more on that front, and it is available to us.”</p> <p>Asked about the current round of negotiations, de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said the process was ongoing. “When this Administration came into office, no city worker was under contract,” Goldstein emailed. “Today, over 99 percent of the unions have reached a fair deal. As contracts begin to expire over the next year, we're confident we'll once again be able to reach deals that are both fair to workers and fair to taxpayers.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio’s 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda 2017-04-05T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-05T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6855:de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda Ben Max <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26512250791_ab13b3e79e_z.jpg" alt="de blasio subway" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio on the subway (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Announcing the next steps of his citywide ferry service initiative at a recent press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is pleased with what his administration has done to improve transit options for New Yorkers, but admitted that he hasn’t put forth a coherent, comprehensive transportation agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though transit experts have praised some of de Blasio’s moves to expand the city’s transportation network, many have also criticized what they call a piecemeal approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about that assessment by Gotham Gazette, as well as restrictions he faces in enacting a transportation agenda given that the city is reliant on the MTA, a state authority, de Blasio said that a lot is moving in the right direction. Pointing to a few examples, he claimed “pretty impressive growth in a city that already has a lot of mass transit.” But, de Blasio acknowledged, “What I don’t think we’ve done is sort of put it together in a single statement for people to see how all the pieces connect, and I think that is a commendable idea.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio appeared to think for the first time about having and presenting an overall transportation agenda, perhaps indicative of the fact that he has not approached transportation like he has education or affordable housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like virtually all policy areas, transportation is complex, expensive, and challenging in New York City. For many driving New Yorkers, the top concerns are traffic congestion and smoothly paved roads. For others, the focus, and often the ire, are the city’s subway and bus networks, which are largely controlled by the MTA, which includes several board members appointed by the mayor, and is funded through city and state monies. The majority of the power at the MTA resides with the state, which also allocates a larger portion of the MTA budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">An age-old problem for New York City mayors, though, is that New Yorkers don’t always realize that the MTA is a state authority, and therefore blame the mayor for travel woes. Mayor de Blasio has taken to a common refrain when the MTA comes up during interviews or press conferences: “The MTA subways, buses are run by the State of New York. That is their process to work through. We contribute money to the MTA, but the ultimate decisions are made by the State of New York,” de Blasio said during an interview Tuesday morning on Hot 97 radio.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city can propose its own funding for subway extensions, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg did with the 7 train to the far west side of Manhattan, and influence Select Bus Service routes, which are essentially express buses. The city, through its mayor and MTA board members and state legislators, also has influence over many other MTA decisions.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it is important that any mayoral administration work with the MTA -- additionally challenging these days given the ongoing feud between de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- the mayor and his Department of Transportation must find other ways to leave a meaningful impact on city transit, especially in terms of expanding options as the city population, tourism to the city, and subway ridership all swell.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Tuesday morning, de Blasio said that the city must move on transit projects no matter what is happening at the MTA. “[I]t takes a long time for the MTA to do anything that’s big and new,” the mayor said. “We’re able to do these things a lot quicker,” he said, referring to his administration’s efforts on ferries, bike-sharing, and a streetcar project coming to the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. “We’re starting them up now, and we’re doing a lot of the Select Bus Service in parts of the outer boroughs that were underserved, so those are, you know, faster buses that are very appealing to people because they can cut their commute a lot.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, for de Blasio the issue of “transit equity” is part of the discussion in ways it was not for his predecessors, given that the mayor was elected on an equity platform. Where his transportation initiatives reach and what they cost riders are of utmost importance as de Blasio attempts to increase economic mobility and shrink opportunity gaps.</p> <p dir="ltr">Three-plus years in, the de Blasio administration has basically established that three-pronged approach to expanding mass transportation options in the city: ferries, Citi Bike, and the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (or BQX) streetcar. Most of this agenda has not come online yet, though. Each reaches or is projected to reach some key, underserved communities and offers attractive alternatives or supplements to the subway and bus map. But, as de Blasio himself appeared to acknowledge, the pieces have not necessarily made for a comprehensive city approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">These proposals are “piecemeal at best,” said Ben Kabak, who writes the popular Second Avenue Sagas blog, which has focused on the Second Avenue Subway extension but deals with city transit more broadly. “It's hard to say that his administration even actually has a comprehensive plan for transit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The new ferry service, which will launch this summer, will build out over multiple years; the streetcar is in the planning stages and a few years off; and the ongoing expansion of Citi Bike continues. These marquee measures each fit into the de Blasio equity frame in different ways, though they each also have limitations in that regard.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re creating alternatives for people,” de Blasio told Hot 97. “We’re going to have citywide ferry service starting this year, and including some communities that have really been left out of the equation like Soundview in the Bronx and the Rockaways…We’re [also] talking about a light rail system from Astoria, Queens down to Sunset Park, Brooklyn.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor is faced with major funding and program decisions: how much to contribute to the MTA; how the BQX will be paid for; where to install ferry landings and when; whether to invest public dollars to speed Citi Bike’s move into new neighborhoods; and whether to fund the “fair fares” proposal that would provide subsidized Metrocards to poor New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio is also facing questions about costs related to the ferry system and BQX: fares for each will be pegged to the price of a subway ride, according to the mayor, but there will not necessarily be fare integration, which would allow a free transfer from, say, the BQX to a subway near the route.</p> <p dir="ltr">On “fair fares,” de Blasio has thus far argued the city cannot afford its estimated $212 million annual price tag and said it should be the state’s responsibility anyway. For some, this has detracted from de Blasio’s equity mantel, and a broad coalition of groups and individuals are calling on him to reconsider. Meanwhile, the MTA chair has said it is a city responsibility, calling it a “social program,” not under the MTA’s purview.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its April 3 response to de Blasio’s fiscal year 2018 preliminary budget, the City Council offered the mayor a $50 million compromise for a pilot fair fares program. Nancy Rankin, vice president of policy, research and advocacy for the Community Service Society and City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee, discussed the specifics of that proposal outside a City Hall subway station on Wednesday. They explained a three-year ramp-up proposal to fully fund fair fares: first for the 380,000 New Yorkers living in “deep poverty” (families of three making less than $10,00 per year, or families of four making less than $12,000) and eventually for all 800,000 living in poverty.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Look, it’s a world of choices,” de Blasio said at a March press conference centered around his Vision Zero street safety program, when asked why he was subsidizing the ferry service but wouldn’t back the fair fares plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Your choices matter” happens to be a slogan de Blasio has used, alongside the NYPD, when promoting Vision Zero. De Blasio has encouraged New Yorkers, especially drivers, to be more careful, and has put largely successful efforts in motion to reduce pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist fatalities. While it is not exactly about transit options or equity, per se, Vision Zero has a transportation focus and implicit in its safety goals is the use of bikes and expansion of bike lanes.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio’s transportation choices have received mixed reviews -- some wonder if the BQX will actually get built, while some question if it should, for example -- and the mayor has promised an imminent plan to battle congestion on city streets, especially in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Paul Steely-White, executive director of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, told Gotham Gazette in an interview last year that he believes “the city should get more intentional and more systematic in terms of how it's addressing these different options, and how they are going to be greater than the sum of their parts.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Though he did admit he has not shown that overall vision, the mayor thinks that things are going well. “What the city is doing on its own and what the MTA is doing, I think they’re complementary,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette at a March press conference. “You look at the routes and how they function, I’m very comfortable with the fact that everything is supporting everything else.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think there is a vision in that we’re grabbing every opportunity to fill gaps and reach places that don’t have enough service and it’s moving very steadily by any measure,” the mayor said. “You look at just over the last few years, the growth of Select Bus Service, the ferry system coming online after 100 years, the light rail...I feel good.” The mayor did not acknowledge that much of what he was citing is not yet functional.</p> <p dir="ltr">While de Blasio might characterize his approach as “filling gaps” left by the subway system, others see it as disjointed. “It’s not a comprehensive plan,” Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute told Gotham Gazette in a 2016 interview. “It makes for part of a plan, but it shouldn’t be a whole plan.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked what would constitute a comprehensive plan, Gelinas offered the following: “a goal of something like, you can get anywhere in the five boroughs within 45 minutes…and saying, what do we need to do to make that happen.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Others prefer to point a finger at Gov. Cuomo, arguing that de Blasio is handicapped by the MTA governing structure, the same structure that has Cuomo eyeing a $65 million cut in MTA operations funding, a move being met with significant opposition as state budget talks wind down.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor does not control the MTA, he does not control the subways, and that's really a problem...so what the mayor's doing with the BQX, with Select Bus Service, the ferries, and Citi Bike, is really focusing on what he can control...that I think is a very smart direction to go in, because we can't count on the state, we can't count on the governor,” said Steely-White.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kabak, of Second Avenue Sagas, said last year that he believes for de Blasio, “some of it is perspective...I think he just doesn't have a good grasp of what transit means to so many people in New York.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>BQX</strong><br />The Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) is a 16-mile streetcar system that, if approved, will stretch from Astoria to Sunset Park. De Blasio announced his vision for the project as a centerpiece of his 2016 State of the City address, explaining that it would be an essential piece of his fight for more equity.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The BQX has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” he said at the time.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the espoused intention behind the BQX is to connect residents of Brooklyn and Queens, especially those in several public housing projects, to job-laden areas along the East River or other transportation into Manhattan, the proposal has been met with considerable skepticism from those who argue that it will only raise real estate prices and advance gentrification.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an interview with Gotham Gazette last year, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg dismissed such claims. “Equity was a huge part of it…I’m not sure we would have been able to convince the mayor if it was only luxury housing, or some of the hipsters moving in. I think what really turned a corner is that there are 44,000 people that live in public housing [along the proposed route]...So I see everything that comes out of the administration through the glasses of, ‘is this good for lower income people?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Critics wary of too much government-developer collusion have pointed to the involvement of developers such as Jed Walentas, CEO of Two Trees Management, who sits on the executive committee of Friends of the BQX, a non-profit set up to rally public support for the project. While this partnership might make sense considering increased property values are essential to the financing plan for the BQX, which the city says will largely pay for itself, it nevertheless does not sit well with some.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This seems to be very driven by Two Trees, who own a lot of property in DUMBO, and are looking at ways to make that area more accessible,” said Kabak. “So it's a transportation proposal that's put forward by a private entity that stands to gain and may not really solve the problem that the city has regarding mobility.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Some experts, however, are more optimistic. “If anything,” Steely-White of Transportation Alternatives said, “we're recommending that the mayor go even further in this direction, looking at more innovating financing mechanisms for city-led transit expansions…if you look at the innovative, value-capture approach they're taking to the BQX, you know, there's no reason that or other similar approaches could not be used to do more.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Steely-White was referring to a New York City Economic Development Corporation <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/176-16/mayor-de-blasio-details-latest-plans-the-brooklyn-queens-connector--new-21st-century-transit#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimate</a> that the $2.5 billion for the BQX will be recaptured by the city as it takes a percentage of increased property values and development each year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It very well might pay for itself,” said Gelinas, when asked about the BQX, “but that doesn't make it our top transit priority…improving capacity along a very crowded [subway] line may not pay for itself directly, but it affects more people.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has not voiced any intentions to pursue subway expansion, though he did celebrate the opening of phase one of the Second Avenue Subway extension. He <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6767-little-progress-made-on-utica-avenue-subway-expansion-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has not pushed to advance the Utica Avenue extension in Brooklyn</a> that many want to see made a priority by the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">Transit equity advocates have one major concern about the BQX: whether it will allow for free transfers between the streetcar and MTA-operated buses and subways it is projected to connect with. Such a one-swipe ride would take negotiation between the city and the MTA, and some kind of financial plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">If construction adheres to schedule, work on the BQX will begin in 2019-2020, with the first streetcar expected to be running by 2024, long after de Blasio is out of office, even if he serves two terms.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Ferry Service</strong><br />In addition to the BQX, the de Blasio administration has also been moving forward on bolstering the city’s ferry service. The only public ferry route currently operating is the Staten Island Ferry, which the administration <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/662-15/mayor-bill-de-blasio-dot-commissioner-trottenberg-full-implementation-30-minute" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">moved</a> to run every 30 minutes 24-hours per day, as opposed to the hourly schedule it previously offered during off-peak hours.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an effort to address overcrowding on the subway and provide waterfront commuters with increased transportation access, the city has teamed up with Hornblower, a San Francisco-based boat provider, to build a fleet of city-owned ferries that will eventually provide regular service to all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you talk to people in the Rockaways, if you talk to people in South Brooklyn, if you talk to people in Soundview in the Bronx, they will tell you that they didn’t feel like this City’s transportation system was built for them,” de Blasio told reporters at a recent press conference.</p> <p dir="ltr">The project will receive an initial $55 million capital investment, with an additional $30 million expected to be infused each year over six years. The citywide service is expected to serve 4.5 million passengers annually with stops in Astoria, Far Rockaway, and along the Brooklyn coastline that are projected to be operational by the summer of 2017. Additional stops are scheduled to be added to Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the Bronx in 2018, with further expansion likely to include Staten Island and other stops.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked about additional stops, especially to include spots further south on Staten Island, de Blasio was receptive, but non-committal. “I am very open to making additions after we see how the initial runs go…if they continue to be productive, we’ll be open to expansion,” the mayor said. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">However, as with the BQX, there is significant concern among experts that the ferries constitute an ill-advised investment. Arguing that de Blasio is wasting his time with the ferries, Gelinas told Gotham Gazette that “we’re still dealing with the margins…the ferries won’t do in a year what the subway system does in a day.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kabak agreed, describing the ferry proposal as “very limited in its scope, in that it really only has an impact on people who live very close to the waterfront.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about these concerns, Trottenberg argued that the waterfront was actually targeted specifically because “we have a good number of low-income areas along the waterfront,” adding that “the catchment area for the Brooklyn Navy Yard has lots of jobs, meaning the city suddenly takes in Red Hook, suddenly takes in some of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn with lower income.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio echoed this notion at a recent press conference about the service and the jobs it is both creating and helping New Yorkers get to: “We’re here at the Navy Yard because we really want to focus on the impact and the connection to jobs with citywide ferry service…We really wanted all of the jobs associated with citywide ferry service to be here, if that was possible to do, that was our goal. And we found with the Brooklyn Navy Yard an extraordinary partner.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Citi Bike</strong><br />The Mayor’s Office <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/980-16/mayor-de-blasio-that-citi-bike-rides-surged-40-percent-2016----nearly-14-million-trips" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> that Citi Bike saw a 40% increase in ridership in 2016, with 4 million more trips taken than in 2015. As the program has <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/469-16/mayor-de-blasio-motivate-citi-continued-expansion-the-citi-bike-program-further">expanded</a> further into Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, ridership has increased each year, with almost 14 million trips in 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are growing calls, though, for Citi Bike to expand into more neighborhoods, especially low-income neighborhoods, even if it means a public subsidy, which Mayor de Blasio has said he has no intention to pursue.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Citi Bike has already been touted by transit equity advocates as a positive development. “The biking and walking improvements that have been made are absolutely benefiting lower-income New Yorkers who are more reliant on transit and therefore more reliant on walking,” said Steely-White. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioner Trottenberg agreed, saying she supports more investment in walking and biking options and that she “would love to see a bridge across the East River for bicycles and pedestrians.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Given its success, both advocates and elected officials are now calling for Citi Bike to expand to less-accessible outerborough communities and the upper reaches of Manhattan. In November, the City Council put forth a proposal to expand the program to every neighborhood across the five boroughs by 2020. Trottenberg testified <a href="http://www.amny.com/transit/citi-bike-expansion-council-majority-supports-public-funding-option-1.12978524" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at a recent hearing</a> that a citywide program would require as many as 80,000 bikes. The current fleet is up to 10,000 and is on pace to grow by 2,000 every year, meaning a hefty funding increase would be needed to expand citywide by 2020.</p> <p dir="ltr">“When Citi Bike was created, it was created mostly thinking about the financial center,” Council Member Rodriguez, the transportation committee chair, told Gotham Gazette at a January press conference. “Now there’s a lot of transportation deserts that we have in the South Bronx, that we have in Brooklyn, that we have in Queens, that [Citi Bike] can be benefitting to,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it is unclear where the capital for such an expansion would come from, a City Council majority, led by Rodriguez, has called on de Blasio to incorporate the necessary funds into the 2018 budget. Rejecting this possibility, de Blasio told Gotham Gazette in January, “we have no plans for public financing of Citi Bike.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In its April response to the mayor’s preliminary budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, the Council stood fast on its position, officially proposing that de Blasio add $12 million of baseline funding to the DOT’s allotment for Citi Bike expansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whether it is Citi Bike reach or other options, the de Blasio administration believes his transportation efforts are addressing equity. “The Mayor…has made strides in creating a more equitable transportation system by offering multiple solutions that are tailored to the needs of specific communities,” wrote Raul Contreras, a deputy press secretary for de Blasio, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “[T]he development of brand new transportation options, such as Citibike, ferries and the BQX, impacts the lives of all New Yorkers, no matter what their socioeconomic status may be,” Contreras argued.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Vision Zero</strong><br />Connected to transportation is de Blasio’s street safety program, Vision Zero, which ambitiously aims to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024. The de Blasio administration, along with the City Council, took aggressive measures to begin implementation of Vision Zero in 2014 and quickly saw impressive results in reducing pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">There were 223 total traffic deaths in New York City in 2016; down from 233 in 2015; and 258 in 2014, which was the mayor’s first year in office. Though there was strong initial progress, the rate of decline must advance quickly to meet the goals set forth -- advocates and local officials are calling for additional street redesigns, changes to traffic signals, more protected bike lanes, and other adjustments.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has succeeded in lowering the city’s default speed limit to 25 mph, installing more speed cameras around schools, instituting the “Dusk and Darkness” initiative, and redesigning Queens Boulevard, aka “the Boulevard of Death,” among other advancements under Vision Zero.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, Steely-White said he saw a lack of full investment from de Blasio. “We're really looking for a much greater contribution in the city budget to the DOT, to undertake specifically those street safety fixes,” Steely-White said, “signal timing, street design, that don't really entail massive digging up of the street and all of that very involved capital work…so really now the ball is in the mayor's court. Will he fully fund Vision Zero or not?”</p> <p dir="ltr">At the Vision Zero press conference this January, de Blasio did announce an additional $370 million in funding for a variety of street redesigns. Admitting that “there’s a lot more to do,” de Blasio stressed that “a lot of the impact of Vision Zero has not been felt fully yet because it keeps building each year.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are celebrating the good news today that with $370 million in additional capital funding over the next five years, more intersections will see the fully constructed upgrades that they need to keep the number of deaths and injuries on our streets falling,” Council Member Rodriguez said in a January statement.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Reality</strong><br />Many want the city to have more control of the subway and bus systems. “If you look at what New York contributes as a whole in terms of all the taxes that fund the MTA, it's really largely New York City resources that are funding the system, and yet we still have very little control,” Steely-White said, before suggesting to start “thinking more holistically about our transportation system and maybe even starting to make a case for the city taking over some functions that the MTA currently performs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On the city-state dynamic, de Blasio indicated some progress. “In terms of Select Bus Service, which again in ridership terms is hugely important, that is a partnership between the city and the MTA that is functioning very well and is based on systematically determining where there are gaps we need to fill,” the mayor said.</p> <p>Commissioner Trottenberg, who sits on the MTA board, discussed the imperfect system. “Look, it's a challenge in New York...the transportation system here is broken up among several agencies -- you have city DOT, you have the MTA, you have the Port Authority, you have state DOT -- but I think all of us who run those agencies recognize that it's part of our responsibility to work together to create a seamless transportation system,” Trottenberg said. “If you're the customer, if you're a New Yorker trying to travel around the city, you don't care what agency it is, you just want to get where you're going.”</p> <p>

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

</p>
<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26512250791_ab13b3e79e_z.jpg" alt="de blasio subway" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio on the subway (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Announcing the next steps of his citywide ferry service initiative at a recent press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is pleased with what his administration has done to improve transit options for New Yorkers, but admitted that he hasn’t put forth a coherent, comprehensive transportation agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though transit experts have praised some of de Blasio’s moves to expand the city’s transportation network, many have also criticized what they call a piecemeal approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about that assessment by Gotham Gazette, as well as restrictions he faces in enacting a transportation agenda given that the city is reliant on the MTA, a state authority, de Blasio said that a lot is moving in the right direction. Pointing to a few examples, he claimed “pretty impressive growth in a city that already has a lot of mass transit.” But, de Blasio acknowledged, “What I don’t think we’ve done is sort of put it together in a single statement for people to see how all the pieces connect, and I think that is a commendable idea.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio appeared to think for the first time about having and presenting an overall transportation agenda, perhaps indicative of the fact that he has not approached transportation like he has education or affordable housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like virtually all policy areas, transportation is complex, expensive, and challenging in New York City. For many driving New Yorkers, the top concerns are traffic congestion and smoothly paved roads. For others, the focus, and often the ire, are the city’s subway and bus networks, which are largely controlled by the MTA, which includes several board members appointed by the mayor, and is funded through city and state monies. The majority of the power at the MTA resides with the state, which also allocates a larger portion of the MTA budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">An age-old problem for New York City mayors, though, is that New Yorkers don’t always realize that the MTA is a state authority, and therefore blame the mayor for travel woes. Mayor de Blasio has taken to a common refrain when the MTA comes up during interviews or press conferences: “The MTA subways, buses are run by the State of New York. That is their process to work through. We contribute money to the MTA, but the ultimate decisions are made by the State of New York,” de Blasio said during an interview Tuesday morning on Hot 97 radio.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city can propose its own funding for subway extensions, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg did with the 7 train to the far west side of Manhattan, and influence Select Bus Service routes, which are essentially express buses. The city, through its mayor and MTA board members and state legislators, also has influence over many other MTA decisions.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it is important that any mayoral administration work with the MTA -- additionally challenging these days given the ongoing feud between de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- the mayor and his Department of Transportation must find other ways to leave a meaningful impact on city transit, especially in terms of expanding options as the city population, tourism to the city, and subway ridership all swell.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Tuesday morning, de Blasio said that the city must move on transit projects no matter what is happening at the MTA. “[I]t takes a long time for the MTA to do anything that’s big and new,” the mayor said. “We’re able to do these things a lot quicker,” he said, referring to his administration’s efforts on ferries, bike-sharing, and a streetcar project coming to the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. “We’re starting them up now, and we’re doing a lot of the Select Bus Service in parts of the outer boroughs that were underserved, so those are, you know, faster buses that are very appealing to people because they can cut their commute a lot.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, for de Blasio the issue of “transit equity” is part of the discussion in ways it was not for his predecessors, given that the mayor was elected on an equity platform. Where his transportation initiatives reach and what they cost riders are of utmost importance as de Blasio attempts to increase economic mobility and shrink opportunity gaps.</p> <p dir="ltr">Three-plus years in, the de Blasio administration has basically established that three-pronged approach to expanding mass transportation options in the city: ferries, Citi Bike, and the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (or BQX) streetcar. Most of this agenda has not come online yet, though. Each reaches or is projected to reach some key, underserved communities and offers attractive alternatives or supplements to the subway and bus map. But, as de Blasio himself appeared to acknowledge, the pieces have not necessarily made for a comprehensive city approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">These proposals are “piecemeal at best,” said Ben Kabak, who writes the popular Second Avenue Sagas blog, which has focused on the Second Avenue Subway extension but deals with city transit more broadly. “It's hard to say that his administration even actually has a comprehensive plan for transit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The new ferry service, which will launch this summer, will build out over multiple years; the streetcar is in the planning stages and a few years off; and the ongoing expansion of Citi Bike continues. These marquee measures each fit into the de Blasio equity frame in different ways, though they each also have limitations in that regard.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re creating alternatives for people,” de Blasio told Hot 97. “We’re going to have citywide ferry service starting this year, and including some communities that have really been left out of the equation like Soundview in the Bronx and the Rockaways…We’re [also] talking about a light rail system from Astoria, Queens down to Sunset Park, Brooklyn.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor is faced with major funding and program decisions: how much to contribute to the MTA; how the BQX will be paid for; where to install ferry landings and when; whether to invest public dollars to speed Citi Bike’s move into new neighborhoods; and whether to fund the “fair fares” proposal that would provide subsidized Metrocards to poor New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio is also facing questions about costs related to the ferry system and BQX: fares for each will be pegged to the price of a subway ride, according to the mayor, but there will not necessarily be fare integration, which would allow a free transfer from, say, the BQX to a subway near the route.</p> <p dir="ltr">On “fair fares,” de Blasio has thus far argued the city cannot afford its estimated $212 million annual price tag and said it should be the state’s responsibility anyway. For some, this has detracted from de Blasio’s equity mantel, and a broad coalition of groups and individuals are calling on him to reconsider. Meanwhile, the MTA chair has said it is a city responsibility, calling it a “social program,” not under the MTA’s purview.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its April 3 response to de Blasio’s fiscal year 2018 preliminary budget, the City Council offered the mayor a $50 million compromise for a pilot fair fares program. Nancy Rankin, vice president of policy, research and advocacy for the Community Service Society and City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee, discussed the specifics of that proposal outside a City Hall subway station on Wednesday. They explained a three-year ramp-up proposal to fully fund fair fares: first for the 380,000 New Yorkers living in “deep poverty” (families of three making less than $10,00 per year, or families of four making less than $12,000) and eventually for all 800,000 living in poverty.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Look, it’s a world of choices,” de Blasio said at a March press conference centered around his Vision Zero street safety program, when asked why he was subsidizing the ferry service but wouldn’t back the fair fares plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Your choices matter” happens to be a slogan de Blasio has used, alongside the NYPD, when promoting Vision Zero. De Blasio has encouraged New Yorkers, especially drivers, to be more careful, and has put largely successful efforts in motion to reduce pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist fatalities. While it is not exactly about transit options or equity, per se, Vision Zero has a transportation focus and implicit in its safety goals is the use of bikes and expansion of bike lanes.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio’s transportation choices have received mixed reviews -- some wonder if the BQX will actually get built, while some question if it should, for example -- and the mayor has promised an imminent plan to battle congestion on city streets, especially in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Paul Steely-White, executive director of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, told Gotham Gazette in an interview last year that he believes “the city should get more intentional and more systematic in terms of how it's addressing these different options, and how they are going to be greater than the sum of their parts.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Though he did admit he has not shown that overall vision, the mayor thinks that things are going well. “What the city is doing on its own and what the MTA is doing, I think they’re complementary,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette at a March press conference. “You look at the routes and how they function, I’m very comfortable with the fact that everything is supporting everything else.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think there is a vision in that we’re grabbing every opportunity to fill gaps and reach places that don’t have enough service and it’s moving very steadily by any measure,” the mayor said. “You look at just over the last few years, the growth of Select Bus Service, the ferry system coming online after 100 years, the light rail...I feel good.” The mayor did not acknowledge that much of what he was citing is not yet functional.</p> <p dir="ltr">While de Blasio might characterize his approach as “filling gaps” left by the subway system, others see it as disjointed. “It’s not a comprehensive plan,” Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute told Gotham Gazette in a 2016 interview. “It makes for part of a plan, but it shouldn’t be a whole plan.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked what would constitute a comprehensive plan, Gelinas offered the following: “a goal of something like, you can get anywhere in the five boroughs within 45 minutes…and saying, what do we need to do to make that happen.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Others prefer to point a finger at Gov. Cuomo, arguing that de Blasio is handicapped by the MTA governing structure, the same structure that has Cuomo eyeing a $65 million cut in MTA operations funding, a move being met with significant opposition as state budget talks wind down.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor does not control the MTA, he does not control the subways, and that's really a problem...so what the mayor's doing with the BQX, with Select Bus Service, the ferries, and Citi Bike, is really focusing on what he can control...that I think is a very smart direction to go in, because we can't count on the state, we can't count on the governor,” said Steely-White.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kabak, of Second Avenue Sagas, said last year that he believes for de Blasio, “some of it is perspective...I think he just doesn't have a good grasp of what transit means to so many people in New York.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>BQX</strong><br />The Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) is a 16-mile streetcar system that, if approved, will stretch from Astoria to Sunset Park. De Blasio announced his vision for the project as a centerpiece of his 2016 State of the City address, explaining that it would be an essential piece of his fight for more equity.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The BQX has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” he said at the time.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the espoused intention behind the BQX is to connect residents of Brooklyn and Queens, especially those in several public housing projects, to job-laden areas along the East River or other transportation into Manhattan, the proposal has been met with considerable skepticism from those who argue that it will only raise real estate prices and advance gentrification.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an interview with Gotham Gazette last year, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg dismissed such claims. “Equity was a huge part of it…I’m not sure we would have been able to convince the mayor if it was only luxury housing, or some of the hipsters moving in. I think what really turned a corner is that there are 44,000 people that live in public housing [along the proposed route]...So I see everything that comes out of the administration through the glasses of, ‘is this good for lower income people?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Critics wary of too much government-developer collusion have pointed to the involvement of developers such as Jed Walentas, CEO of Two Trees Management, who sits on the executive committee of Friends of the BQX, a non-profit set up to rally public support for the project. While this partnership might make sense considering increased property values are essential to the financing plan for the BQX, which the city says will largely pay for itself, it nevertheless does not sit well with some.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This seems to be very driven by Two Trees, who own a lot of property in DUMBO, and are looking at ways to make that area more accessible,” said Kabak. “So it's a transportation proposal that's put forward by a private entity that stands to gain and may not really solve the problem that the city has regarding mobility.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Some experts, however, are more optimistic. “If anything,” Steely-White of Transportation Alternatives said, “we're recommending that the mayor go even further in this direction, looking at more innovating financing mechanisms for city-led transit expansions…if you look at the innovative, value-capture approach they're taking to the BQX, you know, there's no reason that or other similar approaches could not be used to do more.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Steely-White was referring to a New York City Economic Development Corporation <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/176-16/mayor-de-blasio-details-latest-plans-the-brooklyn-queens-connector--new-21st-century-transit#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimate</a> that the $2.5 billion for the BQX will be recaptured by the city as it takes a percentage of increased property values and development each year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It very well might pay for itself,” said Gelinas, when asked about the BQX, “but that doesn't make it our top transit priority…improving capacity along a very crowded [subway] line may not pay for itself directly, but it affects more people.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has not voiced any intentions to pursue subway expansion, though he did celebrate the opening of phase one of the Second Avenue Subway extension. He <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6767-little-progress-made-on-utica-avenue-subway-expansion-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has not pushed to advance the Utica Avenue extension in Brooklyn</a> that many want to see made a priority by the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">Transit equity advocates have one major concern about the BQX: whether it will allow for free transfers between the streetcar and MTA-operated buses and subways it is projected to connect with. Such a one-swipe ride would take negotiation between the city and the MTA, and some kind of financial plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">If construction adheres to schedule, work on the BQX will begin in 2019-2020, with the first streetcar expected to be running by 2024, long after de Blasio is out of office, even if he serves two terms.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Ferry Service</strong><br />In addition to the BQX, the de Blasio administration has also been moving forward on bolstering the city’s ferry service. The only public ferry route currently operating is the Staten Island Ferry, which the administration <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/662-15/mayor-bill-de-blasio-dot-commissioner-trottenberg-full-implementation-30-minute" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">moved</a> to run every 30 minutes 24-hours per day, as opposed to the hourly schedule it previously offered during off-peak hours.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an effort to address overcrowding on the subway and provide waterfront commuters with increased transportation access, the city has teamed up with Hornblower, a San Francisco-based boat provider, to build a fleet of city-owned ferries that will eventually provide regular service to all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you talk to people in the Rockaways, if you talk to people in South Brooklyn, if you talk to people in Soundview in the Bronx, they will tell you that they didn’t feel like this City’s transportation system was built for them,” de Blasio told reporters at a recent press conference.</p> <p dir="ltr">The project will receive an initial $55 million capital investment, with an additional $30 million expected to be infused each year over six years. The citywide service is expected to serve 4.5 million passengers annually with stops in Astoria, Far Rockaway, and along the Brooklyn coastline that are projected to be operational by the summer of 2017. Additional stops are scheduled to be added to Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the Bronx in 2018, with further expansion likely to include Staten Island and other stops.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked about additional stops, especially to include spots further south on Staten Island, de Blasio was receptive, but non-committal. “I am very open to making additions after we see how the initial runs go…if they continue to be productive, we’ll be open to expansion,” the mayor said. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">However, as with the BQX, there is significant concern among experts that the ferries constitute an ill-advised investment. Arguing that de Blasio is wasting his time with the ferries, Gelinas told Gotham Gazette that “we’re still dealing with the margins…the ferries won’t do in a year what the subway system does in a day.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kabak agreed, describing the ferry proposal as “very limited in its scope, in that it really only has an impact on people who live very close to the waterfront.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about these concerns, Trottenberg argued that the waterfront was actually targeted specifically because “we have a good number of low-income areas along the waterfront,” adding that “the catchment area for the Brooklyn Navy Yard has lots of jobs, meaning the city suddenly takes in Red Hook, suddenly takes in some of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn with lower income.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio echoed this notion at a recent press conference about the service and the jobs it is both creating and helping New Yorkers get to: “We’re here at the Navy Yard because we really want to focus on the impact and the connection to jobs with citywide ferry service…We really wanted all of the jobs associated with citywide ferry service to be here, if that was possible to do, that was our goal. And we found with the Brooklyn Navy Yard an extraordinary partner.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Citi Bike</strong><br />The Mayor’s Office <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/980-16/mayor-de-blasio-that-citi-bike-rides-surged-40-percent-2016----nearly-14-million-trips" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> that Citi Bike saw a 40% increase in ridership in 2016, with 4 million more trips taken than in 2015. As the program has <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/469-16/mayor-de-blasio-motivate-citi-continued-expansion-the-citi-bike-program-further">expanded</a> further into Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, ridership has increased each year, with almost 14 million trips in 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are growing calls, though, for Citi Bike to expand into more neighborhoods, especially low-income neighborhoods, even if it means a public subsidy, which Mayor de Blasio has said he has no intention to pursue.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Citi Bike has already been touted by transit equity advocates as a positive development. “The biking and walking improvements that have been made are absolutely benefiting lower-income New Yorkers who are more reliant on transit and therefore more reliant on walking,” said Steely-White. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioner Trottenberg agreed, saying she supports more investment in walking and biking options and that she “would love to see a bridge across the East River for bicycles and pedestrians.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Given its success, both advocates and elected officials are now calling for Citi Bike to expand to less-accessible outerborough communities and the upper reaches of Manhattan. In November, the City Council put forth a proposal to expand the program to every neighborhood across the five boroughs by 2020. Trottenberg testified <a href="http://www.amny.com/transit/citi-bike-expansion-council-majority-supports-public-funding-option-1.12978524" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at a recent hearing</a> that a citywide program would require as many as 80,000 bikes. The current fleet is up to 10,000 and is on pace to grow by 2,000 every year, meaning a hefty funding increase would be needed to expand citywide by 2020.</p> <p dir="ltr">“When Citi Bike was created, it was created mostly thinking about the financial center,” Council Member Rodriguez, the transportation committee chair, told Gotham Gazette at a January press conference. “Now there’s a lot of transportation deserts that we have in the South Bronx, that we have in Brooklyn, that we have in Queens, that [Citi Bike] can be benefitting to,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it is unclear where the capital for such an expansion would come from, a City Council majority, led by Rodriguez, has called on de Blasio to incorporate the necessary funds into the 2018 budget. Rejecting this possibility, de Blasio told Gotham Gazette in January, “we have no plans for public financing of Citi Bike.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In its April response to the mayor’s preliminary budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, the Council stood fast on its position, officially proposing that de Blasio add $12 million of baseline funding to the DOT’s allotment for Citi Bike expansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whether it is Citi Bike reach or other options, the de Blasio administration believes his transportation efforts are addressing equity. “The Mayor…has made strides in creating a more equitable transportation system by offering multiple solutions that are tailored to the needs of specific communities,” wrote Raul Contreras, a deputy press secretary for de Blasio, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “[T]he development of brand new transportation options, such as Citibike, ferries and the BQX, impacts the lives of all New Yorkers, no matter what their socioeconomic status may be,” Contreras argued.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Vision Zero</strong><br />Connected to transportation is de Blasio’s street safety program, Vision Zero, which ambitiously aims to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024. The de Blasio administration, along with the City Council, took aggressive measures to begin implementation of Vision Zero in 2014 and quickly saw impressive results in reducing pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">There were 223 total traffic deaths in New York City in 2016; down from 233 in 2015; and 258 in 2014, which was the mayor’s first year in office. Though there was strong initial progress, the rate of decline must advance quickly to meet the goals set forth -- advocates and local officials are calling for additional street redesigns, changes to traffic signals, more protected bike lanes, and other adjustments.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has succeeded in lowering the city’s default speed limit to 25 mph, installing more speed cameras around schools, instituting the “Dusk and Darkness” initiative, and redesigning Queens Boulevard, aka “the Boulevard of Death,” among other advancements under Vision Zero.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, Steely-White said he saw a lack of full investment from de Blasio. “We're really looking for a much greater contribution in the city budget to the DOT, to undertake specifically those street safety fixes,” Steely-White said, “signal timing, street design, that don't really entail massive digging up of the street and all of that very involved capital work…so really now the ball is in the mayor's court. Will he fully fund Vision Zero or not?”</p> <p dir="ltr">At the Vision Zero press conference this January, de Blasio did announce an additional $370 million in funding for a variety of street redesigns. Admitting that “there’s a lot more to do,” de Blasio stressed that “a lot of the impact of Vision Zero has not been felt fully yet because it keeps building each year.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are celebrating the good news today that with $370 million in additional capital funding over the next five years, more intersections will see the fully constructed upgrades that they need to keep the number of deaths and injuries on our streets falling,” Council Member Rodriguez said in a January statement.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Reality</strong><br />Many want the city to have more control of the subway and bus systems. “If you look at what New York contributes as a whole in terms of all the taxes that fund the MTA, it's really largely New York City resources that are funding the system, and yet we still have very little control,” Steely-White said, before suggesting to start “thinking more holistically about our transportation system and maybe even starting to make a case for the city taking over some functions that the MTA currently performs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On the city-state dynamic, de Blasio indicated some progress. “In terms of Select Bus Service, which again in ridership terms is hugely important, that is a partnership between the city and the MTA that is functioning very well and is based on systematically determining where there are gaps we need to fill,” the mayor said.</p> <p>Commissioner Trottenberg, who sits on the MTA board, discussed the imperfect system. “Look, it's a challenge in New York...the transportation system here is broken up among several agencies -- you have city DOT, you have the MTA, you have the Port Authority, you have state DOT -- but I think all of us who run those agencies recognize that it's part of our responsibility to work together to create a seamless transportation system,” Trottenberg said. “If you're the customer, if you're a New Yorker trying to travel around the city, you don't care what agency it is, you just want to get where you're going.”</p> <p>

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

</p>
Budget Watchdogs Question De Blasio’s 'Mansion Tax' 2017-03-23T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-23T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6830:budget-watchdogs-question-de-blasio-s-mansion-tax Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32767734794_a0c5bd435f_z.jpg" alt="de blasio mansion tax" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio pitches his mansion tax (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Budget watchdogs have expressed concern that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “mansion tax” proposal, which would impose levies on real estate transactions above $2 million, may be misguided or even unnecessary.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio made a last-minute trip to Albany on Wednesday to rally with Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates in favor of a number of proposals currently being considered in state budget negotiations. The mayor’s chief concern, however, was the mansion tax, a proposal he has floated for years and revived this budget season as a tool to subsidize affordable housing for seniors.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposal would impose a 2.5 percent tax on buyers who purchase property in the city at more than $2 million, raising an estimated $336 million next year, according to the mayor. That funding would then be used for a new Elder Rent Assistance program to provide $1,300 in monthly assistance to 25,000 seniors, the mayor said at his State of the City speech in February. In order to implement the tax, the city needs state approval, which is unlikely given opposition to new taxes from the Republican majority in the state Senate as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who is fiscally moderate and habitually opposed to de Blasio proposals.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Wednesday rally at the state Capitol was one stop in something of a barnstorm by de Blasio, who has been pushing the mansion tax plan among seniors, including at two senior center stops on Thursday. The mayor has cited the necessity of the tax revenue to provide the additional rent subsidies to older New Yorkers who fit certain age and income guidelines.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6826-in-albany-de-blasio-and-democrats-to-push-mansion-tax">In Albany, De Blasio and Democrats Push ‘Mansion Tax’</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">But fiscal experts question whether the city really needs a new tax to raise that revenue and, if so, whether a transactional tax is the best way to do it.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This could be a good idea in the context of general property tax reform and other tax reform,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “But it's not a good idea as a revenue raiser."</p> <p dir="ltr">Gelinas noted that the city already charges a mortgage tax, which she called “a tax on people who can't pay cash for an apartment.” “If we wanted to have a more progressive tax on just the purchase of more expensive properties, the money should go to reducing or eliminating mortgage taxes or other property taxes," she added.</p> <p dir="ltr">That’s not what the mayor is proposing. Instead, Gelinas pointed out, de Blasio is attempting to raise revenue for a new program through a new tax, something mayors don’t usually do unless they face a sharp revenue crunch. “The city is not exactly starved for revenue right now,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although the city is feeling the early effects of an economic slowdown, revenues and reserves are still robust after years of sustained growth. Available monies could be used to prioritize affordable senior housing, Gelinas said. Yet, as he once did with his universal pre-kindergarten program, de Blasio is insisting that the way to fund his senior assistance program is through a new tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mansion tax also faces opposition at home from allies of de Blasio. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told Gotham Gazette that she opposes the $2 million threshold for the tax since it would have an outsize impact in Manhattan, where property prices are far greater than the other boroughs. She would prefer a $5 million threshold. “Manhattan should not be the cash cow for the rest of the boroughs,” she said last month.</p> <p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park2/2017/02/how-many-homes-apartments-in-new-york-city-sold-in-recent-years-for-more-than-2-million/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> by the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office, prompted by Brewer, looked at property sales from the last three years and found that between 2014 and 2016, 8 percent of homes sold citywide were priced at $2 million or more. Of those, 86 percent were in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6773-de-blasio-faces-local-questions-about-mansion-tax-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio Faces Local Questions About ‘Mansion Tax’ Plan</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">In response, the de Blasio administration points out that it is a “marginal tax for incremental sales price over $2 million,” meaning that only the price above the $2 million would be taxed at the 2.5 percent. Those purchasing homes closer to the $2 million threshold would be paying very little in added tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are also <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/de-blasios-mansion-tax-would-hit-humble-homesteads-1485816608" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">concerns</a> among the real estate industry about the proposal’s effect on sales, at a time when Brooklyn brownstones can cross the $2 million threshold. The de Blasio administration dismisses that concern due to the incremental nature of the tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">Carol Kellerman, president of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, believes the mayor hasn’t made a clear case for the mansion tax. “If the goal is to impose higher taxes on people perceived to be wealthy, there are ways to do it through the income tax structure,” she said in a phone interview. “The mayor’s not proposing this as a form of budget relief or as necessary for budget needs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kellerman also emphasized the “volatile” nature of a transactional tax, which would depend on the ups and downs of the real estate industry and also have a “distortive impact” on the market and change behavior. “If there’s a need to raise that amount of revenue, a transfer tax of this nature is not a reliable source of revenue,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">She also pointed out that the mayor has already allocated billions in the city’s capital plan for affordable housing, so the need for a separate tax for senior housing doesn’t necessarily pass muster.</p> <p dir="ltr">Given opposition from state Senate Republicans, the mansion tax may be dead on arrival in Albany. De Blasio has argued, including in Albany Wednesday, that he’s heard that before about proposals, such as the $15 minimum wage. Gelinas was blunt about mansion tax prospects. "I don't think it's going to go anywhere," she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for the de Blasio administration refuted both Gelinas and Kellerman’s concerns, stressing that property tax reform is a larger undertaking and that the mansion tax is necessary when considering how the proposed federal budget will impact affordable housing and seniors in particular.</p> <p dir="ltr">The spokesperson also pointed out New York’s existing state mansion tax, which is 1 percent for properties above $1 million, and cited jurisdictions around the world that have used similar taxes to fund policy goals from rising housing markets.</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for another budget watchdog, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, declined to comment on the mansion tax proposal. The comptroller has not released any fiscal analysis of the proposal.</p> <p>At the Wednesday rally in Albany, de Blasio reiterated the need for the mansion tax. “Here’s the bottom line, right now, there are seniors struggling to get by in New York City and all over New York State,” he said. “There are seniors struggling to get by because so many of them are on fixed incomes. So many of them don’t have a way to get more income but the cost of housing keeps going up...We owe it to them to get it right, and asking the wealthy to pay their fair share so our seniors can have decent life is a thing we call common sense.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32767734794_a0c5bd435f_z.jpg" alt="de blasio mansion tax" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio pitches his mansion tax (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Budget watchdogs have expressed concern that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “mansion tax” proposal, which would impose levies on real estate transactions above $2 million, may be misguided or even unnecessary.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio made a last-minute trip to Albany on Wednesday to rally with Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates in favor of a number of proposals currently being considered in state budget negotiations. The mayor’s chief concern, however, was the mansion tax, a proposal he has floated for years and revived this budget season as a tool to subsidize affordable housing for seniors.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposal would impose a 2.5 percent tax on buyers who purchase property in the city at more than $2 million, raising an estimated $336 million next year, according to the mayor. That funding would then be used for a new Elder Rent Assistance program to provide $1,300 in monthly assistance to 25,000 seniors, the mayor said at his State of the City speech in February. In order to implement the tax, the city needs state approval, which is unlikely given opposition to new taxes from the Republican majority in the state Senate as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who is fiscally moderate and habitually opposed to de Blasio proposals.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Wednesday rally at the state Capitol was one stop in something of a barnstorm by de Blasio, who has been pushing the mansion tax plan among seniors, including at two senior center stops on Thursday. The mayor has cited the necessity of the tax revenue to provide the additional rent subsidies to older New Yorkers who fit certain age and income guidelines.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6826-in-albany-de-blasio-and-democrats-to-push-mansion-tax">In Albany, De Blasio and Democrats Push ‘Mansion Tax’</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">But fiscal experts question whether the city really needs a new tax to raise that revenue and, if so, whether a transactional tax is the best way to do it.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This could be a good idea in the context of general property tax reform and other tax reform,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “But it's not a good idea as a revenue raiser."</p> <p dir="ltr">Gelinas noted that the city already charges a mortgage tax, which she called “a tax on people who can't pay cash for an apartment.” “If we wanted to have a more progressive tax on just the purchase of more expensive properties, the money should go to reducing or eliminating mortgage taxes or other property taxes," she added.</p> <p dir="ltr">That’s not what the mayor is proposing. Instead, Gelinas pointed out, de Blasio is attempting to raise revenue for a new program through a new tax, something mayors don’t usually do unless they face a sharp revenue crunch. “The city is not exactly starved for revenue right now,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although the city is feeling the early effects of an economic slowdown, revenues and reserves are still robust after years of sustained growth. Available monies could be used to prioritize affordable senior housing, Gelinas said. Yet, as he once did with his universal pre-kindergarten program, de Blasio is insisting that the way to fund his senior assistance program is through a new tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mansion tax also faces opposition at home from allies of de Blasio. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told Gotham Gazette that she opposes the $2 million threshold for the tax since it would have an outsize impact in Manhattan, where property prices are far greater than the other boroughs. She would prefer a $5 million threshold. “Manhattan should not be the cash cow for the rest of the boroughs,” she said last month.</p> <p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://ibo.nyc.ny.us/cgi-park2/2017/02/how-many-homes-apartments-in-new-york-city-sold-in-recent-years-for-more-than-2-million/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> by the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office, prompted by Brewer, looked at property sales from the last three years and found that between 2014 and 2016, 8 percent of homes sold citywide were priced at $2 million or more. Of those, 86 percent were in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6773-de-blasio-faces-local-questions-about-mansion-tax-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio Faces Local Questions About ‘Mansion Tax’ Plan</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">In response, the de Blasio administration points out that it is a “marginal tax for incremental sales price over $2 million,” meaning that only the price above the $2 million would be taxed at the 2.5 percent. Those purchasing homes closer to the $2 million threshold would be paying very little in added tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are also <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/de-blasios-mansion-tax-would-hit-humble-homesteads-1485816608" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">concerns</a> among the real estate industry about the proposal’s effect on sales, at a time when Brooklyn brownstones can cross the $2 million threshold. The de Blasio administration dismisses that concern due to the incremental nature of the tax.</p> <p dir="ltr">Carol Kellerman, president of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, believes the mayor hasn’t made a clear case for the mansion tax. “If the goal is to impose higher taxes on people perceived to be wealthy, there are ways to do it through the income tax structure,” she said in a phone interview. “The mayor’s not proposing this as a form of budget relief or as necessary for budget needs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kellerman also emphasized the “volatile” nature of a transactional tax, which would depend on the ups and downs of the real estate industry and also have a “distortive impact” on the market and change behavior. “If there’s a need to raise that amount of revenue, a transfer tax of this nature is not a reliable source of revenue,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">She also pointed out that the mayor has already allocated billions in the city’s capital plan for affordable housing, so the need for a separate tax for senior housing doesn’t necessarily pass muster.</p> <p dir="ltr">Given opposition from state Senate Republicans, the mansion tax may be dead on arrival in Albany. De Blasio has argued, including in Albany Wednesday, that he’s heard that before about proposals, such as the $15 minimum wage. Gelinas was blunt about mansion tax prospects. "I don't think it's going to go anywhere," she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for the de Blasio administration refuted both Gelinas and Kellerman’s concerns, stressing that property tax reform is a larger undertaking and that the mansion tax is necessary when considering how the proposed federal budget will impact affordable housing and seniors in particular.</p> <p dir="ltr">The spokesperson also pointed out New York’s existing state mansion tax, which is 1 percent for properties above $1 million, and cited jurisdictions around the world that have used similar taxes to fund policy goals from rising housing markets.</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for another budget watchdog, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, declined to comment on the mansion tax proposal. The comptroller has not released any fiscal analysis of the proposal.</p> <p>At the Wednesday rally in Albany, de Blasio reiterated the need for the mansion tax. “Here’s the bottom line, right now, there are seniors struggling to get by in New York City and all over New York State,” he said. “There are seniors struggling to get by because so many of them are on fixed incomes. So many of them don’t have a way to get more income but the cost of housing keeps going up...We owe it to them to get it right, and asking the wealthy to pay their fair share so our seniors can have decent life is a thing we call common sense.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Facing Reality, City Leaders Reassess 'Trump Effect' 2016-11-22T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-22T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6636:facing-reality-city-leaders-reassess-trump-effect Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27469604976_24e6cb2b05_z.jpg" alt="mmv trump tower" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mark-Viverito at Trump Tower (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Local elected officials continue to take stock of what a Trump presidency might mean for New York City, and with budget season around the corner, only one word can describe their feelings: uncertainty.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are all waiting to see what President-elect Donald Trump will actually do when he takes office in January. Trump, a Republican, made many campaign promises that alarmed city officials, who are almost all Democrats. De Blasio, Stringer, and Mark-Viverito all supported Hillary Clinton for President, and sounded varying volumes of alarm bells about the threat Trump may pose to the city and its residents.</p> <p>In his first two weeks as president-elect, though, Trump has already backtracked on a number of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/11/us/politics/what-trump-wants-to-change.html" target="_blank">his campaign promises</a>, but he hasn’t entirely withdrawn from plans that could have major consequences for New York City. He has sworn that he will deport undocumented immigrants, force the registration of all Muslims, and cut funding to Planned Parenthood, all of which would have significant implications in New York. His pledge to overhaul the tax code could affect personal incomes of New Yorkers and any curbs on immigration could affect employment in a city with a large immigrant population. If he leads repeal of the Affordable Care Act, New York would be one of the hardest hit states, and if he decides to cut federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities, New York City would undoubtedly suffer.</p> <p>Since Trump’s victory, de Blasio has repeatedly said he can’t say for sure what Trump will actually prioritize or follow through on as President. Trump’s public statements have warranted a wait-and-see approach. But, de Blasio also met with the president-elect to, as the mayor told it, express the fears many New Yorkers have of a Trump presidency, and gave a speech Monday to both explain what the city would do in the face of certain Trump campaign pledges becoming reality and asking New Yorkers to take certain action right now to help build a response movement to that which Trump created. The mayor has said he hopes Trump will remember where he came from and that he is willing to work with the new federal administration on areas of agreement, like helping working people.</p> <p>Stringer's office, which oversees city finances, <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/as-president-elect-trump-prepares-to-take-office-comptroller-stringer-releases-initial-analysis-of-federal-funding-to-nyc/" target="_blank">performed</a> an "initial analysis" of the potential impact of a Trump presidency based on the president-elect’s campaign agenda, warning of the potential loss of federal funding.</p> <p>As she did during the campaign, Mark-Viverito has taken a hard line against Trump, tweeting with the #NotMyPresident hashtag, and <a href="https://twitter.com/MMViverito/status/800557506837610497" target="_blank">posting</a> “Constant resistance MUST be our new normal. &amp; I'm up for the fight.”</p> <p>Back in July, at a breakfast event hosted by the Association for a Better New York, Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/mark-viverito-commissions-study-of-trump-policies-not-clintons-103784" target="_blank">released the findings of a City Council study</a> she commissioned on Trump’s policies, conducted by the Council’s finance division. The study foresaw drastic repercussions for the city. It estimated that deporting all undocumented immigrants in the country would cost between $400 and $600 billion, and New York State alone would have to contribute $49.2 billion for those costs. These deportations would mean that New York City would lose 340,000 jobs, more so than in 2001 after the World Trade Center attacks and after the 2008 recession, the report said. The consequent loss in revenue from undocumented immigrants would be $793 million in state and city taxes, according to the report.</p> <p>Overall, New York’s Gross City Product would decline by 3 percent, between $23.1 and $26.3 billion, according to the City Council report.</p> <p>The study also looked at immigration from 32 Muslim-majority nations -- Trump had made a campaign call to halt all immigration to the U.S. by Muslims. The Council estimated that 263,000 New Yorkers hail from these countries, of which 157,000 are working citizens and about 25,000 are self-employed. “Overall, workers in New York City who were born in Muslim-majority countries contribute $14.2 billion annually to our local economy,” the study states.</p> <p>About 900 Muslims serve in the New York Police Department, something de Blasio has highlighted repeatedly since Trump’s election and the mayor said he was sure to tell Trump when the two met at Trump Tower on November 16.</p> <p>Since Election Day, Mark-Viverito has struck a defiant tone towards Trump, vowing to stand up to the “hate, bigotry and racism” inspired by his campaign. “We are and will continue to be a city that respects and protects immigrants, people of diverse faiths and races, LGBTQ New Yorkers, a city that values and empowers women and all of our communities,” Mark-Viverito said November 9, the day after the election. “We are better, stronger and prosperous because of our commitment to inclusion.”</p> <p>As she and others wrestle with what a Trump presidency will mean more tangibly for New York, the speaker hasn’t made any mention of the Council study from July, though. It isn’t available on the City Council’s website and wasn’t sent out in a press release the day it was unveiled. Eric Koch, a spokesperson for the speaker, said in an email last week that the “report still stands.”</p> <p>When asked why Mark-Viverito hasn’t talked about the study, Koch said, “I don’t think you need to mention a study every time you talk about something.” He said the analysis had been provided to members of the press at the ABNY event and anyone who had requested it. The speaker invited criticism for producing the study with city resources since she was an active surrogate for Clinton during the campaign. She did not order a similar examination of Clinton’s policies, explaining at the time that Trump’s drastic proposals warranted looking at how they would affect the city.</p> <p>During his speech at The Cooper Union on Monday, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6634-7-things-de-blasio-asked-new-yorkers-to-do-in-the-face-of-trump-s-election" target="_blank">vowed to stand strong</a> against Trump’s policies if they should run contrary to the city’s values and interests. “We New Yorkers will stand together,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to stand up for the needs for working people. We’re going to stand up for the right to organize. We’re going to stand up for our immigrant brothers and sisters. And we know that so many in this city fear being affronted, and we will stand with each and every one.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s administration is also preparing for what could be drastic cuts to the city’s budget. In the current fiscal year, roughly $8.5 billion was budgeted under federal contributions, according to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/fp11-16.pdf" target="_blank">November budget modification</a> which adjusted the total city budget upwards to $83.5 billion from the $82.1 billion that was arrived at in the adopted budget. The modification also included projections for the next few fiscal years, and estimates a lower federal contribution of $6.8 billion for fiscal 2018 and $6.6 billion for the two years after that.</p> <p>Asked for more specifics at a Tuesday press conference about how he would fight federal policy and plug potential budget reductions, de Blasio said, “we’re going to seek to resolve these issues when we can, but if the federal government asks the City of New York to do something we think is against our vital interests, we’re prepared to stand up. I’m not going to speculate about the funding issues because it’s way too early to tell.”</p> <p>“There’s no way to know yet how the City’s budget may be affected by potential policies under the Trump administration because we don’t yet know what they will do,” said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an email. “We’re preparing cautiously and we’ll respond aggressively, but at this point it’s all theoretical.”</p> <p>Trump’s propositions stand to have a domino effect that may be hard to fully grasp. New York State has already suffered from an imbalance of payments to the federal government for decades, which late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan first highlighted in a report termed “The Fisc” in 1976. The state received less in federal aid than it pays in federal taxes, roughly 91 cents to the dollar, according to a <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/oct15/102715.htm" target="_blank">2015 analysis</a> by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.</p> <p>“In the best case scenario,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of Center for an Urban Future, a liberal think tank, “New York keeps doing what it’s doing without help from Washington D.C.” Although he gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, he said the state will definitely miss out on opportunities that would have been likely under a Clinton administration, such as funding for social services, transit infrastructure, and immigration reform. While Trump has promised a major infrastructure spending package, it is unclear what form that could take or whether he and Congress, albeit Republican-controlled, will agree on its scope and funding.</p> <p>“In the worst case scenario,” Bowles said, “a Trump administration could take New York backwards on health care, immigration, trade, and criminal justice.”</p> <p>He cited the importance of immigrants to the city and how a ban on certain types of immigration could be disastrous. “It goes far beyond lost tax revenue,” he said. “Immigrants have been a real catalyst for growth.” And under Trump’s proposals, he foresees a decline in legal immigration as well. “New York is a huge loser if that happens,” he said.</p> <p>Trump has also promised to upend current trade agreements which, Bowles argues, have been massively beneficial to a global hub like New York City. “Every industry just about has seen growth because of globalization,” he said, citing fashion, law, technology, among others. “So much of the city’s economy is built on exporting and trading products.”</p> <p>Bowles also warns that the figures in the speaker’s report “only scratch the surface” of the effects on New York City that a Trump administration and like-minded Congress could have. Major changes in healthcare policies would lead to greater burdens on the city and state’s budget, he said, as it absorbs the cost of lost federal aid. On the precarious state of criminal justice policy, he pointed out, the president-elect’s tone and rhetoric could create further divisions.</p> <p>But the one aspect Bowles fears most is the omnipresent threat of terrorism. “As a New Yorker, I’m really afraid that President-elect Trump...could make statements or policy decisions that increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks,” he said, expressing concern that the rhetoric Trump employed on the campaign trail could speed up domestic radicalization if carried forward into the presidency. “Hopefully,” he said, “the president-elect will put good people in place and they won’t go there.”</p> <p>By some estimates, New Yorkers might feel the effect of a Trump administration directly on their own pockets. According to the city’s Independent Budget Office, under Trump’s tax plan, if state and local taxes are no longer deductible against federal taxes, it would increase the taxable income in the city by $28 billion alone, hiking the tax bill by $8 billion for New Yorkers. Trump has also promised significant tax cuts, of course. Yet again, these proposals are not set in stone, or even paper for that matter. “Many of [Trump’s] policies are pretty short on details, stronger on rhetoric than fine points,” said Doug Turetsky, IBO communications director. “It’s going to take some time for this to play out.”</p> <p>The unpredictability also means that the city will have to “tread carefully,” Turetsky said, in its assumptions about revenues from federal sources.</p> <p>As Trump continues to build out his administration and clarify his positions on policy, elected officials may have a clearer picture of the future. After attending the mayor’s speech on Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer told reporters that his office would release its own analysis. “I think we’ll be able to give you some pretty good data snapshots,” he said, “about what’s at stake both in terms of what’s going to happen in Washington, how that will trickle down to the state and then how that comes back to New York City.” He conceded, though, that he could draw no conclusions yet since “a lot of this is still uncharted waters.”</p> <p>Stringer acknowledged that limited federal funding is nothing new for New York. “Look, it’s not like we’ve been up to our eyeballs in NYCHA funding and the like,” he said. “We’ve already sent billions more to the federal government than we get back and that’s under a Democratic president and Democratic elected officials as well, so New York has always been on the short end of the stick. We are now worried that any more of that could have real impact in terms of continuing poverty and other issues.”</p> <p>Stringer's office then released <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/as-president-elect-trump-prepares-to-take-office-comptroller-stringer-releases-initial-analysis-of-federal-funding-to-nyc/" target="_blank">its analysis</a> on Wednesday.</p> <p>Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, echoed a similar sentiment of uncertainty. “More infrastructure spending could benefit New York, for example, but Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure plan may be less than meets the eye,” she said in an email, “as he seems to be focusing on private-sector infrastructure, like pipelines, not public-sector infrastructure, and it is already straightforward for New York to fund profitable, private-sector infrastructure projects; it's the public-sector projects like the subway that are a funding and building problem for us.”</p> <p>Gelinas also said that a decrease in Medicaid spending would be detrimental, but pointed out that Trump has yet to put forward a concrete plan to replace the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for higher spending.</p> <p>“So far, Trump's main impact has been to create a traffic problem on Fifth Avenue, one that is the mayor's responsibility, and one that the mayor hasn't handled well at all,” she added. “Other than that, we'll have to wait and see.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated to reflect that Comptroller Stringer released his office's initial analysis of federal funding to New York City.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27469604976_24e6cb2b05_z.jpg" alt="mmv trump tower" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mark-Viverito at Trump Tower (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Local elected officials continue to take stock of what a Trump presidency might mean for New York City, and with budget season around the corner, only one word can describe their feelings: uncertainty.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are all waiting to see what President-elect Donald Trump will actually do when he takes office in January. Trump, a Republican, made many campaign promises that alarmed city officials, who are almost all Democrats. De Blasio, Stringer, and Mark-Viverito all supported Hillary Clinton for President, and sounded varying volumes of alarm bells about the threat Trump may pose to the city and its residents.</p> <p>In his first two weeks as president-elect, though, Trump has already backtracked on a number of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/11/us/politics/what-trump-wants-to-change.html" target="_blank">his campaign promises</a>, but he hasn’t entirely withdrawn from plans that could have major consequences for New York City. He has sworn that he will deport undocumented immigrants, force the registration of all Muslims, and cut funding to Planned Parenthood, all of which would have significant implications in New York. His pledge to overhaul the tax code could affect personal incomes of New Yorkers and any curbs on immigration could affect employment in a city with a large immigrant population. If he leads repeal of the Affordable Care Act, New York would be one of the hardest hit states, and if he decides to cut federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities, New York City would undoubtedly suffer.</p> <p>Since Trump’s victory, de Blasio has repeatedly said he can’t say for sure what Trump will actually prioritize or follow through on as President. Trump’s public statements have warranted a wait-and-see approach. But, de Blasio also met with the president-elect to, as the mayor told it, express the fears many New Yorkers have of a Trump presidency, and gave a speech Monday to both explain what the city would do in the face of certain Trump campaign pledges becoming reality and asking New Yorkers to take certain action right now to help build a response movement to that which Trump created. The mayor has said he hopes Trump will remember where he came from and that he is willing to work with the new federal administration on areas of agreement, like helping working people.</p> <p>Stringer's office, which oversees city finances, <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/as-president-elect-trump-prepares-to-take-office-comptroller-stringer-releases-initial-analysis-of-federal-funding-to-nyc/" target="_blank">performed</a> an "initial analysis" of the potential impact of a Trump presidency based on the president-elect’s campaign agenda, warning of the potential loss of federal funding.</p> <p>As she did during the campaign, Mark-Viverito has taken a hard line against Trump, tweeting with the #NotMyPresident hashtag, and <a href="https://twitter.com/MMViverito/status/800557506837610497" target="_blank">posting</a> “Constant resistance MUST be our new normal. &amp; I'm up for the fight.”</p> <p>Back in July, at a breakfast event hosted by the Association for a Better New York, Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/mark-viverito-commissions-study-of-trump-policies-not-clintons-103784" target="_blank">released the findings of a City Council study</a> she commissioned on Trump’s policies, conducted by the Council’s finance division. The study foresaw drastic repercussions for the city. It estimated that deporting all undocumented immigrants in the country would cost between $400 and $600 billion, and New York State alone would have to contribute $49.2 billion for those costs. These deportations would mean that New York City would lose 340,000 jobs, more so than in 2001 after the World Trade Center attacks and after the 2008 recession, the report said. The consequent loss in revenue from undocumented immigrants would be $793 million in state and city taxes, according to the report.</p> <p>Overall, New York’s Gross City Product would decline by 3 percent, between $23.1 and $26.3 billion, according to the City Council report.</p> <p>The study also looked at immigration from 32 Muslim-majority nations -- Trump had made a campaign call to halt all immigration to the U.S. by Muslims. The Council estimated that 263,000 New Yorkers hail from these countries, of which 157,000 are working citizens and about 25,000 are self-employed. “Overall, workers in New York City who were born in Muslim-majority countries contribute $14.2 billion annually to our local economy,” the study states.</p> <p>About 900 Muslims serve in the New York Police Department, something de Blasio has highlighted repeatedly since Trump’s election and the mayor said he was sure to tell Trump when the two met at Trump Tower on November 16.</p> <p>Since Election Day, Mark-Viverito has struck a defiant tone towards Trump, vowing to stand up to the “hate, bigotry and racism” inspired by his campaign. “We are and will continue to be a city that respects and protects immigrants, people of diverse faiths and races, LGBTQ New Yorkers, a city that values and empowers women and all of our communities,” Mark-Viverito said November 9, the day after the election. “We are better, stronger and prosperous because of our commitment to inclusion.”</p> <p>As she and others wrestle with what a Trump presidency will mean more tangibly for New York, the speaker hasn’t made any mention of the Council study from July, though. It isn’t available on the City Council’s website and wasn’t sent out in a press release the day it was unveiled. Eric Koch, a spokesperson for the speaker, said in an email last week that the “report still stands.”</p> <p>When asked why Mark-Viverito hasn’t talked about the study, Koch said, “I don’t think you need to mention a study every time you talk about something.” He said the analysis had been provided to members of the press at the ABNY event and anyone who had requested it. The speaker invited criticism for producing the study with city resources since she was an active surrogate for Clinton during the campaign. She did not order a similar examination of Clinton’s policies, explaining at the time that Trump’s drastic proposals warranted looking at how they would affect the city.</p> <p>During his speech at The Cooper Union on Monday, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6634-7-things-de-blasio-asked-new-yorkers-to-do-in-the-face-of-trump-s-election" target="_blank">vowed to stand strong</a> against Trump’s policies if they should run contrary to the city’s values and interests. “We New Yorkers will stand together,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to stand up for the needs for working people. We’re going to stand up for the right to organize. We’re going to stand up for our immigrant brothers and sisters. And we know that so many in this city fear being affronted, and we will stand with each and every one.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s administration is also preparing for what could be drastic cuts to the city’s budget. In the current fiscal year, roughly $8.5 billion was budgeted under federal contributions, according to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/fp11-16.pdf" target="_blank">November budget modification</a> which adjusted the total city budget upwards to $83.5 billion from the $82.1 billion that was arrived at in the adopted budget. The modification also included projections for the next few fiscal years, and estimates a lower federal contribution of $6.8 billion for fiscal 2018 and $6.6 billion for the two years after that.</p> <p>Asked for more specifics at a Tuesday press conference about how he would fight federal policy and plug potential budget reductions, de Blasio said, “we’re going to seek to resolve these issues when we can, but if the federal government asks the City of New York to do something we think is against our vital interests, we’re prepared to stand up. I’m not going to speculate about the funding issues because it’s way too early to tell.”</p> <p>“There’s no way to know yet how the City’s budget may be affected by potential policies under the Trump administration because we don’t yet know what they will do,” said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an email. “We’re preparing cautiously and we’ll respond aggressively, but at this point it’s all theoretical.”</p> <p>Trump’s propositions stand to have a domino effect that may be hard to fully grasp. New York State has already suffered from an imbalance of payments to the federal government for decades, which late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan first highlighted in a report termed “The Fisc” in 1976. The state received less in federal aid than it pays in federal taxes, roughly 91 cents to the dollar, according to a <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/oct15/102715.htm" target="_blank">2015 analysis</a> by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.</p> <p>“In the best case scenario,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of Center for an Urban Future, a liberal think tank, “New York keeps doing what it’s doing without help from Washington D.C.” Although he gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, he said the state will definitely miss out on opportunities that would have been likely under a Clinton administration, such as funding for social services, transit infrastructure, and immigration reform. While Trump has promised a major infrastructure spending package, it is unclear what form that could take or whether he and Congress, albeit Republican-controlled, will agree on its scope and funding.</p> <p>“In the worst case scenario,” Bowles said, “a Trump administration could take New York backwards on health care, immigration, trade, and criminal justice.”</p> <p>He cited the importance of immigrants to the city and how a ban on certain types of immigration could be disastrous. “It goes far beyond lost tax revenue,” he said. “Immigrants have been a real catalyst for growth.” And under Trump’s proposals, he foresees a decline in legal immigration as well. “New York is a huge loser if that happens,” he said.</p> <p>Trump has also promised to upend current trade agreements which, Bowles argues, have been massively beneficial to a global hub like New York City. “Every industry just about has seen growth because of globalization,” he said, citing fashion, law, technology, among others. “So much of the city’s economy is built on exporting and trading products.”</p> <p>Bowles also warns that the figures in the speaker’s report “only scratch the surface” of the effects on New York City that a Trump administration and like-minded Congress could have. Major changes in healthcare policies would lead to greater burdens on the city and state’s budget, he said, as it absorbs the cost of lost federal aid. On the precarious state of criminal justice policy, he pointed out, the president-elect’s tone and rhetoric could create further divisions.</p> <p>But the one aspect Bowles fears most is the omnipresent threat of terrorism. “As a New Yorker, I’m really afraid that President-elect Trump...could make statements or policy decisions that increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks,” he said, expressing concern that the rhetoric Trump employed on the campaign trail could speed up domestic radicalization if carried forward into the presidency. “Hopefully,” he said, “the president-elect will put good people in place and they won’t go there.”</p> <p>By some estimates, New Yorkers might feel the effect of a Trump administration directly on their own pockets. According to the city’s Independent Budget Office, under Trump’s tax plan, if state and local taxes are no longer deductible against federal taxes, it would increase the taxable income in the city by $28 billion alone, hiking the tax bill by $8 billion for New Yorkers. Trump has also promised significant tax cuts, of course. Yet again, these proposals are not set in stone, or even paper for that matter. “Many of [Trump’s] policies are pretty short on details, stronger on rhetoric than fine points,” said Doug Turetsky, IBO communications director. “It’s going to take some time for this to play out.”</p> <p>The unpredictability also means that the city will have to “tread carefully,” Turetsky said, in its assumptions about revenues from federal sources.</p> <p>As Trump continues to build out his administration and clarify his positions on policy, elected officials may have a clearer picture of the future. After attending the mayor’s speech on Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer told reporters that his office would release its own analysis. “I think we’ll be able to give you some pretty good data snapshots,” he said, “about what’s at stake both in terms of what’s going to happen in Washington, how that will trickle down to the state and then how that comes back to New York City.” He conceded, though, that he could draw no conclusions yet since “a lot of this is still uncharted waters.”</p> <p>Stringer acknowledged that limited federal funding is nothing new for New York. “Look, it’s not like we’ve been up to our eyeballs in NYCHA funding and the like,” he said. “We’ve already sent billions more to the federal government than we get back and that’s under a Democratic president and Democratic elected officials as well, so New York has always been on the short end of the stick. We are now worried that any more of that could have real impact in terms of continuing poverty and other issues.”</p> <p>Stringer's office then released <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/as-president-elect-trump-prepares-to-take-office-comptroller-stringer-releases-initial-analysis-of-federal-funding-to-nyc/" target="_blank">its analysis</a> on Wednesday.</p> <p>Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, echoed a similar sentiment of uncertainty. “More infrastructure spending could benefit New York, for example, but Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure plan may be less than meets the eye,” she said in an email, “as he seems to be focusing on private-sector infrastructure, like pipelines, not public-sector infrastructure, and it is already straightforward for New York to fund profitable, private-sector infrastructure projects; it's the public-sector projects like the subway that are a funding and building problem for us.”</p> <p>Gelinas also said that a decrease in Medicaid spending would be detrimental, but pointed out that Trump has yet to put forward a concrete plan to replace the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for higher spending.</p> <p>“So far, Trump's main impact has been to create a traffic problem on Fifth Avenue, one that is the mayor's responsibility, and one that the mayor hasn't handled well at all,” she added. “Other than that, we'll have to wait and see.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated to reflect that Comptroller Stringer released his office's initial analysis of federal funding to New York City.</p>
Cuomo Makes Transit a ‘Personal Priority,’ Advocates Want More Funding Details 2016-08-03T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-03T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6466:cuomo-makes-transit-a-personal-priority-advocates-want-more-funding-details Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/27776793163_cc7c351dd3_z.jpg" width="600" height="392" alt="cuomo prendergast mta" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo &amp; MTA Chair Prendergast (photo:&nbsp;Philip Kamrass, Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Governor Andrew Cuomo has made mass transit a major focus of late, holding a series of events over the past year regarding airport redevelopment, railroad expansion, new transportation hubs and vehicles, and more. Early last month he described the Metropolitan Transit Administration (MTA) as a new &ldquo;personal priority&rdquo; and announced an effort to modernize the agency, beginning with the purchase of over 1,000 new subway cars.</p> <p dir="ltr">This, with the accompanying significant funding allocation toward the MTA, is something of a change of course for Cuomo, who has a <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2011/12/what-will-cuomos-payroll-tax-concession-cost-the-mta-in-the-end-000000" target="_blank">history</a> of <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2013/02/transit-advocate-cuomo-falls-off-the-wagon-diverts-20-million-from-the-mta-000000" target="_blank">diverting</a>&nbsp;<a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2011/12/4534145/what-will-cuomos-payroll-tax-concession-cost-mta-end" target="_blank">money</a> from the MTA. Now, the governor&rsquo;s ambitious transit plan includes updating the MTA, repairing tunnels and bridges throughout the New York metropolitan area, building a new Tappan Zee bridge, rebuilding LaGuardia Airport and Penn Station, and creating a new tunnel under the Hudson river.</p> <p dir="ltr">With federal corruption convictions having toppled two recent leaders in the state Legislature, among other former Albany lawmakers, and investigations into his own administration, Cuomo appears to have seized on a concrete, quality-of-life issue in mass transit that has also been brought into focus by the dire state of the state&rsquo;s transportation infrastructure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo&rsquo;s commitment came after <a href="http://www.streetsblog.org/2016/02/23/36-assembly-members-to-cuomo-stop-playing-games-and-fund-the-mta/" target="_blank">calls from transit advocates, business people, and lawmakers</a> urging the governor to allocate funding to the MTA&rsquo;s five-year Capital Program in the state&rsquo;s budget to meet the staggering needs outlined by the authority. After spending $1 billion in the first year of the Capital Program last year, Cuomo agreed to provide an additional $7.3 billion last fall. New York City will provide $2.5 billion, and the MTA, a state body whose chair is appointed by the Governor, will itself provide $17 billion.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo did not finalize the spending plan for the Capital Program <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-final-approval-27-billion-5-year-mta-capital-program-advancement-other" target="_blank">until late May</a>, but has widely publicized his support of the program since. The state&rsquo;s contribution to the Capital Program is included in the <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/budgetFP/FY2017FP.pdf" target="_blank">Fiscal Year 2017 budget</a>, providing $2.9 billion in the coming year on top of the $1 billion provided in Fiscal Year 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a June event celebrating groundbreaking at &ldquo;the new LaGuardia Airport,&rdquo; Cuomo put the magnitude of his &ldquo;$100 billion infrastructure program&rdquo; on display, calling it &ldquo;the largest reinvestment in New York&rsquo;s infrastructure in modern history,&rdquo; which, he said, was &ldquo;long overdue.&rdquo; A key part of it, the governor said, &ldquo;is a $27 billion investment, largest capital investment in history in the MTA because that is going to be the future. Moving more and more people through mass transit rather than through cars and I am proud to be the governor who made the largest investment in the MTA&rsquo;s history.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While some transit advocates view the governor&rsquo;s recent embrace of the MTA as a victory, not all are reassured by the promise of capital funding.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It was a great win in many ways that the governor said he would allocate the necessary funding at least this year to the capital plan,&rdquo; Masha Burina, an organizer for the advocacy group Riders Alliance, told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;But our major concern going forward that we still have and that we're going to be pushing for in our campaign is to get a sense of where this money is coming from.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Burina said the push to secure budgetary funding for the Capital Program was aided by Assembly member James Brennan, a Democrat from Brooklyn, who penned a <a href="http://www.streetsblog.org/2016/02/23/36-assembly-members-to-cuomo-stop-playing-games-and-fund-the-mta/">letter</a> signed by 35 other Assembly members and sent to Cuomo in February. However, Burina added that Cuomo has not detailed how the state will pay for the capital program.</p> <p dir="ltr">Without a new source of funding, the state&mdash;or the MTA&mdash;will have to borrow. The MTA is already <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/news/books/pdf/FINAL_MTA%20Consolidated%20Financial%20Statements-Q1%202016.pdf" target="_blank">over $35 billion in debt</a>. Because one of the only revenue generators within the MTA&rsquo;s control is passenger fares, Burina said she is worried going further in debt would make a <a href="http://ny.curbed.com/2016/7/28/12317778/mta-fare-hike" target="_blank">looming fare hike to $3</a> even more likely (the current cost of a subway or bus ride is $2.75).</p> <p dir="ltr">But the Fiscal Year 2017 budget stipulates that the state can only provide its share of the funding via a revenue stream or direct payments, which means no debt related to the state&rsquo;s contribution to the Capital Program can be passed on to the fare-payer, according to Morris Peters, a spokesperson for the New York State Division of the Budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters also touted the $3.9 billion state contribution already signed into law as part of the past two years&rsquo; budget, pointing out that this places the state ahead of schedule in providing its $8.3 billion pledged contribution.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Through the Enacted Budget, the state&rsquo;s commitment of $8.3 billion in new funding for the MTA is now law. Anyone who thinks this isn't a priority clearly doesn't know what they're talking about,&rdquo; Peters said in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Nonetheless, transportation advocates are likely to continue questioning where exactly the money is coming from and pressuring Cuomo as they have in the past, urging the governor to find ways to pay for the capital plan, according to Burina.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It's great that he's come out and stepped up saying that these are his priorities, but we want to make sure that this doesn't translate into unsupported debt borrowing,&rdquo; Burina said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Several possible options for funding exist, but none have yet been embraced by the governor. One possibility is raising motor fuel taxes, which brought in $503 million for the state <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/budgetFP/FY2017FP.pdf" target="_blank">last year</a>. But Nicole Gelinas, the Searle Freedom Trust Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said raising the gas tax is unlikely to provide enough funding for the Capital Program.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don't think we'll get much from a higher gas tax,&rdquo; Gelinas said in an email to Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;We could double it, and take in another half billion [dollars], but that doesn't solve the MTA's problems.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Increasing motor fuel taxes has not been endorsed by Riders Alliance and has drawn skepticism from elected officials who support increased transportation spending, especially since motor fuel tax revenue is expected to decrease by $9 million in the coming year.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;All our public policy is, quite properly, aimed at saying &lsquo;use fewer gallons of gasoline.&rsquo; We want to be more energy efficient, we want to have less fumes and we want to have more miles per gallon,&rdquo; Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic congressman from Manhattan, said at &ldquo;On Transportation,&rdquo; a forum hosted by City &amp; State NY at the New School on Tuesday. &ldquo;So the amount of revenue in real terms from the gasoline tax is going down steadily, and we have to substitute for it.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Riders Alliance has, however, endorsed the <a href="http://iheartmoveny.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2015-MNY-Final-Ex-Sum-copy.pdf" target="_blank">Move NY Fair Plan</a>, which would increase tolls in areas of high transit availability like major East River bridges and decrease tolls in areas of low availability, including bridges over the Harlem River. But the plan would generate &ldquo;only&rdquo; one billion dollars per year for transit projects through 2019, as well as $375 million per year for road and bridge improvements during that time.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The Move NY is a much better plan, except that even it is not a panacea,&rdquo; Gelinas said by email. &ldquo;It buys us the debt for one five-year capital plan, at most. But we're now two years into that five-year capital plan. So what do we do in three years' time?&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As advocates continue to push for a source of funding for the MTA, Riders Alliance hopes to use Cuomo&rsquo;s &ldquo;prioritization&rdquo; of transit to gain momentum for more specific causes they&rsquo;ve spearheaded in recent months, including compiling a plan to support commuters affected by the L Train&rsquo;s upcoming closure, subsidizing fares for low-income New Yorkers, and updating the subway <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/11/why-dont-we-know-where-all-the-trains-are/415152/" target="_blank">signaling system</a>, which would allow for expanded countdown clocks and more trains per track.</p> <p dir="ltr">And while some have been bolstered by Cuomo&rsquo;s pledge to be an advocate for transportation, others are less satisfied. New York State Senator Leroy Comrie, a Democrat from Queens who serves on the Senate&rsquo;s infrastructure committee, said that regardless of its sources of funding, the Capital Program neglects parts of his constituency.</p> <p>&ldquo;I represent Southeast Queens, which is a transportation desert. The MTA five-year capital plan addresses no solutions for Queens other than repair and maintenance of the existing bridges that are there,&rdquo; Comrie said at the City &amp; State forum on Tuesday. &ldquo;The project for LaGuardia was necessary and important, there&rsquo;s no access for our community to actually get to work.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/27776793163_cc7c351dd3_z.jpg" width="600" height="392" alt="cuomo prendergast mta" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo &amp; MTA Chair Prendergast (photo:&nbsp;Philip Kamrass, Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Governor Andrew Cuomo has made mass transit a major focus of late, holding a series of events over the past year regarding airport redevelopment, railroad expansion, new transportation hubs and vehicles, and more. Early last month he described the Metropolitan Transit Administration (MTA) as a new &ldquo;personal priority&rdquo; and announced an effort to modernize the agency, beginning with the purchase of over 1,000 new subway cars.</p> <p dir="ltr">This, with the accompanying significant funding allocation toward the MTA, is something of a change of course for Cuomo, who has a <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2011/12/what-will-cuomos-payroll-tax-concession-cost-the-mta-in-the-end-000000" target="_blank">history</a> of <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2013/02/transit-advocate-cuomo-falls-off-the-wagon-diverts-20-million-from-the-mta-000000" target="_blank">diverting</a>&nbsp;<a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2011/12/4534145/what-will-cuomos-payroll-tax-concession-cost-mta-end" target="_blank">money</a> from the MTA. Now, the governor&rsquo;s ambitious transit plan includes updating the MTA, repairing tunnels and bridges throughout the New York metropolitan area, building a new Tappan Zee bridge, rebuilding LaGuardia Airport and Penn Station, and creating a new tunnel under the Hudson river.</p> <p dir="ltr">With federal corruption convictions having toppled two recent leaders in the state Legislature, among other former Albany lawmakers, and investigations into his own administration, Cuomo appears to have seized on a concrete, quality-of-life issue in mass transit that has also been brought into focus by the dire state of the state&rsquo;s transportation infrastructure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo&rsquo;s commitment came after <a href="http://www.streetsblog.org/2016/02/23/36-assembly-members-to-cuomo-stop-playing-games-and-fund-the-mta/" target="_blank">calls from transit advocates, business people, and lawmakers</a> urging the governor to allocate funding to the MTA&rsquo;s five-year Capital Program in the state&rsquo;s budget to meet the staggering needs outlined by the authority. After spending $1 billion in the first year of the Capital Program last year, Cuomo agreed to provide an additional $7.3 billion last fall. New York City will provide $2.5 billion, and the MTA, a state body whose chair is appointed by the Governor, will itself provide $17 billion.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo did not finalize the spending plan for the Capital Program <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-final-approval-27-billion-5-year-mta-capital-program-advancement-other" target="_blank">until late May</a>, but has widely publicized his support of the program since. The state&rsquo;s contribution to the Capital Program is included in the <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/budgetFP/FY2017FP.pdf" target="_blank">Fiscal Year 2017 budget</a>, providing $2.9 billion in the coming year on top of the $1 billion provided in Fiscal Year 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a June event celebrating groundbreaking at &ldquo;the new LaGuardia Airport,&rdquo; Cuomo put the magnitude of his &ldquo;$100 billion infrastructure program&rdquo; on display, calling it &ldquo;the largest reinvestment in New York&rsquo;s infrastructure in modern history,&rdquo; which, he said, was &ldquo;long overdue.&rdquo; A key part of it, the governor said, &ldquo;is a $27 billion investment, largest capital investment in history in the MTA because that is going to be the future. Moving more and more people through mass transit rather than through cars and I am proud to be the governor who made the largest investment in the MTA&rsquo;s history.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While some transit advocates view the governor&rsquo;s recent embrace of the MTA as a victory, not all are reassured by the promise of capital funding.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It was a great win in many ways that the governor said he would allocate the necessary funding at least this year to the capital plan,&rdquo; Masha Burina, an organizer for the advocacy group Riders Alliance, told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;But our major concern going forward that we still have and that we're going to be pushing for in our campaign is to get a sense of where this money is coming from.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Burina said the push to secure budgetary funding for the Capital Program was aided by Assembly member James Brennan, a Democrat from Brooklyn, who penned a <a href="http://www.streetsblog.org/2016/02/23/36-assembly-members-to-cuomo-stop-playing-games-and-fund-the-mta/">letter</a> signed by 35 other Assembly members and sent to Cuomo in February. However, Burina added that Cuomo has not detailed how the state will pay for the capital program.</p> <p dir="ltr">Without a new source of funding, the state&mdash;or the MTA&mdash;will have to borrow. The MTA is already <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/news/books/pdf/FINAL_MTA%20Consolidated%20Financial%20Statements-Q1%202016.pdf" target="_blank">over $35 billion in debt</a>. Because one of the only revenue generators within the MTA&rsquo;s control is passenger fares, Burina said she is worried going further in debt would make a <a href="http://ny.curbed.com/2016/7/28/12317778/mta-fare-hike" target="_blank">looming fare hike to $3</a> even more likely (the current cost of a subway or bus ride is $2.75).</p> <p dir="ltr">But the Fiscal Year 2017 budget stipulates that the state can only provide its share of the funding via a revenue stream or direct payments, which means no debt related to the state&rsquo;s contribution to the Capital Program can be passed on to the fare-payer, according to Morris Peters, a spokesperson for the New York State Division of the Budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters also touted the $3.9 billion state contribution already signed into law as part of the past two years&rsquo; budget, pointing out that this places the state ahead of schedule in providing its $8.3 billion pledged contribution.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Through the Enacted Budget, the state&rsquo;s commitment of $8.3 billion in new funding for the MTA is now law. Anyone who thinks this isn't a priority clearly doesn't know what they're talking about,&rdquo; Peters said in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Nonetheless, transportation advocates are likely to continue questioning where exactly the money is coming from and pressuring Cuomo as they have in the past, urging the governor to find ways to pay for the capital plan, according to Burina.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It's great that he's come out and stepped up saying that these are his priorities, but we want to make sure that this doesn't translate into unsupported debt borrowing,&rdquo; Burina said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Several possible options for funding exist, but none have yet been embraced by the governor. One possibility is raising motor fuel taxes, which brought in $503 million for the state <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/budgetFP/FY2017FP.pdf" target="_blank">last year</a>. But Nicole Gelinas, the Searle Freedom Trust Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said raising the gas tax is unlikely to provide enough funding for the Capital Program.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don't think we'll get much from a higher gas tax,&rdquo; Gelinas said in an email to Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;We could double it, and take in another half billion [dollars], but that doesn't solve the MTA's problems.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Increasing motor fuel taxes has not been endorsed by Riders Alliance and has drawn skepticism from elected officials who support increased transportation spending, especially since motor fuel tax revenue is expected to decrease by $9 million in the coming year.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;All our public policy is, quite properly, aimed at saying &lsquo;use fewer gallons of gasoline.&rsquo; We want to be more energy efficient, we want to have less fumes and we want to have more miles per gallon,&rdquo; Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic congressman from Manhattan, said at &ldquo;On Transportation,&rdquo; a forum hosted by City &amp; State NY at the New School on Tuesday. &ldquo;So the amount of revenue in real terms from the gasoline tax is going down steadily, and we have to substitute for it.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Riders Alliance has, however, endorsed the <a href="http://iheartmoveny.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2015-MNY-Final-Ex-Sum-copy.pdf" target="_blank">Move NY Fair Plan</a>, which would increase tolls in areas of high transit availability like major East River bridges and decrease tolls in areas of low availability, including bridges over the Harlem River. But the plan would generate &ldquo;only&rdquo; one billion dollars per year for transit projects through 2019, as well as $375 million per year for road and bridge improvements during that time.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The Move NY is a much better plan, except that even it is not a panacea,&rdquo; Gelinas said by email. &ldquo;It buys us the debt for one five-year capital plan, at most. But we're now two years into that five-year capital plan. So what do we do in three years' time?&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As advocates continue to push for a source of funding for the MTA, Riders Alliance hopes to use Cuomo&rsquo;s &ldquo;prioritization&rdquo; of transit to gain momentum for more specific causes they&rsquo;ve spearheaded in recent months, including compiling a plan to support commuters affected by the L Train&rsquo;s upcoming closure, subsidizing fares for low-income New Yorkers, and updating the subway <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/11/why-dont-we-know-where-all-the-trains-are/415152/" target="_blank">signaling system</a>, which would allow for expanded countdown clocks and more trains per track.</p> <p dir="ltr">And while some have been bolstered by Cuomo&rsquo;s pledge to be an advocate for transportation, others are less satisfied. New York State Senator Leroy Comrie, a Democrat from Queens who serves on the Senate&rsquo;s infrastructure committee, said that regardless of its sources of funding, the Capital Program neglects parts of his constituency.</p> <p>&ldquo;I represent Southeast Queens, which is a transportation desert. The MTA five-year capital plan addresses no solutions for Queens other than repair and maintenance of the existing bridges that are there,&rdquo; Comrie said at the City &amp; State forum on Tuesday. &ldquo;The project for LaGuardia was necessary and important, there&rsquo;s no access for our community to actually get to work.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>