Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/510 Fri, 22 Mar 2019 13:18:39 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Are the Votes There to Pass Congestion Pricing Through the State Legislature? http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8379-are-the-votes-there-to-pass-congestion-pricing-through-the-state-legislature http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8379-are-the-votes-there-to-pass-congestion-pricing-through-the-state-legislature gov cuomo mta fare increase

(photo: governor's office)


It’s decision time for the New York State Legislature on the State budget, due March 31, and it’s still not clear congestion pricing has the votes to pass. I’ve been an advocate for congestion pricing since Mayor Bloomberg first proposed it in 2007 and I know that this is the year to get it done.

The two houses of the State Legislature each pass a “one-house” budget resolution in early March to outline their budget priorities: this year the State Assembly one-house budget articulates that the Assembly majority supports a new long-term source of revenue for the MTA but does not specifically endorse congestion pricing. The State Senate one-house budget contains an articulated statement of support for congestion pricing. But no bill for congestion pricing has actually yet passed either house as the budget deadline approaches.

I was fortunate to serve in the Democratic majority my entire 32 years in the State Assembly, from 1985 through 2016; a legislator in the minority party frequently has little chance of getting many of their bills to pass. There are 150 members of the State Assembly and the Democratic majority frequently exceeded 100 in my years there; it is 107 right now.

The rule of thumb for putting a potentially controversial but important bill to a floor vote for passage in the Assembly has been that it needed 76 guaranteed Democratic votes, just over half the chamber, and today that means 76 out of the 107 Democrats, without relying on any Republican support. Usually this wasn’t a serious problem, in fact many bills are noncontroversial or routine and frequently pass with large numbers of Republicans voting for them too. A bill without that kind of support going to the floor has been quite rare.

Substantial opposition to congestion pricing has been the reason the proposal was never brought to a vote in the Assembly when Michael Bloomberg was Mayor in 2007 and 2008, or when Governor Cuomo announced he was backing it last year. It is why the governor, the Assembly, and the Senate have yet to announce a deal on this concept with less than 10 days before the budget deadline. If Speaker Heastie determines a congestion pricing bill might have 32 Democratic votes against, and therefore at most 75 Democratic votes, he probably wouldn’t put it on the floor for a vote, especially if there was a risk that all 43 Republicans would vote against it.

Are 32 Democratic Assembly votes against congestion pricing a real possibility? The answer is yes - a real possibility - or it could be extremely close to 32, with a number of members on the fence or not wanting to be forced to take a vote on the issue. There is substantial opposition in Queens, where there are 17 Democratic members, and, to a lesser extent, Brooklyn, which has 20 Democratic members, where opposition in the southern and furthest east sections of the borough was substantial at the time I was serving just a few years ago.

There are ten Democratic members from Long Island, including several just recently elected who might be concerned about taking a risky vote, two Democratic members from Staten Island, and four Democratic members from Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan counties where many people who work in the city drive in and where mass transit options north and west of the Hudson River to New York City are not good. There are seven Democratic members from Westchester and there is no guarantee all of them will vote for congestion pricing, nor is there a guarantee that all 22 members from Manhattan and the Bronx will vote yes.

One possibility is that the language authorizing congestion pricing will simply be put into a bigger budget bill, such as the main bill authorizing the transportation and economic development budget as a whole. Since there would be tens of billions of dollars of general road, bridge, and mass transit financing in such a bill, a member would have to vote against the whole package, including things he or she might want, just to vote no on congestion pricing. This is always the dilemma of large authorizations for funding packages, but effective for accomplishing a result despite opposition inside the majority party.

Should congestion pricing fail, there are plenty of alternatives but they might face other political problems. Revenue from state taxes is $80 billion a year, three-quarters of which comes from the metropolitan area, and New York City tax revenue is $60 billion a year. Governor Cuomo was seeking about $1 billion a year from congestion pricing - just a fraction of the revenue base of the metropolitan area. However, without congestion pricing, some fraction of a broader-based tax would likely have to be enacted. The new Senate Democratic majority, however, is aware Republicans are gunning for them in the next election, and might be reluctant to consider any tax increase that is broad-based.

If congestion pricing passes, it will be a major victory for mass transit, and I remain hopeful. The list of other severe challenges for the MTA is large and will hardly go away, but that can be the subject of another discussion.

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

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Are the Votes There to Pass Congestion Pricing Through the State Legislature? Thu, 21 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Advocates and Senators Refute Assembly Democrats' Concerns with Campaign Finance Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8376-advocates-and-senators-refute-assembly-democrats-concerns-with-campaign-finance-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8376-advocates-and-senators-refute-assembly-democrats-concerns-with-campaign-finance-reform myrie camp fin

Senate Democrats push campaign finance reform (photo: @zellnor4ny)


With less than two weeks until a new state budget is due, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have yet to come to an agreement on a public campaign financing model for state elections. But the conversation around the measure, which advocates and experts say is a long-due reform in a state beset with repeated corruption scandals, has taken a turn since Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie raised several doubts about the viability of public campaign financing, some of which Cuomo has echoed.

They’ve voiced these concerns despite the fact that the Democrat-led Assembly and Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, have annually supported such campaign finance reform and Cuomo included a plan in his 2020 executive budget proposal. This is the first year in Cuomo’s tenure that Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, having won a Senate majority in November.

At a Wednesday hearing of the state Senate’s Committee on Elections, which was also attended by several Assembly members, experts and advocates sought to rebut those concerns as they pressed legislators to act sooner rather than later.

Earlier this month, Heastie said there weren’t enough votes in his chamber for the public financing proposal, which would create a voluntary system with significantly lower individual contribution limits and public matching of the first $175 of all qualifying contributions at a 6-to-1 ratio.

Heastie cited mostly debunked concerns about independent expenditures being able overwhelm candidate campaigns , large budget gaps the state is facing, and criticisms of the public financing model used by New York City, which the state is looking to emulate in principle, particularly the regulatory aspects.

The Assembly did end up including a statement of support for the proposal in its one-house budget resolution last week, but without specific details. In a March 15 interview on New York Now, Heastie denied that he and his members were getting “cold feet.” He pointed to the city’s public funds program, which caps spending for participants, and said independent expenditures could dominate, while inaccurately saying that IEs are not an issue in New York City elections.

“I think that no one wants to exclude everyday individuals from participating in democracy. We think it’s a good thing but people also have to understand you don’t want to open the door to having IEs pretty much pick your legislator,” he said. He also questioned how the system would work with fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple party lines, though the city’s has not encountered this as an issue and the state program would emulate that a candidate receives matching funds only based on their fundraising, no matter how many ballot lines they have.

Cuomo has raised similar concerns about independent expenditures and fusion voting, though he insisted recently that public financing must be included in the state budget.

“How many races are we potentially talking about? How much does it cost? Who's doing the compliance on all these issues? The Board of Elections - which has nowhere near this capacity now? What is the effect of the multiple lines and multiple races? Do you fund all those multiple lines in the primary and then all those multiple lines in the general? So it's necessary, it's right, but it's complicated,” Cuomo said at a news conference outlining his budget priorities on March 11. He did, however, mention the possibility that the Legislature could pass a budget that includes general support for and legalization of public campaign financing and then “figure out the details afterwards” in the post-budget session.

The Senate’s one-house resolution supports “establishing a publicly financed small donor matching system in order to curtail the corrosive influence of money in politics in addition to other necessary campaign finance reforms.” Unlike their Assembly counterparts, senators have not equivocated about implementing the system. Senator Zellnor Myrie, chair of the elections committee, is an ardent supporter of the proposal and, prior to the hearing on Monday, he led a news conference with several colleagues, including many fellow newly elected senators, and government reform advocates to push for it.

“We should be listening to the everyday New Yorker and not big donors,” Myrie said at the news conference, where he was joined by Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Rachel May, Brad Hoylman, Brian Kavanaugh, Todd Kaminsky, Julia Salazar, David Carlucci, Jessica Ramos, John Liu, Andrew Gounardes, and Gustavo Rivera, as well as Assembly members. Myrie also brushed aside questions about funding the program. “To me, this is not a cost, this is an investment. It is an investment in the integrity of our democracy and I think not until people have trust in their government will they trust the process.”.

For government reform advocates, campaign finance experts, and some legislators, the concerns expressed by Heastie, and to a lesser extent Cuomo, are broadly unfounded.

For one, the governor’s proposal does not limit candidate spending like New York City’s program, and also does not cap fundraising from private sources, which together would blunt the effect of independent expenditure campaigns while boosting the impact of small donors.

Additionally, as the Brennan Center for Justice’s Lawrence Norden noted, concerns about the program becoming exorbitantly expensive because of fusion voting “reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the policy works.” Candidates in New York City already run on multiple party lines but public funds are not disbursed for each party but rather for each candidate. “The number of parties on the ballot is irrelevant to all of this. And a candidate doesn’t get more money because she’s listed on more than one ballot line,” Norden wrote.

There are indeed some logistical concerns with instituting public financing statewide, which legislators raised at Wednesday’s hearing.

New York City’s program is administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB), an independent, nonpartisan agency, and the state BOE lacks the resources or expertise to do that kind of work, as Cuomo indicated. City candidates, some of whom are now sitting legislators, have also critiqued what they see as the CFB’s overly punitive policies, which they say lead to yearslong audits and burdensome fines for relatively minor violations. Lawmakers also worry that public funds could entice candidates to run frivolous campaigns to raise their own profiles or to otherwise accrue some private benefit.

Those arguments were also repeatedly refuted by individuals testifying before the committee on Wednesday in Albany, though many did acknowledge that New York City’s program is far from perfect.  

Amy Loprest, executive director of the NYCCFB, and Rick Schaffer, chair of the Board, noted that the city’s disclosure laws around independent expenditures are stronger than the federal government’s, and that candidates in local races have prevailed despite facing massive independent expenditures campaigns.

Loprest also argued that the system has thresholds that preclude candidates from abusing it for personal gain, though any assessment of the issue is subjective. Candidates must show a level of community support that validates their campaign, she said, and their spending is strictly audited after the election to ensure public funds are not misused. “We are always improving our system and that was built into the law,” Loprest said, when Assemblymember Robert Carroll, a Brooklyn Democrat, asked how the city balances monitoring of both independent expenditures and complaints from candidates about “picayune problems.”

Schaffer also insisted that the CFB has taken efforts to aid candidates and to prevent them from making mistakes that could end up costing them later. “We’re not interested in ‘gotcha.’ Our job is to help candidates follow the rules which admittedly are complex because it’s a complex system,” he said. The CFB’s audit processes, Loprest noted, are also being consistently improved to ensure candidates do not have to wait years for results.

But Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, a Manhattan Democrat, seemed unconvinced, particularly when considering that audits of every campaign at the state level -- four statewide races and 213 state legislative races -- would be a monumental task. State Board of Elections officials did downplay that worry later in the hearing, noting that the governor’s proposal only calls for fully auditing all statewide campaigns but not every legislative one, instead using a random sampling.

The State BOE has not taken a formal position on the program but at least two commissioners, a Democrat and a Republican, support its implementation. Other commissioners have insisted that if the program is passed, it should be accompanied with sufficient funding and that it should first go into effect after the 2022 elections, the next statewide cycle.

A state program, said BOE co-executive director Robert Brehm, would be about 3.67 times larger than New York City’s and would cost between $20-$60 million each year in administrative costs if fully scaled. According to a December 2018 report from the Washington D.C.-based Campaign Finance Institute, the program would disburse about $140.5 million in public funds over a four-year election cycle. For context, the governor’s state budget proposal for 2020 is about $175.1 billion.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Chisun Lee, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center pointed out the importance of establishing a public financing program. She noted that in last year’s election, 100 donors gave more to candidates than 137,000 small donors altogether, and small donations only accounted for 5 percent of all contributions to state campaigns. She cited the example of other jurisdictions with public financing programs, such as Connecticut, and said the state should create a culture of assistance rather than punishment at any entity charged with overseeing its implementation.

And though she admitted that the governor’s proposal is not flawless, “In great part...it is a workable, effective small donor matching system,” she said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Advocates and Senators Refute Assembly Democrats' Concerns with Campaign Finance Reform Wed, 20 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Getting to Yes on Marijuana Legalization, with Assemblymember Richard Gottfried http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8375-max-murphy-podcast-support-for-marijuana-legalization-with-assemblymember-richard-gottfried http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8375-max-murphy-podcast-support-for-marijuana-legalization-with-assemblymember-richard-gottfried mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


March 20, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Support for Marijuana Legalization, with Assemblymember Richard Gottfried

assemblymember richard gottfried 150Assemblymember Richard Gottfried was a co-sponsor of a marijuana legalization bill in the 1970s. In 2019, he's still pushing for allowing adult-use marijuana in New York, which is now supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo and, at least in principle, both Democratic majorities in the Legislature. But, there is no deal yet. Gottfried joined the show to explain his support, discuss some of the related details, and respond to critics of legalization.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Getting to Yes on Marijuana Legalization, with Assemblymember Richard Gottfried Wed, 20 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Public Financing of Elections is a Matter of Racial Justice http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8370-public-financing-of-elections-is-a-matter-of-racial-justice http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8370-public-financing-of-elections-is-a-matter-of-racial-justice public financing cuomo

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


“Black humanity and dignity requires Black political will and power. Despite constant exploitation and perpetual oppression, Black people have bravely and brilliantly been the driving force pushing the U.S. towards the ideals it articulates but has never achieved. In recent years we have taken to the streets, launched massive campaigns, and impacted elections, but our elected leaders have failed to address the legitimate demands of our Movement. We can no longer wait.”

Those words launch the policy platform that more than 50 organizations that make up the Movement For Black Lives policy table signed onto last year.

A key component of this policy platform is public financing of elections -- because we know that we can’t truly build Black political power and combat racism and oppression if wealthy donors continue to hold outsized influence.

While Black representatives may be gaining in number and power, without systemic campaign finance reforms these gains will be fleeting. This is true here in New York, where we celebrate a historic occurrence -- leaders of both chambers in the state Legislature are Black: Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

To get true democracy -- especially for historically oppressed people -- you need to have fair elections. That includes both public financing and easier access to the polls.

It’s time for New York to become the leader in campaign finance reform. All three top leaders in New York State government (Stewart-Cousins, Heastie, and Governor Andrew Cuomo) -- along with the majority of sitting Senators and Assembly members -- have long supported this important reform that would give public matching funds to candidates who raise small-dollar donations from average New Yorkers. With “fair elections” legislation in place, elections would no longer be funded primarily by wealthy, white donors.

New York, under “fair elections,” would be more likely to prioritize the needs of poor and working class New Yorkers, including poor and working class Black people.

The current situation is stacked against us. All too often the donors that are funding campaigns in New York have very different needs than the working families that make up a majority of a politician’s constituency. When implemented, these campaign finance reforms -- and specifically, a small dollar matching system -- can bring more and continued diversity to New York State’s candidate and donor pools and improve responsiveness to and accountability with voters.

It’s no secret that our country has a legacy of racism and has systematically disenfranchised Black people through our political system — whether through mass incarceration or voter suppression laws. But campaign finance plays a similar, if more hidden, role. The dominance of big money in our politics makes it much harder for poor and working-class Black people to express political power and effectively advocate for their interests. For too long the power and wealth in our country -- and in our state -- is consolidated to a very small, very white population and the Black community has been left behind.

New York’s Legislature, now with all-Black legislative leadership, shows that change is possible, but we can’t rest until we change the system for the long-term. For such a progressive state, New York has some of the worst campaign finance rules in the country. Yet finally, with progressives in both houses of the Legislature and a governor who wants to change them, New York campaign finance laws could, should, and must quickly change to make sure everyone's voice is heard -- even if you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to donate.

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Monifa Bandele & Richard Wallace are on the Leadership Team of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table.

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

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Public Financing of Elections is a Matter of Racial Justice Tue, 19 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Seizing the Moment for Bold Climate, Green Job & Environmental Justice Legislation in New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8367-seizing-the-moment-for-bold-climate-green-job-environmental-justice-legislation-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8367-seizing-the-moment-for-bold-climate-green-job-environmental-justice-legislation-in-new-york aerial solar panels

(photo: mayor's office on flickr)


On Friday, March 15, over 1 million students from 125 countries walked out of school to demand that we act on climate change.  As New Yorkers, we’re already seeing the devastating impacts of climate change in our communities. We all remember the damage to homes, lives, and communities caused by Superstorm Sandy, and we know we’ll face more intense storms in the future. As summers get longer and hotter, more of our elderly neighbors will be at risk for heat stroke or even death.

We also know that the impacts of climate change do not  affect everyone the same way. From heat waves to hurricanes to sea-level rise, low-income communities, communities of color, and communities historically burdened by polluting and extractive industries are often more vulnerable to climate risks.

But discussion of climate change does not have to be all doom and gloom. In New York State, we have an opportunity to move to a fossil-fuel-free economy while also investing in good, high-wage jobs and creating real investment in communities most impacted by the climate change.

If we want a carbon-free future, or some would say, any future, we need to reduce our emissions from all sources and we need to set an enforceable timeline to do it.

This crisis gives us an opportunity to re-imagine our priorities as a state. It will take planning and investments to move to a fossil-free future. We need to direct some of those investments to marginalized communities and people already hurt by the climate crisis. We need to make sure green jobs pay livable wages, and create opportunities among low- and middle-income communities across the state. We need to end our dependence on fossil fuels while building a better economy that does its best not to leave anyone  behind.

This is part of the reason why I sponsor the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), which has passed in the State Assembly three years in a row.  This year has brought with it more opportunities, and the time is right to create a green and equitable future.

The CCPA has the support of over 160 grassroots community, labor, and environmental organizations. It creates an enforceable timeline to move our entire economy to 100% renewable energy by no later than 2050. It is based on the timeline scientists recommend to avoid catastrophe. It also includes the strongest equity provisions in the nation to invest in communities hit hardest by the climate crisis.

The CCPA is about more than just the environment. Under the bill, 40 percent of state funds directed towards greening our economy would go to environmental justice communities. That includes low-income communities, communities of color, and folks at high risk of being adversely impacted by major storms or sea-level rise, and communities already experiencing polluted air and water from carbon-burning facilities.

The CCPA also sets wage and apprenticeship standards so that new green jobs are well-paying, livable jobs. It is estimated that the CCPA will generate the creation of 150,000 jobs related to the green energy transition, revitalizing communities and providing opportunities for New Yorkers across the state.

We can and should get this done this year.

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Assemblymember Steven Englebright represents parts of Long Island. On Twitter @SteveEngles.

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

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Seizing the Moment for Bold Climate, Green Job & Environmental Justice Legislation in New York Mon, 18 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
An Agenda to Protect New York Immigrants and Benefit the Entire State http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8364-an-agenda-to-protect-new-york-immigrants-and-benefit-the-entire-state http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8364-an-agenda-to-protect-new-york-immigrants-and-benefit-the-entire-state gov cuomo immigrant

(photo: governor's office)


Immigrants in New York are under attack. In New York City for example, despite municipal policies to welcome and protect immigrants, ICE arrests of immigrant individuals with no criminal convictions have rapidly increased. From fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2018, ICE non-criminal arrests in the New York City area increased by 414%.

These increases reflect the president’s negative rhetoric and policies toward immigrants. Not only is new immigration being discouraged and made nearly impossible, individuals who have long-standing community ties, such as U.S. citizen family members or years-long work histories, are being torn apart from their children, families, and communities.

In this past November’s election, Democrats won the majority in both the New York State Assembly and Senate. Now, New York legislators not only have the opportunity but the obligation to stand up for immigrants.

Immigrants are integral parts of local communities, but they also contribute to local and statewide economies. In New York there are 4.49 million foreign-born immigrants.

This year, both houses of the state Legislature voted to pass The José Peralta New York State DREAM Act. This legislation will allow undocumented students to apply for state aid for higher education. This legislation also creates a Dream Fund for college scholarship opportunities and removes barriers that prevent undocumented families from college saving programs. The DREAM Act will allow talented students to access the financial help needed to earn degrees, access highly-skilled employment, and support their local economies across New York.

Nonetheless, the agenda for immigrants can and must go further and is a top priority for state legislators that represent large immigrant communities.

Our next priority, The Driver's License Access and Privacy Act would restore access to driver’s licenses for all, regardless of immigration status, in New York. Currently, 13 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico issue standard driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Accessibility to reliable public transportation is many times unavailable to those living and working throughout upstate New York, the downstate suburbs, and the outer boroughs of New York City.

Also, data indicates annual revenue of $57 million to state and local governments, with an additional one-time boost of $26 million. This legislation, supported by law enforcement policy analysts, will safeguard hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants from possible deportation if pulled over by law enforcement and also aims to ensure all drivers are insured and informed of traffic laws.

Our community also needs New York to further break the links between the criminal legal system and the deportation pipeline. First, ICE’s presence in our courts must end. New Yorkers must not fear that while they are seeking protection and justice, they could be detained and separated from their families.

Second, under federal immigration law, a one year sentence for a non-violent crime can trigger deportation proceedings and removal from the United States. The One Day to Protect New Yorkers Act modifies the maximum imprisonment sentence for a class A misdemeanor from 365 days to 364 days. This bill aims to protect families from personal and financial devastation if a family member is faced with a possible one year sentence.

In addition to refusing to participate in Trump’s anti-immigrant game, New York must also expand opportunity for immigrants. New York should take immediate steps to preserve Medicaid access for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients at risk because of the Trump administration’s reckless actions to end TPS. New York should also create a state-funded Essential Plan for all New Yorkers up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

In the state budget, New York should also fully invest in the civil legal services that are so critical to our community’s well-being. The State must also significantly expand resources for adult literacy classes, which are often the best pathway to a better job and an increased ability to participate in the life of the broader community.

Finally, as the 2020 Census approaches, New York must step into the void left by Trump’s negligence. As a Fiscal Policy Institute analysis has shown, the state should invest $40 million in outreach by community-based organizations, in addition to the funds it should allocate for state and government agencies’ work. These resources will more than pay for themselves, as they will help ensure all New Yorkers are counted and thus that all our communities get their fair share of federal resources.

In the face of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies raining down from Washington, D.C, New York must lead by standing up for immigrants throughout the state. By passing an ambitious agenda to keep immigrant families together and invest in the success of our communities, we can do just that.

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Assemblymember Victor M. Pichardo represents New York’s 86th Assembly District and is Chair of the Task Force on New Americans. Assemblymember Marcos A. Crespo represents the 85th Assembly District and is Chair of the Committee on Labor. On Twitter @MarcosCrespo85 & @VPichardo86.

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

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An Agenda to Protect New York Immigrants and Benefit the Entire State Sun, 17 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York Nurses Threaten Major Strike Over ‘Understaffing’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8351-new-york-nurses-threaten-major-strike-over-understaffing http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8351-new-york-nurses-threaten-major-strike-over-understaffing  nynurses

(photo: @nynurses)


During one night shift at the children’s hospital where she worked as a nurse, Nicolette Mabeza‘s unit filled up with intubated children. She and the other nurses were frantic.

“It was just the entire floor running around,” said Mabeza, who worked in the intensive care unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in Washington Heights. “Some nurses had two intubated patients and they weren’t even right next to each other.”

Nurses stretched to the limit by understaffing would regularly cry on the job, she said.

“Not only does it make you feel that you’re being a terrible nurse,” said Mabeza. “You also wonder, why should patients come here if nurses can’t give the adequate care that they deserve?”

Feeling that she could no longer do her job in good conscience, she quit last April after less than a year at the hospital.

After years of complaints, understaffing has become a major point of conflict between the nurses union and private hospitals in New York City.

Around 13,000 nurses could strike this month if negotiations fail between the New York State Nurses Association and a group of three major hospital systems, union leaders say.

Nurses from Montefiore, Mount Sinai, St. Luke's-Mount Sinai West, and New York-Presbyterian hospitals authorized a strike last week and announced a rally for safe staffing on Monday, March 18 at Mount Sinai Hospital in East Harlem.

“We’re saying enough is enough,” said Carl Ginsburg, a spokesperson for the union, which represents 37,000 nurses. “No sooner do we make a deal than we drift back into this danger zone.”

He said contract negotiations have slowed to a crawl with the New York City Hospital Alliance, an informal bargaining group of private hospitals that includes Montefiore, New York-Presbyterian, and Mount Sinai hospitals.

On the bargaining table is an increase in nurse-to-patient ratios in emergency rooms and intensive care units. Staffing levels have reached dangerously low levels, putting the safety of both nurses and patients at risk, Ginsburg said.

“Sometimes where a nurse should be caring for five patients, she’s caring for eight or 10,” said Ginsburg. “Make no mistake – it’s dangerous.”

In 2018, more than 12,000 nurses signed “Protest of Assignment” forms to complain about unsafe conditions at Montefiore, Mount Sinai, and New York Presbyterian.

A spokesperson for the NYC Hospital Alliance said that hospitals are financially stretched because of state Medicaid cuts. He added that the recent “Protest of Assignment” forms account for a negligible portion of the total number of nurse shifts.

Understaffing at hospitals forces nurses to make tough choices, said Anthony Ciampa, a nurse at New York Presbyterian for the last 14 years.

“I had to make the decision whether to hang blood or to help an elderly patient eat,” said Ciampa. “No nurse should be forced to make these types of decisions.”

The elderly patient sat in front of the food – unable to eat – while Ciampa took care of the blood transfusion, he said. By the time Ciampa was able to help, the patient’s food tray had been removed, untouched.

“I’m still upset about that,” said Ciampa, who is currently representing the union in contract negotiations. “It was like torture to sit there with the meal in front of you and not be able to eat it.”

Outside Brooklyn Hospital Center last month, nurses were reluctant to talk about staffing conditions, fearing retaliation from their employers.

“Everybody’s understaffed,” said a medical assistant who requested anonymity and said she has worked at the hospital for more than 20 years. “The patients are not getting adequate care.”

But the NYC Hospital Alliance denied reports that understaffing is leading to unsafe conditions, and said that enforced staffing ratios would be costly and ineffective.

“The reality is that the union’s rigid, mandated staffing ratios would lower the quality of patient care by overriding the professional judgment of nurses and healthcare professionals and crowding out other members of the care team,” said Linden Zakula, a spokesperson for the group.

Zakula said that state budget cuts to Medicaid have resulted in a loss of $240 million in expected funding for the three hospital groups combined.

“Alliance hospitals respect our nurses and are committed to bargaining in good faith,” said Zakula. “We are doing everything we can to reach an agreement that is fair, reasonable, and responsible for all parties.”

In the last few years, several New York City Council members have shown support for more staffing regulation at hospitals.

“Nurses are some of the most important people in the hospital,” said New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera. “It’s important that they feel they have the resources they need to be supported in some of the most stressful environments.”

Rivera, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Hospitals, cosponsored a resolution in 2018 that called on the state Legislature to pass the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act.

The bill would set specific nurse-to-patient ratios by hospital unit, and would ensure that nurses can’t be assigned to more patients than specified.  Hospitals that break the law would be fined.

But there is no vote in sight for either the Council resolution or the state bill, which are both stuck in committee.

For many years, safe staffing legislation was met with resistance from Republicans who controlled the New York Senate.

Last week, New York Assemblymember Karines Reyes said she was confident that the Senate’s new Democratic majority would bolster the bill’s chances of passing.

“Apart from the Republican Senate’s pushback in past years, the primary obstacle posed to the legislation stems from the conflicting opinions of hospital administrators,” said Reyes, who is also a registered nurse in the Oncology Department at Montefiore Einstein Hospital. “These points of view fail to acknowledge that safe staffing is about saving lives. The legislation is paramount to the safety and outcomes of patients while not only providing adequate staffing to nurses, but to ancillary staff as well.”

While several states have laws that address nurse staffing, California is the only state that requires hospital units to maintain a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio.

Under that law – in effect since 2004 – critical care units in California must have at least one nurse for every two patients. The required nurse-to-patient ratio varies by department, with 1-to-4 for labor and delivery units and 1-to-6 for psychiatric units.

A 2010 study published by the National Institutes of Health found that mandated nurse-to-patient ratios resulted in fewer patient deaths and better morale for nurses compared to other states without similar legislation.

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Gaspard Le Dem is a freelance journalist. On Twitter @GLD_Live.
@GothamGazette

Note: this story has been updated to change $300 million to $240 million based on corrected information provided by Zakula of NYC Hospital Alliance.

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New York Nurses Threaten Major Strike Over ‘Understaffing’ Tue, 12 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Proposal Would Subvert Efforts to Address Affordable Housing Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8345-proposal-would-subvert-efforts-to-address-affordable-housing-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8345-proposal-would-subvert-efforts-to-address-affordable-housing-crisis mayorsoffice aff

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


One of the greatest and most immediate challenges facing New York is a statewide affordable housing crisis that continues to affect millions of families. Elected officials must support and promote new legislation and policies that will help our state produce more affordable homes and, correspondingly, do no harm to much-needed housing efforts.

The reality today is that more than 3 million households across the state still pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, which means they are “rent-burdened” and often struggle to afford housing and other necessities like health care and child care.

This crisis is what led Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to dedicate $2.5 billion to support an ambitious five-year statewide housing plan and preserve crucial low-income housing tax credits that were under threat by the federal government.

But our state’s ability to address the affordable housing crisis is now at risk of being undermined by new legislation that proposes to expand the definition of public work and the application of the prevailing wage mandate to private construction projects – including low-income housing developments – based on the public subsidies they rely upon to be built.

As an organization whose members deeply believe in supporting the needs of low- and middle-income New Yorkers, we also believe in good, fair wages for all workers. But the wide application of prevailing wage, which is far in excess of the median wage and can raise construction costs by 25 percent or more, is not actually a path to higher pay for construction workers. In fact, it is certainly a way to ensure there are fewer jobs, fewer new developments, and fewer affordable homes for New Yorkers.

This would be a step backward for New York, where construction costs are already the most expensive in the world, averaging $362 per square foot in New York City, according to Turner & Townsend’s 2018 report on international construction. The report also notes that those costs will only continue to rise and are expected to jump by another 3.5 percent over the next year. Other costs and regulatory burdens remain major obstacles all across the state.

Whether they live in Brooklyn or Buffalo, New Yorkers simply cannot afford to lose opportunities for new housing construction and the many good jobs that come with them. It is worth noting that the creation and preservation of affordable housing supported more than 300,000 total jobs throughout the state between 2011 and 2015.

The state Legislature now has an important choice to make. Rather than advancing well-intentioned but misguided legislation that would diminish new affordable homes and good jobs across the state, we hope lawmakers will fully consider these negative impacts before they proceed with imposing prevailing wages on the construction of affordable housing in New York.

The further that lawmakers explore this issue, the clearer it will become that it is unwise to hastily advance these proposals and risk undercutting New York State’s much-needed housing plan. And if they make the right choice, all New Yorkers will benefit.

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Jolie Milstein is president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, a trade association that represents nearly 400 members responsible for the construction and preservation of affordable housing across the state.

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

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Proposal Would Subvert Efforts to Address Affordable Housing Crisis Tue, 12 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
One Way to Keep Good, Middle-Class Jobs in New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8335-one-way-to-keep-good-middle-class-jobs-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8335-one-way-to-keep-good-middle-class-jobs-in-new-york wikimedia call center

(photo: Wikimedia Commons)


Long gone are the days when a family could live comfortably with a minimum wage job. In 1968, a worker making the federal minimum wage could support a partner and a child above the poverty line. Today, you can’t even support yourself and a child on it. Even with the recent increase to the minimum wage, hitting $15 an hour in New York City, it’s impossible for families in many parts of the state to live on minimum wage.

Economic anxiety has unfortunately become the new norm. Traditionally, most families’ golden ticket out of poverty was a solidly middle-class job, like at a call center. Those jobs, however, are increasingly being lost to corporate greed.

Since 2006, over 40,000 call center jobs were lost in New York. Forty thousand.

That means 40,000 families have had to face the emotional and financial stress of losing a job. It’s not as though the need for call center jobs has decreased; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 5% growth rate for customer service representative jobs between 2016 and 2026.

Unfortunately, there has been an upward trend of massive corporations looking to ship these jobs elsewhere so they can pay workers less and often find better tax incentives. Outsourcing work to other parts of the country or abroad has become a common corporate tactic to reduce costs. Middle class jobs are replaced with cheaper labor (often with subpar working conditions).

With the Trump administration’s tax cuts last year, outsourcing has become even more attractive to corporations, accelerating the process. The law rewards corporations with tax cuts and incentives for profits made overseas, with corporations paying as little as half or less of the corporate tax rate on profits earned abroad as they would here at home.

This is why I support the New York State Call Center Jobs Act, a bill that would finally prevent companies from being rewarded for outsourcing these good jobs elsewhere.

In January, AT&T announced it was closing a call center in Syracuse, eliminating 150 jobs. The workers in the call center had just two weeks to decide whether to accept a severance package or relocate.

Call center jobs are critical lifelines to sustain a robust middle class and it’s important we recognize that moving these jobs out of state has devastated families and communities across New York. We can no longer allow corporations to line their own pockets at the expense of hard-working New Yorkers.

This bill would help New York protect call center jobs at employers with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees. Employers would be required to notify the Public Service Commission if they intend to relocate at least 30% of call volume in a year. Those companies would lose all grants, loans, tax benefits, and state contracts, since our government should not be giving tax dollars to companies that are leaving the state. It would also ensure that all call center work related to state business is performed by New York companies.

This legislation passed last year in the Assembly and had considerable support in the Senate. Now that the Senate leadership has changed, we can and should get this done this year. I urge my fellow legislators to do what is right and protect New York’s middle class.

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Senator Jessica Ramos represents State District 13, which includes the Queens neighborhoods of Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and parts of Astoria and Woodside. On Twitter @JessicaRamos.

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

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One Way to Keep Good, Middle-Class Jobs in New York Mon, 11 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Speaker Says Assembly No Longer Supports Public Campaign Financing, Downplays Other Reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8342-speaker-says-assembly-no-longer-supports-public-campaign-financing-downplays-other-reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8342-speaker-says-assembly-no-longer-supports-public-campaign-financing-downplays-other-reforms heastie carl nys assembly speaker 9.62

(photo: Buck Ennis/Crain's)


Though Democrats have for years blamed Republican intransigence for the failure of key campaign finance and ethics reforms in Albany, those measures still appear stalled even as their party controls the entire state Legislature and governor’s office. On Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that the votes are not there in his chamber to approve a public-matching campaign finance system, despite the fact that the Assembly has repeatedly passed such a measure in the past when Republicans controlled the Senate.

Heastie appeared at a Crain’s New York Business forum at the New York Athletic Club, where he gave remarks about the Assembly’s accomplishments and priorities, then took questions from Erik Engquist of Crain’s and Errol Louis of NY1, before also speaking with other reporters after the event.

With a new state budget due April 1, Heastie said it appeared unlikely that the Assembly would approve public campaign financing before or within that deal, though it is a long-held Democratic goal espoused not only by Assembly Democrats but also the new state Senate Democratic majority and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“I think the members want to discuss it but I’d say right now what the concerns are on IEs [independent expenditures], problems with [New York City’s] campaign finance system, also with a shortage of [state] money, I think they want to have the discussion but I’d say right now there’s not 76 members who want to move forward with it in the next three weeks in the budget,” Heastie said in response to a question from Gotham Gazette, and referring to the minimum number of votes needed to advance a bill in the 150-seat chamber.

The speaker later tweeted to add to his comments from the morning, writing that the Assembly does want to consider a small-dollar matching program, but one that does not use public money.

Heastie also threw cold water on a state Senate-approved bill to limit campaign contributions from entities seeking state contracts and downplayed the need for additional government ethics reforms, saying that law enforcement entities catch bad actors and he is “still waiting for the idea of the bill that will really fix people’s morality.”

Asked about it by the moderators, Heastie expressed concerns that a bill passed on Tuesday by the state Senate could end up hurting the party in power. The bill, S3167, prohibits companies bidding for state contracts from contributing to “officeholders with authority over procuring entities” within a specific window of time, therefore applying largely to the executive branch, namely the governor.

Though Heastie’s conference has advanced similar bills in previous years, he hesitated to endorse that measure, which was sponsored by new state Senator Zellnor Myrie from Brooklyn.

“On the premise of it, it sounds great. Yeah, anybody who wants to bid on a contract, yeah they shouldn’t have the opportunity to make contributions to the governing entity because there could be the appearance that somebody’s trying to grease the skids,” Heastie said. “But the way that the legislation is drafted...it just covers such a vast number of people so that one company who...bids on a contract, their lobbyist, and it doesn’t just stop there, every other company that that lobbyist is responsible for is now radioactive.”

The bill would also put the State Democratic Party and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, “in a bind,” he said, because it would exclude them from raising funds from entities who would be able to donate to Republicans who don’t hold the same authority in state government. The bill includes a prohibition on contributions “indirectly or directly, to political committees operationally controlled by officeholders with authority over state governmental entities” that receive and review bids and issue contracts. “So I guess that on the surface the bill sounds like a great idea, but it really does put the governor and the Democratic Party at a huge disadvantage as compared to the Republican Party,” he said.

Asked about Heastie's comments, Jonathan Timm, a spokesperson for Senator Myrie, said in a statement, "The history of corruption in New York State government demonstrates that inaction is not an option. As with any other legislation, this bill will be subject to negotiation with the Assembly, and the Senator looks forward to working with them to clean up state government in the best way possible."

Speaking to reporters after Friday's event, Heastie then tempered expectations about public campaign financing, which appeared for months as though it would be a crowning achievement of the new Democratic era in Albany.

His comments weren’t taken lightly by a variety of advocates, including the Fair Elections for New York coalition, which has been pushing the state to adopt a small-donor matching system similar to the one in place in New York City, among other reforms.

“Historically, the Assembly Democrats have supported people-powered elections anchored with a small-donor matching system,” the coalition pointed out in a Friday statement, responding to Heastie’s comments as initially reported by Gotham Gazette.

“‘Fair elections’ is the policy that will really shake up the status quo, and thus the real test of the new Albany,” continued the coalition statement, referring to the Fair Elections Act that the Democratic Assembly has passed in previous sessions and that Senate Democrats have supported in the minority. “Passing this legislation now, in the budget, is the best chance for New York to once again lead the nation by having a campaign finance system that gives everyday New Yorkers as loud a voice as the wealthiest donors.”

The coalition is made up of more than 200 groups, including labor unions such as 32BJ, tenant organizers such as New York Communities for Change, immigrant advocates like the New York Immigration Coalition, environmental and racial justice groups such as the Sunrise Movement and VOCAL-NY, good government advocates like Reinvent Albany and more.

Urging the governor and legislative leaders to reject a budget that does not include public campaign financing, the coalition offered solutions for Heastie’s concerns. It said a public financing system should not include spending limits, therefore mitigating the effect of outside independent expenditure campaigns; suggested that New York follow Connecticut’s public matching program, which gives assistance to candidates in using small dollar contributions, compared to New York City’s program that many have called too punitive; and pointed out that the total budget ramifications of public financing were between $40-60 million, which wouldn’t even be apparent in the short term and could hardly affect a $175 billion state budget. The annual costs, the coalition estimated, would be less than $3 annually for every New Yorker.

Asked to comment on Heastie’s statements, neither the office of Senator Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins nor that of Governor Cuomo responded.

After seeing the blowback to his comments, Heastie issued another statement on Twitter Friday afternoon, writing, "I want to be clear – the Assembly Majority is supportive of limiting the influence of money in our elections through consideration of a small dollar donor matching system that does not rely on scarce public funds. Our members are not ready to support the NYC model for the entire state, but we will continue to have discussions in order to reach our goals."

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

This story has been updated.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for Senator Zellnor Myrie. 

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Speaker Says Assembly No Longer Supports Public Campaign Financing, Downplays Other Reforms Fri, 08 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000