Education http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion Fri, 26 Apr 2019 06:21:27 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) We Can't Let Trump Reverse Years of Improved School Food Policy http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8469-trump-reverse-years-of-improved-school-food-policy http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8469-trump-reverse-years-of-improved-school-food-policy mayor meatless mondays

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


My nephew is 10-years-old, is obese, and has type-2 diabetes. He wasn't raised to eat healthy, and my sister and brother-in-law don't always do the best to encourage good eating habits. One place they have no control over my nephew's diet is at school.

He's in 5th grade in a public school in northern Manhattan. He often tells me what he has for breakfast and lunch at his school, and laughs when he sees my reactions to what he describes. Bagel sticks with cream cheese and jelly, cinnamon twists, juice, and chocolate milk are just a few of the items he brags about that taste good.

New York City's public schools have come a long way in improving the quality of school food over the years. The city has worked hard to make school meals healthier than other cities across the country, and the Obama Administration was on the same page when it passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which aimed to serve more nutritious and fiber-dense whole grains and less flavored milks, which contain harmful added sugars.

But then came President Trump, and in December 2018 his administration weakened the law by reversing limits on sodium, allowing flavored milks and reducing whole grain foods in school food. Earlier this month a coalition of state attorneys general and two food policy advocacy groups sued the Trump Administration for violating the Administrative Procedure Act and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act by authorizing the reversal last December and bypassing legal requirements.

As a graduate student at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, I’m passionate about improving public health (like my 10-year-old nephew's) through improved food and public health policies. I wrote a food policy brief last fall for one of my classes, arguing that New York City public schools should eliminate flavored milk during breakfast and lunch and instead offer plain milk as the default. It also proposed making 100% fruit juice available during breakfast and only upon request by the student.

Using evidence-based research, I explained that both flavored milk and 100% fruit juice are large contributors to diet-related chronic diseases like obesity and type-2 diabetes, which affect not only many adult New Yorkers, but children as well.

According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, one in five city kindergarten students is obese. Studies show that obese children are at increased risk of becoming obese adults, and statistics show that obesity is more prevalent among black and Hispanic people compared to those of other races.

There is already strong scientific evidence linking poor quality school food, like flavored milks, to diet-related chronic diseases. However, many people (even doctors and nutritionists) are misled that 100% fruit juice is healthy. The sugars in these juices, even though all natural, are just as bad as added sugars in soda. Sugars in whole fruit are filled with fiber, so it's filling and hard to eat a lot of. Sugar in whole fruit is delivered slowly to the liver, which more easily metabolizes the sugar without being overloaded.

Fruit juice, without the fiber, sends a large amount of sugar quickly to the liver, just like when you consume a soda. Most of the sugar in fruit juice is fructose, and the liver can only metabolize it in small amounts. When the liver is overloaded with fructose, some if it turns into fat, and some of it stays in the liver, causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, and eventually type-2 diabetes. Advocates like Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor emeritus of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have been warning America about this metabolic epidemic for years.

School districts across the country have been trying for years to improve the quality of school food to make it healthier for children. The trend started in 2006 in Berkeley, California. There, under the direction of Chef Ann Cooper, then Director of Nutrition Services, the city banned chocolate milk from their school district. Chef Cooper moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2009, and did the same for that school district. In 2010 Washington, D.C. and Fairfax County, VA both eliminated chocolate milk from their public schools. In 2011 Los Angeles removed all flavored milks, becoming the largest school district in the country to do so (even though in 2016 they reversed the policy as a result of pressure from the dairy industry). In 2013 Montgomery County, Maryland banned strawberry milk from its schools. In 2014 Connecticut considered removing chocolate milk from all schools in the entire state, but ultimately the governor didn’t sign the bill. Finally, in 2017, San Francisco removed chocolate milk from all of its schools.

At the time I was writing my food policy brief for my NYU graduate class, the Trump Administration announced that it was rolling back school nutrition standards, and I mentioned it in the brief. The Trump Administration thinks it can reverse policies that have taken years to fight for and implement without following legally required procedures. I applaud New York Attorney General Letitia James for leading this coalition of attorneys general who brought on this lawsuit.

New York City has worked hard to improve the quality of its school food and usually is a trendsetter for the rest of the United States when it comes to public health (see: smoking ban, menu labeling). The city needs to continue striving for excellence in public health policy and to help make New York City children healthier. Stopping irrational policy reversal decisions with lawsuits may be the only way to fight the Trump Administration, which doesn’t seem to care about the childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes epidemics currently facing New York City and the rest of the United States.

I do care. I care about my nephew's health and future, and I intend to contribute to positive change in public health not only in New York but the rest of the country. Won’t you join me?

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David Lundquist is an Executive MPA student at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and works for NYU Langone Health.

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dlundquist@gg.com (David Lundquist) Opinion Fri, 26 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Advancing Efforts to Hire People with Disabilities Across New York's Economy http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8439-expanding-efforts-to-hire-people-with-disabilities http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8439-expanding-efforts-to-hire-people-with-disabilities dxej efucaa3uxe

Victor Calise, front-left, is one of the authors (photo: @NYCCalise)


In the fairest big city in America, everyone deserves the opportunity to be employed. Unfortunately, the reality is that people with disabilities in the United States are twice as likely to be out of the workforce as their nondisabled peers.

Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor shows that the proportion of Americans with disabilities ages 16 to 64 that was employed last year was only 30.4% compared to 74% for non-disabled individuals in the same age group. In New York City alone, 79% of working-age people with disabilities are currently jobless according to the most recent U.S. Census statistics. This staggering disparity is one of the most pressing challenges to full accessibility and independence of the disability community.

New York City is doing our part to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities. The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities’ (MOPD) NYC: ATWORK program is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, with funding from the Poses Family Foundation, the Kessler Foundation, and the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, that directly connects people with disabilities to prospective employers.

For example, Chelsea Dimond is a person with a disability who reached out to NYC: ATWORK after she was previously unsuccessful in finding employment through traditional job-seeking websites. After getting guidance regarding the search and interview process, she was ultimately hired as a Peer Respite Worker by Transitional Services Inc. New York.

On NYC: ATWORK’s assistance, Chelsea says: “This program took note of exactly what kind of job I was interested in and made a perfect match for me. This job feels like it was meant to be, and now I’m able to make a difference in the lives of those who have mental illnesses like myself.” Chelsea is only one of many examples of successful placement by NYC: ATWORK.  The overall goal of this three-year initiative focuses on connecting 2,100 individuals with disabilities to internships, jobs, and careers in their field of choice.

The City’s proactive approach to increasing employment for people with disabilities is rooted in the understanding that a good job and financial security are crucial to personal and professional independence. Before connecting with NYC: ATWORK, Simon Bondar was living with his parents. After working with MOPD on his resume and interview prep, he was hired by UNIQLO as a Sales Associate. With this new line of income, Simon was able to move into a new apartment with his wife.

New York’s business community plays a crucial role in hiring more people with disabilities, in turn creating a more inclusive workplace that leverages the diversity of its employees. Through NYC: ATWORK’s Business Development Council, the City has fostered relationships with companies across a variety of sectors including finance, hospitality, transportation, retail, and technology.

Additionally, the New York City Council has hired its first-ever liaison to New Yorkers with disabilities. Together, the de Blasio Administration and Council are dedicated to including disability in conversations about diversity in hiring practices and society at large.

Having an employee with a disability can be a catalyst for a cultural shift to a more inclusive workplace. Nondisabled business owners are more likely to think about accessibility and ultimately improve the company for all of its employees and customers alike. These employment opportunities also extend to city government where the 55-a program has paved the way for qualified people with disabilities to get hired without needing to take a Civil Service exam. By obtaining employment, a person with a disability will therefore not only gain the tools they need to live independently but will also make a positive impact on their employer and the community at large as well.

While New York City has made great strides to improve the lives of people with disabilities and many businesses have joined us in hiring members of the disability community, we know this is just the beginning. It is imperative that societal attitudes shift to recognize that disability is an important aspect of a diverse work environment and, indeed, that people with disabilities are productive employees who will positively contribute to a business and the community. All of us must make a conscious effort to recruit, hire, and retain qualified people with disabilities. Only then can we have a truly inclusive society and make New York the most accessible city in the world.

***
Victor Calise is the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities. City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @NYCCalise & @JustinBrannan.

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mauthors@gothamgazette.com (Justin Brannan & Victor Calise) Opinion Thu, 25 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Say No to Faulty Voting Machines and the Conflicts of Interest That Come with Them http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8470-say-no-to-faulty-voting-machines-and-the-conflicts-of-interest-that-come-with-them http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8470-say-no-to-faulty-voting-machines-and-the-conflicts-of-interest-that-come-with-them boe mahcines gg

(photo: Gotham Gazette)


In the coming days, the Board of Elections will select a vendor to provide voting machines to serve nearly 5 million New York City voters as part of the early voting launch this year. Unfortunately, the entire process has become tainted by corruption and ought to raise deep concerns to anyone who cares about the integrity of our elections.

Over the past decade, New York City has paid $43 million to Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) for its poor quality ballot scanners and other voting machines. This is the same company that showered Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan with perks including luxury travel and dining expenses in Las Vegas and other destinations.

Although Ryan was forced to step down from his advisory role at ES&S after his conflict of interest was exposed by NY1, he still brazenly lobbied the state for fast-track approval of the company’s touch screen voting machine – ExpressVote XL – that is less secure and twice as expensive as systems that print paper ballots. It is vulnerable to hacking, interference, and other glitches. Put simply, this may be one of the worst voting machines in the country.

Fortunately, the State Board of Elections rejected the City BOE’s request to bypass the certification process, but it did not close the door on approving this garbage machine for future elections. In the meantime, however, the City must select a new voting system for 2019 and beyond.

Ryan’s conduct illustrates that the Board of Elections cannot be trusted to make a decision that’s in the best interest of the public. There is no question that the mutual back scratching between election machine vendors and the agency is out of control.

But with a decision coming soon, what can we do to protect democracy?

For starters, Michael Ryan must be replaced. His mishandling of last year’s midterm elections, which were marred by endless lines, long waits, and machine malfunctions, is grounds for removal alone. Short of that, he must be recused from any decisions related to voting machine contracts. Any other members with ties to voting machine companies must be held accountable, and all commissioners should be disqualified from the Board if they do not approve voting technology that is secure and provides a paper record.

In the longer term, comprehensive Board of Elections reforms are needed, including a wholesale revamp of the oversight structure by lawmakers in Albany. At the absolute minimum, companies with business before the Board of Elections should be barred from lavishing perks on decision-makers, and local party bosses should not be handpicking the Board members.

This is an odd moment. Albany is finally taking action to improve access to the ballot box, while the New York City Board of Elections is moving deeper into the era of smoke filled rooms. While pay-to-play politics is nothing new in this state, we can’t become numb to corruption that undermines New Yorkers’ fundamental right to vote. There is still time to get this right. Through public pressure and support from reform-minded officials, we can force the city and state to protect voting rights, not shady voting machine companies.

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Jonathan Westin is the executive director of New York Communities for Change. On Twitter @jwestin2 & @nycchange.

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jwestin@gg.com (Jonathan Westin) Opinion Wed, 24 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
We Must Seize Today’s Path to Actually Closing Rikers; It May Not Be Here Tomorrow http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8465-seizing-path-to-actually-closing-rikers-jails-corey-johnson-lippman http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8465-seizing-path-to-actually-closing-rikers-jails-corey-johnson-lippman city council speaker

Speaker Corey Johnson, one of the authors, with Mayor de Blasio (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Three years ago, the idea of closing the nine jails on Rikers Island was widely considered impossible. But in April 2017, after an intense campaign by advocates and the findings of an independent commission convened by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and chaired by Judge Jonathan Lippman, Mayor de Blasio committed to the goal.

Today, we are within hailing distance.

The starting point for closing the Rikers jails is dramatically cutting the number of people who are incarcerated, and we have made real strides towards this goal. Thanks to reforms to policing and prosecution, investments in alternatives to incarceration, and continuing pressure from advocates, there are 1,800 fewer people in city jails than there were two years ago—all while the city remains safer than ever.

The total number of people in jails is now under 8,000, the lowest it has been in many decades and representative of a lower incarceration rate than any other major United States city. Reforms recently enacted in Albany to bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws will reduce that number further and bring us much closer to the goal of 5,000 or fewer people incarcerated that would eventually permit the end of Rikers jails.

But to actually shutter the Rikers jails, and not just talk about it, it is imperative for the city to build a smaller system of facilities located in the boroughs to hold those who remain. Today there are three operating non-Rikers jails, including a 1950s-era tower in downtown Brooklyn and a 30-year-old barge docked in the Bronx that would be closed along with Rikers. None are examples of humane design, and together they have space for fewer than 2,400 people. 

New York City has launched the land use process that will determine whether Rikers jails can be shut down. If successful, it will lead to the authorization of four redesigned facilities to hold 5,000 people or fewer in total. Three of the planned facilities—in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan—are on the site of existing jails, next to borough courthouses. The fourth, in the Bronx, is on an NYPD tow pound lot in Mott Haven. The Bronx site is farther from the courthouse than the others, but still exponentially closer and more accessible than Rikers.

Of course, a plan of this scale and impact has critics.

Some say that closing Rikers is impossible. These are the same voices that said, two years ago, that everyone in city jails deserved to be there. They are the same voices that said, five years ago, that ending the policy of widespread stop-and-frisk that was devastating communities of color would lead to an outbreak of crime. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

Then there are those who oppose borough facilities for the exact opposite reason. They argue that borough jails would “normalize” incarceration. Nothing could do more to normalize incarceration and to perpetuate a toxic culture of violence and mass incarceration than continuing to warehouse New Yorkers on a hidden penal colony.

Others have said that we must pause this process. But every day that we wait is an extra day that the Rikers jails will remain open, harming the people who work and are incarcerated there. And many who call for delay understand that it would squander the once-in-a-generation opportunity the city has to move towards closing Rikers now, ultimately derailing the project. 

Finally, some people who live near the proposed facilities are concerned about the impact on their neighborhoods. These concerns, which include traffic, safety, and size, are understandable and must be thoroughly assessed, and that is what is happening in the land use process now underway. Yet we must remember: there are jails currently operating in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn without any negative impact to property values or crime.

The plan that the mayor has put forward is an essential step in the path to close the Rikers jail complex. Conversations with communities have already led to initial reductions in the height and density of the planned facilities and more thoughtful plans regarding the treatment of incarcerated women. Moving forward, we expect to see more work from the administration to improve the plan—such as finding non-jail, hospital-based alternatives for people with serious mental health diagnoses—and to address neighborhood concerns.

Equally important, the administration must invest in the socio-economic needs of the communities that historically have been hit hard by the inequities of the criminal justice system. And to demonstrate his seriousness about changing the justice system, Mayor de Blasio should raze the jail on Rikers that he closed last summer.

The land use process that began is necessary to put an end to Rikers, but it is not the end of the road. We will still need to determine crucial issues like how the facilities will be operated and what services and programs they will provide. Finishing the job will require the same focus and advocacy that got us to this point.

The misery of Rikers has been well-known, and well-documented, for decades. The reason those jails continue to exist today is that closing them was always considered too difficult. But to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we are not doing this because it is easy; we are doing it because it is hard—and absolutely necessary for a justice system that is worthy of our city.

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Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council. Jonathan Lippman is a former chief judge of New York State, of counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP, and chair of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.

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mauthors@gothamgazette.com (Corey Johnson & Jonathan Lippman) Opinion Tue, 23 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
How to Separate District Attorney Candidates All Claiming to be Progressive http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8456-how-to-separate-district-attorney-candidates-all-claiming-to-be-progressive http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8456-how-to-separate-district-attorney-candidates-all-claiming-to-be-progressive queens da with assets of bust

(photo: @QueensDABrown)


The burgeoning progressive prosecutor movement seeks to distinguish between old guard prosecutors and new candidates who promise to address mass incarceration and the criminal law’s disproportionate impact on people of color. In many elections, the contrast between the old and the new is readily apparent, but in Queens County the candidates seeking to succeed long-serving and retiring District Attorney Richard Brown are battling over who will be the most progressive prosecutor.

A recent article in Mother Jones profiled Tiffany Cabán, the candidate who appears to have captured the support of those most invested in a new prosecutorial order. The article’s author writes that Cabán “has a radical vision for the position: she says she’d incarcerate as few offenders as possible.”  

Reflecting on that statement forces one to realize just how punitive prosecutorial practices have become. It is tragic that a prosecutorial candidate’s position of locking up as few people as possible is described as radical. The recognition that decades of hyper-aggressive policing and punishment have made such a fundamentally humane and moral statement seem not just progressive but “radical,” is made more apparent when you consider the self-described progressive positions staked out by most District Attorney candidates – i.e., declining to prosecute marijuana charges; not requesting bail in most misdemeanors; not seeking the maximum sentence in every case; etc.  

Those positions, however beneficial to the accused, are hardly radical and are espoused by virtually every candidate in the Queens District Attorney race. It therefore behooves those searching for a progressive candidate to try and figure out who might truly be progressive, let alone radical.

With that task in mind, here is a modest list of 13 questions that might reveal the depths of a candidate’s progressive beliefs:

1. The Queens County District Attorney, unlike any other prosecutor in New York City, insists that there will be no plea offer unless the accused waives their statutory right to a prompt grand jury presentation. Will you commit to immediately ending that practice?

2. New York’s highest court ruled that the Queens District Attorney’s pre-arraignment interrogation program was unconstitutional. Will you commit to immediately ending any vestige of that practice and, to guard against any similar kind of abuses, commit to not conducting any interrogations unless and until the accused has been provided with an attorney?

3. A case is currently pending before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals where it is alleged that the Queens District Attorney had a practice of deliberately insulating prosecutors from their duty to provide the defense with exculpatory evidence. Will you commit to immediately ending that and any similar practices?

4. Recent legislative reforms will require that the prosecution provide the accused with discovery within 15 days of an indictment. Fifteen days is the outermost date. Will you commit to providing discovery within one week? Will you commit to providing the accused with basic police reports at arraignment?

5. New York Civil Rights Law 50-a has been an impediment to access to police personnel records and is the subject of ongoing debate and litigation. Will you agree to publicly support repeal of Section 50-a?

6. New York’s former Chief Judge famously observed that prosecutors wield so much influence on grand juries that they could get them to indict a ham sandwich. Would you agree to replace the grand jury in all cases with preliminary hearings where witnesses testify under oath and subject to cross-examination?

7. In countless trials, the accused is unable to exercise their hallowed constitutional right to testify on their own behalf because the prosecutor will cross-examine them about unrelated prior arrests or convictions. Will you commit to limiting cross-examination of the accused to just the facts and circumstances surrounding the charges on trial? 

8. In order to enhance police transparency and accountability, will you commit to videotaping all interviews with police witnesses and to provide the accused at their first appearance before a judge with a copy of the tape of the initial interview with the arresting officer?  

9. In order to enhance police transparency and accountability, and given the systematic Fourth Amendment and Equal Protection clause violations found in the federal stop-and-frisk litigation, will you commit to immediate pretrial suppression hearings in all possessory offenses so that the arresting officers must testify under oath, in public, and subject to cross-examination about what they did and why they did it?  

10. The typical Criminal Court complaint drafted by the District Attorney is no more than a few sentences and usually provides no facts regarding the legality of search and seizure. In order to enhance police transparency and accountability will you agree to include in the complaint factual details that support the probable cause for search and seizure?

11. One of the reasons for mass incarceration is the length of sentences that have been meted out over the past several decades. New York has almost 10,000 people serving life sentences. Will you agree to publicly support sentencing reforms to eliminate mandatory minimums, to reduce maximums, and to eliminate enhanced sentencing mechanisms?

12. More than 40% of the 50,000 people in New York State prisons are serving indeterminate sentences and will be eligible for parole. Will you agree to only oppose parole if there is clear and convincing evidence that the individual is a current threat to public safety? Will you publicly support the American Law Institute’s revision to the Model Penal Code that urges states to adopt “second look” legislation that provides for a reexamination of a person’s sentence after 15 years regardless of their original sentence or crime of conviction?

13. More and more, whether in the form of community courts, court watch programs, models of participatory defense, or the role of community groups in fashioning remedies to stop-and-frisk policing, those people most impacted by the criminal legal system are demanding input into how they are policed and prosecuted. In what ways will you cede power over decision-making to the communities most affected by prosecution practices?

Most people now recognize that prosecutors were a primary driver of mass incarceration, and some opine that prosecutors are therefore best situated to undo the damage they caused. With limited exceptions, the platforms and promises of self-described progressive prosecutors are hardly profiles in courage. For those who truly want to see prosecutorial reform, it is time to demand more than liberal platitudes.

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Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter @SteveZeidman.

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sZeidman@ag.com (Steven Zeidman) Opinion Mon, 22 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Battles Over the MTA’s Long-Term Planning are About to Really Heat Up http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8409-battles-over-the-mta-s-long-term-planning-are-about-to-really-heat-up http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8409-battles-over-the-mta-s-long-term-planning-are-about-to-really-heat-up govandrewcuomo canarsie engineer

(photo: governor's office)


For those of us who want the MTA to finish a favorite project before our grandchildren are retired, now is the absolute best time to let Governor Cuomo know how you feel. The MTA is finalizing a document that will shape the New York region’s public transportation system for decades. Construction firms, unions, suppliers, and real estate interests are all lobbying the MTA to protect and further their own interests.

Every five years, the MTA issues a report of its capital needs for the next 20 years. This document identifies projects designed to improve travel for subway, bus, and railroad riders as well as for the drivers who cross the MTA’s seven bridges and two tunnels. The upcoming report will identify the transportation system’s critical needs and more than $100 billion worth of projects that the MTA deems essential. This is an extraordinary amount of money considering that the federal government ’s contribution to the MTA’s capital program has been less than $1.5 billion per year (and its contribution to all 6,800 public transportation systems across the country totals only about $13 billion per year).

The MTA’s 20-year needs assessment will set the stage in the fall for yet another document, a five-year capital program. The proposed program will identify which projects in the 20-year needs assessment should begin between 2020 and 2024. Aside from the state’s budget, the MTA’s five-year capital program is one of the most important and controversial items that the Legislature deals with on a regular basis.

In 1999, the MTA released a 20-year needs document that reflected the priorities of Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The MTA saw the need to relieve crowding on the Lexington Avenue line and provide subway service to the Jacob Javits Convention Center. The MTA subsequently built three new subway stations on Second Avenue and extended the No. 7 train to the far West Side. Some of the initiatives identified in 1999 have not panned out though, such as extending subway service to LaGuardia Airport.

The current five-year capital program, which ends this year, has allocated approximately $33 billion to upgrade the transportation network, including purchasing new rail cars, modernizing signals and stations, and building new maintenance facilities. Nearly one-quarter of the program has been devoted to major expansion projects. These initiatives are the ones that are the most debated and anticipated, and include bringing the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, preliminary construction for the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway, and engineering for work that will allow Metro-North to access Penn Station and build four new Bronx stations.

The MTA will propose to spend even more over the next 20 years than it has in the previous two decades. New York City’s population and train ridership have grown more than planners expected 20 years ago. Moreover, New Yorkers want the MTA to provide modern and safe services, and the bar that defines such a system is continuously raised. The new subway stations on Second Avenue have become today's minimum standard: spacious and quiet stations with numerous escalators, elevators, and electronic signs, along with platforms that are cooled on hot summer days.

One thing is very different about this year’s preparation for the 20-year needs assessment and capital program. Five years ago, Governor Cuomo paid little attention to the MTA. Now, the governor is intimately involved with the MTA’s planning and operations. The MTA’s 20-years assessment will be, in effect, the governor’s 20-year vision for the future of transportation in New York City, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley.

Undoubtedly, the MTA’s 20-year needs assessment will state that the authority will connect Metro-North to Penn Station and Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal. The second and third phases of the Second Avenue subway are also likely to be considered essential. This would extend the subway north from 96th Street to 125th Street and south from 63rd Street to Houston Street. Future phases of the Second Avenue subway, including extending it to Wall Street, may not be in the 20-year needs assessment, indicating that construction will not begin until after 2040.

The document will probably also indicate that the MTA needs at least $6 billion per year to maintain and upgrade its equipment and facilities. There will be a huge gap between the amount of money available and the MTA’s needs. Hopefully, the state does not burden future generations with excessive debt. In recent years, the MTA has been unable to appreciably improve service because it is spending more than $2.5 billion annually on principal and interest to pay back the money it borrowed to finance its previous capital programs.

The 20-year needs document will reveal the governor’s thinking about how he wants to allocate funds between suburban and city projects, as well between new expansion projects and basic infrastructure projects. When it comes to the most expensive projects, he will have to choose between those that would help spur new growth (like the extension of the 7 train has done in Hudson Yards) or ones that alleviate existing subway congestion (like continuing the Second Avenue Subway). The 20-year assessment and 5-year capital program will also indicate how the governor plans on accommodating the preferences of key players in the funding debate including Mayor de Blasio and the leaders of the State Senate and State Assembly.

One caveat about the assessment report and how it will be indicative of the MTA’s level of transparency and accountability. Officials might not want to release the document for many reasons. For example, despite the passage of a congestion pricing program, it is likely to show the need to raise future taxes, tolls, and fares. Likewise, the report will reveal how the MTA is slipping behind certain goals that it had set to upgrade its sprawling network. Just because the MTA has issued these reports every five years does not mean it will release one this year. That would be a shame because the public and elected officials should be aware of the progress that the MTA has been making, and to better understand its ongoing and enormous needs.

For the rest of the year, elected officials will argue vociferously, in public and behind the scenes, about funding levels and specific projects. Although the media and public opinion will shape the final outcome, savvy interest groups know that the best time to push for their favorite projects is now.

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Philip Plotch is a political science professor at Saint Peter’s University and the author of Politics Across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject. His book about the Second Avenue subway (The Last Subway) will be published by Cornell University Press in the first quarter of 2020. On Twitter @profplotch.

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pplotch@gg.com (Philip Plotch) Opinion Thu, 18 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As Early Childhood Educators Consider Strike, New York City Must Achieve Pay Parity http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8454-as-early-childhood-educators-consider-strike-new-york-city-must-achieve-pay-parity http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8454-as-early-childhood-educators-consider-strike-new-york-city-must-achieve-pay-parity mayor firstday

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


We know now, more than ever, just how malleable the mind of a young child is, and we understand that the earlier we begin engaging a child’s mind, the better off that child will be. Early childhood education can positively impact the academic, social, and emotional development of children, while providing much-needed financial relief for our city’s low-income families with children, for whom child care is a major expense.

Our city recognizes the significance early childhood education has, both for children and families. Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to investing in and expanding his Universal Pre-K and 3-K initiatives is proof of that, and we wholeheartedly support these programs because they help level the playing field for some of our city’s most vulnerable families.

Yet it is unconscionable that while the programs continue to grow, City Hall has failed to address a significant inequity that threatens the very success of the initiatives – the fair pay of teachers. Our children deserve the best opportunities we can give them, and in order for that to happen, we need to fairly compensate those who dedicate themselves to caring for our children and providing that critical, quality early education.

Most of the children who are currently enrolled in the Universal Pre-K program attend programs offered by community-based organizations (CBOs), where early childhood educators are rightfully fighting for wage parity that can help level the playing field for them and their families, as well. CBO-based pre-K teachers with bachelor’s degrees earn significantly less than their counterparts with the Department of Education (DOE) -- and often work more hours for a longer school year.

A CBO-based certified teacher with five years of experience makes approximately $42,000, while DOE counterparts with the same credentials earn closer to $60,000. The gap in salary widens over time — nearly doubling at 10 years of experience. A DOE pre-K teacher with a master’s degree and 20 years of experience can earn as much as $91,000 annually, while a CBO-based teacher with identical credentials can max out at approximately $50,000.

The same job responsibilities, the same experience, and the same qualifications for significantly less money. It’s not right, and it isn’t fair.

It’s no surprise that many CBO-based early childhood programs struggle to hold on to quality educators. Wage disparity demoralizes educators at CBOs -- many of whom are women of color -- and puts them in the unfair position of having to choose between the work they have passionately dedicated their lives to and caring for their own families. How can we expect our children to be properly educated and cared for if those tasked with that responsibility aren’t provided with the resources to do the same for their own?

Many of these educators are forced to look elsewhere for employment as a result, and that frequent turnover can have a destabilizing effect on the development of a young child’s mind. The longer we continue to drastically underpay non-DOE early childhood educators, the likelier it becomes that more and more of the early childhood programs that so many of our city’s families rely on will be forced to close their doors.

In the City Council, we pushed for funding for pay parity to be a part of the fiscal year 2019 budget, following a summer hearing on the Early Learn transition to DOE. At the hearing, we made it clear that pay parity needed to be addressed, but the de Blasio administration failed to see the same urgency, instead promising that the issue will be resolved during contract negotiations. That still has not happened and the mayor is out of time.

When the administration released a new round of contracts for early childhood services, it failed to include the increased funding that community providers were looking for, making clear that there is a lack of urgency or interest in addressing this problem. We need real solutions, not gestures.

The City Council just released its response to the mayor’s fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget proposal, and under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson, we are specifically calling on the mayor to include an $89 million investment that would close the wage gap. Securing this funding in the budget would create stability for these educators, as well as the program and the community-based organizations that provide many of these services. It's the right thing to do.

Teacher strikes have picked up momentum across the country for better pay and improved classroom conditions; and now, early childhood educators are deciding whether to strike here in New York City. We stand with teachers in calling for wage parity for early childhood educators and know that this decision does not come lightly. It is only after years of underpayment and efforts toward a resolution.

At a time when the mayor and his administration rightfully strive for the need for a school system that provides ‘equity and excellence for all,’ what sort of message are we sending by so drastically underpaying the teachers who primarily care for and educate children from low-income families? We’re not just shortchanging these educators; we’re shortchanging the students they teach, their families, and our city’s communities.

We want a school system that gives every single student in our city the same opportunities to succeed – that simply cannot happen if the system itself is unstable. A teacher’s salary should not depend on the type of contract they have with the city, but too often, it does. It is time that we correct the inequities of our system and support professionals who work hard to ensure that every child is getting the proper head start on development they deserve.

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Mark Treyger is the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education. Stephen Levin chairs the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare. On Twitter @MarkTreyger718 & @StephenLevin33.

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mauthors@gothamgazette.com (Mark Treyger & Stephen Levin) Opinion Wed, 17 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Fire Department Proposals Don't Match Need for Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8455-city-council-fire-department-proposals-don-t-match-need-for-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8455-city-council-fire-department-proposals-don-t-match-need-for-reform mayorcommappleton

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Last week the City Council presented its response to Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. It proposes to add $1.5 billion in annual operating expenditures and more than $1 billion in capital spending to the budget proposed by the mayor. Among the proposals are four that would significantly increase spending on the Fire Department and for which there is no clear justification other than political expediency. Two of them would not only be expensive, but would undermine provisions of contracts agreed to through collective bargaining.

First, the Council would add a fifth firefighter to 20 engine companies across the city. Most fire engines are staffed with four firefighters as is the practice in most fire departments across the country.

The 2015 contract with the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) added a firefighter to 20 companies to be phased in over four years, in exchange for agreement that the absentee rate be kept below 7.5 percent. High absenteeism has been a problem at the FDNY, which contributes to high overtime expense.

The trade-off of adding staffing (and hence, new hires) while offsetting some of the cost through reduced absenteeism is exactly the type of mutually-achieved productivity measure that the de Blasio administration proudly touts as part of its approach to labor relations.

Yet last December, when the fifth firefighter was taken off the engines because the absentee rate rose over its agreed cap, the UFA complained vehemently. The mayor reinstated the staffing after there were media reports about the disagreement. Now, the Council proposes adding another 20 firefighters without any linkage to the absentee cap. The location of the engine companies to be increased and/or criteria for making these additions is not specified by the Council.

It is certainly true, as the Council notes, that FDNY call volume has been rising, but the calls are not for fires for which an additional firefighter to stretch out water hoses would be deployed, but for medical emergencies.

Less than 2% of all calls answered by the FDNY city-wide are for fires. The vast majority of calls are for some kind of medical situation. While engine companies answer most of these calls because they can get to them most quickly, they cannot administer most medical services or transport sick people to the hospital, so an ambulance usually must follow the fire engine to these incidents. Therefore, an additional firefighter does nothing to improve or increase response to the vast majority of fire engine runs as the Council implies.

The additional staff would effectively repeal a labor contract provision. Would the Council ever propose to legislatively overrule a contract provision that is regarded by a union as favorable to its interests? Doubtful.

The FDNY most definitely needs to rethink and reallocate staff to adapt to the fact that it has become primarily a medical-emergency, not a fire-fighting, organization. The last thing it needs is more staff who are not trained to administer to medical needs, hired to increase headcount and the number of UFA members. Not only should the mayor reject this proposal, he should direct the Fire Commissioner to re-institute the contractual link between the current five-staff engines and the absentee rate.

Second, the Council wants to add $17 million in capital funding to establish a third EMS station on Staten Island. But EMS runs for life-threatening incidents have grown less on Staten Island than in any other borough over the last year.

Nor is there justification for creating a $32 million firehouse in Hudson Yards. The UFA has been advocating for a station in this new neighborhood since work on the development began. There are EMS ambulances posted in the area and three fire stations nearby. All of the brand new buildings in Hudson Yards have the latest fire safety technology and there is no reason to expect significant increases in fire calls in the area, yet the Council and the UFA want to allocate 45 new permanent firefighter positions, adding more than $4 million to annual FDNY personnel costs.

Finally, there is a call to “re-evaluate public sector wages across the board and plan to correct disparities.” Among the “egregious” disparities noted are those of emergency medical service technicians and paramedics who earn less than firefighters. The Council calls on the FDNY to reset wage rates for its workers.

No cost estimate for this recommendation is included but raising all EMTs and paramedics to the same salaries as firefighters with the same years of service would cost an additional $67.5 million a year, plus an additional $10.5 million in additional costs for increased pension and payroll tax contributions, according to Citizens Budget Commission. This magnitude of expense should not be imposed outside the collective bargaining process, during which other issues like potential productivity offsets can be taken into account.

It is true that the lower salaries and higher workloads of EMTs compared to firefighters are contributing to relatively high overtime and staff turnover. The FDNY needs to be re-engineered to acknowledge and improve its primary function as a medical emergency service; simply paying EMTs and paramedics much more would just be a band-aid on a larger problem, and a very expensive one.

New Yorkers respect and appreciate the valiant service of our firefighters and our emergency medical service personnel. It is possible that some or all of the additional costs of the Council’s proposals could be offset by reducing unneeded, expensive fire stations, and bills introduced by Council Member Joseph Borelli to require ongoing evaluation of the impact of new development on EMS service would provide real data upon which to base future resource allocation decisions. But the Council’s reaction to changed conditions in its budget response is solely to spend more on everything.

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Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

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ckellerman@gg.com (Carol Kellermann) Opinion Wed, 17 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Should Have a Comprehensive Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8449-new-york-city-should-have-a-comprehensive-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8449-new-york-city-should-have-a-comprehensive-plan mayorsofficesi

(Photo: Spencer T Tucker/Mayor's office)


The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission is deliberating whether to propose to voters in November that a requirement for a comprehensive city plan be added to the charter.

Should New York City have a comprehensive, well-considered plan?
Yes.

A comprehensive, well considered, plan should be good for everyone. It would involve all of us in the creation and maintenance of a shared vision for our city and its neighborhoods. It would provide predictability for communities, property owners, developers, elected officials, and municipal and state agencies.  

It would provide an agreed plan on which to base the expeditious adoption of regulations such as zoning. It would make it easier to base actions on the intention, and not just the words, of a regulation, such as zoning.

It would promote coordination among agencies at neighborhood, community, borough, city, and regional levels. It would allow for more rapid approval of projects and proposals consistent with the plan.

Is the Zoning Resolution New York City’s comprehensive, well-considered plan?
Yes and No.  

New York State law requires New York City to base its land use regulations on a comprehensive plan. However, the law allows two versions of a comprehensive plan: statutory and common law.  (See Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan for a discussion of the distinction between the two approaches.)

The statutory approach calls for the adoption of a defined comprehensive plan on which zoning is based; the common law approach accepts the existing regulations and their history as the comprehensive plan. The latter approach allows the City to treat the zoning resolution as its comprehensive plan.

Using the Zoning Resolution as a comprehensive plan is, therefore, legally permissible but fundamentally wrong. Why?

First, zoning is but one tool in a regulatory regime intended to implement a common vision for our urban environment. Other tools include the City Map, the building code, the State Multiple Dwelling Law, street design standards, park design standards, landmark designations, development incentives such as J51 and 421a, inclusionary housing programs, industrial retention programs, measures to deal with residential displacement, the capital budget, and more.

Second, the Zoning Resolution addresses only a portion of our urban environment and is therefore not comprehensive. It deals only with land use and building density and form. It does not address matters outside of zoning, such as providing schools or parks or subways. A comprehensive plan would address much more than the Zoning Resolution does.  

What might a comprehensive plan for New York City look like?
In 1969, during the Lindsay administration, New York City’s Department of City Planning published Plan for New York City.

The plan was in six volumes: the first volume addressed the general vision for the city and the following five volumes spoke to what was happening in each of the five boroughs. The borough volumes had a chapter for each community district and additional chapters for special planning and urban design projects. The document was part vision and part inventory. (See CityLand for a discussion of the creation of the plan with former CPC chair Don Elliott.)

More recently the Bloomberg administration published PlaNYC and the de Blasio administration publishes OneNYC. Both offer a counterpart to the vision volume of the 1969 document without offering counterparts for the community chapters.

A comprehensive plan for New York City should include both a city-wide vision and community-centric plans. The city-wide vision rightly comes from the administration after consultation with all. The community-centric plans are provided for by section 197a of the City Charter, which encourages local groups, including community boards and borough presidents, to offer plans.

A comprehensive plan needs to comprise at least three dimensions:

One, it needs to address the full range of issues that concern a location.

Two, it needs to address the issues at the appropriate geographical levels – community, county, city, region.

And three, it needs to address the issues as they evolve over time.

(See Planning One Great City for All.)

For example?
Supertall residential towers, using gerrymandered zoning lots, mechanical voids, and stilts to increase their heights (see San Gimignano), have raised questions about the intention of our zoning regulations.

Currently one looks to the Zoning Resolution and reads that mechanical space does not count as zoning floor area. This suggests that a mechanical space in a building, no matter the height of the space, does not count as zoning floor area; which allows even tower-on-a-base buildings to loft the expensive apartments to extraordinary heights. However, if one reads the City Planning Commission reports on tower-on-a-base development or the Special Lincoln Square District one sees that the buildings were intended to be no more than approximately 33 floors and approximately 330 feet tall.

If one were to treat these City Planning Commission reports, rather than the text of the Zoning Resolution, as the comprehensive plan there would be a basis to disapprove a building under tower-on-a-base or Special Lincoln Square District rules taller than approximately 330 feet.

Therefore, a well-considered comprehensive plan would be a better basis than the text of an actual regulation to understand what the regulation was intended to accomplish.

Is a comprehensive plan too difficult for New York City?
Maybe.  

The 1969 Plan for New York City was not submitted to the Board of Estimate or City Council for approval and neither PlaNYC nor OneNYC were submitted to the City Council for approval, as required by the statutory approach to establishing a comprehensive plan.

One anticipates that preparing and adopting such a plan would be contentious and procedurally difficult. However, one hopes that the process would be constructive for all involved, fostering democratic deliberation and giving citizens, municipal employees, and elected officials experience with better governance. One also hopes that achieving a shared vision for the future of our city would facilitate the implementation of the plan and expedite the review of projects consistent with it.

Should New York City’s Charter be amended to require a real comprehensive plan?
Yes.  

The 2019 Charter Revision Commission should recommend to voters this November that the City Charter be amended to create and maintain a living comprehensive plan. This should include provisions that:

The city-wide parts of the plan be prepared by the mayoral administration in consultation with all interested parties and that the community-centric parts of the plan be prepared jointly by the applicable community board, borough president, and the city administration.

The plan should be revised frequently to keep it current with evolving conditions and goals.

Zoning and other regulations be amended to be consistent with the plan.

Agency actions be consistent with the plan.

Actions that are consistent with the plan qualify for expedited approval including abbreviated land use review (ULURP) and community/environmental impact (CEQR).

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John P. West III has 49 years of professional experience in urban design, city planning, and real estate development, mostly in New York City, and is head of the City Club's Urban Design Committee, a consultant to BFJ Planning, and a member of the MAS Planning Committee and the AIANY Urban Design and Planning Committee, among other roles. In the past, he was on the Zoning Committee of REBNY, chair of the Development Committee of the Long Island City Development Corporation, now the LIC Partnership, and a member of Manhattan Community Board Six for 40 years, among other roles.

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jwest@gg.com (John West) Opinion Tue, 16 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Take Down Cuomo’s Creeping Cameras http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8450-take-down-cuomo-s-creeping-cameras http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8450-take-down-cuomo-s-creeping-cameras gov andrewcuomo int

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


For nearly a year, activists have raised alarm-bells about how New York is creating the digital equivalent of widespread “stop & frisk” -- expansive new surveillance systems. One of the latest missteps comes from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who last July launched an MTA facial recognition program to scan drivers as they cross bridges and tunnels. For months, simply commuting to work may have involved a criminal background check for countless New Yorkers.

New reports show that the program might not just have been invasive, but also ineffective. So far, the pricey pilot project hasn’t matched a single driver’s face, according to the Wall Street Journal. But that may actually be good news. When the program launched, the governor was quick to tout its benefits, but reluctant to share some of the most basic information – where are the photos stored, who has access, how do we prevent abuse? Even without a response, we have a pretty good guess at the answer; the truth is that we’ve been down this road before.

For years, the NYPD has maintained automated license plate readers across New York City’s bridges and tunnels -- hi-tech cameras that capture dozens of plates every minute. The photos are run through optical character recognition software like what is found on many home and office scanners, creating a digital database entry for each car. There is nothing inherently wrong with license-plate readers, but the question is the same as for Cuomo’s cameras: who has the data?

In 2015, we found out the answer for license plate readers, and it came as a shock. Under a contract with Vigilant Solutions, a shadowy private corporation, police departments all across the country would have access to the information from New York’s readers. A lot of security hawks said it was no big deal at the time; that it was even a good thing to share New Yorkers’ private data more widely. But in January of last year came the wake-up call: ICE (federal immigration and customs enforcement) signed a contract with Vigilant Solutions and would get the license plate data too.

That’s right, for more than a year, NYPD data has potentially been used for immigration enforcement under the Trump regime, making a lie of the promise of a “sanctuary city.” What was the political response: nothing. Now, the situation could easily get worse.

License plate readers track just one thing: the car. But Cuomo’s cameras have the potential to track everyone in the vehicle, even children. This combination can multiply the risks to immigrant New Yorkers. Under this policy, simply sitting in the passenger seat may be enough to reveal someone’s location to ICE. And that’s just the danger when these expensive boondoggles work as designed. All too often, they get it completely wrong.

Reading license plates is child’s play compared to facial recognition. A license plate is designed to be read from far away; a short string of letters and numbers in high-contrast paint. You couldn’t have an easier target, and yet the software still makes mistakes. We’ve seen it with our home and office scanners, like the “1” that becomes an “L” or spaces that disappear.

When scanner errors happen at home or the office, it’s frustrating. When it happens with license plate readers, it means being stopped by the police, or worse. People have had guns pointed at them, had their door broken-down, and more, just because of faulty license plate readers.

If these systems have problems recognizing plates, how are they going to recognize faces? A license plate never cuts its hair or grows a beard. It never puts on makeup or a disguise. Given all the ways that appearances change, Cuomo’s cameras will inevitably get it wrong, and it will have tragic consequences for some. Sadly, for immigrant families, some will also face tragic consequences when the cameras get it right.

Until Governor Cuomo implements the privacy safeguards needed to keep New Yorkers safe, facial recognition surveillance has no place in our state.

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Albert Fox Cahn is the executive director of The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a New York–based civil rights and police accountability organization. On Twitter @cahnlawny.

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afcahn@gg.com (Albert Fox Cahn) Opinion Tue, 16 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Devilish Details of Albany’s MTA Budget Package http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8448-the-devilish-details-of-albany-s-mta-budget-package http://www.gothamgazette.com/education/130-opinion/8448-the-devilish-details-of-albany-s-mta-budget-package govcuomo photos

(photo: governor's office)


My organization, Reinvent Albany, applauds Governor Cuomo and the legislature for passing congestion pricing in the state budget. Yet we are concerned about it being undermined by boundless exemptions for politically powerful interest groups, and a proliferation of other new structures and requirements for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) that passed along with the tolling program.

Paradoxically, the MTA legislative “reform” package also included a deal for the Legislature to approve new CEO/Chair Pat Foye without the extensive confirmation hearings and scrutiny expected for the head of the MTA—a behemoth that is the biggest unit of state government, with a $17 billion operating budget and 75,000 staff.

We believe the net effect of the changes made to the MTA further confuse decision-making and aggravate the lack of public accountability.

We will be living with the details of the “MTA Reform and Traffic Mobility Act” for years, so it is worth taking a detailed look. Below is a summary of the various provisions and our brief analysis. (Those interested in reading the 30+ pages of law that makes up the package can read Part ZZZ -- yes, ZZZ -- of the state budget's Revenue Bill).

1. Congestion Pricing
Congestion pricing is officially known in law as the “Central Business District Tolling Program.” The program will be designed and implemented by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (known as MTA Bridges and Tunnels or informally as B&T), with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) laying out the details of how B&T will coordinate with the New York City Department of Transportation to get the program up and running. The law also gives B&T enforcement officers the power to issue notices of violations for transit infractions around B&T facilities, including the new tolling infrastructure.

The Central Business District is defined as 60th Street and south in Manhattan, but for FDR Drive, the West Side Highway, and the underpass to the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (formerly the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel).

Tolls will be charged to vehicles entering the Central Business District by the B&T, with the amount of the tolls to be determined and approved by a majority of the MTA Board, as well as any exemptions. This will be informed by a new Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB). The CEO/Chair gets an additional vote if there is a tie.

The TMRB is to be appointed by the MTA Board. The TMRB’s plans must ensure that the recommendation would at a minimum raise $15 billion for the 2020-2024 capital plan, including costs of operating the program. The TMRB also is given the authority to “review” MTA capital plans, though what this will entail is unclear. It will have six members total, including a chair, with one member recommended by the Mayor of New York City, one member residing in the Metro North Railroad (MNR) region, and one residing in the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) region.

Some exemptions to the toll are listed in the law, such as for emergency vehicles and  “qualifying vehicles transporting a person with disabilities.” The TMRB will make additional recommendations for credits, discounts, or exemptions. This will include consideration of credits or discounts for the current fee imposed on for-hire vehicles that was passed as part of last year’s state budget. A separate tax credit was created for residents in the congestion pricing zone earning less than $60,000 annually, provided they aren’t using their vehicle for business purposes.

Revenue from the tolls will go into a “central business district tolling capital lockbox.” Funds are to only be used for the costs of implementing the program and for the MTA’s 2020-2024 capital plan. Funds will be split 80-10-10: 80% of funds are to be for capital costs for New York City Transit (NYCT), with priority to the subways, accessibility, buses, and expanding transit in outer boroughs; and 10% of funds for both LIRR and MNR, with priority given to parking, rolling stock, capacity enhancement, accessibility and expanding transit in areas with limited transit.

Annual reports are due from B&T to state and city government officials as well as the public on receipts and expenditures, to be posted on the MTA website. Another report is due from B&T due on success of program in terms of traffic congestion, air quality, transit ridership, and bus speeds after one year, and then every two years. NYC DOT is to conduct a separate study on parking around the central business district 18 months after congestion tolls go into effect.

The TMRB will make its recommendation to the MTA Board on exemptions no earlier than November 15, 2020, or no later than 30 days before a tolling program is initiated. The program will be in operation no earlier than Dec 31, 2020. There will be a 30-day testing period where no tolls are collected, and then another 60 days where only tolls are collected, but not other charges and fines.

2. MTA Reorganization
The budget requires the MTA to develop a reorganization plan by June 30, 2019. This will be informed by a separate “independent forensic audit.” The plan will require approval of the MTA Board by majority vote; Chair gets 2 votes in event of tie. The reorganization cannot result in dissolution or merger of the authority and its subsidiaries. The legislation also allows the MTA and its subsidiaries and affiliates to share employees within and between entities, provided the employee will be doing a similar function. The law states that employee sharing will not impede or infringe upon collective bargaining agreements currently in place.

3. Design-Build
The budget adds to the mission and purpose of the MTA, stating that design-build is to be used in all projects over $25 million; however, it allows for a waiver from this streamlined bidding-design-construction requirement to be issued by the Director of the New York State Division of the Budget (currently Robert Mujica), who is appointed by the Governor.

4. MTA Board Appointments
The budget makes the terms of appointees to the MTA Board coterminous with their appointers. It also limits the amount of time that MTA Board members can serve in “holdover” status to 60 days (several MTA Board members were ousted as a result of this change, with new nominations made by the Governor during the budget weekend). The law also puts in place a process for an acting CEO/Chair to be in place not more than six months unless the Senate has not acted on a nomination from the Governor to fill the position. Any candidate filling the vacancy requires advice and consent of the Senate, as for regular appointments.

5. Independent Forensic Audit and “Reviews” of Waste, Fraud and Abuse
A provision retained from the Senate’s one-house bill requires the MTA to hire a certified public accounting firm to conduct an “independent forensic audit” that will review the MTA capital program, among other items. The firm cannot have done business with MTA in the last five years, or employ a former MTA employee who moved over in the past three years. The forensic audit is to be completed by January 1, 2020, and will be posted on the MTA website 30 days after submission to the MTA Board.

It also requires the MTA to hire a financial advisory firm with a national practice to review waste, fraud, abuse, and conflicts of interest; duplication of functions; cost efficiencies; the 2015-2019 capital plan; the MTA’s performance metrics; and cash flow and accounting of expenditures. The firm will submit its “reviews” by July 31, 2019 to the MTA Board, which will be posted on the MTA’s website.

6. Major Construction Review Unit
The MTA is now required to create a Construction Review Unit within the authority, which will consist of a panel of “internal and external experts” appointed by the MTA Board. It will review all “large scale projects” (this is not defined). It is given specific authority to review plans involving signal upgrades, including Communications Based Train Control (CBTC), the current industry standard, and ultra-wideband technology before they are implemented. Ultra-wideband is one component of CBTC, the radio technology for potential use as the “communications” part of CBTC. Its review of any project must be completed within 30 days of submission by MTA staff.

7. Capital Program Review Board
Members of the Capital Program Review Board, which is made up of four voting members, one each from the Governor, Senate and Assembly majorities, and New York City Mayor, are now required to provide a written explanation if a member rejects the MTA’s capital plan or any amendments the Board is considering. The written explanation must include specific areas of concerns and steps to address these concerns. The MTA may provide a response to the rejection, and after 10 days the disapproving member can withdraw the disapproval.

8. Debarment of Contractors
The budget authorizes the MTA to develop a debarment process for contractors to prevent bidding on future contracts for a five-year period. Any regulations developed must ensure notice and an opportunity to be heard. Debarment is to only be provided for situations involving: failure to substantially complete work within time frame of contract, or in a subsequent change order by more than 10% of the contract term; or where disputed work exceeds 10% of the contract cost and claimed costs are deemed invalid.

9. Fare Evasion Plan
The MTA is required to establish a plan to combat fare evasion, in consultation with the Governor, Mayor, and District Attorneys within New York City by June 30, 2019. The details of this consultation are not defined, and presumably will be dependent on the interest of the official identified as being participants.

10. East Side Access
The budget requires that the “L Train independent review team” (the Deans of Columbia and Cornell University who provided an alternate plan for the L Train shutdown), will evaluate the East Side Access project, and make recommendations to accelerate its completion. The project is currently at $11.3 billion in total costs, up from a projected $4.3 billion in 2006, where it was projected to be finished in 2009. It now expected that service will start running in December 2022.

11. Capital Plan Legislative Funds
The budget gives the Legislature a pot of funding that is set aside from the 2020-2024 capital plan for transportation improvements for the subways, buses and commuter railroads, subject to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). These types of agreements have been used in the past for other pots of funds, and are not required to be made public. They have not been voted on publicly by the members of the Legislature, so the public in the past has not known which members are requesting individual projects.

This MOU is to be entered into by the Senate Finance Committee Chair (currently Senator Liz Krueger), Assembly Ways and Means Chair (currently Helene Weinstein) and Director of the Budget (the Director of the Division of the Budget - currently Robert Mujica). The MOU is to be approved not more than 90 days after approval of the capital plan by the Capital Plan Review Board.  It should be noted that last year’s budget created a separate $50 million outerborough transit fund, to be used annually by the Legislature for individual projects.

12. Procurement
The budget legislation made a number of changes to procurement at the MTA, relating to both how it selects contractors and who reviews any contracts before they are executed. It extends until 2023 requirements regarding the selection of lowest possible bidder, where possible. It also raises the threshold for requiring use of lowest possible bidder to contracts of $1 million or more from $100,000, and raises the threshold for MTA Board approval of contracts not awarded to the lowest possible bidder or conducted under formal competitive process to $1 million or more.

Where the State Comptroller has existing pre-audit authority for NYCT and MTA contracts (the ability to review noncompetitive contracts over $1 million or those involving state funds, and not making them enforceable until approved), the Comptroller must provide a determination within 30 days receiving the contract from the MTA.

13. Performance Metrics
Another component remaining from the Senate’s one-house bill is a requirement for the MTA to use specific performance metrics, largely borrowed from Transport for London, which are defined in law, including:

-Additional platform time
-Additional train time
-Customer journey time and excess journey time
-Elevator and escalator availability
-Major incidents metrics
-Staff hours lost to accidents
-Terminal on time-performance

On-time performance is defined as arriving within two minutes of scheduled time. Note that two minutes for the subway is very different than for Metro North and Long Island Rail Road, which are required to use the same standard though the frequency and length in terms of mileage of service are very different.

The new law also requires the MTA to publish weekly performance reports for NYCT, LIRR, and MNR, as well as release of an annual report with international benchmarking on costs per mile for operating and maintenance, as well as staff and contractor hours for passenger journeys, and staff hours lost to accidents. Lastly, the law requires release of an annual implementation report for the Legislature and Governor by December 31 every year, which will be posted on the MTA website.

14. Twenty-Year Capital Needs Assessment
The last component remaining from the Senate’s one-house bill requires for the next capital plan (2025-2029) that the MTA submit to the Legislature a 20-year capital needs assessment before October 1, 2023, and every five years after for future plans. Its last 20-year capital needs assessment was released in 2013 prior to the finalization of the current 2015-2019 capital plan.

The 20-year needs assessment will include broad long-term capital investments to be made, and establish a non-binding basis for planning of strategic investments involving capital elements of five-year capital plans. The assessment does not require the MTA Board or CPRB approval, and is for information purposes only, though it is required to be certified by the MTA CEO/Chair and entered into the formal records of the minutes of the CPRB.

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

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rfauss@gothamgazette.com (Rachael Fauss) Opinion Mon, 15 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000