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Opinion

Why We Wore ‘Abolish ICE’ Shirts to the Statue of Liberty


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the author, Tiffany Huang, and her partner (photo: Sy Klipsch-Abudu of NYCLU)


Two months ago, my partner gifted me tickets for a Statue of Liberty tour. Despite growing up near New York and living in the city for the last two years, I had yet to visit the statue itself, and was excited to make the trip. For me and many others, the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of welcome to immigrants and refugees to the United States.

As our July tour date approached, however, the news roiled with ever-more-horrifying reports about family separation and child detention, brought about by the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. These horrors were fresh, but not altogether new. Although the United States has indeed served as a beacon of welcome and refuge for many immigrants over the centuries, it has not always lived up to that ideal. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the (anti-immigration) Immigration Act of 1924, to Operation Wetback in the 1950s, this country has at times enacted ugly, racist policies that excluded people from the U.S. on the basis of race and national origin.

We are in the midst of one of those periods. Under the Trump administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has become an agent of toxic anti-immigrant action. Their “zero-tolerance” policy has led to human rights abuses that have horrified onlookers both in the U.S. and around the world. While the Trump administration has since ended the practice of family separation, more than 500 children remain separated from their families. ICE has deported 460 parents without their children. The trauma that these families have experienced will endure far past this moment.

When we were preparing to go on our Statue of Liberty tour, we felt compelled to raise attention to the contradiction between what the statue symbolizes and the reality of our present politics. We therefore chose to wear shirts that read “Abolish ICE.” For us, “Abolish ICE” is a call to acknowledge the abuses of current immigration policy, and to rebuild our broken immigration system.

When we arrived at the tour’s embarkation point, however, security personnel stopped us and demanded that we either change our shirts, or leave the tour. Although we insisted that we had no plans for disruptive action -- and indeed, we did not -- they held firm. We opted to leave the tour, but later contacted the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) about the incident. The National Park Service has since admitted that it was a mistake to bar us from the tour because of our shirts, which were simply and obviously an expression of free speech.

We are grateful that the U.S. Park Police has acknowledged its error. But to us, the bigger story is the injustice that the Trump administration continues to perpetrate on immigrant communities. As the Statue of Liberty stands in the New York Harbor, we as a nation must stand up for what she symbolizes.

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Tiffany J. Huang is a graduate student at Columbia University. On Twitter @tiffjhuang.

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Unraveling the New York Nuclear Subsidy Scam


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(Photo via the Governor's Office)


Across the country, nuclear plant owners are insisting states and the federal government approve billion-dollar subsidies to bail them out  -- even if they’re profitable. In its 2016 Clean Energy Standard (CES), the New York State Public Service Commission quietly authorized charging ratepayers up to $7.6 billion over 12 years on their electric bills to subsidize nuclear giant Exelon, so it would keep running upstate nuclear plants it threatened to close (FitzPatrick, Ginna, and Nine Mile Point). Since these surcharges kicked in last spring, New Yorkers have already handed over $656 million and counting to prop up these failing nuclear plants.

The nuclear subsidy scam started in New York, and it's getting exported. After they were imposed here, Exelon and other nuclear owners used the same playbook to obtain billions more in subsidies in Illinois ($2.4 billion), New Jersey ($3.6 billion), Connecticut (estimated up to $3 billion), and soon, Pennsylvania and other states. They did it by falsely claiming their nuclear plants are “clean energy” and “zero emissions,” and threatening to shutter them and terminate their workers if they don’t get the money, escalating their lobbying activity all the while.

Such tactics shouldn’t work, yet they do. For example, in New Jersey Exelon and PSEG threatened to close plants and spent a combined $2.6 million last year on lobbyists, who kept dogging the New Jersey legislature until the unpopular subsidy package finally passed.  

To date, the fairness and legality of these subsidies have not been challenged and judged in court. But that’s about to change. A suit in New York State Supreme Court (Matter of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater v. NYS Public Service Commission, Albany County, 7242-16) is finally examining whether these subsidies are illegal or improper, if they violate the public trust and due process of law, and if PSC overstepped its authority by granting them without due process. The suit, of which I am a plaintiff, survived motions to dismiss, and hearings are pending which will have far-reaching implications.

New York is where the nuclear subsidy trend started. The PSC sold subsidies as a way to preserve jobs and “carbon-free” power as a kind of radioactive “bridge” to developing renewables. Now the New York State Supreme Court could be where those specious arguments unravel.

Dirty, obsolete nuclear plants are neither “clean energy” nor “zero emissions” and don’t deserve “zero emissions credits.” Subsidizing them squanders billions that won’t be invested in renewables or efficiency, the two best ways to lower greenhouse emissions and fight climate change. In its first year, New York’s Clean Energy Standard spent 99.5% of its money to subsidize nuclear plants, and just 0.5% on renewables.  

Nuclear subsidies aren’t a public good, but a private wealth transfer, enriching wealthy nuclear owners at ratepayers’ expense. As Illinois subsidies kicked in this year, Exelon Generations’ earnings growth shot from 8% to a cork-popping 36%. In New Jersey, the Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants obtained ratepayer subsidies, yet they’re profitable and will remain so at least through 2021. Nuclear owner PSEG’s CEO admitted to The Bergen Record the subsidy was calculated to guarantee an 18% profit -- almost double the average return for a regulated utility in New Jersey.

Could it be that behind such greedy profiteering is an enlightened desire on the part of nuclear owners to save us from climate change or preserve local jobs and tax bases? Is it unfair to accuse them of ratepayer money grabs?

Hardly. A March 2017 presentation by a former Exelon lobbyist that recently resurfaced brags about its nuclear subsidies representing a huge return on its “investment” in lobbying and political influence. One slide asked rhetorically, “Is Politics Profitable?,” and answers by comparing Exelon’s outlays in New York for the FitzPatrick plant, capital expenditures, and lobbying and PR campaigns to the $7.6 billion it got back in subsidies. It boasts that represented a “return on investment” of 750%. An image on the slide showed copious amounts of cash spiraling down a vortex.

That image is emblematic of what’s wrong with these subsidies: lobbying and politicking for profit, dumping billions in ratepayers’ money down the drain to enrich wealthy plant owners, instead of investing in renewables and efficiency. Those are the real issues, and as the New York State Supreme Court lawsuit goes to trial this year, they will finally get heard.

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Tim Judson is the Executive Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), one of the plaintiffs in the New York lawsuit.

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Providing Stronger Support for Breastfeeding Mothers in New York City


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Council Member Laurie Cumbo, the author (right), with her son, Prince (photo:@cmlauriecumbo)


If we are truly committed to the health, well-being, and economic advancement of mothers and babies, we must examine our public spaces, work places, and cultural biases when it comes to supporting and accommodating a mother’s choice to breastfeed. As of only a few weeks ago, mothers can now breastfeed legally in all 50 states without fear of violating laws pertaining to indecent exposure or public obscenity. This is a low bar for celebration, and cause for a critical examination of our own local laws and societal norms.

The benefits of breastfeeding are long-known and widely accepted in the medical community – the World Health Organization recommends that babies are breastfed for at least the first six months of their lives. The health benefits for babies include lower rates of obesity, SIDS, asthma, and other conditions, and can even be traced to higher IQs. For mothers, breastfeeding lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, and certain types of ovarian and breast cancers. It is for these reasons, and for the purpose of defending a mother’s right to choose what they do with their bodies and how they take care of their children, that we must remain diligent in our efforts to identify and break down any barriers for mothers who choose to breastfeed.

Those of us holding elected office must all leverage our positions and platforms to advance breastfeeding rights and awareness. We must make sure that mothers know all the facts about breastfeeding, what they are entitled to and what resources are available to them, should they choose to breastfeed.

Here, in New York, we have strong laws and we are increasing our investment at the state and local level in support of breastfeeding mothers. I am proud to have made breastfeeding rights a focal point of my time in office, with legislation advancing greater education and access for those who need to breastfeed or express milk in public or in the workplace. Right now, the Mother’s Day Legislative Package, which I was proud to spearhead on my very own first Mother’s Day, has pending legislation that will expand accommodations for breastfeeding mothers in certain city spaces and in workplaces, as well as establish a standard lactation accommodation policy. I thank my colleagues, Council Members Robert Cornegy and Carlina Rivera, for their leadership and partnership on these breastfeeding bills. I am committed to seeing through these efforts and ensuring that our physical structures reflect our values of equity and inclusion.

As a mother of a now one-year-old myself, I have a new appreciation for and understanding of the literal and figurative structures that play a role in the lives of New York mothers. From pre-natal care to childbirth and child rearing, there is a culture of expectation that women are just supposed to know how to take care of themselves and their children based on instinct alone. Far too many women are not getting the resources they need. Further, as recent research has shown, health concerns expressed during childbirth are often not taken seriously, resulting in a much higher mortality rates for black and Latina women. The truth is, we all need guidance and support throughout the pregnancy, birthing and nurturing process, which is why we must continue to expand and center the needs of mothers in public and working spaces. Every mother is different, as is every child, and our ultimate goal should be to support and uplift all mothers, regardless of whether they choose to breastfeed.

One personal breastfeeding experience of note was when I was able to use one of the Department of Health’s “lactation pods” at Brooklyn Children’s Museum. What struck me about my experience was how welcoming the environment was. Breastfeeding is often framed as an inconvenience, but in this instance, I felt proud and encouraged. The unfortunate reality is that this is an uncommon experience for breastfeeding mothers. More often than not, new mothers in the workplace have to seek out any space they can find — some report even having to pump in a closet. This is inexcusable and detrimental to the dignity and well-being of working mothers everywhere.

It is going to take a dedicated, comprehensive approach and a fundamental reimagining of working motherhood, but I know that we can achieve it. Moms continue to show up for each other, time and time again, but it is time we show up for them. We must stand with them and do everything in our power as individuals and as a collective society to better support their needs. Breastfeeding takes a village. It is a mental, physical, emotional, and logistical act. August is National Breastfeeding Awareness month, and so there is no better time than now to commit to a better tomorrow for mothers and children in New York City.

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Laurie Cumbo is the majority leader of the New York City Council. She represents Brooklyn communities of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and parts of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant. On Twitter @cmlauriecumbo.

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New Research Shows SHSAT Less Valuable Predictor Than Middle School Grades


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Mayor de Blasio's announcement on specialized high schools (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


The recently-released Metis validation study of the Specialized High School Admissions Test has portrayed the SHSAT in a more favorable light than the facts warrant.

Although Metis found that SHSAT scores were correlated with high school grades, it did not investigate whether other factors might be stronger predictors. In my validation study, the most important finding was that seventh grade GPA predicts more than twice as much of the variance in high school grades (44%) when compared to the SHSAT, which predicted 20% in my study and 21% in the Metis study. This finding is critical to the current debate over the admission system at New York City’s Specialized High Schools.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, along with many advocates and civil rights groups, have proposed doing away with the test, with a three-year phase-out period where the test is used along with grades for admissions purposes. Their opponents have argued that allowing grades as a factor would dilute the quality of the students admitted and thus the quality of these schools, an argument that is rebutted by my analysis.

This study uses data supplied by the New York City Department of Education, including the 27,818 SHSAT scores from 2013, and grades for New York City public school students in that cohort.

The chart below compares mean SHSAT scores for students at Stuyvesant High School with their Freshman Grade Point average (FGPA) in different FGPA categories. Students with FGPAs below 75 actually had higher SHSAT scores than students with FGPAs from 75 to 85, while students with FGPAs of 85 to 90 had barely higher scores. Only the students with grades above 95 had much higher scores. This suggests that the exam does not predict very well for students with scores below the very top. 

stuyvesant mean shsat x fgpa

The next chart, which compares the same categories of FGPA by seventh grade GPA (GPA7) of Stuyvesant students, instead of their SHSAT scores, shows a much more linear relationship. Higher FGPAs were associated with higher GPA7 in a regular progression.

stuyvesant mean gpa7 x fgpa

As is well known, girls are admitted to the specialized high schools at much lower rates than boys. Below is the chart with the rates by gender for those students who took the test last year, when girls represented 51% of applicants and only 44% of those admitted.

school enrollment

A good study of predictive validity should address the gender bias of the exam. According to American Educational Research Association standards, the test user is “responsible for evaluating the possibility of differential prediction for relevant subgroups for which there is prior evidence or theory suggesting differential prediction.” Prior evidence with respect to the validity of the SAT suggests that possibility. Yet, the Metis study failed to do this, despite the fact that girls are under-represented in the Specialized High Schools.

In my study, girls had lower SHSAT scores than boys with the same GPA. For example, at Stuyvesant High School, girls had GPAs equal to GPAs of boys whose SHSAT scores were 6 to 7 points higher. The following chart shows that girls (red bars) achieved each FGPA level with lower SHSAT scores than boys (blue bars). Among students in 95+ FGPA group, girls (549) had mean SHSAT scores 16 points lower than boys (565). This chart helps explain why fewer girls are admitted to the Specialized High Schools than boys.

bar chart

The gender bias of the SHSAT parallels findings with respect to the predictive validity of the SAT. However, there is a crucial difference in how the scores are used. The SAT is only one of multiple criteria considered in college admissions, including high school grades, which enables admissions officers to take that statistical bias into account. In New York City, where the SHSAT is the sole admissions criterion for eight schools, girls with lower SHSAT scores than boys are denied admission despite the fact that they are expected to do as well as boys admitted with higher scores. It is clear that as the sole admissions criterion to the Specialized High Schools, the SHSAT is unfair to girls.

A variety of analyses were done to rule out the possibility that the under-prediction in girls’ grades resulted from differences in course selection. Because the under-representation of females in STEM majors and occupations has been a source of societal concern, it was of special importance to examine the relationship between SHSAT scores and girls’ grades in STEM areas, and to ascertain whether girls in New York City’s Specialized High Schools enroll as frequently and do as well as boys in challenging STEM courses.

Gender comparisons were done across different academic domains for all students who took the SHSAT in 2013 and subsequently attended New York City high schools. Similar comparisons were done for those who actually attended Specialized High Schools. Finally, analyses were done at Stuyvesant High School, which, because it is the most selective of the schools, might possibly have the most difficult courses. Overall, girls earned significantly higher grades than boys in each of these categories. At the Specialized High Schools, girls had higher mean STEM grades (89.6) than boys (86.7) and enrolled in STEM courses in proportion to their overall numbers in these elite schools.

Grades in specific courses offer the best test of the hypothesis that girls are less capable of succeeding in STEM subjects, and that the under-prediction of their grades by standardized tests such as the SHSAT is due to enrollment in easier courses. At Stuyvesant High School, girls, on average, earned better grades than boys in each of the ten specific STEM courses analyzed, including Geometry, Integrated Algebra, Biology, and Physics. In four of the ten courses, girls were represented in greater numbers than in the overall Stuyvesant ninth grade cohort. Furthermore, their grades were significantly under-predicted by the SHSAT.

In 2005, Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, suggested that the reason there were fewer women in STEM fields was their under-representation at the highest level of the distribution of ability in STEM subjects. Because one of the goals of the Specialized High School admissions process is to identify truly exceptional students, it is important to determine if the higher mean grades earned by girls in STEM classes were achieved without those extreme high-achievers. It would be possible for girls to have higher mean grades, but fewer exceptional grades. However, this is not the case. Girls represented only 42% of the cohort and only 41% of the top 3% of SHSAT scores, but in STEM courses they earned 50% of the grades of 95 or better, and only 30% of grades 80 or lower.

Why should females earn better grades than predicted by their performance on the SHSAT and SAT? Research has repeatedly shown that women do poorly relative to men on multiple choice questions. In addition to the SAT, this phenomenon has been found on a wide range of exams, including AP exams, placement exams, and the California State Bar Exam. One researcher attributed this to women on average being more risk-averse, and therefore not guessing as often as males, although guessing on multiple choice tests is often a useful strategy.

Because women often outperform men on constructed answer questions, it seems possible that multiple choice and constructed answer questions tap different competencies on which there are real gender differences. Constructed answer questions, particularly essays, may require multiple abilities, and may reflect a more complex understanding of material than do questions that require only the selection of a correct choice. If multiple choice and open constructed answer questions measure important, but different abilities, in the interest of fairness, exams should include both types of questions. Given that the purpose of the SHSAT is to admit a class with the greatest chance of success at school, it is apparent that the same metric cannot be used for boys and girls, and that the exam should be reformulated to include questions in different formats.

Our analysis also found that New York state exams were somewhat less gender-biased than the SHSAT, and somewhat more predictive of success in high school, perhaps because they contain more open-constructed answer questions, though again, 7th grade GPA is the most valid predictive factor for success at New York City high schools in general, including the Specialized High Schools.

A hypothetical admissions index was constructed weighting SHSAT and GPA7 by coefficients from the regression of FGPA. The index was then used to simulate admissions to the Specialized High Schools, resulting in the proportion of girls “admitted” rising from 45% to 62%, a difference of 716 girls. At Stuyvesant, using the index, the representation of girls increased from 44% to 65%, a difference of 177 girls. If GPA7 were the sole admissions criterion, the proportion of girls would have been 68%, a difference of 202 girls.

Use of this index would also have resulted in substantially different racial/ethnic proportions. At Stuyvesant, for example, an additional 10 African-American and 25 Hispanic students would have been admitted. Asian students, though reduced in numbers from 78% would still comprise 66% of those admitted. Similar shifts would occur in the entire cohort of students admitted to Specialized High Schools, with increases of 40 African-American, 209 Hispanic, and 205 white students. With 49% of the hypothetically admitted class, Asian students would still constitute the largest segment and would be admitted in numbers far exceeding their proportion of applicants (32%).

Because the hypothetical criterion predicts far more variance in FGPA than the actual criterion, with a smaller standard error of estimate, its use should not dilute the quality of the entering class. In fact, it might even result in a stronger cohort, while simultaneously increasing diversity and gender equity.

With changes to the SHSAT and consideration of additional criteria, it may be possible to select a group of students who will be more representative of the community the school system serves, and the pool of students who apply, without sacrificing the excellence for which New York City’s Specialized High Schools are so justifiably famous.

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Jonathan Taylor, Ph.D. is an educational research analyst.

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Keep Tips and Save Jobs in Communities of Color


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(Photo: Lou Stejskal/Flickr)


As New York City businesses and their employees continue to adapt to shifting consumer habits, online competition, and increasing costs of doing business, New York State is dangerously close to further damaging the chances of business and employee success by eliminating the tipped wage credit.

This tip credit allows restaurant owners to pay tipped workers $8.65 per hour so long as tips ensure that the employee is earning at least the minimum wage at the end of the day.

The city’s family-owned restaurants and cafes aren’t shortchanging their employees to make a quick buck – they’re trying to make ends meet and take care of their servers at the same time. Surveys show that, on average, tipped workers end up earning as much as $25 an hour, with tips.

In this city, it’s notoriously difficult for locally owned and operated restaurants to survive.

As one restaurant owner from Harlem told me, “My customers expect me to compete with the best food and the best service as the best restaurants in town, but they want Harlem prices. It’s very hard and eliminating the tip credit will push me over the edge.” This is the sentiment throughout the city’s less affluent areas and outer-boroughs, where restaurant owners of color have been fighting to keep the tipped wage credit in place.

We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations at family-owned neighborhood restaurants; they’re essential to the economic and cultural vitality of communities of color in every borough. They employ locals, from a handful to a few dozen each, and sometimes those employees have been with them for decades. These jobs are important to these workers and their families, and when tips are included, they are paid well over the minimum wage.

Most restaurant owners care deeply about their servers and want to pay them as best they can while still staying in business. If New York State eliminates the tip credit, labor costs will soar, jumping approximately 50 percent overnight. That massive increase will force tough choices, starting with cutting employees and reducing hours. But fewer employees means slower service, and no restaurant can survive a reputation for poor service. It’s a downward spiral that will close many restaurants permanently, and communities of color can least afford it.

We support good-faith, smart solutions to increase wages sustainably and fairly and promote small businesses throughout the city. That’s why we need to preserve the credit for tipped workers. These workers don’t want to lose their tips and can’t afford a pay cut. And they certainly don’t want to lose their jobs. This is a critical issue for communities of color, and our state leaders must get right – or risk causing more harm than they intend.

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Jessica Walker is CEO and President of The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. On Twitter @ManhattanCofC.

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An Opportunity to Offer Real Election Reform in New York City


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(photo: Gotham Gazette)


Last Tuesday during the Ohio-12 special election, Americans found themselves angry at third party voters – again – for “wasting” their votes.

This problem is not unique to Ohio: in multi-candidate competitive races, we see upset voters of one party or candidate hold others accountable for their loss.

The blame should not be placed on voters -- it should be on the broken election system. Just look at New York City.

New York City primaries are crowded fields, with sometimes with as many as seven people vying for one ballot line.

Since 2009 there have been 121 primary elections in the city; 33.8% of these primaries were two-candidate races and 66.1% were more-than-two-candidate races.

Just during last year’s primary election cycle alone there were 38 elections. While 17 of these primaries had two candidates, the remaining 21 races had more than two candidates.

Of those 21 races, roughly 61.9% were won with less than 50% of the vote.

By supporting Ranked Choice Voting in New York City, Mayor de Blasio can help end the blame game.

Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to rank candidates from first to last choice on their ballots.

A candidate who collects a majority of the vote wins. If there’s no majority, then the last-place candidate is eliminated and their votes re-allocated according to the second preference of their voters. The process is repeated until there’s a majority winner.

It provides many benefits to voters, building majority support for candidates in multi-candidate races, inspiring voters to vote their preference - not the lesser of two evils - and avoiding costly run-offs.

Constituents are best served when their elected representative is able to garner majority support, while the elected official benefits from a broader base of support as well.

Ranked Choice Voting would avoid the troubling pattern of anti-democratic electoral outcomes in New York City. Candidates would move to the general election with majority support from their district.

Right now, the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission is reviewing recommendations before making proposals for the November New York City ballot. The 15-member commission has the opportunity to help transform the way New Yorkers vote.

History has its eyes on the them.

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Susan Lerner is the executive director of Common Cause-NY. On Twitter @commoncauseny.

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Federal Corporate Tax Cuts Just Gave New Billions to New York Businesses - What About the MTA?


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


There is a sudden new source of money in New York that is getting little attention in the debate about where the MTA will get resources to fund the ambitious plans to solve its problems, let alone just manage to keep the mass transit system going. That source is the big corporate income tax cuts just enacted by the federal government that have put billions - yes, billions - of dollars into the hands of New York businesses and their owners.

There are several reasons why tapping this resource makes sense. First, the size of the cash savings to New York businesses is so large that utilizing even a billion dollars a year would just be a portion of the money newly sitting in corporate pockets, even if restricted to businesses in the New York City area. Second, unlike individual income and property taxes, business taxes remain fully deductible at the federal level. Third, the mass transit systems that deliver millions of workers to these businesses are the lifeline for that wealth, and the state’s businesses should participate in a responsible effort to address this issue, as they did in 2008 when New York business leadership supported a payroll tax.

Still, Congestion Pricing Must Stay on The Table
Consideration of this revenue source is by no means intended to exclude congestion pricing, which will return to the table early in 2019, during state budget negotiations. The truth is that the MTA needs twice as much, or more, than the revenue congestion pricing can deliver. The congestion pricing plan developed by the “Fix NYC” panel put together by Governor Cuomo includes a Manhattan business district entry fee that would total about $1 billion a year (excluding the new taxi/app-vehicle tax, which was enacted). But to pay for the MTA’s current capital plan, and then pay for the new “Fast Forward” plan put forth by MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford on top of it, will require double the size of the congestion pricing fee, and more.

The MTA itself made the case at its end-of-July board meeting. The presentation of the July 2018 MTA Financial Plan update and the 2019 Preliminary Budget began with this overriding statement: “As stated in the November and February plans, the MTA requires new sources of sustainable revenue for operations and capital.”

The board heard the dry numbers that predicted growing operating deficits from 2020 to 2022 despite 4% fare and toll hikes in 2019 and 2021. The deficit is projected to be $200 million in 2020, $400 million in 2021, and $600 million in 2022. A few weeks before the board meeting, Governor Cuomo reiterated his support for congestion pricing and said the MTA needed $37 billion, the necessary portion of which he proposed the state split with New York City. This is political rhetoric. Neither Cuomo nor de Blasio wants to divert resources from their budgets to provide steep new revenue sources to the MTA. New sources of money are required.

The MTA’s Problem
The main problem with paying for mass transit is the MTA capital budget. The MTA can manage to cover the expenses of its operating budget within the constraints of fares, tolls, and dedicated taxes, but not its capital budget.

The money needed to replace track, stations, rolling stock, legacy signals, advanced signals, the expansion projects, and more requires external funding sources. The capital budget needs government grants and/or borrowed funds. Borrowed funds means paying interest, and that is a major, growing issue. When you need $37 billion, and most of it won’t come from grants, that’s a lot of borrowing and a lot of interest to pay. Congestion pricing is a necessary and essential step - but the billion dollars a year from it can pay interest on only $12 to $15 billion worth of borrowed funds. That means you’re not even halfway to $37 billion.

How much new cash is businesses in New York saving from the federal income tax cuts? The New York State Tax Department knows the answer because New York’s corporate income tax is computed using the federal corporate income tax as the starting point in a business’ own New York tax filing.  It will take some time to get that answer, so some back-of-the-envelope calculations are in order.

How Much New Money Is Available?
The New York State economy is 8% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. Federal corporate income tax receipts in fiscal year 2017 (before the Trump-led cut) were approximately $300 billion. New York’s contribution to the federal receipts can be simply computed at 8% of that, or $24 billion. The federal corporate income tax just got cut 40%, going from 35% to 21%, 14 full percentage points. Federal tax savings have therefore put about $9.6 billion in new cash annually into the pockets of New York corporations, not adjusting for year-to-year fluctuations. How much of that is in the MTA region -- New York City and its suburbs?

A  study of New York’s regional tax and spending distribution was conducted by the Rockefeller Institute in 2011 using the state’s 2009-2010 fiscal year. That study showed that 89% of the bank income tax, and 79% of the corporate franchise tax, came from New York City and its suburbs. The figures are higher now because economic activity has become even more concentrated downstate since 2009. An estimate that close to 85% of the corporate profits taxes come from downstate is reasonable, meaning roughly $8 billion a year in new money to the region’s businesses from the federal reduction.

Some of this money is not New York taxable income -- New York tax law counts out profits from sales of products and services outside New York pursuant to a formula -- but a very large proportion is New York profit. Maybe half? The New York Tax Department knows the answer.

A surcharge on corporate tax liability related to New York corporate taxable income has been in place since the first MTA bailout put together by Governor Carey and the Legislature in 1982. Today it yields $1.2 billion in dedicated tax revenue to the MTA as part of the Metropolitan Mass Transit Operating Assistance Account (MMTOA). This is New York’s own tax, not related to the new cash from the federal tax cut. But the fact is that New York State has been taxing corporate profits for the MTA for 35 years.

New York business leadership proposed a payroll tax in the MTA district in 2008 and it was enacted in 2009. The tax was unpopular, especially in the New York City suburbs. Governor Cuomo later scaled back the payroll tax in 2011 to exempt smaller businesses and organizations. It is still a major source of money for the MTA, but a separate New York 2014 corporate tax cut resulted in unexpected revenue losses for the state as a whole.

New York’s Own Corporate Tax Cut Problem
In 2014 Governor Cuomo proposed cutting the state corporate income tax from 7.1% to 6.5%, as well as merging the corporate franchise and bank income taxes. The merger was supposed to be revenue neutral. The Legislature approved the proposal and added a repeal of the corporate income tax on New York manufacturing. Something has since gone wrong from this change. New York’s corporate income tax revenue has declined precipitously since 2015.

(in billions) FY 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Corporate Franchise Tax 3.009 3.812 3.548 4.527 3.166 3.08
Bank Tax 1.912 1.05 1.536 121 389 467
Total 4.921 4.862 5.084 4.406 3.555 3.547

The State Division of the Budget explained the sharp drop off in revenue from the combined corporate franchise and bank taxes from overpayments in 2015. But the drop off is steep: $1.3 billion, or 28%, for 2018 compared to back five years ago in 2013, before the reforms were enacted. The result of the reform was serious revenue losses.

Regardless, mass transit is in crisis and there are many, many billions of new dollars from the federal corporate tax cuts. And some New York profits that had been taxable seem to have fallen off the table since a flawed reform in 2014 as well. These corporate tax savings ought to contribute to the mass transit solution.

***
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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Terrified About Climate Change? Vote Cynthia Nixon


cynthia nixon gas

Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CynthiaNixon)


Governor Andrew Cuomo seeks to portray himself as a leading environmentalist. But in reality, he is too wrapped up in his own political ambitions to be the 21st century climate champion New York needs.

The surface is rosy. Governor Cuomo formed the impressive sounding U.S. Climate Alliance, he banned fracking (while building infrastructure to transport fracked gas from nearby states) and is expanding wind farming in the state.

Take a closer look, however, and it’s much seedier.

While portraying himself as a climate leader, Cuomo is hoarding hundreds of thousands of dollars that he has accepted from fossil fuel companies in his campaign war chest. Recently, after facing pressure from constituent advocates and Cynthia Nixon’s candidacy, he said he would no longer accept fossil fuel-funded donations. But then he walked back that pledge, saying he misheard a question, and signaling that he is more concerned with financially positioning himself to run for President -- let’s be honest: he does not need $30 million to run for Governor -- than the wellbeing of his constituents.  

With thousands of New Yorkers still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, wildfires scorching the West, and Puerto Rico still not recovered from Maria, there is no excuse for a Governor who claims to be a climate champion but accepts blood money from the fossil fuel industry.

Governor Cuomo has also refused to publicly support the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would shift New York off fossil fuels to a 100% renewable economy by 2050 and has the support of over 100 unions, community groups, and advocacy organizations across New York State. The CCPA has passed the State Assembly multiple times, but has stalled in the Senate, partially due to lack of support from the Governor. When asked about the legislation’s provision for completely shifting New York state to renewable energy over the next 30 years, he insisted it isn’t “practical” to make that rapid a transition.

Polar ice caps will not stop melting to accommodate Andrew Cuomo’s political ambitions nor his sense of practicality. Ask any scientist, and they will tell you that we no longer have time for an incremental approach to climate change. As climate leader Bill McKibben has said, with climate change, winning slowly is the same as losing.

Cynthia Nixon is running on a bold climate action agenda that includes supporting both the Climate and Community Protection Act as well as the Climate and Community Investment Act, which would levy a tax on corporate polluters, generating billions in revenue for investment in renewable energy, green jobs, and resiliency. Most important, Nixon is putting her money where her mouth is -- from the start of her campaign, she has refused all funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Climate consequences are here and only getting worse. Hurricanes supercharged by warming oceans, drought, heat, wildfires, flooding, rising sea levels: it is all underway. Over time, New York will suffer increasingly frequent and devastating storms and floods. Coastal towns will erode into the ocean. Changing weather patterns will impact everything from farms, fisheries, and our food supply to tourism, housing, transportation, and public health.

We need bold, transformative leadership and we need it now. With Donald Trump in Washington, New York needs to aggressively pave its own way into an uncertain, climate-altered future. Cynthia Nixon wants to lead us there by rejecting fossil fuels, protecting vulnerable communities, and embracing a shift to a fairer, renewable energy economy. Andrew Cuomo wants to fill his wallet and run for President.

***
Liat Olenick is a public school science teacher, union leader, and co-president of non-profit Indivisible Nation BK. On Twitter @Liat_RO of @bkindivisible

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Extending the Human Right of Health Care to All New Yorkers


c johnson brooklyn credit

Speaker Johnson, the author, visits a health care facility (photo via John McCarten)


Health care for all is a human right. This means no one should be denied care based on their ability to pay.

The World Health Organization recognized this fundamental truth 70 years ago, most countries around the world have been putting it into action for decades now, and doctors and nurses live it out professionally every day.

Truly achieving this moral imperative means we need a universal health care system supported by taxes and administered by one provider. Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also more practical and less expensive than the status quo.

A recent study conducted by the RAND Corporation shows that single-payer is likely to save our state health care system $15 billion by 2031 compared to our current system. Other estimates project savings of up to $45 billion.

For these reasons I introduced a resolution Wednesday urging our state government to approve a law that would lay the foundation for single-payer healthcare in the Empire State. The proposal would create the New York Health program, which, if fully implemented, would result in 90 percent of New Yorkers spending less on health care than they currently do.

The plan would help save New Yorkers money by cutting administrative costs and simplifying the present system. Approximately one million New Yorkers are without any health insurance and have essentially been priced out of the market, which is another practical reason why I support this legislation. Also, you, the patient, would pay no premiums, deductibles or co-payments when visiting a doctor under the new system.

According to the RAND study, New Yorkers could spend half as much money out of their own pockets under the New York Health program than they do within the current system. In fact, according to a relatively conservative scenario, New Yorkers with an annual household compensation of less than $105,300 would save about $2,800 per person every year. Other estimates project even greater savings.

Single-payer is traditionally viewed as a progressive cause, but it has earned support from conservative quarters too. RAND, which was originally founded to provide research to the armed forces, isn’t exactly a progressive endeavor.

It is also worth noting that New York is a relatively wealthy state. Our economy is the third largest in the nation, behind California and Texas. And with a gross domestic product of $1.56 trillion, our economy is comparable to Canada’s, which has a $1.65 trillion GDP.

That kind of prosperity is an advantage few states – and few countries, for that matter – enjoy, and it’s one we should leverage so as many New Yorkers as possible have access to good health care. Failing to do so would be an abdication of our responsibility as elected representatives.

The current landscape is complicated and there are a lot of moving parts, but complexity shouldn’t be the enemy of what is right.

President Trump’s administration has signaled it would oppose single-payer plans from state governments seeking to bring sanity to their respective health care landscapes, so it is unlikely his administration will grant New York the federal waivers needed for a single-payer system to be fully implemented here.

However, even without a waiver, the state could still ramp up the program on a partial basis and, in the process, save money for current Medicare and Medicaid recipients through improved, wrap-around coverage. It would also lay the framework for full implementation of the plan under a new president.

Critics on the other side of this debate have also argued that adequate health care shouldn’t be considered a right – that it is a finite resource and can’t be placed in the same category as voting or free speech.

I disagree.

Many human rights we now take for granted in the United States weren’t considered rights at all during various periods of history. But eventually we evolved to see them as such.

The right to vote, freedom of speech, the right to assemble – these are now encoded into our nation’s DNA, but over the course of world history this wasn’t always the case.

Even today, not everyone on earth has the right to vote. Many Americans didn’t have that right immediately after our nation was founded.

But we’ve made progress – often that progress comes too slowly, but there is no progress until we take the first steps forward.

Adopting single-payer healthcare in New York State would be an enormous step in the right direction. This is why I am standing with my colleagues in state government who support it, and I hope you will too.

***
Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council and represents the Council’s 3rd District, in Manhattan. On Twitter @NYCSpeakerCoJo.

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Pay Equity Begins with Paying Black Girls


ggenyc

(photo: @GGENYC)


Today, on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, we recognize the fact that black women would have to work up to today - August 7 - to earn what the average white man earned in 2017.

The reality is that the wage gap that black women in New York City experience is even more stark - a report released this week by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer noted that black women’s earnings are so low compared to white men that New York City’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day would fall not in August, but in October.

This of course does not take into account the realities facing the incredibly nuanced experiences of the community - black trans women who face significant barriers in the workforce at every turn, immigrant black women whose labor often is in the shadows of our economy, black women who care for our children and our elders, often at very low pay and in industries that are notorious for labor violations, to name a few.

Today, we consider the existing policies, practices, and systems which prevent black women from receiving their proper remuneration. Families and communities are affected when black women are denied the appropriate pay for their work. So many households in New York City are led by black women, meaning when black women aren’t paid equitably, their children, neighbors, and communities suffer.

In recent years, thanks to the work of our partners at PowHer New York, we have made strides. Section 194 of our state labor law prohibits employers from paying employees of a different gender less for equal work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility. In New York City, employers are now banned from inquiring about salary history in the employment application process. Most recently, the City Council introduced legislation to examine the racial gender wage gap in our municipal workforce - women account for 59% of the city’s workforce and two-thirds of those women are women of color.

At Girls for Gender Equity, we know that the wage gap begins early. As a youth-serving organization that invests in the leadership of young cis and trans girls of color and gender non-conforming (GNC) youth, we know that young people of color - especially trans and GNC youth - are locked out of opportunity early on. We ensure that young people whose expertise we value to move our campaigns and organizing strategies forward are compensated for their time.

The concentration of black women in low-wage industries, unchecked workplace violations by bad actors, and employers who continue to undervalue black women’s work all contribute to the racial gender wage gap. If we consider education as a tool to help black and Latinx communities achieve pay equity, our schools can open - and close the doors of economic opportunity.

Black girls and TGNC youth are prevented from having their choice in occupations because of schools that push them out. When a black girl is told she has “too much attitude” or when she starts skipping school to avoid the humiliation of being asked to strip down everyday before going through a metal detector, she doesn’t get to pursue a career that could provide her with a comfortable living wage. Stuyvesant High School, one of the most prestigious New York City high schools, recently offered 13 slots to black students in its freshman class of 1,000. How can we expect black women and girls to be paid equitably when pathways are not created early on for them to thrive?

We say all this also recognizing that even when black women move into managerial positions in the financial sector, they are still paid less than white women and men. The wage gap in New York City is indeed a racial gender wage gap.

Today and everyday we lift up black women and their labor. It is a matter of economic and racial justice.

***
Ashley Sawyer, esq., is director of policy & government relations for Girls for Gender Equity. On Twitter @ACSawyerJustice & @GGENYC.

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Fostering Feeder Schools Will Improve Diversity at the Specialized High Schools


students

students (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The public education system in New York City remains one of the most segregated and unequally resourced school systems in the country, reflective of segregation and inequality in other areas of our civic life.

That segregation is starkly obvious in our specialized high schools. In a city where two out of three public high school students are black or Latino, it is unacceptable that they comprise only 10% of the student body across all eight of our elite high schools.

Much has been made recently of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, or SHSAT, from the admissions process. The plan is to replace it with a more holistic assessment of achievement based on students’ classroom grades, scores on state standardized English and math tests, and potentially other criteria yet to be determined. But the lack of diversity in our specialized high schools is not a function of the admissions process alone.

The city’s specialized high schools draw from just 21 of the nearly 600 public middle schools citywide. The two Brooklyn City Council districts that we represent factor into this discussion in important ways, and help us draw a path toward improvements to our school system and more diversity at our elite high schools.

Three of these 21 feeder schools are located in the city’s 43rd City Council District in south Brooklyn, with nearly a quarter of all students admitted to specialized high schools coming from School Districts 20, 21, and 22. The schools in these communities are exceptionally diverse, with a majority of students coming from first and second generation immigrant families -- white, black, Hispanic, and Asian alike.

District 16 in central Brooklyn, where schools are 77 percent black and 18.5 percent Hispanic, is a different story. There is not one feeder middle school in District 16, which decades ago had enhanced academics that sent hundreds of students of color to the specialized schools. In fact, until 2015, District 16 schools did not offer the advanced level courses and programming known as “gifted and talented.”

It took pressure from local elected officials forced the Department of Education to provide many majority-minority school districts access to the kind of enhanced academics that provide a pathway to the specialized schools. Despite representing over two-thirds of our public school population, black and Latino students make up only 27% of those enrolled in gifted and talented programs. But even now, the enhanced academics are poorly resourced.

To be sure, improving the admissions process to ensure greater diversity in our specialized high schools is critically important. Expanding access to a great education for minority communities already facing obstacles to their achievement is necessary if we are going to provide equality of opportunity for all New Yorkers.

High-stakes, standardized tests like the SHSAT are poor indicators of students’ potential for success. However, the test is not in itself the problem, and need not be eliminated in order to increase opportunity and diversity. But even with additional methods of assessment, the reality of unequal resources and underinvestment in certain schools would mean improving diversity at our elite high schools will still be a significant challenge.

When you consider that nearly 60% of the middle schools that sent students to specialized high schools were in districts that had gifted and talented schools that required a test for admission, it is evident how decades of unequal investment in enrichment for students of color might be the most significant contributing factor to the city’s problem of diversity in specialized high schools.

Barring state intervention, the students who receive a qualifying score on the SHSAT will continue to be those who have access to test prep and other educational enrichment that most black and Latino students do not.

Today, the National Society of Black Engineers offers test prep to youngsters in District 16 schools to prepare them for tests like the SHSAT. This programming should be expanded, not just to succeed on a test, but to teach how to succeed in life. We must give students enriching experiences that make them connect with learning and foster critical thought and engagement. And we have to do more to create parent awareness and interest in gifted and talented programming.

But it is not enough simply to offer gifted and talented programs and call it a day. The programming provided must be adequately resourced and targeted at the students who are currently underrepresented.

Our colleagues in the City Council agree that the city must restore the funding for enhanced academics in black and Latino communities. As recently as 1989, Brooklyn Tech, for example, was 51 percent black and Latino. As enhanced academics for high-potential students was eliminated in those communities, the percentages of students of color decreased to the point we are at today. We know students, whether in southern or central Brooklyn, can compete successfully if given the resources. They have done it before. They can do it again.

Ending the SHSAT without providing adequate funding and a commitment to educating all students equitably will do nothing to adequately resolve the lack of diversity in our schools, specialized or otherwise.

***
Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. represents the Brooklyn communities of Bedford Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights in the New York City Council. Justin Brannan represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst in the City Council. On Twitter @RobertCornegyJr & @JustinBrannan.

***
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Note: this column has been corrected to reflect that in 1989, Brooklyn Tech was 51 percent black and Latino, not 67 percent as originally stated.



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