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Citizens Union

News Feed http://www.gothamgazette.com/ Wed, 26 Nov 2014 03:13:02 GMT FeedCreator 1.8.0-dev (info@mypapit.net) Hailing Higher Tax Revenue, City Lowers Expected Taxi Haul http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5449-hailing-higher-tax-revenue-city-lowers-expected-taxi-haul taxis tlc

Taxis (photo: @nyctaxi)

NEW YORK—When Mayor de Blasio signed his first executive budget at the end of June, the City was expecting income of $766 million from the sale of 550 taxi medallions. But five months later, those estimates have been substantially reduced. According to the November Financial Plan released Tuesday, the City is now forecasting $506 million less coming into City coffers this fiscal year.

Officials from the city's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) attributed the dip to more realistic planning, not a shaky medallion market or competition from startups Uber and Lyft.

"The original plan was very aggressive," an official from OMB said at a budget briefing on Tuesday. "Actually, no one has ever seen a plan like that before in New York City. This is a much more realistic plan."

Instead of selling 550 taxi medallions this fiscal year (FY 2015), the City will only sell 200. The plan calls for the sale of 350 medallions in each fiscal year from 2016 through 2019. The $1.5 billion projected revenue from medallion sales by fiscal year 2018 remains the same, according to OMB.

Medallions are not cheap, with the average price at roughly $1 million. In February of this year the City sold 168 medallions with the average winning bid at $863,000. In March it sold an additional 32 with an average price of $2.3 million.

The "aggressive" nature of the original plan was known and approved by de Blasio's budget team in June, so what's changed? In addition to heeding warning from the Financial Control Board about what was clearly an accelerated plan, officials from OMB cite a much lengthier than anticipated process to close on medallion sales.

Part of that longer process is due to the fact that the new medallions being sold must be for wheelchair accessible taxis, a determination recently made after years of litigation. Those vehicles take longer to build, something apparently not originally factored in.

The City was also awaiting final approval from Albany regarding its Accessibility Plan, which the City must follow to make the entire fleet of over 13,000 taxis wheelchair accessible by 2020. Plan approval was needed to move forward with more than 400 medallion sales and was finally given by state lawmakers in August. The City spent the months since the passage of its budget looking at past schedules and factoring in the Accessibility Plan to formulate a new roadmap.

"We had the luxury of being able to do all that research into past medallion sales scheduling and we thought it was the smarter, wiser way to go considering the new dynamic of the accessible medallions," Allan Fromberg, spokesperson for the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) said by phone Tuesday evening of the new plan.

Unspoken at the budget briefing were the fiscal realities surrounding the taxi medallion sales. When then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg positioned medallion sales into his final two budgets, the city was facing a much different fiscal picture.

The medallion sales were sorely needed to plug budget gaps that plagued the city, a byproduct of the Great Recession and higher healthcare and pension costs. As we near the end of the 2014 calendar year, the financial state of the City is stronger than it has been thanks in large part to a bullish stock market and better than expected tax revenue. Out-year budget gaps are below historic averages, meaning the medallion sales are less of a budget lynchpin and more of a bonus - or contingency plan.

"Thankfully we are at a place, budgetarily, where we can make smart decisions based on policy and good regulatory practice rather than budgetary needs," Fromberg said.

While outlook still seems bright for medallion sales, there is the great unknown of how new tech companies like Uber and Lyft will affect the medallion market in the future. The City is hedging its bet that medallion sales, which have climbed exponentially in the last decade, will, at the very least, stay at recent levels.

OMB projects each medallion will sell for the same between now and the end of the Financial Plan, which runs through fiscal year 2018. Gotham Gazette asked OMB for that budget figure, but was referred to TLC. A spokesperson for TLC could not provide the figure, but said it was a conservative estimate.

Uber and Lyft have only recently begun operating in New York City and in the coming years even more competition could be introduced into the marketplace.

Gotham Gazette asked OMB at the budget briefing if the emergence of Uber and Lyft played a factor into the revision of the numbers. The question was referred to TLC.

Fromberg said TLC "looked at a lot of factors" when coming to new renderings.

"I wouldn't point to one particular company or mode of transportation. I think we looked at a broad swath of things," Fromberg said. "But at the end of the day it really did just come down to smart scheduling."

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

MeriwetherK@gothamgazette.com (Kristen Meriwether) Wed, 26 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5449-hailing-higher-tax-revenue-city-lowers-expected-taxi-haul
Text Me the Money: New Form of Donations Coming to City Campaign Finance Program http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5446-text-me-the-money-new-form-of-donations-coming-to-city-campaign-finance-program Stringer Dunham event

Come 2017, Lena Dunham will be able to text $10 (or more) to Scott Stringer (photo: Andrew Walker/Getty)

NEW YORK—We are a few years from the local elections of 2017, but changes to the campaign fundraising process are well underway.

By year's end the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is expected to pass new rules that will govern how campaigns accept contributions via text message. The rules stem from Local Law 11 of 2013 which allows candidates running for local offices to accept contributions through what is typically a cell-phone-based format. If a text-message donor is a New York City resident, the given funds will be eligible for public matching dollars from the CFB.

"Text message contributions provide candidates with the potential to engage a wider set of contributors and the Board with an opportunity to expand the reach of New York City's landmark small donor matching funds program," CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn said on Monday at a public hearing on the proposed rules. "There are, however, practical challenges to text message fundraising."

The CFB held Monday's hearing on the proposed rules to address some of those challenges with stakeholders. The proposed rules will limit text message contributions to $99, a cap the CFB says will help ensure eligibility compliance. There was no objection to the donation limit at Monday's hearing, but there was a hearty discussion about the rules regarding the timing of texted contributions and how candidates will verify donors are using their own phones.

Text message contributions will be fairly easy to make, but the process is more complex than a simple credit card or cash donation. For starters, the fees for such donations are exponentially higher than credit card fees, in some cases reaching 50 percent. Non-profits like the Red Cross, which was among the first to use text message donations in 2010 following the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, are able to negotiate a lower rate because of their humanitarian missions.

But campaigns do not have that ability (at least not yet). The question for the CFB is how to take a fee into account when establishing limits and matching funds. With credit card fees, which are significantly lower than text messaging fees, the CFB currently counts the amount delivered to the candidate, not the original donation amount. The fee is considered an expense and goes against candidate spending limits. When considering matching funds, the CFB matches the full contribution to the candidate, not what is delivered after fees are deducted.

"Though there are strong advantages to text contributions, there are certain drawbacks to new technology," Peggy Farber, legislative counsel for Citizens Union, said in her written testimony. "The public should not compensate for drawbacks in service."

Citizens Union, a good government group, wants to see the credit card rules continue with text messaging. Since the technology is new, it is unlikely the CFB will stray far from its current rules, although that could change before 2017 when text message donations may be used widely.

Another thorny issue the CFB must consider is the timing of its release of matching funds. Text message donations are not paid to campaigns until the cell phone bill of the donor is paid, leaving a much larger gap than traditional credit card or cash donations.

To help get money to campaigns faster a third party messaging vendor is often used. The messaging vendor buys a campaign's accounts receivables at a discount, giving the campaign a portion of texted donations up front. Once the cell phone bill is paid and the balance received, the messaging vendor gives the rest to the campaign (this is, in part, why fees are so high on text message donations).

The CFB will have to decide when eligible funds are to be matched: at the time of donation, when the messaging vendor pays the campaign, or when the cell phone bill is paid. No decision on this matter was reached at Monday's hearing, but guidance is expected in the final rules.

(All of the specifics of the CFB's current public matching fund program can be found in its website.)

Lauren George, associate director of Common Cause New York, another good government group, suggested campaigns focus on soliciting text message donations earlier in election season to allow for the longer process.

"Candidates who reach their matchable contribution limit earlier in the campaign will receive their matching funds earlier, alleviating the end-of-campaign scrambles and delay, but will also be freed up to engage in that most effective campaign tool, extensive voter contact," George said.

Verification, especially for funds a candidate is trying to have matched, will be a critical step in the text message donation process. But how that will be done is still up in the air - simply using the name and address on the cell phone bill as verification does not always work.

Many cell phone users are a part of family plans where the bill comes under one name and address, but users may live elsewhere. Robert Bishop, a lawyer representing several candidate committees, pointed to his own family plan with his wife and three daughters as an example. The bill is in his name, but his children live all over the country.

"Taking into account the overwhelming popularity of family plans among the wireless community, the Board should define a registered user as not only the plan's subscriber but also the users whose phone numbers are covered by the account," Bishop said in his written testimony.

The Board is expected to adopt a set of rules for text message donations by the end of this year, but those rules may change drastically depending on how the technology is used in the 2016 presidential election. In 2012, President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney both accepted text message donations. They were used, though, on a very small scale because the Federal Election Commission approved the regulations only a few months before Election Day.

As potential presidential candidates begin to ramp up their fundraising, text message donations are expected to play a factor in fundraising, although it is too early to tell how much of one. How the issues the CFB is facing locally are dealt with at the federal level could have a major impact on how the rules shake out in New York City for 2017.

"A lot of innovation for campaign technology is driven by the presidential campaigns," Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs, said following Monday's hearing. "[Text message donations] may need to go through 2016 for the market to change."

That could mean finding a way to lower fees or identifying an easier verification process.

"It is on us to make it as easy as possible so everyone can take advantage," Friedman said. 

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union

MeriwetherK@gothamgazette.com (Kristen Meriwether) Mon, 24 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5446-text-me-the-money-new-form-of-donations-coming-to-city-campaign-finance-program
Council Moves to Enhance Voter Registration Through City Agencies http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5447-council-moves-to-enhance-voter-registration-through-city-agencies Jumaane Williams

CM Jumaane Williams at a city council hearing (photo: William Alatriste)

At a hearing Monday, the New York City Council's Committee on Governmental Operations approved the latest drafts of two bills that enhance the responsibility of city agencies to conduct voter registration and a resolution calling for the State Legislature to pass similar legislation.

These measures are an attempt by the Council to improve the compliance of City agencies with Local Law 29, also known as the Pro-Voter Law, which was passed in 2000. The law requires 19 city agencies to handle voter registration applications for customers.

The new legislation is headed to the full Council for a vote on Tuesday and then, if passed as expected, to the desk of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bills expand the mandate of the Pro-Voter law to seven additional agencies and create a standard for enforcing the law, including required semi-annual reports from participating agencies. Implementation of the existing law has proven to be a problem, with city agencies failing to uphold their responsibilities to offer registration forms to New Yorkers doing other business with the City.

The accompanying resolution calls upon the State Legislature to augment existing agency-assisted registration laws to include codes on registration forms that would help track agency performance and registration statistics.

Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of what he called the "good government committee," introduced Intro 493 A which expands scope of the Pro-Voter law and sets a deadline of December 1, 2015 for agencies to integrate their forms with voter registration.

The second bill, Intro 356 A, which establishes reporting requirements for the agencies, and the accompanying resolution, were introduced by Council Member Jumaane Williams.

"The last election was abysmal," Williams said of voter turnout in response to questions from Gotham Gazette. Stating that the city and state are falling behind in civic participation, he said, "This should be an issue that all parties - Republicans, Democrats, third parties - every party should be working to increase participation."

The push for increased voter registration began in July with Mayor de Blasio's Directive 1, which ordered agencies under the Pro-Voter law mandate to create plans for implementing the law. Then, in October, the City Council introduced the two new bills in response to a report released by a coalition of good government groups which showed the City's lax compliance with Local Law 29.

According to the report, 84 percent of clients at 14 of these agencies were not provided registration applications when they should have been. Additionally, only 2 out of 5 applicants with limited English proficiency were given translated applications, and agents were not trained in the application process.The report was compiled by the Pro-Voter Law Coalition, comprised of the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, Citizens Union of the City of New York, and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Their investigation was aided by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The report's importance is highlighted by the fact that over 30 percent of New Yorkers who were interviewed at the agencies were not registered to vote.

The de Blasio administration initially rejected the two bills over privacy concerns and on the grounds that they came too close on the heels of Directive 1 and wishing to see agencies given more time to comply. Taking those concerns into consideration, changes were made to Williams' bill on reporting mandates. Williams disagreed with the administration but eventually came around to ensure changes were made in the proposal which will protect applicants' information while still allowing the Board of Elections to track registration data from agencies.

"I'm expecting (the) resolution to have a serious impact in Albany," said Council Member Kallos to Gotham Gazette. "Whether it's the Assembly or the Senate, we can all agree that government works better when we measure what its doing and this will take a step towards that."

Representatives of the good government groups that authored the report also testified at the hearing. Steven Carbo, director of Voting Rights and Democracy Initiatives at CPD praised the proposals, asserting, "Likely hundreds of thousands, if not millions of eligible voters were never given the opportunity to register to vote over the years, perpetuating regrettably low rates of voter registration in New York particularly among lower income, of color and immigrant citizens," he said.

Peggy Farber, legislative counsel for Citizens Union, called the proposals "meaningful steps to improve the pro-voter law, to codify the important work of the administration."

On Tuesday, the bills and the resolution will head to the full Council for a vote at the Stated Meeting, where they are very likely to pass.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union

samarkhurshid@nyu.edu (Samar Khurshid) Mon, 24 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5447-council-moves-to-enhance-voter-registration-through-city-agencies
City Council Course Offering: Open Data 101 http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5444-city-council-course-offering-open-data-101-vacca Vacca

Council Member Vacca (photo: William Alatriste)

For civic technologists and the data savvy, New York City's Open Data Portal has been a blessing. After years of limited transparency, City data, which is extremely useful for solving civic problems, is now out in the open to a much larger degree than ever before.


But members of the New York City Council, who are the front lines of constituent services, have not been actively using the portal. Most council members are not software engineers or data scientists; with only one known exception (Council Member Ben Kallos), they don't write software code.

While none of those are requirements to use the Open Data Portal, having a minimum understanding of what the portal offers and how to use it would help council members and their staffs access the wealth of information available. Some guidance for how to take advantage of available information is needed to turn the rows of data into useful formats for analysis and policy-making.

At an October 27 City Council Technology Committee oversight hearing on open data, committee Chair James Vacca mentioned offering an open data training for council members. Less than a month later, that training will become a reality. On Tuesday, November 25, from 10 to 11 a.m. at council office space in 250 Broadway, Council Member Vacca will host a training session led by members from the City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and the Mayor's Office of Data Analytics (MODA).

The training, closed to the press, will focus on navigating the Open Data Portal, showcasing the data sets that may be most useful to council members, and answering questions.

"I realized that if other Council Members' offices were armed with the knowledge about how to tap into this resource, it could hugely shape the way we craft legislation and conduct constituent services," Vacca said by email Friday. "As Chair of the Committee on Technology, it is my hope that the open government tools that we have sought to uphold through the Open Data Law are also being used by government staff."

As of Friday there were roughly 16 RSVPs from council members or staff representatives, according to a spokesperson for Vacca's office, who declined to provide specific names.

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

MeriwetherK@gothamgazette.com (Kristen Meriwether) Sun, 23 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5444-city-council-course-offering-open-data-101-vacca
The Next Two Weeks in New York Politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5445-week-ahead-new-york-politics-november-23-and-30 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week *and next* in New York politics:

This week will be a short one for public political events, but there's quite a bit going on at the start of the week, not the least of which is a busy Monday schedule of committee hearings at the City Council, followed by a full-body Stated Meeting on Tuesday, at which several bills will be passed and others introduced. Tuesday also features a City Council training hosted by Council Member James Vacca aimed at helping council members and their staffs learn to better utilize the City's open data portal.

We're also continuing the watch for word from the Staten Island special grand jury convened by District Attorney Dan Donovan in the aftermath of the death of Eric Garner. We should know soon if the grand jury is recommending charges against the police officer whose chokehold around Garner's neck led to Garner's death. And now, many will be watching for more fallout from the killing of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black teenager shot late Thursday night by a white police officer in the stairwell of a NYCHA building in Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio begins his week with only one event on his public schedule, though it is closed to the press: "Mayor de Blasio will host a community meeting with local elected officials and community members at City Hall as part of the administration's ongoing efforts to engage the community and build more support for the City's bid for the 2016 Democratic National Convention."

Public Advocate Tish James and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will begin their weeks at "Food Bank for New York City Legislative Breakfast" in Manhattan.

What we have for the next two weeks in detail:

Monday, Nov. 24
The New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a public hearing Monday morning at its Manhattan office on rules regarding text message campaign contributions: "on proposed rules setting minimum requirements for receiving text message contributions to be eligible for public matching funds." Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, among others, will testify. "SMS contributions provide candidates with the potential to engage a wider set of contributors and the CFB with an opportunity to expand the reach of NYC's landmark small-dollar matching funds program. Read more about the challenges and opportunities posed by SMS contributions at the CFB's blog."

On Monday morning, "New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joins Hunter College President Jennifer Raab, Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank For New York City and others at a legislative breakfast to release a report on the state of hunger and the emergency food network in the city a year after cuts to SNAP, Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College," according to City & State NY. According to her public schedule, Public Advocate James will also be in attendance. This will be followed on Monday by a Council General Welfare Committee oversight hearing on hunger in New York City, among other agenda items (see below).

Monday, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Bureau of HIV/AIDS will launch "New York Knows" in Manhattan (after iterations in the Bronx and Brooklyn), "bringing together Manhattan community partners to encourage those who do not know their HIV status to get tested—and to link those who test positive to care and support services."

On Monday at 1 p.m., "Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance convenes a roundtable with law enforcement partners to discuss a new grand jury report on fraud related to minority and women business enterprises," according to City & State NY.

Monday's City Council schedule will include: a meeting of Committee on Transportation to see the introduction of new bills relating to "increasing the number of accessible pedestrian signals"; the Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on "Hunger in New York City"; a meeting of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations to consider a resolution: "recognizing and commemorating January 13th as Korean American Day in the City of New York"; and a meeting of Committee on Health to consider new bills relating to pet shops:

  • Proposed Int. No. 55-A - Regulating pet shops.
  • Proposed Int. No. 73-A - Updating the definition of "pet shop" within the animal abuse registration act.
  • Proposed Int. No. 136-A - Spaying, neutering and licensing of animals sold in pet shops.
  • Proposed Int. No. 146-A - Microchipping animals sold in pet shops

Monday evening is The Riders Alliance 2014 Gala in Manhattan. BP Brewer, among many other elected officials, will be in attendance. [Read our look at the advocacy work of Riders Alliance as it and others seek a more responsive, effective MTA]

Tuesday, Nov. 25
Tuesday's City Council schedule includes: a meeting of Committee on Finance to consider the following:

  • Resolution concerning the increase in the annual expenditure for the Steinway Street, 34th Street, 125th Street, 47th Street, 86th Street Bay Ridge, Columbus/Amsterdam, Forest Avenue, Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn, 161st Street, and Sunnyside Business Improvement Districts, and the setting of the date, time and place for the hearing of the local law increasing the annual expenditure for such districts.
  • Resolution approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.
  • And other such business as may be necessary

And the City Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting in the Council Chambers at 1:30 p.m., presaged, as always by a pre-Stated press conference led by Speaker Mark-Viverito.

Tuesday evening, NYC Department of Education will hold 2014 Panel for Educational Policy meeting at the High School of Fashion Industries in Manhattan.

Wednesday, Nov. 26
Watch for pre-Thanksgiving news dumps, everyone!

Thursday, Nov. 27 through Sunday Nov. 30
Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you enjoy the holiday. As always, lawmakers, advocates, and many other volunteers will be spending time at food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other places serving those in need.

It's a quiet weekend politically, of course. But, things pick up again starting Monday, December 1 - here's what we have for the first week in December as of now, we'll update for Sunday Nov. 30, and please do send us items to include any time:

Monday, Dec. 1
The League of Conservation Voters will host its annual New York Dinner on Monday, December 1, featuring Hillary Clinton, and honoring the retiring president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Frances Beinecke.

Also Monday evening, Citizen Action of New York's annual gala. The event will feature Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a speaker and will honor former Citizen Action board member Catherine Abate; Eddie Bautista of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance; Dr. Joan Mandle of Democracy Matters; and John Samuelson of TWU Local 100. The host committee is a long list of Democratic elected officials, activists, and organizations.

Tuesday, Dec. 2
The City Council schedule for Tuesday, December 2, is set to include: the Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet for an oversight hearing regarding "Examining DYFJ's Juvenile Justice Oversight Board"; and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will hold an oversight hearing on "Cablevision Franchise Agreement and Collective Bargaining."

Tuesday morning, Dec. 2, the CUNY Graduate Center will host a seminar looking at the implementation of universal free lunch in all New York City middle schools: "This fall, universal free lunch was implemented in all New York City middle schools, feeding 160,000 middle school children in grades six through eight. At this seminar we'll discuss progress, challenges, successes and the way forward."

Community Voices Heard will hold its annual Shirley Chisholm "Lights of Freedom" Awards dinner on Tuesday evening, Dec. 2, celebrating "the hard work of our honorees and members who have been fighting for justice and equality for all low income and working New Yorkers" and honoring NYS Senator and Democratic Conference Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, among others. The event's host committee includes Co-Chair and New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera; Council Members Lander, Rosenthal, Mark-Viverito, and Torres; and Assembly Member-Elect Michael Blake, among others.

Tuesday evening, Dec. 2, will see the latest installment of the popular monthly NY Tech Meetup in Manhattan: "Join fellow technologists for an evening of live demos from companies developing great technology in New York."

Also Tuesday evening, Dec. 2, Comptroller Stringer is hosting a Jewish Heritage & Culture Celebration.

Wednesday, Dec. 3
Wednesday, Dec. 3, will feature the "2014 Campaign Roundtables: Reflecting on the NYS Governor and State Senate Races" at the New School, featuring two impressive panels:

Panel on the 2014 Governor's race: 9 am to 10:45 am, moderated by Rob George, The New York Post:

  • Kate Albright-Hanna, communications director, Teachout campaign
  • Alexis Grenell, City & State
  • Peter Kauffmann, senior advisor, NYS Democratic Committee
  • Michael Lawler, campaign manager, Astorino campaign
  • Brian Murphy, CUNY Baruch College
  • William O'Reilly, consultant, Astorino campaign
  • Jessica Proud, spokesperson, Astorinio campaign
  • Zephyr Teachout, Democratic primary candidate
  • Matt Wing, Cuomo communications director

Panel on the NYS Senate Race race: 11 am to 12:30 pm, Moderated by: Jeff Smith, assistant professor of politics and advocacy, The New School, and Brigid Bergin, WNYC Radio:

  • Gerald Benjamin, SUNY New Paltz
  • Tom Doherty, Mercury strategy firm
  • Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group
  • Naomi Konst, The Accountability Project
  • Ben Lazarus, StudentsFirstNY
  • Janos Marton, former special counsel, Moreland Commission
  • David Nir, Daily Kos
  • Jeff Plaut Democratic pollster
  • Basil Smikle, Basil Smikle Associates

Wednesday morning will see "Diane Ravitch on the Uses and Abuses of Education Data" at the CUNY School of Journalism: "Education historian Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University, is one of the nation's leading scholars warning about the uses and abuses of testing, privatization, charter schools and other education strategies. In conversation with Prof. Andrea Gabor of Baruch College and Errol Louis of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Ravitch will talk about the crisis inflicted on public education in the name of reform."

Wednesday, Dec. 3, will also feature the Manhattan Institute Book Forum: Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, with the author and former chancellor of the New York City schools Joel Klein: "In this revealing and provocative memoir, the former chancellor of the New York City schools offers the behind-the-scenes story of the city's dramatic campaign to improve public education, and an inspiring blueprint for national reform."

Wednesday's City Council schedule will include: a meeting of the Committee on Civil Rights to examine a bill aimed at "Prohibiting discrimination based on one's arrest record or criminal conviction"; a meeting of the Committee on Transportation regarding oversight of "App Technology and the Transformation of the Taxi and For-Hire Industries" and evaluation of a bill aimed at "Removing the off-street parking requirement for base station licenses."

Wednesday, Dec. 3, is World Aids Day and there will be a City Council event that evening at City Hall to commemorate the day, with City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, Council Member Corey Johnson, and the LGBT Caucus.

An event on Wednesday evening: "The Responsive City: In collaboration with the Program on Profits and Purpose at New America."

Thursday, Dec. 4
Thursday's City Council Schedule will include: a meeting of the Committee on General Welfare regarding oversight of " EarlyLearn NYC" and a meeting of the Committee on Environmental Protection regarding the oversight of "Citywide Localized Flooding" and consideration of a bill in relation to "Filing semi-annual reports on catch basin cleanup and maintenance."

Thursday, Dec. 4, will see "Rebuilding Our Neighborhoods: The Koch Plan 25 Years Later: Join the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development and JPMorgan Chase, with Special Speakers for a policy conference on the 25th anniversary of the historic Koch affordable housing plan and the lessons it holds for today's NYC housing policy. The conference will honor the very first affordable housing Financed with the LIHTC program – Equality House – built on the Lower East Side by Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE)."

SCEC Demo Night will also be Thursday, December 4th: "Interested in learning how teams of NYC teachers are evaluating edtech tools based on real classroom challenges? Come hear from the EdTech Evaluation Fellows about their emerging practices and lessons learned and see their matched companies demo their products. You might just find like-minded teachers and new solutions to common education challenges."

Also look for "Invisible Child: One Year Later," an event at Brooklyn Historical Society that will follow up on the important New York Times series focused on a young homeless girl, Dasani Coates. WNYC's Andrea Bernstein will speak with Andrea Elliot, the author of the Times series, and one of Dasani's teachers.

Friday and the weekend, Dec. 5-7
Friday, Dec. 5, will see the Crain's 2014 Best Places to Work Awards.

Friday will also see "NYC Latino Civic Engagement Forum" hosted at CUNY's Murphy Institute and by a number of organizations including Bridgeroots, El Puente, Citizen Action of New York, and more.

Saturday, Dec. 6, will include continuation of the "Fall 2014 Chancellor's Parent Conference Series: Middle School" at Tweed Court House.

Beginning Sunday, Dec. 7, "The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will visit the United States of America," arriving in New York and attending "a private engagement on behalf of the American Friends of The Royal Foundation that evening." The Duke will head to Washington, D.C. on Dec. 8 while The Duchess remains in New York, where she will be rejoined by the Duke. [All of the details included here come from this press release]

"On his return to New York, His Royal Highness will attend a reception organised by the Royal Foundation, in recognition of the conservation work carried out by Tusk Trust and United for Wildlife partners: Wildlife Conservation Society; Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy.

"The Duchess of Cambridge will carry out two engagements in New York while The Duke visits Washington. Her Royal Highness will be accompanied by The First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, on a visit to a local child development centre. They will learn about how this organisation fosters the healthy development of children and families by providing high-quality mental health and educational services, which is an issue strongly supported by The First Lady. Her Royal Highness will also attend a lunch, hosted by the British Consul General in New York, to celebrate the achievements of a successful British community in New York from the culture, arts, hospitality and business sectors.

"On Monday evening, Their Royal Highnesses will attend an NBA Basketball game to help launch a new collaboration between the Royal Foundation, United for Wildlife and the NBA.

"On Tuesday 9th December The Duke and Duchess will visit a youth organisation to see the work they carry out in partnership with an inner city youth development foundation. Both organisations focus on programmes and projects that promote positive youth development and social learning. During the visit, The Duke and Duchess will learn about the wide-ranging support services on offer to young people to help them reach their potential, particularly through an arts-in-education model that supports the artistic and intellectual development of the participants.

"The Duke and Duchess will then attend an event celebrating the wealth of British talent in the creative industries based in New York. The reception will be in association with the UK Government's GREAT campaign. The Duke will also attend a technology themed event, hosted by a New York-headquartered technology company, which will bring together entrepreneurs from both the UK and the US.

"The final engagement of the visit will be the University of St. Andrews 600th Anniversary Dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The evening event will support scholarships and bursaries for students from under-privileged communities, new student sports facilities in St Andrews, investment in the university's medical and science faculties and a lectureship in American Literature at St. Andrews."

Note: we will update this post on an ongoing basis over the two weeks included - please don't hesitate to send us additions!

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? Email Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Rati Mukhuradze and Ben Max

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Rati Mukhuradze and Ben Max) Sun, 23 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5445-week-ahead-new-york-politics-november-23-and-30
New York's Part-Time Legislators Look for a Raise http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5441-new-yorks-part-time-legislators-look-for-a-raise cuomo silver skelos

Skelos (left), Cuomo, and Silver will determine if pay raises move (photo: @melissadderosa)

New York's legislative leaders think it is far time they got a raise. They will tell anyone who will listen that it has been 16 years since their last raise, yet they remain one of the highest-paid legislatures in the country. Only California and Pennsylvania pay their legislators more and unlike in New York, both of those legislatures are full time.

Legislators came to Albany for session a total of 55 days from January and June of this year. Each member of the State Senate or State Assembly brings home a base salary of $79,500 a year, with the opportunity to earn more through leadership and committee positions. Lawmakers are allowed reimbursement for their trips to and from stays in Albany.

Their state salary is only the tip of the income iceberg for a great deal of electeds who also work as consultants, lawyers, or home builders. The Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, reportedly made at least $650,000 in 2013 from his "second" job.

Legislators in California take home $90,526 annually but they are full-time legislators not allowed to hold other jobs. Legislators in Pennsylvania make $83,801 a year and are also full-time.

"The legislature needs to give an indication they are interested in reforming themselves before we talk about giving them any pay raises," said E.J. McMahon of The Empire Center, a right-leaning public policy think tank. McMahon said that Legislature needs to reduce the number of pay-bumping leadership titles it hands out as rewards to loyal members, increase the transparency of what is spent internally, and "show an intent to perform."

"I don't know how necessary pay raises are given that New York has the third highest paid legislature in the country," said McMahon.

New York City-based legislators argue that their price of living continues to increase and that not everyone has a high-paying second job with a law firm. They say they dedicate their time in their districts to working with constituents.

With only six weeks left in the year, legislative leaders are sending major signals that they want to make a deal with Governor Andrew Cuomo to get themselves a pay raise. Problem is, they need to pass it before the year is up because state law forbids a sitting legislature from giving itself a pay raise. Legislative staffers are skeptical that a deal will be reached before the end of the year. Multiple sources indicated that it would have made sense for Senate Republicans to call for a special session this week as they were already in Albany on Monday for a post-election conference meeting. Going forward, leaders will be hesitant to call members back around Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas.

Regardless of the odds, a number of issues have been linked to a possible pay-raise deal.

As rumors of a pay raise built earlier this year a number of advocacy groups saw an opportunity for the governor to deliver on the progressive policies he promised on the campaign trail that will likely be blocked by the incoming Republican Senate majority.

Citizen Action of New York demanded that legislators "Raise the Wage Before Your Pay," insisting both houses approve a new minimum wage that is higher, indexed to inflation, and allows municipalities to set their own rates - an item that has major backing from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

On Monday Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos acknowledged that a pay raise was a focus issue, but shot down the idea that he would bargain for one by passing liberal agenda items. "We're not doing the DREAM Act. We're not doing minimum wage, we're not doing taxpayer financing [of electoral campaigns]." He did say he was open to supporting "other reforms we could come up with."

Good government groups would like to see the Legislature agree to more outside income disclosure and increased transparency in how both houses operate.
Speaker Silver, a Democrat, said on Tuesday that he didn't think a pay raise should be tied to a minimum wage increase, noting that both chambers passed a wage increase last year that was not tied to their own salaries. "I believe the members work very hard...and I believe they're entitled to [a raise] after 14 years."
The Legislature passed a bill last year that will introduce staggered increases to the minimum wage until it reaches $9 an hour in 2015. Advocates want the wage raised to $10.10 immediately and indexed to inflation for further increases.

Silver indicated that he would consider moving on per diem reform in exchange for pay raises. A number of legislators have been caught falsely reporting trips to Albany as a way to bolster their pay.

Legislators, including Skelos and Silver, admit that there haven't been any serious discussion about a pay raise deal with the Cuomo administration at this point.

"I'm delighted there are discussions about pay raises," said Democratic Sen. Neil Breslin of Albany. "I believe it is important for legislators based in and around [New York] City who face an escalating cost of living. I think it is important that it be tied to tightened restrictions around per diems."

Deal making for pay raises has had a long and impactful history in Albany. The last time the Legislature got a pay raise, its members allowed Gov. George Pataki to institute charter school programs in the state.

In 1998 the Legislature had gone a decade without a pay increase. With the threat of a veto Pataki traded a 38 percent hike for the institution of charter schools and the threat that legislators would not be paid if they failed to pass a budget on time. The charter plan let an unlimited number of public schools convert to charter schools and allowed for the creation of many new charters.

This time around Cuomo appears interested in securing pay raises for executive staff as he has mentioned a few times during his first term that it is hard to attract talented individuals into state government at the current pay scale.

Good government groups say it would be distasteful for the Legislature to barter a pay in a quid pro quo manner. Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, has advocated per diem reform and limits on outside income to accompany any pay raise.

McMahon of Empire Center said that in general the Legislature has slowed its rate of performance over the years: more bills are introduced while there is little debate over the few bills that actually come to a vote.

"Per diems aren't necessarily the problem," said McMahon. "It's the extras like the leadership stipends that keep people under the thumb of the leaders that need to be reformed. We need them to demonstrate they are intent on earning what they are already paid. I think they could be here [in Albany] less and get more done. The end of session has become such a scam, where the leadership just waits to cut a deal on whatever the governor has got. I don't think the Legislature functions deliberatively," said McMahon.

Some rank-and-file legislators feel the same way. They would like to see more debate and democracy in general and aren't happy that the leadership appears uninterested in moving major policy points before the end of the year. But they also don't want to upset the applecart when so many other members would like to see a pay raise for next year.

A pay raise deal might not be the only thing on the agenda if the Legislature manages to come back before the end of the year. Both Skelos and Silver have said they would like to create a spending plan for the State's $5 billion surplus created from bank settlements. The two legislative leaders have indicated they would like to see the cash used in one-shot investments in infrastructure - a sentiment Cuomo has echoed. But as legislators and insiders point out, it is unlikely all three men have the same definition of "infrastructure."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazzette

dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Wed, 19 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5441-new-yorks-part-time-legislators-look-for-a-raise
Up In Smoke: Government Funding Vanishes, Smoking Rates Rise http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5442-up-in-smoke-government-funding-vanishes-smoking-rates-rise smokeout

After years of decline, smoking is on the rise in New York City. While pointing to reductions in state and city spending on anti-smoking campaigns, advocates hope this Thursday, November 20, will be a turning point as smokers in New York and elsewhere are encouraged to decline lighting up for American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout.

Anti-smoking groups hope smokers will keep their resolve going after Thursday and bring down New York City's smoking rate, which crept up from 14 percent in 2010 to 16 percent in 2013 despite bans on smoking in bars, restaurants and other places, and one of the highest taxes on a pack of cigarettes in any municipality.

To blame, some say, is the reduction in funding toward tobacco control programs in the state. This has led to a drop in airing graphic anti-smoking commercials, which anti-smoking groups say were effective in bringing the smoking rate down last decade.

Ads show a man coughing violently while blood drips in a sink, a woman discussing her various amputations, and photos of Terrie as a pretty young cheerleader who is now shown putting on her voice box and adjusting her wig. A postscript at the end of the commercial tells viewers she died at age 53.

"They are very effective," said Michael Burgess, director of government relations in New York for the Cancer Action Network of the American Cancer Society. "Most people want to quit smoking. The more that you bring people face to face with it, that brings them to the point where they think, 'I better do something about this.'"

Just a few years ago, the anti-smoking commercials were blitzing the airwaves. "You're seeing them less often because the state, as well as the city tobacco program, have cut their funding dramatically over the last 5 years," said Kevin O'Flaherty Northeast region advocacy director for the Campaign for Smoke-Free Kids. Five years ago, the state allocation for tobacco control programs was $85 million. This year, the amount dropped to $39.3 million. The amount for 2015 has not been released.

In New York City, the Department of Health has seen its budget cut incrementally in the last five years, from $13.5 million in 2009 to just over half that amount at $7.1 million for this fiscal year.

Fewer airings of the anti-smoking commercials also result in fewer calls to the New York State Smokers' Quitline. Data from the Quitline for 2009 to 2012 show that calls from the Bronx dropped 23 percent and calls from Queens saw a 21 percent reduction. Overall in the city, there was a 22 percent decline in the number of calls.

Taxes and the tobacco industry
Ironically, the tobacco industry funds New York's and most other states' tobacco prevention programs. In 1998, the Attorneys General of 46 states reached an agreement with the four largest U.S. tobacco companies (Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, and Lorillard), as well as the industry's trade associations and PR firms, to settle lawsuits against the tobacco industry regarding the medical costs associated with treating tobacco-related illnesses.

The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement left the tobacco industry immune from future state and federal suits and required the participating tobacco companies to pay approximately $200 billion to the states over the next 25 years to help cover healthcare costs associated with smoking. But much to the chagrin of anti-smoking advocates, the agreement did not place any restrictions on how states spent the funds.

"In 1998 when the master tobacco settlement agreement was signed, all the states acted like they were going to take the lion's share of this money, if not all of it, and dedicate it to tobacco prevention," said O'Flaherty. "And almost immediately they started spending it on anything but prevention.

They take the check and put it in the general fund. There's really no way to say what of this money is going toward prevention and what is going for golf courses or pot holes or anything else that the state, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to spend money on over the last 15 years."

Smokers also fund anti-smoking programs through the state tax of $4.35 and New York City tax of $1.50 per pack of cigarettes. City residents paid the highest state and city taxes in the country until the Chicago City Council approved a city tax hike on cigarettes last fall, making their combined state and city tobacco taxes $6.16, the highest in the nation.

According to the Council of State Governments, New York State collected $1.632 billion in cigarette tax revenue in 2013. However, the funds are not all earmarked toward tobacco control programs. With the last state tax increase on cigarettes in 2010, $440 million was allocated toward healthcare programs, including subsidies for AIDS drugs, money for tobacco cessation programs, and $71.6 million for the state cancer research center in Buffalo.

"Research shows that if the State were spending more money on smoking cessation activities, not only would we have a lower smoking rate, but the State would be saving more in terms of what it spends in long-term health costs," said O'Flaherty. "These programs literally do pay for themselves and they do it in a way that morally make sense."

Higher tobacco prices should also bring down smoking rates. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by 3 to 5 percent and deters youth from picking up the smoking habit. Last November, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed what became known as local law 97, which created higher prices for cigarette and tobacco products in New York City and required age restriction signs stating that some tobacco products cannot be sold to people under the age of 18, and for some, 21.

But increasing the price of cigarettes (to about $14 a pack) can also backfire with smokers who may seek out other ways to get cheaper smokes. According to a 2013 report by Pew Charitable Trusts, states with high tobacco taxes lost about $5 billion in 2010 revenue because of cigarette smuggling. The report notes that most of the black market in cigarettes occurs when smugglers purchase cigarettes in a low-tax state and transport them to a high-tax state. They then sell them at a discount to smokers, pocketing a healthy profit. The loss of revenue due to smuggling also affects the monies states receive from the Master Settlement Agreement since the amount is based on legal consumption figures.

To combat the loss of revenue from cigarette smuggling, local law 97 defines a retail dealer as any person who possesses or transports more than 400 cigarettes, prohibits the sale of cigarette or tobacco products for less than the listed price and from anyone other than a manufacturer or licensed dealer, and requires retailers to post a sign stating that all cigarettes sold in New York City must be in packages bearing valid New York City and State tax stamps.

Some smokers have also responded to the higher prices by smoking fewer cigarettes per day. The Department of Health reports that while there has been a decrease in the proportion of heavy smokers, there has been an uptick in the numbers of non-daily and light smokers who smoke 10 or fewer cigarettes per day. That group now makes up 76 percent of the New York City smoking population, compared with 64 percent in 2002.

Non-daily smokers are now the target of the Health Department's new media campaign, Imagine for Life, which was produced at a cost of $835,700.

"There is no acceptable level of smoking," cautioned Burgess. "Even if you consider yourself a social smoker, there are health risks and your level of smoking can increase."

by Hayley Camacho for Gotham Gazette

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Hayley Camacho) Wed, 19 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5442-up-in-smoke-government-funding-vanishes-smoking-rates-rise
The Case for Uber Data Sharing http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5443-the-case-for-uber-data-sharing-ari-waldman uber

(photo: @Uber)

The e-receipt from your last Uber ride isn't the only record of your trip. The base that dispatched your car records a "what, when, and where" of your journey, and that information is available to the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) upon request.

Soon, if the TLC's proposed rules are approved on Thursday, November 20, the agency will start storing that data on its servers and require bases to report regularly in a more efficient standardized format. As might be expected, the proposed rule change is letting an old simmering fight boil over: self-professed protectors of the free market, like Uber, are raising privacy concerns. But if Uber's comments at the TLC's October hearing are any indication, the for-hire car company is using privacy as a pretext for protecting its business interests. That makes me skeptical.

Uber is trying to vilify all data gathering when what it really wants to do is keep secret its market share. Data analysis is not inherently a bad thing, especially when accompanied by transparency, regulation, and indicia of trust.

It's hard to argue, as Uber has, that the change will intrude into driver privacy in the traditional sense. Except for identifying the car's home and dispatching bases, the information is already being recorded and required of all licensed for-hire cars in New York City. Plus, the TLC isn't interested in sensitive information about drivers, customers, or for-hire car companies. It isn't even asking for drop-off data, just pick up, base, and license information. And, in any event, the TLC gathers much more detailed information from yellow and green cabs.

But the rule may raise a different kind of privacy concern (and here, I'm relying on the work of privacy scholars like Helen Nissenbaum at NYU and Dan Solove at George Washington University Law School). Let's call it an accessibility problem. There's a big difference between, on the one hand, data being stored in fifty different dusty file cabinets at fifty different bases and, on the other hand, that same information being gathered together into one Excel spreadsheet and accessible on a government server.

I'm not referring to the statistically insignificant likelihood of a leak; any such concern is highly exaggerated. Rather, it's about access and the ease of analysis, aggregation, and (mis)categorization.

That is, admittedly, a very real concern. Recently, in the New York Times, Maryland Law Professor Frank Pasquale warned that an entire industry of data miners is pulling the floor out from under us as it skates by in the dark corners of the unregulated internet. He reminded us that real people can face real harms when sensitive information like prescription drug or medical histories gets tossed into the heap of a Kafka-esque "big data" regime.

But those real dangers are just not applicable here, and it is disingenuous for a company like Uber, which admitted at the TLC's October meeting that it was chiefly concerned with keeping secret its market share data, to turn all information gathering techniques into automatic evils.

Trip data is not as sensitive as, say, a list of prescription drugs we take. Nor is it anything like our telephone call history or our Facebook passwords. The TLC's requested information is sufficiently general so as to make it inordinately difficult, if not impossible, to find out who drove whom where and for how much. Drop-off and fare data, again, are not included.

Plus, this data could provide all sorts of benefits for the TLC and for New York City: from making it easier to keep customers safe, identify dangerous drivers, and investigate customer complaints, to helping determine which City neighborhoods are underserved by for-hire cars, assess the continued value of old laws in a world with a vibrant for-hire market, and evaluate new TLC programs, to name just a few. Data can be a wonderful tool, if used appropriately.

The question then is not whether this data collection should happen at all; rather, it is how it happens. We want information gathering to happen in a manner that protects our interest in privacy, inspires public trust, and serves the TLC's mission and the general welfare.

To those ends, the TLC should continuously fine-tune its protocols to ensure that it is a trusted guardian of trip data. And it is doing just that. It has narrowly tailored the rule to provide it with the minimum amount of data necessary to achieve its public safety goals. The TLC has appropriately balanced privacy interests with its other obligations by limiting what could be released under a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. It has developed internal protocols to keep trip data secure so that only employees who need access to these data to do their jobs would have the login and password to access the data. And it is approaching this policy change by being transparent about what is being requested, how it is being stored, and what could be released.

Privacy interests are fundamental to who we are as a society, and governments need to take them seriously by seeing themselves as stewards of our information. But data collection can open doors: it can help us create a more intelligent, more efficient, more just society. It will take a public-private partnership to do that. Manipulating the public by waving the privacy flag, however, is not good corporate citizenship.

Ari Ezra Waldman is Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School. You can follow him on Twitter at @ariezrawaldman

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Ari Ezra Waldman) Wed, 19 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5443-the-case-for-uber-data-sharing-ari-waldman
Brother Can You Spare A Dime? For a Bag http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5438-brother-can-you-spare-a-dime-for-a-plastic-bag-tax-bertha-lewis bertha lewis

The author, Bertha Lewis, left (photo: @Vote_Bichotte)

A recent New York Times column examined "The Source of New York's Greatness," and its conclusion was no surprise: our greatness comes from our status as the preeminent melting pot, both culturally and economically. We are home not just to doctors, lawyers, and bankers, but to bodega owners, shoe shiners and deli chefs. So I wonder what one of our great orators would say about the New Dime Bag?

New Yorkers, YOU BEEN HAD! A ten cent tax on plastic bags, specifically the regressive tax introduced by Council Members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin, is counter-intuitive, and hurts the working class and small business owners that make our city strong. Our communities are still struggling to make ends meet, still suffering economically from the recession, and still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. We shouldn't be asking our citizens to hand over any more of their hard-earned money at the grocery counter, especially when their communities won't reap the benefit of their investment.

New Yorkers, YOU BEEN TOOK! It is hard enough for our city's working families to balance multiple jobs, multiple children, and a checkbook, without having to also worry about whether or not they remember to bring a reusable bag. Council Members Lander and Chin have tried in part to alleviate this issue by proposing to waive the tax for those on food stamps. Unfortunately, this "remedy" creates more problems than it solves. Despite an exemption for SNAP recipients, New York's working poor must still pay this tax.

New Yorkers, YOU BEEN HOODWINKED! Additionally, many small businesses are opposed to this legislation, as they would be unnecessarily burdened to enforce it. The bill is very clear on how businesses will be fined, but is conveniently vague on how small business owners should keep track of their plastic bag compliance. The bill does not mandate any sort of paper trail to help businesses prove that they are in fact complying with the new tax. Why are we making things more confusing for our small businesses, instead of helping them run more efficiently?

New Yorkers, YOU BEEN LED ASTRAY! This bill is supposed to help the environment, but the goals don't match up to reality. Plastic bags make up only 2% of the waste stream, and are nowhere near the top of the list of glaring environmental priorities for our citizens. Reusable bags are also produced overseas from petroleum, a process that is harmful to the environment. Additionally, plastic bags are 100% recyclable, and are reused in a number of ways around the house.

New York City Council has RUN AMOK! If Council Members Lander and Chin really want to make an impact, they should focus their efforts on causes that more directly benefit constituents. A recent survey found that, by a margin of 2:1, voters believe taxing plastic bags is a distraction. New Yorkers think job creation (24%), affordable housing (22%) and quality public schools (18%) are the most important issues for lawmakers to address.

Bag tax supporters like Lander and Chin hurt their constituents by further supporting the punitive and regressive tax on plastic shopping bags. Before writing and supporting legislation, our elected officials should take the time to think through their actions and consider the range of effects their proposals will have on their communities, and not just themselves. Think about all New Yorkers. DUMP THE DIME BAG!

Bertha Lewis is President and Founder of the Black Leadership Action Coalition (BLAC).


Do you have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Send it to Executive Editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com


webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Bertha Lewis) Tue, 18 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5438-brother-can-you-spare-a-dime-for-a-plastic-bag-tax-bertha-lewis
With Announcement Expected, Students & Advocates Continue Push for Change in School Discipline Code http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5439-with-announcement-expected-students-a-advocates-continue-push-for-change-in-school-discipline-code UYC rally vets day

Rally on the steps of Tweed (photo: @UYC_YouthPower)

Annual revisions to the disciplinary policies for New York City public school students are typically put into place before the start of each school year. Students in the midst of the 2014-2015 year, however, continue to wait for an updated version as the new Department of Education administration has stalled on its first revision to the code of conduct.

While advocates say that an announcement is imminent, those seeking a key change to the disciplinary code continue to put public and private pressure on officials.

Last week, the Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC) led another rally to call more attention to the barriers they say are created by one especially controversial element of the disciplinary rules. Many students, teachers, and advocates argue that infraction "B21" must be removed from the new version of the code. They say that enforcement of B21 has raised serious questions and caused a great deal of damage to young people. They ask: at what point does a disciplinary policy become too stringent? And: if a policy is disparately burdening already marginalized students, is the policy not inherently flawed?

According to Kesi Foster, coordinator of UYC, disciplinary code changes are expected within the next several weeks, before the end of the calendar year. UYC has focused intensely on B21, part of the Citywide Standards of Discipline and Intervention Measures, under which students can be suspended for "defying or disobeying the lawful authority."

"Policies like B21 target black and Latino students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students. I know not just because of the research, but because I have experienced it," said Markeys Gonzalez, a high school student who spoke of his experience with school disciplinary policies at the rally, which took place on the steps of Tweed Courthouse on Veterans Day and attracted about fifty students, teachers, and advocates.

Gonzalez was suspended for a week under B21 when he refused to take off a "rainbow bracelet" during LGBTQ Pride Week. Gonzalez chose not to divulge the name of his school for fear of being targeted.

Matthew Garcia faced the same punishment when he disobeyed a teacher who wanted him to remove his hat. Alana Cooper was similarly suspended for not eating in the lunchroom, where she felt her personal safety was compromised by bullies. All three students are youth leaders of UYC, an umbrella coalition that organizes for education reform. Recently, UYC has mobilized behind adoption of a comprehensive college preparation program in schools, a movement backed by the City Council last month, and also for reducing the levels of racial segregation in schools.

Now UYC is back to addressing the rate of suspension in schools, which it characterizes as excessive and applied in a discriminatory fashion. In documenting the racial disparities in the number of suspensions, UYC reports, "Of 53,504 suspensions last year, black and Latino students made up 89% of all students suspended. Black students make up only 26% of the student population, but accounted for 53% of all suspensions."

This data echoes a study released by the U.S. Department of Education in March, indicating that the racial disparity begins in preschool nationwide. Research has also revealed a correlation between student suspension and the chance of dropping out, in addition to impeding academic engagement. The Civil Rights Project reports that "being suspended even once in ninth grade is associated with a 32% risk for dropping out, double that for those receiving no suspensions."

The pushout that results from policies like B21 is said to drive the school-to-prison pipeline; students being pushed out of school by punitive measures can make them more vulnerable to becoming ensnared in the criminal justice system. Since some schools have zero tolerance policies that directly involve police officers, minor in-school incidents can lead to arrests. The growth in police presence in schools has been partially attributed to the rise in school shootings since the eighties.

During the mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg, the number of annual student suspensions in New York City more than doubled, "from less than 29,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 in 2011," according to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

"The de Blasio administration inherited a school system that oversaw unprecedented increases in exclusionary school discipline—suspensions, arrests and summonses," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU's Executive Director, in a press release.

Similar exclusionary practices to infraction code B21 have also been prevalent in cities around the country, but have been on the decline. Last September California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill banning suspensions for "willful defiance." The bill made California the first to enact a statewide ban on suspensions that involve "defiance" from students, replacing punitive measures with restorative justice practices, which include peer mediation and conflict resolution. Results have been staggering in some places, like school districts in Los Angeles and San Francisco where restorative justice practices were adopted even before the bill was passed. At Garfield High School in Los Angeles, for example, suspensions dropped from over 600 annually to just one suspension over the course of three years, while attendance and graduation rates increased.

Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland similarly reduced suspensions after formalizing discipline policies in a move toward restorative justice, resulting in a 37 percent drop in suspensions and expulsions in the last year. Chicago Public Schools also passed a revised code of conduct last June, stressing remediation instead of suspension. Data revealed that Chicago had more than 50,000 suspensions over the last year, comparable to the 53,504 suspensions in New York City public schools for 2013-2014 (though New York City's student population is much larger).

Amid the calls for changes to disciplinary codes, some point out that the disputed rules may indicate how well a school, as a whole, is serving its students. "Changing the discipline code doesn't get at the root of the problem. High rates of suspension are often a reflection of other problems within a school: disengaged students, strained relationships between teachers and students, a weak or dysfunctional school culture," said Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at NYU.

Moreover, some see dysfunctional school culture as a symptom of a larger issue. "Our schools are often a microcosm for the society and communities around them," said Foster of UYC. Foster also notes the correlation between stop-and-frisk activity in the larger society and the rate of suspensions in schools, which was detailed in a report by NYCLU. In East New York, Brownsville, Mott Haven, Jamaica and Harlem—areas with comparatively higher numbers of stop-and-frisks performed by the NYPD—students were most likely to be suspended from school.

Foster said he believes the new administration, led by Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, is "prioritizing how to change our approach to school discipline. I think they're engaging advocates...we've identified the policy shifts that have to happen for that to be effective and we hope they follow through." Both the mayor and the chancellor have expressed support for moving away from suspensions and toward restorative justice practices, and there has been action in this direction.

Advocates are not only calling for a complete end of suspensions for "defying or disobeying authority" under infraction code B21; they are also looking to enact a more thorough protocol for guidance interventions, wherein all stakeholders are engaged. Such interventions follow the restorative justice model and include meetings with students and teachers, counseling, mediation, and community circles. A reformed protocol, in the eyes of advocates, may alleviate the concern that rescinding B21 would be a hindrance to teachers who are sometimes required to manage disruptive students.

"We want the education process not to be impeded," said Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, when asked by Gotham Gazette what the UFT wants to see in the new disciplinary code, "but we need an approach where if students are acting out, there is a system in place at the school level, dealing with the students' issues on why they're acting out and not impeding the educational process for the rest of the students."

by Alex-Quan Pham, Gotham Gazette

alexqmpham@gmail.com (Alex-Quan Pham) Tue, 18 Nov 2014 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5439-with-announcement-expected-students-a-advocates-continue-push-for-change-in-school-discipline-code