Sick Leave Movement
October 7th, 2010

We got word Council Speaker Christine Quinn is sitting down with supporters and opponents of the sick leave bill today in hopes of potentially finding a compromise.

Supporters of the proposal, which would require businesses to provide sick days, take the sit-down as a good sign, saying the speaker has expressed willingness to create an open dialogue and negotiate.

One critic of the bill seemed less optimistic — saying only to check back in tomorrow.

Just last week, the opposing sides released dueling studies on the bill’s impact. The study from the Partnership for New York City put the proposal’s price tag at $789 million annually, while a study from the Drum Major Institute said it would have no deleterious effect on city business.

After the sit-downs were scheduled, a rally scheduled for this morning by supporters of the bill was abruptly canceled.

By on October 7, 2010, 2:14 pm
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Quinn Reacts to Sick Leave Study
September 29th, 2010

For months, Council Speaker Christine Quinn has put off opining on a proposal to require paid sick leave in the city, saying she wanted to wait for the results of a study on the issue by business leader, the Partnership for New York City.

That study came out yesterday, saying the proposal would cost $789 million. Also yesterday, the Drum Major Institute released its own study on the issue, saying the proposal wouldn’t harm job or business growth.

Quinn — granted she has had only one day to mull it over — isn’t ready to say which one she sides with.

“I am considering all of the pros, all the cons,” said Quinn. “There are few bills that are perfect.”

She said the council was “reviewing” the studies and would make a decision on the bill, which has a super majority of support in the council, “very soon.”

By on September 29, 2010, 2:58 pm
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CBA Report From Liu is Here!
September 29th, 2010

The much anticipated report (well, for some of us) from Comptroller John Liu’s public benefits task force was released this morning, urging the city to adopt a new public process for community benefit agreements.

Having grown in popularity (included in Columbia redevelopment and in 125th street), the comptroller is calling for greater transparency, the inclusion of a consultant to coordinate the agreement and giving the comptroller’s office oversight over the agreements implementation.

The report is silent on the city’s Industrial Development Agency and its deals (which we covered extensively), despite Liu giving an early indication it might be included in the recommendations.


PBA Task Force – Final Report[1]

By on September 29, 2010, 7:59 am
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Dueling Numbers on Sick Leave
September 28th, 2010

Council members, choose your numbers! Two studies have been issued today on the effect of a proposal now in City Council that would require employers to give their worker paid sick leavewould have on the economy — and they will almost certainly do nothing to resolve the issue.

One, by the Drum Major Institute, a progressive think tank, found mandatory paid sick leave would “not harm job growth or business growth.”

The Drum Major study used San Francisco’s experience with paid sick leave. It concluded that, in the three years since that city has enacted a mandatory sick leave policy similar to the one proposed for New York, “both job growth and business growth in San Francisco have consistently been greater than in the five neighboring counties of the Bay Area, none of which have enacted paid sick leave.”

Meanwhile a survey by the Partnership for New York City, a business group, also released today, said any mandatory paid sick leave law would “devastate the citys construction, restaurant and non-profit sector.” The partnership study was based on responses to a survey of employers on how their businesses might be affected by any such law.
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By on September 28, 2010, 1:24 pm
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The Third Term Legacy?
September 21st, 2010

Labor watch out.

If deputy mayors Howard Wolfson and Stephen Goldsmith had their way, you might be in store for cuts to your pension benefits. At a breakfast hosted by the Citizens Budget Commission this morning, Goldsmith and Wolfson (who both joined the Bloomberg adminsitration this year) said curtailing pension costs will be a major goal of a Bloomberg third term.

“New York City runs the risk of becoming General Motors,” said Wolfson of the escalating cost. “We’ll be assuming a debt to retirees that is unsustainable.”

According to the mayor’s executive budget, pension contributions for fiscal year 2011 comprise 12 percent of the entire city budget — now at $63.1 billion. From fiscal year 2010 to 2011, pension costs are projected to increase from nearly $6.8 billion to $7.6 billion.

Unions looking to increase their standard salaries as their contracts expire this year should forget about it, Wolfson said. “There is no money for salary increases,” he warned.

The comments from both Wolfson and Goldsmith indicate the adminsitration will be taking a hard line with labor over the next four years — something some advocates have said is a long time coming. They also come as the adminsitration announces another hiring freeze.

And in a talking point that has become pro forma, Wolfson said: “The mayor is not running for anything.” That makes it all the more likely he will go after controversial policies and proposals, like pension reform, Wolfson said.
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By on September 21, 2010, 12:33 pm
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Charter Commission Approves Term Limits Question
August 24th, 2010

As expected, the city Charter Revision Commission approved a ballot proposal last night that if approved would rescind the controversial 2008 term limits extension, prohibit the City Council from extending their own terms in the future and grandfather in current officeholders to the three term limit.

The grandfathering proposal proved to be the most controversial considered by the commission. Some commissioners urged the commission to make any term limit proposal effective immediately. The mayor also came out against grandfathering every official in.

“Allowing any councilmember to benefit by postponing the effective date and precluding the public from immediately voting on it, in my view, does not respect the will of the people,” said Commissioner Kenneth Moltner last night.

Meanwhile, some members of the City Council threatened to sue if they were not allowed to serve a full three terms — we covered that issue here.

In addition to term limits, proposals to disclose independent spending in campaigns, increase the fine for ethics violations and halving the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot were all approved by the commission.

Larger issues, like the power of borough presidents or the public advocate, that some anticipated would be under review, were sidestepped.

By on August 24, 2010, 11:08 am
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Firm Selected for Living Wage Study
August 12th, 2010

The city Economic Development Corp. has selected Boston-based Charles River Associates to conduct a $1 million study on the impact of living wage policies across the country and how they might affect the Big Apple’s economy.

The study is in response to an outcry from labor unions and advocates for the city to adopt a living wage — a debate that culminated in the defeat of a controversial development project in the Bronx last year called the Kingsbridge Armory. The City Council voted the plan down when the developer would not promise to force retail tenants to pay a living wage.

The adminsitration has said it would like to conduct a study before it considered any widespread policy, and the move has effectively stalled two pieces of living wage legislation at the council — one to require a living wage for building service workers at city-assisted developments and another that would require all city subsidized developments pay a living wage.

Daniel Hamermesh, a well respected professor at the University of Texas at Austin, will be the chief economist on the study, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2011. He is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Matthew Thompson, a vice president at Charles River Associates, will lead the project.

Even before Charles River Associates was selected as the consultant, elected officials and living wage advocates were debating the potential results. Comptroller John Liu called it a “sham” in June after the Economic Development Corp. failed to appoint an advisory panel of labor economists to oversee the study’s methodology and results.

Now some advocates are questioning the objectivity of at least one member of the study’s team, specifically David Neumark, a professor of economics at the University of California and a fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. Neumark has authored several studies questioning the economic viability of living wage laws.
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By on August 12, 2010, 5:50 pm
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White's Moonlight
July 21st, 2010

After we reported on who made the most outside of City Hall last year, a reader rightly pointed out that Councilmember Tom White, who is also the executive director of Queens Village Committee for Mental Health for J-CAP Inc., made $217,000 in addition to his council salary.

The Conflicts of Interest Board, which keeps tabs on council members’ outside income, only reports in ranges.

According to the organization’s 2008 tax filing, White devotes 35 hours a week to his position as chief executive officer there.

Of the $9.9 million in revenue the committee took in in 2007, more than $2 million went to management costs.

For a closer look, the filing is below. Take a look-see.

Committee Filing

By on July 21, 2010, 11:13 am
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Slush Fund Scandal at the Charter Commission
June 17th, 2010

The City Council’s now infamous slush fund scandal got its 15 minutes at the City Charter Revision Commission last night.

Under the headline of government integrity, the commission examined issues of ethics and corruption at the fourth of five issue hearings scheduled before it decides what to put on the ballot this fall. Several attendees suggested the commission examine the council’s distribution of member items — commonly thought of as pork barrell spending and the subject of alleged and confirmed criminal activity at City Hall.

“The issue of council integrity is too important to be left to the current rules or the current speaker,” said Columbia Law Professor Richard Briffault — one of the expert panelists last night. Briffault urged the commission to consider more in depth disclosure of the member items, including all of the connections elected officials have with recipients’ staff.

As part of the discretionary funding process, a council member already has to file a conflicts of interest form disclosing if he or she or their family has any connection to the nonprofit slated to receive funding. Last year, the council gave out $48.8 million in discretionary spending.

This year, Councilmember Larry Seabrook became the second council member to be indicted for money laundering in connection with the council’s discretionary funds. Conferences for his trial start next week.

Former councilmember Miguel Martinez is now serving a five year sentence in federal prison for stealing public funds partly through discretionary items.

After the scandal broke, Council Speaker Christine Quinn implemented a number of reforms to make sure the council funded legitimate nonprofits. She beefed up some of those reforms earlier this year.
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By on June 17, 2010, 3:28 pm
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Potential Successors Have (Much) Smaller Bank Accounts
June 15th, 2010

Three potential mayoral hopefuls in 2013 have far smaller bank accounts than City Hall’s current occupant.

According to financial disclosure forms released by the city Conflicts of Interest Board this morning, Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn didn’t finance trust funds or lease out horses in 2009.

But they aren’t complete penny pinchers either.

In 2009, the comptroller had between $100,000 and $250,000 in mutual funds and between $100,000 and $250,000 in a retirement account. His disclosure form, which a spokesperson said Liu prepared himself, did not include the home he owns in Flushing.

Reports released from other elected officials today included the real estate they owned.

Quinn, on the other hand, rents her primary residence (She does co-own a four-bedroom vacation home on the Jersey shore valued at more than $500,000). In 2009, the speaker’s only source of income was her $112,500 salary at the council and the $28,500 stipend she gets as its leader. She has between $5,000 and $40,000 in a deferred compensation plan and between $5,000 and $40,000 in a retirement account. (All income disclosures at the Conflicts of Interest Board are done in ranges).

Also in 2009, Quinn was paid between $1,000 and $5,000 for a trip to Belfast, Ireland to speak at an awards dinner and meet with public officials. The trip was bankrolled by The Belfast Group.
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By on June 15, 2010, 6:19 pm
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Living Wage Study Gets Approved -- With Skepticism
June 8th, 2010

A study to examine the economic viability of a living wage requirement was approved by the city’s Industrial Development Agency board today, but city officials, including Comptroller John Liu, are already raising questions about whether it will be truly independent.

Photo credit: (cc) 2009 Atomische Tom Giebel

The IDA board gave the OK to use up to $1 million to study how a living wage proposal would impact the city economy. Such proposals are pending in both the City Council and the State Legislature — largely spurred from defeat of the Kingsbridge Armory project last year. The IDA has not yet selected a consultant to conduct the study. A spokesman said one will be selected in the coming weeks. The agency has received five proposals.

Liu was one of three IDA board members to vote against the living wage study, calling the proposal a “sham.”

“An independent, impartial study on wage requirements for publicly-subsidized economic development could be helpful to all parties involved,” Liu said in a prepared statement. “The consultant contract proposal before us today, however, fails to ensure the delivery of an objective product. My office had offered specific recommendations to improve the study, to no avail. It is unfortunate that the EDC is intent on squandering a million dollars on this charade of a study.”

Liu’s staff sat down with the Industrial Development Agency to make recommendations to the living wage proposal, all of which were rejected by the IDA, according to the comptroller’s office. Those recommendations included the creation of a peer review panel of labor economists to review the study’s results and allowing IDA board members to vote on whether to adopt the study’s recommendations.

According to Dave Lombino, a spokesperson at the Economic Development Corp., which oversees the IDA, the consultant would be required to regularly meet and interview with a group of stakeholders. That group includes local unions, like 32BJ, advocacy groups, like Good Jobs New York, and real estate interests, like the Real Estate Board of New York.
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By on June 8, 2010, 4:00 pm
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Where's the Revenue?
June 7th, 2010


A banner unfurled at the hearing this morning. Credit: Photo Housing Works/Julie Turkewitz

A balanced budget is a simple thing.

If you don’t have enough cash, you have to cut. If you don’t want to cut, then you have to raise the cash.

Makes sense, right?

This morning at City Hall, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mark Page, tested council members’ grasp on the concept. For the most part, those council members would much rather raise revenue instead of slash at city services.

They had a couple of suggestions — none of which were palatable to Page. Staying in his usual character, Page shot them down, one after the other.

Take Councilmember Letitia James, who suggested early retirement incentives to help ease the burn of layoffs.

To Page, that would only make matters worse.

“When you take a group of city employees and accelerate when they leave, what you are doing is moving from that 40-year municipal lifetime to something shorter,” Page said. “You pay them a premium for retiring early. … Now say that person would work another four years. Well, that four years you are paying the first guy that premium and you’re paying somebody else’s pension and health costs.”

Page went on: “You save money the first year. You start losing money in the second year. By the fourth year, you’re under water.”

If the city were going to layoff a large number of workers (let’s say, hypothetically, the 4,400 teacher layoffs were back on the table), then the prospect of early retirement or buyouts could be explored, Page said.

Well, why not use the surplus from the city’s health care trust fund — which officials estimate will be at $1.4 billion this year — to soften the budget blow, asked Councilmember Vincent Gentile?

Page said no way.
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By on June 7, 2010, 5:31 pm
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Borough Brawl Over Fire Companies?
June 4th, 2010


Photo (cc) 2005 icopythat

Members of the City Council Queens delegation spatted with fellow council members this morning during a budget hearing on the proposed closure of 20 fire companies.

Arguing that Queens and Staten Island have the worst response times — 4 minutes and 20 seconds and 4 minutes and 50 seconds, respectively, for structural fires as of April 2010 — Councilmember Dan Halloran of Queens said the Fire Department shouldn’t shutter any companies in those boroughs if it was trying to create the smallest impact with its proposed closures.

“Removing any fire companies from those two would of course increase response times, and I say this with all due respect to my lovely friends in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, but understand our response times are almost a minute higher than Brooklyn’s,” said Halloran. “Given what you just said, it begs the question: Queens and Staten Island are off the table, is that accurate?

As Halloran went on, Councilmember Letitia James of Brooklyn shook her head left to right, mouthing the word “no.” (Brooklyn, as of April 2010, has the lowest response time for structural fires at 3 minutes and 33 seconds.

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, however, took a pass: “One thing I am not going to do is get into a five borough fight.”

Trying to smother the flames, Minority Leader Jimmy Oddo of Staten Island said the council would be fighting the fire company closures as a collective body.

“There is no borough versus borough,” Oddo said. “Last year there was a coalition that was built. … There is no divide between and among this council, and that is the same coalition that will we need to fight this and win this. We did it last year, and we’re going to do it this year.”

With just over three weeks left until the budget deadline, members of the City Council are squirming to know what fire companies could close in fiscal year 2011. In the mayor’s executive budget released in May, the Bloomberg adminsitration proposed to shutter 20 companies to save the city about $6.7 million. In total, the department faces about $30 million in cuts for fiscal year 2011, which increases to $41 million the following fiscal year.
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By on June 4, 2010, 5:25 pm
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The No Raise, No Layoff Plan
June 2nd, 2010

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to freeze salaries for teachers, school administrators and Department of Education managers will prevent the layoff of some 4,400 teachers, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said at a press conference earlier today.

The city had originally budgeted to give members of the United Federation of Teachers 2 percent raises in each of the next two years. Eliminating the increase, Klein said, would free up some $400 million and so would save some 4,400 teaching jobs slated for elimination in the mayor’s executive budget released last month. The system would, however, would still lose about 2,000 teachers through attrition.

Budgets going out to principals today will include a 4 percent spending decrease that, Klein said, could show up in cuts to afterschool and Saturday programs, layoffs of teachers aides, and cuts in professional development programs.

Earlier today, the union issued a statement (reprinted below)
sharply disagreeing with the no raise idea. ” [Bloomberg] does NOT have the power to unilaterally decide on the teachers contract, and we have reached NO agreement on his proposal to freeze teacher pay,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.
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By on June 2, 2010, 1:43 pm
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It's Back
May 25th, 2010

The living wage bill, first introduced following the demise of the Kingsbridge Armory last year, is back at the City Council.

It will be officially introduced this afternoon by council members Oliver Koppell and Annabel Palma at the request of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. (It’s also the first time I can recall seeing a borough president introduce legislation.) The bill would require any city subsidized development pay employees on the premises a living wage. It includes any tenant of that development project, but would exempt any projects exclusively for affordable housing, cultural groups or social service organizations. It will give the comptroller the power to monitor the bill’s compliance.

The bill defines a living wage as $10 an hour plus benefits.

On hand today, Palma said the bill, which is sure to divide the council and the adminsitration, would get its fair hearing.

“We are creating a workforce lifted out of poverty to self sufficiency,” said Palma today at City Hall. Palma said she hasn’t received a commitment from Council Speaker Christine Quinn that the bill will get a hearing.

But, she added, “I think it will get its due process.”
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By on May 25, 2010, 3:13 pm
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Lieber to Leave City Hall
May 19th, 2010

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber will leave his position at City Hall in June to join Island Capital Groups affiliated companies, Anubis Advisors and C-III Capital Partners, as a senior executive.

Lieber joins a growing number of individuals who have elected to leave City Hall post Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s third term election. Unlike former Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, who left last month and had been with Bloomberg since before he was elected mayor, Lieber only joined the adminsitration in 2007.

Although Lieber was at the reins of one of Bloomberg’s top priorities: economic development.

The full release from City Hall is after the jump.
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By on May 19, 2010, 11:45 am
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Fire Company Closures Delayed For Now
May 17th, 2010


Photo (cc) 2008 dietrich.

To Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, no news on the mayor’s decision to close fire companies is good news.

“She thinks it’s a good sign,” said Crowley spokesperson Meredith Burak. “We’ve rallied in every borough. Firefighters are the ones that are protesting these cuts.” Crowley chairs the council’s Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said today he won’t release the list of 20 fire companies the administration proposes to close until more is known about the state budget.

The Fire Department must notify the City Council 45 days before it decides to close any company. Given this timeline, fire companies will stay open until at least July 2. According to the executive budget, closing 20 companies would save the city $5.6 million in fiscal year 2011.

Last year, the mayor proposed to shutter 16 companies to help close a budget gap. The City Council restored the Fire Department’s funding to save them.

By on May 17, 2010, 4:13 pm
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Furloughs and You (updated)
May 12th, 2010

Wondering how the furlough of 100,000 state workers could affect your life? Well, if you need help with your state taxes you won’t be able to call the New York State Department of Taxes and Finance’s help line on May 21. The department has announced that their call center will be closed for the day due to furloughs.

“While the furlough will impact some services provided to the public, the Department determined that a single furlough day would be the least disruptive to taxpayers seeking services through our call centers,” reads a release from the department. “The Department receives the lowest volume of incoming calls on Fridays and there are no major tax filing deadlines scheduled for May 21.” The release recommends using the tax department’s web site if you need assistance.

Update: You could have some serious trouble finding an open Department of Motor Vehicles location on May 21 as well.

Feels a little bit like state government is falling apart doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson has rescinded raises given to some of his staffers after outrage grew that Paterson would hand out raises while taking one day of work a week away from 100,000 state workers. Morgan Hook, Paterson’s spokesman has defended the raises saying the employees who received them had taken on a larger work load. Hook also called on Union workers to give up their raises.

Western New York Assemblyman Sam Hoyt is furloughing his staff in solidarity with furloughed state workers.

“I wont stand idly by while the Governor engages in political gamesmanship with the lives of ordinary New Yorkers,” said Hoyt in a statement. “While I am unable to end the furlough, I will act in solidarity with my fellow public servants whose lives are being disrupted by these shortsighted decisions. I am therefore closing down my office for one day a week and instructing my staff to forgo one days pay per week until the furlough of other state workers comes to an end.”

Union’s continue the legal battle to end the furloughs.

By on May 12, 2010, 3:13 pm
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Sick Leave, Wage Standards Coming to City Hall
May 10th, 2010

Tomorrow’s going to be a big day for two issues that have been floating around City Hall for quite some time: paid sick leave and prevailing wage standards.

At 9:30 a.m., council members and 32BJ will rally on the steps of City Hall in support of a bill to require developers that receive city subsidies to pay building service employees a prevailing wage. A hearing will follow at 10 a.m. (For more on wage standards at city-subsidized developments, check out “Subsidies in the City.”)

At 2 p.m., the council will hold a hearing on the paid sick leave bill. More on that issue here.

By on May 10, 2010, 5:33 pm
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Divide in the Charter Commission?
May 10th, 2010

Some Charter Revision Commission members seemed split this morning over whether the commission could thoroughly vet the more serious issues scheduled for review and still get them on the November ballot.

The commission approved a resolution today outlining five issue areas to explore and scheduled public hearings and expert panels on those specific topics for May and June. The issues include term limits, voter participation (including nonpartisan elections), land use (especially the ULURP process), balance of powers (including the roles of community boards, the borough presidents and the City Council) and fiscal responsibility.

Just before approving the resolution, the Rev. Joseph M. McShane proposed an amendment to require the commission to revisit its timeline before proposing anything for November’s ballot. To get anything on the ballot this fall, the commission would have to solidify its proposals by September.

Commission Chair Matthew Goldstein rejected McShane’s amendment, saying it was already “embedded” in the document. The commission, Goldstein said, will have a deliberative process.

After the meeting, Goldstein told reporters, “I’ve always said that this year was a much better opportunity, because there will be more and more active participation because we’re going to have statewide elections. If I wanted to bring something or we wanted to bring something, it would make a lot of sense not to lose that opportunity. The opportunity cost would be higher.”
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By on May 10, 2010, 1:14 pm
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