Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2231 Wed, 11 Dec 2019 14:03:05 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Congestion Pricing Board Must Be Bus Friendly https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8775-congestion-pricing-board-must-be-bus-friendly https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8775-congestion-pricing-board-must-be-bus-friendly private bus new york city


Mass transit watchers are eagerly anticipating who will be appointed to the six-person Traffic Mobility Review Board, which was embedded in last April’s state budget deal outlining the framework for instituting a congestion pricing tolling system around Manhattan’s Central Business District (CBD).

All but one member (which is selected by the Mayor) will be appointed by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA). While two appointees will represent Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North interests, we strongly believe one of the other appointees must speak for another critical – yet often maligned – form of public transit: our buses that fuel the region.

While the CBD Tolling Program was born out of a critical need to find a new funding stream for the New York City subways, it is imperative those entities and individuals entrusted with selecting the members of the Traffic Mobility Review Board choose at least one individual who intimately understands the important role buses play in the area’s intricate and complex transportation network.

Beyond the city’s impressive public bus fleet, there is a much larger contingent of commuter, tour, charter, and sightseeing bus companies providing interstate travel from throughout the United States right down to local New York City streets, serving millions of daily commuters, seniors, students and visitors. These private providers of mass transit are a critical piece of the traffic mobility puzzle; delivering a safe, viable transportation solution; and constantly feeding a major economic engine that drives commerce throughout all five boroughs and throughout the New York metropolitan region and beyond.

One bus does the job of as many as 55 single-occupancy cars bringing commuters to work, students to school, shoppers to small businesses, and visitors to vibrant and thriving destinations across New York City seven days a week, 365 days a year. Buses bring one thing Amazon cannot ship in a box – the quick and immediate infusion of capital into the local New York City economy.

On behalf of our diverse group of private operators both large and small, we share the same objectives of reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, while encouraging residents and visitors to consider mass transit. Our subways and rails cannot accomplish this alone. 

Congestion funding should also be considered for the expansion of dedicated bus lanes and parking infrastructure, which will ensure improved safety and mobility. From filling the voids left by mass transit deserts scattered throughout the region to counterbalancing the ill effects caused by the proliferation of for-hire vehicles and e-commerce deliveries clogging streets, private buses deserve to be recognized by placing a member of the bus community on the Traffic Mobility Review Board. After all, private and public buses were part of the solution when London implemented congestion pricing, and they are a key part of the solution in New York now.  

From pricing to technology and possible exemptions, the decisions that lie ahead for the Board will have a long, lasting impact on the New York City landscape – if not the entire tri-state region. BUS4NYC members are working every day for all New Yorkers who ride the bus and many others impacted. So, too, should this new board.

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Glenn Every is president of BUS4NYC, a New York City-based advocacy group comprised of private bus company operators, related businesses and associations promoting the industry as a viable transportation solution and local economic driver. On Twitter @BUS4NYC.

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Congestion Pricing Board Must Be Bus Friendly Thu, 05 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Devilish Details of Albany’s MTA Budget Package https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8448-the-devilish-details-of-albany-s-mta-budget-package https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8448-the-devilish-details-of-albany-s-mta-budget-package govcuomo photos

(photo: governor's office)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Devilish Details of Albany’s MTA Budget Package Sun, 14 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Doing Good Things Badly: Congestion Pricing and MTA Reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8417-doing-good-things-badly-congestion-pricing-and-mta-reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8417-doing-good-things-badly-congestion-pricing-and-mta-reforms cuomo carol kellerman

(photo: governor's office)


Everyone complains that our regional mass transit system is in disrepair, but no one wants to pay to make the needed fixes and modernizations. Have we finally found a way?

Ten years after legislation was first proposed by Mayor Bloomberg, the state Legislature passed a plan for what has been named “central business district tolling,” otherwise known as congestion pricing, in Manhattan as part of the fiscal year 2019-20 budget. The basic concept is that driving into the central core of Manhattan – defined as south of 61 Street – will incur a fee to achieve the multiple worthy aims of providing revenue for mass transit investments, cutting down on intense traffic congestion, and curbing air pollution.

Full details are still to come, with responsibility for administering the fee collection system vested in the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA), a subsidiary of the MTA, and the new charges will not go into effect until 2021.

Congestion pricing systems have been in effect in London, Stockholm, and Singapore for some time, but this will be the first such system in a major city in the United States. Given its novelty, the intensity of resistance from suburban legislators and officials (and indeed, even from some in Queens and from my dear, admired friend Dick Ravitch, a former MTA chair) and the distaste for user fees in general, it is a major accomplishment that this proposal was adopted.

Kudos are due to Move New York, the Riders Alliance, various other groups and officials, including Governor Cuomo, and the many voices in the business community who showed the foresight to press for this groundbreaking outcome. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that the legislation is imperfect and the so-called governance reforms to the MTA that were included may be a cure that is worse than the disease.

Will the new tolling generate enough revenue to fund all the transit system’s capital needs? The law requires that tolls set by the TBTA be sufficient to generate enough revenue to finance $15 billion to fund all or a portion of the 2020-2024 MTA capital plan, which is expected to be more than twice that amount in order to overhaul subway signaling and get the system to a modern state of good repair. This projected total seems to assure that exemptions (i.e. for disabled drivers) and credits (i.e. for people who live in Manhattan below 61 Street and have annual incomes below $60,000) will not be so extensive as to force excessively high tolls on other drivers. Good.

Let’s hope that a rising tide of complaints doesn’t sidetrack this initiative by the time it is supposed to be implemented a whole two long years from now. The revenue is to go into a “lockbox” to be used 80% for MTA subway and bus needs, 10% for the Long Island Rail Road, and 10% for Metro-North. This seems to be an appropriate distribution and is far better than some of the more project-specific kinds of allocations that had been discussed in previous iterations of proposed congestion pricing schemes. But $15 billion is not enough to fund everything needed, not by a longshot. So two other new revenue sources have also been adopted into law and earmarked for MTA capital use.

First, specific amounts of the projected revenue to be generated from a new internet sales tax are to be deposited in the MTA lockbox. It is appropriate to impose a broad-based tax on internet sales, but it would be better to make it part of the state’s general operating revenue stream. If the estimated revenue turns out to be unduly optimistic there will be pressure to reduce the amounts going to the MTA.

Second, the tax on transfers of residential property has been increased. Again, it is not optimal tax policy to earmark general taxes to a particular use, and this one can be expected to be somewhat volatile. Nevertheless it is far superior to the pied-a-terre tax that had been advocated by some.

It must be remembered, however, that no matter what the new law says, the revenue from these new taxes and indeed, from the new tolls, cannot be guaranteed to be dedicated to the MTA in perpetuity. A lockbox enacted by the Legislature can also be modified or eliminated by a subsequent law. Presumably, covenants in the bonds underwritten by these revenues will help assure that cannot occur if and when money gets tight in another area of government services.

These new revenue streams dedicated to the MTA also do not change the fact that regular, planned fare increases will be necessary, largely to support the authority’s annual operating budget. That budget continues to grow too rapidly, in part due to exorbitant labor costs, which must be addressed in the near future but elected leaders do not appear inclined to tackle. Moreover, the revenue from these new sources must additions to, not substitutes for city and state aid to the MTA. Those resources will continue to be needed.

There is also a welcome new requirement that the MTA conduct an assessment of all its capital assets and needs over the next 20 years, although it doesn’t kick in until 2023.

Also, in the grand bargain that is the state budget, the governor has succeeded in imposing more obligations, costs, and controls on the MTA. It seems that after trying unsuccessfully to convince the public that he is not in control of the transit authority, he has decided to completely own it and subject it to endless oversight and review by (no doubt costly) consultants and advisory bodies. He is, in effect, going to create studies and reviews of his own actions.

The new law decrees there shall be a “complete personnel and reorganization plan” for the MTA submitted to its board no later than this coming June 30 and, in addition, there shall be an independent forensic audit conducted by a certified public accounting firm, a fiscal review by a different financial advisory firm “with a national practice,” a new construction review unit composed of a panel of internal and external experts, and a traffic mobility review board that will not only advise the TBTA on setting the new congestion tolls but, inexplicably, review the MTA capital plan!

Finally, the governor has touted that he is responsible for changes to the law on appointments to the MTA board so that no member serves for more than a very short period after the official who appoints the member is out of office. The goal is apparently to assure that everyone is beholden for their seat to the official (governor, mayor, county executive) that appointed them and that the next elected official has the prerogative to assert ‘ownership’ over the seat.

It is inevitable that appointees to prestigious boards like the MTA feel allegiance to their appointing official and since the sources of the MTA’s power and revenue derive from the political process this is appropriate – to an extent. But the way this or any governor should assert their authority over the MTA (or any public authority, e.g. the Port Authority) is to appoint a full-time Chair and CEO and allow and expect that leader to run the agency. All gubernatorial concerns and requests should be directed to and through that CEO, not through extra-agency review panels or by going around the CEO to the staff.

Pat Foye has been appointed and confirmed in that role and it is to be hoped that Governor Cuomo will now step back and let him get the MTA to marshal its new resources and do its job professionally and effectively. That is the only governance reform that is needed.

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

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Doing Good Things Badly: Congestion Pricing and MTA Reforms Tue, 02 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo, Legislators Agree to $175.5 Billion Budget with Congestion Pricing, Criminal Justice Reform and Commitment to Public Campaign Financing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8412-cuomo-legislators-agree-to-175-5-billion-budget-with-congestion-pricing-criminal-justice-reform-and-commitment-to-public-campaign-financing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8412-cuomo-legislators-agree-to-175-5-billion-budget-with-congestion-pricing-criminal-justice-reform-and-commitment-to-public-campaign-financing Cuomo top aides new budget deal 2019 2020

Cuomo and top aides announce budget deal (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on a $175.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins Monday, that includes several significant policy changes for New York, including a congestion pricing program for New York City, a plastic bag ban of sorts, major criminal justice reforms, and a commitment to enact through a new commission a campaign finance program that includes public matching funds.

The deal, first announced by press release from the governor’s office just after midnight Saturday and discussed in some detail by Cuomo at a Sunday press conference, also includes an agreement to make permanent the governor’s signature 2% cap on annual property tax increases that applies everywhere outside New York City, as well as an MTA management reform plan tied to congestion pricing, and a $1 billion increase in overall education aid to localities, bringing the total up to $27.9 billion, with a new “education equity formula to ensure funding for poorer schools” that Cuomo had pushed for, though it does not appear to make significant immediate changes to how education aid is distributed.

The announcement also indicated that the parties -- Cuomo and the two legislative majorities, controlled by Democrats for the first time in the governor’s more than eight years in office -- had kept in place planned middle class tax cuts.

“This is probably the broadest, most sweeping plan that we’ve done,” Cuomo said during the Sunday press conference where he was flanked by his three top aides, held as the legislative houses debated and voted on the actual bills involved (the final bills were voted through in the early hours of Monday morning). Cuomo called it a strong progressive statement that includes several nation-leading initiatives, such as first-in-the-country congestion pricing.

While there is a great deal of detail still to discover in the budget language and both funding and policy decisions to dissect, the broad strokes of the overall agreement do point to a successful budget for Cuomo, who largely got what he wanted. As the governor noted Sunday, he has accomplished, at least in some form, most of the “first 100 days” agenda he set forth for the start of his third term during a December speech.

On several policy issues, advocates see too much compromise, and debate will surely play out over the coming days and beyond over the details of the deals reached. Republicans are also attacking Cuomo and his fellow Democrats for instituting several new taxes and fees.

Cuomo called for “perspective,” saying it is “a difficult time for government, a difficult time for New York State” given federal actions, especially tax reform, the loss of the Amazon deal, climate change, and long-standing struggles like congestion in New York City, a flawed MTA management system, and a calcified, discriminatory criminal justice system in need of change.

The Democratic governor on Sunday gave a powerpoint presentation going through his “first 100 days” agenda and said he had accomplished “virtually” everything he set out to do, either prior to or in the budget deal, with marijuana legalization the biggest omission, though there are others. And some accomplishments are a matter of degree that will need to be assessed in the coming days and weeks.

Cuomo highlighted several from earlier in the year when the new all-Democratic Legislature quickly passed a series of bills, some of which Cuomo has signed, and discussed those at the top of the budget announcement sent out the night before, as well as other areas where he believes the state is making progress, such as environmental and health care policies.

"I thank Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for their partnership, and look forward to achieving the most productive legislative session in history,” Cuomo said in a statement on the budget deal.

The governor, who effectively controls the MTA, said his 12 principles for MTA reform had been approved and would overhaul the inefficient state authority, leading to better performance and return-on-investment for taxpayers, including those who will be paying more given the new congestion pricing plan and other new taxes and fees in the budget, including a so-called mansion tax on home sales in New York City and an internet sales tax across the state.

The details of the congestion pricing scheme will be fully fleshed out by a committee and set to take effect in 2021 -- after the next state legislative elections.

Mayoral control of New York City schools is set to be extended for three more years, through the end of Mayor Bill de Blasio's second term, though the extension has some limited strings attached, with greater parental voice involved in the city's Panel for Educational Policy (PEP).

“[W]e funded school districts, not schools” Cuomo said when discussing education aid, but by mandating transparency in where the money was going, something approved last year, the state found that districts were not funding their poorer schools as much as they should have been, he said. This year’s budget deal, with an increase in overall education aid, includes a mandate that districts prioritize funding to poorer schools and show they’re doing so. The governor appeared especially happy with the outcome on this issue, among a handful of others where he said he had ushered through major progress.

One other area of particular importance to the governor is criminal justice reform. The budget eliminates cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, creating a more just justice system, the governor said, allowing roughly 90% of defendants charged to avoid jail as their legal process unfolds. Cuomo indicated he still wants to address in some way bail for those charged with violent felonies, but the parties were able to get to agreement on all other charges and went ahead with that. He also noted speedy trial and discovery reforms have been approved.

The governor said he is “very excited about” what is being called a plastic bag “ban” though there are a number of carve-outs for single-use plastic bags. They will be banned from use by grocery and other retail stores, though they will be allowed for food delivery. The plastic bag limitations are accompanied by a five cent fee on paper bags, part of the push to encourage New Yorkers to carry reusable bags with them. 

"This year’s State budget represents very real progress in addressing some of the most pressing needs of New Yorkers," said Mayor de Blasio in a statement, broadly praising extension of mayoral control of city schools, the passage of congestion pricing, criminal justice reforms and the plastic bag ban. But, “The news from Albany wasn’t all good," he added, noting that the budget includes several funding cuts to New York City, including $125 million in cuts to funding for assistance to low-income families and $59 million cut from public health services. 

Along with bail reform and congestion pricing, the other apparently most difficult issue to find compromise on was campaign finance reform, with a public matching system. The agreement reached shows agreement on some principles but punts the actual decision-making to a new commission, which will soon be established and have until December 1 to produce results. Those results will then be binding unless the Legislature convenes to overturn them before the end of the year.

Asked during his Sunday press conference why the parties created a commission to get the details of campaign finance reform done, Cuomo said “it’s too complicated” and ran through a series of challenging questions involved, including whether candidates for state offices running in different localities would receive the same matching funds considering that there are different media markets.

“What we’re hearing is that the deal lacks a number of key elements we said would be critical if we went with what was already a compromise to have a commission handle legislative details: there seems to be no solid guarantee that we’ll have a public financing of elections system on the books with lower contribution limits, independent enforcement or a 6-to-1 match,” said Dave Palmer, Campaign Manager for the Fair Elections campaign, in a Sunday statement. The Fair Elections campaign is a broad coalition of groups that have been pushing for voting and campaign finance reforms.

In the wake of the agreement being finalized, the campaign issued a statement blaming Assembly Democrats for the half-a-loaf, and calling for “timely,” “expert,” and “independent” appointees to the commission.

“A massive grassroots effort came together this year to demand a new day in Albany, with a small-donor matching system that would give everyday New Yorkers a real voice in our political system. Despite the inclusion of public financing in the Governor’s Executive Budget and the efforts by the Senate Democrats and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to get it done, the Assembly’s unwillingness to come through on its decades-long promise has left us with a Commission that will offer a way to yet again pledge reform with no guarantee of delivering. In addition, the Governor is using a public financing commission as a way to attack fusion voting, something that has nothing to do with a public campaign financing system.”

The new commission will also look at New York’s fusion voting system, whereby political parties can nominate the same candidate for the same office. Cuomo, who appears to support an end to fusion voting in part because of his long-running feud with the Working Families Party, said that fusion voting and public campaign financing may not be compatible, though there has been no problem for both in New York City, where it is candidates who receive matching funds no matter how many ballot lines they appear on.

A variety of other decisions were made in the budget, some more quickly discovered or publicized than others. The budget appears to include funding for the Dream Act and for localities to implement early voting, both of which were passed into law earlier this year, legalization of electronic poll books, and the state codification of elements fo the federal Affordable Care Act and health exchange.

Budget language will be pored over for days and weeks to come -- as is annual tradition in Albany, lawmakers were voting through dense budget bills without having had the time to fully review them.

Also on Sunday Cuomo talked about three issues he plans to work with the Legislature on over the next two-plus months until the end of the legislative session: marijuana legalization, rent regulations, and expansion of the prevailing wage on construction projects that receive public benefits.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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Cuomo, Legislators Agree to $175.5 Billion Budget with Congestion Pricing, Criminal Justice Reform and Commitment to Public Campaign Financing Sun, 31 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Key Issues to Watch as New State Budget is Finalized https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8404-key-issues-to-watch-as-a-new-state-budget-is-finalized https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8404-key-issues-to-watch-as-a-new-state-budget-is-finalized Cuomo state budget briefing

Gov. Cuomo and top aides (photo: governor's office)


The deadline for the state’s 2020 fiscal year budget is midnight on Sunday and state legislators are expected to work through the weekend as they negotiate a variety of thorny issues with Governor Andrew Cuomo, finalizing the details of policies that have been agreed to in principle, fighting over other issues that are less settled, and determining exactly how much to spend on what in the new fiscal year that begins Monday.

Some of the budget bills are already public, with key details emerging, while the final of the series of bills, together commonly referred to as “the budget,” is likely to hold many of the major policy compromises that may come together in the final hours. Some high-profile deals already appear in place, including a ban on plastic bags (with some carve-outs) and an accompanying fee on paper bags. Ultimately, “the budget” will be a long list of compromises on spending, taxing, and policy priorities.

The new budget is expected to come in at roughly $175 billion.

The governor has been touting his top priorities -- congestion pricing, criminal justice reform, and a permanent property tax cap -- but there are a slew of other issues he cares about and those being pushed by the Senate and Assembly majorities, and even with Democratic control of both houses and the governor’s office, it’s hard to predict which ones will be included in the final budget bills.

If the governor does not get his way, he has threatened to let the deadline pass without signing a budget, though legislative leaders have said they’re committed to ensuring they will get it done on time. (The first pay raises for legislators in roughly two decades hang in the balance, though it’s not exactly clear how on time the budget needs to be for those pay raises to stay on track.)

In the mix are also several cost shifts and funding cuts to New York City, which Mayor Bill de Blasio has warned about and is lobbying against. As has been the case over the years, it’s not likely that he’ll be successful in pushing back each and every one.

Cuomo’s Priorities
The governor has made it clear that the Legislature must agree to his three top priorities, without which he says he won’t sign a budget before the deadline. He has been rallying to make the 2 percent cap on annual property tax increases permanent -- the cap is in place in counties outside New York City and will expire next year. He also says he fears that the Legislature will punt on criminal justice reforms -- changes to bail, speedy trial, and open discovery laws -- and believes the budget provides the right pressure to get to a deal, especially on the contentious and complicated details of bail.

On congestion pricing, Cuomo has attempted to corral all the stakeholders, even winning the support of Mayor de Blasio, who had been a long-time opponent of the policy. Like with others, the details must be worked out and there are a variety of stakeholders who want a say. Long-term funding of the MTA is at stake, not to mention trying to reduce traffic in Manhattan.

Cost Shifts to New York City and Education Aid
De Blasio warned in his own preliminary budget proposal in February that the governor’s budget would impose a $600 million burden on the city in cost shifts and cuts to existing programs. A large part of that total stems from $300 million in less-than-expected education funding, with the governor proposing a new school funding formula to reach the poorest schools in the neediest districts. The details of that formula remain a mystery.

Education aid across the state is the largest portion of the budget and always one of the most contentious issues. State legislators, advocates, and local officials always want a larger increase in aid than Cuomo believes is necessary, with data largely supporting the governor. This year, Cuomo is attempting to change the system, but it’s unclear whether legislators will go along, even with tweaks.

Campaign finance and ethics reforms
The governor has called for public financing of elections, aiming to create a system similar to the one currently used in New York City where small dollar contributions are matched with public funds. Despite Democrats in both the state Senate and Assembly having supported legislation in the past to create such a system -- the Assembly has even voted it through its chamber -- there isn’t agreement on a final bill, and the possibility that it will either not make it into the budget or there will be a somewhat vague passage in the budget language that is a commitment to create a system at a later date, perhaps through a new commission.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie recently raised several unfounded and some more legitimate concerns about the proposal and indicated that there weren’t enough votes in his chamber to approve it. But then his chamber had support for a public campaign finance system in its one-house budget resolution. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and her members have been more steadfast in their commitment to campaign finance reform, with several senators loudly pushing for it along with a massive coalition of advocates representing more than 200 organizations across the state.

Some long-sought campaign finance reform did pass earlier this year, with the significant narrowing of the infamous LLC loophole.

Less talked about in the budget debate have been the governor’s proposals to tackle independent expenditures, which includes new disclosure requirements for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, as well as Cuomo’s proposal to require any entity that spends at least $500 in a year to register as a lobbyist. Nonprofits, advocates, and activists have pushed back against the ideas, saying the governor is attempting to stifle his critics.

Cuomo has also called for banning campaign contributions from corporations and limited liability companies, and a code of conduct for lobbyists, which Cuomo said he would implement for the executive branch if lawmakers do not approve it. The Legislature has already approved lowering LLC contributions to $5,000, in line with corporate donations.

Advocates have also urged the passage of clean contracting bills that reduce conflicts of interest and prevent corruption in the state’s contract bidding processes. Cuomo has promised unilateral action on creating a so-called ‘database of deals’ which would detail projects receiving state benefits and make them accessible to the public. He’s also proposed strengthening the oversight powers of the comptroller and the state attorney general. It’s unclear if those provisions will also be passed into law.

Voting reforms
Republicans who controlled the state Senate for years were loathe to approve several voting reforms that Democrats repeatedly proposed in vain. This year, advocates were buoyed in their hopes that reforms would sail through. Some already have as the Legislature passed early voting and began the process of amending the state constitution to allow same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots by mail.

The Senate has moved ahead on allowing the use of electronic poll books but there has yet to be a three-way agreement with the Assembly and governor’s office, though there have been rumors that a deal is imminent. There also isn’t consensus on how many days of early voting the state will allow or how much funding the budget will include to implement it locally. It's also unclear if a system of automatic voter registration may be implemented.

Criminal Justice Reforms
The three big reforms that advocates have long called for include banning cash bail and making other changes to pre-trial detention rules to keep far fewer people incarcerated, and implementing speedy trial and open discovery legislation. Cuomo has insisted the proposals must be in the budget and has even that he will “take the blame” for their passage if suburban legislators are worried about approving them.

But there has been pushback against the proposals from the state district attorneys association, other law enforcement, and more conservative legislators. There has also been disagreement among progressive Democrats about where to draw certain lines, including around what discretion judges will have to determine the accused’s “dangerousness.” The Senate and Assembly nearly reached a deal a few weeks ago on the package of bills but it failed at the last minute. Given the focus on these issues, especially from the governor, a deal is likely.

MTA Restructuring, Congestion Pricing, E-Scooters and E-Bikes
Transit issues have been front and center in this year’s budget negotiations with New York City’s subway crisis lending added urgency to the need to find a sustainable revenue source for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Cuomo has made a big push for congestion pricing as one of the main funding sources and has also called for restructuring the MTA board to give him more control, though he already appoints a plurality of board members and its top leadership, and the board rarely, if ever, goes against his wishes.

Though the Legislature seems close to an agreement on a congestion pricing program, which would toll cars entering Manhattan’s Central Business District, the specifics haven’t been ironed out yet, including around exemptions to the fees, changes in bridge tolls, and investments in other MTA branches, like LIRR and Metro North.

Cuomo has also called for the state and New York City to split 50-50 any MTA capital costs that aren't covered by dedicated funding streams. It's unclear if state legislators will allow that language to be part of a final budget deal or if the process around negotiating the MTA capital budget will be left to a later date as it typically is.

Speaker Heastie indicated the Assembly is willing to advance the proposal in principle while Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has been less definitive. The governor’s proposals for the MTA’s structure also remain uncertain.

The governor has also proposed allowing municipalities to legalize the use of electronic scooters and bicycles, and big firms that offer those services have been expending significant resources lobbying state lawmakers, regulators and the governor’s office to push that policy through. Legalization would be particularly impactful in New York City, where the NYPD and Mayor de Blasio are facing criticism from the City Council and advocates over a crackdown on e-bike use that has been particularly impactful on immigrant delivery workers.   

Marijuana Legalization
Cuomo has proposed legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, which the state estimates would raise about $300 million in revenue annually. He had hoped to use that revenue to fill the MTA’s budget gaps.

But earlier this month, Cuomo raised doubts about whether marijuana legalization would be included in the state budget and said if it was not, then it most likely would not happen at all this year. However, the Assembly and Senate leaders have indicated that they are willing to advance it. As the budget negotiations moved ahead, it appeared a marijuana legalization deal would not come together in the budget, but nothing at all in play is ever fully in or out until the budget is done.

Census Funding
The New York Counts 2020 coalition of nonprofit organizations, business groups, and community service providers have been pushing the state to include at least $40 million in the budget to fund outreach efforts for the decennial population count next year. This census, where New York has a great deal on the line in terms of congressional representation and federal funds, will be particularly challenging, with the federal government underfunding the Census Bureau and primarily relying on a digital methodology, which is a departure from previous years, not to mention the push for a citizenship question.

New York already faces its own unique issues with reaching hard-to-count communities, particularly because of the state’s large immigrant population, much of which is concentrated in New York City. And though the state created a commission to examine the issues around the Census, it was not named until after its initial deadline for submitting a report had already lapsed. That report is not expected until after the budget. Indications on Thursday, including from the city’s Census leader, Julie Menin, pointed to the $40 million being included in the state budget, but that had not been finalized.

Education Aid, Mayoral Control and Charter Cap
In past years, Governor Cuomo and Senate Republicans repeatedly dangled mayoral control of New York City schools over Mayor de Blasio to extract concessions such as increasing funding for charter schools and more transparency from the Department of Education. This year was less contentious but Democratic legislators still wanted adjustments to approve an extension.

The mayor is expected to receive a three-year extension on mayoral control, up from a two-year renewal last time and multiple single years before that, but will nonetheless have to commit to certain demands made by legislators from his own party, including improvements in parent engagement.

New York City this year reached a statutory cap on the number of charter schools in the five boroughs, which Cuomo and Republicans had increased in previous legislative sessions. Charter school advocates have continued to push for eliminating or increasing the cap but lack powerful allies in the Legislature. If there is an increase in the charter cap snuck into the budget, it will all but certainly be because Cuomo made it a priority.

Cuomo proposed an increase of several hundred million dollars in education funding, for a total of $27.7 billion, and spoke of a new “Education Equity” formula to replace the Foundation Aid formula currently used to provide additional funding to school districts. But he hasn’t released details of the proposal, which the state education department is meant to outline. That has incensed education advocates and New York City elected officials who say the governor is not living up to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision which would means billions more in education funding. The two legislative majorities outlined increases in education aid of more than $1 billion in total, with the final number likely somewhere between theirs and Cuomo's.

Revenue Raisers and Taxes
Besides congestion pricing, budget negotiations have also involved other possible revenue raising measures including a pied-a-terre tax, a real estate transfer tax, an internet sales tax, and the extension of the state’s so-called millionaires tax.

After talks of marijuana legalization seemed to stall, the Senate had floated the idea of a pied-a-terre tax on people’s second homes worth more than $5 million in New York City to replace the revenue that would have come in for the MTA from marijuana taxes. The pied-a-terre tax could raise an estimated $650 million each year. Cuomo was on board with the proposal as well, but the Assembly shot down the idea, citing difficulties in navigating the complicated property tax system in the city. Speaker Heastie said instead that the state should do a simpler one-time tax on expensive real estate transfers above $5 million. The discussion appeared to stall.

Cuomo has additionally proposed eliminating a loophole that allows third-party online retailers to avoid collecting sales taxes -- which could bring in nearly $400 million in revenue.

On the millionaires tax, there reportedly seems to be three-way agreement on a five-year extension of the current rates, though an Assembly proposal to increase the tax, and the number of people it applies to, did not get much support.

A previously-scheduled middle class tax cut appears to be staying as designed.

Healthcare and Medicaid
Cuomo had proposed as much as $550 million in additional state Medicaid funding in his budget proposal but he pulled back in February as the prospect of federal cuts to healthcare loomed and tax revenues came in lower than expected. Both the Assembly and Senate pushed to restore that funding and Cuomo appeared to backtrack.  

Environmental Policy
After he and the Legislature overrode a New York City law to impose a fee on single-use plastic and paper bags at retail stores two years ago, Cuomo introduced legislation last year to pursue a statewide plastic bag ban. The bill failed in the Republican-led state Senate but Cuomo reintroduced the proposal this year and it appears on the verge of passage, with a variety of carve-outs and other specifications, like a fee on paper bags and opt-out provisions for localities. Legislative leaders indicated on Wednesday that they had reached an agreement on the bill and that it will likely be passed with the budget.

There’s also a concerted effort this year by environmental advocates to advance the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would transition the entire state economy to renewable sources of energy by 2050. The bill has passed in the Assembly three years in a row but there isn’t consensus this year with the governor’s office or the Senate. Cuomo introduced his own Climate Leadership Act, which is similar in ways to the CCPA but would only mandate that the state’s electricity sector be renewable by 2040. Advocates say his proposal doesn’t go far enough and it’s hard to see what compromise he may reach with the Legislature. This legislation has been little discussed by Cuomo or legislative leaders as the budget deadline approaches.

Pay Raises
If the state Legislature fails to pass an on-time budget, which would technically mean by the April 1 deadline, senators and Assembly members will lose out on a $10,000 annual raise (from $110,000 to $120,000) in their base pay which is meant to go into effect on January 1, 2020. The raises were put into motion by a state commission last year, which set a schedule to bump up legislator salaries over a three-year period. The raises also apply to the comptroller, state attorney general and certain state agency commissioners. Cuomo has seemed to use the raises as leverage over the Legislature to ensure that the budget is not late and that it includes his priorities.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Key Issues to Watch as New State Budget is Finalized Thu, 28 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo's Budget Priority Balancing Act https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8397-cuomo-s-balancing-act-on-budget-priorities-congestion-pricing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8397-cuomo-s-balancing-act-on-budget-priorities-congestion-pricing gov cuomo long island no tax

Gov. Cuomo on Long Island (photo: governor's office)


Before Democrats reclaimed the state Senate last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo spent years triangulating with the Democratic-controlled Assembly, two factions of Senate Democrats, and the Republican Senate majority. The arrangement allowed him a heavy hand over the legislative and budget agendas in Albany and gave him the ability to claim credit and deflect blame as he saw fit (though critics didn’t always buy his explanations). Progressive legislation regularly withered on the vine unless it had Cuomo’s imprimatur, usually accompanied by some form of mutually beneficial compromise with rogue Democrats and Republicans.

If this year’s budget negotiations have proved anything it’s that old habits die hard and Cuomo is unwilling to ease his stranglehold on state government, even when dealing with members of his own party. He’s continued to strongly, and perhaps shrewdly, set the foundation for negotiations. But some of the policies he has prioritized have long been wedge issues between lawmakers representing New York City on the one hand and upstate and suburban districts on the other.

On a few of the governor’s topline agenda items -- congestion pricing, recreational marijuana legalization, criminal justice reforms, and a property tax cap -- that divide has seemed most apparent this year, at times apparently stoked by Cuomo himself, and the governor has sought to leverage the budget deadline to push for their passage. Notably, he has said he’s willing to allow a late budget to accomplish his goals, which would mean that legislators could lose out on pay raises that are contingent on the budget passing on time, giving the governor additional leverage over the process.

While Cuomo has said he finds himself “liberated” by full Democratic control of the state Legislature and the ability to pass legislation that stalled for years, he’s also been overtly antagonistic to his colleagues in the Legislature, particularly in the state Senate, for what he says is them failing to grasp the necessities of governing, sabotaging the deal to bring an Amazon campus to Queens, and hesitating to follow through on several policies that Republicans opposed for years.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins half-jokingly attributed it to “Senate Democratic derangement syndrome,” but many Democratic legislators have been taken aback by Cuomo’s approach, even if most have not been surprised. After an initial sprint of legislative activity that smacked of Democratic bonhomie, the Legislature slowed down as fault lines and a less rosy picture emerged amid negotiations over complex topics and some apparent backtracking.

With news articles and political commentary pointing to the close bond between Heastie and Stewart-Cousins, and the power of the all-Democratic Legislature vis-a-vis the governor, Cuomo appeared to seek to increase his leverage, by having certain Democratic candidates sign policy pledges during last year’s campaign, setting out his “first 100 days” agenda in December, casting blame on Long Island Democrats for not doing enough to keep the Amazon deal on track, and more.

Of late, he’s focused his top priorities on issues that alternately appeal more to New York City Democrats (congestion pricing, criminal justice reform) and suburban Democrats (property tax cap). He’s rallied on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley with Democratic senators, declaring he would not approve a state budget without the annual tax cap made permanent, even though, as Heastie has said, the current cap doesn’t even expire until next year. Meanwhile, he’s publicly told those same Democratic senators, who may be hesitant about criminal justice reform, to pass it in the budget and “blame me.”

It may all, or mostly, work out for Cuomo by the April 1 budget deadline, a major test for all the parties involved, but certainly an opportunity for Cuomo to both deliver on progressive promises and still show he’s in charge.

“This isn't a game of risk, this is real life,” said Rich Azzopardi, senior advisor to Cuomo, of the budget process in a statement responding to Gotham Gazette’s inquiry about the governor’s budget negotiation tactics and whether they were intended to divide Democrats as some have suggested. “If you excuse us, we're going to concentrate on developing a budget that works for all New Yorkers and I believe our partners in the legislature are doing the same.”

“I think for the governor, his decisions about priorities in the state budget are about how can he get things done that he can brag about later and that continue to advance the narrative that he wants,” said Evan Thies, co-founder of Pythia, a political strategy firm, “which is that he is still very much the most powerful person in the state and also on a national level a Democrat that can get things done and who seems to have moved his state to the left.”

Overwhelmingly reelected for a third term in November, Cuomo was emboldened and quick to show how he would approach the newly elected Senate Democratic majority. He rallied with newly elected and returning members of the state Senate on Long Island shortly after the election, pledging to ensure that New York City pays its “fair share” of funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) even as legislators within the city were hammering him for starving the agency of funding, meddling with its affairs, and letting the city’s subways slide into chaos.

Cuomo pitched congestion pricing as the chief remedy to MTA problems, insisting it must be done in the budget but offering few details of how it would be implemented. For lawmakers in suburban areas outside New York City and even for those in the outer boroughs, it proved divisive and it appears that any proposal that will be included in the budget will include several key carve-outs and funding set asides for the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro North Railroad. The governor has also called for making it state law that the city and state must split 50-50 any MTA capital plan shortfall not covered by dedicating funding streams like that from congestion pricing.

Cuomo has also launched a campaign to make the state’s 2 percent cap on annual property tax increases permanent, which is currently in place everywhere outside New York City. The cap has been a crowning Cuomo achievement, winning praise from members of both political parties, and renewed multiple times. He’s rallied on Long Island three times in two weeks to push for it and has said he will not sign a spending plan without it, even saying that he’s willing to let the budget be late.

Even the governor’s proposal to legalize recreational marijuana seemed destined to create divisions along regional lines. It gave counties the ability to opt out of allowing sales, and several county executives -- including both on Long Island -- have already expressed intent to do so (something Cuomo said was not helpful in getting legalization passed in Albany). Meanwhile in New York City, which accounts for about a third of all regular marijuana users in the state and would make up an overwhelming part of any legal market, Mayor Bill de Blasio has already taken steps to reduce enforcement and has embraced legalization.

There are several key aspects of legalization to work out, and It’s hardly a surprise that the governor said last week it appeared unlikely legalization would be in the budget, even though he was hoping to tap the revenue from it to fund the MTA. But even Cuomo’s characterization of negotiations was disputed by lawmakers, such as Senator Liz Krueger, lead sponsor of legalization legislation, who said the parties aren’t that far apart. (Cuomo shifted to embracing a pied-a-terre tax for New York City luxury apartments that would replace marijuana funding for the MTA, though that has also hit some roadblocks.)

“You’ll notice a trend in the things that are actually getting done in the budget, which is that suburban Democrats agree with all of them,” Thies said. “They are clearly the new pivotal block in Albany and that is well represented” in the marijuana bill’s opt-out provision, the fact that congestion pricing will pay for commuter railroads and that issues like the tax cap “which may not have universal support within the Democratic caucus, are still being advanced aggressively.”

Criminal justice reform, including banning cash bail and instituting speedy trial and open discovery reform, may be one of the governor’s remaining priorities that does not necessarily have a substantial budget impact. But Cuomo has nonetheless insisted it must pass with the budget -- citing it as an important decision deadline -- despite various concerns being raised by district attorneys and lawmakers from more conservative districts outside the city, and by more progressive lawmakers and advocate who have certain prerequisites for new pretrial incarercation rules.

“I've had 7 years, 8 years with a Republican Senate with half a loaf, half a loaf, half a loaf—and getting these controversial issues and having to compromise everything,” he said in a Monday interview on WAMC radio with host Alan Chartock. “So having a Democratic Senate is most liberating for me because I don't have to take half a loaf and criminal justice is one of those issues.”

On issues like marijuana legalization and the broader criminal justice reform package, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins have not said anything is off the table; rather, they have indicated that both can be successfully approved after the budget and need not be rushed through by April 1. But the budget is where the governor enjoys maximum leverage and he has said that lawmakers can assign him the blame for passing controversial bills because there is no guarantee they will follow through in the post-budget session.

“I'll take the blame,” he said at a March 11 news conference, when asked about the criminal justice reform package and whether it would lead to a backlash for suburban legislators. “When it's in the budget, it allows everybody to say, ‘It wasn't me, it was the governor.’ Let's be honest, right? That's what the budget allows you to do. They all go and they say, ‘Yeah, I didn't support that, but the governor insisted on it.’ And by the way, it will be true. It will be true. Blame me.”

Dr. Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College, described the governor’s strategy as “a masterclass in terms of managing Albany,” which she said has practically become a “one-party city” with Republicans out of power. “It’s brand new territory for [Cuomo], having the Democrats in control and in the past, he was able to triangulate with Republicans,” she said. “In my mind, he’s trying to do a similar sort of dance, if you will, but in this way playing the suburban, upstate Democrats off the more urban downstate on a variety of issues...I think congestion pricing in my mind and the property tax cap are two of the biggest [issues] because they so glaringly pit the two against each other.”

For advocates who have seen the type of horse-trading typified by the state budget process, the governor’s push has raised some concerns. Nick Malinowski of VOCAL-NY noted that legislators from the Hudson Valley and Long Island haven’t been supportive of criminal justice reforms, for instance. “We are very concerned as this moves into budget negotiations that issues like bail, like discovery reform, will be negotiated against other issues like property taxes and pay raises and all these other things,” he said. “That is definitely something we’ve seen in the past with Republicans, Democrats, and Cuomo...From a democracy standpoint, it’s a bad way of doing government.”

Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, however, disagreed that the governor’s efforts have been divisive, and credited him for bringing together a “fractious conference” on congestion pricing at least. “It’s the single largest and difficult thing they’ve taken up this year,” he said. “I really feel like the governor has actually generally played a helpful role in trying to get this thing to the finish line….I don’t think this has been a year that the governor has very aggressively played sides off against each other to try and win something.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo's Budget Priority Balancing Act Wed, 27 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Are the Votes There to Pass Congestion Pricing Through the State Legislature? https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8379-are-the-votes-there-to-pass-congestion-pricing-through-the-state-legislature https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8379-are-the-votes-there-to-pass-congestion-pricing-through-the-state-legislature gov cuomo mta fare increase

(photo: governor's office)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Are the Votes There to Pass Congestion Pricing Through the State Legislature? Thu, 21 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Route to Cleaner Air for Communities of Color and Low Income: Electric Buses and Congestion Pricing https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8366-the-route-to-cleaner-air-for-communities-of-color-and-low-income-electric-buses-and-congestion-pricing https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8366-the-route-to-cleaner-air-for-communities-of-color-and-low-income-electric-buses-and-congestion-pricing gov cuomo sign upgrade mta

(photo: governor's office)


Your zip code and how much money you make can determine your health and quality of life in New York City – including the quality of the air you breathe.

Recent data from The New York City Community Air Survey shows that certain neighborhoods have more particulate matter and black carbon than others. It should come as no surprise that many of these areas – like East Harlem, Washington Heights, or the South Bronx – are largely inhabited by people of color or people with lower incomes, who historically bear a disproportionate burden of the effects of environmental pollution.

Poor air quality leads to increased lung disease and asthma, especially for kids and older people. It can result in higher doctor bills and more missed days of work or school, and cut months or even years off of our lives.

The city and the state should do everything possible to improve air quality in pollution hot-spots. Yet, in the neighborhoods where air quality is poorest, MTA New York City Transit buses are also the oldest – and thus most-polluting. The depots where the buses are stored are disproportionately located in these areas, resulting in more idling and frequent in-and-out trip movements, all adding to poorer air quality.

That’s why there is a pressing need to electrify the city’s buses, reducing exhaust and cleaning the air. New York City knows bus electrification is important: the city set a goal for an all-electric bus fleet by 2040 “to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions." New electric buses should first be deployed in neighborhoods with the worst air quality.

But there’s still a question of funding the transition to an electric citywide bus fleet. In his draft budget for next state fiscal year, Governor Cuomo focuses on congestion pricing as a key source of capital.

Congestion pricing asks drivers to pay a surcharge when they enter Manhattan south of 60th Street and north of Battery Park. The revenue generated would then be put toward other transportation infrastructure repairs—e.g., our broken mass transit system.

The city’s public transit system is deeply intertwined with New Yorkers’ quality of life. People rely on the buses and trains to get to their jobs, schools, and families in a timely and affordable way. They should be able to do so without dirtying the air in local communities and contributing to the environmental burden they already face. New York needs congestion pricing to begin transitioning the city’s buses to clean, electric vehicles.

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Cecil D. Corbin-Mark is deputy director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. On Twitter @CecilCorbinMark & @weact4ej.

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

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The Route to Cleaner Air for Communities of Color and Low Income: Electric Buses and Congestion Pricing Tue, 19 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Tale of Two Transit Plans: Johnson’s Is Real, Cuomo’s Is Likely https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8349-tale-of-two-transit-plans-johnson-s-is-real-cuomo-s-is-likely https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8349-tale-of-two-transit-plans-johnson-s-is-real-cuomo-s-is-likely  mta cuomo cojo

Gov. Cuomo (governor's office) & Speaker Johnson (William Alatriste/City Council)


On February 26, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio released a 10-point plan to “transform and fund” the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The vague, crisp proposals are designed to centralize splintered MTA operations to further State control, formally unify support for revenue-generating policies like congestion pricing, and establish external monitoring of the struggling authority, which runs the New York City subways and buses, as well as regional rail networks.

One week later, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced a transit plan of his own, several months in the making. The speaker’s 104-page white paper has a slew of ideas to reform governance, financing, accessibility, and surface-level transit.

The boldest proposal in Johnson’s very bold plan is the City take over subway and bus mass transit -- which it hasn’t managed since 1968 -- plus local bridges and tunnels, while leaving control of commuter rail, suburban buses, and capital projects to the MTA.

This would streamline transit accountability by making the mayor directly responsible for the subway and buses (like in London). Johnson also wants congestion pricing, whether the State passes it or the City enacts its own measure, and several tax hikes.

To be clear: neither plan has all the details. That’s the nature of politicians creating policy, and needing subject-specific experts to chime in. The difference is the Cuomo-de Blasio 10-point proposal lacks the basic necessities of a policy plan, whereas Johnson’s is a well-thought out series of policies, just without some next-level details.

It’s unclear the joint Cuomo-de Blasio plan, which needs approval from the state Legislature, will actually help alleviate deeper MTA problems with performance, operations funding, capital expansion, labor costs, or debt service. In his Signal Problems newsletter, journalist Aaron Gordon noted there’s a “fundamental misunderstanding” of different technological options for upgrading the signal system.

Johnson’s white paper glazes over politically-challenging aspects like labor costs that the Cuomo-de Blasio plan ignores entirely, and takes a radical stance on taxes generating permanent operations revenue. In response, Cuomo outright mocked Johnson’s proposal, while de Blasio dismissed it as an impossibility before the April 1 state budget deadline.

Plenty in the transit world is already being debated, and that fast-approaching state budget deadline brings a Legislature more focused on fiscal policy than urban planning into the conversation. Especially since all three leaders -- Cuomo, de Blasio, and Johnson -- agree congestion pricing needs to happen, the actual proposals are less significant than the policymaking tenor with which they’ve been proposed and discussed, and what the differences mean for governance of the city’s mass transit system.

Johnson’s plan is a substantive, comprehensive proposal, while Cuomo’s plan (I’ll call it Cuomo’s, because his stamp is on practically the entire thing) is dangerously short on details relative to what one should expect from a government leader impacting millions of people. Details are a precursor to meaningful dialogue about transit reform, and the rigor simply isn’t there in 10 bullet points. (Clearly, that’s not just a local problem.)

Cuomo’s team insists they’ll throw together enough details in the state budget. The governor often waits until the last hour to force budget changes, like when his team ushered in a congestion surcharge of $2.75 for rideshare vehicles and $2.50 for taxis last year.

Cuomo’s transit input isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a troubling indicator of dictatorial, politically-driven decision-making in transit, an excessively technical endeavor at its core.

It’s hard to trust the New York details will be as substantive as plans in Berlin, London, Paris, or Singapore, considering the simplicity of the toll shoved through last year’s state budget. A $2.75 surcharge on ride-share vehicles is the price of a city transit fare, while the $2.50 surcharge for taxis was simply less than the $2.75.

What accounts for the differences in rigor? Cuomo “expects” his plan to be approved behind closed doors in Albany, whereas Johnson is promoting transparency and accountability. Cuomo’s already in charge, Johnson wants the City to be.

The governor acts as if he can change practically anything atop the MTA without pushback. Maybe he’s onto something. Neither advocates and journalists outside government, nor MTA leadership and legislators within government, have consistently scaled back Cuomo’s transit proposals, even those that overstep his bounds or are not economically sensible.

Consider the new L train tunnel repair plan: despite wild uncertainty in changing plans three years in the making at the last second, the MTA Board acted handcuffed in even exercising due diligence. Criticism simply didn’t manifest into meaningful resistance.

It’s less about dialogue, since the governor’s tactics don’t really invite public discourse or any semblance of democratic norms. Cuomo’s threatening a 30 percent fare hike should he not get his way with congestion pricing, and the governor’s response to Johnson’s plan was to withdraw the State’s $10 billion in funding should the City control the subway.

Effectively, it’s Cuomo’s way, or the highway. A plan this vague and politically-driven, yet still likely to pass given the governor’s power in changing the MTA and influencing the state budget process, can only exist in an accountability vacuum (a phrase I wrote in an earlier version of this article that Johnson used in his State of the City speech).  

It’s clear the speaker’s 104-page plan takes governing, accountability, and rigor seriously. Johnson’s plan sets clear, quantifiable expectations for improvements, makes the mayor the subway’s political figurehead, reforms transit government boards, and specifically references a multitude of programs to expand. The spirit of Johnson’s white paper mirrors that of Berlin’s comprehensive proposal in late February to inject billions of euros into its already-heralded system.

However, it doesn’t mean Johnson’s proposal is the right one for New York. Former head of the MTA Richard Ravitch, who is credited for resurrecting the authority and its subways in the early 1980s, said of Johnson’s plan, “It’s a very thoughtful proposal, I just don’t agree with it.” Having the City take over mass transit is a massive undertaking, and the taxes he proposes may drive business out of the City, a delicate subject any time, especially post-Amazon.

That’s why the devil is in the details. Without knowing what Cuomo’s plan really entails, how can the MTA Board, State Legislature, City Council, journalists, and the commuting public decide what to make of the two plans side by side?

The tale of two plans is a stark reminder New York’s political landscape needs reforming, just as much as its transit system needs an overhaul. In essence, there’s only one real plan on the table: Johnson’s. Yet, the plan without plans—Cuomo’s—is what New Yorkers should expect to happen.

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Tim Lazaroff is a freelance journalist specializing in transit.

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

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Tale of Two Transit Plans: Johnson’s Is Real, Cuomo’s Is Likely Tue, 12 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator David Carlucci https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8334-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-david-carlucci https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8334-max-murphy-podcast-state-senator-david-carlucci mxm logo

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


March 6, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator David Carlucci

dav carlucci senateState Senator David Carlucci represents a Rockland and Westchester district that has a significant stake in the MTA, congestion pricing, and other key transit discussions, not to mention the overall state budget and other state policies. Carlucci joined the show to discuss his priorities and his take on the congestion pricing debate (and more) as Albany lawmakers look to make an agreement before a budget is due April 1.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator David Carlucci Wed, 06 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000