Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/415 Fri, 23 Aug 2019 22:52:59 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Adapting to $15 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8239-adapting-to-15-minimum-wage-new-york-small-business https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8239-adapting-to-15-minimum-wage-new-york-small-business bkcupcakes

Carmen Rodriguez, owner of Brooklyn Cupcake in Williamsburg, opens her store


As the Minimum Wage Hits $15, New York City Business Owners Find Ways to Make It Work

Colin Cento tells his food couriers to take on additional gigs from delivery services such as Uber Eats and Postmates, even as they work for him. Cento, who co-owns a chain of three fast-casual restaurants in Lower Manhattan called Poke Green, encourages them to supplement their income with the extra jobs because he pays them as contractors rather than staff employees and only for the hours of heaviest demand.

As the minimum wage has increased sharply, outsourcing delivery workers is one of several measures Cento has taken to curb operational costs and avoid raising prices for his customers.

Like Cento, many of New York City's businesspeople have been able to adapt to higher labor costs through innovation and by increasing efficiency and revamping existing strategies, proving that concerns rising wages would hurt small businesses and lead to losses in low-wage jobs are so far misplaced. The survival of skeptical small businesses and a steady increase in jobs show that wage increases have been manageable and even fueled broader economic growth.

"There are restaurants opening everywhere, so if minimum wage gets in the way of our decision-making, it just leaves the door open for somebody else," Cento said. "As business owners, we have to just figure out a way to make it work, whether that's cutting a cost somewhere or adding a cost somewhere else."

Since 2015, the number of full-service restaurant jobs in New York has increased by more than 4 percent and the number of full-service establishments by 10 percent, according to a joint study by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Restaurant Opportunities Center United. The research found that restaurant workers also saw a salary increase of 10 percent. The numbers show the same story for retail and health care, two other industries opponents said would be hurt by wage increases.

"A lot of critics of minimum wage increases have cried wolf for so many years and it hasn't happened," said Yana van der Meulen Rodgers, an economist and professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations. "Rigorous econometric studies have shown that the disemployment effects critics were projecting just have not happened.''

Phasing in Higher Pay
As of the final day of 2018, the minimum wage in New York City had more than doubled to $15 from $7.25 per hour since 2013. The 2016 law that instituted the most significant hikes is being phased in elsewhere in the state. At the same time, the city has seen a broad economic expansion with rising wages across all income brackets.

"And at the lower end, one of the reasons that there's been this upward pressure is the minimum wage increase," said economist James Parrott, the director of economic and fiscal policy at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.

Worker Retention and Better Business
Paying more results in workers who are more efficient, according to Teófilo Reyes, research director at the Restaurant Opportunities Center United and one of the experts who conducted the study examining the impact of minimum wage increases on food establishments. It also lowers training costs associated with new hires because workers stay around longer.

"You have employees who are more committed to these establishments, they are happier to work there and they're less inclined to leave," Reyes said. "So that leads to reduced turnover."

Charles Branstool, owner of Exit9 Gift Emporium, is already paying his employees above $15 per hour and is convinced higher wages improved his retention.

"It's expensive to find good people, and it's expensive when good people leave because they have a better prospect," Branstool said. "Being able to stay more competitive allows them to stick around."

A recent national study conducted by Harvard Business School found that only restaurants that were already performing poorly have closed as a result of increased labor costs associated with minimum wage hikes. The 2017 report, which examined data from the online review platform Yelp, stated that a one-dollar increase in the minimum wage leads to a 14 percent increase in the likelihood of exit for a 3.5-star-rated restaurant but has no discernible impact on a 5-star restaurant.

"There appears to be a relationship between management of a business and its ability to handle wage increases," Reyes said. "A business that is poorly managed is going to have difficulty succeeding under pretty much any circumstance."

Since having to up his workers' salaries, Cento has not had to lay anyone off—and he doesn't expect to after the latest increase for the start of this year. But he has switched food suppliers, explored different delivery and logistics options to reduce costs and considered offering discounts to customers who pay in cash to avoid incurring additional credit card fees. He also encourages diners to order directly from the shop rather than use an online delivery platform that keeps a roughly 30 percent cut of the sale.

"These are all things that we're working on to not force our prices to go up," he said.

Carmen Rodriguez, owner of the Williamsburg-based bakery, Brooklyn Cupcake, has made efforts to launch new products to help rival competitors, including a dairy- and egg-free cupcake line when the new vegan restaurant opened next door. She added ice cream to the menu for the first time this summer and upped her social media strategy to promote the business.

parks slope

Carmen Rodriguez, left, & Colin Cento

There has been evidence some eateries have instituted small price increases but surveys and continued spending have affirmed that customers are willing to pay them. Additionally, workers who have benefitted from the wage hike are likely to spend it on eating out, research shows.

Employers in New York City's fast food and restaurant industries have also increased innovation in terms of sourcing, fresh produce, and establishing good farm-to-market connections, Parrott said.

Cento, for example, continues to buy fish directly from China because of its quality despite trade tension-induced price increases. But he goes across the street to buy greens for the poke bowl base in bulk at Whole Foods because it is cheaper and he can buy smaller portions more frequently to ensure freshness. He has also revamped the menu at the fast-casual Japanese joint. He added Thai-style rolled ice cream and a variety of exclusive Asian soups that can't be found at competing eateries.

"Businesses are having to adapt and be more innovative, be more efficient in the way they utilize workers and produce," Parrott said. "The result at the end of the day is you get more competitive businesses who are able to pay workers a higher wage."

Help From the State
When the $15 an hour minimum wage was initially proposed, the health care sector was among its most vocal opponents, concerned over how significant the cost would be for hospitals and home care agencies. The Home Care Association estimated in 2016 it would cost hospitals $570 million and home care agencies up to $1.7 billion per year due to 24-hour shifts staffed by many low-wage workers in the industry. Some also argued that if low-wage, low-skill workers were being paid as much as $15 per hour, the rate of higher-skilled employees would have to be raised significantly.

The industry has been able to offset much of the cost by winning higher Medicaid reimbursement and other funding. About 90 percent of services provided by home health and personal care aides in New York State are funded by the Medicaid program.

But the industry has also made consolidations, mergers, and acquisitions. And growth in the healthcare sector remains strong, with home health care accounting for almost one third of all New York City employment growth in 2018, up from about 25 percent in the last two years, according to the New York City Independent Budget Office's most recent fiscal outlook report.

"We have to work to attract employees because there are so many home care agencies out there," said Natalie Quinones, corporate office manager of Preferred Home Care of New York, a home and personal care service with over 5,000 employees.

Retailers are coping too. Estimates showed that once New York's minimum wage is fully phased in, operating costs for retailers will be affected by only 0.2 percent. This ranks low when compared to food manufacturing at 0.8 percent, or restaurants at 7.1 percent.

The sector's challenges stem primarily from having to fend off competition from Amazon, noted David Belkin, senior economist at the New York City Independent Budget Office.

Branstool believes the best way brick-and-mortar stores can compete with online retail is by providing customers with a great in-store experience that makes them want to come back. And the way that happens is by paying and treating workers well to make them more enthusiastic to work there.

Wage growth and tightness in the labor market have also led employers into implementing better benefits, including more schedule flexibility and better paid leave policies, especially during the holiday season when worker demand spikes.

While wages are rising, the evidence of economic harm is simply nowhere to be found.

Since late 2015, the unemployment rate has decreased in New York City from 5.1 to 4.3 percent percent, and from 4.9 percent  to 4.5 percent for the entire state, according to government data. The number of people in low-wage industries has largely stayed the same.

"You find studies that say this, and you find studies that say that, but the average studies show that there are pretty limited employment consequences and pretty serious, large, positive earnings increases for low wage workers after a minimum wage increase," said Ben Zipperer, an economist specializing in minimum wage, inequality and low-wage labor markets at the Economic Policy Institute.

Some business owners do say they have had to lay off workers and remain fearful of the full impacts of labor cost increases when the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour.

Full Impact Still to Come
Josef Itskovich, owner of the Midtown-based handbag manufacturing shop Baikal, has had to lay off 35 percent of his staff since 2016, he said. Although, he acknowledged factors beyond the minimum wage, such as soaring rent and foreign competition, have played a role. Rodriguez of Brooklyn Cupcake has let two workers go as well.

Robert Brusca, an economist at his New York-based consulting firm Fact and Opinion Economics and a critic of minimum wage increases, expects more casualties to show up in the coming years.

"Right now, the job market is too tight and the minimum wage legislation is still working its way through the system," Brusca said. "But in time, a firm may realize it is not making its way into this new cost structure and will have to make decisions that will cost people jobs."

That is exactly what Rodriguez worried about.

"My biggest fear is that our doors will close if we can't meet this or that," she said.

***
by Alexandra Semenova and Sharif Paget for Gotham Gazette. This story was produced as the authors' capstone project at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
@alexandraandnyc
@SharifPaget
@GothamGazette

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Adapting to $15 Tue, 29 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Hochul Previews 2019 Cuomo Administration Agenda, Defends Economic Development Programming https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8164-hochul-previews-2019-cuomo-administration-agenda-defends-economic-development-programming https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8164-hochul-previews-2019-cuomo-administration-agenda-defends-economic-development-programming hochul redcs 2018

Lt. Gov. Hochul at the REDC awards (photo: the Governor's Office)


In a recent radio interview, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul highlighted the elements of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s newly-unveiled 2019 agenda that she plans to have a significant role in passing. Hochul also discussed and defended the administration’s Regional Economic Development Council program, explained her role co-chairing the new Childcare Viability Task Force, and discussed the timetable for a statewide $15 minimum wage.

As a guest on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI, Hochul zeroed in on the section of Cuomo’s agenda, which he outlined during a speech two days prior, concerning the lives of women. She hopes to help see the state codify Roe v. Wade abortion protections in the next session, to make sure contraception care is covered by health insurance, and to pass the equal rights amendment as part of the state constitution. “Something that is embarrassing that we have not done in our state is, actually, pass the Equal Rights Amendment, something we’ve been talking about for over a hundred years in this state,” she said.

Hochul also mentioned her work on the state’s plan to protect New York’s healthcare system from federal government efforts to end coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. She affirmed a Cuomo administration commitment to protect the coverage of pre-existing conditions for all and to “get prescription drug costs under control.” When outlining his legislative agenda on December 17, Cuomo included several elements related to health care coverage, such as codifying the state’s health insurance exchange that is part of Affordable Care Act programming.

Hochul called it “A very bold and ambitious agenda,” adding, “I love being part of an administration where we take on the big challenges. Nothing is too much for us.”

Other elements of the agenda Cuomo outlined include legalizing recreational marijuana, passing congestion pricing program for New York City, crafting a “Green New Deal” for New York, and much more.

In the interview Hochul also discussed the goals for the $763 million in state funding allocated through the Regional Economic Development Councils, which she chairs, in its 2018 round eight, and addressed criticism alleging a lack of transparency in the allocation process and a lack of clarity around effectiveness of the grant program in terms of the jobs it creates.

She said the Cuomo administration’s primary objectives with the REDCs are economic development and job creation. For example, she said the funds would be used for workforce development in underserved areas, job training, and revitalizing main streets in communities throughout the state.

“We’re making a difference, and the jobs are coming back,” Hochul said. “We have over 8.1 million jobs here in the state of New York. That is the largest we’ve ever had in our state’s history.”

This year’s $763 million will be split among 10 different regions of the state, each of which submitted proposals in the annual competition. The amounts allocated to each region range from $66 million to $88.2 million, the most being awarded to Central New York. The initiative will fund 1,055 projects statewide, Hochul said.

The program was created by Cuomo in 2011, his first year in office, and has been at the heart of the governor's plan to jump-start the economy, especially in areas of the state that have struggled the most. Overall, the program has allocated $6.1 billion for 7,300 projects, and created 220,000 jobs, according Hochul.

“It is no longer Albany dictating where the money goes, it is really bottom up,” Hochul said. “And that is what is really transforming New York, upstate in particular.”

The REDC program is not without detractors. Critics, including outside watchdog organizations and elected officials, have cited both a lack of transparency in the process of how taxpayer funds are spent and a lack of specificity in terms of job-creation reporting.

Both the Citizens Budget Commission and Reinvent Albany have criticized the REDC program, questioning whether people can clearly see the REDC grants, recipients, and results, especially job numbers. Reinvent Albany criticized the 2018 awards for only allocating roughly half of the money in the form of state grants, with the other half in Excelsior Job Credits and Tax-Free Bonds. She highlighted that the $763 million advertised by the program is not actually representative of the total grant money allocated. It called the program “essentially a publicity framework for the governor to award dozens of small and large batches of state funding from very diverse sources in a game show format.”

Hochul defended the program, stating that all the information about the projects can be found online. “It’s crystal clear where the money has gone, and how it’s been allocated,” she said, though she did admit that she wasn’t sure if the job information was available, which it is not. She sought to assure New Yorkers that she and the governor are “careful stewards of the taxpayer dollar.”

Asked about the Childcare Availability Task Force that was recently announced by the Cuomo administration, and which Hochul is co-chairing, the Lieutenant Governor said the task force is intended to develop solutions for the lack of affordable child care across the state. Addressing this need will help allow women to meet their earning potential, Hochul said. She said the task force would conduct research on how best to tackle a deficit in affordable childcare. Hochul stated that the taskforce would advocate for the inclusion of child care resources in the workplace and to reevaluate how much childcare workers are paid. Hochul added that it is nearly impossible for a single mother to raise children while paying for child care on a minimum wage, which, she said, has created a crisis.

On the minimum wage, Hochul was asked about the timeline for reaching $15 an hour for all of New York State. The program is being implemented in regional stages, with New York City set to hit $15 at the being of 2019. But the timeline for upstate is less clear, with the original schedule, which was agreed upon in the 2016 state budget that passed the current phase-in, did not include a definitive timetable. This despite the fact that Cuomo and others regularly say the state has a $15 minimum wage.

Hochul was adamant that “there is a path” that gets the wage to $15 statewide. But citing different variables in the cost of living for different regions of the state, she stated, “It will eventually get to $15 throughout the state, I believe that.”

[Listen to the full interview with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul]

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by Brendan Rose
@GothamGazette

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Hochul Previews 2019 Cuomo Administration Agenda, Defends Economic Development Programming Thu, 27 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
As City Minimum Wage Hits $15, Much to Celebrate and More To Do https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8160-as-city-minimum-wage-hits-15-much-to-celebrate-and-more-to-do https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8160-as-city-minimum-wage-hits-15-much-to-celebrate-and-more-to-do de Blasio business visit

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


They may not know, but the million-plus people who crowd into Times Square on New Year’s Eve have reason to cheer the dropping of the ball because it will also signal rising wages. Beginning December 31, 2018, New Yorkers working minimum wage jobs in the city for companies with 11-plus employees will see their hourly compensation rise to $15.

But like all events in New York City, coordination and planning are needed to make this a celebration and not a disaster. Serious questions and profound possibilities surround this policy shift. The nearly 1.5 million people making a minimum wage in New York City will see their lives change markedly for the better. Workers already making slightly over $15, meanwhile, will have the opportunity to pressure their employers to better their own interests, yielding opportunity but also potentially conflict.

These changes mean big adjustments for all players in the New York economy. However, there are some relatively simple ways that government, both municipal and state, can help the New York City workforce and its servicers stay secure and effective through the transition.
One: help businesses adapt. Businesses have little in the way of resources, tools, FAQs, and how-to sheets for adapting to the minimum wage increase, and job-seekers lack access to public materials on searching for work in the changing market, with new expectations and barriers as well as earning opportunities. There also isn’t anyone outside of Albany, and specifically not in New York City Hall, charged with monitoring how businesses and workers fare during this transition: who is struggling and in what ways, and which decisions businesses and workers are making in the short- and long-term. But, administrative changes and public synthesizing of information can go a long way towards ensuring that the $15 minimum wage is as much of a victory as it should be — for everyone.

Two: secure the funds. City and state government bureaus must provide enough funding in their contracts with social service agencies to ensure agencies can afford to pay workforce professionals a living wage. The average human service professional in New York City made only $29,600 annually (in 2015 dollars), and advocates have pushed the city and state governments for contracts that meet cost of living needs to mixed success. To make this wage raise work, the people servicing employment relationships on the ground must be able to keep up.

Three: shine more light. New York City can do better compiling and sharing information, which would make this transition feel less like a shot in the dark. Workforce agencies don't currently have data that can shed light on who is being served, in what ways, by whom, to what effect and at what cost. Moving forward with the city's common metrics initiative could illuminate who is going through workforce programs and successfully attaching to certain jobs, better equipping professionals to match job opportunities with candidates in a new market.

Finally, this wage increase is promising but poses new questions for New Yorkers. Will the availability of internship opportunities, now more expensive, decline? Will higher compensation levels create a bigger barrier to entry for those who’ve been unemployed and want to get back to work? Will firms invest more in automation?

In order to make the most of this incredible sea change for working families, it’s on us as a city to deal with these questions and broaden the horizon of these possibilities to the best of our abilities. By taking the right steps, New York City can show the world once more what it can do.

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Stacy Woodruff is the director of The Workforce Field Building Hub.

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

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As City Minimum Wage Hits $15, Much to Celebrate and More To Do Thu, 20 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Governor Cuomo Must Fulfill His Own Expressed Commitment to Lifting Wages for Struggling Workers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7981-governor-cuomo-must-fulfill-his-own-expressed-commitment-to-lifting-wages-for-struggling-workers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7981-governor-cuomo-must-fulfill-his-own-expressed-commitment-to-lifting-wages-for-struggling-workers govcuomo portauthority

Gov. Cuomo pushes for a higher Port Authority minimum wage (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


Last week, Governor Cuomo publicly called on Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Board of Commissioners to pass a higher minimum wage for airport workers. While I, other elected officials, and numerous nonprofit advocates were pleased to see this increase approved, Governor Cuomo has still not fulfilled his commitment to another vital workforce in our state, the human services sector.

Hundreds of thousands of human service employees – the vast majority of whom are contracted by the state – remain unbelievably underpaid, making approximately $23,000-$29,600 per year, with no wage increases since 2010. These rates fall well below the $19 hourly wage the governor called for at the Port Authority, and are also below the average income required to meet the basic living needs of a family. The human services sector is a group comprised of approximately 332,000 New Yorkers – 80% of whom are women, and 50% individuals of color – who provide life changing services to New Yorkers from all walks of life, and are essential to our communities.

These are workers who care for our children, assist those with mental health issues, ensure survivors of domestic violence can rebuild their lives, and care for our aging relatives. Yet they are left with a wage that does not provide economic security of their own. For years, the work of employees in the nonprofit sector has been undervalued; the salaries in the sector are lower than comparable positions in other fields, many of the positions require a college degree but do not compensate accordingly, and stagnant wages result in high turnover.

Not only have state contracts failed to fully fund the wages of these employees, but Governor Cuomo refuses to include common-sense cost of living adjustments (COLA) that would allow these employees to earn a livable wage.

We have fought every single year since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011 for a statutory cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for human services employees. To this end, our chief executive has consistently and uncompromisingly deferred from providing any support in this initiative. This inaction has cost the human services workforce almost $500 million in lost wages. We have seen a largely consistent public commitment from the governor in his support of raising wages across New York. This was demonstrated in his remarks last week, in his championing of the $15 minimum wage, and through his outspoken support of pay equity for women. In light of these strong positions, we expect Governor Cuomo to apply this effort to increase the very limited salaries of human service workers.

When this wage increase for Port Authority workers was enacted, the governor stated that “it is paramount that we have a well-trained, secure, stable workforce…Invest in your most important asset, which is your workforce. Fairness, diligence, good business practices all bring one to the same obvious conclusion. Invest in the workforce, raise the minimum wage to $19 over five years. It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do."

We agree, Governor Cuomo. It is time for our state’s leader to make good on his own words, and fund the human services COLA in the next state budget to ensure living wages for this workforce which we our state depends on so heavily in order to build strong communities.

The governor said it best himself: “It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do.”

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Andrew Hevesi is a member of the New York State Assembly, representing parts of Queens in Assembly District 28. On Twitter @AndrewHevesi.

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

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Governor Cuomo Must Fulfill His Own Expressed Commitment to Lifting Wages for Struggling Workers Tue, 09 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7280-de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7280-de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality de Blasio equality shaking hands crowd

Mayor de Blasio at an announcement (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

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Bill de Blasio ran for Mayor in 2013 as an unabashed progressive, painting the image of a city cleaved in an even two by its wealth distribution. There existed, he explained, a relatively small class of New Yorkers at the top holding the majority of the city’s wealth and making immense sums of income each year. The rest, a large underclass of New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet, left behind during the boom of the Bloomberg years and decades of insufficient federal policy, especially on taxes and redistribution of wealth. De Blasio envisioned, with lofty rhetoric and ambitious policies, bridging that gap and pulling up those at the bottom while asking those doing very well to chip in a bit more.

He was elected overwhelmingly.

“New York has faced fiscal collapse, a crime epidemic, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. But now, in our time, we face a different crisis – an inequality crisis,” de Blasio declared in his inaugural address as mayor on January 1, 2014. “It’s not often the stuff of banner headlines in our daily newspapers. It’s a quiet crisis, but one no less pernicious than those that have come before.”

Equity became the foundation of the de Blasio administration, enshrined in virtually every policy coming from City Hall and, more comprehensively, in the OneNYC roadmap for the city’s future, which sets poverty reduction and other goals to fulfill de Blasio’s promises.

Whether it’s affordable housing, sustainability, economic development, community infrastructure, or education, the administration has sought to build equity, though de Blasio has at times been accused of not going far enough by those who had immense expectations of him. Tellingly, under de Blasio, the annual Mayor’s Management Report, which is mandated by law and details the accomplishments of more than 40 city agencies on hundreds of performance indicators, included for the first time evaluations of agency efforts for their “focus on equity.”

With data showing an acute poverty problem in New York City, amid its immense wealth and gleaming towers, de Blasio sought to drastically increase opportunities available to poor, working class, and middle class people, and reduce the number of people in or near poverty, a rate that stood at roughly 21 percent -- or 1.74 million people -- when he took office.

De Blasio set the city on a path that he believes will reach the OneNYC goal of pulling 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty or near poverty by 2025. And though the results of many of his policy actions cannot easily be gauged in the short term, there are a few clear indicators that the city’s approach is working. Notably, between 2014 and the end of 2017, about 281,000 New Yorkers will have left poverty or near-poverty simply due to an increase in the minimum wage to $11. That wage, set by state policy that de Blasio and his allies have helped influence, is set to jump to $13 at the start of 2018 and hit $15 per hour in New York City on December 31, 2018 for companies with 11 or more employees (the wages will be $12 then $14 for smaller companies).

According to five-year estimates from the American Community Survey for 2011-2015, about 20.6 percent of New York City residents lived below the federal poverty level. The latest one-year ACS supplemental estimates for 2016, released September 14, show improvement. People living under the poverty level in New York City, measured by the federal threshold, fell to 18.9 percent or 1.59 million New Yorkers, itself still an astonishingly large number. And, the number remained marginally higher than the pre-recession poverty level of 18.5 percent in 2008 and far higher than the national poverty level of 14 percent in 2016.

The federal measure only takes into account pre-tax cash income. New York City has its own poverty measure which also accounts for non-cash benefits, tax credits, and housing subsidies, and sets a threshold that includes housing costs to judge poverty more accurately. By city estimates, poverty in the city is at its lowest since the Great Recession, at 19.9 percent in 2015, down from 20.7 in 2013. The city’s data does not account for the latest ACS microdata yet.

Although the mayor has little control over the broad contours of the economy, he has been able to use the significant authority at the local level to enact a multi-faceted approach to lifting up wages, giving low-wage earners better opportunities, and enhancing access to city services for New York’s most disadvantaged residents.

In his first term, de Blasio has invested heavily in early childhood education and the universal pre-kindergarten program, his signature achievement, is serving nearly 70,000 children in 2017 (up from 20,000 prior to the UPK expansion) and is estimated by the city to have put $1.4 billion back in the pockets of New Yorkers who do not have to pay for child care. About 500,000 people were covered by the city’s expansion of paid sick leave in 2014, especially helping low-wage workers become more likely to keep their jobs if they get sick and need to miss work.

And though the city’s homelessness crisis continues to be blight on the mayor’s record, he has taken steps to stem the tide by funding free legal assistance for tenants in housing court and increasing rental subsidies for low-income families. In the lead up to Election Day, de Blasio announced an expansion of his affordable housing program, from a target of 200,000 affordable rental units over 10 years to 300,000 over 12.

On Tuesday, the mayor said he would also double the number of units planned for seniors from 15,000 to 30,000. This, after having adjusted his housing plan earlier this year to increase the number of deeply affordable units and those for seniors.

De Blasio has increased funding and attention to NYCHA, the public housing authority home to about half a million New Yorkers, while launching a community parks initiative and a variety of other programs aimed at equity across neighborhoods and demographics. IDNYC, the city’s municipal identity program with 863,464 card holders, allowed more New Yorkers, particularly undocumented immigrants, to avail of city services. These are among other initiatives, both large and small, that the administration has set in motion to increase opportunity, especially for those struggling.

Most significantly in terms of income inequality, de Blasio made a concerted effort in his first term to push for a higher minimum wage at the local and state level. The increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 in 2013 to $11 has had its intended consequences. Last year, the mayor approved an increase to a $15 minimum wage, by the end of 2018, for all city employees and nonprofit human services contractors, the groups for which he has discretion. He also instituted a paid family leave program for 20,000 city workers whose contracts are not part of labor union collective bargaining. New York State followed in the city’s footsteps by announcing its $15 minimum wage program, which is phased in faster in New York City than several other parts of the state, and a paid family leave program that begins its phase-in in 2018.

“De Blasio deserves a lot of credit for that, and it appears to be having a pronounced effect in reducing poverty,” said James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, of the minimum wage efforts.

Other than the paid sick leave law and universal pre-kindergarten, according to Parrott, a chief accomplishment of the administration has been the settling of 99.1 percent of expired municipal union contracts, which gave many low- and moderate-income workers wage increases. Parrott also cited other positive developments, including new labor protections for freelancers and the creation of an Office of Labor Standards at the Department of Consumer Affairs. “I’m not gonna give [de Blasio] all the credit but the things he has done have led to some pretty remarkable improvements in wages and incomes of the bottom 30-40 percent of the income distribution since 2013,” Parrott said.

Parrott also noted that there are limitations in judging progress from the federal poverty measure or from the Gini coefficient, a statistical tool used by the U.S. Census to measure income inequality. Instead, Parrott prefers to use income tax data, which he said shows a more complete picture of wealth distribution, combined with other data measures on wages and family income. All these together, he said, have shown “the best improvements in the last 30 to 40 years, it could even be 50 years if we had comparable data to make a careful comparison.”

An encouraging trend, evinced from 2016 census data, is that median household income in 2016  was $58,856, up from $56,457 in 2015, and surpassing the pre-recession peak level of $56,982 in 2008, according to an analysis by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. Median incomes for families with children grew at 10.4 percent between 2015-2016, outpacing overall household income growth. Black and Latino New Yorkers benefited from the largest decreases in poverty rates -- nearly 2 percentage points each -- and poverty fell across racial and ethnic groups. The report did point out some worrying trends. Poverty on Staten Island, for instance, was 3.2 points higher than pre-recession levels; income increases were concentrated in Manhattan and Brooklyn; and the gap in median household income for racial and ethnic groups, which expanded during the recession, has continued to grow.

Jennifer March, executive director of CCCNY, praised numerous policies enacted by the de Blasio administration that are “positioned as vehicles to combat income inequality,” including universal prekindergarten and its planned expansion to three-year-olds, the paid sick leave expansion, the minimum wage increase, the recent implementation of free universal school lunch and universal after-school programs for middle school students. She also commended initiatives such as the piloting of child savings accounts, and the overall efforts at creating affordable housing and rent freezes for rent-regulated tenants.

“Those things combined really suggest that he has an ambitious multi-pronged approach to help families and New Yorkers afford to live here and to reduce the gap between those that are earning more and those that are really struggling,” she said.

In 2015, de Blasio launched an ill-fated attempt to influence the national conversation around income inequality through a nonprofit organization that brought together progressive elected officials, leaders, and celebrities from across the country. The nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, fizzled out after an unsuccessful bid to host a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in late 2015, and de Blasio’s message about economic inequality and the need to put it at the forefront of the Democratic platform was largely subsumed by the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, de Blasio has doubled down on his agenda, pushing multiple proposed tax increases on wealthy New Yorkers -- which would require action by the State -- to fund items such as affordable housing for seniors and subsidized transit fares for low-income commuters. De Blasio has regularly criticized the Hillary Clinton campaign for not focusing on economic populism enough.

As he heads toward an expected second term, de Blasio has announced a shift to actively creating better paying jobs in burgeoning economic sectors and building talent pipelines to ensure that New York City residents are the beneficiaries of city-funded economic growth. He acknowledged, in a sobering State of the City speech this year, that “people are so fundamentally challenged by the affordability crisis that this city simply must do more and must do it quickly.”  

“So many people love this city. But here is a blunt truth,” he said. “They love it, but that doesn't mean it's easy to live here. Right? For a lot of seniors, this is not an easy place to live. For a lot of young people just starting out, it's not so easy. For folks struggling to make ends meet, this can be a punishing environment.”

De Blasio announced the broad contours of a plan to use city resources to spur the growth of 100,000 jobs paying at least $50,000 over a 10-year period. A few months later, he and his team unveiled a more detailed plan, which was met with snickers about a lack of detail and questions about its necessity, or whether it is more of an election year gimmick.

As many people evaluate the mayor in his reelection bid, the stubborn nature of income inequality and the fact that so many New Yorkers continue to struggle to live secure, decent lives raise questions about de Blasio’s ability to deliver on his core 2013 promises. The mayor has largely shifted his lens, at least when speaking publicly, from income inequality and toward efforts to lift up those at the bottom.

De Blasio is, in part, a victim of his own rhetoric, says Alex Armlovich, adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. “That wasn’t a good promise to make on the mayoral level,” said Armlovich, of the mayor’s commitment to fight the “tale of two cities” that he evoked on the campaign trail. “Inequality is a national issue. At the local level, [population] displacement and retention effects are going to swamp your efforts to reduce inequality.”

In a report released earlier this month, Armlovich noted that income inequality as judged by the Gini coefficient has in fact remained flat under de Blasio and that changes in income inequality were affected by compensation trends in the financial sector rather than by the city’s policies. The Gini measures income distribution on a scale of 0 to 1, and the higher it is, the higher the inequality. The city’s Gini score in 2016 was about 0.55. Armlovich pointed out that city policies that help poor New Yorkers live in the city, such as more affordable housing, naturally increase the Gini, even though they are laudable policy goals, because they wind up keeping many low-income people from moving elsewhere.

Debate over the use of the Gini notwithstanding, Armlovich said the mayor should focus on providing equitable services across the five boroughs. “That’s what you can hold the mayor accountable for, because the mayor doesn’t control the economy,” he said. “His whole mistake in all of this was making himself politically accountable for a statistic that he doesn’t control.”

In an interview with The Daily News editorial board, the mayor insisted that the static Gini score was not reflective of a failure by his administration. “I'm very comfortable saying when I think something that I've done has not worked, or hasn't worked well enough,” he said. “But on this one, because we have seen job growth, we have seen wage growth, we have seen people getting out of poverty, we certainly have tangible evidence of reducing people's economic burdens. I think the central question is, were we going to give folks, low-income folks, working class people, middle class people, all of whom felt economically stuck, were we gonna give them more upward mobility? That's the central question in New York. It's also the central question in the country. Here we've been able to prove, not just because of public sector policies, but sustainability because of public sector policies, that we can increase upward mobility. That doesn't answer the question about the rich getting richer. Now, again, how do you address that? In my view, most notably, through tax policy.”

Indeed, income is one measure of inequality, and de Blasio has consistently sought to go further, whether in his attention to NYCHA or his parks or community schools efforts. He’s increased the city’s annual operating budget by about 18% since taking office, up to its current $85 billion, in large part to expand services and add to the public payroll, including thousands more early education teachers, police officers, and others. While some can aptly criticize this budget growth and others question how effective additional spending has been in certain areas, there is little question that de Blasio has heavily invested taxpayer money in building equity.

The CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance devised the NYC Equality Score, a tool for a more holistic view of inequality in the city, first published in 2015, with 95 indicators across six areas: economy, education, health, housing, justice, and services. Out of a possible 100, the city’s 2016 score was 46.01, up from 45.45 in 2015. “These scores suggest that NYC continues to be characterized by vast inequalities, and that when looking at the city as a whole, little has changed,” the report reads. “Generally speaking this score means that overall, the disadvantaged groups represented here are almost twice as likely as those not disadvantaged to experience negative outcomes in fundamental areas of life, as measured by the Equality Indicators.”

“It’s such a daunting challenge,” said City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the general welfare committee, which tackles with issues including poverty and homelessness (and was once chaired by de Blasio himself), “because you’re dealing with broader economic issues, you’re dealing with the persistent challenge of lack of affordable housing, and you’re dealing with the issues in Albany.” Levin was referring to state government, where Republicans hold power over the state Senate and often put the kibosh on progressive legislation floated by Democrats who control the Assembly and supported by de Blasio. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who de Blasio often feuds with, is inconsistent in his support for policies backed by the mayor, regularly opposing any tax increases.

Levin, a fellow Brooklyn Democrat who has endorsed de Blasio for reelection, said the mayor’s dedication on equity is “indisputable.” “This mayor and administration are using every tool in their toolbox,” he said, lamenting their inability to affect larger trends that can be influenced much more strongly by either state or federal policy. “I expect that over the next four years, this continues to be a priority.”

De Blasio does face significant challenges ahead. Federal policy proposals on taxes and healthcare threaten to blow holes in the state and city budgets, and could shred the city’s social safety net. Large-scale budget cuts at a time when the city’s budget has ballooned by billions of dollars would put the mayor in a tough spot, despite the significant rainy day funds built up over the last four years.

“What remains to be fixed is the highly regressive nature of the local tax structure, and mainly the property tax system,” said Parrott, of the New School. “He has to really work on it to figure out how to build the alliance in Albany. And he’s gotta keep making tweaks to his policies on affordable housing, homelessness, and education.” De Blasio has promised to push property tax reform if he’s reelected but has not provided specific details for addressing a system that is seen as disadvantageous to many middle-class New Yorkers of color because of how assessments are made in part based on geography.

CCCNY’s March said the mayor should advocate for deepening the earned income tax credit and the child care tax credit, both of which bolster the finances of working families and would require the state to pass legislation. “I think the challenge he will face moving forward, assuming he’s reelected, is the federal context in which we’re working,” she said, noting for instance that 900,000 children in New York rely on some form of public health insurance, which face proposed federal cuts. She also stressed the need for increased investment in affordable housing and reducing family homelessness. “One of the biggest conundrums will be that incomes have not kept pace with rising rents in the city,” she said, pointing to a challenge frequently cited by de Blasio and his top aides, like social services Commissioner Steven Banks.

“Many of the things that he started in his first term, we will see the real benefits of years from now,” March added. “Whether that’s universal pre-K, universal school lunch, or universal after-school for middle school, all of those things. It’s the consistent access that populations have to programs that are designed to promote school preparedness or reduce hunger or promote a college-oriented identity, over time we will see the results of these things.”

Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips declined to comment for this article. Emails and messages to spokespersons for the Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services went unanswered.

A Quinnipiac University Poll from July 31 showed that a majority of New Yorkers, 63 percent, disapproved of the way de Blasio has handled poverty and homelessness while only 29 percent approved. In eight polls conducted by Quinnipiac between 2015 and 2017, it was the worst appraisal the mayor received on the issue, likely due to the problems de Blasio has had in controlling and reducing homelessness.

Another particular issue related to poverty and inequality where de Blasio has disappointed advocates has been his lack of direct support for the “Fair Fares” proposal, which would provide half-price MetroCards to 800,000 low-income New Yorkers.

The proposal was created by two advocacy groups, the Community Service Society and Riders Alliance. De Blasio refused to fund the proposal in the city budget and wouldn’t support a pilot program floated by the City Council either, instead insisting the state-run MTA should provide the funds to those riding its services. Eventually, in his “Fair Fix” proposal for funding mass transit through a tax increase on the highest-earning New Yorkers -- which would need state-level approval -- the mayor included a set-aside for Fair Fares, which he called an “ultimate act of justice” despite his hesitance to identify the roughly $200 million to cover it annually. It’s unlikely that the state Senate, run by Republicans, or Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who largely opposes tax increases, would approve the so-called millionaires tax in 2018, which is a state-level election year.

“That would have a significant impact on low-income New Yorkers, first financially, but also by helping them access better jobs, training, things that would increase their upward mobility,” said Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy, CSS. “It’s unfathomable to us why [Mayor de Blasio] wouldn’t want to do something that’s at the core of what he says his administration is about. That’s why people voted for him. That’s a practical step that would make an enormous difference in people’s lives.”

Council Member Levin holds out hope that the balance of the state Legislature would shift in next year’s election cycle towards Democrats who are friendlier to New York City and its progressive priorities. “Hopefully some of the dynamics shift and we can move the dial in a more accelerated way,” he said.

Jesse Laymon, director of policy and advocacy at the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, an organization comprised of more than 150 workforce providers, praised the de Blasio administration for leveraging economic growth into lifting wages at the bottom of the economic ladder, but nonetheless had pointed criticism for their policies. “It’s one thing to make it less terrible to be poor in New York, and I think they’ve done a good job of making it less terrible to be poor, but they have not done a great job of making it easier to get out of poverty,” he said. “And that’s really the goal that they should focus more attention on in the second term.”

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This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality Tue, 31 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
In Trump Era, Workers Will Demand New York City & State Step Up to Defend Them https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6667-in-trump-era-workers-will-demand-new-york-city-state-step-up-to-defend-them https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6667-in-trump-era-workers-will-demand-new-york-city-state-step-up-to-defend-them mtr pic somos hermanas kid march

photo: Make The Road New York


The symbolism of Donald Trump’s nomination of fast-food CEO Andy Puzder for U.S. Secretary of Labor could not be clearer: at a time when fast food workers are leading the fight for fair pay and dignified working conditions in this country, President-elect Trump has decided to declare war on the Fight for $15 movement. And here in New York, workers like me are ready to fight back.

Puzder has fought attempts to raise the minimum wage, argued against expanding eligibility for overtime pay, and supports repealing the Affordable Care Act. At a time when corporations have been working hard to fight minimum wage increases and roll back workers’ rights through forced arbitration of employee grievances, misclassifying workers, and automation, they could find no better ally in harming workers than Puzder.

Like President-elect Trump, Puzder peddles his preferred policies as trickle-down-economics: more money for CEOs equals more jobs for working people. But these ideas have been discredited for decades -- they’re the reason that wages for workers like me have stagnated for so long. And, they’re rooted in the offensive assumption that some people -- service workers, immigrants, and people of color -- deserve to live in poverty no matter how hard they work, while corporate CEOs deserve to get rich off their labor.

A Puzder appointment is bad news for all working people, but the situation is even more precarious for immigrant workers, who already experience on-the-job exploitation like wage theft at triple the rate of the rest of the workforce. A CEO-led Department of Labor, coupled with the nativist agenda of Donald Trump, sends a clear message to employers to ramp up a strategy they have long-used to try to subjugate immigrant workers: weaponizing immigration status to retaliate and intimidate.

Immigrant workers in New York have been leading the labor movement for decades, most recently winning historic increases in the state minimum wage, some of the strongest legal protections against wage theft in the country, and collective bargaining rights in industries, like carwashes, considered “unorganizable.” We remain ready ready to fight, but we will need energetic allies in our city and state governments and creative new strategies to ensure that we protect against the worst of what comes out of Washington, D.C. and continue to win victories closer to home.

First on the agenda will be making sure that the state’s $15 minimum wage victory becomes a reality for all New Yorkers, especially those who will be most vulnerable during a Trump presidency. This means shortening the timetable for reaching $15 upstate, raising tipped workers to the full minimum wage, and implementing new strategies for combating wage theft and employee misclassification. Workers, especially low-wage workers, also need fair scheduling rights in order to better plan their lives and support their families; legislation has been introduced at the City level and should be explored throughout the state.

There’s an old labor movement saying that sometimes management is the best organizer, meaning a bad boss can be the best incentive to organize. While working people in New York, and throughout the country, certainly have our work cut out for us under a Trump administration, Andrew Puzder’s offensive agenda could make him our best organizer yet. We will fight, and we will win.

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Daniel Cortéz is a member of Make the Road New York (MRNY), which, with New York Communities for Change, is hosting a workers’ forum with leading government officials on Wednesday, December 14 at 7pm at New York Law School to discuss how to defend economic security for immigrant workers under the Trump administration.

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

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In Trump Era, Workers Will Demand New York City & State Step Up to Defend Them Tue, 13 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Assessing the Aftermath: Top Takeaways for NYC from 2016 Albany Session https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6421-assessing-the-aftermath-top-takeaways-for-nyc-from-2016-albany-session https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6421-assessing-the-aftermath-top-takeaways-for-nyc-from-2016-albany-session de blasio cuomo 2014 presser

De Blasio and Cuomo in 2014; photo via The Governor's Office


Mayor Bill de Blasio has made it clear that he feels like he’s often fighting for New York City’s interests against both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Senate Republicans, with Assembly Democrats as his key allies. In his initial statement reacting to the recent end of the 2016 legislative session in Albany, de Blasio put a thank you to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and company at the forefront, never mentioned Cuomo, and gave his take on what he assessed as a mixed bag for the city.

For his part, Cuomo argues that the city made out quite well and, in harshly worded statements to the media, his aides say that the governor, raised in Queens, very much looks out for the city, but has little respect for the mayor. It can often be hard to separate the mayor from his agenda and the interests of the city, and in assessing the outcomes of the legislative session for New York City, it’s clear that de Blasio’s rivalries with Cuomo and Senate Republicans affected policy decisions.

Still, while de Blasio did see several disappointing results out of Albany this year, like another one-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, there was a lot for the city to celebrate, including wage and benefit legislation that the mayor and his fellow Democrats had wanted. The city appears to have made out much better in the state budget than in the post-budget portion of the session and final deals reached in mid-June.

There are long lists of outcomes that de Blasio and his allies are pleased with and not; but what the six-month session made abundantly clear is that state lawmakers, including the governor, are nowhere near ready to relinquish the substantial powers they wield over the city. The session was marked by important policy debates; political rivalries; and the news of an investigation into de Blasio, his aides and allies, that originated with the state Board of Elections’ enforcement counsel. That counsel, Risa Sugarman, is a former Cuomo aide, leading to finger pointing and conspiracy theories from de Blasio - drama added to the already-fraught dynamics.

As de Blasio regroups over the summer and state legislators prepare for fall elections, a look back at the 2016 legislative session in Albany shows the following top ten takeaways for New York City:

1. Gov. Cuomo is still able to bend Senate Republicans to pass progressive legislation. Mayor de Blasio and his progressive allies may have been somewhat shocked when the state budget, passed at the beginning of April, included a staggered minimum wage increase that could eventually reach $15 throughout the state and a paid family leave program. Both policies won Cuomo national accolades and appeared to many to be his attempt to coopt de Blasio’s position as the top progressive in the state. To get both things done Cuomo had to convince and cajole Senate Republicans to go along with two policies opposed by many in their base (he’d done this before, of course, with marriage equality and the SAFE Act). The minimum wage and paid family leave policies will have a major impact on New York City workers, especially those de Blasio has sought to lift up.

2. De Blasio is Cuomo’s enemy and Senate Republicans’ boogeyman. It was clear early in session that Senate Republicans saw de Blasio as a perfect foil, but it wasn’t clear how much ammo they would actually have or far they would go to deny him success in Albany. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan held fast in his stance on mayoral control of schools and in the end de Blasio was only granted a second straight one-year extension. After de Blasio’s complaints on the subject, Cuomo shot back that the mayor was “lucky” to get one year. De Blasio had harsh words toward the governor at a recent press conference and Cuomo’s press office has been highly critical of the mayor.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are outraged by revelations around de Blasio’s 2014 efforts to flip the Senate to Democrats and plan to tie 2016 Democratic opponents to the mayor in most contested Senate races this summer and fall. Voters in contested districts are likely to hear a lot about the “corrupt, liberal” mayor who is looking to control the Senate and all of state government, to make the whole state like New York City. It’s unlikely Cuomo will do much to help Senate Democrats, something de Blasio has been critical of in the past and in recent comments. Senate control has major implications for New York policy-making, of course, as de Blasio recently discussed in an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News, where he said that New York could be like California, if Cuomo was to push for that.

3. Mayoral control of schools will be an election-year issue for de Blasio. Winning a one-year extension of mayoral control means de Blasio will have to look to Albany for another extension next year - as he faces reelection. With his poll numbers dropping and corruption investigations swirling it becomes more likely he will face a primary challenge. Expect de Blasio’s handling of schools to be a hot topic in Albany and in the mayoral race. De Blasio’s critics continue to point to his opposition to charter schools and raise questions about his handling of the city’s most troubled schools.

4. De Blasio owes Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The Democratic Assembly Speaker from the Bronx went to bat for de Blasio in the chamber’s budget proposal - pushing a six-year extension of mayoral control of schools - and later appeared to hold up budget negotiations while fighting for renewal, until de Blasio relented to the compromise that was reached. In 2009 Heastie was the lead Assembly sponsor of a bill that would have crippled mayoral control, so it doesn’t appear he was fighting for the renewal on principle. De Blasio will have to continue to nurture his relationship with Heastie as many other Democrat legislators express a similar refrain: “it isn’t easy being the mayor’s friend.”

On a variety of issues it is clear that Heastie and his fellow Assembly Democrats from the city are the city’s biggest advocates and the mayor’s top allies. In reacting to the end of session, de Blasio released a statement saying, “With the leadership and commitment of Speaker Heastie and his Assembly colleagues, New York City secured a series of important State commitments that will improve lives across our five boroughs.”

5. State leaders appear increasingly interested in curtailing the city’s autonomy. In reaction to the city’s plan to impose a five cent fee on paper and plastic bag shopping bags, the Senate moved legislation that would have banned any locality from instituting such a law. The Assembly was headed in that direction but Heastie cut a deal with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to delay implementation of the plan so that the Council could amend it to the Assembly’s liking and explore other changes.

Cuomo has moved to limit the city’s ability to implement its affordable housing plans; instituted greater oversight of city homeless shelters; decided to open new state police barracks near City Hall; and created a new agency in the budget that could allow him to take over major capital projects. Critics see the new agency as an end run around the MTA board.

6. The feud between Cuomo and de Blasio leaves affordable and supportive housing in an unpredictable state. Cuomo won $1.9 billion in funding for supportive and affordable housing in the state budget, but only $150 million of those funds were released in an agreement with legislative leaders by the end of session. Affordable and supportive housing advocates and providers say that without a long-term plan that details how the cash will be allocated in years to come it will be hard for builders to get funding for new construction.

Additionally, the 421-a tax abatement program meant to spur developers to build rental housing with mandated affordable housing included was not renewed. De Blasio continues to insist that a proposal he put forth should be adopted, while Cuomo says the building trades unions must be included in negotiating a deal. The mayor’s affordable housing plans are at risk without a new 421-a program.

7. The Assembly went to bat for the MTA. The governor’s executive budget proposal would have put off funding the MTA’s capital plan until the MTA ran out of current funding streams. The Assembly fought and won $2.9 billion in funding for the capital plan this year. It will be the first of four annual appropriations that will end up totalling $7.3 billion.

8. Major New York City-based infrastructure projects are on the move. It appears that major infrastructure projects, both inside and outside of New York City, will be key to Gov. Cuomo’s legacy. In the city, the state is moving ahead with improving JFK Airport, redeveloping LaGuardia Airport and Penn Station, expanding the Javits Convention Center, and building new MetroNorth stations in the Bronx.

9. Education funding debates continue, with more money headed to New York City. While many in New York City, including de Blasio, continue to call on the state to meet its obligations under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling, according to Gov. Cuomo’s office, “The FY 2017 Budget provides $24.8 billion in School Aid, the highest amount in history and a 6.5 percent increase over last year.” Much of it is headed to New York City, home to more than 40 percent of the state’s population. As part of the mayoral control extension deal, though, the city is now required to make its individual school funding formulas more available publicly.

10. Top city priorities left out. Less on de Blasio’s agenda, but more on those of city-based state legislators, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are issues like criminal justice reform and the DREAM Act, which saw no movement this year.

Criminal justice issues were not a priority for Cuomo or Senate Republicans. While Cuomo's January State of the State address included mentions of the campaign to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility and efforts to encode into state law a special prosecutor in the case of police shootings of unarmed civilians, neither appeared to ever become a major priority for Cuomo, who focused on minimum wage and paid family leave at the start of session and a variety of other issues after the budget, while also dealing with the developing federal investigation into his economic development programs. Both criminal justice reform initiatives, among others, are largely popular in the Assembly and New York City, but not in the Senate.

The DREAM Act, another priority of New York City Democrats, won’t pass as long as Senate Republicans hold the chamber - or until Cuomo forces it through: Advocates for legislation to give undocumented students access to tuition assistance haven’t given up their fight but they know Senate Republicans have touted their opposition to the bill successfully during the last few election cycles. They also know that Cuomo can move mountains when he wants to - the governor had included the DREAM Act in his budget bills, but has not campaigned on the issue since his 2014 reelection bid.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed writing.

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Assessing the Aftermath: Top Takeaways for NYC from 2016 Albany Session Wed, 29 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo’s 2016 Wins Shaped by Progressive Forces, Electoral Lessons https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6274-cuomo-s-2016-wins-shaped-by-progressive-forces-electoral-lessons https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6274-cuomo-s-2016-wins-shaped-by-progressive-forces-electoral-lessons cuomo clinton et al celebrate

Gov. Cuomo celebrates new progressie policies (photo: Don Pollard, Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched himself onto the national political stage this month by orchestrating a budget deal that made New York the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage and a paid family leave program. With Vice President Joe Biden at his side the governor pushed family leave; weeks later, Cuomo signed the package of “economic justice” legislation at a celebratory rally with Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. He was subsequently congratulated by President Obama.

All the while, labor union members cheered the governor who had, finally, made their agenda his.

Unlike other major policy wins from earlier in his tenure that sprung the governor into the national spotlight, like marriage equality and gun control, the minimum wage and family leave bills speak directly to socioeconomic issues that some of the state’s liberal base felt Cuomo, a Democrat, had been insensitive to. Cuomo had indeed rejected as flights of fancy those very policies only months before announcing campaigns to support them, first saying that they would be non-starters with Republicans controlling one house of the Legislature, then pursuing them with the intensity Cuomo has given to his must-wins.

Cuomo’s path to his moment as progressive trailblazer on economic issues was a winding one, mystifying some, including those calling political opportunism, while others point to the influence of four powerful figures: Mayor Bill de Blasio, gubernatorial challenger Zephyr Teachout, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and Democratic voters who could deliver the governor a third term in 2018.

On the way to a second term, Cuomo found himself in positions generally foreign to him: out-leveraged and outworked. First, Cuomo was humbled by the Working Families Party as it sought a 2014 alternative to a governor many of its members felt had betrayed their union members and progressive mission. Aided by de Blasio and making promises many now feel he did not intend to keep, Cuomo convinced the WFP to call off its third party challenge from Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout.

But then, the unknown, liberal Teachout, took Cuomo on in the Democratic primary, where the incumbent governor lost 30 counties and took home only 60 percent of the vote. Cuomo entered term two significantly weakened.

For Cuomo, known for crippling his rivals and bullying major organizations into submission, these were positions he never wanted to be in again.

It's a situation that insiders, pundits, and elected officials see as having given birth to the 2016 political environment in which Cuomo would fully embrace the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign and launch his own paid family leave push, invoking the name of his recently deceased father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, in both efforts. Cuomo traveled the state in an RV plastered with the Fight for $15 slogan, picking up the mantle of an effort led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its labor and liberal allies that Cuomo has often distanced himself from on economic issues.

“The original policy rests with de Blasio,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, of a liberal agenda. “The timing coincides with Teachout. But it leads to the governor deciding to tack left.”

Critics, even some supporters, see the governor’s leftward lurch as evidence of political opportunism.

“He doesn't give a damn about getting people out of poverty,” said Ed Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “He cares about his own power. He had to do it to secure his political power, but in the end that kind of governing comes back to bite you.”

Cox is speaking at a time when state Senate Republicans went along with Cuomo’s minimum wage program, albeit a “calibrated” one, as Cuomo called it, where they were able to lengthen and regionalize the phase-in.

Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who has announced an exploratory committee for a 2018 gubernatorial run, also noticed the governor’s very public change of opinion. “You would have to talk to him to understand his motivation, but arguably the most persuasive critic against a $15 minimum wage is Governor Cuomo five minutes ago,” Gibson said.

As Gibson prepares a potential bid to unseat Cuomo, the governor appears to have a clearer picture of the base he needs to withstand such a challenge.

In Spring 2014, heads of the union-backed, left-leaning Working Families Party were ready to hand the powerful incumbent governor their endorsement but they had underestimated rank-and-file party members, activists turned off by what they saw as a fiscally conservative, transactional governor who cozied up to Senate Republicans, tussled with public employees unions, and generally thumbed his nose at the Democratic base.

The governor appeared by video during the WFP convention in late May 2014, acceding to a list of party demands in an endorsement deal brokered by de Blasio. When party members weren’t satisfied Cuomo was forced to follow up with a phone call promising to back a Democratic Senate, a higher minimum wage, and a push to enact the DREAM Act.

Cuomo looked forward to an easy reelection, whether he actually planned to follow through on his pledges to the WFP or not. But Teachout and many in the WFP didn’t get the memo, and the Democratic primary that followed was bruising and embarrassing for Cuomo as his campaign took on a bunker mentality while Teachout worked the base across the state.

“If you needed any more evidence that in New York state leaders of organizations have no control over their followers you just need to look at that situation,” said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “The governor thought he was dealing with an interest group and he had won their support, but a lot of their members weren’t happy with the governor and in fact an awful lot of voters shared their view.”

And what was that view exactly? “People’s lives aren’t good and they want them to be better,” said Sherrill, referring to working class voters.

It was a message that Cuomo appeared slow to pick up on - he backed a variety of wage increases but balked at de Blasio’s plan to raise the minimum wage and allow the city to set its own in February of 2014, saying it would be “chaotic” to have different wages across the state. “God bless them — shoot for the stars,” Cuomo said sarcastically in March, 2015, dismissing the Assembly Democrats’ plan to raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018. During a public cabinet meeting in February, 2015, Cuomo said the Legislature had “no appetite” for paid family leave.

Cuomo ran in 2010 as a leader who could provide competence to a capital that had seen one gubernatorial term split between Eliot Spitzer’s partisan bickering and scandal and David Paterson’s chaotic tenure characterized by a power struggle in the Senate and more scandal. The state was still reeling from the financial crisis and accustomed to late budgets and tax increases. Cuomo used his first term to prove he had a firm hand on the state’s finances and operations, negotiating tough deals with unions, delivering on-time budgets, instituting a property tax cap, and even delivering on socially liberal policy like marriage equality. But pundits say Cuomo missed a sea change in the electorate.

“There's some academic research that indicates legislators misestimate their constituents’ thinking,” said Sherrill. “They tend to believe they are more conservative than they really are. So when confronted with public opinion from their district they are shocked how further left [constituents] really are. I think that’s what happened to the governor. He had no idea public opinion had shifted the way it had - and it was not just the governor. The good politician that he is, he made a wise strategic adjustment.”

Howie Hawkins, who challenged Cuomo on the Green Party line in both 2010 and 2014, said he agrees with Sherrill. “I generally think constituents are more liberal than their representatives think, and I think the poll in this case being the votes in the primary and general elections showed [Cuomo] his mistake.”

Cuomo’s “adjustment” involved a change in agenda and messaging. Suddenly the governor who was known for dismissing the “poetry” of campaigning that his father so embraced took to the stump using lines from his father’s famous speech from the 1984 Democratic National Convention:

“But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.”

The younger Cuomo used the speech excerpt in a television campaign for his wage push, leading to the official Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, launched by Cuomo and labor leaders. The language and imagery mirrored the “Tale of Two Cities” motif de Blasio used for his 2013 mayoral campaign.

Hawkins, who told Gotham Gazette he is prepared to run for Governor again depending on the circumstances, said he doesn’t believe Cuomo has changed his general approach to governing. “I think he’s making gestures, but look at the budget - it is still fiscal austerity, especially cities and towns. There are unfunded mandates and lack of aid from the state, and while he has provided more money for education it is less than the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement,” Hawkins said, referring to the 2006 court decision by which New York City is still owed billions according to advocates. “When [Assembly Speaker Carl] Heastie proposed a slightly progressive income tax he just rejected it. So he is not dealing with basic fiscal structure.”

Hawkins said he believes Cuomo’s action on minimum wage and paid family leave will protect Cuomo from a challenge from inside the Democratic Party if the governor runs for a third term in 2018. Hawkins, who performed best in the Capital Region where Cuomo went to war with public worker unions early in his term, said he isn’t so sure the anger is going to be there again in 2018. “I don’t know that people are going to be that upset with him,” he said.

Cuomo’s Republican opposition sees the governor’s support of the $15 minimum wage as a political calculation designed to undercut his Democratic rival, de Blasio, while boosting his national standing. They imagine the governor has sapped de Blasio’s momentum and hopes to use it to land the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention this year, or perhaps even the Vice Presidency or a major cabinet position.

Political analysts call these scenarios unlikely. Cuomo has gone on the record saying he plans to win and serve a third term as Governor, unless, he says, he keels over from a heart attack induced by the Albany press corp. The governor’s office declined to comment for this story.

“In 2010 he understood he had to run as a fiscal conservative,” said Cox, the chair of the New York Republican State Committee. “In 2013 Bill de Blasio wins saying he is the progressive leader of the free world. In 2014 Cuomo’s running in his own primary and he has to beg to get the backing of the Working Families Party and he only gets 60 percent as a sitting Governor in his own party’s primary.”

Cox said that Cuomo slowly began taking on de Blasio’s positions, “just as Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton has done with Bernie Sanders.” And eventually “adopted the SEIU’s ‘Fight for 15’ campaign whole hock” to “avoid insulting his very important constituents in labor.”

Meanwhile, Cox points out that Cuomo made a number of his major policy announcements alongside Vice President Joe Biden, who was very much thought to be a presidential contender at the time.

Cox believes the governor’s minimum wage plan that embraces different phase-ins across the state - in direct contradiction to his previous statement calling such a system “chaotic” - will not only hurt the economy but leave the governor vulnerable to a Republican challenger.

Rep. Gibson, the most likely such challenger at this point, said he would have liked to see a less “politicized process” that tied the wage to inflation and focused on growth across the state. “When my dad was out of work it was devastating,” said Gibson. “People want to work. But I believe this wage increase will prevent people from working. It will kill jobs.”

Noting that a number of counties in his Congressional district border other states, Gibson said he believes businesses will soon flee across the border to avoid new mandates. Asked if he would look to slow the increase of the minimum wage should he be elected, Gibson said, “I need to look at any kind of action like that. I think it’s important to listen and to get the facts.”

There are still some Albany observers who believe Cuomo is looking past re-election and is ready to enter the national scene on the back of his victories on minimum wage and paid family leave. Cuomo has embraced the praise of both Hillary Clinton and President Obama, who commended the passage of paid family leave. “There’s no doubt he has national ambitions, he wants to win with big numbers and not be embarrassed in his primary,” said Sherrill. “So he is relocating himself, perhaps more to his own feelings or maybe not. It is very difficult, especially with [U.S. Attorney] Preet Bharara watching, to satisfy the Senate Republicans he helped elect and his Democratic base.”

Cuomo remains opposed to tax increases - he beat back an Assembly proposal for a new millionaire’s tax, passed a series of tax cuts this year, and is extremely sensitive to the notion that New York has some of the highest taxes in the nation. But Sherrill believes by being on the forefront of a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave the governor is part of a developing national trend that gets big business to pay without actually raising taxes. The paid family leave program also rests upon employee contributions.

“Cuomo, like his father, supported very big liberal policies that don’t cost money - marriage equality, gun control doesn't cost money,” said Sherrill. “He chalks up these kind of wins in an age where you can’t raise taxes.”

“A substantial number of voters want politicians to make their lives better, but they can't raise taxes,” Sherrill continued, explaining the broader political climate. “At some point the sheer number of voters outweighs the people with lots of money. You can't raise taxes, but you can do other things to make the wealthy pay, like raising the minimum wage. However, a lot of programs de Blasio and Cuomo are advocating are in fact ways to get money into people’s hands while raising the cost on the people who refuse to pay taxes,” said Sherrill. “At some point I think the business community just asks for its taxes to be raised because it will be better for them.”

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo’s 2016 Wins Shaped by Progressive Forces, Electoral Lessons Tue, 12 Apr 2016 03:52:05 +0000
An Imperfect Victory for New York Workers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6264-an-imperfect-victory-for-new-york-workers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6264-an-imperfect-victory-for-new-york-workers 15 rally


Millions of New Yorkers are celebrating a deal this week to raise the state’s minimum wage. The deal puts a better future in sight for families around the state and sends a powerful signal to other states considering wage hikes of their own.

The deal is a testament to the power of organizing. Today’s headlines would be unimaginable just a few years ago. When New York Communities for Change organized the first fast food worker strike – almost four years ago – people thought we were crazy.

As the federal government repeatedly stalled on a meaningful increase to the nationwide minimum wage, it seemed that higher wages were out of reach.

In response, fast-food and other low-wage workers rose up to fight for better wages and a better quality of life, sparking a movement that spread to cities and towns across the nation.

It is no coincidence that the Fight for $15 began right here in New York City. The level of inequality in our city has long been one of the worst of the country – and has grown to historic proportions in recent years.

According to a 2014 Census Bureau survey, the top 5 percent of Manhattan households made 88 times as much as the poorest 20 percent. And as of last year, workers earning minimum wage could not afford median rent in a single neighborhood in New York City.

Wages have long failed to keep pace with the growing cost of living. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute found that the statewide wage of $9.00 per hour was well below what it would be if it had simply kept pace with inflation since 1970. The same study found that, accounting for both inflation and a higher cost of living, the minimum wage today would match its 1970 value if it reached $14.27 per hour this year – nearly the level agreed on by the New York State Legislature.

Governor Cuomo made the right move last year by mandating higher wages for fast-food workers – those on the front lines fighting for reform. But leading industry by industry risked neglecting too many workers. In order to truly create change, the rules must apply equally to everybody. Last week’s deal did that, letting workers across the economy finally dream bigger than the next paycheck.

The deal is a victory for New York City workers. However, it bypasses hard-working families in Upstate New York. While over a million low-wage workers in the city will see their wages rise to $15 per hour by the end of 2018, those in Long Island will only reach $15 in almost six years and those upstate will need to wait five years only to reach $12.50. Although the deal allows wages to rise to $15 after that, the rate will depend on review and inflation and could take years.

It is a painfully long stretch given the growing cost of living north of the city. The New York State Comptroller, for example, has found housing costs skyrocketing, with at least one in five people in every county – including those far upstate like Warren and Monroe – spending more than a third of their salary on rent. In some counties half of residents must spend that much. With added expenses like utilities and food, it leaves little room to save up for college or retirement.

It is imperative that legislators now finish the job and give all New Yorkers a chance at a living wage.

Just days before Albany finalized its deal; California showed us that a $15 wage statewide is possible. Our state must fulfill the promise of Fight for $15 statewide and let all workers adequately provide for themselves and their families. Otherwise New Yorkers will continue doing what they have been doing for almost four years: risking everything to provide a better life for their families.

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JoEllen Chernow is Director of Economic Justice at Center for Popular Democracy. Jonathan Westin is Executive Director of New York Communities for Change. On Twitter: @popdemoc and @nychange.

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An Imperfect Victory for New York Workers Mon, 04 Apr 2016 22:00:33 +0000
New York City Interests Given Varied Priority in Three Albany Budget Plans https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6226-new-york-city-interests-given-varied-priority-in-three-albany-budget-plans https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6226-new-york-city-interests-given-varied-priority-in-three-albany-budget-plans de blasio heastie albany

De Blasio & Heastie (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio didn't need to see the Assembly and Senate one-house budgets to know where he stands with each chamber - Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is a close ally of the mayor, his fellow New York City Democrat, while Senate Republicans hold a major grudge against de Blasio for leading a failed effort to boot them from the majority two years ago. Most Republican legislators, who control the Senate but not the Assembly, are also philosophically opposed to much of de Blasio's agenda.

Still, the documents give de Blasio - himself in the midst of a city budget process that depends quite a bit on state decisions - more clarity as budget negotiations truly heat up in the capital. With the governor's executive budget out for two months, plus the newly passed one-house budgets, de Blasio now has an idea of how hard a fight he and his allies have to get what they want.

The Legislature uses one-house budgets to set chamber priorities after analyzing the governor's spending plan, which is typically issued at the start of the year. The budgets are non-binding but used to send clear messages about majority conferences' top priorities before entering final negotiations with the governor.

While there are a variety of city-specific issues at play, de Blasio has made it clear that he is supportive of Cuomo's push for both a minimum wage increase toward $15 per hour over the next several years and a paid family leave policy. These are two major agenda items for the governor, where Cuomo laregly has Democratic support but must negotiate deals with Republicans.

With all three budgets out, Mayor de Blasio, city officials and residents are all taking note of where things stand on several other major issues.

Mayoral Control of Schools
Cuomo: The governor's budget includes a three-year extension of mayoral control, which is fairly short compared to the seven-year extension Mayor Michael Bloomberg was able to win during his tenure. Last year Cuomo also proposed three years, but the three parties only agreed on a one-year extension in June, angering de Blasio and his allies. (The issue was bumped beyond the budget into legislative session last year, as it may again this year.)

Assembly: Mayor de Blasio's allies in the Assembly support a seven-year extension of mayoral control, which would make expiration June 30, 2023. Such a distant date would remove the issue from the political equation for years to come and prevent Cuomo and Senate Republicans from holding it over de Blasio's head, even through a potential second term for the mayor.

Senate: While addressing the chamber before the vote on its one-house budget on Monday, Majority Leader John Flanagan said that he didn't feel mayoral control was a budget issue. He indicated he expects to have relevant hearings later in the year where de Blasio will be asked to testify. When asked about attending hearings by Gotham Gazette de Blasio said on Monday that he had expected them and welcomes the chance to discuss mayoral control. He was quick to remind that he had already met with Flanagan and discussed the subject.

"I've already sat down with him, obviously, and talked to him about this," de Blasio said on Monday at an unrelated press conference in Harlem, referring to the mayor's trip to Albany earlier this year. "I certainly made my case to him, it was a very good and respectful meeting. I think he heard my points. I'm not saying he agreed with all of them, but he heard them. He knows a lot about education, obviously, from his own work on the education committee in the Senate. And I will welcome a dialogue. I told him I will happily appear at a hearing any time."

CUNY and Medicaid Cost Shifts
Cuomo: The governor's budget could cost the city nearly a billion dollars in funding through plans that would see the city assume increasing costs for Medicaid and funding for CUNY. The governor insists that the city can afford to take on a greater share of the costs of both city-state programs.

Facing criticism from de Blasio, his allies, and budget watchdogs who warned the shifts would devastate the city's finances, Cuomo insisted his budgeting would simply foster a joint cost-saving exercise that in the end wouldn't cost the city anything. However, no adjustments were made to the plan in the governor's 30-day budget amendments, leaving the cost shifts as an expensive bargaining chip. While aides to de Blasio and Cuomo have been in conversation, there has been no evidence of progress in finding such efficiencies.

Assembly: Assembly Democrats rejected both cost shifts, winning the praise of the mayor and education groups who have turned up lobbying efforts in recent weeks. Advocates say the cost shifts would devastate CUNY and make it much harder to provide higher education, especially to those who can't afford private school tuition.

Senate: Both proposals remain in the Senate plan. Debate over the CUNY shifts took a curious turn on Monday as Republican Sen. Cathy Young, the chair of the finance committee, offered a new rationale for the CUNY proposal: the cost shift as a punishment for recent anti-Semitic incidents at CUNY and what some lawmakers see as an inefficient response to them.

"In light of recent anti-Semitic events at CUNY campuses," reads the Senate's budget summary, "the Senate denies additional funding for CUNY senior schools until it is satisfied that the administration has developed a plan to guarantee the safety of students of all faiths. The Senate fully understands the importance of the City University System, and supports the full restoration of State support when this difficult and atrocious situation is adequately addressed."

Democrats were taken aback by the rationale. "Everyone agrees that anti-Semitism is bad. But the way you fight it is not by hurting the students," said Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky of Queens.

"This administration has been outspoken in ensuring that NYC continues to be a model for other cities in combating anti-Semitism," de Blasio said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Our institutions of higher education must be spaces where people of all faiths can thrive and feel safe, and CUNY must ensure that's the case. The best tool to combat hate is education - and we must be investing in it, not cutting it."

Tax-Exempt Affordable Housing Bonds
Cuomo: The governor's budget includes a proposal to give the state final say over housing projects financed by federal tax-exempt bonds the state distributes. The Public Authorities Control Board, made up of one appointee each from the Governor and legislative leaders, would have the ability to veto individual affordable housing projects. Cuomo touted the plan as lending transparency to the process, but contractors, housing advocates, Mayor de Blasio, and others expressed significant worry it would lead to instability, uncertainty, and delay to badly-needed affordable housing projects.

Assembly: Rejects the plan.

Senate: Rejects the plan.

De Blasio appeared buoyed when asked about both chambers rejecting the plan. "I think in the democratic system that's a rather striking statement," the mayor told reporters on Monday afternoon. "We said from the beginning that we thought this would make it harder to create affordable housing, and would slow the process down. It's quite clear the Senate and the Assembly agree, and we appreciate their support and look forward to working with them, because we need to, in fact, speed up the supply of affordable housing, not slow it down."

Construction Takeover
Cuomo: The governor's budget proposes the creation of "The New York State Design and Construction Corp." that would be given oversight of public construction projects worth over $50 million. The DCC would be a subsidiary of the state's Dormitory Authority and would be headed by three commissioners, all appointed by the governor. Budget watchdogs and legislators see the plan as a power grab designed to give the Governor say in major construction projects headed by independent agencies such as the MTA.

Assembly: Rejects the plan.

Senate: Rejects the plan.

MTA Funding
Cuomo: The governor's plan technically provides $8.3 billion in funding for the MTA capital plan, per an earlier commitment Cuomo made in striking a deal with de Blasio over plugging a funding gap. However, the governor's budget only appropriates $1 billion for the MTA this year and puts off the rest of the funding until the MTA exhausts its current resources.

Assembly: Rejecting Cuomo's condition that the MTA exhausts its current funding first, the Assembly plan appropriates the remaining $7.3 billion Cuomo's plan puts off.

Senate: Accepting most of Cuomo's funding plan, the Senate requires the state to provide $3.5 billion in additional funding to the Department of Transportation Capital Plan.

Tenant Protection Unit
Cuomo: The governor's budget recommends $4.4 million in funding for the agency he credits with restoring 50,000 units to the affordable housing rolls. 

Assembly: Provides a $5.8 million appropriation for the unit.

Senate: Denies funding for the unit.

Next Steps
On Tuesday, the two houses of the Legislature convened a joint hearing to kick off the formal conference committee process whereby representatives of each house meet to hash out the differences in their plans. Leadership announced committee hearings on public protection, mental hygiene, higher education, general government, environment and housing, transportation, economic development, human services/labor, and education all to take place throughout the day on Wednesday.

Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan are also expected to pick up their closed-door negotiations with the deadline for a final budget being April 1. When the state budget is decided, de Blasio will then have to weigh its impact on his budget negotiations with the City Council, with a final city budget due at the end of June.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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New York City Interests Given Varied Priority in Three Albany Budget Plans Tue, 15 Mar 2016 22:33:16 +0000