Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/scott-stringer 2019-07-16T22:59:30+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Everyone Agrees City Buses are in Crisis. What's Being Done? 2019-07-10T04:00:00+00:00 2019-07-10T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8664-everyone-agrees-city-buses-are-in-crisis-what-s-being-done Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/bx6-select-bus-inter-ave.jpg" alt="bx6 select bus inter ave" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio rides the bus (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Elected officials, advocates, and especially riders agree: the city’s bus system is broken.</p> <p>That consensus was reached in recent years as bus speeds slowed to a crawl and the system hemorrhaged ridership. Various advocacy groups and elected officials have put forth studies and plans, and the entities with actual control -- the state-run Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the New York City Mayor’s Office -- have taken steps toward improving the situation, though many questions around commitment and implementation remain.</p> <p>Even as the city boasts 2.5 times more bus riders than any of its counterparts across the country, its buses are the slowest in the United States, according to <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/291-19/mayor-de-blasio-the-formation-better-buses-advisory-group-which-takes-ride-b35" target="_blank" rel="noopener">data from the mayor’s office</a>. In the past four years, city bus ridership has decreased by 13 percent; from an annual total ridership of 677,569,432 in 2013 to 602,620,356 in 2017. Buses average a speed of just 8 miles per hour, with speeds at about the pace of a brisk walk in some of the city’s busiest corridors. The slowest city bus route, the M42, runs across Manhattan’s 42nd Street at an average speed of just 3.9 miles per hour, according to <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/Bus_Route_Profiles_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">data from the city comptroller’s office</a>.</p> <p>Fixing the buses is a transit issue and a socioeconomic issue; 75 percent of bus riders are people of color, and 50 percent are immigrants, said Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director for Riders Alliance, an advocacy group.</p> <p>“Better bus service is really about uplifting the portions of our population that need it the most,” Pearlstein said.</p> <p>Pearlstein said buses spend 20 percent of their time at bus stops, 20 percent of their time at red lights, and 60 percent in slow traffic.</p> <p>Both the MTA, which has say over bus routes and personnel, and the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio, which controls the city Department of Transportation and use of the roadways, street designs, and more, have been criticized for doing little to attend to the buses as ridership plummeted. Asleep at the wheel, both have recently reacted to the bus crisis.</p> <p>To try to fix the bus system and reverse the ridership trend, the MTA and the Mayor’s Office have implemented or announced, at times with partners, a series of plans and laws to improve bus speeds. They’ve recently been aided by legislation passed by the state Legislature to allow for mounted bus cameras that can ticket drivers parked in bus lanes.</p> <p>According to experts, including advocates and elected and appointed government officials, the keys to speeding up city buses include: improving Select Bus Service, which is a form of express bus; increasing the number of buses with all-door boarding; eliminating inefficient bus stops; implementing transit signal priority (TSP) so buses can move through traffic lights more quickly; creating more bus-only lanes; and enforcing bus lanes. Much of this work has started or been promised, but results are few given that most responses to the crisis are recent.</p> <p><strong>MTA and the Bus Route Redesigns</strong><br />This year, the MTA began a bus route redesign effort as part of a plan from Andy Byford, president of MTA New York City Transit, called Fast Forward, which aims to modernize New York City’s subways and buses. While the full go-ahead, including funding, for Fast Forward is still in limbo, moving ahead with bus route redesigns is among the lesser expensive overhauls. New bus routes are essential, Byford and many others agree, to react to changing residential, commuter, and traffic patterns.</p> <p>The effort saw a complete redesign of the Staten Island bus network in 2018 and is now focusing on the Bronx. Following the redesign, bus speeds on Staten Island increased on average by 8.6 percent and trip reliability improved by 20 percent, according to data from Transit Center, a foundation that seeks to improve public transit. The bus routes in the remaining three boroughs will be redesigned over the next three years, according to Byford’s plans.</p> <p>Upon completion of the Bronx plan, the MTA will have redesigned 27 of the 60 bus routes in the Bronx, and proposed frequency changes on an additional four routes. The plan will also implement 150 audio-capable “next-bus signs,” improving accessibility. Through expanding the use of queue jumps, which let buses bypass other traffic at intersections, and TSP, which holds green lights longer or turns lights green sooner for buses, the MTA aims to improve speeds significantly.</p> <p>The MTA also expects to expand Select Bus Service, which allows riders to purchase a fare before boarding the bus to encourage all-door boarding and skips “local” stops in express fashion.</p> <p>By modernizing fare payment, the MTA has committed to fully switching to all-door bus boarding by 2021, “but that process should be expedited to capitalize on the redesigns before congestion pricing comes into place,” Transit Center spokesperson Ashley Pryce said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, referring to the upcoming 2021 institution of new tolls on driving cars and other private vehicles into Manhattan below 61st Street.</p> <p>In addition to the MTA’s current plans, some buses could become faster by stopping every four or five blocks instead of every two, Pearlstein said.</p> <p>Whether it’s redesigning bus routes or eliminating bus stops, the MTA will of course have local battles. The Bronx redesign plan has been met with some opposition from those who believe it will be too disruptive. In Co-op City, the redesign plan will eliminate certain routes and stops that have upset residents. The new system will require many of the neighborhood’s residents to transfer two or three times to get where they are going, said City Council Member Andy King, who represents Co-op City, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. King said that Byford and the MTA proposed a redesign without consulting Co-op City residents.</p> <p>On June 27, King and Co-op City residents met with the MTA.</p> <p>“Public feedback is a critical part of our efforts to reimagine the borough’s bus network,” an MTA spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We are currently in the process of reviewing the feedback we received before moving forward with any final decisions about the location of stops or changes to routes.”</p> <p>The MTA declined to comment further on the number of bus routes that the plan would eliminate or the number of transfers it would require for trips in question.</p> <p>“The transfer problem causes an issue. People in Co-op City would rather have convenience than timing. If I can get around Co-op City and it takes me 25 minutes, I will make sure I have enough time,” King said.</p> <p>King and other community leaders met with Byford last week to discuss the problems they say the proposed redesign will cause for the neighborhood. Byford was receptive to King and the residents’ suggestions, King said.</p> <p>“Any proposed bus plan for Co-op City must include conversation with the residents. If they’re not included in the conversation nothing will ever make sense. It might make sense for the MTA, but it won’t make sense for Co-op City,” King said, expressing fairly universal sentiments applicable around the city.</p> <p>“If ridership in Co-op City has not dwindled that means you are still getting the same kind of fares in Co-op City. If numbers aren’t down, don’t punish them because you have low numbers somewhere else,” King said, taking issue with a “cookie-cutter” approach to redesigns.</p> <p>However, some view slight inconvenience as necessary for the bus system to be more efficient.</p> <p>“It may take time for some riders to adjust to new routes and bus stop patterns, but if the MTA and DOT implement their plans well, riders will get faster overall trips and a better experience waiting for the bus,” Pryce said. “While some riders may be asked to walk further to a stop, those remaining stops should be equipped with amenities like shelters and benches that can improve the experience for riders.”</p> <p><strong>Better Buses Action Plan</strong><br />In April, Mayor BIll de Blasio and his Department of Transportation (DOT), which has a lot of control over the streets, bus lanes, and related decisions, released the Better Buses Action Plan. The plan aims to see bus speeds increase by 25 percent citywide by the end of 2020 -- a goal de Blasio first announced in his February State of the City speech.</p> <p>The plan calls for the improvement (through painting lanes, adding all-door boarding, and other measures) of five miles of existing bus lanes each year, the installation of 10-15 miles of new bus lanes per year, and the piloting of physically separated bus lanes by the end of this year. From 2013 through early this year, the DOT has built 111 miles of bus lanes across the city, according to the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/better-buses-action-plan-2019.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Better Buses Action Plan</a>. The plan also includes an additional 300 TSP intersections and the implementation of bus camera enforcement.</p> <p>“Our buses have some of the highest ridership numbers in the country, yet we see that our buses are limited when it comes to their reliability and frequency,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, in a statement accompanying announcement of the Better Buses Advisory Group, convened by the mayor's office.</p> <p>Bus lane cameras are currently limited to 16 of the city’s bus routes. They serve to enforce rules against parking in a bus lane, so as to take pressure off the police for finding violators and issuing tickets with fines for cars that park in or otherwise obstruct the bus lane. The program aims to improve bus speeds by making it clear to drivers not to block bus lanes.</p> <p>At the end of the legislative session in Albany, lawmakers passed legislation to expand the number of automated cameras enforcing bus lanes. Owners of cars that block bus lanes will be fined $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second, $200 for third, and $250 for any additional offense.</p> <p>In June, de Blasio announced the creation of the Better Buses Advisory Group, which will help implement the Better Buses Action Plan. The group includes the public advocate, state senators, Assembly members, City Council members, and representatives of advocacy groups.</p> <p>“We are taking action to get New Yorkers moving and saving them time for the things that matter,” de Blasio said in a press release announcing the formation of the group. “With guidance from riders, our new Better Buses advisory group will come up with innovative solutions to get our bus routes up to speed,” he said.</p> <p><strong>2017 Stringer Report, De Blasio Announcement</strong><br />The push to revamp the bus network got a shot in the arm in October 2017, following a report detailing the system’s ineffectiveness by Comptroller Scott Stringer.</p> <p>Stringer advocated for “major upgrades to our bus system, like better integrated, enforced and designed bus lanes, more bus shelters, all-door boarding, and Transit Signal Priority at traffic lights,” he said in a 2017 press release accompanying the report.</p> <p>Also in October 2017, de Blasio announced a plan to introduce 21 new Select Bus Service routes across the city. As of that time, according to the city, SBS accounted for 12 percent of the city’s bus ridership, but de Blasio said he expected that number to go up to 30 percent, according to comments during a press conference announcing the plan. Select bus routes average speeds 27 percent higher than local routes.</p> <p>If the buses are faster, “more and more people will use them. If they are easier to use, more and more people will get out of their cars. But if they’re not moving fast enough, it doesn’t encourage anyone to come and take the bus,” de Blasio said.</p> <p>From 2013 to 2017, the number of SBS routes increased from six to 13. De Blasio expects increased select buses to improve service to areas that currently do not have regular bus service.</p> <p>“The bottom line is we have to reach every single neighborhood. No neighborhood should be neglected. No one should have a problem getting around because of the ZIP code they live in. Select Bus Service is a difference maker,” de Blasio said in the announcement.</p> <p><strong>Car Culture and the Buses</strong><br />Calls to improve bus service are coming in conjunction with broader efforts to improve pedestrian safety, reduce congestion, and decrease the city’s reliance on and deference to cars. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently introduced his “master plan for city streets” legislation, which includes a sweeping set of planks to “break car culture” by adding many more bus and bike lanes, and pedestrian plazas.</p> <p>“A progressive city must do better for bus drivers and must deliver for bus riders,” Pearlstein said at the June City Council hearing on the bill. “This is powerful legislation to look forward to while we’re still unfortunately stuck on the bus.”</p> <p>Johnson’s plan goes further than de Blasio’s Better Buses Action Plan, calling for 30 miles of new bus lanes each year along with TSP, compared to 5-10 miles under de Blasio’s plan.</p> <p>“We need much better bus and commuter rail service,” Nicole Gelinas, a Manhattan Institute fellow, told Gotham Gazette. “We need a better bus network to take pressure off the subway as we decrease reliance on cars.”</p> <p>Other major global cities have bus networks that are bigger and faster than New York’s. In 2010, London boasted a higher bus ridership than New York’s subway ridership.</p> <p>If New York does not improve its bus system and regain riders, bus service will have to be cut, Pearlstein said, reflecting MTA Board discussions. “If we allow bus service to further deteriorate ridership will continue to fall and service will be cut. There is no leaving it the same,” Pearlstein said. “If you leave it the same it will get worse.”</p> <p>“There do need to be faster trips, and more service, and they need to meet those lofty goals,” Pearlstein said of the MTA’s redesign efforts. “Otherwise it looks like a service cut.”</p> <p>

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/bx6-select-bus-inter-ave.jpg" alt="bx6 select bus inter ave" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio rides the bus (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Elected officials, advocates, and especially riders agree: the city’s bus system is broken.</p> <p>That consensus was reached in recent years as bus speeds slowed to a crawl and the system hemorrhaged ridership. Various advocacy groups and elected officials have put forth studies and plans, and the entities with actual control -- the state-run Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the New York City Mayor’s Office -- have taken steps toward improving the situation, though many questions around commitment and implementation remain.</p> <p>Even as the city boasts 2.5 times more bus riders than any of its counterparts across the country, its buses are the slowest in the United States, according to <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/291-19/mayor-de-blasio-the-formation-better-buses-advisory-group-which-takes-ride-b35" target="_blank" rel="noopener">data from the mayor’s office</a>. In the past four years, city bus ridership has decreased by 13 percent; from an annual total ridership of 677,569,432 in 2013 to 602,620,356 in 2017. Buses average a speed of just 8 miles per hour, with speeds at about the pace of a brisk walk in some of the city’s busiest corridors. The slowest city bus route, the M42, runs across Manhattan’s 42nd Street at an average speed of just 3.9 miles per hour, according to <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/Bus_Route_Profiles_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">data from the city comptroller’s office</a>.</p> <p>Fixing the buses is a transit issue and a socioeconomic issue; 75 percent of bus riders are people of color, and 50 percent are immigrants, said Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director for Riders Alliance, an advocacy group.</p> <p>“Better bus service is really about uplifting the portions of our population that need it the most,” Pearlstein said.</p> <p>Pearlstein said buses spend 20 percent of their time at bus stops, 20 percent of their time at red lights, and 60 percent in slow traffic.</p> <p>Both the MTA, which has say over bus routes and personnel, and the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio, which controls the city Department of Transportation and use of the roadways, street designs, and more, have been criticized for doing little to attend to the buses as ridership plummeted. Asleep at the wheel, both have recently reacted to the bus crisis.</p> <p>To try to fix the bus system and reverse the ridership trend, the MTA and the Mayor’s Office have implemented or announced, at times with partners, a series of plans and laws to improve bus speeds. They’ve recently been aided by legislation passed by the state Legislature to allow for mounted bus cameras that can ticket drivers parked in bus lanes.</p> <p>According to experts, including advocates and elected and appointed government officials, the keys to speeding up city buses include: improving Select Bus Service, which is a form of express bus; increasing the number of buses with all-door boarding; eliminating inefficient bus stops; implementing transit signal priority (TSP) so buses can move through traffic lights more quickly; creating more bus-only lanes; and enforcing bus lanes. Much of this work has started or been promised, but results are few given that most responses to the crisis are recent.</p> <p><strong>MTA and the Bus Route Redesigns</strong><br />This year, the MTA began a bus route redesign effort as part of a plan from Andy Byford, president of MTA New York City Transit, called Fast Forward, which aims to modernize New York City’s subways and buses. While the full go-ahead, including funding, for Fast Forward is still in limbo, moving ahead with bus route redesigns is among the lesser expensive overhauls. New bus routes are essential, Byford and many others agree, to react to changing residential, commuter, and traffic patterns.</p> <p>The effort saw a complete redesign of the Staten Island bus network in 2018 and is now focusing on the Bronx. Following the redesign, bus speeds on Staten Island increased on average by 8.6 percent and trip reliability improved by 20 percent, according to data from Transit Center, a foundation that seeks to improve public transit. The bus routes in the remaining three boroughs will be redesigned over the next three years, according to Byford’s plans.</p> <p>Upon completion of the Bronx plan, the MTA will have redesigned 27 of the 60 bus routes in the Bronx, and proposed frequency changes on an additional four routes. The plan will also implement 150 audio-capable “next-bus signs,” improving accessibility. Through expanding the use of queue jumps, which let buses bypass other traffic at intersections, and TSP, which holds green lights longer or turns lights green sooner for buses, the MTA aims to improve speeds significantly.</p> <p>The MTA also expects to expand Select Bus Service, which allows riders to purchase a fare before boarding the bus to encourage all-door boarding and skips “local” stops in express fashion.</p> <p>By modernizing fare payment, the MTA has committed to fully switching to all-door bus boarding by 2021, “but that process should be expedited to capitalize on the redesigns before congestion pricing comes into place,” Transit Center spokesperson Ashley Pryce said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, referring to the upcoming 2021 institution of new tolls on driving cars and other private vehicles into Manhattan below 61st Street.</p> <p>In addition to the MTA’s current plans, some buses could become faster by stopping every four or five blocks instead of every two, Pearlstein said.</p> <p>Whether it’s redesigning bus routes or eliminating bus stops, the MTA will of course have local battles. The Bronx redesign plan has been met with some opposition from those who believe it will be too disruptive. In Co-op City, the redesign plan will eliminate certain routes and stops that have upset residents. The new system will require many of the neighborhood’s residents to transfer two or three times to get where they are going, said City Council Member Andy King, who represents Co-op City, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. King said that Byford and the MTA proposed a redesign without consulting Co-op City residents.</p> <p>On June 27, King and Co-op City residents met with the MTA.</p> <p>“Public feedback is a critical part of our efforts to reimagine the borough’s bus network,” an MTA spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We are currently in the process of reviewing the feedback we received before moving forward with any final decisions about the location of stops or changes to routes.”</p> <p>The MTA declined to comment further on the number of bus routes that the plan would eliminate or the number of transfers it would require for trips in question.</p> <p>“The transfer problem causes an issue. People in Co-op City would rather have convenience than timing. If I can get around Co-op City and it takes me 25 minutes, I will make sure I have enough time,” King said.</p> <p>King and other community leaders met with Byford last week to discuss the problems they say the proposed redesign will cause for the neighborhood. Byford was receptive to King and the residents’ suggestions, King said.</p> <p>“Any proposed bus plan for Co-op City must include conversation with the residents. If they’re not included in the conversation nothing will ever make sense. It might make sense for the MTA, but it won’t make sense for Co-op City,” King said, expressing fairly universal sentiments applicable around the city.</p> <p>“If ridership in Co-op City has not dwindled that means you are still getting the same kind of fares in Co-op City. If numbers aren’t down, don’t punish them because you have low numbers somewhere else,” King said, taking issue with a “cookie-cutter” approach to redesigns.</p> <p>However, some view slight inconvenience as necessary for the bus system to be more efficient.</p> <p>“It may take time for some riders to adjust to new routes and bus stop patterns, but if the MTA and DOT implement their plans well, riders will get faster overall trips and a better experience waiting for the bus,” Pryce said. “While some riders may be asked to walk further to a stop, those remaining stops should be equipped with amenities like shelters and benches that can improve the experience for riders.”</p> <p><strong>Better Buses Action Plan</strong><br />In April, Mayor BIll de Blasio and his Department of Transportation (DOT), which has a lot of control over the streets, bus lanes, and related decisions, released the Better Buses Action Plan. The plan aims to see bus speeds increase by 25 percent citywide by the end of 2020 -- a goal de Blasio first announced in his February State of the City speech.</p> <p>The plan calls for the improvement (through painting lanes, adding all-door boarding, and other measures) of five miles of existing bus lanes each year, the installation of 10-15 miles of new bus lanes per year, and the piloting of physically separated bus lanes by the end of this year. From 2013 through early this year, the DOT has built 111 miles of bus lanes across the city, according to the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/better-buses-action-plan-2019.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Better Buses Action Plan</a>. The plan also includes an additional 300 TSP intersections and the implementation of bus camera enforcement.</p> <p>“Our buses have some of the highest ridership numbers in the country, yet we see that our buses are limited when it comes to their reliability and frequency,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, in a statement accompanying announcement of the Better Buses Advisory Group, convened by the mayor's office.</p> <p>Bus lane cameras are currently limited to 16 of the city’s bus routes. They serve to enforce rules against parking in a bus lane, so as to take pressure off the police for finding violators and issuing tickets with fines for cars that park in or otherwise obstruct the bus lane. The program aims to improve bus speeds by making it clear to drivers not to block bus lanes.</p> <p>At the end of the legislative session in Albany, lawmakers passed legislation to expand the number of automated cameras enforcing bus lanes. Owners of cars that block bus lanes will be fined $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second, $200 for third, and $250 for any additional offense.</p> <p>In June, de Blasio announced the creation of the Better Buses Advisory Group, which will help implement the Better Buses Action Plan. The group includes the public advocate, state senators, Assembly members, City Council members, and representatives of advocacy groups.</p> <p>“We are taking action to get New Yorkers moving and saving them time for the things that matter,” de Blasio said in a press release announcing the formation of the group. “With guidance from riders, our new Better Buses advisory group will come up with innovative solutions to get our bus routes up to speed,” he said.</p> <p><strong>2017 Stringer Report, De Blasio Announcement</strong><br />The push to revamp the bus network got a shot in the arm in October 2017, following a report detailing the system’s ineffectiveness by Comptroller Scott Stringer.</p> <p>Stringer advocated for “major upgrades to our bus system, like better integrated, enforced and designed bus lanes, more bus shelters, all-door boarding, and Transit Signal Priority at traffic lights,” he said in a 2017 press release accompanying the report.</p> <p>Also in October 2017, de Blasio announced a plan to introduce 21 new Select Bus Service routes across the city. As of that time, according to the city, SBS accounted for 12 percent of the city’s bus ridership, but de Blasio said he expected that number to go up to 30 percent, according to comments during a press conference announcing the plan. Select bus routes average speeds 27 percent higher than local routes.</p> <p>If the buses are faster, “more and more people will use them. If they are easier to use, more and more people will get out of their cars. But if they’re not moving fast enough, it doesn’t encourage anyone to come and take the bus,” de Blasio said.</p> <p>From 2013 to 2017, the number of SBS routes increased from six to 13. De Blasio expects increased select buses to improve service to areas that currently do not have regular bus service.</p> <p>“The bottom line is we have to reach every single neighborhood. No neighborhood should be neglected. No one should have a problem getting around because of the ZIP code they live in. Select Bus Service is a difference maker,” de Blasio said in the announcement.</p> <p><strong>Car Culture and the Buses</strong><br />Calls to improve bus service are coming in conjunction with broader efforts to improve pedestrian safety, reduce congestion, and decrease the city’s reliance on and deference to cars. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently introduced his “master plan for city streets” legislation, which includes a sweeping set of planks to “break car culture” by adding many more bus and bike lanes, and pedestrian plazas.</p> <p>“A progressive city must do better for bus drivers and must deliver for bus riders,” Pearlstein said at the June City Council hearing on the bill. “This is powerful legislation to look forward to while we’re still unfortunately stuck on the bus.”</p> <p>Johnson’s plan goes further than de Blasio’s Better Buses Action Plan, calling for 30 miles of new bus lanes each year along with TSP, compared to 5-10 miles under de Blasio’s plan.</p> <p>“We need much better bus and commuter rail service,” Nicole Gelinas, a Manhattan Institute fellow, told Gotham Gazette. “We need a better bus network to take pressure off the subway as we decrease reliance on cars.”</p> <p>Other major global cities have bus networks that are bigger and faster than New York’s. In 2010, London boasted a higher bus ridership than New York’s subway ridership.</p> <p>If New York does not improve its bus system and regain riders, bus service will have to be cut, Pearlstein said, reflecting MTA Board discussions. “If we allow bus service to further deteriorate ridership will continue to fall and service will be cut. There is no leaving it the same,” Pearlstein said. “If you leave it the same it will get worse.”</p> <p>“There do need to be faster trips, and more service, and they need to meet those lofty goals,” Pearlstein said of the MTA’s redesign efforts. “Otherwise it looks like a service cut.”</p> <p>

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
It Pays to be Comptroller: Scott Stringer's Mayoral Platform Takes Shape 2019-07-08T04:00:00+00:00 2019-07-08T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8653-it-pays-to-be-comptroller-scott-stringer-s-mayoral-platform-takes-shape Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/scott-stringer-bill-de-blasio-bernie-sanders-inaugural-ceremonies.jpg" alt="scott stringer bill de blasio bernie sanders inaugural ceremonies" width="600" /></p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has made no secret of his plans to run for mayor in 2021, when both he and Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of their current positions. And the outline of his mayoral policy platform is already hiding in plain sight.</p> <p>After briefly entering the 2013 mayoral campaign before shifting to a first successful run for comptroller, Stringer has spent a long time laying the groundwork for a full mayoral bid, so much so that many expected him to challenge de Blasio in the Democratic primary in 2017 had the mayor faced any consequences from dual ethics investigations into his fundraising activities. But the mayor faced no charges and both officials instead sailed to reelection.</p> <p>One of three citywide elected officials, besides the mayor and public advocate, the comptroller is the city’s top fiscal officer, charged with overseeing the mayoral administration’s spending, auditing city agencies for waste, approving city contracts, and acting as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds (with assets worth nearly $200 billion). Though they have next to no official policy-making power, those who’ve held the office also tend to issue policy reports and <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4139-john-lius-big-speech" target="_blank" rel="noopener">make recommendations for policies</a> the city should implement.</p> <p>In about five-and-a-half years as comptroller, Stringer has released numerous sweeping proposals to tackle everything from the cost of child care to building more affordable housing to abortion funding, improving city bus performance, and hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Stringer fought against term limits for community board members, a ballot measure overwhelmingly passed by voters last year, and he’s pushed for this year’s city charter revision commission to propose creation of a citywide Chief Diversity Officer, building on his focus on city contracting for minority- and women-owned businesses. And, he’s helped lead the effort to divest city pension funds from fossil fuel companies.</p> <p>As a citywide official, he’s weighed in with statements on many issues that don’t directly relate to functions of his job, and he’s taken on certain mantras, like the need for more “community-based planning,” that also indicate the initial building blocks for his all-but-official run for mayor.</p> <p>Stringer’s work in the comptroller’s office has been a continuation of similar efforts he made as Manhattan borough president, unveiling various plans that would have a citywide effect.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Comptroller Stringer has spent his career in public service standing up for working families. From his time as a housing organizer, to his work as Manhattan Borough President, to his leadership as the City Comptroller, he’s proven progressive government isn’t just something he talks about – it’s what he delivers on each and every day,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, Stringer’s press secretary, in a lengthy statement responding to Gotham Gazette’s inquiry about Stringer’s various policy proposals.</p> <p>“He’s used his office to change the face of corporate America and open doors of opportunity to women and people of color; he’s changed the conversation and shined a light on the touchstone progressive issues of our time, including housing and child care; and in every challenge impacting working New Yorkers, Comptroller Stringer sees a progressive solution worth fighting for,” Crampton-Hays continued. “With two and half years left in his term, he will continue the fights that have been at the heart of his entire career -- for equity, affordability, and fairness for all New Yorkers.”</p> <p>When Stringer declares his candidacy for mayor in earnest, he’ll have a lengthy, detailed campaign platform on day one, thanks to all of the reports and audits out of his office. It’s a smart and appropriate use of the comptroller’s office, said veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “The New York City comptroller can do whatever the New York City comptroller wants. The office has broad authority under the city charter,” he said.</p> <p>The issues Stringer has examined, Sheinkopf noted, cut across a swath of constituencies in a citywide electorate and have garnered significant attention. “He’s very able to get appropriate coverage for whatever he does. He also knows – because politics has been his life – how to take those issues and turn them into relationship-builders with particular interest groups,” Sheinkopf said. “He will be a highly competitive candidate for mayor, should he choose to run.”</p> <p>Along with his policy proposals, Stringer’s near ubiquitous presence across the city should help him, Sheinkopf added. “No matter what choice New Yorkers will make, anyone who’s paid attention to the news will be able to say, for whatever reason, whether they can identify the issue or not, that somehow Stringer spoke to them about something,” he said. “And that’s a pretty good place to be and what he spoke to them about goes beyond color lines or race lines or ethnic lines or gender lines. He has made himself into the person whose words and even actions have become relevant to people beyond and outside of his social grouping, religion, race, class, and residence, which is not easy for someone who’s a west-sider from Manhattan.”</p> <p>Stringer is expected to compete in a Democratic mayoral primary with <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8626-corey-johnson-want-to-break-the-car-culture-in-new-york-city-subway" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Speaker Corey Johnson</a>, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7652-eric-adams-previews-vision-for-becoming-city-s-ceo" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams</a>, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8565-for-ruben-diaz-jr-a-booming-bronx-and-plan-to-run-on-development" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.</a>, and anyone else who throws their hat in the ring ahead of the June 2021 vote. Each has also been in the process of staking out their policy positions and possible major mayoral platform areas, though none has led the size of operation or had the citywide vantage point, at least for as long, as Stringer in the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>Political consultant George Arzt, who previously served as a campaign spokesperson for Stringer, echoed Sheinkopf. “The comptroller can put out anything on a platform just as the mayor or public advocate would put out anything on their platform,” Arzt said. “Perhaps increasingly so during an election year. But every elected official does it.”</p> <p>Below are a sampling of the ideas that Stringer has proposed over the years, some of which are likely to form the basis for his mayoral campaign platform:</p> <p><strong>Child Care</strong><br />In May, Stringer proposed a plan dubbed “<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-proposes-landmark-nyc-under-3-plan-to-expand-affordable-child-care-access-to-new-york-city-working-families/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC Under 3</a>” aimed at drastically reducing child care expenses for 70,000 families. The plan, paid for with a payroll tax, would purportedly expand child care assistance to families with a combined income of up to $100,000 a year for a family of four, and triple the number of children enrolled in city-funded child care programs. The proposal was broadly <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/coalition-of-advocates-laud-comptroller-stringers-landmark-nyc-under-3-child-care-proposal/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">praised</a> by advocates, unions, and educators.</p> <p>“New York City should drive a child care revolution, put working families first and establish a model for the nation to follow,” Stringer said in a statement at the release of the plan. “NYC Under 3 is a down payment on future generations and would benefit children, parents, and the local economy by increasing job stability and economic security.”</p> <p>Since releasing it, Stringer has done a media and local event blitz to talk it up, including a “roundtable discussion” Monday evening with members of advocacy group Community Voices Heard in East Harlem.</p> <p><strong>Affordable Housing</strong><br />Stringer has repeatedly criticized de Blasio’s affordable housing program, saying it has not created or preserved enough affordable units for low-income New Yorkers and that it has failed to stem the city’s homelessness crisis. In November, he released <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-proposes-fundamental-realignment-of-the-city-housing-plan-to-address-new-yorkers-most-in-need/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a proposal</a> that would reimagine the city’s housing plan to target the 580,000 households that are in most need.</p> <p>Stringer’s plan would put $375 million in the capital budget annually and repurpose the roughly 85,000 units left to be built under the mayor’s 300,000-unit plan towards extremely low-income households (which earn less than $28,170 annually) or very low-income households (which earn less than $46,950 annually). An additional $125 million would go to operating subsidies to ensure apartments remain affordable. He also proposed increasing the set aside for housing for the homeless by nearly three times to 15%.</p> <p>The plan would be paid for by eliminating the Mortgage Recording Tax and implementing a Real Property Transfer Tax on all home purchases based on price. These measures would raise roughly $400 million each year, Stringer estimated. He also reiterated his call for a New York City Land Bank/Land Trust, which he <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/building-an-affordable-future-the-promise-of-a-new-york-city-land-bank/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first proposed</a> in February 2016, to build housing on vacant lots.</p> <p><strong>Teacher Residency</strong><br />In June this year, Stringer <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/to-combat-teacher-exodus-from-new-york-city-schools-comptroller-stringer-proposes-largest-teacher-residency-program-in-america/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">released a plan</a> to reduce teacher turnover in city schools, after an analysis by his office showed that 41% of teachers hired in the 2012-13 school year had left their jobs within five years.&nbsp;</p> <p>Stringer proposed a paid, year-long residency program to train 1,000 new teachers annually, partnering them with mentors for classroom training and providing them with stipends for living costs.</p> <p>On other education fronts, Stringer’s efforts more closely linked to his core job responsibilities have already shown results. After a May 2015 <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-doe-violating-state-laws-regarding-physical-education-in-city-schools-deep-disparities-in-access-new-report-shows/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> on inadequate physical education at schools across the city, the de Blasio administration added $100 million to hire physical education teachers in the five boroughs. And following an April 2014 <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/stringer-report-finds-significant-disparities-in-arts-education/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> on broad disparities in arts education, the city allocated $24 million in new city funding to hire more than 100 arts teachers in neighborhoods with the highest needs.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Abortion Funding</strong><br />Ahead of the passage of the city budget this year, Stringer rallied with reproductive health rights activists to push the city to allocate $250,000 to the New York Abortion Access Fund, a nonprofit service provider. The push was successful, with the City Council and de Blasio deciding to earmark funding, reportedly making New York the first city in the country to directly fund abortion services.</p> <p><strong>Insurance for Pregnancy</strong><br />In March 2015, the comptroller released <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-report-shows-barriers-to-healthcare-for-uninsured-pregnant-women/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a report</a> on pre-natal care coverage for pregnant women enrolled in insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA did not recognize pregnancy as a “qualifying event” for immediate coverage. Following Stringer’s report, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas introduced and passed legislation to allow for that coverage in New York, making it the first state to do so.</p> <p><strong>Puerto Rico Recovery</strong><br />In October 2017, after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, Stringer released a <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-plan-to-finance-puerto-ricos-recovery-and-support-displaced-puerto-rican-citizens/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">six-point plan</a> based on an analysis of federal programs to help the island recover from the hurricane’s devastation. New York City is home to the largest community of Puerto Ricans outside of the island, many of whom continue to have ties to family living there, and the city was one of the main destinations for residents fleeing the island after the hurricane.</p> <p>Stringer proposed federal loan guarantees for the construction of public infrastructure to help the debt-ridden island, called on Congress to authorize Disaster Recovery Private Activity Bonds (which were utilized after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to rebuild Downtown Manhattan), and an expansion of federal safety net programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit for residents of Puerto Rico. He&nbsp;also pushed for measures to help displaced Puerto Ricans, including additional education funding for displaced and homeless students, and for higher education institutions where Puerto Ricans are enrolled.</p> <p><strong>Chief Diversity Officer</strong><br />Stringer has used his position as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds to push for greater board diversity at companies where the pension fund invests its money. At the same time, he has pushed for more diversity at city agencies, more city contract spending with MWBEs, and has <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-and-broad-coalition-rally-for-a-chief-diversity-officer-in-city-hall-demanding-charter-revision-commission-focus-on-equity/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called</a> for the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer at City Hall (Stringer has appointed his own chief diversity officer). He pushed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to include the idea among its ballot proposals but was unsuccessful, though the commission is moving ahead with a proposal to enshrine responsibility for the city’s MWBE program at City Hall.</p> <p><strong>Immigrant Services</strong><br />In March 2015, Stringer <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-comprehensive-manual-to-expand-immigrants-access-to-city-services/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">released</a> an “Immigrant Rights and Services Manual” – initially translated into Chinese, Korean, Russian and Spanish – to help immigrants navigate local, state and federal services.</p> <p>In February 2016, he also released a <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-report-soaring-costs-create-barrier-to-citizenship-for-670000-immigrant-new-yorkers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> on citizenship application fees, with recommendations for federal and local action. He urged the city to provide more citizenship assistance programs, to add funding for English and civics classes, and to expand free legal services, among other proposals.</p> <p><strong>Commuter Rail &amp; Bus Reliability</strong><br />In October 2018, Stringer released a <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/stringer-unveils-new-transit-plan-to-integrate-all-brooklyn-queens-and-bronx-commuter-rail-stations-with-the-mta/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposal</a> to expand access to Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, by reducing fares for in-city trips to the cost of a single MetroCard swipe. He called on the MTA to ensure commuter trains take more local stops, that buses provide enhanced service to commuter rail stations, and that those stations be made ADA accessible. His plan, which would entail providing commuter rail service at 38 stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, would cost about $50 million each year, he estimated.</p> <p>In 2017, Stringer released <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/comptroller-stringer-report-mta-buses-already-slowest-in-the-nation-lost-100-million-passenger-trips-since-2008/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a major report</a> on the city's struggling buses, which have lost ridership at a dangerous clip, with an agenda for how to improve the system.</p> <p><strong>Security Deposits &amp; Credit Score Benefits</strong><br />In July 2018, Stringer released an analysis of security deposits in the New York City rental housing market, finding that renters paid about $507 million into security deposits in 2016. He called for legislation to cap security deposits as well as additional regulation regarding payments and refunds. The state Legislature this year put new rent regulations into effect that implement some of those reforms.</p> <p>And in October 2017, Stringer launched <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/comptroller-stringer-proposal-would-allow-residents-to-add-rent-data-to-credit-histories-and-boost-scores-for-hundreds-of-thousands-of-new-yorkers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pilot projects</a> to help renters in roughly 3,000 apartment units to report their rent payment to increase their credit scores. The program was expanded a year later.</p> <p><strong>Playgrounds</strong><br />In April, Stringer launched the “<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-playground-deserts-leave-too-many-nyc-children-with-no-place-to-play/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Pavement to Playgrounds</a>” campaign, pointing to a dearth of playgrounds across the city and substandard conditions at hundreds of city playgrounds. Stringer pushed the city to build 200 new playgrounds over five years through partnership between the city’s Parks Department, the Department of Transportation, nonprofits and community boards.</p> <p><strong>BQE Reconstruction</strong><br />In March, Stringer proposed his own <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-proposes-new-vision-for-bqe-reconstruction/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">vision</a> for how the city should rehab the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, including by converting the triple cantilever and Cobble Hill trench into a truck-only thruway and building a new two-mile park on the remaining space. A panel assembled by de Blasio is working on coming up with recommendations for a new plan after the city’s original idea received a great deal of pushback and appears to have been scrapped.</p> <p><strong>Marijuana Legalization</strong><br />Before de Blasio released his administration’s plan embracing the legalization of recreational adult use of marijuana in December, Stringer had already <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/new-comptroller-stringer-analysis-legalizing-marijuana-could-lead-to-millions-in-tax-revenue-for-city-and-state/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">explored</a> the possible ramifications of creating a legal market in the city and <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/comptroller-stringer-new-marijuana-revenues-need-to-go-to-communities-most-impacted-by-cannabis-enforcement/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed measures</a> to ensure that the city creates an equitable industry.</p> <p>Stringer pushed for investing tax revenue from sales into communities most adversely affected by marijuana enforcement, called for equity provisions in state legislation (particularly by making people with marijuana-related convictions eligible for licenses to sell legal marijuana) and proposed a citywide equity program to provide assistance to individuals and businesses seeking to enter the industry.&nbsp;</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/scott-stringer-bill-de-blasio-bernie-sanders-inaugural-ceremonies.jpg" alt="scott stringer bill de blasio bernie sanders inaugural ceremonies" width="600" /></p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has made no secret of his plans to run for mayor in 2021, when both he and Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of their current positions. And the outline of his mayoral policy platform is already hiding in plain sight.</p> <p>After briefly entering the 2013 mayoral campaign before shifting to a first successful run for comptroller, Stringer has spent a long time laying the groundwork for a full mayoral bid, so much so that many expected him to challenge de Blasio in the Democratic primary in 2017 had the mayor faced any consequences from dual ethics investigations into his fundraising activities. But the mayor faced no charges and both officials instead sailed to reelection.</p> <p>One of three citywide elected officials, besides the mayor and public advocate, the comptroller is the city’s top fiscal officer, charged with overseeing the mayoral administration’s spending, auditing city agencies for waste, approving city contracts, and acting as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds (with assets worth nearly $200 billion). Though they have next to no official policy-making power, those who’ve held the office also tend to issue policy reports and <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4139-john-lius-big-speech" target="_blank" rel="noopener">make recommendations for policies</a> the city should implement.</p> <p>In about five-and-a-half years as comptroller, Stringer has released numerous sweeping proposals to tackle everything from the cost of child care to building more affordable housing to abortion funding, improving city bus performance, and hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Stringer fought against term limits for community board members, a ballot measure overwhelmingly passed by voters last year, and he’s pushed for this year’s city charter revision commission to propose creation of a citywide Chief Diversity Officer, building on his focus on city contracting for minority- and women-owned businesses. And, he’s helped lead the effort to divest city pension funds from fossil fuel companies.</p> <p>As a citywide official, he’s weighed in with statements on many issues that don’t directly relate to functions of his job, and he’s taken on certain mantras, like the need for more “community-based planning,” that also indicate the initial building blocks for his all-but-official run for mayor.</p> <p>Stringer’s work in the comptroller’s office has been a continuation of similar efforts he made as Manhattan borough president, unveiling various plans that would have a citywide effect.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Comptroller Stringer has spent his career in public service standing up for working families. From his time as a housing organizer, to his work as Manhattan Borough President, to his leadership as the City Comptroller, he’s proven progressive government isn’t just something he talks about – it’s what he delivers on each and every day,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, Stringer’s press secretary, in a lengthy statement responding to Gotham Gazette’s inquiry about Stringer’s various policy proposals.</p> <p>“He’s used his office to change the face of corporate America and open doors of opportunity to women and people of color; he’s changed the conversation and shined a light on the touchstone progressive issues of our time, including housing and child care; and in every challenge impacting working New Yorkers, Comptroller Stringer sees a progressive solution worth fighting for,” Crampton-Hays continued. “With two and half years left in his term, he will continue the fights that have been at the heart of his entire career -- for equity, affordability, and fairness for all New Yorkers.”</p> <p>When Stringer declares his candidacy for mayor in earnest, he’ll have a lengthy, detailed campaign platform on day one, thanks to all of the reports and audits out of his office. It’s a smart and appropriate use of the comptroller’s office, said veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “The New York City comptroller can do whatever the New York City comptroller wants. The office has broad authority under the city charter,” he said.</p> <p>The issues Stringer has examined, Sheinkopf noted, cut across a swath of constituencies in a citywide electorate and have garnered significant attention. “He’s very able to get appropriate coverage for whatever he does. He also knows – because politics has been his life – how to take those issues and turn them into relationship-builders with particular interest groups,” Sheinkopf said. “He will be a highly competitive candidate for mayor, should he choose to run.”</p> <p>Along with his policy proposals, Stringer’s near ubiquitous presence across the city should help him, Sheinkopf added. “No matter what choice New Yorkers will make, anyone who’s paid attention to the news will be able to say, for whatever reason, whether they can identify the issue or not, that somehow Stringer spoke to them about something,” he said. “And that’s a pretty good place to be and what he spoke to them about goes beyond color lines or race lines or ethnic lines or gender lines. He has made himself into the person whose words and even actions have become relevant to people beyond and outside of his social grouping, religion, race, class, and residence, which is not easy for someone who’s a west-sider from Manhattan.”</p> <p>Stringer is expected to compete in a Democratic mayoral primary with <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8626-corey-johnson-want-to-break-the-car-culture-in-new-york-city-subway" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Speaker Corey Johnson</a>, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7652-eric-adams-previews-vision-for-becoming-city-s-ceo" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams</a>, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8565-for-ruben-diaz-jr-a-booming-bronx-and-plan-to-run-on-development" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.</a>, and anyone else who throws their hat in the ring ahead of the June 2021 vote. Each has also been in the process of staking out their policy positions and possible major mayoral platform areas, though none has led the size of operation or had the citywide vantage point, at least for as long, as Stringer in the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>Political consultant George Arzt, who previously served as a campaign spokesperson for Stringer, echoed Sheinkopf. “The comptroller can put out anything on a platform just as the mayor or public advocate would put out anything on their platform,” Arzt said. “Perhaps increasingly so during an election year. But every elected official does it.”</p> <p>Below are a sampling of the ideas that Stringer has proposed over the years, some of which are likely to form the basis for his mayoral campaign platform:</p> <p><strong>Child Care</strong><br />In May, Stringer proposed a plan dubbed “<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-proposes-landmark-nyc-under-3-plan-to-expand-affordable-child-care-access-to-new-york-city-working-families/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC Under 3</a>” aimed at drastically reducing child care expenses for 70,000 families. The plan, paid for with a payroll tax, would purportedly expand child care assistance to families with a combined income of up to $100,000 a year for a family of four, and triple the number of children enrolled in city-funded child care programs. The proposal was broadly <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/coalition-of-advocates-laud-comptroller-stringers-landmark-nyc-under-3-child-care-proposal/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">praised</a> by advocates, unions, and educators.</p> <p>“New York City should drive a child care revolution, put working families first and establish a model for the nation to follow,” Stringer said in a statement at the release of the plan. “NYC Under 3 is a down payment on future generations and would benefit children, parents, and the local economy by increasing job stability and economic security.”</p> <p>Since releasing it, Stringer has done a media and local event blitz to talk it up, including a “roundtable discussion” Monday evening with members of advocacy group Community Voices Heard in East Harlem.</p> <p><strong>Affordable Housing</strong><br />Stringer has repeatedly criticized de Blasio’s affordable housing program, saying it has not created or preserved enough affordable units for low-income New Yorkers and that it has failed to stem the city’s homelessness crisis. In November, he released <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-proposes-fundamental-realignment-of-the-city-housing-plan-to-address-new-yorkers-most-in-need/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a proposal</a> that would reimagine the city’s housing plan to target the 580,000 households that are in most need.</p> <p>Stringer’s plan would put $375 million in the capital budget annually and repurpose the roughly 85,000 units left to be built under the mayor’s 300,000-unit plan towards extremely low-income households (which earn less than $28,170 annually) or very low-income households (which earn less than $46,950 annually). An additional $125 million would go to operating subsidies to ensure apartments remain affordable. He also proposed increasing the set aside for housing for the homeless by nearly three times to 15%.</p> <p>The plan would be paid for by eliminating the Mortgage Recording Tax and implementing a Real Property Transfer Tax on all home purchases based on price. These measures would raise roughly $400 million each year, Stringer estimated. He also reiterated his call for a New York City Land Bank/Land Trust, which he <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/building-an-affordable-future-the-promise-of-a-new-york-city-land-bank/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first proposed</a> in February 2016, to build housing on vacant lots.</p> <p><strong>Teacher Residency</strong><br />In June this year, Stringer <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/to-combat-teacher-exodus-from-new-york-city-schools-comptroller-stringer-proposes-largest-teacher-residency-program-in-america/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">released a plan</a> to reduce teacher turnover in city schools, after an analysis by his office showed that 41% of teachers hired in the 2012-13 school year had left their jobs within five years.&nbsp;</p> <p>Stringer proposed a paid, year-long residency program to train 1,000 new teachers annually, partnering them with mentors for classroom training and providing them with stipends for living costs.</p> <p>On other education fronts, Stringer’s efforts more closely linked to his core job responsibilities have already shown results. After a May 2015 <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-doe-violating-state-laws-regarding-physical-education-in-city-schools-deep-disparities-in-access-new-report-shows/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> on inadequate physical education at schools across the city, the de Blasio administration added $100 million to hire physical education teachers in the five boroughs. And following an April 2014 <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/stringer-report-finds-significant-disparities-in-arts-education/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> on broad disparities in arts education, the city allocated $24 million in new city funding to hire more than 100 arts teachers in neighborhoods with the highest needs.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Abortion Funding</strong><br />Ahead of the passage of the city budget this year, Stringer rallied with reproductive health rights activists to push the city to allocate $250,000 to the New York Abortion Access Fund, a nonprofit service provider. The push was successful, with the City Council and de Blasio deciding to earmark funding, reportedly making New York the first city in the country to directly fund abortion services.</p> <p><strong>Insurance for Pregnancy</strong><br />In March 2015, the comptroller released <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-report-shows-barriers-to-healthcare-for-uninsured-pregnant-women/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a report</a> on pre-natal care coverage for pregnant women enrolled in insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA did not recognize pregnancy as a “qualifying event” for immediate coverage. Following Stringer’s report, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas introduced and passed legislation to allow for that coverage in New York, making it the first state to do so.</p> <p><strong>Puerto Rico Recovery</strong><br />In October 2017, after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, Stringer released a <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-plan-to-finance-puerto-ricos-recovery-and-support-displaced-puerto-rican-citizens/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">six-point plan</a> based on an analysis of federal programs to help the island recover from the hurricane’s devastation. New York City is home to the largest community of Puerto Ricans outside of the island, many of whom continue to have ties to family living there, and the city was one of the main destinations for residents fleeing the island after the hurricane.</p> <p>Stringer proposed federal loan guarantees for the construction of public infrastructure to help the debt-ridden island, called on Congress to authorize Disaster Recovery Private Activity Bonds (which were utilized after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to rebuild Downtown Manhattan), and an expansion of federal safety net programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit for residents of Puerto Rico. He&nbsp;also pushed for measures to help displaced Puerto Ricans, including additional education funding for displaced and homeless students, and for higher education institutions where Puerto Ricans are enrolled.</p> <p><strong>Chief Diversity Officer</strong><br />Stringer has used his position as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds to push for greater board diversity at companies where the pension fund invests its money. At the same time, he has pushed for more diversity at city agencies, more city contract spending with MWBEs, and has <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-and-broad-coalition-rally-for-a-chief-diversity-officer-in-city-hall-demanding-charter-revision-commission-focus-on-equity/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called</a> for the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer at City Hall (Stringer has appointed his own chief diversity officer). He pushed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to include the idea among its ballot proposals but was unsuccessful, though the commission is moving ahead with a proposal to enshrine responsibility for the city’s MWBE program at City Hall.</p> <p><strong>Immigrant Services</strong><br />In March 2015, Stringer <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-comprehensive-manual-to-expand-immigrants-access-to-city-services/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">released</a> an “Immigrant Rights and Services Manual” – initially translated into Chinese, Korean, Russian and Spanish – to help immigrants navigate local, state and federal services.</p> <p>In February 2016, he also released a <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-report-soaring-costs-create-barrier-to-citizenship-for-670000-immigrant-new-yorkers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> on citizenship application fees, with recommendations for federal and local action. He urged the city to provide more citizenship assistance programs, to add funding for English and civics classes, and to expand free legal services, among other proposals.</p> <p><strong>Commuter Rail &amp; Bus Reliability</strong><br />In October 2018, Stringer released a <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/stringer-unveils-new-transit-plan-to-integrate-all-brooklyn-queens-and-bronx-commuter-rail-stations-with-the-mta/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposal</a> to expand access to Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, by reducing fares for in-city trips to the cost of a single MetroCard swipe. He called on the MTA to ensure commuter trains take more local stops, that buses provide enhanced service to commuter rail stations, and that those stations be made ADA accessible. His plan, which would entail providing commuter rail service at 38 stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, would cost about $50 million each year, he estimated.</p> <p>In 2017, Stringer released <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/comptroller-stringer-report-mta-buses-already-slowest-in-the-nation-lost-100-million-passenger-trips-since-2008/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a major report</a> on the city's struggling buses, which have lost ridership at a dangerous clip, with an agenda for how to improve the system.</p> <p><strong>Security Deposits &amp; Credit Score Benefits</strong><br />In July 2018, Stringer released an analysis of security deposits in the New York City rental housing market, finding that renters paid about $507 million into security deposits in 2016. He called for legislation to cap security deposits as well as additional regulation regarding payments and refunds. The state Legislature this year put new rent regulations into effect that implement some of those reforms.</p> <p>And in October 2017, Stringer launched <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/comptroller-stringer-proposal-would-allow-residents-to-add-rent-data-to-credit-histories-and-boost-scores-for-hundreds-of-thousands-of-new-yorkers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pilot projects</a> to help renters in roughly 3,000 apartment units to report their rent payment to increase their credit scores. The program was expanded a year later.</p> <p><strong>Playgrounds</strong><br />In April, Stringer launched the “<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-playground-deserts-leave-too-many-nyc-children-with-no-place-to-play/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Pavement to Playgrounds</a>” campaign, pointing to a dearth of playgrounds across the city and substandard conditions at hundreds of city playgrounds. Stringer pushed the city to build 200 new playgrounds over five years through partnership between the city’s Parks Department, the Department of Transportation, nonprofits and community boards.</p> <p><strong>BQE Reconstruction</strong><br />In March, Stringer proposed his own <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-proposes-new-vision-for-bqe-reconstruction/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">vision</a> for how the city should rehab the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, including by converting the triple cantilever and Cobble Hill trench into a truck-only thruway and building a new two-mile park on the remaining space. A panel assembled by de Blasio is working on coming up with recommendations for a new plan after the city’s original idea received a great deal of pushback and appears to have been scrapped.</p> <p><strong>Marijuana Legalization</strong><br />Before de Blasio released his administration’s plan embracing the legalization of recreational adult use of marijuana in December, Stringer had already <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/new-comptroller-stringer-analysis-legalizing-marijuana-could-lead-to-millions-in-tax-revenue-for-city-and-state/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">explored</a> the possible ramifications of creating a legal market in the city and <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/comptroller-stringer-new-marijuana-revenues-need-to-go-to-communities-most-impacted-by-cannabis-enforcement/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed measures</a> to ensure that the city creates an equitable industry.</p> <p>Stringer pushed for investing tax revenue from sales into communities most adversely affected by marijuana enforcement, called for equity provisions in state legislation (particularly by making people with marijuana-related convictions eligible for licenses to sell legal marijuana) and proposed a citywide equity program to provide assistance to individuals and businesses seeking to enter the industry.&nbsp;</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Council Passes Campaign Finance Bill Roiling Early Mayoral Race 2019-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8601-council-passes-campaign-finance-bill-roiling-early-mayoral-race Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/48057358031_112fab51c7_z.jpg" alt="Johnson Kallos City Council" width="600" height="393" /></p> <p>Council Members Kallos, left, &amp; Rodriguez, right, with Speaker Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council passed a much-anticipated, controversial campaign finance bill Thursday, raising the cap on how much public funding a campaign can receive and altering other dynamics of the city’s matching system. The bill -- the source of significant consternation over the past several days, particularly among likely 2021 mayoral candidates - passed by a vote of 41-6, with one abstention, and three absences.</p> <p>The legislation, which Mayor de Blasio has indicated support for, increases the public matching funds ceiling so that campaigns are able to raise only smaller donations and still have enough money to hit their spending limit. It also has a retroactivity component, a bill change within just the past 10 days, that caused a stir and appears likely to impact several upcoming races, including the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, the lead sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation, including retroactivity that will make candidates return money raised in 2018 above new lower donation limits if they choose to opt into the newer of two programs that has more public matching.</p> <p>That portion of the bill stands to benefit Johnson and hurt competitors like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“We are literally doing something that is entirely consistent with what we did three months ago and now all of a sudden we are being criticized for it,” Johnson said at the press conference, referring to actions the Council took to make new campaign finance rules approved by voters last year apply to the special election for Public Advocate.</p> <p>Johnson, who pledged in January not to take any donations larger than $250 as he explores a mayoral run, said he has long supported the legislation and it has nothing to do with the race. He and Kallos also pointed out that the retroactivity component was discussed during an April hearing on the bill and recommended by the Campaign Finance Board so that an entire four-year election cycle would be run by the same rules, for whichever of the two programs candidates choose.</p> <p>Still, neither Kallos nor Johnson had a clear answer for why the amendment to the bill had come so close to the Council’s votes on the matter.</p> <p>Johnson noted the difficulty in creating legislation that affects lawmakers themselves.</p> <p>“It’s hard to vote on these things because every time you do you’re potentially affecting yourself and your colleagues in what you do. It’s one of the challenging things you deal with as a current elected official when you start to look at the system that exists and you seek to improve it or change it,” Johnson said.</p> <p>“For the current election cycle, just like we did for public advocate, when no one criticized it, you need to pick option A or option B,” Johnson said at the press conference. “No one is being forced to opt into the 8-to-1 [matching] system. We are just saying if you are going to opt into one system, be consistent throughout the entire cycle,” Johnson said.</p> <p>If Stringer or others opt into the new system, they would receive its 8-to-1 match on all qualifying donations $250 or under, but under maximum individual donations of $2,000 (down from $5,100 for citywide candidates), and they would, based on the new Council bill, have to return the difference on any donations above the new maximum. That last aspect is what has driven Stringer and others to call Johnson out.</p> <p>Others have criticized the bill for using more taxpayer money.</p> <p>“I’m not sure how we look a homeless person in the eye and tell them we can’t find them an affordable place to live but don’t worry we have money for our next campaign mailing,” Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, said on the Council floor before the vote. He voted no, as he had done in committee on Tuesday.</p> <p>Supporters of the bill pointed out it’s potential to decrease the power of special interests and large donors in politics.</p> <p>“I can’t believe we’re standing here having an argument over how much big money people should get to take after the voters said they want politicians to get less big money,” Kallos said at the press conference.</p> <p>“I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say to me ‘I don’t want my dollars matched.’ The public match is increasing participation and the taxpayers, the residents actually like it. They like having their voices amplified and direct access to elected officials that they otherwise wouldn’t,” Kallos added.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of cynicism in government because people feel like big donors have too much access in government, and here’s a way to take big money out and have it be publicly financed,” Johnson said at the press conference.</p> <p>Representatives for Stringer, who would likely have to return the most money under the new system, if he sticks with the program of lower donation limits and higher matching, called Johnson amending the legislation and pushing it through a “brazen power grab” and using his government position to advantage his campaign.</p> <p>“Johnson is rushing through a law that explicitly benefits him,” wrote Stringer spokesperson Tyrone Stevens <a href="https://twitter.com/TyroneCStevens/status/1139232108726161408" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on Twitter</a>. “It’s deeply unethical and it’s not good government. Shame on him.”</p> <p>"I’m a firm believer you don’t change the game in the middle of the game,” Adams <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8597-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams-jail-budget-politics" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Max &amp; Murphy podcast on Wednesday</a>, “...any major changes in the system should not be beneficial to any party involved. And I think that’s part of what Scott Stringer was saying." Adams said he wasn’t yet sure which of the two campaign finance programs he’ll choose.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Diaz Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>At the Council on Thursday, among those voting no was Yeger, who sits on the Committee on Governmental Operations, which first heard and passed the bill, sending it to the full Council. Joining Yeger in opposition were Council Members Mark Gjonaj and Ruben Diaz, Sr., both Bronx Democrats, and the Council’s three Republicans: Council Members Eric Ulrich, Steven Matteo, and Joseph Borelli.</p> <p>Council Member I. Daneek Miller was the sole abstention. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who was absent for the committee vote on Tuesday, was also absent for the vote by the Council, despite having been present during the press conference preceding the full Council meeting.</p> <p>

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/48057358031_112fab51c7_z.jpg" alt="Johnson Kallos City Council" width="600" height="393" /></p> <p>Council Members Kallos, left, &amp; Rodriguez, right, with Speaker Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council passed a much-anticipated, controversial campaign finance bill Thursday, raising the cap on how much public funding a campaign can receive and altering other dynamics of the city’s matching system. The bill -- the source of significant consternation over the past several days, particularly among likely 2021 mayoral candidates - passed by a vote of 41-6, with one abstention, and three absences.</p> <p>The legislation, which Mayor de Blasio has indicated support for, increases the public matching funds ceiling so that campaigns are able to raise only smaller donations and still have enough money to hit their spending limit. It also has a retroactivity component, a bill change within just the past 10 days, that caused a stir and appears likely to impact several upcoming races, including the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, the lead sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation, including retroactivity that will make candidates return money raised in 2018 above new lower donation limits if they choose to opt into the newer of two programs that has more public matching.</p> <p>That portion of the bill stands to benefit Johnson and hurt competitors like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“We are literally doing something that is entirely consistent with what we did three months ago and now all of a sudden we are being criticized for it,” Johnson said at the press conference, referring to actions the Council took to make new campaign finance rules approved by voters last year apply to the special election for Public Advocate.</p> <p>Johnson, who pledged in January not to take any donations larger than $250 as he explores a mayoral run, said he has long supported the legislation and it has nothing to do with the race. He and Kallos also pointed out that the retroactivity component was discussed during an April hearing on the bill and recommended by the Campaign Finance Board so that an entire four-year election cycle would be run by the same rules, for whichever of the two programs candidates choose.</p> <p>Still, neither Kallos nor Johnson had a clear answer for why the amendment to the bill had come so close to the Council’s votes on the matter.</p> <p>Johnson noted the difficulty in creating legislation that affects lawmakers themselves.</p> <p>“It’s hard to vote on these things because every time you do you’re potentially affecting yourself and your colleagues in what you do. It’s one of the challenging things you deal with as a current elected official when you start to look at the system that exists and you seek to improve it or change it,” Johnson said.</p> <p>“For the current election cycle, just like we did for public advocate, when no one criticized it, you need to pick option A or option B,” Johnson said at the press conference. “No one is being forced to opt into the 8-to-1 [matching] system. We are just saying if you are going to opt into one system, be consistent throughout the entire cycle,” Johnson said.</p> <p>If Stringer or others opt into the new system, they would receive its 8-to-1 match on all qualifying donations $250 or under, but under maximum individual donations of $2,000 (down from $5,100 for citywide candidates), and they would, based on the new Council bill, have to return the difference on any donations above the new maximum. That last aspect is what has driven Stringer and others to call Johnson out.</p> <p>Others have criticized the bill for using more taxpayer money.</p> <p>“I’m not sure how we look a homeless person in the eye and tell them we can’t find them an affordable place to live but don’t worry we have money for our next campaign mailing,” Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, said on the Council floor before the vote. He voted no, as he had done in committee on Tuesday.</p> <p>Supporters of the bill pointed out it’s potential to decrease the power of special interests and large donors in politics.</p> <p>“I can’t believe we’re standing here having an argument over how much big money people should get to take after the voters said they want politicians to get less big money,” Kallos said at the press conference.</p> <p>“I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say to me ‘I don’t want my dollars matched.’ The public match is increasing participation and the taxpayers, the residents actually like it. They like having their voices amplified and direct access to elected officials that they otherwise wouldn’t,” Kallos added.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of cynicism in government because people feel like big donors have too much access in government, and here’s a way to take big money out and have it be publicly financed,” Johnson said at the press conference.</p> <p>Representatives for Stringer, who would likely have to return the most money under the new system, if he sticks with the program of lower donation limits and higher matching, called Johnson amending the legislation and pushing it through a “brazen power grab” and using his government position to advantage his campaign.</p> <p>“Johnson is rushing through a law that explicitly benefits him,” wrote Stringer spokesperson Tyrone Stevens <a href="https://twitter.com/TyroneCStevens/status/1139232108726161408" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on Twitter</a>. “It’s deeply unethical and it’s not good government. Shame on him.”</p> <p>"I’m a firm believer you don’t change the game in the middle of the game,” Adams <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8597-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams-jail-budget-politics" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Max &amp; Murphy podcast on Wednesday</a>, “...any major changes in the system should not be beneficial to any party involved. And I think that’s part of what Scott Stringer was saying." Adams said he wasn’t yet sure which of the two campaign finance programs he’ll choose.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Diaz Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>At the Council on Thursday, among those voting no was Yeger, who sits on the Committee on Governmental Operations, which first heard and passed the bill, sending it to the full Council. Joining Yeger in opposition were Council Members Mark Gjonaj and Ruben Diaz, Sr., both Bronx Democrats, and the Council’s three Republicans: Council Members Eric Ulrich, Steven Matteo, and Joseph Borelli.</p> <p>Council Member I. Daneek Miller was the sole abstention. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who was absent for the committee vote on Tuesday, was also absent for the vote by the Council, despite having been present during the press conference preceding the full Council meeting.</p> <p>

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p>
Amid Controversy, City Council Moves Ahead with Campaign Finance Bill Extending Public Match 2019-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8593-amid-controversy-council-moves-ahead-with-campaign-finance-bill-extending-public-match Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/committee-gov-op.jpg" alt="committee gov op" width="600" height="358" /></p> <p>Council Members Yeger, left, and Cabrera, right (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Significantly more public funding of political campaigns appears on the way given legislation that the City Council Committee on Governmental Operations passed on Tuesday.</p> <p>The bill, sponsored by Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, aims to prevent corruption and increase engagement with local communities by adjusting the public matching funds system to allow candidates to raise only relatively small donations and receive enough public money to reach the spending limit in their race.</p> <p>Though the bill has over 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council and passed the committee 4-1 on Tuesday, a last-minute amendment to the legislation caused a significant stir, including accusations of impropriety by Comptroller Scott Stringer against City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, both likely mayoral candidates in the next election.</p> <p>Expected to be passed by the full Council on Thursday, the bill lifts the cap on how much public funding – or taxpayer money – a participating campaign can receive from Campaign Finance Board. The cap, currently set at 75 percent of the spending limit for participating candidates, would rise to 89.9%, effectively making it a full match relative to the spending limit when the private funds involved are also taken into consideration.</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system currently has two tracks, “Option A” and “Option B,” that only apply to the 2021 election cycle, before the newer of the two programs takes full hold. That program, “Option A,” includes lower individual donation thresholds and matches the first $250 of individual contributions at an 8-to-1 ratio for a maximum disbursement of $2,000 in public funds per contribution.</p> <p>These rules are the result of a November 2018 referendum that both raised the disbursement cap and increased the public matching ratio. But it also left in place the old system, which has much higher contribution limits and matches the first $175 of donations at 6-to-1.</p> <p>Different offices, from citywide posts like mayor and comptroller to borough presidencies to City Council seats, have different donation and spending limits.</p> <p>The change to individual contribution limits in Option A dropped the maximum donation limit from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide candidates who opt into that program.</p> <p>Related to that new donation cap, an amendment to the legislation being passed this week has caused a rift among mayoral candidates and raised eyebrows around city government.</p> <p>The amendment requires candidates who opt into the new system to return contributions from 2018 that go over the new maximums, which could mean a $3,100 return on each maximum donation for participants.</p> <p>The November referendum allowed candidates participating in the system to choose between the new rules – with the higher public match but lower contribution limits – and the old rules until 2022, when candidates will have to conform entirely to the new rules to receive public funds. The 2021 city elections are expected to be highly competitive, crowded affairs, with almost all city seats open due to term limits.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, one of several likely mayoral candidates in the upcoming election, would be particularly impacted by the amendment. He’d have to return many thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the past year if he wanted to opt into the new matching system. As first reported by the Daily News, Stringer viewed this amendment as a “brazen power grab” by fellow mayoral candidate and Council Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>“The voters passed a groundbreaking campaign finance system to clean up government, not corrupt it,” a Stringer spokesperson said. “Speaker Johnson is trying to circumvent the will of the voters and change the rules to benefit himself. The Council should reject his brazen power grab.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Johnson reiterated that it’s optional for candidates to return their contributions and said that the amendment was created at the recommendation of the CFB.</p> <p>“The changes were made at the strong urging of the CFB. Both because of fairness and administrative efficiency,” Jennifer Femino, a spokesperson for Johnson, said. “That said, no contributions made in a prior election cycle will have to be returned. Any candidate who wants to keep their big money donations from the last cycle is free to do so and maintain their edge over the competition.”</p> <p>Council Member Kallos stressed to Gotham Gazette that not only did the CFB recommend retroactivity because it would then make administration of the program easier, but that Kallos led an extended conversation on changing the bill to include retroactivity during the initial April hearing on the legislation. The amendment wasn’t made until just days before the committee vote, however.</p> <p>On Tuesday, governmental operations committee member, Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat, referenced the Stringer-Johnson rift during the hearing, though he didn’t name either of them. He said he was “certainly sensitive to the concerns that have been raised amongst those who are current candidates that feel this bill has a negative impact on them,” but remained supportive of the bill and voted yes.</p> <p>There was opposition to the bill at the hearing, from City Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat. He said it disregards what the voters decided with the 2018 referendum and amounts to little besides another big dip into taxpayers’ pockets.</p> <p>“It doesn’t seem to me that when the voters voted in November, they put an asterisk next to their vote and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re voting for, but just in case you get a chance, take some more money out of our pockets and do this a little better,’” Yeger said. “I don’t think we got that message. I didn’t get that message, that’s not what I heard. What I heard was, there was a yes/no question, and the yes won.”</p> <p>Yeger was the sole no in the 4-1 vote, with Council Members Kallos, Powers, Alan Maisel, and committee chair Fernando Cabrera voting to approve. Two committee members were absent from the vote: Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Bill Perkins.</p> <p>The bill now goes to the full Council for a vote on Thursday. If it passes there, it will go to Mayor Bill de Blasio for likely approval.</p> <p>

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by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/committee-gov-op.jpg" alt="committee gov op" width="600" height="358" /></p> <p>Council Members Yeger, left, and Cabrera, right (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Significantly more public funding of political campaigns appears on the way given legislation that the City Council Committee on Governmental Operations passed on Tuesday.</p> <p>The bill, sponsored by Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, aims to prevent corruption and increase engagement with local communities by adjusting the public matching funds system to allow candidates to raise only relatively small donations and receive enough public money to reach the spending limit in their race.</p> <p>Though the bill has over 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council and passed the committee 4-1 on Tuesday, a last-minute amendment to the legislation caused a significant stir, including accusations of impropriety by Comptroller Scott Stringer against City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, both likely mayoral candidates in the next election.</p> <p>Expected to be passed by the full Council on Thursday, the bill lifts the cap on how much public funding – or taxpayer money – a participating campaign can receive from Campaign Finance Board. The cap, currently set at 75 percent of the spending limit for participating candidates, would rise to 89.9%, effectively making it a full match relative to the spending limit when the private funds involved are also taken into consideration.</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system currently has two tracks, “Option A” and “Option B,” that only apply to the 2021 election cycle, before the newer of the two programs takes full hold. That program, “Option A,” includes lower individual donation thresholds and matches the first $250 of individual contributions at an 8-to-1 ratio for a maximum disbursement of $2,000 in public funds per contribution.</p> <p>These rules are the result of a November 2018 referendum that both raised the disbursement cap and increased the public matching ratio. But it also left in place the old system, which has much higher contribution limits and matches the first $175 of donations at 6-to-1.</p> <p>Different offices, from citywide posts like mayor and comptroller to borough presidencies to City Council seats, have different donation and spending limits.</p> <p>The change to individual contribution limits in Option A dropped the maximum donation limit from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide candidates who opt into that program.</p> <p>Related to that new donation cap, an amendment to the legislation being passed this week has caused a rift among mayoral candidates and raised eyebrows around city government.</p> <p>The amendment requires candidates who opt into the new system to return contributions from 2018 that go over the new maximums, which could mean a $3,100 return on each maximum donation for participants.</p> <p>The November referendum allowed candidates participating in the system to choose between the new rules – with the higher public match but lower contribution limits – and the old rules until 2022, when candidates will have to conform entirely to the new rules to receive public funds. The 2021 city elections are expected to be highly competitive, crowded affairs, with almost all city seats open due to term limits.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, one of several likely mayoral candidates in the upcoming election, would be particularly impacted by the amendment. He’d have to return many thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the past year if he wanted to opt into the new matching system. As first reported by the Daily News, Stringer viewed this amendment as a “brazen power grab” by fellow mayoral candidate and Council Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>“The voters passed a groundbreaking campaign finance system to clean up government, not corrupt it,” a Stringer spokesperson said. “Speaker Johnson is trying to circumvent the will of the voters and change the rules to benefit himself. The Council should reject his brazen power grab.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Johnson reiterated that it’s optional for candidates to return their contributions and said that the amendment was created at the recommendation of the CFB.</p> <p>“The changes were made at the strong urging of the CFB. Both because of fairness and administrative efficiency,” Jennifer Femino, a spokesperson for Johnson, said. “That said, no contributions made in a prior election cycle will have to be returned. Any candidate who wants to keep their big money donations from the last cycle is free to do so and maintain their edge over the competition.”</p> <p>Council Member Kallos stressed to Gotham Gazette that not only did the CFB recommend retroactivity because it would then make administration of the program easier, but that Kallos led an extended conversation on changing the bill to include retroactivity during the initial April hearing on the legislation. The amendment wasn’t made until just days before the committee vote, however.</p> <p>On Tuesday, governmental operations committee member, Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat, referenced the Stringer-Johnson rift during the hearing, though he didn’t name either of them. He said he was “certainly sensitive to the concerns that have been raised amongst those who are current candidates that feel this bill has a negative impact on them,” but remained supportive of the bill and voted yes.</p> <p>There was opposition to the bill at the hearing, from City Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat. He said it disregards what the voters decided with the 2018 referendum and amounts to little besides another big dip into taxpayers’ pockets.</p> <p>“It doesn’t seem to me that when the voters voted in November, they put an asterisk next to their vote and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re voting for, but just in case you get a chance, take some more money out of our pockets and do this a little better,’” Yeger said. “I don’t think we got that message. I didn’t get that message, that’s not what I heard. What I heard was, there was a yes/no question, and the yes won.”</p> <p>Yeger was the sole no in the 4-1 vote, with Council Members Kallos, Powers, Alan Maisel, and committee chair Fernando Cabrera voting to approve. Two committee members were absent from the vote: Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Bill Perkins.</p> <p>The bill now goes to the full Council for a vote on Thursday. If it passes there, it will go to Mayor Bill de Blasio for likely approval.</p> <p>

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by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Does New York City Need a Chief Diversity Officer? 2019-04-14T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-14T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8447-does-new-york-city-need-a-chief-diversity-officer Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-office-city-hall-riders.jpg" alt="mayor office city hall riders" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many days throughout the year there are people gathered on the steps of City Hall calling on city government to make policy. On March 14, a rally of women and people of color who own businesses, organized by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, focused on a change that could significantly alter the direction of city government and opportunities for those business owners and others in similar positions.</p> <p>Those in attendance were backing Stringer’s push to have the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put a proposal on the November ballot to require a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s cabinet and one at each city agency.</p> <p>Fittingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio, AirPods in his ears, walked into City Hall at the time of the rally, seemingly paying it little mind. Over the last several years, Stringer has assailed the de Blasio administration’s approach to contracting with MWBEs -- minority- and women-owned business enterprises -- and called on the mayor to add a chief diversity officer (CDO) to his administration. De Blasio has adjusted the city’s MWBE contracting goals multiple times and created an MWBE office in 2016, but he has not created the CDO position. He has also repeatedly dismissed Stringer’s criticisms.</p> <p>A second-term Democrat who created a CDO at the comptroller’s office upon taking the citywide position in 2014, Stringer has now pushed the issue to the fore as the 2019 charter commission considers what changes to the city’s central governing document and structure it will propose to voters this fall -- it is listed first among Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/A-New-Charter-to-Confront-New-Challenges.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">65 charter revision proposals</a>.</p> <p>The City Hall rally, which included Stringer, MWBE owners, faith leaders, Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, and Brooklyn Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, came just hours before Stringer and others testified before the commission on the subject of adding the CDO positions to the charter.</p> <p>Among other responsibilities, the CDO position would oversee city procurement and contracting with MWBEs, as well as strategies to improve those efforts. The city spends billions of procurement dollars each year to buy things such as office supplies or hire contractors on city construction projects. The CDO would also focus on issues of equity and diversity in city government, with each CDO at individual city agencies handling these tasks with a narrower scope.</p> <p>“I’ve said to the mayor every year that we would really benefit from a chief diversity officer in City Hall,” Stringer told Gotham Gazette just after the rally. “For me, talk is cheap. We’re either going to be in the business of equality and economic justice or we’re not.”</p> <p>The CDO in Stringer’s office, currently Wendy Garcia, is tasked with overseeing all of its procurement dollars, about $14 million spent annually.</p> <p>“Every time I see a law or a regulation or some rule that inhibits minorities or women to have access, my job is to fix it and change it,” Garcia told Gotham Gazette in an interview. According to Stringer’s charter revision proposals, Garcia has helped the Office of the Comptroller almost double its spending with MWBEs to over 24% of its procurement spending in fiscal year 2017.</p> <p>“I think people do not fully appreciate the role of the chief diversity officer,” Stringer said. “Imagine a chief diversity officer in City Hall in this building right now working every day across all agencies to look at ways to up-spend to bring more people into the procurement process. This is a necessary part of government. It’s the future of the city. There’s nothing more important than creating wealth with opportunity.”</p> <p>Each year, Stringer puts out an MWBE report card for city agencies and the mayor’s office, and he includes his office as well. Six of the 32 agencies graded by the Comptroller’s Office already have CDOs: Department of Design and Construction, Department of Finance, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Fire Department, and Law Department. (None of the agencies with chief diversity officers increased their share of procurement going to MWBEs by over 2.5% from 2017 to 2018 except the Department of Finance which spent only $25 million on procurement in total, about 21% of its procurement dollars.)</p> <p>The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has one of the biggest procurement budgets in city government, totaling nearly $1.7 billion, about as large as the other agencies with CDOs combined. DDC hired Chief Diversity and Industry Relations Officer Magalie D. Austin in 2014. According to budget testimony delivered last month by DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo, "Mayor de Blasio singled out DDC as the top performing agency in the City’s M/WBE program. We’ve awarded more than $1 billion to M/WBE firms since 2015. Between FY15 to FY18, our overall M/WBE utilization rate has increased from just under ten percent to 23 percent."</p> <p>Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York State also have chief diversity officers. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2011, responded to a <a href="https://cdn.esd.ny.gov/mwbe/Data/NERA_NYS_Disparity_Study_Final_NEW.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2010 disparity study</a> by focusing on the state’s procurement dollars going to MWBEs. In 2014, he upgraded his goal for MWBE utilization from 20% to 30% of the value of state contracts. In fiscal year 2017, the percentage of MWBE utilization in New York State was 28.6%, according to Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women's Business Development <a href="https://esd.ny.gov/esd-media-center/reports/division-minority-and-womens-business-development-annual-report-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Annual Report 2018</a>.</p> <p>The state chief diversity officer originally solely oversaw the MWBE procurement process but has recently added workforce diversity and inclusion duties as well. Currently, the role of chief diversity officer is filled by Lourdes Zapata.</p> <p><strong>Other Major Cities Have CDOs</strong><br />Outside of New York City, the position of chief diversity officer can be found in other major city governments around the country, almost all only created in the past five years.</p> <p>There are currently chief diversity officers in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Columbus, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, and Buffalo. The duties (and titles) of these CDOs vary – most of the positions are human resources in nature, such as researching workplace diversity, recruiting diverse applicants for city jobs, and raising awareness for diverse hiring practices.</p> <p>If the proposal passed, New York would be the first major city with a chief diversity officer whose main job duty would be to oversee procurement for MWBEs.</p> <p>In Philadelphia, the role of <a href="https://www.phila.gov/departments/office-of-the-chief-diversity-and-inclusion-officer/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer</a> is filled by Nolan Atkinson Jr. When offered the job, “I had one qualification. I wanted the title to be the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “I believe inclusion is vital in having a successful tenure in this position.”</p> <p>Atkinson’s office provides diversity training to city employees, publishes quarterly reports, and oversees the Office of Economic Opportunity, which manages procurement to WMBEs.</p> <p>Philadelphia city government awarded over $440 million out of an estimated $1.4 billion contracting budget (30.5%) to M/W/DSBE’s (Philadelphia includes business owners with a disability) in fiscal year 2018, a $128 million increase over fiscal year 2017, according to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Opportunity Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report. Philadelphia has set an “aspirational” goal of 35% of contracting dollars to go to diverse businesses. In terms of city employee diversity, the Philadelphia city workforce skews heavily male, at 65% of the workforce, and 58% of “new hires.”</p> <p>Boston’s CDO Danielson Tavares has had more success reflecting the city’s population in the city’s workforce but does not oversee procurement.</p> <p>Danielson Tavares, <a href="https://www.boston.gov/departments/mayors-office/danielson-tavares" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity Officer</a> of the City of Boston, told Gotham Gazette, “my initial mandate was as to try to diversify the [city government] workforce to be as reflective of the city population as possible with special attention to underrepresented populations.”</p> <p>According to the first ever <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-08-2016/2015.04.14_final_draft-updated_city_of_boston_workforce_profile_report_tcm3-50873.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">workforce report</a> looking at diversity in Boston in 2015, just 42% of city workers were non-white while 54% of the city was non-white. The <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-12-2017/quarterly_department_diversity_report_december_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December 2018 report</a> showed that out of the nearly 1,500 new city hires in the year before the report, 55% were non-white.</p> <p>Something both Atkinson and Tavares emphasized: for a CDO position to work, they need the support of the mayor of the city.</p> <p>It doesn’t seem like the proposal has it in New York.</p> <p><strong>The New York City Push, MWBE Spending, &amp; the Charter Revision Commission</strong><br /> In a statement to Gotham Gazette, de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras highlighted the work of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises but was noncommittal regarding the CDO proposal that’s in front of the charter revision commission.</p> <p>A chief diversity officer in New York would undoubtedly cause changes in the procurement spending infrastructure with the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE’s currently overseeing procurement to M/WBE’s. When asked at a March 21 press conference -- one week after the Stringer-led rally and testimony at the charter revision commission -- about the possibility of a CDO in New York City, de Blasio said, “I think the current approach is a very aggressive, effective way. We’ll always look at ways we can improve it, but I think this model is the way to get it done.”</p> <p>“If you’re chief diversity officer and you don’t report to the head, you’re set up to fail,” said Wendy Garcia. “If you’re reporting directly to the head, you’re part of the system.”</p> <p>“As long as it doesn’t get overly politicized, we see the power and leverage of a position like this necessarily maintained,” said Julie Nelson, Co-Director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality (GARE).</p> <p>An issue the 2019 Charter Revision Commission brought up in <a href="http://www.charter2019.nyc/hearings/13" target="_blank" rel="noopener">its hearing</a> was the already existing framework in the city overseeing M/WBE investment. Commissioner James Caras asked the panelist of experts who testified on the issue if a CDO was really necessary as the duties of the position, diversity hiring and overseeing the M/WBE program, are already handled by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the Mayor's Office of M/WBEs, respectively.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala argued that the specifics of how a CDO would integrate with the current MWBE officers in city agencies are unknown and would only add to a complicated charter and city bureaucratic structure.</p> <p>“We’re always too quick to come up with a catchy title and then try to ram it into the charter and then we’re left very disappointed when nothing happens.”</p> <p>A possible downside to the idea of chief diversity officers, said Nelson, is “when individual positions are allocated with the responsibility, that can take the pressure or the weight off other people” when promoting diversity.</p> <p>Asked about this reservation, Garcia told Gotham Gazette it is the reason the CDO must be in every agency and there must be one CDO who reports directly to the mayor.</p> <p>If skipped over by the charter revision commission, the creation of a citywide chief diversity officer could be legislated by the New York City Council, however the expert panelists at the revision commission’s hearing were dubious of this path as the charter is less malleable to political changes and pressures.</p> <p>It’s notable that of the ways the push for a CDO could succeed, like through legislative action or executive order, changing the city’s Charter is the only way that does not directly include the mayor, though he does have four appointees to the 15-member commission. (The City Council could pass a bill then override a mayoral veto. There is no current bill in the Council to create a CDO.)</p> <p>When the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard testimony on the proposal of creating a CDO at the March 14 hearing, commissioners appeared interested in the topic. After including the CDO concept in its list of issues to explore further, the commission heard from Stringer and others, among a series of expert hearings it held on a variety of topics, and will now put forward its narrowed focus areas on April 22. That list will determine which issues the commission plans to craft actual ballot proposals around for suggested changes to city government for voters to approve or disapprove in November.</p> <p>The MWBE program, created by city law in 2005, attempts to increase the amount of city procurement dollars that go to minority- and women-owned businesses. In fiscal year 2018, the city awarded $19.3 billion in contracts, of which $1 billion, or about 5.5%, went to MWBEs, according to Comptroller Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/making-the-grade/reports/making-the-grade-2018/#_edn2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Making the Grade 2018</a> report. In 2007, it was just 1.6%.</p> <p>In the same 2018 report, Stringer gave the city as a whole a D+. Of the 32 mayoral agencies graded, only nine received a B or higher, including the Office of the Comptroller. On spending specifically with African-American-owned businesses, five mayoral agencies received a B or higher. &nbsp;</p> <p>To improve, Mayor de Blasio set the goal of awarding $16 billion to MWBEs by 2025 in his OneNYC plan, a goal which has since been increased to $20 billion by 2025.</p> <p>Amid earlier criticism from Stringer, de Blasio created the Office of MWBEs in September of 2016, which is currently responsible for overseeing the MWBE program. The office, currently led by Jonnel Doris, is part of the mayor’s office and is overseen by the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, currently Phil Thompson. The office was created and enhanced under Thompson’s predecessor, Richard Buery.</p> <p>Talk of a chief diversity officer actually came up in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. At a very early forum in the race -- held in June 2012 when Stringer was exploring a mayoral bid before he shifted to the comptroller’s race -- participating candidates including de Blasio criticized the Bloomberg administration approach to diverse hiring and MWBE contracting. According to news reports the candidates all supported the idea of a CDO at City Hall. “De Blasio also endorsed the idea, but said he would go further, making the person who holds that post a deputy mayor,” according to <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-newyork-campaign-mayor/ny-city-democrats-slam-bloomberg-on-diversity-record-idUSBRE85B1M620120612" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Reuters article</a> from the time. That’s what de Blasio has done, in a way.</p> <p>But the city has failed to hit MWBE procurement benchmarks that were codified by Local Law 1 in 2013. For example, 18% of the value of city construction contracts awarded are supposed to go to women-owned businesses. In 2018, the city awarded just 4.1%, according to the comptroller’s Making the Grade 2018 report.</p> <p>On the matter of diversity in the mayor's office and city government more broadly, little has changed since de Blasio took office, according to the most recent statistics available from the city. While de Blasio has elevated more women and people of color to top city leadership positions, the larger workforce is about what it was in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final year of 2013.</p> <p><a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045217" target="_blank" rel="noopener">According to the U.S. Census Bureau</a>, as of July 2017, New York City as a whole was 52.3% female and 46.7% male, and 32% white, 29% Hispanic, 24% black, 14% Asian, and 1% other races.</p> <p>According to the city's Department of Citywide Administration Services: <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_12_30_2013.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2013</a> the mayor's office was: 60% female and 40% male, and 54% white, 17% black, 15% Hispanic, and 14% Asian; <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2017</a> the mayor's office was: 58% female and 42% male, and 46% white, 20% black, 15% Hispanic, 16% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>In 2013 the city government workforce was 58% female and 42% male, and 40% white, 31% black, 19% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 2% some other race. In 2017 the city government workforce was 59% female and 41% male, and 38% white, 30% black, 20% Hispanic, 9% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>Nelson, of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality, told Gotham Gazette the vast resources and dollars of New York City could have a real benefit on policies that would help people of color, if implemented well.</p> <p>“What we don’t want to have happen is for these positions just to be spokespeople for the status quo,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect accurate procurement spending with MWBEs by DDC. The original published version of the article inaccruately described DDC as making minimal progress in MWBE contracting in recent years whereas it has increased such spending significantly.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-office-city-hall-riders.jpg" alt="mayor office city hall riders" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many days throughout the year there are people gathered on the steps of City Hall calling on city government to make policy. On March 14, a rally of women and people of color who own businesses, organized by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, focused on a change that could significantly alter the direction of city government and opportunities for those business owners and others in similar positions.</p> <p>Those in attendance were backing Stringer’s push to have the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put a proposal on the November ballot to require a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s cabinet and one at each city agency.</p> <p>Fittingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio, AirPods in his ears, walked into City Hall at the time of the rally, seemingly paying it little mind. Over the last several years, Stringer has assailed the de Blasio administration’s approach to contracting with MWBEs -- minority- and women-owned business enterprises -- and called on the mayor to add a chief diversity officer (CDO) to his administration. De Blasio has adjusted the city’s MWBE contracting goals multiple times and created an MWBE office in 2016, but he has not created the CDO position. He has also repeatedly dismissed Stringer’s criticisms.</p> <p>A second-term Democrat who created a CDO at the comptroller’s office upon taking the citywide position in 2014, Stringer has now pushed the issue to the fore as the 2019 charter commission considers what changes to the city’s central governing document and structure it will propose to voters this fall -- it is listed first among Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/A-New-Charter-to-Confront-New-Challenges.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">65 charter revision proposals</a>.</p> <p>The City Hall rally, which included Stringer, MWBE owners, faith leaders, Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, and Brooklyn Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, came just hours before Stringer and others testified before the commission on the subject of adding the CDO positions to the charter.</p> <p>Among other responsibilities, the CDO position would oversee city procurement and contracting with MWBEs, as well as strategies to improve those efforts. The city spends billions of procurement dollars each year to buy things such as office supplies or hire contractors on city construction projects. The CDO would also focus on issues of equity and diversity in city government, with each CDO at individual city agencies handling these tasks with a narrower scope.</p> <p>“I’ve said to the mayor every year that we would really benefit from a chief diversity officer in City Hall,” Stringer told Gotham Gazette just after the rally. “For me, talk is cheap. We’re either going to be in the business of equality and economic justice or we’re not.”</p> <p>The CDO in Stringer’s office, currently Wendy Garcia, is tasked with overseeing all of its procurement dollars, about $14 million spent annually.</p> <p>“Every time I see a law or a regulation or some rule that inhibits minorities or women to have access, my job is to fix it and change it,” Garcia told Gotham Gazette in an interview. According to Stringer’s charter revision proposals, Garcia has helped the Office of the Comptroller almost double its spending with MWBEs to over 24% of its procurement spending in fiscal year 2017.</p> <p>“I think people do not fully appreciate the role of the chief diversity officer,” Stringer said. “Imagine a chief diversity officer in City Hall in this building right now working every day across all agencies to look at ways to up-spend to bring more people into the procurement process. This is a necessary part of government. It’s the future of the city. There’s nothing more important than creating wealth with opportunity.”</p> <p>Each year, Stringer puts out an MWBE report card for city agencies and the mayor’s office, and he includes his office as well. Six of the 32 agencies graded by the Comptroller’s Office already have CDOs: Department of Design and Construction, Department of Finance, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Fire Department, and Law Department. (None of the agencies with chief diversity officers increased their share of procurement going to MWBEs by over 2.5% from 2017 to 2018 except the Department of Finance which spent only $25 million on procurement in total, about 21% of its procurement dollars.)</p> <p>The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has one of the biggest procurement budgets in city government, totaling nearly $1.7 billion, about as large as the other agencies with CDOs combined. DDC hired Chief Diversity and Industry Relations Officer Magalie D. Austin in 2014. According to budget testimony delivered last month by DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo, "Mayor de Blasio singled out DDC as the top performing agency in the City’s M/WBE program. We’ve awarded more than $1 billion to M/WBE firms since 2015. Between FY15 to FY18, our overall M/WBE utilization rate has increased from just under ten percent to 23 percent."</p> <p>Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York State also have chief diversity officers. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2011, responded to a <a href="https://cdn.esd.ny.gov/mwbe/Data/NERA_NYS_Disparity_Study_Final_NEW.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2010 disparity study</a> by focusing on the state’s procurement dollars going to MWBEs. In 2014, he upgraded his goal for MWBE utilization from 20% to 30% of the value of state contracts. In fiscal year 2017, the percentage of MWBE utilization in New York State was 28.6%, according to Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women's Business Development <a href="https://esd.ny.gov/esd-media-center/reports/division-minority-and-womens-business-development-annual-report-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Annual Report 2018</a>.</p> <p>The state chief diversity officer originally solely oversaw the MWBE procurement process but has recently added workforce diversity and inclusion duties as well. Currently, the role of chief diversity officer is filled by Lourdes Zapata.</p> <p><strong>Other Major Cities Have CDOs</strong><br />Outside of New York City, the position of chief diversity officer can be found in other major city governments around the country, almost all only created in the past five years.</p> <p>There are currently chief diversity officers in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Columbus, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, and Buffalo. The duties (and titles) of these CDOs vary – most of the positions are human resources in nature, such as researching workplace diversity, recruiting diverse applicants for city jobs, and raising awareness for diverse hiring practices.</p> <p>If the proposal passed, New York would be the first major city with a chief diversity officer whose main job duty would be to oversee procurement for MWBEs.</p> <p>In Philadelphia, the role of <a href="https://www.phila.gov/departments/office-of-the-chief-diversity-and-inclusion-officer/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer</a> is filled by Nolan Atkinson Jr. When offered the job, “I had one qualification. I wanted the title to be the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “I believe inclusion is vital in having a successful tenure in this position.”</p> <p>Atkinson’s office provides diversity training to city employees, publishes quarterly reports, and oversees the Office of Economic Opportunity, which manages procurement to WMBEs.</p> <p>Philadelphia city government awarded over $440 million out of an estimated $1.4 billion contracting budget (30.5%) to M/W/DSBE’s (Philadelphia includes business owners with a disability) in fiscal year 2018, a $128 million increase over fiscal year 2017, according to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Opportunity Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report. Philadelphia has set an “aspirational” goal of 35% of contracting dollars to go to diverse businesses. In terms of city employee diversity, the Philadelphia city workforce skews heavily male, at 65% of the workforce, and 58% of “new hires.”</p> <p>Boston’s CDO Danielson Tavares has had more success reflecting the city’s population in the city’s workforce but does not oversee procurement.</p> <p>Danielson Tavares, <a href="https://www.boston.gov/departments/mayors-office/danielson-tavares" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity Officer</a> of the City of Boston, told Gotham Gazette, “my initial mandate was as to try to diversify the [city government] workforce to be as reflective of the city population as possible with special attention to underrepresented populations.”</p> <p>According to the first ever <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-08-2016/2015.04.14_final_draft-updated_city_of_boston_workforce_profile_report_tcm3-50873.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">workforce report</a> looking at diversity in Boston in 2015, just 42% of city workers were non-white while 54% of the city was non-white. The <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-12-2017/quarterly_department_diversity_report_december_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December 2018 report</a> showed that out of the nearly 1,500 new city hires in the year before the report, 55% were non-white.</p> <p>Something both Atkinson and Tavares emphasized: for a CDO position to work, they need the support of the mayor of the city.</p> <p>It doesn’t seem like the proposal has it in New York.</p> <p><strong>The New York City Push, MWBE Spending, &amp; the Charter Revision Commission</strong><br /> In a statement to Gotham Gazette, de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras highlighted the work of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises but was noncommittal regarding the CDO proposal that’s in front of the charter revision commission.</p> <p>A chief diversity officer in New York would undoubtedly cause changes in the procurement spending infrastructure with the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE’s currently overseeing procurement to M/WBE’s. When asked at a March 21 press conference -- one week after the Stringer-led rally and testimony at the charter revision commission -- about the possibility of a CDO in New York City, de Blasio said, “I think the current approach is a very aggressive, effective way. We’ll always look at ways we can improve it, but I think this model is the way to get it done.”</p> <p>“If you’re chief diversity officer and you don’t report to the head, you’re set up to fail,” said Wendy Garcia. “If you’re reporting directly to the head, you’re part of the system.”</p> <p>“As long as it doesn’t get overly politicized, we see the power and leverage of a position like this necessarily maintained,” said Julie Nelson, Co-Director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality (GARE).</p> <p>An issue the 2019 Charter Revision Commission brought up in <a href="http://www.charter2019.nyc/hearings/13" target="_blank" rel="noopener">its hearing</a> was the already existing framework in the city overseeing M/WBE investment. Commissioner James Caras asked the panelist of experts who testified on the issue if a CDO was really necessary as the duties of the position, diversity hiring and overseeing the M/WBE program, are already handled by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the Mayor's Office of M/WBEs, respectively.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala argued that the specifics of how a CDO would integrate with the current MWBE officers in city agencies are unknown and would only add to a complicated charter and city bureaucratic structure.</p> <p>“We’re always too quick to come up with a catchy title and then try to ram it into the charter and then we’re left very disappointed when nothing happens.”</p> <p>A possible downside to the idea of chief diversity officers, said Nelson, is “when individual positions are allocated with the responsibility, that can take the pressure or the weight off other people” when promoting diversity.</p> <p>Asked about this reservation, Garcia told Gotham Gazette it is the reason the CDO must be in every agency and there must be one CDO who reports directly to the mayor.</p> <p>If skipped over by the charter revision commission, the creation of a citywide chief diversity officer could be legislated by the New York City Council, however the expert panelists at the revision commission’s hearing were dubious of this path as the charter is less malleable to political changes and pressures.</p> <p>It’s notable that of the ways the push for a CDO could succeed, like through legislative action or executive order, changing the city’s Charter is the only way that does not directly include the mayor, though he does have four appointees to the 15-member commission. (The City Council could pass a bill then override a mayoral veto. There is no current bill in the Council to create a CDO.)</p> <p>When the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard testimony on the proposal of creating a CDO at the March 14 hearing, commissioners appeared interested in the topic. After including the CDO concept in its list of issues to explore further, the commission heard from Stringer and others, among a series of expert hearings it held on a variety of topics, and will now put forward its narrowed focus areas on April 22. That list will determine which issues the commission plans to craft actual ballot proposals around for suggested changes to city government for voters to approve or disapprove in November.</p> <p>The MWBE program, created by city law in 2005, attempts to increase the amount of city procurement dollars that go to minority- and women-owned businesses. In fiscal year 2018, the city awarded $19.3 billion in contracts, of which $1 billion, or about 5.5%, went to MWBEs, according to Comptroller Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/making-the-grade/reports/making-the-grade-2018/#_edn2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Making the Grade 2018</a> report. In 2007, it was just 1.6%.</p> <p>In the same 2018 report, Stringer gave the city as a whole a D+. Of the 32 mayoral agencies graded, only nine received a B or higher, including the Office of the Comptroller. On spending specifically with African-American-owned businesses, five mayoral agencies received a B or higher. &nbsp;</p> <p>To improve, Mayor de Blasio set the goal of awarding $16 billion to MWBEs by 2025 in his OneNYC plan, a goal which has since been increased to $20 billion by 2025.</p> <p>Amid earlier criticism from Stringer, de Blasio created the Office of MWBEs in September of 2016, which is currently responsible for overseeing the MWBE program. The office, currently led by Jonnel Doris, is part of the mayor’s office and is overseen by the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, currently Phil Thompson. The office was created and enhanced under Thompson’s predecessor, Richard Buery.</p> <p>Talk of a chief diversity officer actually came up in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. At a very early forum in the race -- held in June 2012 when Stringer was exploring a mayoral bid before he shifted to the comptroller’s race -- participating candidates including de Blasio criticized the Bloomberg administration approach to diverse hiring and MWBE contracting. According to news reports the candidates all supported the idea of a CDO at City Hall. “De Blasio also endorsed the idea, but said he would go further, making the person who holds that post a deputy mayor,” according to <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-newyork-campaign-mayor/ny-city-democrats-slam-bloomberg-on-diversity-record-idUSBRE85B1M620120612" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Reuters article</a> from the time. That’s what de Blasio has done, in a way.</p> <p>But the city has failed to hit MWBE procurement benchmarks that were codified by Local Law 1 in 2013. For example, 18% of the value of city construction contracts awarded are supposed to go to women-owned businesses. In 2018, the city awarded just 4.1%, according to the comptroller’s Making the Grade 2018 report.</p> <p>On the matter of diversity in the mayor's office and city government more broadly, little has changed since de Blasio took office, according to the most recent statistics available from the city. While de Blasio has elevated more women and people of color to top city leadership positions, the larger workforce is about what it was in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final year of 2013.</p> <p><a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045217" target="_blank" rel="noopener">According to the U.S. Census Bureau</a>, as of July 2017, New York City as a whole was 52.3% female and 46.7% male, and 32% white, 29% Hispanic, 24% black, 14% Asian, and 1% other races.</p> <p>According to the city's Department of Citywide Administration Services: <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_12_30_2013.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2013</a> the mayor's office was: 60% female and 40% male, and 54% white, 17% black, 15% Hispanic, and 14% Asian; <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2017</a> the mayor's office was: 58% female and 42% male, and 46% white, 20% black, 15% Hispanic, 16% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>In 2013 the city government workforce was 58% female and 42% male, and 40% white, 31% black, 19% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 2% some other race. In 2017 the city government workforce was 59% female and 41% male, and 38% white, 30% black, 20% Hispanic, 9% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>Nelson, of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality, told Gotham Gazette the vast resources and dollars of New York City could have a real benefit on policies that would help people of color, if implemented well.</p> <p>“What we don’t want to have happen is for these positions just to be spokespeople for the status quo,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect accurate procurement spending with MWBEs by DDC. The original published version of the article inaccruately described DDC as making minimal progress in MWBE contracting in recent years whereas it has increased such spending significantly.</p>
City’s Flawed Capital Project Process the Subject of Renewed Scrutiny, and Some Reform 2019-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8381-city-s-flawed-capital-project-process-the-subject-of-renewed-scrutiny-and-some-reform Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bdb-200.jpg" alt="mayor bdb 200" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many New Yorkers know the city has trouble completing construction projects on time and under budget. Projects like school renovations and the build-out of park facilities are capital projects, the subject of increasing scrutiny and some reform, with more promised, as frustrations persist and residents, watchdogs, lawmakers, and other city leaders seek answers.</p> <p>Top officials from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to Comptroller Scott Stringer have taken a fresh interest in improving the capital projects budgeting and delivery processes. The mayor’s office has released several plans promising to do just that. After forming a new subcommittee on the capital budget last year, the City Council has proposed reforms and Council members have been critical of the city’s handling of capital spending during this month’s annual budget hearings.</p> <p>Stringer has proposed three city charter revisions to improve accountability, recommendations to a charter revision commission that will soon propose changes to the city’s central governing document.</p> <p>There are some areas of agreement among the parties involved, but it is currently unclear if there will be any major substantive changes to the current system, wherein the city’s long-term capital budget planning is lacking in transparency and widely seen as unrealistic, and projects are consistently falling behind schedule and over budget.</p> <p>Much of the recent attention has come through this year’s city budget process. As part of the reviewing the preliminary expense budget put forward by Mayor de Blasio, the City Council also assesses the preliminary capital budget for next fiscal year as well as the ten-year capital strategy.</p> <p>At the first preliminary budget hearing of this cycle, Melanie Hartzog, the city’s budget director, said that the top priorities for capital projects over the next decade would be education, environmental protection, housing, and transportation.</p> <p>In two recent hearings and several recently-released plans, city officials have promised to address many of the long-standing issues associated with capital project delivery, including planning, process, and transparency.</p> <p>“We have doubts,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, at the Council’s initial budget hearing. Johnson and other Council members raised several issues about the capital budget and the ten-year plan. He said that the latter half of the ten-year plan “does not take into account the city’s needs,” including both its current commitments and new needs that will arise.</p> <p>Multiple Council members brought up that the ten-year plan does not include any new school construction after fiscal year 2024. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the capital budget subcommittee, called this “unrealistic planning” and noted the city’s history of frontloading its ten-year capital plans.</p> <p>Gibson specifically cited the budget planning for the NYPD’s capital needs. The current proposal allocates $850 million in capital spending for the first three years of the plan, and only $160 million in the next seven. Hartzog acknowledged the history and said that the city is working to improve. Council members did acknowledge some progress in clarity for what is outlined.</p> <p>In addition to problems with planning, capital delivery from conception to completion has its own set of obstacles. Recognizing the past-due and over-budget trend, the city’s Department of Design and Construction earlier this year released a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/images/content/pages/press-releases/2019/2019_DDC_Strategic_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">strategic blueprint</a> that promises to “fundamentally reevaluate the status quo in City capital project delivery.”</p> <p>As of the time of the report’s release, DDC was managing 834 active projects valued at $13.5 billion. Since 2004, the annual capital budget has grown by $1 billion to $3 billion each year to keep pace with a growing city, which has also added nearly a million jobs in the same period. DDC deals with most city capital projects outside of the School Construction Authority, which is its own entity dealing with its eponymous subject matter. SCA is known to be far more successful in its planning and delivery than DDC.</p> <p>The blueprint identifies three internal and external impediments within the delivery process, including DDC’s own business practices, burdensome procurement process rules, and the engineering challenges that come with underground infrastructure that “all complicate efficient delivery of capital projects” in the city.</p> <p>The report also identifies climate change as a necessary factor to consider in all future planning. Capital projects need to both protect the city from rising sea levels and natural disasters as well as minimize the city’s contributions to global warming, according to the report. The agency is under relatively new leadership as it embarks on this ambitious plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lorraine Grillo, who has also continued leading the School Construction Authority, as the new DDC commissioner last July. Grillo has been widely praised for her leadership of SCA, including by City Council members, though the city continues to struggle with school space in many neighborhoods.</p> <p>DDC is currently undergoing an agency-wide review of its practices and external challenges. Through this review, DDC promises to “modernize how we do business.” These modernizing reforms include standardizing project initiation, managing projects more effectively, enhancing management capacity, and updating internal systems and technology. The plan promises to better identify and prioritize needs, streamline procurement, and restructure contracts to promote meeting deadlines, among other improvements.</p> <p>Contracts and contractor diversity are also a primary concern for the mayor’s office and the Council, they say. DDC wants to get more out of its contracts and diversify and expand the pool of applicants. Daniel Steinberg, the Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said that many minority- and women-owned business do not apply for contracts because of the city’s history of untimely payments. This can also dissuade newer and smaller businesses from participating in the bidding process. Timely payment of contracts is a larger issue that DDC is also seeking to address.</p> <p>During a February joint hearing, the City Council’s finance committee and capital budget subcommittee considered two bills that aim to improve transparency in the capital projects process.</p> <p>The City Charter mandates certain reporting on the process to the Council and the public, but Council Member Gibson said these reports “often do not relate to one another or the city’s real spending in a meaningful way.” The two bills, which had the support of the Council members present at the hearing, are intended to address these issues. Gibson said that the proposals would give the Council and public “a wholistic and detailed look at all capital projects that are in progress throughout the city.”</p> <p>The first, Intro. 32, sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, would require city agencies to provide electronic notification of any delays or cost changes for capital projects. This is very similar to one of the charter revisions that Comptroller Stringer is proposing. The second, Intro. 113, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, would create a database to track citywide capital projects. Finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that “transparency in the capital process is key to providing assurances to the public that city resources are being put into good use in an efficient and effective manner.”</p> <p>While most of the hearing focused on these two bills, it was clear that the Council members had larger issues in mind and thought of the bills as first steps to larger-scale reform and improvements.</p> <p>Steinberg, of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said during the hearing that his office agreed with the two bills “in spirit,” but was concerned with components of each bill that he would consider to be “impractical.”</p> <p>He voiced concern that Intro. 32 would require reporting for all capital projects, which includes everything from equipment acquisition (such as of paper shredders) to building or repairing massive water tunnels. In regards to Intro. 113, he said that it “would be incredibly burdensome to implement while providing little new information.”</p> <p>Intro. 32 currently has ten Council sponsors, while Intro. 113 has 35 sponsors, well above the threshold required for passage in the 51-seat Council.</p> <p>Nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission submitted testimony in support of Intro. 113 at the February hearing, saying that “the capital budget is just as important as the operating budget and should be subject to the same monitoring and scrutiny.” Gibson brought up the bills again at the initial preliminary budget hearing.</p> <p>The two bills are focused on transparency in the capital projects process, but the sponsors and other Council members also contextualized the proposals as necessary for the eventual improvement of the entire system and not a distinct issue of bureaucratic transparency. During the hearing, Cohen said that “the inability of the city to deliver on capital projects is an epidemic.”</p> <p>Council members frequently expressed their personal frustration with the process and the length it takes for many capital projects to be completed, some spanning multiple Council member terms. Cohen, who is in his second term, said that he “spends a significant amount of my time on projects that were funded by my predecessor.” Gibson similarly expressed frustration over parks projects commonly taking as long as eight years to complete, which presents an oversight challenge to Council members, who are term-limited to eight years in office over two terms.</p> <p>A source of frustration for Council members was that only capital projects costing $25 million or more are required to be reported on the capital projects dashboard, a publicly-available transparency tool on the city’s website. Capital projects of that size account for only 300 of the over 10,000 ongoing projects for a year. Steinberg said that the Mayor’s Office of Operations would be open to expanding the scope of the dashboard’s reporting to be more inclusive than the current threshold. After learning that the city does not have an employee assigned specifically to data entry for the dashboard, Gibson said that it was evidence that capital projects transparency “is not a priority in this city.”</p> <p>Another area of agreement between the Council and Comptroller is the need for individual budget line items for each capital project. This proposal was one of Stringer’s suggested charter revisions and Gibson brought it up at both recent Council hearings pertaining to the capital budget. Stringer is also proposing that the city regularly report on the condition of capital assets, a requirement he wants added to the charter.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bdb-200.jpg" alt="mayor bdb 200" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many New Yorkers know the city has trouble completing construction projects on time and under budget. Projects like school renovations and the build-out of park facilities are capital projects, the subject of increasing scrutiny and some reform, with more promised, as frustrations persist and residents, watchdogs, lawmakers, and other city leaders seek answers.</p> <p>Top officials from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to Comptroller Scott Stringer have taken a fresh interest in improving the capital projects budgeting and delivery processes. The mayor’s office has released several plans promising to do just that. After forming a new subcommittee on the capital budget last year, the City Council has proposed reforms and Council members have been critical of the city’s handling of capital spending during this month’s annual budget hearings.</p> <p>Stringer has proposed three city charter revisions to improve accountability, recommendations to a charter revision commission that will soon propose changes to the city’s central governing document.</p> <p>There are some areas of agreement among the parties involved, but it is currently unclear if there will be any major substantive changes to the current system, wherein the city’s long-term capital budget planning is lacking in transparency and widely seen as unrealistic, and projects are consistently falling behind schedule and over budget.</p> <p>Much of the recent attention has come through this year’s city budget process. As part of the reviewing the preliminary expense budget put forward by Mayor de Blasio, the City Council also assesses the preliminary capital budget for next fiscal year as well as the ten-year capital strategy.</p> <p>At the first preliminary budget hearing of this cycle, Melanie Hartzog, the city’s budget director, said that the top priorities for capital projects over the next decade would be education, environmental protection, housing, and transportation.</p> <p>In two recent hearings and several recently-released plans, city officials have promised to address many of the long-standing issues associated with capital project delivery, including planning, process, and transparency.</p> <p>“We have doubts,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, at the Council’s initial budget hearing. Johnson and other Council members raised several issues about the capital budget and the ten-year plan. He said that the latter half of the ten-year plan “does not take into account the city’s needs,” including both its current commitments and new needs that will arise.</p> <p>Multiple Council members brought up that the ten-year plan does not include any new school construction after fiscal year 2024. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the capital budget subcommittee, called this “unrealistic planning” and noted the city’s history of frontloading its ten-year capital plans.</p> <p>Gibson specifically cited the budget planning for the NYPD’s capital needs. The current proposal allocates $850 million in capital spending for the first three years of the plan, and only $160 million in the next seven. Hartzog acknowledged the history and said that the city is working to improve. Council members did acknowledge some progress in clarity for what is outlined.</p> <p>In addition to problems with planning, capital delivery from conception to completion has its own set of obstacles. Recognizing the past-due and over-budget trend, the city’s Department of Design and Construction earlier this year released a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/images/content/pages/press-releases/2019/2019_DDC_Strategic_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">strategic blueprint</a> that promises to “fundamentally reevaluate the status quo in City capital project delivery.”</p> <p>As of the time of the report’s release, DDC was managing 834 active projects valued at $13.5 billion. Since 2004, the annual capital budget has grown by $1 billion to $3 billion each year to keep pace with a growing city, which has also added nearly a million jobs in the same period. DDC deals with most city capital projects outside of the School Construction Authority, which is its own entity dealing with its eponymous subject matter. SCA is known to be far more successful in its planning and delivery than DDC.</p> <p>The blueprint identifies three internal and external impediments within the delivery process, including DDC’s own business practices, burdensome procurement process rules, and the engineering challenges that come with underground infrastructure that “all complicate efficient delivery of capital projects” in the city.</p> <p>The report also identifies climate change as a necessary factor to consider in all future planning. Capital projects need to both protect the city from rising sea levels and natural disasters as well as minimize the city’s contributions to global warming, according to the report. The agency is under relatively new leadership as it embarks on this ambitious plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lorraine Grillo, who has also continued leading the School Construction Authority, as the new DDC commissioner last July. Grillo has been widely praised for her leadership of SCA, including by City Council members, though the city continues to struggle with school space in many neighborhoods.</p> <p>DDC is currently undergoing an agency-wide review of its practices and external challenges. Through this review, DDC promises to “modernize how we do business.” These modernizing reforms include standardizing project initiation, managing projects more effectively, enhancing management capacity, and updating internal systems and technology. The plan promises to better identify and prioritize needs, streamline procurement, and restructure contracts to promote meeting deadlines, among other improvements.</p> <p>Contracts and contractor diversity are also a primary concern for the mayor’s office and the Council, they say. DDC wants to get more out of its contracts and diversify and expand the pool of applicants. Daniel Steinberg, the Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said that many minority- and women-owned business do not apply for contracts because of the city’s history of untimely payments. This can also dissuade newer and smaller businesses from participating in the bidding process. Timely payment of contracts is a larger issue that DDC is also seeking to address.</p> <p>During a February joint hearing, the City Council’s finance committee and capital budget subcommittee considered two bills that aim to improve transparency in the capital projects process.</p> <p>The City Charter mandates certain reporting on the process to the Council and the public, but Council Member Gibson said these reports “often do not relate to one another or the city’s real spending in a meaningful way.” The two bills, which had the support of the Council members present at the hearing, are intended to address these issues. Gibson said that the proposals would give the Council and public “a wholistic and detailed look at all capital projects that are in progress throughout the city.”</p> <p>The first, Intro. 32, sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, would require city agencies to provide electronic notification of any delays or cost changes for capital projects. This is very similar to one of the charter revisions that Comptroller Stringer is proposing. The second, Intro. 113, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, would create a database to track citywide capital projects. Finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that “transparency in the capital process is key to providing assurances to the public that city resources are being put into good use in an efficient and effective manner.”</p> <p>While most of the hearing focused on these two bills, it was clear that the Council members had larger issues in mind and thought of the bills as first steps to larger-scale reform and improvements.</p> <p>Steinberg, of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said during the hearing that his office agreed with the two bills “in spirit,” but was concerned with components of each bill that he would consider to be “impractical.”</p> <p>He voiced concern that Intro. 32 would require reporting for all capital projects, which includes everything from equipment acquisition (such as of paper shredders) to building or repairing massive water tunnels. In regards to Intro. 113, he said that it “would be incredibly burdensome to implement while providing little new information.”</p> <p>Intro. 32 currently has ten Council sponsors, while Intro. 113 has 35 sponsors, well above the threshold required for passage in the 51-seat Council.</p> <p>Nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission submitted testimony in support of Intro. 113 at the February hearing, saying that “the capital budget is just as important as the operating budget and should be subject to the same monitoring and scrutiny.” Gibson brought up the bills again at the initial preliminary budget hearing.</p> <p>The two bills are focused on transparency in the capital projects process, but the sponsors and other Council members also contextualized the proposals as necessary for the eventual improvement of the entire system and not a distinct issue of bureaucratic transparency. During the hearing, Cohen said that “the inability of the city to deliver on capital projects is an epidemic.”</p> <p>Council members frequently expressed their personal frustration with the process and the length it takes for many capital projects to be completed, some spanning multiple Council member terms. Cohen, who is in his second term, said that he “spends a significant amount of my time on projects that were funded by my predecessor.” Gibson similarly expressed frustration over parks projects commonly taking as long as eight years to complete, which presents an oversight challenge to Council members, who are term-limited to eight years in office over two terms.</p> <p>A source of frustration for Council members was that only capital projects costing $25 million or more are required to be reported on the capital projects dashboard, a publicly-available transparency tool on the city’s website. Capital projects of that size account for only 300 of the over 10,000 ongoing projects for a year. Steinberg said that the Mayor’s Office of Operations would be open to expanding the scope of the dashboard’s reporting to be more inclusive than the current threshold. After learning that the city does not have an employee assigned specifically to data entry for the dashboard, Gibson said that it was evidence that capital projects transparency “is not a priority in this city.”</p> <p>Another area of agreement between the Council and Comptroller is the need for individual budget line items for each capital project. This proposal was one of Stringer’s suggested charter revisions and Gibson brought it up at both recent Council hearings pertaining to the capital budget. Stringer is also proposing that the city regularly report on the condition of capital assets, a requirement he wants added to the charter.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Conflicts of Interest and Chief Diversity Officer 2019-03-17T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-17T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gg-cc-h.jpg" alt="gg cc h" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>On Thursday evening, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard from experts in city government and activist circles to discuss possible charter amendments that could enhance precautionary measures against conflicts of interest in city government, and the potential mandated addition of a chief diversity officer in the mayor’s office, at mayoral agencies, and elsewhere. The push for adding chief diversity officers is being led by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who created such a position in his office and has made the effort one of his top priorities among many suggested charter changes.</p> <p>After having held a series of open public hearings around the city, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission announced its focus areas and is holding a series of “expert” hearings as it considers major potential overhauls to the city charter for the first time in 30 years. The commission will submit revisions to the city’s foundational laws before voters this November, though the proposals will undergo several rounds of public input before reaching the ballot.</p> <p>The commission has already heard from experts on <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reform</a>, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, and <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>. The commissioners on the charter revision commission were appointed by a variety of elected leaders, including the mayor, who had the most appointments but not a majority, the comptroller, the public advocate, the City Council speaker, and each of the borough presidents.</p> <p>The charter currently aims to stamp out corruption in part through the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which consists of five mayoral appointees approved by City Council and a staff that executes trainings and investigations, among other tasks.</p> <p>The COIB currently has four primary goals: educating public servants about the city’s rules on conflicts of interest as delineated in <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/coib/the-law/chapter-68-of-the-new-york-city-charter.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chapter 68</a> of the charter, offering advice regarding public servants’ interpretation of Chapter 68 and the Lobbyist Gift Law, prosecuting politicians who break these rules, and enforcing the Annual Disclosure Law that requires yearly financial disclosures from all city politicians. The COIB oversees the mandate of a one-year freeze on politicians’ ability to lobby their former agency once they leave office.</p> <p>Current COIB Chair Richard Briffault was the only expert on conflicts of interest and corruption to speak before the commission. He did not propose any amendments to the charter, but fielded questions from the commissioners and explained why he believes the COIB is working well in its current form.</p> <p>“Our small size facilitates deliberation and action. The combination of mayoral appointment and Council confirmation...assures that any issues about any nomination can be publicly aired,” he explained.</p> <p>Charter Commissioner Sal Albanese -- a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, including in the 2017 Democratic primary against Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams -- asked if serving under mayoral appointment poses an inherent conflict of interest, implying that the current COIB structure incentivizes protection of the mayor. Briffault said he understood the concern, but explained that diversifying appointment power could enhance the notion that a COIB member should serve the politician who appointed them. A standard of mayoral appointees, Briffault argued, promotes a sense of cohesion within the body.</p> <p>Briffault also cautioned against changing the COIB to operate more like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the highly-controversial state body that many argue is ineffective, and which draws appointments from the governor and legislative leaders.</p> <p>Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, appointed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, echoed Albanese’s concerns, asking Briffault if the COIB would benefit by drawing members from a wider variety of employment sectors. Briffault conceded that attorneys currently comprise the majority of the COIB, if not its entirety. “The plus side [to that change] is guaranteeing that different perspectives are there,” he said. “But a lot of what we do is interpret and enforce the law.”</p> <p>Albanese further inquired about the COIB’s opinion regarding the one-year lobbying ban on public servants leaving office, suggesting that a five-year or even lifetime ban would better root out corruption. Briffault declined to take a position on the matter. “We’re not policy-makers,” he said. But he did affirm the current yearlong measure, positing that a longer ban might “discourage high-quality people from going into government.”</p> <p>While Albanese expressed concern about lobbying power and methods of circumventing the Lobbying Gift Law, Briffault maintained that certain actions like campaign donation bundling cannot be regulated as lobbying.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala asked if Briffault sought to increase the COIB’s relatively small annual budget of $2.5 million. Briffault remained ambivalent, though he said that either consistently re-adjusting the budget for inflation or tying the budget to a percentage of that of City Council would benefit the COIB. In recent years COIB has pushed for more funding during City Council budget hearings, with representatives explaining that it is challenging to perform all of the trainings and other tasks it has given its staffing levels and high turnover based on lower-than-ideal pay.</p> <p>The commission also heard from experts regarding the installation of a chief diversity officer within the mayor’s office and deputy officers in each city agency to oversee the Women and Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program (MWBE). While all experts and commissioners agreed on the program’s importance, contention arose over whether the chief diversity officer program should be codified into the city charter when an MWBE system has already been legislated into effect with Local Law 12.</p> <p>Reverend Jacques Andre DeGraff and Wendy Garcia, chief diversity officer for the office of city Comptroller Scott Stringer, both argued in favor of codification, while director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs and Dawn Pinnock, executive deputy commissioner of people operations and risk management at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, argued that Local Law 12 should stand on its own. Andrea Bowen, an transgender and gender-nonconforming rights activist, did not take a clear stance on the issue, but pushed the commission to consider ways to codify increased hiring of trans folks around the city.</p> <p>The commission was supposed to hear concerns about the sprawling public pension system, but experts from Comptroller Stringer’s office, who oversee the city pension system, were unable to attend, frustrating Albanese who requested time at the start of the session to rail against the absence of Stringer and his staff. “He’s missing in action and so is his staff,” Albanese said. “It’s a politically tough issue, but that’s what you get paid for as an elected official.”</p> <p>The next charter commission hearing will take place on Monday, March 18, on other issues of governance, including the role of the public advocate.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gg-cc-h.jpg" alt="gg cc h" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>On Thursday evening, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard from experts in city government and activist circles to discuss possible charter amendments that could enhance precautionary measures against conflicts of interest in city government, and the potential mandated addition of a chief diversity officer in the mayor’s office, at mayoral agencies, and elsewhere. The push for adding chief diversity officers is being led by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who created such a position in his office and has made the effort one of his top priorities among many suggested charter changes.</p> <p>After having held a series of open public hearings around the city, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission announced its focus areas and is holding a series of “expert” hearings as it considers major potential overhauls to the city charter for the first time in 30 years. The commission will submit revisions to the city’s foundational laws before voters this November, though the proposals will undergo several rounds of public input before reaching the ballot.</p> <p>The commission has already heard from experts on <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reform</a>, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, and <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>. The commissioners on the charter revision commission were appointed by a variety of elected leaders, including the mayor, who had the most appointments but not a majority, the comptroller, the public advocate, the City Council speaker, and each of the borough presidents.</p> <p>The charter currently aims to stamp out corruption in part through the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which consists of five mayoral appointees approved by City Council and a staff that executes trainings and investigations, among other tasks.</p> <p>The COIB currently has four primary goals: educating public servants about the city’s rules on conflicts of interest as delineated in <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/coib/the-law/chapter-68-of-the-new-york-city-charter.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chapter 68</a> of the charter, offering advice regarding public servants’ interpretation of Chapter 68 and the Lobbyist Gift Law, prosecuting politicians who break these rules, and enforcing the Annual Disclosure Law that requires yearly financial disclosures from all city politicians. The COIB oversees the mandate of a one-year freeze on politicians’ ability to lobby their former agency once they leave office.</p> <p>Current COIB Chair Richard Briffault was the only expert on conflicts of interest and corruption to speak before the commission. He did not propose any amendments to the charter, but fielded questions from the commissioners and explained why he believes the COIB is working well in its current form.</p> <p>“Our small size facilitates deliberation and action. The combination of mayoral appointment and Council confirmation...assures that any issues about any nomination can be publicly aired,” he explained.</p> <p>Charter Commissioner Sal Albanese -- a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, including in the 2017 Democratic primary against Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams -- asked if serving under mayoral appointment poses an inherent conflict of interest, implying that the current COIB structure incentivizes protection of the mayor. Briffault said he understood the concern, but explained that diversifying appointment power could enhance the notion that a COIB member should serve the politician who appointed them. A standard of mayoral appointees, Briffault argued, promotes a sense of cohesion within the body.</p> <p>Briffault also cautioned against changing the COIB to operate more like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the highly-controversial state body that many argue is ineffective, and which draws appointments from the governor and legislative leaders.</p> <p>Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, appointed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, echoed Albanese’s concerns, asking Briffault if the COIB would benefit by drawing members from a wider variety of employment sectors. Briffault conceded that attorneys currently comprise the majority of the COIB, if not its entirety. “The plus side [to that change] is guaranteeing that different perspectives are there,” he said. “But a lot of what we do is interpret and enforce the law.”</p> <p>Albanese further inquired about the COIB’s opinion regarding the one-year lobbying ban on public servants leaving office, suggesting that a five-year or even lifetime ban would better root out corruption. Briffault declined to take a position on the matter. “We’re not policy-makers,” he said. But he did affirm the current yearlong measure, positing that a longer ban might “discourage high-quality people from going into government.”</p> <p>While Albanese expressed concern about lobbying power and methods of circumventing the Lobbying Gift Law, Briffault maintained that certain actions like campaign donation bundling cannot be regulated as lobbying.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala asked if Briffault sought to increase the COIB’s relatively small annual budget of $2.5 million. Briffault remained ambivalent, though he said that either consistently re-adjusting the budget for inflation or tying the budget to a percentage of that of City Council would benefit the COIB. In recent years COIB has pushed for more funding during City Council budget hearings, with representatives explaining that it is challenging to perform all of the trainings and other tasks it has given its staffing levels and high turnover based on lower-than-ideal pay.</p> <p>The commission also heard from experts regarding the installation of a chief diversity officer within the mayor’s office and deputy officers in each city agency to oversee the Women and Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program (MWBE). While all experts and commissioners agreed on the program’s importance, contention arose over whether the chief diversity officer program should be codified into the city charter when an MWBE system has already been legislated into effect with Local Law 12.</p> <p>Reverend Jacques Andre DeGraff and Wendy Garcia, chief diversity officer for the office of city Comptroller Scott Stringer, both argued in favor of codification, while director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs and Dawn Pinnock, executive deputy commissioner of people operations and risk management at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, argued that Local Law 12 should stand on its own. Andrea Bowen, an transgender and gender-nonconforming rights activist, did not take a clear stance on the issue, but pushed the commission to consider ways to codify increased hiring of trans folks around the city.</p> <p>The commission was supposed to hear concerns about the sprawling public pension system, but experts from Comptroller Stringer’s office, who oversee the city pension system, were unable to attend, frustrating Albanese who requested time at the start of the session to rail against the absence of Stringer and his staff. “He’s missing in action and so is his staff,” Albanese said. “It’s a politically tough issue, but that’s what you get paid for as an elected official.”</p> <p>The next charter commission hearing will take place on Monday, March 18, on other issues of governance, including the role of the public advocate.</p> <p> </p> Calling for More Savings, Stringer Releases Analysis of De Blasio Budget Plan 2019-03-01T05:00:00+00:00 2019-03-01T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8325-calling-for-more-savings-stringer-releases-analysis-of-de-blasio-budget-plan Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/stringer-fy2020-prelim.png" alt="stringer fy2020 prelim" width="600" height="349" /></p> <p>Comptroller Stringer</p> <hr /> <p>New York Comptroller Scott Stringer released on Friday his analysis of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1 of this year. De Blasio had presented a $92.2 billion budget plan on Feb. 7, 2019, the first step of many that will lead to a budget deal between de Blasio and the City Council. As comptroller, Stringer is tasked with budget oversight and monitoring the city’s fiscal health.</p> <p>During his presentation at his Manhattan office, Stringer expressed concern over de Blasio’s use of “one-time actions” to craft the budget and said the city ought to increase its savings “cushion” to 15% of total spending to prepare for an impending economic downturn. Savings are at roughly 11%, he said. Stringer said that de Blasio’s preliminary budget, which is far from the final product, would make for spending growth of 2.1%. The city budget has grown significantly and rapidly under de Blasio.</p> <p>Stringer warned the city should be ready to take a budget hit from the state and while he commended the mayor for announcing a new savings plan -- de Blasio’s version of a Program to Eliminate the Gap, or PEG -- Stringer said it is not as ambitious as it should be and city agencies need a real “scrub” of their budgets and operations to identify more opportunities for efficiency.</p> <p>Stringer also announced that he has removed the Department of Education from his “agency watch list” — a tool the office introduced last year to most closely track efficiency of spending in select city agencies of concern — and the Department of Buildings has been added. DOB, he said, has hired 132 new construction inspectors — a 62% increase in spending — while construction accidents rose 252%. The other two entrants on the watch list, the Department of Correction and the agencies that perform homeless services, remain.</p> <p>Stringer pointed out, as de Blasio had, that city and state tax revenues have fallen recently, raising significant red flags as budget season unfolds. The state budget appears to be on shakier ground than the city’s, and a state spending plan is due by April 1, which will influence the city budget that is decided thereafter. The comptroller said the city should prepare for the state to shift the burden.</p> <p>“The first place Albany goes to save money is New York City,” said Stringer. “We are not doing enough to prepare for this scenario or this reality.”</p> <p>De Blasio and Stringer both recently testified in the state capital at a joint legislative budget hearing. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8275-in-budget-testimony-de-blasio-critiques-cuomo-plans-presents-city-albany-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">During his testimony</a>, de Blasio asked legislators to help him fight back against proposed cost shifts and cuts that Governor Andrew Cuomo had outlined in his January executive budget.</p> <p>Stringer said on Friday that the city’s projected accumulated surplus is $1.4 billion less than at the start of this fiscal year despite the $400 million added to it, and most of the addition to the surplus this year was due to “one-time shots,” which are resources the city only collects once and can’t count on in recurring fashion.</p> <p>After nine years of surplus and economic expansion, Stringer said the city should prepare for an economic downturn as the federal tax stimulus wears off. As the unprecedented growth streak has continued, de Blasio, Stringer and others have expected tougher times year after year, but they have not yet arrived. This year could be different, depending in part on how New York taxpayers have and continue to react to the new federal tax code.</p> <p>As he called for the larger budget cushion -- something Stringer has pushed for years and de Blasio has mostly dismissed, citing large reserves -- the comptroller said preparation is key in order to protect low-income families, city workers, and social services that could be the biggest victims of city cuts.</p> <p>On his agency watchlist, launched last year in an effort to reform spending at certain city agencies, Stringer congratulated the Department of Education for making its way off after reducing travel costs and consolidating redundant programs. He said DOE showed conclusive evidence of more efficient spending.</p> <p>But the Department of Buildings made its way onto the list after hiring the 132 new construction inspectors, a 78.6% increase that yielded only a 32% increase in inspections. Meanwhile, there was a 252% increase in construction accidents, Stringer said, and a 166.7% increase in construction fatalities from fiscal year 2014 to 2018.</p> <p>“We needed to hire inspectors, but they must be deployed in a way that gets results, and that's not what we are seeing here, so they have joined the watchlist,” he said.</p> <p>The Department of Correction and five different city agencies that spend on homelessness remain on the watchlist. City spending on homelessness has increased from $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2014 to a projected $2.9 billion in fiscal year 2020, with the majority of spending going to shelters and other funding to prevention and services, with little impact in reducing the city’s homeless population — with 60,620 adults and children living in shelters as of Thursday, according to the city, and 580,000 New Yorkers living rent-burdened and on the edge of homelessness.</p> <p>“This is really a crisis that is not being managed,” said Stringer. “There’s a lot of contributing factors.”</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly said that he has not made the progress he’d hoped on homelessness but has also made the case that his administration’s efforts have stopped the problem from getting much worse, and that the city has finally stabilized the decades-long growth in homelessness, including through a significant increase in anti-eviction programs as well as rent vouchers for those leaving shelter.</p> <p>Correction remains on the watch list after spending has nearly doubled since fiscal year 2014, partly in an effort to decrease violence on Rikers Island, though that violence has increased while the overall jail population has decreased significantly. According to the comptroller, the city currently spends $300,000 per detainee every year, up from $117,000 in 2008, and in the same period the number of violent incidents has more than tripled to 1,354 per 1,000 population. Meanwhile the number of detainees has decreased by 36%.</p> <p>The comptroller also announced Friday that he has sent a letter to de Blasio’s office asking for a full financial accounting for ThriveNYC, the mental health program run by First Lady Chirlane McCray that has recently come under <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2019/02/26/with-obscure-budget-and-elusive-metrics-850m-thrivenyc-program-attempts-a-reset-873945" target="_blank" rel="noopener">media</a> and City Council scrutiny. Stringer expressed concerns about the transparency and effectiveness of the funding, and said he wants to determine where exactly the $250 million in annual spending is going.</p> <p>

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by Brianna Zimmerman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/stringer-fy2020-prelim.png" alt="stringer fy2020 prelim" width="600" height="349" /></p> <p>Comptroller Stringer</p> <hr /> <p>New York Comptroller Scott Stringer released on Friday his analysis of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1 of this year. De Blasio had presented a $92.2 billion budget plan on Feb. 7, 2019, the first step of many that will lead to a budget deal between de Blasio and the City Council. As comptroller, Stringer is tasked with budget oversight and monitoring the city’s fiscal health.</p> <p>During his presentation at his Manhattan office, Stringer expressed concern over de Blasio’s use of “one-time actions” to craft the budget and said the city ought to increase its savings “cushion” to 15% of total spending to prepare for an impending economic downturn. Savings are at roughly 11%, he said. Stringer said that de Blasio’s preliminary budget, which is far from the final product, would make for spending growth of 2.1%. The city budget has grown significantly and rapidly under de Blasio.</p> <p>Stringer warned the city should be ready to take a budget hit from the state and while he commended the mayor for announcing a new savings plan -- de Blasio’s version of a Program to Eliminate the Gap, or PEG -- Stringer said it is not as ambitious as it should be and city agencies need a real “scrub” of their budgets and operations to identify more opportunities for efficiency.</p> <p>Stringer also announced that he has removed the Department of Education from his “agency watch list” — a tool the office introduced last year to most closely track efficiency of spending in select city agencies of concern — and the Department of Buildings has been added. DOB, he said, has hired 132 new construction inspectors — a 62% increase in spending — while construction accidents rose 252%. The other two entrants on the watch list, the Department of Correction and the agencies that perform homeless services, remain.</p> <p>Stringer pointed out, as de Blasio had, that city and state tax revenues have fallen recently, raising significant red flags as budget season unfolds. The state budget appears to be on shakier ground than the city’s, and a state spending plan is due by April 1, which will influence the city budget that is decided thereafter. The comptroller said the city should prepare for the state to shift the burden.</p> <p>“The first place Albany goes to save money is New York City,” said Stringer. “We are not doing enough to prepare for this scenario or this reality.”</p> <p>De Blasio and Stringer both recently testified in the state capital at a joint legislative budget hearing. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8275-in-budget-testimony-de-blasio-critiques-cuomo-plans-presents-city-albany-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">During his testimony</a>, de Blasio asked legislators to help him fight back against proposed cost shifts and cuts that Governor Andrew Cuomo had outlined in his January executive budget.</p> <p>Stringer said on Friday that the city’s projected accumulated surplus is $1.4 billion less than at the start of this fiscal year despite the $400 million added to it, and most of the addition to the surplus this year was due to “one-time shots,” which are resources the city only collects once and can’t count on in recurring fashion.</p> <p>After nine years of surplus and economic expansion, Stringer said the city should prepare for an economic downturn as the federal tax stimulus wears off. As the unprecedented growth streak has continued, de Blasio, Stringer and others have expected tougher times year after year, but they have not yet arrived. This year could be different, depending in part on how New York taxpayers have and continue to react to the new federal tax code.</p> <p>As he called for the larger budget cushion -- something Stringer has pushed for years and de Blasio has mostly dismissed, citing large reserves -- the comptroller said preparation is key in order to protect low-income families, city workers, and social services that could be the biggest victims of city cuts.</p> <p>On his agency watchlist, launched last year in an effort to reform spending at certain city agencies, Stringer congratulated the Department of Education for making its way off after reducing travel costs and consolidating redundant programs. He said DOE showed conclusive evidence of more efficient spending.</p> <p>But the Department of Buildings made its way onto the list after hiring the 132 new construction inspectors, a 78.6% increase that yielded only a 32% increase in inspections. Meanwhile, there was a 252% increase in construction accidents, Stringer said, and a 166.7% increase in construction fatalities from fiscal year 2014 to 2018.</p> <p>“We needed to hire inspectors, but they must be deployed in a way that gets results, and that's not what we are seeing here, so they have joined the watchlist,” he said.</p> <p>The Department of Correction and five different city agencies that spend on homelessness remain on the watchlist. City spending on homelessness has increased from $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2014 to a projected $2.9 billion in fiscal year 2020, with the majority of spending going to shelters and other funding to prevention and services, with little impact in reducing the city’s homeless population — with 60,620 adults and children living in shelters as of Thursday, according to the city, and 580,000 New Yorkers living rent-burdened and on the edge of homelessness.</p> <p>“This is really a crisis that is not being managed,” said Stringer. “There’s a lot of contributing factors.”</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly said that he has not made the progress he’d hoped on homelessness but has also made the case that his administration’s efforts have stopped the problem from getting much worse, and that the city has finally stabilized the decades-long growth in homelessness, including through a significant increase in anti-eviction programs as well as rent vouchers for those leaving shelter.</p> <p>Correction remains on the watch list after spending has nearly doubled since fiscal year 2014, partly in an effort to decrease violence on Rikers Island, though that violence has increased while the overall jail population has decreased significantly. According to the comptroller, the city currently spends $300,000 per detainee every year, up from $117,000 in 2008, and in the same period the number of violent incidents has more than tripled to 1,354 per 1,000 population. Meanwhile the number of detainees has decreased by 36%.</p> <p>The comptroller also announced Friday that he has sent a letter to de Blasio’s office asking for a full financial accounting for ThriveNYC, the mental health program run by First Lady Chirlane McCray that has recently come under <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2019/02/26/with-obscure-budget-and-elusive-metrics-850m-thrivenyc-program-attempts-a-reset-873945" target="_blank" rel="noopener">media</a> and City Council scrutiny. Stringer expressed concerns about the transparency and effectiveness of the funding, and said he wants to determine where exactly the $250 million in annual spending is going.</p> <p>

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by Brianna Zimmerman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p>
Citing Causes for Concern & Promising Cuts, De Blasio Presents Still-Growing Budget Plan of $92.2 Billion 2019-02-07T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-07T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8266-citing-several-causes-for-concern-de-blasio-presents-still-growing-budget-plan-of-92-2-billion Super User <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/may-bill-de-blasio-fiscal-20.jpg" alt="may bill de blasio fiscal 20" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio presents his budget (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio presented his preliminary budget proposal <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7455-under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last year</a>, he issued solemn warnings about the threats posed by cuts in the state budget and from federal maneuvers that could mean fewer resources for the city. On Thursday, de Blasio repeated that message, but in more dire terms, as he unveiled a $92.2 billion spending proposal for the 2020 fiscal year that starts July 1.</p> <p>While the plan calls for another significant annual increase in spending -- about $3 billion, or 3.4 percent, from the budget adopted last June -- the mayor also said his administration would have to make difficult decisions in the coming months, instituting a new savings program to find efficiencies in city government while ensuring that front-facing services do not suffer.</p> <p>“We have some tough choices up ahead under any scenario,” de Blasio said in City Hall’s Blue Room. “We will be guided by the need to make hard choices, to find savings and then when we have to choose, we will favor the priorities that we believe are most strategic and high impact. If a program is nobly intended but not as strategically central or not as valuable, that’s where you will find the cuts.”</p> <p>The mayor’s proposal will soon become the subject of City Council hearings, and the mayor will be in Albany on Monday to testify at a state budget hearing, where he will tell legislators they must help him undo elements in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget plan, which the mayor said totaled about $600 million in proposed cuts and cost shifts to the city.</p> <p>The $3 billion in increased city spending outlined in de Blasio’s preliminary budget includes about $1 billion additional spending stemming from recent contract agreements with labor unions, $632 million in added education spending, $358 million in debt service costs, $325 million in fringe benefits for city employees, $113 million in mandatory charter school spending, and $109 million to expand the city’s 3-K for all program.</p> <p>Overall, the preliminary budget represents a nearly $20 billion increase since the last budget modification before de Blasio took office in 2014. &nbsp;</p> <p>But de Blasio cautioned of an economic recession on the horizon, the symptoms of which are already beginning to show and are forcing the city to tighten its belt. The city is projecting that personal income tax revenue would be $935 million less this fiscal year than last year, for instance, with most of the drop off in December and January revenue collections. (Similarly, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this week that the state is expecting a $2.3 billion shortfall because of lower income tax revenue. De Blasio noted that Cuomo had already looked to the city to make up state deficits before the recently-announced shortfalls.)</p> <p>Along with those concerning tax receipts, de Blasio pointed to additional pressure from developments at the state and federal levels. He pointed to the proposed Cuomo cuts and cost shifts that the city may have to bear in spending on education, financial assistance and health services for needy families, and spending for at-risk youth. “These are permanent cuts...when these cuts occur in the state budget, it’s not just for one year. The money goes away, never comes back,” he said, promising to oppose them but conceding that some losses may happen despite the city’s best efforts.&nbsp;</p> <p>The governor's administration later sought to rebut the mayor's comments on decreased education funding. "We don't know how the City considers a $282 million school aid increase over last year a cut, and a cut from what you ‘expected’ to get is a bizarre concept," said Morris Peters, a Division of Budget spokesperson, in a statement. "The state has a formula that outlines what the funding increase will be year to year – so why the City would expect to get something higher than that is nonsensical and a pure fabrication."</p> <p>The threat to the city emanating from Washington is far less certain. The federal government faces a February 15 deadline to reach a budget agreement and preempt another disruptive government shutdown. If that agreement fails, de Blasio said the state would lose about $500 million every month starting in May, with the city losing about $110 million monthly. There are the more nebulous effects of the fluctuations in the stock market, which have been partly to blame for lower city revenue, and federal trade policy.</p> <p>Taking those factors into account, the mayor announced that for the first time since he took office in 2014, he would institute a PEG (Program to Eliminate the Gap), which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg employed to control agency costs. Unlike Bloomberg’s program, however, de Blasio does not plan to institute a citywide percentage-based cut in spending at all or most agencies. Instead, he said he will direct most if not all agencies to cut a collective $750 million in costs by April, including by expanding a partial hiring freeze that the city estimates has saved $448 million since it was announced in April 2017. Each agency will receive a target figure for spending cuts from the city’s Office of Management and Budget, de Blasio said.</p> <p>The preliminary budget also includes $1 billion in savings across fiscal years 2019 and 2020, and $1.6 billion in savings on healthcare spending in fiscal year 2020, increasing to $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2021. Yet, notably the mayor did not dedicate additional resources to the city’s reserves, keeping them flat over last year -- they include $1 billion in the general reserve, $250 million in the capital stabilization reserve, and $4.5 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund. Budget watchdogs have repeatedly said that while the city has solid reserves, they are not enough, especially as de Blasio continues to increase spending, to truly weather a recession.</p> <p>The mayor’s preliminary budget includes few major new investments in programs, and continues funding for those that are already underway or have been announced by the mayor in the last few months. Those include $25 million for NYC Care, which will give healthcare access to uninsured New Yorkers. The program is expected to launch in the Bronx this summer and will expand citywide by 2021 at a cost of $100 million annually, serving 600,000 people. The city also plans in next fiscal year to spend $106 million to continue funding Fair Fares (half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers); $5.3 million to speed up Crisis Intervention Training for NYPD officers; $25 million to expand 3-K for All in the Bronx and Brooklyn; and $2.7 million to increase bus speeds by 25 percent by the end of next year.</p> <p>Also, for the first time ever, the city’s preliminary ten-year capital strategy reached triple digits, for a high of $104.1 billion, an increase of 8.7 percent. The city’s expense and capital budgets are calculating and presented separately. Every two years the capital strategy is re-established. &nbsp;</p> <p>“You’ve all heard the truism that budgets are a statement of values. That’s gonna play out in these coming months,” de Blasio said. “If we get continued good news from Washington, from Albany, from our broader economic context, we’ll have more freedom. If we get bad news, we’ll be ready to make some very tough decisions.”</p> <p>In the next few weeks, the mayor’s budget proposal will be dissected in a series of City Council hearings, where officials from the administration will be called to testify. On Thursday, the Council acknowledged the city’s difficult fiscal position but indicated that it was ready for tough negotiations.</p> <p>“We know there are challenges presented by the economy, as well as funding shortfalls from the state, particularly in education and social services. We will work with the Administration to get our fair share from Albany,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, and capital budget chair Vanessa Gibson, in a joint statement. “But even while recognizing the challenges, we also know this City’s economy is strong and we will fight for a fiscally responsible plan that protects the social safety net.” They vowed to push for funding for Fair Fares, education, immigrant families, and permanent housing for those who need it. “These are our values and we will never walk away from them.”</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer also took note of the “warning signs” for the economy and commended the mayor for instituting a PEG, which he has called for repeatedly. “It’s past time for City agencies to seriously evaluate how effective their spending really is in achieving results for New Yorkers,” he said.</p> <p>Year after year, fiscal watchdogs and rating agencies have praised the city’s responsible budgeting but have also raised alarms about spending trends that could backfire in an economic crunch. Andrew Rein, president of the nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission, <a href="https://cbcny.org/advocacy/statement-nyc-preliminary-budget-fy-2020" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reiterated</a> some of those concerns on Thursday, noting that the budget showed “modest restraint” in increased spending.</p> <p>“Much bolder action is needed to ensure the City is prepared for an economic downturn,” Rein said. “Spending growth should be limited to inflation and reserves should be increased. The PEG announced today should be developed with an eye to making operations more efficient and generating recurring savings.”</p> <p>Last week, CBC recommended that the city pursue a <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/sound-strategy-sound-future?utm_source=twitter&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=Sound%20Strategy,%20Sound%20Future:%20Recommended%20Approach%20for%20the%20City%27s%20Preliminary%20FY%202020" target="_blank" rel="noopener">four-part strategy</a> of lower spending growth, greater reserves, improvements to the capital plan and strengthening the fiscal health of three major public authorities -- the New York City Housing Authority, NYC Health + Hospitals, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.</p> <p>The mayor said his budget did not include any new funding for the MTA, funding for which is expected to be a major source of contention between de Blasio and Cuomo over the next several months.</p> <p>A state budget is due by April 1, at which time the mayor and City Council will have significantly more information to work toward their next spending plan, which is due by July 1.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with a statement from a state Division of Budget spokesperson.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/may-bill-de-blasio-fiscal-20.jpg" alt="may bill de blasio fiscal 20" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio presents his budget (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio presented his preliminary budget proposal <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7455-under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last year</a>, he issued solemn warnings about the threats posed by cuts in the state budget and from federal maneuvers that could mean fewer resources for the city. On Thursday, de Blasio repeated that message, but in more dire terms, as he unveiled a $92.2 billion spending proposal for the 2020 fiscal year that starts July 1.</p> <p>While the plan calls for another significant annual increase in spending -- about $3 billion, or 3.4 percent, from the budget adopted last June -- the mayor also said his administration would have to make difficult decisions in the coming months, instituting a new savings program to find efficiencies in city government while ensuring that front-facing services do not suffer.</p> <p>“We have some tough choices up ahead under any scenario,” de Blasio said in City Hall’s Blue Room. “We will be guided by the need to make hard choices, to find savings and then when we have to choose, we will favor the priorities that we believe are most strategic and high impact. If a program is nobly intended but not as strategically central or not as valuable, that’s where you will find the cuts.”</p> <p>The mayor’s proposal will soon become the subject of City Council hearings, and the mayor will be in Albany on Monday to testify at a state budget hearing, where he will tell legislators they must help him undo elements in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget plan, which the mayor said totaled about $600 million in proposed cuts and cost shifts to the city.</p> <p>The $3 billion in increased city spending outlined in de Blasio’s preliminary budget includes about $1 billion additional spending stemming from recent contract agreements with labor unions, $632 million in added education spending, $358 million in debt service costs, $325 million in fringe benefits for city employees, $113 million in mandatory charter school spending, and $109 million to expand the city’s 3-K for all program.</p> <p>Overall, the preliminary budget represents a nearly $20 billion increase since the last budget modification before de Blasio took office in 2014. &nbsp;</p> <p>But de Blasio cautioned of an economic recession on the horizon, the symptoms of which are already beginning to show and are forcing the city to tighten its belt. The city is projecting that personal income tax revenue would be $935 million less this fiscal year than last year, for instance, with most of the drop off in December and January revenue collections. (Similarly, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this week that the state is expecting a $2.3 billion shortfall because of lower income tax revenue. De Blasio noted that Cuomo had already looked to the city to make up state deficits before the recently-announced shortfalls.)</p> <p>Along with those concerning tax receipts, de Blasio pointed to additional pressure from developments at the state and federal levels. He pointed to the proposed Cuomo cuts and cost shifts that the city may have to bear in spending on education, financial assistance and health services for needy families, and spending for at-risk youth. “These are permanent cuts...when these cuts occur in the state budget, it’s not just for one year. The money goes away, never comes back,” he said, promising to oppose them but conceding that some losses may happen despite the city’s best efforts.&nbsp;</p> <p>The governor's administration later sought to rebut the mayor's comments on decreased education funding. "We don't know how the City considers a $282 million school aid increase over last year a cut, and a cut from what you ‘expected’ to get is a bizarre concept," said Morris Peters, a Division of Budget spokesperson, in a statement. "The state has a formula that outlines what the funding increase will be year to year – so why the City would expect to get something higher than that is nonsensical and a pure fabrication."</p> <p>The threat to the city emanating from Washington is far less certain. The federal government faces a February 15 deadline to reach a budget agreement and preempt another disruptive government shutdown. If that agreement fails, de Blasio said the state would lose about $500 million every month starting in May, with the city losing about $110 million monthly. There are the more nebulous effects of the fluctuations in the stock market, which have been partly to blame for lower city revenue, and federal trade policy.</p> <p>Taking those factors into account, the mayor announced that for the first time since he took office in 2014, he would institute a PEG (Program to Eliminate the Gap), which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg employed to control agency costs. Unlike Bloomberg’s program, however, de Blasio does not plan to institute a citywide percentage-based cut in spending at all or most agencies. Instead, he said he will direct most if not all agencies to cut a collective $750 million in costs by April, including by expanding a partial hiring freeze that the city estimates has saved $448 million since it was announced in April 2017. Each agency will receive a target figure for spending cuts from the city’s Office of Management and Budget, de Blasio said.</p> <p>The preliminary budget also includes $1 billion in savings across fiscal years 2019 and 2020, and $1.6 billion in savings on healthcare spending in fiscal year 2020, increasing to $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2021. Yet, notably the mayor did not dedicate additional resources to the city’s reserves, keeping them flat over last year -- they include $1 billion in the general reserve, $250 million in the capital stabilization reserve, and $4.5 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund. Budget watchdogs have repeatedly said that while the city has solid reserves, they are not enough, especially as de Blasio continues to increase spending, to truly weather a recession.</p> <p>The mayor’s preliminary budget includes few major new investments in programs, and continues funding for those that are already underway or have been announced by the mayor in the last few months. Those include $25 million for NYC Care, which will give healthcare access to uninsured New Yorkers. The program is expected to launch in the Bronx this summer and will expand citywide by 2021 at a cost of $100 million annually, serving 600,000 people. The city also plans in next fiscal year to spend $106 million to continue funding Fair Fares (half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers); $5.3 million to speed up Crisis Intervention Training for NYPD officers; $25 million to expand 3-K for All in the Bronx and Brooklyn; and $2.7 million to increase bus speeds by 25 percent by the end of next year.</p> <p>Also, for the first time ever, the city’s preliminary ten-year capital strategy reached triple digits, for a high of $104.1 billion, an increase of 8.7 percent. The city’s expense and capital budgets are calculating and presented separately. Every two years the capital strategy is re-established. &nbsp;</p> <p>“You’ve all heard the truism that budgets are a statement of values. That’s gonna play out in these coming months,” de Blasio said. “If we get continued good news from Washington, from Albany, from our broader economic context, we’ll have more freedom. If we get bad news, we’ll be ready to make some very tough decisions.”</p> <p>In the next few weeks, the mayor’s budget proposal will be dissected in a series of City Council hearings, where officials from the administration will be called to testify. On Thursday, the Council acknowledged the city’s difficult fiscal position but indicated that it was ready for tough negotiations.</p> <p>“We know there are challenges presented by the economy, as well as funding shortfalls from the state, particularly in education and social services. We will work with the Administration to get our fair share from Albany,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, and capital budget chair Vanessa Gibson, in a joint statement. “But even while recognizing the challenges, we also know this City’s economy is strong and we will fight for a fiscally responsible plan that protects the social safety net.” They vowed to push for funding for Fair Fares, education, immigrant families, and permanent housing for those who need it. “These are our values and we will never walk away from them.”</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer also took note of the “warning signs” for the economy and commended the mayor for instituting a PEG, which he has called for repeatedly. “It’s past time for City agencies to seriously evaluate how effective their spending really is in achieving results for New Yorkers,” he said.</p> <p>Year after year, fiscal watchdogs and rating agencies have praised the city’s responsible budgeting but have also raised alarms about spending trends that could backfire in an economic crunch. Andrew Rein, president of the nonprofit Citizens Budget Commission, <a href="https://cbcny.org/advocacy/statement-nyc-preliminary-budget-fy-2020" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reiterated</a> some of those concerns on Thursday, noting that the budget showed “modest restraint” in increased spending.</p> <p>“Much bolder action is needed to ensure the City is prepared for an economic downturn,” Rein said. “Spending growth should be limited to inflation and reserves should be increased. The PEG announced today should be developed with an eye to making operations more efficient and generating recurring savings.”</p> <p>Last week, CBC recommended that the city pursue a <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/sound-strategy-sound-future?utm_source=twitter&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=Sound%20Strategy,%20Sound%20Future:%20Recommended%20Approach%20for%20the%20City%27s%20Preliminary%20FY%202020" target="_blank" rel="noopener">four-part strategy</a> of lower spending growth, greater reserves, improvements to the capital plan and strengthening the fiscal health of three major public authorities -- the New York City Housing Authority, NYC Health + Hospitals, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.</p> <p>The mayor said his budget did not include any new funding for the MTA, funding for which is expected to be a major source of contention between de Blasio and Cuomo over the next several months.</p> <p>A state budget is due by April 1, at which time the mayor and City Council will have significantly more information to work toward their next spending plan, which is due by July 1.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated with a statement from a state Division of Budget spokesperson.&nbsp;</p>
Despite Need, Gaining More State Support for Affordable Housing Remains Major Challenge for De Blasio 2019-02-04T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-04T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8252-despite-need-gaining-more-state-support-for-affordable-housing-remains-major-challenge-for-de-blasio Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cuomo-gov-housing.jpg" alt="cuomo gov housing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Right now, New York City’s government should be taking advantage of the Democratic majority in both houses of the New York State Legislature to make progress addressing the affordable housing and homelessness crisis affecting city residents. But success requires a skillful effort since the political challenge is daunting, despite overwhelming public concern.</p> <p>Why now? We have a new Democratic majority in the state Senate elected in 2018. The state Assembly, controlled by Democrats since 1975, has been a liberal body limited by Republican power virtually the entire time, until now.</p> <p>But there is no immediate consensus on what the housing solutions might be, how much money might be available, whether the new Senate Democrats would be willing to vote for a new tax, even if just levied in New York City, or the extent to which the Cuomo administration is willing to spend more money. The population in need is large and diverse, and the resources to address any particular segment of the needy population are severely limited.</p> <p>What’s the city been doing up until now? City government has made major investments in affordable housing and used its resources to stabilize evictions and step up emergency assistance -- to prevent the crisis from getting worse. But there is little let-up in a cycle of rapid growth, gentrification, and development, rising rents and prices, and the inability of large segments of the city’s population to afford higher rents on limited incomes as low rent apartments have grown scarce.</p> <p>Housing data show us exactly where New York City stands. The dimensions of the housing crisis are staggering:</p> <p>-There are more than 2 million rental apartments in the City of New York, with about 1 million in the private rent-stabilized or controlled system, according to <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/rentguidelinesboard/pdf/18HSR.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Housing NYC 2018, the annual Rent Guidelines Board</a> report. Median household incomes in rent-stabilized apartments are about $45,000 a year in 2016, and median rent stabilized rents were $1,270 in 2017.</p> <p>-A report by <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/nyc-for-all-the-housing-we-need/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Comptroller Scott Stringer (Nov. 2018), entitled The Housing We Need</a>, identified 396,000 households in the City with incomes of less than $28,000 a year as severely rent-burdened, meaning their rent was 50% or more of their income. Additional households are also severely rent-burdened but their incomes are higher.</p> <p>-There are 61,000 persons in the shelter system right now, not counting people living on the street (<a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Social-Services/DHS-Daily-Report/k46n-sa2m" target="_blank" rel="noopener">DHS Daily Report</a>).</p> <p>-There are 208,000 households on the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) waiting list, and 148,000 households on the Section 8 waiting list, with new applications closed (<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/NYCHA-Fact-Sheet_2018_Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYCHA Fact Sheet</a>).</p> <p>-Only about 18% of rental households live in a subsidized situation, like NYCHA, Section 8, or the Mitchell-Lama program, which has privately-owned but regulated units with low-cost financing and tax abatements to make them affordable (<a href="http://furmancenter.org/research/sonychan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYU Furman Center, 2017, Changes in NYC Housing Stock</a>).</p> <p>-About 19% of New York City residents, or 1.7 million people, lives in poverty.</p> <p>The federal government added to the crisis by curtailing new subsidized housing in the 1980s and ‘90s. &nbsp;</p> <p>But, by 1994, New York City became governed for 20 years by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, for whom low-income housing was not a major priority. The shelter population was 24,000 in 1993, 28,000 in 2001, and 49,000 in 2013, the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. Mayor Bloomberg developed a program called Advantage to help residents exit the shelter system, which had a two-year cap on a voucher-like subsidy to encourage recipient families to become independent. The cap was criticized for its lack of permanency and the state eliminated its share of the cost in 2011, whereupon the mayor refused to pick up the state share and the program lapsed.</p> <p>State Senate Republicans, in power during Mayor de Blasio’s tenure up until now, were not interested in proposals from the mayor like the “mansion tax,” a surcharge on real property transfers above $2 million, with the new money dedicated to housing vouchers for the elderly. Aside from the universal pre-kindergarten victory in his first year, the city has spent much of its political energy in Albany trying to limit damage to the city budget from proposals by the Cuomo administration to shift social service, higher education, Medicaid, criminal justice, and transportation costs from the state to the city, winning on some issues but losing others, rather than obtaining major new resources from the state for housing.</p> <p>There are a few programs in place right now that attempt, with varied levels of success, to help ease the housing crisis: &nbsp;</p> <p>Supportive Housing: Since the 1990s, both the state and city have committed more resources to supportive housing, which assists persons with serious addiction or mental illness, the frail elderly, and others, and recently have embarked on new programs in this area. The state has committed to 6,000 more units of supportive housing over five years (not all of which will be in New York City), starting around 2016, and the city has made a commitment to 15/15, meaning 15,000 more supportive housing units over the next 15 years, beginning around 2016. But these units will be available not just to persons with psychiatric disabilities in the shelter system, but to persons leaving psychiatric hospitals, prisons and jails, adult homes, or just coming from their own homes and families but diagnosed with severe illnesses. There are 16,000 single adults in the shelter system now. 21,000 single adults entered the shelter system in Fiscal Year 2018, while fewer than 9,000 exited in that year (<a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2018/03/FY19-Department-of-Homeless-Services.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">DHS Management Report, FY18</a>). The capacity of new supportive housing units to rapidly absorb single adults from the shelter system is limited.</p> <p>Affordable Housing: The large city affordable housing program, now called Housing New York 2.0, initiated by the de Blasio administration in 2014, has created or preserved 122,000 units since inception; the full plan calls for 300,00 units by 2026; 39,000 of the 122,000 units are new construction; the remainder preservation. Preserved units are also vital to long-term affordability because owners are agreeing to retain their building in regulated status in exchange for low-cost financing for repairs and large percentages of their residents are low- and moderate-income.</p> <p>The new units are created through capital grants and low-cost financing to private developers to reduce the cost of construction, allowing some units to be marketed to low- and moderate-income tenants. Other units are rented at market rates and are not counted in the affordable classifications. Some projects are 100% affordable, meaning they have heavier subsidies and are not offered to higher-income households. Affordability relates to income levels; more than 50% of the affordable units have been slated for households making between $47,000 and $75,000 a year for a family of three. About 25% of the units have been slated for incomes below $47,000 a year.</p> <p>But there is concern that not enough of the units are for very low-income households. A change for lower-income households would, however, require more subsidies, assuming the number-of-units goal remains the same. Without more money overall, the city would have to forsake some moderate-income units for lower-income units. Nonetheless the city has made a major commitment to getting more housing units built, in addition to the resources to reduce homelessness. The State of New York produces some affordable housing through its own programs, or sometimes in combination with city programs, but the scale of the state’s effort does not match the city’s.</p> <p>There are several other significant proposals to address the affordable housing crisis that do require state involvement:</p> <p>-Comptroller Scott Stringer proposed to change property transfer taxes to raise more revenue and concentrate the capital grant subsidies of the Housing New York program to the low-income population and the homeless.</p> <p>The mortgage recording tax in the city would be eliminated while the real property transfer tax would become more progressive. The change would raise $400 million a year and the funds used to provide deeper subsides to help the city’s neediest population. But planned Housing New York units for the moderate-income group between $47,000 and $75,000 a year, and those above that level, would be switched over to the lower-income group and thus be displaced.</p> <p>A modification to the Stringer proposal might be to use the $400 million a year as a targeted add-on for the lower-income population, rather than a substitution away from the moderate-income group. After all, both groups, the moderate-income, and the very low-income, need housing. Mayor de Blasio’s proposal, the Mansion Tax, and the comptroller’s plan both require a tax increase. But can the mayor persuade some of these new suburban Senate Democrats to agree to a tax increase for a housing purpose, when they are also being asked by the governor to support congestion pricing?</p> <p>-Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi’s legislative proposal, named Home Stability Support, creates a Section 8-like voucher for the shelter population, as well as the at-risk of eviction population, funded at 14,000 vouchers a year. Cost estimates have ranged from $450 million a year to close to $1 billion a year (<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Renewed Push for Homeless Subsidy</a>, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Gotham Gazette, Dec. 2017</a>). An effort by the Assembly and Senate last year in budget negotiations to fund even a start-up at $15 million a year was rejected by the governor’s Division of the Budget.</p> <p>The Mansion Tax, the Hevesi proposal, the cancelled Advantage program, and current city emergency rehousing assistance efforts, which cost $200 million a year (<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/mm4-17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC OMB, Mayor’s Message, 2018</a>), all involve Section 8-like vouchers concept to help residents pay for rental apartments. New vouchers are very expensive. Section 8 usually pays a landlord up to $1,500 a month, or $18,000 a year, to cover one household. Each new 1,000 vouchers thus cost up to a new $18 million a year. Who should get the priority for new vouchers? The homeless? The elderly? The 148,000 households who are on the current Section 8 waiting lists, who have also been vetted as in need?</p> <p>Some serious coalition building is in order to make progress. Gaining a political consensus about where to put new funds, and where the money will come from, means Mayor de Blasio must pull together support among housing advocates, the Assembly and the Senate, and run the gauntlet of Governor Cuomo and the state Division of the Budget. Is there sufficient political will to address this intractable problem?</p> <p>

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

 

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

</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cuomo-gov-housing.jpg" alt="cuomo gov housing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Right now, New York City’s government should be taking advantage of the Democratic majority in both houses of the New York State Legislature to make progress addressing the affordable housing and homelessness crisis affecting city residents. But success requires a skillful effort since the political challenge is daunting, despite overwhelming public concern.</p> <p>Why now? We have a new Democratic majority in the state Senate elected in 2018. The state Assembly, controlled by Democrats since 1975, has been a liberal body limited by Republican power virtually the entire time, until now.</p> <p>But there is no immediate consensus on what the housing solutions might be, how much money might be available, whether the new Senate Democrats would be willing to vote for a new tax, even if just levied in New York City, or the extent to which the Cuomo administration is willing to spend more money. The population in need is large and diverse, and the resources to address any particular segment of the needy population are severely limited.</p> <p>What’s the city been doing up until now? City government has made major investments in affordable housing and used its resources to stabilize evictions and step up emergency assistance -- to prevent the crisis from getting worse. But there is little let-up in a cycle of rapid growth, gentrification, and development, rising rents and prices, and the inability of large segments of the city’s population to afford higher rents on limited incomes as low rent apartments have grown scarce.</p> <p>Housing data show us exactly where New York City stands. The dimensions of the housing crisis are staggering:</p> <p>-There are more than 2 million rental apartments in the City of New York, with about 1 million in the private rent-stabilized or controlled system, according to <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/rentguidelinesboard/pdf/18HSR.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Housing NYC 2018, the annual Rent Guidelines Board</a> report. Median household incomes in rent-stabilized apartments are about $45,000 a year in 2016, and median rent stabilized rents were $1,270 in 2017.</p> <p>-A report by <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/nyc-for-all-the-housing-we-need/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Comptroller Scott Stringer (Nov. 2018), entitled The Housing We Need</a>, identified 396,000 households in the City with incomes of less than $28,000 a year as severely rent-burdened, meaning their rent was 50% or more of their income. Additional households are also severely rent-burdened but their incomes are higher.</p> <p>-There are 61,000 persons in the shelter system right now, not counting people living on the street (<a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Social-Services/DHS-Daily-Report/k46n-sa2m" target="_blank" rel="noopener">DHS Daily Report</a>).</p> <p>-There are 208,000 households on the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) waiting list, and 148,000 households on the Section 8 waiting list, with new applications closed (<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/NYCHA-Fact-Sheet_2018_Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYCHA Fact Sheet</a>).</p> <p>-Only about 18% of rental households live in a subsidized situation, like NYCHA, Section 8, or the Mitchell-Lama program, which has privately-owned but regulated units with low-cost financing and tax abatements to make them affordable (<a href="http://furmancenter.org/research/sonychan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYU Furman Center, 2017, Changes in NYC Housing Stock</a>).</p> <p>-About 19% of New York City residents, or 1.7 million people, lives in poverty.</p> <p>The federal government added to the crisis by curtailing new subsidized housing in the 1980s and ‘90s. &nbsp;</p> <p>But, by 1994, New York City became governed for 20 years by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, for whom low-income housing was not a major priority. The shelter population was 24,000 in 1993, 28,000 in 2001, and 49,000 in 2013, the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. Mayor Bloomberg developed a program called Advantage to help residents exit the shelter system, which had a two-year cap on a voucher-like subsidy to encourage recipient families to become independent. The cap was criticized for its lack of permanency and the state eliminated its share of the cost in 2011, whereupon the mayor refused to pick up the state share and the program lapsed.</p> <p>State Senate Republicans, in power during Mayor de Blasio’s tenure up until now, were not interested in proposals from the mayor like the “mansion tax,” a surcharge on real property transfers above $2 million, with the new money dedicated to housing vouchers for the elderly. Aside from the universal pre-kindergarten victory in his first year, the city has spent much of its political energy in Albany trying to limit damage to the city budget from proposals by the Cuomo administration to shift social service, higher education, Medicaid, criminal justice, and transportation costs from the state to the city, winning on some issues but losing others, rather than obtaining major new resources from the state for housing.</p> <p>There are a few programs in place right now that attempt, with varied levels of success, to help ease the housing crisis: &nbsp;</p> <p>Supportive Housing: Since the 1990s, both the state and city have committed more resources to supportive housing, which assists persons with serious addiction or mental illness, the frail elderly, and others, and recently have embarked on new programs in this area. The state has committed to 6,000 more units of supportive housing over five years (not all of which will be in New York City), starting around 2016, and the city has made a commitment to 15/15, meaning 15,000 more supportive housing units over the next 15 years, beginning around 2016. But these units will be available not just to persons with psychiatric disabilities in the shelter system, but to persons leaving psychiatric hospitals, prisons and jails, adult homes, or just coming from their own homes and families but diagnosed with severe illnesses. There are 16,000 single adults in the shelter system now. 21,000 single adults entered the shelter system in Fiscal Year 2018, while fewer than 9,000 exited in that year (<a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2018/03/FY19-Department-of-Homeless-Services.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">DHS Management Report, FY18</a>). The capacity of new supportive housing units to rapidly absorb single adults from the shelter system is limited.</p> <p>Affordable Housing: The large city affordable housing program, now called Housing New York 2.0, initiated by the de Blasio administration in 2014, has created or preserved 122,000 units since inception; the full plan calls for 300,00 units by 2026; 39,000 of the 122,000 units are new construction; the remainder preservation. Preserved units are also vital to long-term affordability because owners are agreeing to retain their building in regulated status in exchange for low-cost financing for repairs and large percentages of their residents are low- and moderate-income.</p> <p>The new units are created through capital grants and low-cost financing to private developers to reduce the cost of construction, allowing some units to be marketed to low- and moderate-income tenants. Other units are rented at market rates and are not counted in the affordable classifications. Some projects are 100% affordable, meaning they have heavier subsidies and are not offered to higher-income households. Affordability relates to income levels; more than 50% of the affordable units have been slated for households making between $47,000 and $75,000 a year for a family of three. About 25% of the units have been slated for incomes below $47,000 a year.</p> <p>But there is concern that not enough of the units are for very low-income households. A change for lower-income households would, however, require more subsidies, assuming the number-of-units goal remains the same. Without more money overall, the city would have to forsake some moderate-income units for lower-income units. Nonetheless the city has made a major commitment to getting more housing units built, in addition to the resources to reduce homelessness. The State of New York produces some affordable housing through its own programs, or sometimes in combination with city programs, but the scale of the state’s effort does not match the city’s.</p> <p>There are several other significant proposals to address the affordable housing crisis that do require state involvement:</p> <p>-Comptroller Scott Stringer proposed to change property transfer taxes to raise more revenue and concentrate the capital grant subsidies of the Housing New York program to the low-income population and the homeless.</p> <p>The mortgage recording tax in the city would be eliminated while the real property transfer tax would become more progressive. The change would raise $400 million a year and the funds used to provide deeper subsides to help the city’s neediest population. But planned Housing New York units for the moderate-income group between $47,000 and $75,000 a year, and those above that level, would be switched over to the lower-income group and thus be displaced.</p> <p>A modification to the Stringer proposal might be to use the $400 million a year as a targeted add-on for the lower-income population, rather than a substitution away from the moderate-income group. After all, both groups, the moderate-income, and the very low-income, need housing. Mayor de Blasio’s proposal, the Mansion Tax, and the comptroller’s plan both require a tax increase. But can the mayor persuade some of these new suburban Senate Democrats to agree to a tax increase for a housing purpose, when they are also being asked by the governor to support congestion pricing?</p> <p>-Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi’s legislative proposal, named Home Stability Support, creates a Section 8-like voucher for the shelter population, as well as the at-risk of eviction population, funded at 14,000 vouchers a year. Cost estimates have ranged from $450 million a year to close to $1 billion a year (<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Renewed Push for Homeless Subsidy</a>, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Gotham Gazette, Dec. 2017</a>). An effort by the Assembly and Senate last year in budget negotiations to fund even a start-up at $15 million a year was rejected by the governor’s Division of the Budget.</p> <p>The Mansion Tax, the Hevesi proposal, the cancelled Advantage program, and current city emergency rehousing assistance efforts, which cost $200 million a year (<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/mm4-17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC OMB, Mayor’s Message, 2018</a>), all involve Section 8-like vouchers concept to help residents pay for rental apartments. New vouchers are very expensive. Section 8 usually pays a landlord up to $1,500 a month, or $18,000 a year, to cover one household. Each new 1,000 vouchers thus cost up to a new $18 million a year. Who should get the priority for new vouchers? The homeless? The elderly? The 148,000 households who are on the current Section 8 waiting lists, who have also been vetted as in need?</p> <p>Some serious coalition building is in order to make progress. Gaining a political consensus about where to put new funds, and where the money will come from, means Mayor de Blasio must pull together support among housing advocates, the Assembly and the Senate, and run the gauntlet of Governor Cuomo and the state Division of the Budget. Is there sufficient political will to address this intractable problem?</p> <p>

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

 

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