Gotham Gazette Mon, 17 Jun 2019 21:35:27 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Stuck on Marijuana Legalization, Could Lawmakers Offer a Referendum as Cuomo Suggested? state capitol new york

the state capitol (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)

In an interview at the end of May, Governor Andrew Cuomo made a provocative assertion: he said opponents to recreational marijuana legalization in the state Senate have argued no state in the country has legalized the controversial measure without first putting the question to voters in a ballot referendum. No such referendum has taken place in New York, but Cuomo -- who has pushed for marijuana legalization this year -- indicated on WNYC radio that it was a possibility as legislative efforts to legalize and regulate recreational, adult-use cannabis in the state have stalled.

In a state government with virtually no tradition of holding referenda on policy initiatives, what this means for the embattled marijuana push in the final days of the legislative session is uncertain. Reports indicate that negotiations on legalization among the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly and Cuomo’s office have continued throughout the weekend, with the parties eyeing the scheduled end of the session on Wednesday.

“The opposition Senate position is, there is no state that has passed it without a referendum. It’s never been done just by the Legislature,” Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, told Brian Lehrer on WNYC on May 28. “They think it’s an overreach by the Legislature,” he added.

While it appears true that this narrative has floated around Senate circles fearing the consequences, both political and pragmatic, the assertion itself that no state has legalized recreational marijuana without a referendum, is not (Vermont legalized marijuana possession through its legislature in 2018, and Illinois did the same for marijuana sales just days after Cuomo’s comments). Nevertheless, the governor appeared to lend credence to the notion that it could be done this way in New York, despite the state’s historically closed attitude toward referenda.

The goal of making recreational marijuana legal in New York became a realistic prospect when Democrats took control of the state Legislature earlier this year, joining a slew of priorities backed by progressives that had been backlogged under the previously Republican-controlled state Senate. It was spurred on by parallel efforts in New Jersey, which have since collapsed. Garden State lawmakers now plan to put the issue directly before voters in a referendum in 2020.

As the end of the legislative session in Albany approaches, the momentum on some reforms has faltered as more centrist, and vulnerable, Democrats from Long Island and north of New York City hedge against political backlash.

“New Jersey was going to legalize it, New Jersey stopped. I think that started to shift the political environment. The senators say on the record that they don’t have the votes to pass it politically,” Cuomo told Lehrer. This is true, but senators, led by Manhattan’s Liz Krueger, the lead sponsor of her chamber’s marijuana legalization bill, have said that it’s in part due to Cuomo’s lack of engagement on the issue. As he did on rent regulations, Cuomo has mostly sat back and said senators are being cowed by political considerations, and he’d sign whatever the legislative majorities could agree on.

The effort may only require support from two additional senators to reach a majority in the 63-seat chamber, the Democrat and Chronicle reported at the beginning of June. While a legislative path may be there, especially with new compromises packed amid a “big ugly” end-of-session omnibus package, Cuomo did indicate another potential path.

In the WNYC interview, after Cuomo pointed out the national referendum trend, he was asked whether a referendum approach could work in New York. The governor responded, “Yes, the short answer is you could do a referendum for a sense of the people where you sketch out the provision and have a referendum, and if it passes then the Legislature could say, ‘We will pass it.’”

The long answer is not as clear. While certain types of measures require ballot referenda, like state constitutional amendments and bond issues, New York does not have the mechanism known as “initiative and referendum” at the state level, which many other so-called “direct democracy” states do (New Jersey doesn’t have it either). Initiative and referendum is a process that allows either the legislature or the public through petitions to put proposals directly onto the ballot to be advanced or blocked by voters.

In some states, referenda are also used to solicit public opinion to provide non-binding guidance (and political cover) to legislators. This may be more along the lines of what the governor was describing in his comments on WNYC.

New York does not have the infrastructure or political tradition of conducting either type of referendum, according to Gerald Benjamin, an expert on New York State government and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz.

“It’s just a matter of fact that we don’t have the institutional design that supports decision-making by referendum in state government on policy,” Benjamin told Gotham Gazette.

The governor’s office has not returned a request for comment to provide more information about Cuomo’s assertion or thinking on the matter.

At the state level, referenda are used in a narrow set of matters that invoke the self-determination of the people, when the form and structure of the government is at stake and lawmakers’ interests pose a conflict to changing them. New York has a lengthy and politically exhausting legislative process for constitutional amendments that culminates in a referendum after passage in consecutive legislative sessions.

The question of whether to hold a constitutional convention to amend the state’s foundational document is also mandated by law to be placed on the ballot every 20 years. And any bond issue requiring borrowing on the “full faith and credit” of the state is supposed to be approved by voters in a referendum (though much borrowing, like by public authorities, is not), according to Benjamin.

Calling for a referendum can also be a political tool for lawmakers to diffuse responsibility on contentious issues, like recreational marijuana.

“We have at least some body of law that says the representative bodies and the elected representatives of the state government should make these decisions, not try to essentially diminish their accountability by turning to the public on matters that are controversial,” Benjamin said.

Other practical considerations also complicate the equation. There is a difference between the concept of putting a question of importance directly to voters and the pragmatic demands of getting a meaningful response.

In the world of referendum politics there are state rules about qualifying a ballot proposal, and a number of considerations can change the meaning of the question to voters. On a complex topic where the merits are also the subject of current debate, the language of a marijuana question is significant.

Stakeholders are still weighing the particulars of what legalizing adult-use cannabis would mean, and the outcome of that discussion could impact how a potential referendum is framed. Debates are far from settled on questions like whether criminal records for marijuana offenses should be sealed or completely expunged, the legally permissible quantities, and what the state should do with the revenue generated from licenses and taxes.

Outside the issue-specific questions are more technical ones that would have to be answered: will the referendum be written in plain language that is easily understood; how much of the issue will make it onto the ballot; and how will it be explained to voters?

“It’s an easy thing to say, ‘Well, let’s ask the public,’” said Benjamin, and another thing to do it. “We’re not set up to do it, we don’t have the rules and regulations and process. Would we just commission a Siena poll?”

Still, some lawmakers are pushing for that approach to legalizing recreational marijuana, and the governor’s comments may give them traction. Especially for state Senate Democrats, who were elected to the majority last November by flipping swing districts and unseating party members who shared power with Republicans, the political ramifications of supporting marijuana legalization in conservative-leaning or recently Republican-led districts could be treacherous.

“I do believe that it is true that certain members may have said we should do this through referendum because it’s a way of saying we should let the public vote on this,” a spokesperson for Senator Krueger told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

Some senators seem to be in favor of the most progressive elements of the marijuana debate but fall short of supporting it through the legislative process. State Senator Monica Martinez, a first-term Long Island Democrat representing a swing district, has said she would not support Krueger’s bill but a spokesperson told Gotham Gazette she is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana and of expunging the records of people with prior offenses. (Expungement is considered a stronger stance than sealing because it means records are destroyed completely rather than sealed but still accessible by police.)

“Senator Martinez does support the legalization of Marijuana through a statewide referendum,” wrote a spokesperson for the senator in an email.

According to a Siena College poll conducted in April, 52 percent of registered voters statewide supported legalization while 42 percent were opposed at the time. The math was flipped in the suburbs, where several of the Democratic state senators who don’t support the legislation live: 44 percent support the proposal and 49 percent oppose it. A more recent Siena poll conducted in the first week of June found those numbers had balanced out, with support both statewide and in the suburbs at 55 percent. (Earlier this year the Democratic county executives of both Suffolk and Nassau on Long Island said their counties would opt out of allowing marijuana sales if the governor’s bill, which includes opt-outs for localities, was passed.)

The marijuana bill in the state Assembly, sponsored by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, appears to have stronger support in the majority conference, where the partisan balance isn’t as delicate.

New Yorkers have not always been warm to the referendum mechanism in the past. At the turn of the 20th century, the Progressive Movement in the state was concerned with changing the institutions of government, in part, to mitigate the power of political parties. While New Yorkers adopted a number of proposals like electing party officials and statewide party nominees (at times, through constitutional convention referenda), they spurned the idea of initiative and referendum, according to Benjamin.

“Historically, referendum is regarded as essentially the ducking of responsibility by the representative government elected to make decisions,” he told Gotham Gazette.

Still, the idea of going directly to the people appears to be attractive as the new cohort of state senators that swept into office this year grapple with the potential loss of a signature progressive campaign promise.

“I think that’s the problem here, is the political reality that you don’t have the votes in the Senate,” Cuomo told Lehrer.

Later he added, “Everything else is smoke.”

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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Stuck on Marijuana Legalization, Could Lawmakers Offer a Referendum as Cuomo Suggested? Sun, 16 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Seize the Albany Opportunity to Do More for NYCHA gov cuomo comm

Danny Barber, left, is the author; with Gov. Cuomo & others (photo: the Governor's office)

I stood with Governor Cuomo last year when he showed how bad conditions in public housing have gotten after decades of federal neglect. With the governor’s leadership, NYCHA was allocated $250 million in last year’s state budget. While that money was held up due to the appointment of a federal monitor, the need for additional funds remains again this year.

Major capital repairs are needed to keep residents safe and healthy in all five boroughs. Leaks, mold, pests, broken elevators, and lead are a constant worry for us 400,0000 public housing residents as we try to get to work or school or care for our families at home.

The Assembly called for $300 million and the Senate asked for $250 million in the annual state budget process earlier this year. So far, NYCHA has gotten zero. This surprises me given the governor’s commitment and the tumultuous year NYCHA has had, leaving residents with great uncertainty about the future status of our homes.

State lawmakers have a chance to redeem themselves and commit to fighting to preserve NYCHA by appropriating capital funds before the end of this year’s legislative session, which is scheduled to finish this week and is expected to include decisions on capital allocations.

Albany also has an opportunity to create a more just and equitable tax policy while funding public housing, and it won’t cost a dime in state budget money.

This year, New York City will give away about $600 million to homeowners through the Cooperative and Condominium Property Tax Abatement, which reduces real property taxes for owner-occupiers by 17.5% to 28.1%, depending on assessed value. With the abatement scheduled to sunset this week, Albany lawmakers have an opportunity to provide a long-term funding solution for public housing.

Reform legislation has been introduced in the Assembly by Robert Rodriguez with a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by the housing committee chair Senator Brian Kavanagh. This bill preserves the tax abatement for 90% of homeowners, while eliminating tax breaks for the top 10% of luxury coops and condos.

By ending this tax break for the top 10% of luxury owners now, $170 million in tax revenue will be collected each year. The reform legislation earmarks this revenue for capital repairs in public housing, which can help bring NYCHA into compliance with federal regulations protecting tenants from health hazards such as mold, lead, and vermin.

More than 320,000 cooperative and condominium homeowners received an average tax break of $1,890 in fiscal year 2019 but benefits to luxury homeowners far exceed this average. President Trump, for example, was eligible for $48,000 in tax relief when he resided in Trump Tower. This reform bill will end tax breaks for luxury owners who don’t need them. New York City’s Housing and Vacancy Survey indicates that 10% of all coop and condo owners citywide earn more than $350,000 per year. That number contrasts sharply with $24,000, the average income for residents in public housing.

Albany lawmakers will have to decide if they want to renew the current abatement and perpetuate housing inequality or if they want to reform it by ending tax breaks to luxury properties and fund repairs that will benefit many thousands of public housing residents. The choice seems simple.

Danny Barber is Chair of the Citywide Council of Presidents of NYCHA residents, representing 400,000 public housing residents. He is also President of Jackson Houses Resident Inc., Chairman of the South Bronx District Council of Presidents Inc., and a member of Community Board 1.

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Seize the Albany Opportunity to Do More for NYCHA Sun, 16 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
For the Earth's Sake, Enforce Bus Lanes with Cameras mta usb wifi

(photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)

Transit policy is climate policy. In New York, transportation emits 30% of the city’s carbon pollution and 34% of the state’s. Since it’s easier to drive less in a city than in suburban and rural areas, much of that is carbon we can easily spare. When shrinking New York’s carbon footprint, transportation emissions are low-hanging fruit.

Granted, the challenge is stiff. Car registrations in the city are rising, up 9% in the past four years. The city’s own government vehicle fleet has grown 19% in size and 25% in miles traveled in the past five years. City agencies hand out an estimated 150,000 placards that privilege public employees to park their personal cars on our streets, encouraging them to drive rather than ride transit.

Car culture is resilient throughout the city. In many communities, a car is a status symbol. Many immigrants, low-income New Yorkers, and New Yorkers of color drive for a living. Taxi drivers protested the recent enactment of congestion pricing. Even progressives in Greenwich Village and Chelsea objected to shuttle bus service for L train riders displaced by construction.

To their credit, our leaders have made major commitments to transit. Governor Cuomo and the Legislature passed congestion pricing to fund major subway upgrades. Both Mayor de Blasio and the MTA made historic promises and have begun to improve bus service. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson successfully championed reduced transit fares for low-income riders in the city budget and made a public pledge to “break the car culture.” Comptroller Scott Stringer has produced game-changing reports on bus service and commuter rail.

But there’s a lot more to do. Shifting decisively away from cars and toward transit will require major policy change. If done right, it will make the city more equitable, enhance the quality of life for millions of New Yorkers, and help save everyone on the planet from out-of-control climate change.

First, it’s crucial that the governor fully implement congestion pricing. Congestion pricing has the potential to directly cut citywide carbon emissions by nearly one million tons annually. By cutting congestion, congestion pricing will also indirectly cut emissions even further by making it easier for families and businesses to locate or stay in the city rather than leave for more carbon-intensive lifestyles in the suburbs or beyond.

Second, congestion pricing revenue must be dedicated to fixing the subway. Despite recent improvements in performance, our subway system remains in crisis. While jobs, population, and tourism numbers hit record highs, our subways have been losing riders for three years running, a longer decline than any since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. The system desperately needs modern signals, new subway cars, and elevators that will provide access to New Yorkers with disabilities.

Third, the city and the MTA must deliver on the promise of better bus service in every neighborhood. Today, our buses are the slowest in the nation, mired in traffic, and bogged down with countless stops along convoluted routes. Bus ridership has been falling for over a decade, along with average speeds.

The mayor needs to build out a robust bus lane network in tandem with the MTA’s redesign of each borough’s bus map. Truly turning bus service and ridership around will require prioritizing buses and riders along crowded commercial streets. It will also mean changing the spacing of bus stops so that buses can get up to speed and keep moving, delivering faster and more reliable service. Properly spaced bus stops should be upgraded with amenities like shelters, benches, legible maps, and countdown clocks.

These commitments will take years to be achieved. Meanwhile, there’s one transit policy item on this session’s Albany legislative agenda that can make a real difference, really soon. Assemblymember Nily Rozic and Senator Liz Krueger are sponsoring legislation (A6777/S1925) that would reauthorize and expand the bus lane camera program citywide.

Dedicated lanes are essential to quality bus service but are only as good as they are enforced.

To effectively prioritize bus riders on busy city streets, bus lanes must be kept clear of obstructions. The NYPD has only so many officers and myriad other responsibilities. Enforcement cameras nudge drivers to steer clear and leave bus lanes to bus riders.

Curbing climate change requires a broad range of policy tools. Many of them involve better transit. Before the end of the session this month, the state Legislature and governor have an important opportunity to put bus riders and the climate first. They should take it.

Danny Pearlstein is Policy and Communications Director of the Riders Alliance. On Twitter @RidersNY.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

For the Earth's Sake, Enforce Bus Lanes with Cameras Sun, 16 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Dissecting Dynamics in Albany red room meeting gov ac

(photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

June 12, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast:Dissecting Dynamics in Albany, with Casey Seiler

casey seiler albany times unionCasey Seiler, managing editor of the Albany Times Union, joined the show to discuss the end of the legislative session in Albany, including the historic deal reach on rent regulations, dynamics between Governor Cuomo and the Legislature, and whether deals will be reached on big-ticket items like driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and adult-use marijuana legalization.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Dissecting Dynamics in Albany Wed, 12 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
For Racial Justice, Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Must Pass Marijuana Legalization gov amc rockland

(photo: Governor's Office)

We are days away from the end of the legislative session and among the many important issues Governor Cuomo and New York legislators have left to accomplish is addressing the racially-biased and unjust enforcement of marijuana prohibition in our state.

The Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), currently being considered by New York lawmakers, is one of the clearest pathways toward reducing racism in New York. In the last 20 years our beloved state has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the marijuana arrest capital of the country, with more than 800,000 arrests made just for possession of small amounts.

Nearly 80% of those arrested have been people of color, even though drug use occurs at similar rates across racial and ethnic groups.

These arrests are not a trivial matter. They involve being handcuffed, placed in a police car, taken to a police station, fingerprinted, photographed, possibly being held in jail for up to 24 hours while awaiting arraignment before a judge, appearing in court several times over the course of months, and potentially concluding with the imposition of a permanent criminal record that can easily be found online by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, and banks.

New Yorkers who are arrested often face consequences that can make it difficult to get and keep a job, maintain a professional license, obtain educational loans, secure housing, or even keep custody of a child. This is all for something that is now legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and that white people do for the most part without consequences nationwide.

If you are among the many who believe legalization isn’t necessary, believing New York’s decriminalization law protects people of color from law enforcement harassment, let me share the reality of what happens in our communities.

While it is currently illegal to sell marijuana, you are not technically supposed to get arrested for possession of small amounts. But New York’s decriminalization law, which we’ve had for 40 years, is failing. More than 60 people on average are still arrested every day for marijuana possession in the state. These arrests have been largely justified by a loophole allowing police officers to distinguish between public and private personal possession. Because possession in “public view” remains a crime—and the fact that there is pervasive and racially-biased over-policing of communities of color—mass arrests continue.

The MRTA will not only put an end to these racist police practices, but will create a responsible and well-regulated industry that will better restrict minors’ access to marijuana. It will also generate millions in tax revenue to bolster the state economy and support the communities that have been most harmed by marijuana prohibition.

The bill additionally works to address some of the unjust consequences of marijuana prohibition by creating a process for both the reclassification of past convictions related to marijuana and for the resentencing of currently incarcerated individuals who are serving time due to a marijuana-related offense. This provision of the legislation will remove significant barriers that New Yorkers face in the wake of a marijuana conviction and allow them to fully participate in society without the devastating toll of collateral consequences.

New Yorkers can feel assured knowing that the sky did not fall in states like Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska that have legalized the adult use of marijuana. Use by minors has not gone up, and there has been no increase in driving under the influence. We have the major benefit of learning from hurdles these pioneering states had to overcome, and incorporating lessons learned.

The drug war has left a lasting impact on generations of New Yorkers, particularly harmful for people of color. State resources that could benefit our communities are instead being used to perpetuate wasteful and damaging prohibitionist policies that have not been successful in curbing use, increasing public health, or benefitting communities.

The MRTA will not only earn the state billions in revenue, but will reinvest some of this money back into the communities that have been most harmed with adult education services, job training, the expansion of afterschool programs, re-entry services, and other community-centered projects. Money will also be directed toward public schools as well as drug treatment programs and public education campaigns geared toward reducing opioid overdoses and saving lives. It is a win all around.

It is time to stop the ineffective, racially-biased, and unjust enforcement of marijuana prohibition and to create a new, well-regulated, and inclusive marijuana industry that is rooted in racial and economic justice. If Governor Cuomo and New York legislators are really interested in curbing racism in our state, they will pass the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act this legislative session.

L. Joy Williams is the President of the Brooklyn NAACP. On Twitter @LJoyWilliams.

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For Racial Justice, Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Must Pass Marijuana Legalization Mon, 10 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Pushed on Climate Legislation, Cuomo Tries to Set Himself Apart gov cuomo us climate brown

Cuomo, middle, with Jerry Brown, left, & John Kerry (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo doubled down on his plan to fight climate change and his opposition to the  Climate and Community Protection Act on Friday amid increased pressure to pass the legislation.

The bill ­– which intends to move the state’s economy to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, invest clean energy funds in disadvantaged communities, and provide higher wages for green jobs – has significant support in both houses of the Legislature, but Cuomo has said that it is both too ambitious and doesn’t accomplish enough.

The CCPA “actually doesn’t do, in my opinion, any of the main goals or initiatives,” Cuomo said in an interview with WAMC radio on Friday.

For the second time last week, he strongly downplayed the CCPA as smart policy. A coalition of advocacy groups, unions, and elected officials at various levels of government has been intensifying its push for the bill as the June 19 legislative session end date inches closer. On Tuesday in Albany, an estimated 250 legislators and activists will rally for passage of the CCPA, according to a media advisory from the NY Renews coalition.

Casting aside the CCPA, Cuomo last week touted his own environment and green economy plan as nation-leading, and specifically argued it is stronger than California’s.

“I believe we’ll pass the bill, or we could pass the bill,” Cuomo said on WAMC. “But our climate change agenda is the most aggressive in the country and it has nothing to do with the bill that’s pending.”

The CCPA has majority sponsorship in both Democrat-controlled house of the Legislature, but it’s unclear where it stands for the two majorities as end-of-session negotiations intensify on a range of issues and bills. Earlier last week, Cuomo told WNYC radio that the CCPA and push behind it – which recently added endorsements from most members of Congress who represent New York City as well as both U.S. Senators from New York – is “political,” explaining his belief that its supporters are over-promising the kind of speed at which New York’s entire economy can go green.

“I believe this is the most pressing issue of our time but I don’t want to play politics with it,” Cuomo said on The Brian Lehrer Show on June 4. “I know the politics is we can do everything by tomorrow. I’ve never done that,” Cuomo said.

In January, the governor unveiled his solution, which he’s called the New York Green New Deal, though many activists have taken issue with his branding. CCPA supporters call that legislation, and its stronger socioeconomic justice elements, the true New York Green New Deal, while supporters of the even more aggressive Off Fossil Fuels Act say that’s actually the real deal.

Daniela Lapidous, a coalition organizer for NY Renews, the coalition aggressively pushing the CCPA, said that when it comes to transitions to renewable energy, the CCPA is more aggressive than California’s climate change policies, but not Cuomo’s solution.

Cuomo’s plan aims for New York to have 70 percent of electricity produced by renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean electricity by 2040. Comparatively, California’s climate change policy aims for 50 percent of electricity consumed from renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.

The CCPA would have an economy-wide shift to renewable energy and would put New York at 100 percent renewable by 2050.

California has long been considered a leader on climate change policy in the U.S. In 2015, Governor Jerry Brown announced his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, at the time the most aggressive benchmark enacted by any state government, according to a California news release.

Since then, California has continued to implement policies working to transform the state’s environment, climate change, and green economy goals. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled a sustainability plan on April 29 that aims to create 300,000 green jobs, increase the percentage of zero-emission vehicles in Los Angeles to 80 percent, and source 70 percent of water locally – all by 2035.

Lapidous said a key difference between the CCPA and Cuomo’s proposal is that the governor’s isn’t on the table for this session.

“When Governor Cuomo talks about his proposal, that’s not on the table for the Legislature this year,” Lapidous said. “They’re working on the Climate and Community Protection Act and we want to work with the governor’s office to make the strongest Climate and Community Protection Act possible. But it’s not about two proposals that are competing in the New York Legislature right now. It’s about whether Governor Cuomo is going to help pass the CCPA or block [it].”

Cuomo also falsely said Friday that when he proposed his solution, it was before a Green New Deal was being discussed nationally.

"I proposed a Green New Deal before there was a Green New Deal being discussed nationwide," the governor stated. In fact, the federal Green New Deal was formally proposed as a congressional resolution in early February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), but it didn’t originate there or then.

It was born out of the global financial crisis in 2006, when some Europeans began calling for climate action as a means to democratize the world economic system, according to the Green Party.

Thomas Friedman further popularized the Green New Deal in a 2007 column for the New York Times, where he wrote that this type of legislation would “turn the tide on climate change and end our oil addiction.”

The roots of the Green New Deal in New York are from the 2010 governor’s race, under the platform of the Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins.

Additionally, Matthew Miles Goodrich, the New York State Director of the Sunrise Movement, a climate change organization that has worked on developing the federal Green New Deal legislation, said Cuomo’s plan isn’t really a Green New Deal.

“The plan that Cuomo has put forward in no way shape or form resembles a Green New Deal and just calling it a Green New Deal does not make it so,” Goodrich said. “In any case, the only climate plan on the table right now is the Climate and Community Protection Act, which does have some of the key components of a Green New Deal.”

These key components address climate change, but also social and economic inequality. Since Cuomo’s plan doesn’t focus justice for and investment in communities that have been on the front lines of environmental pollution, it’s not a Green New Deal, Goodrich added.

Cuomo admitted as much on WAMC Friday, saying, “The issue and contention is how we distribute environmental funds and if we distribute the funds based on political criteria or solely on the basis of environmental impact.” But Cuomo has also said the CCPA timelines for an overhaul of the entire economy are unrealistic, pointing out vast sectors, like transportation, and challenges facing such a shift.

The governor is working with the Legislature to come up with a compromise that includes elements of his plan and of the CCPA, a spokesperson said. State agencies are already working to make Cuomo’s climate plans reality, the spokesperson added.

Cuomo is also working towards economy-wide carbon neutrality as soon as is practical, the spokesperson said. The governor also said on WAMC that he plans to announce a multi-billion dollar wind turbine program, which he said would be the largest in America. He didn’t specify when that program would be announced or start.

Lawmakers and supporters are unsure whether the CCPA will pass by the end of session, but some say the idea of the legislation dying is deeply troubling. Neither Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie nor Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, both Democrats, has committed to passing the legislation this session, even though the Assembly has passed the CCPA several years in a row (with it having no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate that lost power this year).

Senator Todd Kaminsky, the lead sponsor of the CCPA in his chamber, recently led a press conference calling for its passage. Three of his colleagues, Senators Robert Jackson, Jessica Ramos, and Julia Salazar, will be among those rallying on Tuesday in the capital, per NY Renews.

“We're really counting on the Legislature to deliver what they promised to do for New Yorkers, which is protect our safety and health, especially in those communities of color and low-income communities,” Lapidous said. “We're really counting on the Legislature there. But if Governor Cuomo were to get in the way, I think it would be really devastating for New York.”

by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette

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Pushed on Climate Legislation, Cuomo Tries to Set Himself Apart Mon, 10 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's the [Data] Point? 6/15, Crunch Time in Albany as Rent Regulations Expire whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 75 -- 6/15, Crunch Time in Albany as Rent Regulations Expire, with REBNY's John Banks and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

faceoffRent regulations impacting about 1 million New York City apartments home to 2 million people are set to expire June 15. State lawmakers and Governor Cuomo have been negotiating how far to go in strengthening those laws in tenants' favor and whether to extend regulations beyond where they currently apply, both in terms of geography and a proposal that would effectively regulate rent increases for all apartments outside the traditional rent-regulated stock.

John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, a Manhattan Democrat and longtime tenant advocate, joined the show to discuss the future of rent laws in New York.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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What's the [Data] Point? 6/15, Crunch Time in Albany as Rent Regulations Expire Fri, 07 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Penn Station Needs a Complete Overhaul. We Must Start Now. Cuomo Penn Station

(photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)

For decades, Penn Station has wreaked havoc on the lives of hardworking New Yorkers, and seriously stained our city’s reputation as a global cultural and economic hub. But all hope is not lost; the door is opening for significant improvements to finally be made.

We’re now just a few short years away from the opening of Moynihan Train Hall and East Side Access. These two important projects, which will temporarily reduce the number of passengers travelling through Penn, present a brief window for significant station improvements.

Transit experts have spoken extensively about the serious safety concerns within Penn Station—from overcrowded platforms, to a lack of accessible exits and signage on what to do in the event of an emergency. The recent announcement of an overhaul of the LIRR corridor and 7th Avenue entrance is a good first step, but there are a host of other improvements that should also be considered.

And beyond safety, it’s a matter of dignity, utility, and a vision for the future of the city we want to live in. Commuters shouldn’t have to settle with what we have.

They’ve seen a variety of great layouts and amenities – that work, by the way – at Washington D.C.’s Union Station, Boston’s South Station, and transit hubs overseas.

We need to look at Penn Station and the surrounding area in Midtown West comprehensively to solve this problem in a way that makes sense for commuters, residents, workers nearby, and New York as a whole.

Leading architects and designers have already created many informed and inspiring renderings and plans for what a new Penn Station could look like. While these designs are all different, they largely address the core issues of overcrowding, platform capacity, and accessibility.

Let’s be clear, Penn Station is not the way it is because of a lack of technical or planning knowhow.

It’s a political problem that can only be solved by bold, willing leadership that is committed to seeing this through from beginning to end.

It also means having a frank conversation about the future of Madison Square Garden, which sits atop the station—severely limiting natural light, air, and the ability to expand capacity.

For our leaders, fixing Penn Station must come down to our values as New Yorkers. We allowed our subways to enter a state of extreme disrepair that forces commuters onto already packed and delayed trains, or for some, abandoning the system all together. Deadlocked street traffic and slow bus speeds are the direct result of the failure to fix what’s going on underground. This is what happens when problems are left to fester.

If leaders don’t believe Penn Station is worth the investment of taxpayer dollars, they should be upfront about that and let voters know where they stand. If it’s a core issue they support, elected leaders should make it clear by calling for the creation of a Penn Station task force that would convene this year.

This task force should resemble the model used to evaluate congestion pricing and it should offer tangible next steps for a comprehensive fix—not a patchwork solution.

2019 has already been a unique year in Albany, with 39 new faces between the Assembly and Senate. Long Island was particularly active during the campaign season with several incumbents who were defeated—and is home to a major constituency that relies on Penn Station. As we rebuild our airports at JFK and LaGuardia and inaugurate new bridges like the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge spanning the Hudson, Penn Station must be our next big fix.

If we don’t get to work to fix Penn Station now, it won’t ever happen. It’s time to act.

State Senator Brad Hoylman represents parts of Manhattan, including Penn Station. On Twitter @BradHoylman.

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Penn Station Needs a Complete Overhaul. We Must Start Now. Thu, 06 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Support Grows for Aggressive Climate Legislation Cuomo Calls Unrealistic nature climate change

(photo: Governor's Office)

As the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) gains increasing support from state and federal legislators, the state Assembly and Senate will soon decide whether or not to vote on the bill, which now has a majority of sponsors in both houses of the Legislature but not the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The CCPA, described by many as New York’s attempt at a Green New Deal, has three major components. The bill would end reliance on fossil fuels by moving the state’s economy to 100% renewable energy by 2050, invest 40% of clean energy funds in disadvantaged communities, and provide higher wages for environmentally-friendly jobs.

In recent days, the coalition supporting passage of the CCPA, called NYRenews, has announced endorsements from officials including Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and most other members of the New York congressional delegation (Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Grace Meng, and Max Rose are the only members of the New York City delegation not to endorse the CCPA).

According to Steve Englebright, the lead Assembly sponsor of the CCPA, the bill is “based on the timeline scientists recommend to avoid catastrophe.”

In spite of growing support for the bill, it’s unclear if the two legislative majorities will make it a top priority for end-of-session negotiations -- the session is scheduled to end June 19 -- and Governor Cuomo has not included it in his recently-released top 10 priorities for the state over the next few weeks.

“I believe this is the most pressing issue of our time but I don’t want to play politics with it,” Cuomo said on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday. “I know the politics is we can do everything by tomorrow. I’ve never done that,” Cuomo said. The governor repeatedly indicated to Lehrer that he wants to move aggressively to fight climate change but that the CCPA is not a realistic piece of legislation given its requirements to overhaul much of the economy.

Cuomo made headlines, and waves, last month when he said he “does not foresee anything specific for the end of the session” regarding climate change legislation.

The CCPA has passed in the Assembly every year since 2016, but a Republican-controlled Senate did not put the legislation up for a vote. With Democrats now controlling a wide majority in the Senate, hopes have been high that the bill would reach Cuomo’s desk. Legislators appear content to work with the governor to negotiate an agreement on new environmental regulations rather than force his hand. Often in Albany, the more contentious issues that find compromise are combined into a budget or end-of-session omnibus package.

Cuomo has warned of the possible economic impact of the CCPA. “When you talk about this transition for the economy, think about what you are talking about. No carbon emissions, new airplanes, no trains that run on diesel, all electric cars, closing all the power plants. This is a massive transformation,” Cuomo said on WNYC.

Still, the bill’s sponsors, activists, and others are pushing back against his pessimism. According to Englebright, the bill is not attempting to “do everything by tomorrow. 2050 is a time horizon well beyond tomorrow,” he said on Wednesday’s Brian Lehrer Show.

Leaders in both the Senate and the Assembly have indicated support for the CCPA, though they have not assertively pushed it of late. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie indicated the CCPA as one of his priorities in an agenda for the Assembly released at the start of the new session in January, but he has not been forceful about it of late. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins was non-committal on Friday’s Capitol Pressroom radio show, when asked about the status of the CCPA, saying she is “personally committed to doing the best climate change package.”

“We have a working group going on right now to see what we can do before the end of session as it relates to the CCPA. I believe we’re going to have something before we leave,” Stewart-Cousins told Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter.

State Senator Todd Kaminsky, lead sponsor for the CCPA in the Senate, also said the CCPA is a priority, but the Senate is still ironing out some details. Kaminsky said he would like to see the bill include more provisions for energy efficiency and interim goals.

“Heastie has given us the compass direction on this,” Englebright said Wednesday on WNYC, appearing with Kaminsky. “I anticipate that we will pass it again this year. Speaker Heastie is committed because he understands the importance of this for all the people of the state.”

Activists, led by the extensive NY Renews coalition of labor unions and advocacy groups, are pressing hard.

“There's no time to waste on protecting New Yorkers from climate change, creating green jobs, and making sure we do it with racial and economic justice at the center,” said Bill Lipton, director of the New York Working Families Party, in a Wednesday press release from NY Renews touting that the CCPA had achieved a majority of sponsors in both houses.

Kaminsky and Englebright are optimistic about the CCPA”s chances, seeing similarities in the CCPA and Cuomo’s proposed climate regulations as a part of the budget passed in March.

“It has the same framework as the CCPA, so I don’t think we’re all that far apart in terms of where we are as a state decarbonizing our economy,” Kaminsky said.

A difference between the CCPA and Cuomo’s budget proposal lies within the 40% investment of clean energy funds into disadvantaged communities, Englebright said. These communities have often suffered disproportionately from lapses in environmental care, so it is especially important they receive investments in renewable energy, good jobs and training, Kaminsky said.

The deadlines for moving away from fossil fuels are also different, and while Cuomo’s benchmarks are focused on the state’s electricity, the CCPA is focused on the entire state economy. (Some legislators and activists want the more aggressive Off Fossil Fuels Act passed, but there appears little formal discussion of the legislation as the legislative session winds down.)

The CCPA also has the potential to increase economic investment in the state, Englebright said. If implemented it could “unleash the genius of American capitalism and New York innovation,” he said.

Despite Cuomo downplaying the CCPA, with its rising popularity, some, including Kaminsky and Englebright, expressed confidence the bill will be voted on this session.

“We have the votes – what are we waiting for,” Lipton said.

by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Support Grows for Aggressive Climate Legislation Cuomo Calls Unrealistic Wed, 05 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Our Work on Public Campaign Financing is Not Done Niou Ramos Albany

the authors: Assemblymember Niou, center, & Senator Ramos, left (photo: @NYCComptroller)

We’ve got a big money problem here in New York, and we hear loud and clear the New Yorkers who are calling for a small donor solution in the form of public financing of elections.

Public financing became a top issue in state budget negotiations earlier this year because of public demand. The plan for a commission to now determine the parameters of public financing of elections was placed in a large budget bill in the final hours of budget negotiations, making it nearly impossible to oppose as legislators.

But we must introduce and move public financing of elections bills this legislative session -- before it ends June 19 -- to fix, or overturn, a weak commission result. We’re committed to ensuring that we end this year with a strong public financing program in New York, whether via commission, legislation, or a combination of both.

It’s important to push this issue ahead and not simply allow the commission to unfold without additional legislation for several reasons.

As women of color and as elected leaders representing people from all walks of life, we are here to bring change and shift power away from big donors and to the people of New York.

Our elections are currently dominated by a tiny number of big donors. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, just 100 donors outspent all the 137,000 small donors combined last year. It’s time for regular constituents to get their say through a 6-to-1 small donor match, lifting the voices of everyday New Yorkers and fundamentally changing the way politicians fundraise by allowing them to focus on those who may only give $20.

Those who oppose reform point to the price tag with a high estimate of $100 million per year (a small fraction of one percent of our state’s budget) as an excuse to avoid changing the status quo. They say we can’t afford it. You know what costs more? Corruption.

When elected leaders are forced to spend their time rubbing shoulders with big donors—who tend to be predominantly corporate donors—we end up with expensive, unnecessary, out-of-touch policies that hurt the rest of us. We also shut out people with a desire to serve their communities but without connections to big donors from running for office. These systematic barriers block women and people of color—in particular women of color—from running and winning public office.

Following damaging decisions by the Supreme Court that now allow unlimited money into our elections, public financing of elections is the only real way to counter the corrosive influence of super PACs—and we have a chance to show the nation how to get it done.

In Connecticut, after a small donor public financing system was put in place, lawmakers moved forward policies to end corporate giveaways and pushed ahead issues that are meaningful to communities of color and other underrepresented communities.

Once public financing was in place, leaders passed mandatory paid sick days, increased the minimum wage, instituted in-state tuition for undocumented students, and helped low-income and working individuals and families by adopting an Earned Income Tax Credit.

In another illustrative example, they also ended the practice of returning unclaimed bottle deposits to the beverage industry. The influence of beer and soda distributors long kept this giveaway worth up to $24 million annually in place. Now the money can be redirected to important public programs.

To ensure a similar result—a democracy that is not beholden to wealthy special interests and instead is responsive to the needs of constituents—in New York, we must ensure a strong Public Financing and Elections Commission that gets to work soon with diverse and credible commissioners to hold transparent proceedings with ample room for public input.

As lawmakers, we have to be prepared for the possibility of a weak commission result. Our responsibility does not end with appointing commissioners. It’s our duty to ensure a strong public financing program, and that means having legislation ready should we need to improve upon the commission’s recommendations.

Our mission is clear. We must deliver a strong small donor public financing program by the end of the year to shift power to the people of New York and away from big donors. We’ve come too far to settle for anything less.

State Senator Jessica Ramos represents parts of Queens. Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou represents parts of Manhattan. On Twitter @jessicaramos & @yuhline.

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Our Work on Public Campaign Financing is Not Done Sun, 02 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000