Downstate NY

NYC’s Income Gap Creates Challenge For MTA, Moody’s Finds

A report released Thursday by Moody’s found the increasing income inequality in New York City will make it difficult for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to strengthen its revenues through hiking fares.

The report found increasing fares, mixed with a widening income gap, makes the situation unsustainable for the lowest-earning New Yorkers.

On the other end of the revenue equation is for the MTA to potentially tap into the wealthiest residents to generate more revenue from taxes for the troubled transit system.

Income growth for the top 50 percent of households is almost double of the bottom half of New Yorkers over the last 10 years.

“Lagging income growth among the lowest-earning residents of its service area will weaken the MTA’s ability to raise fares and balance its operating budgets,” says Baye Larsen, a Moody’s VP-Senior Credit Officer. “However, the essential role of mass transit in the New York economy provides a strong incentive to tap the region’s high and growing overall wealth to subsidize transit operations.”

REBNY Gets A Leadership Change

Real Estate Board of New York President John Banks announced Wednesday he would retire as leader of the influential business consortium following a bruising legislative session.

Banks had served as REBNY’s president for the last five years.

“Throughout my career, I have been extremely fortunate to work with people and organizations that have helped me grow both personally and professionally; and because of this tremendous support I now have the ability to make this very personal choice,” he said.

“I intend to fully focus on my beloved wife Lisa and our young children, and look forward to being more present in their lives.”

State lawmakers this month signed off an extension of rent control laws for New York City, reversing housing policy of the last 25 years that was geared toward deregulation. The result was seen as a major loss for entities like REBNY, which represents landlords.

REBNY has been a force in previous negotiations over the rent control regulations, and have been frequent deep-pocketed donors to state lawmakers and statewide elected officials. But the terrain in Albany, with Democrats now holding large majorities in both the state Assembly and state Senate, has shifted.

Replacing Banks as president is Jim Whelan, who has served as the board’s executive vice president.

RWDSU Backs Louis For Brooklyn Council Seat

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union on Thursday endorsed Farah Louis for the open 45th city Council District in Brooklyn.

“Farah Louis’s career in public advocacy began when she made a critical choice to come from behind a news-camera and take to the school bus drivers’ strike line instead. From that moment on she hasn’t stopped fighting for the rights of working people,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.

“Councilmember Louis knows the 45th district inside and out. She knows that smart development of the district with union jobs will ensure that generations of Brooklynites can truly live and work there. We know Farah will stand up and protect workers’ rights to organize and to have safe working conditions. And that she will ensure everyone in the 45th can earn a fair wage. The RWDSU is proud to support Farah on her re-election campaign and we look forward to continue working with her.”

The district was vacated by Jumaane Williams after he won a special election for the New York City public advocate’s office. The primary is scheduled for June 25.

Lander Endorses Cabán In DA’s Race

New York City Councilman Brad Lander on Thursday endorsed Queens district attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán in her bid for the Democratic nomination.

“Her background as a public defender, her commitment to racial, social, and economic justice, her vision of a criminal justice system that does not marginalize people-of-color and the poor, and her commitment to equal justice under law make her the progressive DA that Queens needs,” said Lander, a lawmaker who represents a Brooklyn district.

“Tiffany is willing to grapple with the hard truths of our carceral state, and is offering a bold and transformative approach that focuses on getting marginalized communities the supports they need, rather than targeting and imprisoning them. I look forward to working with Tiffany to achieve the goals we share: to attain a fairer, more equitable, and more compassionate criminal justice system in NYC.”

Lander’s endorsement comes as Cabán faces a multi-candidate field for the nomination, including City Councilman Rory Lancman, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Judge Greg Lasak.

“Over the course of his long career as an advocate and elected official, City Council Member Brad Lander has consistently fought for a more just and equitable New York City, lifting up the voices of community members and organizers to achieve this vision,” Cabán said.

“In sponsoring legislation to advance fair labor protections, environmental justice, safe streets, and police oversight, Council Member Lander has always centered the needs of the most marginalized in our city. And in bringing participatory budgeting to New York City, he has also worked to make our government more transparent and responsive to its residents. I look forward to working with Council Member Lander to make the Queens DA’s office more accessible, more reflective of the community it serves, and more focused on restorative practices.”

Suffolk County Cracks Down On ‘Move Over’ Violators

Officials in Suffolk County on Thursday launched a campaign to crack down on drivers who do not change lanes for law enforcement, emergency vehicles and road workers.

The enforcement of the state’s “Move Over” law by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone comes after the November injuries of a firefighter and Suffolk County Highway patrol officer who were responding to a two-car crash on the Long Island Expressway when the officer’s patrol car was hit by a passing truck.

“Move Over is enforced for a reason – to ensure the safety of law enforcement, first responders, and highway personnel,” Bellone said. “This public awareness effort is intended to protect our roads while protecting those whose job it is to enforce the rules of the road.”

The original Move Over law was approved in 2011 by Gov. David Paterson to bolster safety for law enforcement and emergency personnel. Gov. Andrew Cuomo expanded it in 2012 and 2017 to include maintenance and tow truck workers as well as volunteer firefighters and EMTs.

Rockland County Takes More Steps To Contain Measles Outbreak

Rockland County officials on Tuesday unveiled new plans to combat the ongoing measles outbreak, including a ban on those diagnosed or exposed to the illness from being in public places for up to 21 days.

The new orders, issued by County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, come as a separate measles outbreak has occurred in Brooklyn. The orders were also issued as Rockland County’s state of emergency declaration has been challenged in court and is undergoing an appeal.

The order covers public spaces both indoors and outdoors and bars the person from going anywhere there is a public assembly for any period of time, with exceptions for receiving medical care, emergencies or court appointments.

Another order would bar students who have not demonstrated proof they have received the measles vaccine from attending school.

“I have the authority from the State DOH to exclude those children who are not up to date on their immunization,” Ruppert said. “With this outbreak, I am implementing further exclusions of students without evidence of proper MMR vaccination effective immediately. This is addressed to the school administrators and principals.”

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would end the religious exemption for being excluded from being vaccinated.

Katz Endorsed By CWA Local 1180

The labor union CWA Local 1180 endorsed Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s bid for the Democratic nomination for district attorney.

The union represents more than 9,000 active members who work primarily in New York City government, as well as 6,000 retirees.

“No matter what governmental position Melinda has held, she has always been a strong advocate for working people,” said the local’s president, Gloria Middleton.

“Her pledge to aggressively fight discrimination in the workplace is deeply important to our members, especially on the heels of our successful lawsuit against the City of New York for years of gender and pay discrimination for women and women of color. We are confident that Melinda will support labor and the working class as District Attorney, and she has our full endorsement.”

Katz has previously been endorsed by the Hotel Trades Council and 32BJ SEIU.

“Throughout our government, Local 1180 members work tirelessly to keep our city running smoothly,” Katz said. “They need an advocate on their side who will fight with them to close the gender pay gap and hold employers accountable for discrimination. I am honored to have their support and I look forward to working with them as Queens District Attorney.”

Cuomo Adding Speed Camera Program to Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he will reinstate and expand the New York City speed camera program in his 2019 executive budget, which will be unveiled tomorrow.

His plan includes increasing the amount of speed camera zones from 140 to 290 and placing “additional signage” in the designated areas.

The program lapsed last July following inaction in the state Senate – in part due to Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat who was caucusing with the Republican majority at the time, and wouldn’t support the legislation without language that would add police officers in NYC schools.

Other past key players on this issue were now-former Brooklyn Republican Sen. Marty Golden, and former Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt, a Rochester Democrat.

Cuomo finally addressed the legislative inaction by declaring a state of emergency in August, temporarily re-authorizing the program.

In his statement today, Cuomo wasn’t shy about placing the blame for the program’s failure on Republican shoulders – a not terribly difficult thing to do, given the fact that the Republicans are no longer in charge of anything at the state Capitol.

“After Senate Republicans shamefully refused to extend this life-saving program, I declared a State of Emergency before the start of the school year to temporarily keep the cameras operating,” the governor said.

“With this new proposal we will not only reinstate the program the way it should have been done in the first place – we will also expand the number of cameras to protect more children and prevent needless tragedies and heartbreak.”

The program, designed to record and enforce speeding violations near school zones, is operated and controlled by New York City. It was first signed into law in 2013.

NYC Councilman Encourages 2020 Census Participation

From the Morning Memo:

Please participate in the 2020 census — even if you’re an undocumented immigrant, implores New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez in a statement Wednesday.

“New Yorkers and especially undocumented residents should not be afraid to participate in the 2020 Census,” Rodriguez said.

The data collected is vital to shaping future undertakings in the Big Apple, including: budget funding, resource allocation, emergency preparations, and gauging population growth and or decline, he said.

Rodriguez, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. in his teens, says those worried about a citizenship question included in the census have no reason to fear.

But anxiety over arrest, separation and even deportation exists for those whose friends and family members have undetermined citizenship statuses, or are undocumented themselves.

It’s also a response to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s appointment of Julie Menin, currently the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, as the City’s new director of the Census.

“Ms. Menin’s staff should reflect the diversity of our great City of New York and the 2020 Census outreach needs to be provided in the appropriate language for a neighborhood and/or resident. The information distribution needs to be disseminated widely so that it is accessible to all residents.”

Anxiety over the inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 census has tensed.

“It is essential that we ensure that all residents, regardless of immigration status, know their rights when participating in this historic survey that leads to better services for all New Yorkers,” Rodriguez said.

Should the question remain on the population count, speculation over inaccurate results or even an undercount looms.

Big Apple’s Economic Future Looks Strong…ish

From the Morning Memo:

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli gives a big thumbs up to the Big Apple’s economy, albeit, erring on the side of caution.

In a report Wednesday, the comptroller’s office says the city is slated to end 2018 with an additional 72,000 jobs, a positive streak predicted to carry through the new year.

In 2017 alone, the city reached a record employment of 4.4 million, noting between 2009 and 2017, 715,000 jobs were added, an achievement dubbed the “largest and longest job expansion since World War II.”

October’s monthly unemployment rate hit 4 percent, a figure unmet in 42 years.

DiNapoli’s report says it’s all thanks to consumer confidence, steady tourism, rising property values and growing Wall Street profits.

“New York City’s economy is strong and continues to set new records,” DiNapoli said.

Despite growth, there’s worry over instability in the stock market reflected over the past several months.

The city also faces “significant budget gaps and risks in the coming years.”

Fiscal strain from agreements with labor unions made after the budget was adopted in June 2018 are a noted challenge, but not a permanent or unexpected obstacle.

“While the FY 2019 budget surplus is likely to grow, city officials will need to consider additional actions to narrow the budget gaps projected for fiscal years 2020 through 2022,” DiNapoli said.

“In addition, the city faces the prospects of future risks, which could make balancing the budget more difficult. While the economy is still strong, it appears more vulnerable than in recent years.”

The report exposes broad view tender spots, like the slowing global economy and pressure from federal trade agreements that would throw a wrench in the balancing the books. Also laying in wait are New York City-centric caveats, such as low pension fund earnings and an increasingly dependent NYCHA and Health and Hospitals Corp. that could call for a boost in city contributions.

Then there’s the white elephant in the room: the crumbling Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Wednesday morning on WAMC Radio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged the wearisome task, even going so far as to admit a want to wipe hands clean of the transportation infrastructure burden.

It’s a problem that’s getting more expensive by the day.

July 2018 data determines the 2020 budget gap doubled to $510 million, and upped to $991 million by 2022.

“These estimates already assume fare and toll increases of 4 percent in 2019 and 2021.”

To read the full report, click here.