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Grassroots Bulletin

February Newsletter

2013-2014 Executive Budget 

Governor Cuomo released his third Executive Budget proposal last month, which attempts to close an estimated $1.35 billion deficit for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The overall $142.6 billion budget includes $6 billion from the federal government for post-Sandy relief and the start-up of the federal health care program.

As expected, the Executive Budget contains numerous Hurricane Sandy initiatives, including many recommendations made by the four commissions established by Cuomo to examine the state’s and utilities’ response to extreme weather events. 

The Budget’s “Responding to Sandy” plan dedicates a total of $51 billion, including $30 billion in federal aid, to pay for disaster-related recovery, rebuilding, and mitigation measures. A specialized “storm recovery account” was established to disburse federal aid for Sandy-related capital projects.  $3.6 billion in federal aid is expected to be spent over the next year.

“Responding to Sandy” initiatives include hardening electric distribution infrastructure, energy sector workforce training, specialized training for the National Guard in power restoration, and a new emergency communications portal to access information such as outages.

The Executive Budget also contained provisions meant to strengthen the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) oversight and enforcement capabilities, including increased penalties, new audit provisions, and the ability to revoke or modify a utilities’ certificate of public convenience and necessity.

In addition to Hurricane Sandy items, the 2013-2014 Executive Budget contains several energy-related initiatives including a five-year extension of the 18-a assessment; creation of a $1 billion “Green Bank” to incentivize investment in renewable energy projects; expansion of the existing NY SUN Solar Program; and the Charge NY Program to expand deployment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs).  Additional information on these items can be found here

Fiscal Hurdles Ahead in Washington 

Congress and the President avoided sending the Nation over the “Fiscal Cliff” by acting just before the January 1 deadline.  Now comes the really hard work.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act made some permanent changes to the tax code, like establishing the maximum dividend tax rate of 20% rather than allowing it to go up to 39.6%, but for the most part, the legislation was just a temporary fix.  President Obama and Congress still have a number of issues to address to keep the economy moving forward, all of which have the potential to slow the economy if not managed well.

Key Dates Ahead

March 1 - Sequestration Starts
Sequestration was established under the Budget Control Act of 2011 and calls for steep cuts in domestic discretionary and defense spending (entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security are not affected).  The Fiscal Cliff deal postponed the start date of Sequestration from January 2 to March 1.  Congress may again postpone the start of Sequestration, but just a three-month delay is estimated to cost $36 billion.

March 27 – Government Funding Agreement Expires
Because of election year politics, the federal government was only funded for six-months starting October 1, 2012.  All federal spending authority expires on March 27 and there is no agreement on how to fund government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year.  If an agreement is not reached, we could see the first government shutdown since 1996.

April 15 – Budget Deadlines
The House and Senate must pass budget blueprints that include tax and spending priorities.  The No Budget, No Pay Act makes things more interesting this year, as lawmakers will forgo pay if their chamber does not pass a budget.  The Senate has not passed a budget in nearly four years.

May 19 – Debt Ceiling Deal Expires
We may well see another standoff over the debt ceiling between House Republicans and the White House.  The debt ceiling is suspended until this date under the No Budget, No Pay Act.

July 1 –Student Loans Reduced Rate Expires
The low 3.4% rate on student loans will return to 6.8% unless Congress and the President agree on way to fund the discounted rate for another year.  The cost is $6 billion.

Bloomberg presents $70.1 Billion Budget  

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recently presented his Fiscal Year 2014 Preliminary Budget and an updated four-year financial plan.  The proposed budget seeks to close a $1.1 billion deficit facing the City without raising taxes or downsizing city jobs. The Preliminary Budget includes $6.5 billion in savings the Mayor says the city has achieved through deficit closing actions begun in 2007.  In November 2012, budget officials told city agencies to propose new ways to shave spending ahead of an anticipated $2.5 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year.  In addition to those cost-cutting measures, higher-than-expected tax revenue helped close the gap, the Mayor said. 

By law, the city has to craft a balanced budget.  The City Council must approve the plan. 

Key measures include:

- The preliminary budget includes an estimated $4.5 billion in Hurricane Sandy-related expenses, all of which the City anticipates will be reimbursed by Federal aid.  (President Barack Obama has signed into law a $50.5 billion emergency relief measure for storm victims in several states.) This includes $1.4 billion spent on emergency response and debris removal as part of the Expense Budget. The remaining $3.1 billion is comprised of long-term repair needs for damaged infrastructure that will be incurred over time in the Capital Budget. The total Sandy-related expenses include: $310 million for schools; $812 million for hospitals; $1 billion for housing; and $601 million for parks.

- The City may lose $724 million in State education aid for New York City schools over the next two years if it cannot strike an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers union.  The UFT is opposed to proposals by the City to establish a teacher evaluation system.  In the current fiscal year, the City will lose $250 million in State education aid, resulting in a loss of 700 teachers through attrition this year, as well as the reduction of funds for extracurricular activities and afterschool programming. The City will forfeit another $250 million in the next fiscal year, as well as $224 million included in the New York State Executive Budget, if no agreement is made before April 1, leading to another 1,800 teaching positions lost through attrition.

- The budget would also raise parking meter rates south of 96th Street from $3 per hour to $3.50 per hour, and from 96th Street to 11th Street, parking would go up from $1 per hour to $1.50 per hour.

- The addition of a new enforcement unit in the Health department for mobile food vendor enforcement to tackle the growth of street/mobile vendors is proposed. 

 A Discussion with Congressman Steve Israel

Congressman Steve Israel represents New York's 3rd Congressional District, including the communities of Huntington, North Hempstead, Queens, Oyster Bay, and Smithtown. He was first sworn into Congress in 2001.

As an outcome of the 2012 redistricting process, Congressman Israel’s new district includes a portion of Con Edison’s service territory.

Israel is a member of the House Leadership, serving as the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In March of 2012, he was appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, serving with seven other members of Congress.

As a Member of leadership he has a temporary leave of absence from his committee assignment to House Appropriations and the Subcommittees on State and Foreign Operations and Defense.

He is known as a relentless advocate for veterans and middle class families. The New York Times has called him "a Democrat who has long tried to focus attention on the plight of the middle class."

Most recently, Congressman Israel was a strong advocate for Superstorm Sandy recovery aid. The affected region is now set to receive nearly $60 billion in federal support.

What do you foresee being the most pressing energy-related federal issues for 2013?

A balanced American energy policy is not only an environmental imperative, but critical to our national security and economic future.  We can grow our economy by investing in the clean technologies and cutting our dependence on foreign oil. As we debate the federal budget, I will fight to make certain next generation technologies are manufactured here in America so we remain global energy leaders.

Hurricane Sandy demonstrated what you and I know all too well - we must invest in our energy infrastructure. Without power, our economy shuts down. I believe we have a unique opportunity in the aftermath of Sandy to focus on job creation through investments in infrastructure like our grid, roads, transit and wastewater systems. This is an economic imperative and our country cannot wait.

Finally, based on climate forecasting, we know there will be future storms to hit our region that could be even stronger. We need to fortify our infrastructure against those potential natural disasters, but also against threats from bad actors around the world plotting to threaten our cybersecurity and do harm to our grid. That is why innovation and commonsense reforms to existing laws will allow Americans to be protected. Con Edison has made this a priority thanks to the work you have done, but we must continue to strengthen protections.

What do you foresee being the most pressing legislative issue of this session?

Now that the Sandy Relief bill has become law, I am focused on making certain that New York gets its fair share and has the resources necessary to rebuild stronger than ever. Along with spending recovery resources efficiently, we need smart tax policies that allow for companies, families and small businesses to get back on their feet.

However, I do think the federal deficit will be a major focus in Congress in the coming months.  Getting a handle on the federal deficit will require shared sacrifice and some difficult decisions, but not at the expense of our future and investments that will pave the way for long term economic growth. We need to pass a budget that starts to deal with the drivers of our deficit and debt, while making sure that we keep the promise we made to our seniors and continue to protect investments in our schools, families, and communities. We need to grow our economy with a combination of cuts and smart investments. We can cut government programs that don’t work, and examine the programs that do to make them more efficient.

Above all, I am focused on standing up for New York’s middle class families by creating jobs and spurring economic growth.  But we must also protect our seniors and veterans.   They have given so much to our country and deserve to get what they’ve earned back from our government.  I will not stand for cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Veterans benefits – and will fight to protect these things for as long as I’m in Congress.

Partisan politics have dominated our national and state legislative landscape in recent years.  Can you comment on the current situation between the parties in Washington and add your views on how our leaders and elected officials can better work together?

Let me say, I can understand people’s frustration. At the beginning of this year we faced one of the most pressing fiscal situations in recent memory, the combination of tax increases, across the board spending cuts, and cuts to reimbursement rates to Medicare doctors, which came to be known as the fiscal cliff. Some House Republicans were willing to take our economy to the brink, but luckily a bipartisan compromise trumped those efforts. While the deal that was passed wasn’t perfect, it ensured that tax rates for 98% of American families didn’t rise, that seniors can continue to see their doctors, and that blunt cuts to our budget didn’t negatively impact our most valued priorities. I look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to reach consensus and find compromise wherever possible on other challenging issues.

More recently, the Hurricane Sandy Relief bill, which represents long overdue relief for communities across New York, even got bogged down with partisan paralysis.  That’s never the case with disaster relief.  That is why I worked with Democrats and Republicans from New York to get a bill passed. The aftermath of Sandy is not the time to attack the other side of the aisle; it is time to get this done.  New Yorkers need help and solutions, not excuses and ideology.  To suffer from a weather storm is bad enough.  But to suffer from a political storm is unacceptable.  That is why I am glad both sides came together in the end to pass a Sandy bill.

The destruction left by Sandy has caused an increased focus on climate change issues.  Does this mean we might see renewed attention in Washington on issues such as a carbon tax and electric fuel vehicles in 2013?

Many of you, homeowners and businesses that I represent have already gone through so much because of our changing climate. Importantly, the Sandy Relief bill includes funding to mitigate future disasters and fortify our coastal communities. This was a big step forward as many in Washington pushed back on climate science, but I proudly fought for it.

Now, we need to build upon that progress. Resources like the Long Island Sound aren’t just important to our environment. It is an $8 billion a year economic engine. Making certain we protect our region’s assets is critical.

I am proud to support incentives for renewable energy, using alternative fuels, making financing energy savings retrofits easier and efforts to cut emissions. These make economic and environmental sense.


John Miksad Testifies Before City Council Regarding Superstorm Sandy

Senior Vice President Electric Operations, John Miksad, testified at a New York City Council hearing January 18th on Superstorm Sandy. He discussed the company’s preparations, response, and recovery from the storm, which affected over one million of our customers. He also discussed investments and strategies the company is exploring to further protect underground and overhead equipment from future storms.

Several Council members praised the work of our 13,000 men and women to restore service, as well as the company’s overall communications efforts with the public, elected officials, and the media.  Click here, or the graphic to watch a short segment from the hearing.

To see the full PowerPoint presentation, click here. To read the testimony, click here

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