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Grassroots Bulletin

April Newsletter

Obama's Energy Security Trust  


Last month President Obama unveiled the creation of a $2 Billion Energy Security Trust – an idea he first floated in his State of the Union address in February.  He is calling on Congress to set aside $2 billion over the next decade to support research of advanced vehicle technology and other green energy projects as part of an effort to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. 

The Trust would use royalties and lease payments received from oil operations on federal lands over the next ten years to fund research toward electric vehicles, biofuels, fuel cells and natural gas vehicles.
The new program would require Congressional approval but is already being met with resistance from some republican lawmakers.  House Speaker John Boehner and others have responded with ideas to expand drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, something that Obama has opposed.

Also last month, President Obama’s outside team of scientific advisers recommended the creation of new carbon emission standards for existing pollution sources and the continued expansion of shale gas production in order to confront global warming. Those are two of the wide-ranging climate policy suggestions that the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has unveiled to adapt to climate changes.

Others recommendations include creation of a “National Commission on Climate Preparedness,” infrastructure planning that integrates climate risks like “super” storms, and various steps to “decarbonize” the economy.  On natural gas, PCAST backs continued production increases while “ensuring that environmental impacts of production and transport do not curtail the potential of this approach.”   Other recommendations are as follows:

• Focus on national preparedness for climate change, which can help decrease damage from extreme weather events now and speed recovery from future damage;
• Continue efforts to decarbonize the economy, with emphasis on the electricity sector;
• Level the playing field for clean-energy and energy-efficiency technologies by removing regulatory obstacles, addressing market failures, adjusting tax policies, and providing time-limited subsidies for clean energy when appropriate;
• Sustain research on next-generation clean-energy technologies and remove obstacles for their eventual deployment;
• Take additional steps to establish U.S. leadership on climate change internationally.  

Lawmakers Pass On-time Budget  

Last week New York lawmakers passed a $135.1 billion spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year that extends a higher tax on top earners, giving Governor Andrew Cuomo his third consecutive on-time budget.

The plan raises the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour over three years and provides about $1.1 billion in tax cuts and credits to businesses and middle-income families that will be phased in by 2016. The credits will be paid for in part by an extension of a tax surcharge on couples earning more than $2 million annually, which was set to expire next year.

The budget also phases out over the next four years a hidden utility tax imposed in 2009 that now costs customers $500 million annually.

The final agreement also adopts a number of recommendations by Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission, which he created late in 2012 to examine and report on utilities’ storm response efforts.  Utilities will now be subject to increased fines that could be millions of dollars per day for failure to restore service according to certain regulatory requirements. 

The budget also creates and funds a new state “Wholesale Market Consumer Advocacy Project,” intended to provide consumer advocacy in matters before the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Also in the spending agreement, gas stations within a half-mile from highway exits and hurricane evacuation routes in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County, and Rockland County will be required to install equipment that allows for connectivity to a portable generator. Gas stations will not be required to purchase generators but will have access to state funding to pay for the lease or rent of a generator. Grants for up to $10,000 will be awarded to cover the cost of wiring. Up to $13,000 will be awarded for stations that choose to purchase a generator.

The final spending agreement was approved two days prior to the statutory deadline of April 1.   

Paid Sick Leave Compromise Reached   

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced last week that a compromise had been reached on paid sick leave legislation, which would be voted on in the coming days.  The current bill would require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide five days of sick leave.

Quinn had voiced concerns with previous versions of the legislation citing costs to businesses in the current economy.  The compromise bill ensures that workers must be employed for at least four months prior to being eligible for the compensated leave, and that the bill doesn’t go into effect until April 2014, allowing businesses time to plan for the new mandates.  

Former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, both running for Mayor, had testified at a recent hearing in support of strong paid sick leave measures.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg has suggested he may veto the bill if it passes.

Last month, meanwhile, Congressional House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for new federal legislation last month that would require employers to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave a year for workers.  The details of paid sick leave laws vary across the country and the debate has galvanized liberal and conservative groups on either side of the issue.

In Philadelphia, PA, and in Portland, OR, which have passed similar bills recently, the requirements would affect businesses with at least six workers.  Connecticut now requires companies to give full-time workers five paid sick days a year.  A law that goes into effect later this year in Seattle will require firms with five or more employees to provide paid sick leave.

The question of how much it costs to pay sick employees when not at work is hotly contested. Proponents say these laws protect low-wage workers — and prevent them from passing contagious illnesses onto the public, which saves in health care costs and additional lost time.  The National Business Group on Health recently released a study claiming a national mandate for companies to provide paid sick days would in turn cost businesses up to $35.3 billion annually.


A Discussion with City Council Member Daniel Garodnick 

District 4 - Council Member – Democrat

Born and raised on the East Side of Manhattan, Dan was elected to the New York City Council in 2005.  He was then elected co-Chair of the Manhattan Delegation and a member of the Budget Negotiating Team.

In his first term, Dan authored and passed a law to make government work better for property owners by staggering the City's mandated building facade inspections and helped pass the landmark Tenant Protection Act, the first City law to protect tenants from harassment by their landlords. He authored the Green Energy Code to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in buildings across the city, and he stood up for consumers' rights by not only chairing the Consumer Affairs Committee, but also authoring the New York City Fair Debt Collection Act and other laws to protect working people and to save taxpayer money.

Dan was praised by the New York Times for his "independent streak," as well as for being a "champion of smarter redevelopment along the East River and a fighter for increased funding for the city's public school students."  His approach earned Garodnick a place on City Hall's list of "The Next Generation of Political Leaders in New York."

Prior to entering public office, Dan practiced as a securities litigator at the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where he did internal corporate investigation work. He also served as a law clerk to the Honorable Colleen McMahon of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Dan holds a J.D. from University of Pennsylvania Law School and a B.A. in Government from Dartmouth College. He grew up in a rent-stabilized apartment in the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village community, and he lives in that neighborhood today with his wife, Zoe, and son, Asher.

What in your view is the biggest challenge the City Council is dealing with right now? We need to end the annual budget dance between the Mayor and the City Council, whereby the Mayor cuts, and the Council fights to restore the same important services every year.  In the end, the Mayor and the Council fight most earnestly over about the restoration of .2% of the City's budget; most of the rest of the budget it is disclosed in "lump sum" cuts and appropriations, making it very difficult to evaluate whether programs are working.  That's why I've offered charter reforms, along with my colleague Jumaane Williams, which will increase transparency, and give the Council the tools it needs to chart a more responsible course forward. 

Tell us about one of the main priorities your district is facing today.
I am focused on the Mayor's proposal to rezone East Midtown to encourage new commercial development. This is an important opportunity for the City, which has the potential to unlock development and to update our aging building stock.  However, the Grand Central area has significant infrastructure needs today, even without any rezoning plan.  We need a reliable plan to finance transit, basic infrastructure, and public realm improvements that will ensure that we have a first class business district.  The effects of this proposal will be felt for generations of New Yorkers, and it will result in an influx of people and activity in an area that already needs improvement.

What do see as the biggest challenge for the Council coming up this year?
Since 2010, the Council has been talking about the proposed Paid Sick Leave legislation.  It is a complicated but important proposal that deserves a vote this year.  Last September, I proposed modifications to the bill in the hopes of answering some of the concerns of the City's business community and breaking the logjam.  The bill remains a top priority in 2013, and I hope to see the Council move it forward.

With major focus on the effects of Hurricane Sandy, what in your view is the most important thing to focus on going forward?
Hurricane Sandy revealed how vulnerable New York truly is to severe weather events.  We need to make the infrastructure investments necessary to protect our low-lying coastal areas.  Some ideas are already being explored by the City -- including sea walls, putting power lines underground, and making changes to our zoning and building codes to protect from future harm.


Thanksgiving in February with St. Francis Food Pantries and Shelter  

On Saturday, February 23, over fifty Con Edison employees joined St. Francis Food Pantries and Shelters to serve Thanksgiving meals to those in need and helped reignite the holiday spirit. 

"Thanksgiving in February" serves over 900 people a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, long after the holidays, when the poor are forgotten and the winter shuts in seniors and children.  Face painters, magicians and musicians joined guests to lift spirits.

Click here, or the graphic to watch video footage from the event - including celebs Tony Danza and Wendy Williams.   

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