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Grassroots Bulletin

May Newsletter

Obama Energy Nominee Closer to Confirmation


At his Senate confirmation hearing last month, President Barack Obama’s pick to head the Department of Energy voiced his commitment to increase the use of natural gas.

Ernest Moniz, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified that “a stunning increase” in production of domestic natural gas in recent years represents a “revolution” that has already led to reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause global warming.

Moniz is a former Energy Department undersecretary for former President Bill Clinton and has a long resume of work on a wide array of energy issues. As founding director of the MIT Energy Initiative, Moniz claims a connection to research projects ranging from nanotechnology and renewable energy to carbon management and battery storage.

However, environmentalists have raised concerns with Moniz’s industry ties, his outward support for nuclear power and his previous enthusiasm for natural gas as a cleaner-burning bridge fuel that could provide electricity while the U.S. moves to renewable alternatives.

Still he has won broad bipartisan support so far in the Senate. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently approved his nomination by a 21-1 vote and he is expected to win final confirmation when Congress returns from the current recess. 

Obama nominated the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor to replace Steven Chu, who is returning to Stanford University in California.  

New York Launches Electric Taxicab Pilot Program  

Mayor Bloomberg and Taxi & Limousine (TLC) Commissioner David Yassky recently announced the launch of six all-electric Nissan LEAF taxicabs as part of a pilot program scheduled to last up to one year. 

In the Mayor’s State of the City address in February he announced a goal of electrifying one-third of the city’s taxi fleet by 2020. The goal of the pilot program is to help determine how best to integrate electric vehicles into the taxi industry’s business model.  

Electric cars emit 70% less CO2 than an average car and take advantage of New York’s clean electric grid.  Meeting the Mayors' goal is the equivalent of taking 50,000 regular cars off the road.  Con Edison serves as a partner in the program and is working with TLC to identify appropriate sites for direct current “fast chargers.”  These 50kW chargers are capable of charging the Nissan LEAF taxicabs in 25 to 30 minutes and are the first-ever in New York City. Commissioner Yassky noted that thirty minutes of charging will allow a cab driver roughly 80 miles of driving in the city. Many New York City cabs travel 100 miles on a typical day.

Cab drivers who volunteer to drive the pilot vehicles will are permitted to turn down passengers based on their destinations.  Some drivers will have charging stations at their homes, allowing them to charge between shifts.  All drivers would most likely need to plug their cars in during their shifts. 

LEAF taxi drivers will continue providing the same service as they always have - picking up and dropping off New Yorkers all over the city – and will charge the exact same rate as regular cabs do.

State Comptroller Reports on New York's Fiscal Health   

According to a recent report issued by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the state ended its 2012-2013 fiscal year in the black due mostly to tighter controls on spending.

Despite costs resulting from Superstorm Sandy, New York had a higher balance than forecast in the year ending March 31.  But, DiNapoli did warn that tax revenue fell short of projections for the sixth straight year. 

In fiscal year 2012-2013, New York collected $66.3 billion in taxes, an increase of about $2 billion from the year before but still $70 million less than had been projected. 

The state ended the fiscal year with $1.6 billion in the general fund, the main account used to pay the state's bills. But that balance is about 10 percent below the level a year ago and $2 billion below the level that had been projected.

The report also says that the newly enacted 2013-14 state budget, which took effect April1, adds more than $1 billion in public authority debt and makes it easier for those authorities to borrow even more money without prior voter approval. 

DiNapoli did praise the Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo for passing the budget on-time for a third year in a row and for keeping spending under control.

The report also said that the 2013-14 budget:

• Doesn't take into account sequestration by Congress (federal funding cuts) that have already taken effect. The Comptroller’s report estimates that sequestration could cost the state $290 billion in the first six months of the 2013-14 fiscal year.

• Relies on more than $4 billion of “one-time" or short-term revenues -- not including the $5.1 billion in federal money received so far for Hurricane Sandy reconstruction.

• Assumes $200 million more in tax revenues than Cuomo's proposed budget in January and, given the health of the national economy, that money might not materialize.  The Comptroller points out that the state’s previous five budgets also over-estimated state tax revenue.

A Discussion with Freshman Congresswoman Grace Meng 

U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng is serving her first term in the United States House of Representatives. Grace represents the Sixth Congressional District of New York encompassing the New York City borough of Queens, including west, central and northeast Queens.

Grace is the first Asian-American member of Congress from New York, and the first female Member of Congress from Queens since former Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro.

She is dedicated to fighting for the hardworking families of Queens by protecting Medicare and Social Security, spurring economic growth, creating jobs, ensuring access to a quality education and increasing funding for transportation and infrastructure projects.

Grace is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. The Foreign Affairs Committee oversees United States foreign policy towards all nations around the world, and has jurisdiction over foreign aid, the State Department and key international organizations such as the United Nations.

Grace also serves on the House Small Business Committee where she sits on two subcommittees: Contracting and Workforce – of which she is the Ranking Member – and Agriculture, Energy and Trade. The Small Business Committee, which was established to protect and assist small business owners, has oversight towards financial aid, regulatory matters and the Small Business Administration (SBA); issues critical to Queens and New York City since small businesses are the economic engine of the region.

Prior to serving in Congress, Grace was a member of the New York State Assembly. While in the Assembly, Grace was a dedicated bridge builder and a fighter for equality. She passed laws to extend unemployment coverage during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, fought human trafficking, cracked down on those who abuse women and children and protected seniors from rising property taxes.

Born in Corona, Queens and raised in the Bayside section of the borough, Grace graduated from Stuyvesant High School and the University of Michigan. She then earned a law degree from Yeshiva University’s Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. Prior to entering public service, she worked as a public interest lawyer.

Grace resides in Queens with her husband, Wayne, two sons – Tyler and Brandon – and her dog, Bounce.

Can you describe your transition from a member of the New York State Assembly to Member of Congress?  
The transition has been very smooth. Since being sworn-in, I’ve hit the ground running by visiting every part of this great district, and working tirelessly in Washington. I was fortunate to secure a good Capitol Hill office in the Longworth Building, and we were up and running by the first day.
In order to avoid spending my first few months looking for office space in the district, I’ve temporarily been using the Queens office of my predecessor Gary Ackerman while I look for more convenient office locations central to the district. I plan to open one in the Flushing/Bayside area and another in the vicinity of Forest Hills/Kew Gardens.
I’ve found that there are many differences between Congress and the state legislature. Some are small and procedural, like how bills are written and the length of time it takes to vote.
The biggest difference though is probably the pace. Things are constantly busy in D.C. with almost no down time. There are more meetings with constituents and organizations, more committee hearings, more briefings, more caucus meetings, more receptions, more votes throughout the day and just more going on in general.
As a freshman, there are new people to meet and new relationships to build, as well as learning the many rules of the House and all the different tunnels and hallways throughout the Capitol complex.
In addition, there are more community events to attend each week in the district since I now represent more than 700,000 people instead of 130,000.
Traveling to and from Washington is actually a little easier than going back and forth to Albany. The atmosphere in D.C. is more partisan but I’m doing my part to try to change that. 
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has a broad scope of issues to explore. How do these matters relate most directly to New York City? 
To most members of Congress, foreign affairs is an international subject. But in Queens, foreign affairs is a local issue. The borough is a snapshot of the world. It’s the most ethnically and culturally diverse county in America with people from around the world speaking dozens of different languages. Everybody or their parents, grandparents or great grandparents immigrated here from somewhere, and tons of area residents still have plenty of family abroad.
From the Middle East and Europe to Latin America and Asia, there are so many issues across the globe that are of great importance to the people of Queens. I am fortunate to be able to work on those concerns while at the same time helping to strengthen U.S foreign policy.
Hurricane Sandy devastated your district. What more can the federal government do to help the region rebuild?  
After just six weeks in Congress and as a member of the minority party, I actively worked to pass a bill that allows federal disaster funds to be used for rebuilding houses of worship that were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. After unsuccessfully attempting to attach the measure to the Sandy aid bill, I joined forces with two veteran Republicans – Peter King of Long Island and Chris Smith of New Jersey – and worked with them in a bipartisan manner to shepherd the legislation through the House.
Although we don't see eye to eye on everything, we put politics aside and came together on this important issue so that damaged churches, synagogues, mosques and temples can finally recover from the devastation caused by the storm. The measure is now pending before the Senate and I’ve urged key Senators to bring it up for a vote as soon as possible.
Many of the houses of worship impacted by the storm play vital roles in the neighborhoods they serve. They employ many people in the communities in which they’re located and provide critical social services for thousands of people. Their failure to fully recover would have devastating effects on all who depend on them for such things as food pantries, child care, alcoholics anonymous and other crucial programs. It is also critical that houses of worship be provided with the same treatment that is afforded to other non-profit entities.
On a separate matter, I’ve urged the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide more Hurricane Sandy relief contracts to local businesses after Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and I discovered that only about 15 percent of federal contracts related to Sandy have gone to small firms. This is well short of the 23 percent of contracts to small business that agencies are aiming for. This failure has lead to the loss of millions of dollars that should be going to small businesses.
Unfortunately, many other types of firms such as those owned by women, veterans and minorities are not receiving their share Sandy-related recovery projects either.
We’ve written to the SBA Administrator about these problems and hopefully the situation will be rectified soon.
Lastly, I’m pleased that the Sandy aid money approved by Congress – my first major vote in the House – is finally flowing to the individuals and municipalities that need it so that homeowners, businesses and communities can continue to recover from the havoc that the storm wreaked upon our region.
As we conclude this interview, I want to give a shout out to the entire Con Edison team, and thank them on for all of their outstanding work. They do a fantastic job serving our city’s needs and New Yorkers truly appreciate their hard work and dedication. Thank you Con Ed employees! 


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