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Grassroots Bulletin

December Newsletter


Tax Reform a Priority for New York in 2014?   

 

The 2014 Legislative Session will begin January 8 when Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his annual State of the State address.  The new session promises to be dynamic with the Governor, Congress and the state legislature all up for reelection.

Tax reform is being discussed as the cornerstone of the governor’s and legislature’s agendas in the upcoming session.  Cuomo convened two commissions in 2013 to review New York’s tax policies and provide recommendations on how they can be simplified and improved. An early focus so far has been on real property and business taxes. The commissions’ recommendations are expected to be incorporated into the governor’s State of the State address and serve as the baseline for budget negotiations.

Similarly, Senate Republicans held several hearings across the state recent to solicit recommendations on how New York’s tax code can be made more business friendly. The hearings culminated in a report issued by the Senate Republican Conference, which has been submitted to the governor for consideration in the 2014-2015 Executive Budget.

In addition to tax reform, the election season will coincide with significant attention on campaign finance reform. Earlier this year, Cuomo convened a Moreland Commission to review the adequacy of existing state laws, including campaign finance laws, as well as regulations, and procedures involving misconduct by public officials and the electoral process. The Commission is scheduled to release a report in December, recommending campaign finance reform that provides the impetus for legislation in this area. 

Related to energy, the governor and legislature are expected to continue their efforts to upgrade New York’s energy infrastructure. These efforts will largely stem from the New York Green Bank, a source designed to fund a variety of projects in the renewable energy sector. Additional incentives to encourage renewable-energy growth will also receive a lot of attention. The incentives will likely take the form of expanding net metering programs and the codification of Cuomo’s NY SUN Initiative, which uses existing revenue streams to fund solar projects over the next decade.  




Congress in 2014  

 

Democrats and Republicans in Washington are looking to 2014 to move beyond the challenges both parties faced this year.  Before next year’s mid-term elections, Republicans hope Americans forget the government shutdown.  Meanwhile, Democrats hope the problems with the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, become a distant memory. Not surprisingly, each party’s agenda for moving past these issues is very different, leaving compromises unlikely. 

Early in the new year, Congress will need to address funding the government through the remainder of the 2014 fiscal year and again approve raising the debt ceiling. The following are upcoming key dates:

• January 1 – Affordable Care Act coverage begins
• January 15 – Agreement on government funding ends
• February 7 – Debt limit agreement ends
• March 15 – Affordable Care Act enrollment ends

With these challenges in mind – in addition to the difficulty of governing during an election year – here is an outlook for several key issues in 2014:

Greenhouse Gases: The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue to roll out new rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  Under the guidelines laid out in the president’s Climate Action Plan, the EPA will require greenhouse gas reductions from two energy sectors: power plants and oil and gas production.  Draft rules for new power plants will be finalized in 2014 and draft rules for existing power plants are to be released by June 2014.  House Republicans will highlight the effects the regulations have on home-energy costs and coal communities as well as concerns with reliability.

Budget and Debt Ceiling:  The stopgap bill funding government operations ends on January 15. A small possibility exists  for another government shutdown. The Budget Conference that was formed as part of the deal to reopen the government in October could still come up with a bipartisan solution when they issue a report on December 13, but few are optimistic.  The more likely scenario is that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will work with a coalition of House Republicans and Democrats to keep the government open through the end of the fiscal year (September 30).  Similarly, the debt ceiling will likely get a short-term extension beyond Election Day 2014.

Affordable Care Act Implementation:  Even in the best-case scenario for the president and Congressional Democrats, there will be ongoing problems with implementation of the ACA.  As we approach Election Day, Republicans will highlight the healthcare failures while trying not to alienate independent voters.  Democrats will ask voters to look past the roll-out problems and focus on the benefits of the program.

Tax Reform: Tax reform will remain a constant topic of discussion, but there is little political will to enact sweeping reforms for both business and individuals.  The work done in 2014 will likely serve as a foundation for potential post-election reform legislation in 2015. 

Immigration Reform:  President Obama, House Democrats and many grassroots groups will push the House Republicans to pass immigration reform.  Boehner has said the House will pass some immigration bills, but not one similar to the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in June with bipartisan support.  A path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants remains a major issue.  The Senate bill creates a gradual process for these individuals to pursue citizenship over years.  


New York Ranks Third in Nation in Energy Efficiency  
 

New York ranked as the third most energy-efficient state for the third consecutive year, according to an annual scorecard published by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit that provides businesses and government with policy research and technical assistance in energy efficiency.

The Washington, D.C.-based ACEEE ranks each state based on the following six criteria: utility and public benefits programs and policies; transportation policies; building energy codes; combined heat and power policies; state government-led initiatives around energy efficiency; and appliance and equipment standards.

The scorecard grades states based on solutions for cutting down energy waste, adding energy efficient technologies and implementing state policies that affect residential and commercial and industrial energy users and transportation systems.

For the fourth year, Massachusetts took the lead in energy efficiency followed by California.  New York moved up three ranks in the past five years, Oregon ranked fourth and Connecticut ranked fifth, up from sixth place last year.

The five states that ranked lowest this year were North Dakota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska and Mississippi.  Those showing most improvement were Maine, Kansas, Ohio and West Virginia.

New York State’s energy efficiency programs began in 1996 with the state Public Service Commission, the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing the state’s utilities industries. The commission in 2008 established an Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard for the state’s electric and natural gas utilities with the goal of cutting down the state’s energy consumption by 15 percent by 2015.

Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order this year requiring state agencies to raise the energy efficiency level of their buildings by 20 percent by 2020, making energy efficiency a standard part of the capital project planning process.

Build Smart NY, a program created this year by the governor, is one of the state’s newest energy efficiency strategies. It prioritizes identifying ways to retrofit the largest, least energy efficient buildings first. Some of the efficiency measures include lighting upgrades, advanced heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems, efficient electric motors, and automated energy management systems.
“Through Build Smart NY, state government can produce significant savings for New York taxpayers and generate thousands of jobs,” Cuomo said in a written statement.

The state’s energy efficiency programs are funded through surcharges on retail sales of electricity and natural gas. The New York Power Authority also set aside $450 million in low-cost financing, for state agencies making capital investments in energy-saving projects.   


A Conversation with New York State Assembly Corporations Committee Chairperson James F. Brennan

 

Jim Brennan has served in the New York State Assembly for the past 29 years. He has chaired three separate committees of the Assembly and has been a staunch independent reformer throughout his career.

He represents the 44th Assembly District in Brooklyn, including sections of Park Slope, Flatbush, Kensington, Parkville and Windsor Terrace.  He is currently Chair of the Assembly Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee and is a member of the committees on Codes; Education; and Real Property Taxation. He is known for his expertise on budget matters, school aid and utility regulatory matters; he has championed education, consumer protection, energy conservation, and social and economic justice.

During his years in the Legislature, Mr. Brennan has championed consumer protection, energy conservation, social and economic justice. He is well known for his expertise on budget matters, school aid and utility regulatory matters. Among the many laws he has sponsored, he authored legislation to require the state to annually produce the Tax Expenditure Report. This law, passed in 1991, requires that the Governor submit to the Legislature an itemized list of every special tax break that exists within the State Tax Code along with the budget. This gives the Legislature and the public the opportunity to scrutinize each tax break and determine if it benefits the public as well as the private parties involved.

In 1996, Mr. Brennan sponsored a change in the property tax law that advanced tax relief to moderate income senior citizens who owned cooperatives. Previously, this real property tax abatement was only available to income-eligible owners of houses or condominiums.

Mr. Brennan maintains an active presence in his district, participating in many civic, school, and community improvement efforts that benefit his constituents. He was first elected in 1984 after working for his predecessor, Joseph Ferris.

Governor Cuomo directed the New York Power Authority and Con Edison to develop a contingency plan in the event the Indian Point nuclear plant is shut down.  Have you taken a position on whether to close the plant or how to account for supply in the event of a closure?

In January 2012, the Assembly Committees on Energy and Corporations, Authorities and Commissions held a hearing on the potential closure of Indian Point.  Con Edison was among those who testified.  The company suggested that there were a number of options to be considered for replacing Indian Point’s electric capacity including demand side management and energy conservation programs, new electric generating facilities or new electric transmission lines to import power from other regions where there is a surplus. 

The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) testified that the State has more than an adequate level of generation capacity and upgrades to the existing transmission system would make better use of statewide generating resources, including renewables from windpower projects.  They noted that there are a number of generating projects proposed in Southeast New York that could add up to 2000 megawatts of new power by 2015 and transmission projects that could bring up to 3000 megawatts online by 2016. 

It is the opinion of my office that the Indian Point nuclear plants could be phased out as these other projects are brought online. 

Last month, Con Edison was pleased to participate in an educational forum you hosted in your Brooklyn district for anyone interested in learning more about “green” technology and energy efficiency.  What compelled you to organize the event?  How was the response?

Climate change is one of the most significant issues of our time, and to address it our society and our citizens must reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.  Fortunately, saving energy also means saving money and my goal in organizing the forum was to make sure as many of my constituents as possible take advantage of programs from simple conservation to solar energy to improve their lives, save money, save energy, and help our society.  Attendance at the event was about 70 and we are continuing to distribute information about the program.  Con Ed’s participation was most appreciated. 

You Chair the Assembly Corporations Committee.  What are the big issues you see coming to the fore in 2014 – an election year for the State Legislature and the Governor? 

As chair of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, my office has active involvement in the MTA budget.  In just over a year, the MTA will have to embark on a new construction program for the five years from 2015 to 2019, estimated to cost $30 billion or more.  These funds would pay for the ongoing purchase of new buses and subway cars, repair and modernization of track, electrical systems, and rail yards, and the continued building of the Second Avenue subway and the East Side Access Project, which will connect the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Station.  Our big challenge will be figuring out how to pay for this, since right now only about half of the funds are likely to come from existing governmental sources.  The MTA is borrowing $15 billion for the current plan, meaning it has to pay an additional $1 billion a year every five years in interest, forcing up fares perpetually.  A January committee hearing will explore these concerns.   


 

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