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Grassroots Bulletin

December Newsletter

New York State - A Year in Review           

Once again, fiscal issues dominated much of the attention of the state legislature and Governor Cuomo in 2014, as they passed an on-time budget for the fourth consecutive year – an accomplishment not seen since the early 1980s. 

Tax reform dominated the 2014-2015 budget process with numerous changes, including a reduction in the corporate income tax rate, real property tax relief and an accelerated phase-out of the temporary energy surcharge known as “18-a.” Paid by all customers on their utility bills, 18-a is an onerous tax which is being phased-out through 2017. Con Edison successfully spearheaded the efforts of New York’s utilities in working with lawmakers to accelerate the phase-out, providing faster relief for customers.

Con Edison also worked with legislators and the Governor to authorize “Joint Bidding” for all public works projects throughout New York City. Joint bidding allows the City’s public works projects and related utility interference work to be bid together, streamlining the contracting process, reducing project delays, cutting costs, and minimizing disruption to New York City’s businesses and residents. Joint bidding was previously restricted to projects in Lower Manhattan under a successful pilot program that aided the lower Manhattan Redevelopment Project.

After taking action on numerous high-profile policy initiatives, New York’s elected officials turned their focus to the campaign season as all seats of the state legislature were up for election during the mid-term elections.  Democrats swept all three statewide races with Governor Cuomo defeating Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino (R) for a second term, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) defeating Republican candidate John Cahill, and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D) handily winning re-election.

The most contentious state races took place in the Senate. In what was considered a long-shot just months ago, Republicans won an outright majority going into the 2015 legislative session, which begins in January. For the previous two years, the Republicans and a group of breakaway democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), jointly controlled the Senate. The IDC will likely work with the Republicans again this year, although not in the leadership position it once shared, despite attempts by Mayor de Blasio to rejoin the IDC with the Senate Democratic Conference.

2014 Washington Highlights       

2014 in Washington will be marked in part by the mid-term elections where Senate control flipped to the Republicans and also as a year the President used his executive and regulatory authority to move key components of his policy agenda.  It will also be remembered for the many legislative initiatives that died in the gridlock of Capitol Hill.

Mid-term elections in a President’s second term almost always favor the opposition party, and this year was no different. Republicans increased their majority in the House by 13 seats, but more significantly gained eight seats to take control of the Senate. With both houses of Congress under Republican control, the final two years of President Obama’s tenure will likely be even more challenging than these last two years. 
Very little progress was made in Washington this past year.  Major policy initiatives such as reforming the tax code, fixing our immigration system and addressing cyber security threats went nowhere.  The government also failed to address long-term funding imbalances with the federal budget or agree on a way to adequately and reliably fund infrastructure investment.  To date, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) and over 50 expiring tax provisions impacting individuals, businesses and the renewable energy industry have yet to be extended.  Even if they are extended in the remaining legislative days, they are examples of the uncertainty the gridlock in Washington continues to create for the country.
In an effort to make some progress, the White House used its regulatory authority to address climate change and other environmental issues through new regulations.  In June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its draft Clean Power Plan Rule to address carbon emissions from existing power plants.  The EPA is also moving forward with new coal ash regulation, Clean Water Act regulations concerning the definition of U.S. Waters and new ozone standards.  The President even made an agreement with China to jointly limit carbon emissions.
Most notably, on November 20th, the President used executive authority to prevent the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.  By acting through executive authority, the President’s actions do not have the lasting force of legislation.  They can be changed by future administrations and an act of law, but for now are the law of the land, and likely will not be changed.     

New York City in Review 

Following 12 years of Bloomberg, this year began with a new Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate and 22 new City Council members, including a new Speaker of the Council.  A key part of de Blasio’s campaign, which he carried over to his administration, was his goal of addressing economic equality through a progressive agenda.

One aspect of his Progressive agenda was his focus on Universal Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) program. The Mayor originally sought to fund his pre-kindergarten initiative through an increase in income taxes on those household earning more than $500,000 per year. However, the final state budget agreement funded the program with a commitment of $300 million for each year for five years.

Another focus of the Mayor was the number of expired union labor contracts that he inherited upon taking office.  The Mayor successfully achieved agreements with a number of the city’s largest unions such as District Council (DC) 37, which is the City’s largest public employee union with over 100,000 members, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), representing 140,000 members and the SEIU 1199 (Healthcare Workers East) representing over 2,500 members and New York State Nurses Association (NYSA) with over 8,000 members.

The Mayor also focused on the expansion of paid sick leave. The original version of the paid sick leave legislation, which afforded paid sick leave to employees of businesses with twenty or more employees who work in NYC, or unpaid sick leave if they have few than five employees was passed by the City Council in late 2013.  In March 2014, Mayor de Blasio signed into law an expanded version of the paid sick coverage which increased the number of employees afforded paid sick leave to those of businesses with five or more employees.

The first budget negotiated between the Mayor and the City Council was 7% larger than the previous year. The Council added $236.7 million in additional spending to include $18 million for daycare programs and vouchers, $10.9 million for CUNY scholarships and $4.9 million to hire lawyers for immigrants facing deportation.  The Council also included allowances for the costs of anticipated labor settlements, as well as reserves for other contingencies as the City continued to adhere to tough accounting standards.  These allowances eliminated major areas of uncertainty that had marked previous budgets. 

The budget also addressed some desires of New Yorkers by investing in infrastructure through participatory budgeting supporting transportation improvements, NYCHA housing, senior centers and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. 

Season of Giving 

This holiday season, give back to our community alongside nonprofit partner groups like Police Athletic League, World Cares Center, and the YWCA of Greater Westchester. Help out at a children’s holiday party or pitch in on a Habitat for Humanity build. To check out all of the volunteer opportunities this December, go to coned.com/volunteers.



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