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Grassroots Bulletin

January Newsletter

New York State - Looking Forward to 2015           

Governor Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to deliver his fifth State of the State address on January 21, 2015.  Lawmakers will gather in Albany to hear Cuomo’s plans for 2015 with a focus on his ideas for spending the state’s $5 billion surplus.

Control over the State Senate has shifted yet again following the November elections and Republicans now control the Senate outright while the Assembly remains squarely in the hands of a Democrat super-majority.  Majority Leader Dean Skelos has said his priorities include adhering to a maximum 2% spending increase, cutting taxes and fees, and infrastructure investments.

Among those taxes and fees he wants to cut, is an immediate repeal of the energy surcharge, known as 18-a. Paid by all customers on their utility bills, 18-a was originally scheduled to expire this year but was extended and is being phased-out through 2017. Using a portion of the state’s surplus, Skelos says Senate Republicans will seek to eliminate 18-a for all utility customers in the upcoming budget process.

Infrastructure investments may also be a target for how the state might spend the surplus. Cuomo has expressed strong support for using a portion of the extra $5 billion, which stems from settlements reached with financial institutions over the subprime mortgage crisis, to improve roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.  A coalition of businesses, unions and some elected leaders, known as “Rebuild New York,” has launched an aggressive campaign to draw attention to the idea. 

While there seems to be overwhelming support for investing the windfall in infrastructure projects, other interest groups will fight for their slice of the pie.  Education advocates are lining up to advocate to have the funds slotted for additional education aid.  They’ll be met by critics, however, who say unexpected windfalls shouldn’t be used to pay for new and, very likely, recurring annual expenses.

The state's fiscal year is structured so that budget negotiations take place from January to March. And with the state spending more than $20 billion a year on education, issues concerning its public school system will likely be among the first taken up by Cuomo in his second term.

Other issues likely to be considered during the 2015 legislative session include state ethics reform, public financing of elections, filling the MTA’s $15 billion capital plan funding gap, New York City rent regulations, extending state tuition assistance to undocumented students, and the Women’s Equality Agenda – a 10-point bill that would enact equal pay legislation and bolster human trafficking penalties, among other measures. 

The New Republican Majority Takes Office        

This fall, Republicans handily defeated Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections.  In 2015 a new Republican majority will take over with hope of navigating the Washington gridlock better than their predecessors.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will continue his role but with an even larger majority. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will take over as Senate Majority Leader, while Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) will shift to Senate Minority Leader.  While both chambers of congress will now be controlled by one party, they must still contend with a Democratic President.

In 2015, many of President Obama’s stated priorities will likely  be challenged, by the Republican Congress including the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform, and greenhouse gas regulations.  Some issues, like cybersecurity and corporate tax reform, may be ripe for bipartisan cooperation, however.  

The following are specific areas of interest for Con Edison in the coming year. 

Cyber Security
During the last month of session, both the House and Senate were able to pass five cybersecurity bills, focused mostly on improving government’s response to cybersecurity attacks. Despite support in both the House and Senate, Congress did not pass a measure which would promote and improve intelligence sharing between  government and industry. Opening the lines of communication to share classified and unclassified cyber information between companies and the government is a high priority for Con Edison and other owners of critical infrastructure.  The issue will likely be debated in the new Congress, with privacy groups continuing to fight against any broad changes to current law.

Tax Reform
Many in Washington believe the President and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may partner on an agreement to rewrite the U.S. tax code. The tax code hasn’t seen any major revisions since 1986. The primary goal would be to lower the corporate tax rate in order to increase the competitive position of U.S.-based businesses.

Climate Change, Emission Rules & Greenhouse Gases
In 2014, the EPA issued proposed rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants. Congress is expected to use a tool known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA), in an effort to overturn the rules.  If a successful CRA challenge takes place, and the President vetoes the resolution, Congress may attempt to override the veto before the rule goes into effect.   A two-thirds vote in each house is required to override the veto. 

Affordable Care Act Implementation
The Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), has consistently been challenged by most Republicans as well as many Democrats. 2015 will likely be more of the same with some additional room for compromise.  One of the most controversial issues for large employers, scheduled to become effective in 2018, is known as the “Cadillac tax”.  Based on current plan designs, the potential financial impact on a company like Con Edison could be about $25 million per year.

Energy Efficiency
After several failed attempts in 2013 and 2014, a comprehensive energy efficiency bill may make it past the finish line in 2015. The incoming chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), has pledged to move energy efficiency legislation in the coming year, commonly referred to as Shaheen-Portman after the bill’s sponsors.
The most recent version of the bill, which passed the House by a vote of 375-36, would modify energy efficiency standards for grid-enabled water heaters, increase energy efficiency in government data centers and promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings. A more robust version of the legislation would have required the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide assistance to states adopting energy standards, require the development of new Tenant Star and Supply Star energy efficiency recognition programs and facilitate a third-party certification process within the existing Energy Star program.

Pipeline Safety Reauthorization
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) creates and sets national safety standards and delegates that authority (along with funding) to the state regulators. This authority includes natural gas pipelines. PHMSA’s pipeline safety program must be reauthorized by October 1, 2015. The program contains a broad range of provisions addressing pipeline safety and security. Among the most significant are provisions that could increase the number of federal pipeline safety inspectors, require automatic shutoff valves for transmission pipelines, mandate verification of maximum allowable operating pressure for gas transmission pipelines, and increase civil penalties for pipeline safety violations.     

2015 - What to Expect in New York City 

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Leticia James and 22 new City Council members are now a full year into serving in their new positions.  Although not newly elected, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito has also spent a nearly a year as the City Council’s new Speaker.

Looking forward to 2015, we examine a number of initiatives expected to be of interest to the Mayor, the City Council and City-wide elected officials – including real estate development, climate change initiatives, labor negotiations with the NYPD and FDNY and a full roll out of the City’s municipal identification card program. 

East Midtown Rezoning
Covering the blocks facing Vanderbilt and Madison Avenues between East 42nd and East 47th streets, the issue of rezoning involves the heart of East Midtown – a major economic engine for New York City.  The current plan under consideration seeks to convert the area around Grand Central into a commercial district to attract more jobs to New York City, and address vital infrastructure concerns along with public realm improvements. Con Edison is focused on the impact the plan may have on the accessibility of existing company facilities and equipment, and the placement of new equipment that may be needed to service development in the area.

Mayor’s Climate Initiative
Titled “One City-Built to Last,” Mayor de Blasio’s ten-year plan provides a framework for the City to continue efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.  De Blasio wants to achieve 80% reductions below 2005 levels by the year 2050. He has combined the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability with the Office of Environmental Coordination to create an Office of Sustainability that will guide the city's efforts to mitigate climate change. Already a number of bills have been introduced by the City Council relating to the initiative.

Municipal Labor Contracts
2014 was a successful year for Mayor Bill de Blasio in negotiating and settling contracts representing approximately 71 percent of the city’s employees who had been working under expired contracts when he took office in January.  However, there are still others that he will have to negotiate, including with rank-and-file police officers, firefighters, correction officers and sanitation workers.

Immigration /New York Municipal Identification Cards (IDNYC)
The New York City Identification Card Program (IDNYC) was signed into law in July.  In a city of immigrants, many undocumented, the ID will provide a form of identification which would give the approximately 500,000 immigrants in the city key protections and access to vital services. This is an important issue for Con Edison as it is not known if and when the city may require private businesses to accept this form of ID as an additional form of identification for things like applying for utility service.

New York City Public Housing
In July, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an initiative to reduce violent crime in the city’s public housing developments by connecting safety to physical improvements.  Of the $210 million the Mayor committed to the initiative, $122 million was to be put toward maintenance and repairs, and more than $51 million toward security-enhancement measures like exterior lighting.  Recently the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office committed approximately $101 million to fund additional key infrastructure upgrades. This will be an important issue for Con Edison as there will be continued focus on the infrastructure of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). 

New Year - New Volunteer Opportunities  

In 2014 Con Edison employee volunteerism provided opportunities for over 500 employees to give more than 7,000 hours – at 127 events through our service territory and community.

Didn’t get the chance to volunteer last year?

Be sure to check out the opportunities to give back in 2015.



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