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Grassroots Bulletin

September 2012 Grassroots Newsletter



Fall Washington Outlook

The election-year political climate and short legislative calendar is expected to limit substantial legislative action this fall in Washington. However, Congress must still act to fund the government for fiscal year 2013, and lawmakers could take up cyber security legislation that addresses critical infrastructure, including electric and gas utilities. Other important issues such as the debt ceiling and the future of the current 15 percent tax rate on dividends will likely be addressed after the November 6 election.

Funding the Government
With the federal fiscal year ending on September 30 and little hope of reaching an agreement on a budget for 2013, Congress must pass a Continuing Resolution (CR), or stopgap measure, to fund the government. Not all of the details have been worked out, but it appears that the CR will likely fund the federal government at 2012 levels through March 31, 2013. This agreement appeals to both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate since it pushes difficult spending decisions beyond the election. A six-month extension also provides Congress with extra breathing room to address the automatic sequester of government spending – or required budget cuts across the board, which are scheduled to take effect in January.

While convenient for politicians, the use of CRs to fund governmental operations can create difficulty for programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Demand for LIHEAP is highest during December through March, yet the full-year funding for the program is not known, so not all funds are made available to families in need of heating assistance during the winter months.

Cyber Security
With the threat of cyber attacks said to be growing, Congress and the White House have been in talks over the best way to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure, including gas and electric utilities. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, earlier this year, with support from the utility industry and a broad range of other businesses. The Senate, however, has not been able to gain consensus on cyber security legislation primarily because of concerns over the role government should have in regulating critical infrastructure.

Despite the best efforts of Majority Leader Harry Reid, on August 2, 2012, the Senate was unable to end debate on the Lieberman/Collins Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S.3414). The measure would provide critical infrastructure industries, such as electric and natural gas, with a variety of invectives in exchange for improving network security standards. The bill also creates procedures for sharing information among companies and with federal agencies regarding security threats.

Although the cyber security bill failed to move to a final vote prior to August recess, several senators from both sides of the aisle have expressed a desire to continue the negotiations until Congress returns on September 10th. Should a compromise be reached, Senator Reid could bring the bill back to the floor in September.

There is also speculation the president may issue an Executive Order on cyber security in the coming weeks. The Executive Order, or even just the threat of an Executive Order, could drive Congress to act on cyber security legislation before the election. 



New York City Paid Sick Leave Debate Continues

Almost 180 business owners have called on City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to block a bill that would require them to give workers paid sick days. Advocacy groups are pushing Quinn to back the bill.

Opponents of the bill argue that it will harm businesses, especially small businesses. One study estimates that the legislation could cost employers $789 million a year.

“We hope you will not concede to their pressure tactics,” the opponents wrote in a letter to the speaker in August.

Quinn has repeatedly said she will not consider the bill, which she shelved in 2010, but has left the door open for reviewing it when the economy improves. Sponsored by Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), the bill would require companies with more than 20 employees to offer nine annual paid sick days; businesses with 19 or fewer workers would have to provide five paid sick days a year.

Brewer is reportedly working on amendments to the bill, including one that would exempt businesses with fewer than five workers.

Meanwhile, some Democrats in the City Council, albeit a small minority, are coming out against the bill. Councilmember Jim Gennaro from Queens authored an op-ed recently in the New York Post in opposition to the bill.

Opponents argue that the proposal would punish the vast majority of responsible employers who are already providing paid leave benefits by forcing costly changes in current policies, and would leave them at a disadvantage in future collective bargaining. They also argue that small businesses in low margin of profit industries would be particularly vulnerable to the cost increases triggered by this bill.

Con Edison has been working very closely in partnership with the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and the 5 Borough Chamber Alliance, which are opposing the bill.

Administering and providing extensive sick-leave coverage that supersedes the collective bargaining agreements would be cost prohibitive. Additionally, monitoring these programs to make sure sick leave was being used appropriately would be extremely difficult.


Governor Cuomo Signs Package of Bills to Promote Solar in NYS

 

Governor Cuomo recently signed three bills into law which are intended to promote the growth of the solar industry in New York and make it more affordable for homeowners and businesses to take advantage of the technology.  The bills provide tax relief to residential and commercial customers seeking to install solar energy systems.
 
“The bills…continue to build momentum for the state’s NY-Sun Initiative by accelerating the installation of solar power while making it a more affordable option for residents and businesses,” Governor Cuomo said. “Together with other NY-Sun incentives, these bills demonstrate the state’s commitment to reducing energy costs, growing our green energy sector, creating jobs, and protecting the environment.” NY-Sun calls for the installation in 2012 of twice the customer-sited solar electricity capacity added in 2011, and quadruple that amount in 2013.

Various trade groups also applauded the Governor’s actions including the Alliance for Clean Energy New York (ACE NY) which praised the Governor and legislative leaders for their ongoing support of New York’s solar industry. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) also applauded the new laws arguing that they will keep New York’s solar growth on track to achieve NY-SUN’s renewable energy goals.


Are You a Con Edison Volunteer? Why Not?

Introducing AngelPoints, a new way to connect with our Power of Giving Volunteer Program

Con Edison's Power of Giving Volunteer Program connects employees, retirees, friends, and family with nonprofit organizations throughout New York City and Westchester County whose programs speak to our commitment to the environment, civics, arts and culture, community, and education.

Whether you are a veteran or a new recruit, the information on AngelPoints, our new website, gives you the tools necessary to get involved with Con Edison's volunteer program, and see the impact you and your colleagues make on the community.  Click here to get started today! 


        

Register to Vote!

Tuesday, September 25 is National Voter Registration Day. In 2008, 6 million Americans didn't vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register. Make sure your voice is heard this election season. Click here to learn about your candidates and voter registration.


CIVICS QUIZ

In the 2008 election, what percentage of registered voters in the U.S. came out to the polls to vote?

E-mail your response to
 grassroots@coned.com with "Civics Quiz" in the subject line for a chance to win two tickets to see Cyrano de Bergerac at the Roundabout Theatre.

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