July 10th, 2015
Chairman Anthony Coscia said the project’s next step, an environmental review, could begin this fall.
by Andrew J. Hawkins
Stop us if you’ve heard this one:
A new train tunnel linking New York and New Jersey, seen by experts as crucial to relieving the bottleneck under the Hudson River, is on the verge of getting underway.
“We’re doing it,” Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia told the Crain’s editorial board Wednesday.
Mr. Coscia said Amtrak could begin the environmental review process this fall, and has already spent about $300 million on preparatory work and land acquisition, even though the estimated $15 billion needed for the larger Gateway project, which includes the tunnel, has not been lined up.
“We’re taking precious resources and spending it on a project we don’t have all the money to build,” he said. “It’s either a very silly decision or a very critical one.”
He’s betting on the latter. By his reckoning, a tunnel has to be built sooner or later, and sooner is better. The two heavy-rail tunnels connecting New Jersey and New York are more than 100 years old. and are showing their age. Twenty-four trains pass through the tunnels each hour—20 from New Jersey Transit, four from Amtrak—and officials predict that within 20 years, one or both tunnels will need to be closed for repairs. That would reduce capacity to six trains per hour, because trains traveling in opposite directions would need to wait for the lone remaining tunnel to clear.
The loss of one tunnel would be “cataclysmic” to the regional economy, the undersecretary of transportation for the Obama administration, Peter Rogoff, said at a May conference. He said Gateway was “the most important rail project in the United States.”
Mr. Coscia said Amtrak has sketched out a potential financing package that includes federal funds, infrastructure bonds and Amtrak’s own cash. He said it would premature to discuss who might contribute what. However, the project’s numerous stakeholders can be expected to chip in. They include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Transit, New York City, the states of New York and New Jersey, the federal government and of course Amtrak.
Promises to start the Gateway project have been dashed before. In 2012, Sen. Charles Schumer predicted the project could break ground as early as the end of 2013. Months later, the Hudson River tunnels were flooded during Superstorm Sandy and were damaged by salt deposits. But there was a silver lining: federal relief money for the storm allowed Amtrak to fund construction of placeholder “tunnel boxes” under Related Co.’s Hudson Yards project.
The Gateway project was unveiled in February 2011 after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, citing potential cost overruns, killed another project called Access to the Region’s Core, which was to include a train tunnel under the Hudson. The Gateway project promises to be better in part because its landing site—between West 30th and West 31st streets and Seventh and Ninth avenues—is optimal. But securing that space presents more complications than the ARC plan’s 34th Street entry point would have.
The new rail lines would boost commuter capacity on New Jersey Transit by 75%, relieving what is considered the worst transit bottleneck in the country. Gateway would also allow Amtrak to expand its high-speed Acela service, which is necessary for the development of state-supported high-speed rail in New York.
Mr. Coscia said Gateway is “superior” to the ARC project. Amtrak expects more federal funds to be freed up after the environmental review.
Real estate remains an open question for the Gateway project. Amtrak still needs commitments from property owners on the Manhattan side of the project.
“Acquiring a city block in New York City is not for the faint of heart,” Mr. Coscia said, declining to specify what properties and easements Amtrak still needs to acquire for the tunnel project.
July 3rd, 2015
New and Innovative Investment Strategies in Infrastructure for TWU NYCERS
In May 2015 the Transport Workers Union local 100 released a study on Investment Strategies for Pension Funds in Infrastructure. “TWU Local 100 recognizes that there is a tremendous need for capital to fund the construction, rehabilitation and expansion of public transportation infrastructure in NYC.” The please consider this report as we develop strategies for Infrastructure Investment in New Yor
The following report was prepared by a Capstone team of graduate students from the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University for the Transport Workers Union Local 100. This publication was produced to assist TWU Local 100 in their ongoing efforts in the critical area of infrastructure investments in the New York metropolitan area. While the team consulted with TWU Local 100 to produce this publication, this is not a TWU Local 100 product.
Read the full study here: Investment Strategies in Infrastructure
June 27th, 2015
New York, NY/June 25, 2015 – In conjunction with the release today of the state energy plan by the New York State Energy Planning Board, Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance issued the following statement.
“It is crucial to New York’s economic well-being and quality of life that we find ways in the future to provide electricity that costs less and is cleaner, while ensuring grid reliability. To get there, we need to attract large capital investments without the use of direct or hidden subsidies, which are extremely burdensome to New York consumers and small businesses.
“We will be reviewing the lengthy plan carefully and commend the Energy Planning Board for its work.”
# # #
About New York AREA: Founded in November 2003, the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA) is a diverse group of more than 150 business, labor, and community groups whose mission and purpose is to ensure that New York metropolitan area has an ample and reliable electricity supply, and economic prosperity for years to come. New York AREA helps to educate policy makers, businesses, and the general public regarding the necessity and importance of safe, low-cost, reliable, clean electricity.
For additional information, visit www.area-alliance.org.
June 26th, 2015
Over the past several months we saw one of the most massive political spending spree in New York State history. It was funded by hedge fund billionaires who wanted a huge increase in the number of charter schools and a sweetheart tax credit deal for their donations to private schools. This multi-million dollar campaign, which was championed by Governor Cuomo as part of his ongoing attacks on public schools, was soundly defeated. The tax credit subsidizing private schools and their donors was totally rejected and the charter cap was not raised by a single charter school.
On Tuesday Governor Cuomo and the legislative leaders announced a deal on legislation to close out the legislative session. Thanks to your hard work at grassroots organizing and to the leadership of the State Assembly we stopped the big spenders. I want to give a special shout out to the Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan for standing up for our public school students. This was a critical victory for the 2.7 million public school students across New York State.
The Governor’s statements during the press conference were misleading. He claimed that the deal includes 130 new charters schools outside New York City and 50 in New York City—not accurate. He claimed that $250 million in funding for private schools is new money—not accurate.
Here are the facts on this incredible victory for public schools and our students.
Education Tax Credit – DEFEATED
Charter School Cap – NOT INCREASED
While we are pleased with the outcome on education, we are deeply concerned that the rent laws were not strengthened as millions of New Yorkers rely on these tenant protections to stay in their homes. Stable housing is essential to ensuring students are ready to learn. Governor Cuomo simply did not deliver on his promise to stand up for tenants, in fact he seems to have been carrying the water of the real estate industry. If he had put his efforts into fighting for tenants’ homes instead of fighting for a tax credit for billionaires he probably would not be presiding over the expected loss of 100,000 units of affordable housing. But that is exactly why New Yorkers call Governor Cuomo “Governor One Percent.”
Thank you for all of your efforts. Together we showed that the power of the people can beat the power of the billionaires.
June 26th, 2015
by James R. Knickman<br><br>
Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling to uphold health insurance subsidies in states using the federal exchange under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has preserved coverage for millions of Americans nationwide. Although some experts felt that a ruling against the subsidies would not immediately affect New York, which has its own State-run exchange, changing the law could have jeopardized New York’s success with health reform in the long run, especially for the most vulnerable.
In his latest Huffington Post column, NYSHealth President and CEO James R. Knickman considers New York State’s achievements to date under the ACA; the implications of the Supreme Court ruling for New York and the rest of the country; and the health care coverage challenges that still must be overcome to protect the health of New Yorkers and all Americans.
June 26th, 2015
by Stacey Kratz | AARP New York
Stressed Out by Unaffordability and Lack of Savings, Two Thirds of City Voters 35-50 Looking to Flee in Retirement
Two thirds of New York City’s Gen-Xers are considering fleeing the Big Apple in retirement as they struggle with affordability and savings, according to a new survey of city voters commissioned by AARP.
The survey found a looming “Gen-Xodus,” with 66 percent of Gen-X voters saying they’re at least somewhat likely to move out of New York in retirement along with 56 percent of Baby Boomers – that is, if they even have enough money to retire.
As Gen-Xers started turning 50 this year, AARP conducted its first city survey of the generation, High Anxiety: NYC Gen-X and Boomers Struggle with Stress, Savings and Security. The poll of 800 city voters, split between Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, found that 34% of Gen-Xers and 42% of Boomers have no retirement savings account at all. Other findings:
78% of Gen-Xers and 66% of Boomers worry about not saving enough.
Three of every 10 city Boomers said they’re either “extremely” or “very” likely to leave New York in retirement, as are 36% of Gen-Xers – the first generation to approach retirement age with a new playbook, having lived the entirety of their working years during the rise of 401k plans and a shift away from traditional pension plans.
“We should take these survey results as a warning sign and confirmation that solutions are needed now to stop the impending mass exodus of the Boomers and Gen-Xers from New York City upon retirement,” Joyce Rogers, AARP Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, said today at Baruch College, where the report was unveiled and discussed by a panel of experts. “One out of two households is at risk of having a financially insecure retirement. This does not mean that they are missing out on a life of leisure or travel, but rather that middle class households will be unable to afford food, medicine, and utilities without assistance. AARP is sounding the alarm.”
“Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers have more in common than one might have guessed if they live in New York City,” said Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP in New York State. “Neither generation thinks they can afford to retire in the city.”
Key worries are even more pronounced among the city’s African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American populations:
29%, 32% and 28% of the Gen-Xers in those groups, respectively, are not confident they’ll ever be able to retire.
The survey, and independent research, show looming retirement savings troubles among both Gen-Xers and Boomers. The average 401(k) account balance in New York was only $30,811 as of last year, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security – which found that in 2013 the average American household had just $3,000 in total assets in savings, and just $12,000 for those nearing retirement.
Yet the survey found 60% of city Gen-Xers and 46% of Boomers who are in the labor force and confident they’ll be able to retire say they plan to stop working by age 65, revealing a retirement “reality gap.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Pensions Director John Adler delivered the keynote address at today’s event. City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Chief Investment Officer Scott Evans, Asian American Federation Executive Director Jo-Ann Yoo, New School Professor of Economics Teresa Ghilarducci, TIAA-CREF Managing Director Tim Lane, AARP’s Rogers and Angela Houghton, AARP senior research advisor and chief survey architect, discussed the findings and potential solutions to head off retirement savings woes during the panel discussion moderated by City & State Executive Editor Michael Johnson. The event was co-sponsored by City & State and attracted over 100 policymakers and community leaders. Video of the event is available online.
“I’m completely freaked out,” said Gen-Xer survey respondent James Born, 37, of Brooklyn, a married father of a three-year-old daughter who works as an electrician. “We have no savings.” Born said he doesn’t want to leave the city, but “I feel like it’s definitely on the table.”
“I don’t feel I’ve done enough to prepare,” said survey respondent and Gen-Xer Susanna Austin, 40, of Brooklyn, who is switching careers from market research to mental health. “I really haven’t been able to save a lot.”
Austin, who is single, said it’s the uncertainty that makes her most anxious – “not knowing what the future will hold, how long your money will last and whether you’ll be able to maintain a decent lifestyle.” Does she have student loans? “Yeah, I do and they’re outrageous.”
Survey respondent Virginia “Ginger” Illiano, 55, of Brooklyn, said debt is eating into her own retirement savings. She’s a divorced, retired elementary school teacher who’s working as a consultant and paying off her 25-year-old daughter’s student loans.
Paying for children’s education (52%) is second only to not having enough money left after paying bills (65%) as the top obstacle to saving enough for retirement, the survey found.
For those with student loans, more (65%) said that debt has made it harder for them to save for retirement than to afford a home (40%) or make ends meet (54%).
While 32% of Gen-Xers currently have student loans, another 37% expect to take them on in the future – meaning 69% of the generation has or likely will have student loan debt.
But there’s another huge obstacle to retirement savings for more than 3.6 million New Yorkers across the state – over half of all private sector workers: lack access to any kind of employer-sponsored retirement savings plan – no pension, no 401k.
If they could, most would participate in such plans. The survey found 82% of the city’s Gen-Xers and 74% of Boomers who lack access would enroll if they had the option.
Americans earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year are 15 times less likely to open retirement savings plans such as IRAs on their own than if their employer offered an option, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. A “Work & Save” state-facilitated retirement savings option – with no ongoing taxpayer costs – could help millions help themselves achieve financial independence in retirement and avoid the need for expensive, taxpayer-funded public assistance.
Three quarters of survey respondents – 78% of Gen-Xers and 74% of Boomers – support the creation of such a state-facilitated retirement savings program – including 76% of small business owners and employees.
And among small business owners and employees surveyed, 73% said they would take advantage of a plan to save for retirement if one were available to them through work.
The program would address another predominant worry the survey found: that 83% are concerned some New Yorkers who have not saved for their retirement could end up reliant on public assistance.
June 25th, 2015
By MIREYA NAVARRO
Hundreds of public housing apartments remain vacant unnecessarily, either languishing unrepaired for years or staying empty long after they have undergone renovations, according to an audit released on Wednesday by the New York City comptroller’s office.
The problem has plagued the New York City Housing Authority for years and remains largely unabated, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said. The audit found that apartments removed from the rent rolls for major renovations stayed empty for an average of seven years — and at least 80 apartments have been vacant for more than a decade.
And it took housing officials an average of 116 days, or about four months, to fill apartments going through routine turnover, the comptroller said, although the housing agency disputed the number and said the actual average time was 57 days. The agency’s own goal to inspect and prepare vacant apartments for new tenants, however, is 40 days.
Long-vacant apartments showed the signs of abandonment and some showed evidence of squatters. The auditors found graffiti, food in refrigerators, liquor bottles on the floor and, in one instance, a wall with teen magazine pictures of young girls.
The vacancies have added to the shortage of affordable housing, Mr. Stringer said. Nycha, as the housing authority is commonly known, has a waiting list of 270,000 households for about 178,000 apartments.
“People are desperate to find housing in a Nycha development,” Mr. Stringer said. “To keep anything off market a decade, it’s just unacceptable.”
Housing Authority officials released a statement saying they were already addressing many of the issues raised in the audit, though they disputed the comptroller’s assertion that the vacancies had led to at least $8 million in lost rent, saying the federal government had compensated the agency.
They mostly blamed federal subsidies for the unnecessary vacancies. The reduced funding, they said, had led to a shortfall of $16 billion for needed renovations and repairs at 328 housing projects with aging buildings, some built as far back as the 1930s and 1940s.
“The issue of returning units to the rent roll efficiently is driven almost entirely by lack of sufficient resources,” the statement by the Housing Authority said.
The agency said that the city’s recent commitment of $300 million for roof replacements should help maintain more units in good condition and free staff to bring units back to occupancy quicker.
Many of the same issues were identified in an internal Housing Authority audit in 2013 that faulted the agency for lacking a strategy to return apartments to the rent rolls. Although the authority was found to have done better than previous years, it still allowed many units to sit empty for long periods, sometimes long enough for deterioration to worsen and spread to other units, that report found.
This time, the comptroller’s office found that among 2,342 vacant apartments from 2012 to September 2014, 312 had been vacant for “repairs or major improvements” for an average of seven years. When tenants with mobility issues had to be moved because of elevator problems, their apartments remained vacant for an average of 288 days even after the problem was fixed.
The agency also did not seem to track vacancies accurately, the office said — 47 apartments that housing officials identified as vacant were actually occupied by transferred tenants, used for nonresidential purposes by nonprofit groups, Nycha staff or residents, or had been combined with other apartments. (Housing officials disputed this and said they knew the uses.)
Mr. Stringer recommended improvements in oversight and coordination of work, and monitoring vacant apartments in the meantime to protect them from squatters and vandalism.
In their response to the audit, Nycha officials said they planned to institute regular inspections of vacant units by property managers and to develop “an accurate record” of non residential apartment uses.
The officials put the current number of vacancies at 2,196, more than half of those for long-term maintenance work.
June 24th, 2015
These days it’s not just the baby boom generation that’s feeling ill prepared and apprehensive about retirement—Gen Xers are feeling even more stressed about how they’ll fare in old age, according to a new AARP survey of New York City voters.
View the AARP report below:
And that’s no surprise, given the financial situation facing many New Yorkers. The AARP report found that some 38 percent of New Yorkers in both generational cohorts, or those between the ages of 35 to 69, have no retirement savings account whatsoever. The median retirement account balance for all working age households is $3,000, and it is only $12,000 for near-retirement age households.
Those who are part of Generation X carry nearly six times more debt than their parents did, according to a 2014 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, perhaps a contributing factor to this younger cohort’s heightened anxiety. And yet six in 10 Gen Xers still expect to retire at 65, a fact that suggests a “perceptual gap,” according to the AARP report, which serves as a companion publication to a statewide survey release by the AARP in May.
“We call it ‘faith-based retirement planning,’” said Teresa Ghilarducci, an economics professor at The New School with an expertise in retirement security.
The implications are potentially dire, not just for the large swath of New Yorkers who face the prospect of working well past the retirement age of 65 and a diminished quality of life, but also for society as a whole, which will have to bear the brunt of health care costs and living expenses that an increasing number of people simply will not be able to afford. But while gridlock in Washington, D.C. means there isn’t likely to be a solution coming down from our nation’s capital anytime soon, states and cities are beginning to move on the issue—understanding that the cost of inaction would be higher than the price of implementing new retirement programs for private sector workers.
How to go about doing this was the topic under discussion at a panel hosted Wednesday by the AARP and City & State, in which public servants and policy analysts weighed in on what New York can do to avert the impending retirement challenges.
“We have a retirement security problem in this country and it’s worse in New York City than almost any place else,” said John Adler, director of New York City’s Office of Pensions and chief pension investment advisor. “New Yorkers are substantially below the median in terms of access to workplace retirement plans, levels of savings and levels of retirement income.”
According to Adler, three-quarters of American workers rely “completely or overwhelmingly” on Social Security for their retirement income, which provides a median benefit of about $15,000 a year—hardly enough to subsist on alone. Adler said the Social Security system must be strengthened, and emphasized that, contrary to some right-wing rhetoric, it is on solid ground and should remain so for decades to come.
But the real key, according to Adler and other panelists, is first ensuring universal access to retirement plans in the workplace. Other states are already moving to do this.
“Starting with Massachusetts and California in 2012, there has been a blizzard of activity across the country, helped immeasurably by the way, by the efforts of AARP,” Adler said. “Four states have now passed laws to create state-sponsored retirement programs, at least six states are conducting studies, and legislation has been introduced in at least 15 other states.”
Both Illinois and Washington state, for example, recently implemented state-facilitated retirement plans for private sector workers whose jobs do not offer any pension or 401k plan.
“It’s not about intricacies of the plan and which plan is the best … We’re talking about very basic things,” said Scott Evans, chief investment officer at the New York City Comptroller’s Office. “The first thing we want to focus on with regards to this is ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to employer-based retirement plans. Those are table sticks. That shouldn’t even be up for debate.”
Panelists also stressed the need to figure out how best to encourage workers to opt into retirement plans, once available.
“One of the things that seems to work really well—creditors are really good at setting up automatic deductions or automatic payments,” said Angela Houghton, a senior research advisor at AARP. “If we’re talking about some sort of universal access to retirement or savings, that feature—sort of an automatic—right out of your paycheck it goes into a savings account—that’s sort of a quick win and it seems to work pretty well.”
Both Evans and Ghilarducci of The New School are currently part of a panel convened by city Comptroller Scott Stringer to investigate strategies options to provide access to retirement plans for all New Yorkers.
“We’re working behind the scenes, away from the political environment, to try and develop three options for the city to take a look at,” Evans said. “Fifty-seven percent of New Yorkers have no access whatsoever. We have to fund a solution—the private sector cant find a solution—the public sector needs to look at that.”
May 27th, 2015
New York State public education is under threat from Wall Street financiers pushing to privatize education by expanding the number of charter schools. We as parents, teachers and taxpayers demand that our state lawmakers protect public education.
Charter schools were supposed to serve as laboratories for innovative learning methods. But those that seek to privatize public education for profit have hijacked large parts of the charter school movement for their own purposes.
Many charter schools do not serve all students and fail to abide by the same standards of fairness, student discipline and financial transparency that traditional public schools have to meet.
From Concrete to Chips: Bringing the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act Into the Digital Age
May 26th, 2015
Stephen Ezell and Robert D. Atkinson
Congress should make investment in and deployment of intelligent transportation systems a principle focus of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act.
Next-generation information and communications technologies (IT) are set to revolutionize America’s transportation system. Whether it is the emergence of innovative connected vehicles or intelligent infrastructure, the future of transportation lies not just in building new roads but in bringing intelligence to every asset in the U.S. transportation network—from roadways and private vehicles to commercial truck fleets and public transit systems—thereby making transportation safer, more accessible, and more efficient. Accordingly, it is time for U.S. transportation policy—principally enshrined through the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act—to reflect this shift from “concrete” to “chips”: in other words, to comprehensively integrate IT into America’s surface transportation system.
This report examines the promise of IT-enabled smart transportation systems and vehicles and proposes a number of policy principles and recommendations for how Congress can leverage the 2015 Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill to advance the development and deployment of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and automated vehicle technologies. By bringing efficiencies to existing transportation assets and systems, ITS solutions deliver the most “bang for the buck” on each dollar the federal government invests in transportation. Put simply, it is time for policymakers to view ITS as the 21st-century, digital equivalent of the Interstate Highway System, with the federal government again taking the lead in declaring a vision, investing in research and development (R&D), developing standards and technologies, shifting incentives to favor the deployment of technology-enabled solutions, constructing a regulatory framework that encourages the deployment of ITS and automated vehicle technologies, and providing the funding necessary to support deployment of these solutions.
This report provides an overview of the wide range of IT-enabled transportation technologies being implemented today and then describes the five key classes of benefits they enable before turning to a discussion of the policy principles and specific policy recommendations that should guide thinking about the 2015 Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill. The following summarizes the report’s policy recommendations:
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) should develop a comprehensive innovation strategy that articulates how it can promote the rapid deployment and adoption of proven intelligent transportation systems across the United States.
Congress should enact a new “Cement & Chips” funding approach that directs no less than 5 percent (approximately $2.5 billion) of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) allocated to states to be devoted to digital and ITS-based infrastructure projects.
Congress should create a new competition program called Race to the Digital Top that awards funding to a select group of six U.S. communities—two small, two mid-size, and two large—to build a comprehensive “smart communities” model.
Congress should ensure that ITS-related implementations are immediately eligible for funding under the existing highway transportation authorization.
Congress should tie a share of federal surface transportation funding to states’ actual improvements in transportation system performance.
Congress should lower the share of federal funding for non-toll projects from the current 80 percent to 60 percent, while funding the full 80 percent for toll projects, providing a stronger incentive for state toll projects.
Congress should authorize a total of $1 billion in pre-construction feasibility assessment grants designed to address a key obstacle that states and localities face in advancing user fee-backed projects.
Congress should direct the administration to launch two new Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs), the first an industry-led intelligent vehicles and infrastructure consortium led by the Department of Transportation, and the second an IMI for surface transportation materials innovation.
The U.S. Department of Transportation should create an organization that facilitates an interstate dialogue on ITS technologies, including vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) systems and autonomous vehicle regulations so that state officials don’t lock in to suboptimal or non-interoperable systems ITS systems, including VMT systems.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) should undertake a comprehensive review of existing federal automotive standards, regulations, and policies that present barriers to a competitive marketplace for intelligent transportation systems and emerging vehicular technology development, along with recommendations for removing or mitigating such barriers.
The White House should convene a meeting of representatives from state Departments of Transportation to spur the creation of high-value, dynamic traffic data sets and application program interfaces (APIs) to be hosted at data.gov.
The U.S. Department of Transportation should undertake to scale innovative local software and app-based ITS solutions nationally, such as by supporting the provision of shared IT infrastructure, such as cloud storage.
The White House should organize a competition to identify the 20 best such applications and task a nonprofit, such as Code for America, to take applications initially developed for individual cities and code them for use on a national basis.
Read the entire report here: ITIFReport