Op-Ed for the New York Daily News
The MTA bureaucracy has a history of paying consultants to tell them what they want to hear. In that sense, the report on MTA reorganization that was issued on Friday is a breakthrough.
AlixPartners, a consulting firm that specializes in restructuring troubled organizations, has put out an initial report that does not gloss over the serious problems confronting the MTA. It is honest about the current dysfunction of the regional transit system and presents some pretty bold ideas for how to fix it. Their straightforward approach was possible because the client for this report was not the MTA, but the governor and state Legislature, who ordered the preparation of a reorganization plan as part of this year’s state budget.
If successfully implemented, the recommendations outlined promise fundamental improvement in how the $18-billion-a-year MTA behemoth carries out its critical mission.
“The New York-New Jersey metropolitan region, with $1.8 trillion in economic output, is one of the largest regional economies in the world. To adequately service the employers and workers who generate this economic activity requires continuous investment in modernization and expansion of airports, rail and other transportation infrastructure. The business community fully backs the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey’s proposal to increase tolls and fares in order to fund the transportation projects outlined in the authority’s Capital Plan,” said Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.
Today, the Partnership for New York City submitted testimony to the City Council in support of a plan for non-exclusive commercial waste zones, which will deliver environmental and safety improvements while ensuring good customer service and competitive pricing.
Thank you Chair Reynoso and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify on Int. 1574 concerning the establishment of commercial waste zones. The Partnership for New York City represents the city’s business leaders and largest private sector employers. We work together with government, labor and the nonprofit sector to enhance the economy of the five boroughs of New York City.
The Partnership has been a strong advocate of efforts to improve air quality and reduce traffic. We are inaugural members of the OneNYC Advisory Board which has assisted in developing city initiatives that promote reduction in carbon emissions and improved resiliency and public health. Commercial waste zones are one mechanism for advancing all these goals.
For more than two years, we participated in the Commercial Waste Zones Advisory Board convened by the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and the Business Integrity Commission (BIC). The purpose was to gather input to inform the zone plan for commercial waste. The most important issue for the business community in these conversations is whether the zones would be exclusive (i.e., only one carter in each zone) or non-exclusive (i.e., multiple carters in each zone). It became clear to us and many members of the Advisory Board that the zone plan must not involve an exclusive franchise, or we will have a monopoly situation that works for no one, with the likelihood of reverting to the type of corruption that existing before BIC was put in place. We contend that non-exclusive zones can achieve environmental and safety objectives while still ensuring good customer service and competitive pricing.
Int. 1574 ignores the recommendations of the Advisory Board for non-exclusive zones for reasons that we do not understand. The Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) prepared by DSNY concluded that the lack of competition inherent in exclusive zones is likely to cause increased prices and a deterioration of customer service. Few carters have the capacity to exclusively service an entire zone, suggesting that this policy would result in most of the city’s commercial carters going out of business and creating a monopoly within zones. Customers would lose all bargaining power and incentives to provide good service would disappear.
The Partnership enthusiastically supports the DSNY/BIC plan for non-exclusive commercial waste zones, which is the product of extensive discussions with stakeholders and a recognition of the drawbacks to exclusive zones. The DGEIS found no significant differences in the reduction of vehicle miles traveled (a key measure related to truck traffic and emissions) between exclusive and non-exclusive zone plans.
We also urge that large commercial customers from whom waste is picked up and directly transported to a transfer station be exempt from zone requirements, since there would be no benefit of forcing them to use the zone hauler.
“The state legislature has come out with a reform package on rent regulations that protects tenants at the expense of preserving their homes. The city’s older, regulated apartment buildings require constant upgrading and modernization. The proposed reforms substantially eliminate the tools that owners, investors and lenders have relied upon for funding building improvements and provide no replacement. Absent provisions to encourage private investment in rental housing through tax incentives or other means, this rent reform package will inevitably lead to the same loss of decent, middle class housing that we experienced in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It is not enough to maintain affordability if it means tenants are living in terrible conditions, as we have seen with the deterioration of the NYCHA public housing stock. The proposed legislation sets up the city’s regulated rental housing to experience the same disinvestment as NYCHA, which ignores a lesson that we should have learned by now,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.
As Albany closes out the legislative session, some of the toughest remaining issues involve reconciling the different needs of the state’s diverse regions. One example is whether and how to extend residential rent regulations state-wide. Another, less well understood, is the debate over imposition of prevailing wage requirements for construction work on state-assisted, private development and renovation projects. (Prevailing wage typically reflects the wage established in collective bargaining agreements between the building trade unions and the industry.)
The impetus for expanding prevailing wage requirements comes from Upstate, where chronically weak economic conditions mean a lot of construction union members are out of work or under-employed. In many Upstate regions, construction workers are unlikely to command a “prevailing” wage unless the government requires it.
The same is not true in New York City and other Downstate regions, where union-built, private construction is booming, and Building Trades members enjoy full employment. In fact, right now there is a shortage of more than 4300 skilled workers to fill available construction jobs in the five boroughs. As a result, construction wages are already at a premium, without the need for any state mandate.
The challenge Downstate is not a shortage of jobs for union construction workers or the need to prop up union wages, but rather how to expand the supply of well-capitalized contractors and build a larger, highly skilled workforce that can meet the demand for renewal and expansion of our urban built environment.
A key benefit of many state programs is that they support a pipeline of private construction activity that is accessible to smaller, non-union contractors and workers drawn from the local community. This is precisely because they do NOT require prevailing wage and contractors that are party to industry collective bargaining agreements.
Grants and tax incentives provided through the state Housing Trust Fund, Regional Economic Development Council initiatives, the State Council on the Arts, NYSERDA, Empire State Development and other state agencies are largely directed into disadvantaged areas of the city and to nonprofit organizations. These state grants, loans or tax incentives represent a small portion of total funding for most projects. But they are necessary to close a gap and allow a project to move forward.
Importantly, these state-assisted, private and nonprofit projects offer local firms and workers, many of them minorities, a foothold in the construction industry that does not otherwise exist in the city, where barriers to entry are high. The construction activity they make possible is of little or no interest to the unionized industry, which has more than enough work to do on larger, more lucrative projects and has a high cost structure that would not allow them to bid competitively for this type of work.
In the prevailing wage debate, unions have proposed that any private construction or renovation activity that the state touches be declared a “public work,” comparable to subways, highways, schools and other public facilities. This would mean that projects that receive a modest government grant or tax incentive would be subject to the same rigorous compliance requirements as 100% government funded contracts. It is clear that the consequences would be far fewer projects built and displacement of many of the nonunion contractors and workers who are currently getting these jobs.
To address needs of Upstate, where unemployed construction workers don’t have much leverage, it might make sense to apply prevailing wage to those projects where the majority of direct funding (exclusive of tax incentives and tax-exempt bond financing) is coming from government. Studies show that this would increase project costs by as much as 30%, but it may represent a fair way to respond to concerns from some regions of the state where there is little private construction activity.
At the same time, the legislature should reject the imposition of public works status on the types of projects funded through its myriad housing, economic development and community facilities programs that involve a mix of public, private and philanthropic funds. Instead, there should be a concerted effort to integrate these programs with workforce development, training and Minority and Women Owned business development initiatives, doubling down on the creation of opportunities to expand and diversify the construction industry to meet demands in regions that are experiencing rapid growth.
At the end of a legislative session that has tackled many difficult issues, it must be tempting for legislators to just pass an intensely lobbied bill like expansion of prevailing wage and go home for the summer. Hopefully, that will not be the case, Albany will take the time to carefully consider regional needs, and act accordingly.
New York is a state where business and organized labor regularly work together to forge practical solutions to challenges that threaten our state’s economic vitality. That is the spirit in which we are jointly endorsing expansion of a natural gas pipeline known as the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project, or NESE.
We cannot afford for NESE to go the way of Amazon, which was driven out of New York by many of the same groups that are opposing the pipeline. We also cannot afford to lose access to relatively clean natural gas during the uncertain period of our state’s transition from dependence on oil, gas and nuclear power to a future where we will hopefully be able to meet most of our energy needs from renewable sources like wind, sun and hydropower.
Earlier this month, the application to build the pipeline was turned down by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on a technicality. We urge the developers of the pipeline expansion to pursue an amended application and hope that both New York and New Jersey regulators will move quickly to authorize a prompt construction start.
The entire state is at risk if NESE is not built. We all depend on the payrolls and tax revenues generated by the metropolitan region. Already there is a looming moratorium on new, gas-powered buildings here. As much as $300 billion in new development is at risk if the pipeline is not constructed. Even worse from an environmental point of view, a gas moratorium will force many new buildings to revert to oil-powered systems — an option that no one should welcome.
As more companies and consumers have moved away from oil as their primary energy source in order to reduce carbon emissions, the demand for natural gas has dramatically increased. The scheduled closing of the Indian Point nuclear plant, which has been a major source of clean energy, has made dependence on natural gas even greater.
Downstate’s fastest-growing industry is technology, which requires a huge amount of power to support its equipment, operations and data centers. Other big industries like finance and health care are also increasingly dependent on technology, so their needs for power are larger than ever.
Until the last year or so, it seemed that good sense would prevail over the objections of advocacy groups and political interests that insist on cutting off construction of any new infrastructure that sustains the natural gas supply in order to try forcing a faster conversion to renewables. The anti-fracking movement generated a lot of misinformation about the natural gas supply that has contributed to opposition to essential infrastructure like the NESE.
We should all share a commitment to moving as quickly as possible to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change, but we also need to be realistic about how long this may take.
Above all, let’s be practical. As it stands, renewables cannot meet New York’s enormous energy demands. It will take many years before that changes. National Grid has said that nearly 8,000 planned oil-to-gas residential conversions annually will be put on hold if NESE is not approved. In addition, planned conversion of major commercial buildings, including public housing, will be halted and will continue to depend on dirty oil for heat — a net loss for New York’s environmental, public health and clean air goals.
On behalf of the Partnership for New York City, which represents more than 350 major employers and 1.5 million workers in New York, as well as the NYS Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents 200,000 construction industry workers and a network of more than 2.5 million workers in the state’s AFL-CIO, we support the governor’s commitment to a carbon-free New York. However, we are also pragmatists. It is a fact that there is simply not enough renewable energy available right now to meet the growing demands of the Downstate region. We need the NESE pipeline.
Today, the Partnership for New York City testified before the City Council to oppose legislation that would require private employers to provide paid vacation time to employees.
Thank you Chair Miller and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify on providing paid vacation time to private employees. The Partnership for New York City represents employers of a million private sector workers in the city.
The Partnership opposes Proposed Int. 800-A as an imposition on the decision of what benefits private sector employers will provide their employees. Adding ten vacation days to the five mandated paid sick days would triple the amount of paid time off for New York City employees. It would require little or no notice to employers and would substantially add to the administrative and cost burdens that the city and state have placed on employers.
These burdens are particularly difficult for small businesses to bear. They do not have legal departments to interpret new laws or human resource professionals to manage the compliance and recordkeeping for new mandates. Empty storefronts, which the Council is concerned with, are a symbol of the impact of a less-friendly business climate in the city. This is in part a result of the growing cost of new mandates, ranging from increased minimum wage to new scheduling restrictions and new training requirements that employers must comply with.
Most large employers provide paid time off, often more than would be mandated under the proposed legislation. But every company has different practices with respect to how and when this leave is taken, depending on their individual business requirements. For example, many employers incentivize employees to take time away from work by requiring them to take all of their leave time each year. Other employers allow carry over of a limited amount of unused leave time, but policies vary widely in the amount and type of time that can be rolled over. Most large employers have operations outside the city and their leave policies are difficult to change in response to local law.
There is no clear reason why the City Council should impose a single paid time off policy on all New York City employers. Certainly the specific prescriptions in this bill leave little room for policies that reflect the needs of individual businesses or the extent of the hardship that this may impose on some employers. We recognize the political impetus for the legislation and urge that, if you are moving forward, that the law exempt business with fewer than twenty employees and all those employers who certify that they are already providing at least fifteen days of paid time off pursuant to collective bargaining agreements or their own benefit arrangements. This would at least mitigate the negative impact of the bill.
Today, the Partnership for New York City submitted comments on changes to the New York City Charter in support of ranked choice voting, which will increase fairness in the city’s election system.
Thank you, Chair Benjamin and members of the committee, for the opportunity to comment on changes to the New York City Charter related to ranked choice voting. The Partnership for New York City represents the city’s business leaders and largest private sector employers. We work together with government, labor and the nonprofit sector to maintain the city’s position as the pre-eminent global center of commerce, innovation and economic opportunity.
The Partnership urges the Commission to include ranked choice voting for all city primaries and special elections in the ballot questions to be submitted to the voters in November 2019. The cost of administering elections and the public funding of candidates mean that all taxpayers, including the business community, have an interest in ensuring the city’s election system is fair and achieves the goal of electing officials who represent their constituents. The city spends a considerable amount of money supporting elections. In 2017, the year of the last mayoral election, the city spent $17.7 million in public payments to candidates and nearly $30 million to administer the election. More recently, the city provided $7.2 million in matching funds to 11 candidates for the Public Advocate special election.
Despite all of this funding, the outcome of city elections is not necessarily a true reflection of the will of the majority of the electorate. New York City often has very low voter turnout, particularly for primaries and local offices. For example, only 12% of active voters participated in the primaries in 2017. Local candidates often win without a majority – the successful candidate in the recent special election for Public Advocate won with approximately 35% of the vote. As a result, candidates may rely on a relatively narrow spectrum of the electorate to give them a plurality rather than striving to win the support of a broad constituency.
Ranked choice voting pushes a candidate to try to reach beyond their base in order to attract more voters. The result is elections where the winners more truly represent their districts. Election of office holders with a broad constituency is likely to inspire larger voter turnout. We are hopeful that this system will improve the civility of campaigns. Finally, ranked choice voting may also save the city money. At a minimum, it would avoid expensive run-off elections like the 2013 Democratic primary run-off for Public Advocate which cost more than $11 million.
Ranked choice voting has already been successfully implemented internationally (Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Malta, Northern Ireland and Scotland), in the state of Maine and in other U.S. localities (e.g., San Francisco, Minneapolis and Santa Fe). We hope you will allow New York City voters to choose ranked choice voting in November. This is a good first step toward electoral reforms that are needed in New York.
“Comptroller Stringer’s proposal to help working families cope with rising costs of living in the city is a good idea, but he could have been more creative about how to fund it. The Comptroller’s audits of city agencies have found more than enough potential savings to provide a child care benefit without imposing yet another new tax on New York’s business community, ” said Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.
By Ryan Deffenbaugh, Crain’s
A collaboration hopes to introduce a new generation of technology leaders from diverse backgrounds to an industry where the workforce is disproportionately white and male.
The Future FinTech Leaders program is a partnership between the FinTech Innovation Lab New York and Pursuit, a Queens-based program that provides a free four-year training program in software development. The pilot program will pair four Pursuit graduates with financial technology firms—ranging from startup NPM to global investment firm BlackRock—for a paid three-month on-the-job training program, which includes participating in programming offered by FinTech Innovation Lab. Read more.