Archive for October 2019
Posted by NYPIRG on October 28, 2019 at 8:17 am
Posted by NYPIRG on October 21, 2019 at 8:22 am
In 2011, Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature passed “SUNY2020,”
a multi-part higher education bill which, among other things, increased tuition
annually at the State University of New York and the City University of New York. At the time of first passage, Governor Cuomo
and state lawmakers promised to use the additional tuition dollars to enhance
student services, including but not limited to; academic mentoring, counseling
and advising. The tuition dollars were not
intended to backfill budget holes, but rather enhance students’ education.
An important provision of SUNY2020 was a “maintenance of
effort” provision which stipulated that the government would not reduce SUNY’s
or CUNY’s general operating funds in following budgets. This was to ensure that
increased tuition would not be offset by decreased state support. However, the “maintenance of effort”
provision excluded certain mandatory, predictable cost increases.
As a result of that loophole, there has been mounting
legislative – and anecdotal evidence – that the state support for public
colleges has been eroding and that,
in fact, tuition increases have been used
to backfill budget holes in college budgets.
In recent years, New York lawmakers have approved
legislation – subsequently vetoed by the governor – that would have enhanced
the pledge to maintain the state’s efforts to provide adequate funding for the
State University and City University systems.
Had the legislation been approved by the governor,
inflationary and collective bargaining costs would be covered by the state and
would have reduced the need for siphoning away tuition dollars to make up the
In addition, the SUNY2020 law mandated that public colleges
pick up the cost of tuition for the poorest students, if state aid did not
cover that cost. And that is exactly
what has happened. The Tuition
Assistance Program’s (TAP, the state’s biggest financial aid program) maximum
award is set at $5,165, while tuition at SUNY has increased to more than $7,000
for the combined Fall and Spring academic semesters. That “gap” between maximum TAP award and
current tuition (roughly $2,000) must be covered by the college, thus
increasing its financial stress and also making it more likely that tuition dollars
are used to cover the difference.
Unfortunately, there is growing anecdotal evidence that
colleges are struggling to cover these additional costs. From hiring freezes to department reductions,
colleges across the state are publicly reporting that they must cutback
instructional and student services to balance their budgets.
The erosion of state support and the creation of growing
funding gaps is translating into an erosion of student services. Students have
experienced firsthand difficulty in getting into the classes they need to
graduate, limited services such as library hours, and advisement gaps across
the CUNY and SUNY systems. The consequences have been especially troubling for
students interested in graduating on time.
For example, according to a CUNY survey, over one-third of CUNY students reported not
being able to register for a course they needed for their major. Of those
students, half couldn’t register
because there were not enough seats available.
In addition to attending colleges that are increasingly
strapped for resources, what is that cost to college students and their
families? According to the new analysis,
public college students are paying over $2.5 billion more in tuition thanks to
SUNY2020. That’s right; students have
forked over billions to cover rising tuition costs while colleges are
struggling to pay their bills.
So what should be done?
The responses should come in two ways: Freeze the increases in tuition
costs and increase state support. Governor
Cuomo and the Legislature should make sure that next year’s higher education
- Freezes all tuition
rates at senior and community colleges.
- Enhances funding for
CUNY and SUNY by closing the “TAP Gap” and include mandatory costs in its base
funding equation through an enhanced “maintenance of effort.”
- Enhances financial aid
programs like TAP and the Excelsior Scholarship, so that they are available
during winter and summer sessions, increase maximum awards, and expanding
programs for use beyond covering tuition.
- Expands funding for
student services and opportunity programs – such as CUNY’s Accelerated Study in
Associate Programs (ASAP) which is a model for free public college, addressing
the all-in costs of higher education.
Investing in higher education
is investing in New York’s future. The
state’s budget has grown by more than one-quarter during the period of
SUNY2020. It’s time that students got
some cost relief and services received a big boost from the state.
Posted by NYPIRG on October 14, 2019 at 7:04 am
New York has had a well-deserved reputation
as a state with laws that discourage voter participation. In the area of redistricting, elected
officials have long conspired to deny voters competitive elections. In the area of campaign finance, loopholes in
the law make it possible for wealthy and powerful interests to shower
candidates with contributions of unlimited amounts. In the area of ethics, enforcement is
controlled by the state’s elected leadership.
In the area of voting, state policies have created obstacles to
registering to vote and casting a ballot.
And the results have been clear. In 2018, at least one million otherwise eligible
voters were not registered, often due to laws that have made it hard to register. In the 2018 general election, a stunningly
low percentage of registered New Yorkers – 45.2 percent –voted. A review of the U.S. Elections Project
analysis showed New York to be among the ten worst turnout rates in the
Thankfully, this is one area in which the
governor and the Legislature have begun to act.
This year a package of legislation was passed that could ultimately make
New York one of the nation’s model in how to encourage voter participation.
One of the new laws that has gone into effect
allows eligible voters to cast their ballots early instead of waiting until
Election day. New York joins 38 states
(including 3 that mail ballots to all voters) and the District of Columbia, that
allow any qualified voter to cast a ballot in person during a designated period
prior to Election Day. No excuse or
justification is required.
In our modern age, allowing flexibility in
voting makes perfect sense. Since
Election Day is a Tuesday in November, it can be difficult for many New Yorkers
to juggle personal and employment demands and still get to the polls. Allowing voters to cast their ballots early
is simply a recognition that the constitutional guarantee to vote should be
made as easy as possible.
Which is why the vast majority of states
allow it and why New York acted.
This is the first election in which early
voting will occur in New York. Under the
new law, early voting begins Saturday, October 26th and runs until
Sunday November 3rd. New
Yorkers can still vote on Election Day, November 5th as they always
Where you live will determine where you go to
vote. The state law mandates counties to
have at least one early voting site for every 50,000 registered voters. The law requires that each site be open for a
certain number of hours, not necessarily all day for each of the locations.
However, a minimum of 60 hours must be made available.
Given the populations, for 40 of New York’s
62 counties only one early voting site is required. There are slightly larger
counties, especially in upstate, that must have a minimum of two of three
sites. The larger counties, such as
Albany, are subject to a higher floor.
In Albany, there are eight locations spread
throughout the county, including the county board of elections location in the
city of Albany. In other counties,
similar situations exist, depending on the population. There are a total of more than 200 early
voting sites sprinkled across the state.
Granting eligible New Yorkers the early
voting option makes sense. It offers a
more convenient option for busy people and may help improve the state’s overall
There are logistics that still need to be
ironed out, and having the 2019 elections be the first one covered by the
mandate makes sense. Given that 2019 is
largely an election for local governmental offices, it should help elections
officials prepare for the big votes for President next year.
But early voting is only one step that is
needed. As part of the elections reform
package approved this legislative session, one initiative amended the state
constitution to allow new voters the opportunity to register and vote on
Election Day. The states that allow that
option have among the highest voter participation rates nationwide.
Even more needs to be done to clean up and
overhaul New York’s woeful democracy.
Campaign financing reforms may still occur, but changes are needed for
redistricting which gets triggered by next year’s Census as well as proposals
to make the state’s ethics laws enforcement independent of those it regulates.
Democracy is a work in progress, a constant
march toward to government accountability and enhanced representation. Early voting constitutes a step – and
significant one – in that march. If you
want to vote early, check out your local county board of elections for
locations most convenient to you.
Posted by NYPIRG on October 7, 2019 at 8:48 am
The United Nations’ Climate Action Week
wrapped up with intense speeches, promises and emotional pleas for action. Here in New York, the battle over how best to
respond to the unfolding climate catastrophe is intensifying.
Let’s start with the science.
Since the beginning of industrialization in
the second half of the 18th century, humans have released so much CO2
into the atmosphere that the global average temperature has increased by around
1 degree Celsius (nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit). And temperatures currently continue to rise by
a further 0.2 degrees Celsius each decade.
The amount of carbon dioxide in the air—the key metric of greenhouse gas
pollution over time—is at 408 parts per million, well beyond the safe level of
350 ppm and 46% more than pre-industrial level of 280 ppm.
The consequences of global warming have long
since become tangible in the form of heat waves, rising oceans, floods and
droughts. And the costs could be much
more dramatic, far-reaching and lasting than anything the civilized world has
ever had to contend with. Heatwaves,
droughts, storms, forest fires, floods, disruption to the entire food chain:
The impacts are becoming more visible all the time.
In October 2018, the world’s climate experts
(the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued a report examining whether
the world will meet the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees
Celsius above pre-industrial times—a target contained in the 2015 Paris
Agreement. Their conclusion was that
every nation needs to do a lot more, much more than they are currently doing.
According to the experts, there is only one
way to meet the 1.5-degree goal: the world’s CO2 emissions must be cut
nearly in half by 2030. By middle
of this Century at the latest, the world must reach a carbon “net
zero.” That means that if CO2
is released at all, the same amount must be removed from the atmosphere. If the climate warms by 2 degrees Celsius
(nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit), the future looks even more dire.
Two degrees would mean a complete destruction
of the coral reefs, huge crop losses, the melting of the Greenland icepack and catastrophic
threats to millions of people.
It bears noting that more recently climate
scientists have stated that the climate crisis is accelerating even faster than
they believed and that things are perhaps even more dire than the 2018 report
Which brings us to the fight in New York.
Despite the growing existential climate crisis,
some continue to advance plans seemingly without concern for the consequences.
For example, National Grid—a United Kingdom company which provides power to much
of New York State, wants to build a new $1 billion natural gas pipeline under
the Hudson River. The rationale for this expansion is that the company expects
there to be a 10 percent increase in gas demand over the next decade due to a
growing New York’s economy and as building owners stop using oil as a source of
The pipeline would take time to build and would have to operate
for decades for its investors to make a profit from the construction of the
pipeline. Organizations concerned about
the threat posed by the burning of fossil fuels have opposed the plan (and
others like it) stating that expansion of the use of any fossil fuel makes no
sense due to the growing threat from global warming. Governor Cuomo has pledged to block the
What should be done? Instead
of building new natural gas hook-ups, many customers should look at relying on
electricity for their needs. While much
of the power for electric use comes from polluting sources, ultimately those
will be replaced with renewable sources and thus building for that future makes
more sense than building out new fossil fuel infrastructure.
No one is arguing that people should stop driving cars, turn off
the lights, eat only cold foods and live in homes with freezing or hot
temperatures. But the planet must stop
building for a fossil fuel future. The
fossil fuel era, like the steam engine before it, has passed. We are now living with the consequences. It’s time to focus our resources and planning
on a non-fossil fuel future.
New York cannot invest in long-term fossil fuel capital projects
at the same time that state law mandates a rapid transition to renewable energy
in all sectors—housing, transportation and industrial and
commercial. The policy in New York is
settled and we must move quickly away from fossil fuels. As the world’s experts have said, there is no time to
waste. Actions to curb such use must be
week is the deadline to register for those who wish to vote in the 2019
election in New York State. That’s
right, a full 25 days before the election is the deadline to register. In many cases, busy New Yorkers may not be
paying attention to the candidates until Election Day gets closer. For those would-be New York voters, they will
be shut out.
Why a 25-day
deadline? Good question. Voting is a constitutional right, not a
privilege. Yet New York is notorious for
making it difficult to vote. And the
impact is clear: New York State had a Voting Eligible Population (VEP) of nearly 13.8
million in 2018. VEP is the most reasonable measure of participation and
includes citizens over 18 who are not incarcerated for a felony. However,
12.7 million New Yorkers were listed by the New York State Board of Elections
as either active or inactive voters for the same time period. That means
over one million eligible citizens were not registered to vote.
While the comparison of these two datasets is imperfect, it underscores that
many New Yorkers who are eligible, are simply not registered to vote.
Simply put, New
York’s voter registration and voter participation rates are anemic. In the 2018 general
election, a stunningly low percentage of registered New Yorkers – an estimated
45.2 percent – voted. A review of the U.S. Elections Project analysis
showed New York to be among the worst in the nation in terms of eligible voter
New York is near – or at – the back of the nation in voting, why hasn’t the
state acted to improve things instead of making them worse? One reason is that partisan differences on
the issue have blocked needed reforms.
Another reason is that incumbents get elected by those who do vote –
incumbents may fear that reforms that bring in new voters may put them at risk.
years of failing to act, Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature this year began
to attack some of the long-festering problems in New York’s system of
the changes, lawmakers agreed on legislation to allow for early voting and to allow
16 and 17 year olds to register to vote prior to their 18th birthday. They also agreed to the first passage of a
constitutional amendment that – if approved a second time and then approved by
the voters in a referendum – would allow voters to register and vote on
Election Day. Fifteen states plus the
District of Columbia offer “same-day registration” so any qualified resident of
the state can go to register to vote and cast a ballot all on the same day.
weeks ago, the governor approved legislation that took another step toward
modernizing New York’s elections. New
York has one of the nation’s earliest deadlines for being able to register in
advance of an election. And in a
peculiar twist, the state’s registration deadline rules dramatically impact
voter participation in Presidential primaries.
Democratic and possible Republican Presidential primaries in New York will be
in April 2020. Until recently, the
last day voters could change their party enrollment for the 2020 Presidential
and state primaries was Friday, October 11, 2019, making New York the longest
wait time in the nation.
the legislation approved by the governor, New Yorkers will have until February
14, 2020 to decide if they wish to change political parties in order to vote in
April’s Presidential primary.
years, New York’s election calendar has been criticized, especially before and
after the 2016 presidential primary.
Many unaffiliated voters didn’t learn until days or weeks before the
primary election that the deadline to change their enrollment had passed months
before. The approved legislation changes
that from a 190-plus day period to roughly 70-plus days for the Presidential
primaries. Still a long time to wait,
but far better than the current situation.
course, it’s always best to register in advance of the deadline for this
November’s election – October 11, 2019.
In this way, you can be sure to have your voice heard in the elections
of 2019 and 2020.