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Posts from the "Jim Brennan" Category

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Assembly Members: We Have to Stop Cuomo’s $40 Million Transit Raid

John Raskin of Riders Alliance speaks with some of the 32 Assembly members who signed a letter urging Speaker Sheldon Silver to take Governor Cuomo's transit raid out of the state budget. Photo: Stephen Miller

John Raskin of Riders Alliance speaks with some of the 32 Assembly members who signed a letter urging Speaker Sheldon Silver to take Governor Cuomo’s transit raid out of the state budget. Photo: Stephen Miller

Yesterday, a group of Assembly members and advocates took Governor Cuomo to task for the $40 million transit raid in his budget proposal. The legislators unveiled a letter [PDF] urging Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to restore the funds in the legislative budget, due for a vote on March 12.

In the executive budget, Cuomo wants to take $40 million in dedicated transit revenue to pay for MTA bonds the state had promised to pay off. In addition, the governor’s financial plan includes annual raids of at least $20 million for the foreseeable future.

The governor argues the transfer isn’t a raid because the money is going to pay off bonds that support the MTA, but John Raskin of Riders Alliance said that Cuomo is breaking a long-standing promise by the state. “The state agreed to help the MTA by supporting bonds,” he said. “What the governor is doing now is saying that the state will no longer pay for all of those bonds that were supposed to help the MTA and instead, we’ll take money out of the MTA’s budget to pay for it.”

Using MTA money instead of state money to pay the bonds effectively creates new money on the state’s ledger. “The governor is proposing to take taxes that now pay for bonds, and use it to pay for something else, like to help pay for tax cuts,” Assembly Member Richard Gottfried said. “However you slice it, it’s a $40 million cut to the transit system, and that’s wrong.”

“That is money the MTA could otherwise use to restore service that was cut in 2010, to keep fares more affordable, because there are fare hikes expected in 2015 and 2017,” Raskin said. Other speakers want to improve service affected by a major round of cuts in 2010. Assembly members Michael DenDekker and Nily Rozic of Queens said the $40 million could be used to improve outer-borough buses.

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Who, Me? Cuomo Vetoes Lockbox Bill, Denies Raiding Transit

Hours after the MTA announced that it would be scaling back planned fare hikes in part because of better-than-expected tax receipts, Governor Cuomo vetoed two transparency bills designed to discourage Albany from siphoning away those very same dedicated transit funds. The governor capped his veto with a brazen denial: Despite getting caught raiding the MTA’s budget earlier this year, Cuomo insisted that he’s done no such thing.

With the news that upcoming fare hikes won’t hurt so much, straphangers might wonder why Cuomo’s vetoes matter. After all, if things are looking better than expected, what’s the big deal?

To answer that question, let’s look at the recent history of transit raids. With New York state’s budget facing chronic shortfalls, Albany has diverted more than $260 million since 2009 from taxes that are supposed to be dedicated to funding transit, including multiple raids under Cuomo’s watch.

The result? The MTA had to cover the shortfall with fare hikes and service cuts.

One of the bills Cuomo vetoed yesterday would have required the MTA to produce a report detailing the impacts of those post-2008 service cuts, measuring whether the projected cost savings actually materialized, and coming up with a plan to restore the lost service.

That bill overwhelmingly passed both the Assembly and Senate, but in his veto message Cuomo said the MTA has already performed an internal analysis of service cuts in line with federal guidelines and has announced $18 million in service enhancements this year. (By comparison, the systemwide cuts enacted in 2010 saved the authority $93 million.)

Though Cuomo criticized the first bill as re-litigating the past, the second, known as the transit lockbox bill, is focused squarely on preventing similar robberies in the future.

Only a constitutional amendment can force the governor’s hand in budget decisions, so the lockbox bill was designed as a transparency measure instead. If transit funds are raided, it would have required a statement from the governor’s budget office laying out how much is being diverted from transit and how it will hurt transit riders. By requiring the disclosure of impacts, advocates hoped that it would make the governor and state legislators less likely to propose budget raids in the first place.

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Jim Brennan Reintroduces $4.5 Billion Bond Measure for Transit and Roads

When New Yorkers go to the polls less than a year from now, they’ll definitely be voting for a new mayor, and they might also be voting for billions in state-backed transportation funding, if a measure put forward by Assembly Member James Brennan clears Albany.

The second time around: Assembly Member James Brennan wants to put a statewide transportation bond on the ballot in November.

Brennan, a Brooklyn Democrat representing Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, and Kensington, is reintroducing his bill for a $4.5 billion statewide transportation bond, evenly split between roads and transit. Starting in January, he’ll be making a push to sign up additional Assembly co-sponsors (there are now 16, all Democrats), and to find a sponsor for a Senate companion bill, with an eye toward recruiting Republican support.

“When we put it out there last year, we had no intention of passing it,” Brennan legislative director Lorrie Smith explained, saying that they wanted to begin circulating the issue in Albany before making a push in 2013. ”We’re taking the next step and trying to fashion a proposal that will go before voters in November.”

Some of the bond money is expected to go to the MTA’s next five-year capital program. Although that slate of maintenance and expansion work is still undefined (the current capital program runs through 2014), it’s likely this time around that keeping the system’s existing infrastructure in a state of good repair will be a higher priority than big-ticket projects like the 7-train expansion.

“We’re going to have to find different sources of revenue in order to find the capital necessary to sustain a state of good repair,” MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said earlier this year.

Although advocates welcomed the bill’s reintroduction, they cautioned that it is by no means a complete fix, for either the MTA or the state’s larger transportation system, which both have tens of billions of dollars in unfunded needs.

“We remain a little concerned that this might pass and voters and legislators might think that our funding needs have been resolved when, in fact, they have not,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool. Separately, both Tri-State and Transportation Alternatives said that Brennan’s proposal should be part of a larger revenue plan. Brennan himself said in April that the bond issue would still leave a hole of at least $6 billion in the capital program, even with federal matching funds taken into account.

While a more ambitious legislative package would address a heftier chunk of the MTA’s funding needs, it would also be tougher to enact.

“Brennan at the moment is the only game in town” because he’s “proposed something other than agency borrowing,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. The Brennan bond would be backed by general tax revenues, unlike much of the borrowing for the current capital plan, which is paid for out of the MTA’s operating budget. Moving borrowing from the MTA’s books to the state’s can take pressure off straphangers, who, absent initiative from Albany, are paying for debt service through fare hikes.

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Brennan Proposes $4.5B Transpo Bond for Next MTA Capital Plan

Assembly Member James Brennan has proposed the state issue $4.5 billion in bonds to fund transportation, with half going to transit.

With the next three years of the MTA capital plan officially moving forward — even without dedicated funding from Albany — it’s time to start talking about 2015. That’s when the next MTA capital plan starts. And distant as it may seem, on the political calendar it’s just around the corner.

In fact, in Albany, the discussion about how to pay for the next round of repairs and expansions to the transit system has already started. Assembly Member James Brennan, who chairs the committee responsible for the MTA, has just introduced a bill calling for a $4.5 billion bond issue, split evenly between transit and roads statewide.

The bond issue, which would go before the voters in 2013, would differ from the bonds floated by the MTA for the current capital plan. Without a dedicated funding stream, the MTA can pay back the debt it takes out in two ways: raising fares and tolls or cutting service. But the bonds proposed by Brennan would be the responsibility of the state, payable out of income taxes or spending shifted from anywhere else in the state budget.

“Everything the state pays for, that the MTA doesn’t have to pay for, helps the riders,” said Brennan.

Both the $4.5 billion pricetag and the 50/50 split between transit and roads, said Brennan, are calculated to help transit as much as possible while keeping the proposal politically viable. “There have been some bond issues that have been defeated,” said Brennan. “The public is concerned about debt.” The last state transportation bond, passed in 2005, provided $2.9 billion, half of it going to the MTA.

That said, even Brennan acknowledged that $4.5 billion wouldn’t be enough to fully fund the MTA’s next capital program. Based on past plans, Brennan guessed that the MTA would need another $6 billion or so to fully pay for its construction and maintenance work, not including federal and state support that would also have to come in. “This nowhere near addresses the shortfall,” he admitted. “Obviously the state has to step it up.”

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Cuomo “Eviscerated” Transit Lockbox, Says Bill’s Sponsor

Governor Andrew Cuomo "eviscerated" the transit lockbox bill last night, according to the office of bill sponsor James Brennan. The governor doesn't want New Yorkers to know when the state steals from the MTA. Michael Nagle/Getty Images via Times Union

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the leadership of the state legislature added insult to injury last night, neutering the transit lockbox bill even after they put hundreds of millions in dedicated transit revenue at risk. While lockbox language did make it into the omnibus legislation passed last night, the governor’s office stripped out the meaningful provisions and added a giant loophole.

“It’s eviscerating our bill,” said Lorrie Smith, legislative director for Assembly Member James Brennan, the lockbox’s sponsor along with State Senator Marty Golden. “It completely removes the impact statement requirement and it allows the governor to declare an emergency and take whatever money he wants subject to legislative removal, which is what we have now.”

Since no law short of a constitutional amendment could completely stop future legislatures from raiding the MTA’s dedicated funds, the most important provision in the lockbox bill required the creation of a “diversion impact statement” whenever a raid was commenced. The statement would have clearly detailed how much was stolen from transit riders and estimated the impact on transit riders’ fares and service. That sunshine provision — which ought to have been a favorite of a governor who campaigned on transparency — was stripped out last night.

Smith said that Brennan, the bill’s sponsor, was surprised to find the bill destroyed. He only saw the language yesterday afternoon, she said, hours before the bill was passed.

What motivated the last-minute changes? “This is what the governor negotiated,” Smith said. “We really don’t know.”

Smith promised that Brennan would reintroduce his bill in its full form next year. Read more…

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Brennan Drops Plan for More Atlantic Yards Parking, Will Push Transit Instead

Assembly Member James Brennan has abandoned the idea of implementing additional parking minimums at Atlantic Yards. That plan would have led more people to drive to the arena while failing to keep on-street spaces open for area residents.

Wrote Brennan in an email to Streetsblog:

I understand the concerns raised about my idea of compelling Ratner to provide off-street parking. I agree completely that the correct policy is not to encourage automobiles coming to the area, so I am dropping any notion of initiating legislation on this subject. You should know that my intention was not to increase parking, but to compensate for the fact that the Empire State Development Corporation eliminated Ratner’s obligation to provide 2300 units of underground parking at the arena as part of the deal to delay completion of the project until 2035. My focus next session will be to find incentives for mass transit.

That’s encouraging news. Atlantic Yards is going up at the site of Brooklyn’s biggest transit hub — precisely the space not to induce more auto trips with government-mandated parking. It’s good to see Brennan on board with efforts to ensure that as many people as possible take the subway, the bus or the Long Island Railroad to get there.

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Jim Brennan Wants to Force Ratner to Build More Atlantic Yards Parking

Could the state legislature get in on the costly, congestion-inducing parking minimum game? And could they do it at the site of Brooklyn’s biggest transit hub? Under a proposal by Assembly Member James Brennan, that’s exactly what would happen.

Assembly Member James Brennan wants the state government to force more parking into Atlantic Yards. Image: NYS Assembly.

Brennan is working on legislation that would force Forest City Ratner to build more off-street parking at the Atlantic Yards site, as was first reported in the Park Slope Patch. Currently, an 1,100 parking space surface lot is slated for the site.

“We’re going to force them to provide more off-street parking,” Brennan told the Patch. “There is no reason that Forest City Ratner should be allowed to not provide parking.”

Tonice Sgrignoli, a legislative aide for Brennan, said the legislation is still being researched and no details are available at this point. According to Sgrignoli, ESDC eliminated a requirement to build underground off-street parking that had been in an earlier agreement with Forest City Ratner and this legislation would likely undo that change.

When Streetsblog asked why Brennan thought that Atlantic Yards should have more parking in the first place, Sgrignoli replied that “Anyone who’s ever tried to drive a car and park it in that area will understand why it’s important to provide parking.”

Hopefully, Brennan himself has a more sophisticated understanding of parking policy. As former Boerum Hill Association president Jo Ann Simon said, no conceivable amount of off-street parking is going to free up on-street spaces so long as they are cheaper than going to a garage and available to anybody. “If people drive there, they will always try and find something free on the street,” she said. What happens on-street — many in the area, including Simon, have long pushed for residential parking permits — Simon said, “is entirely irrelevant to whether there should be more off-street parking to serve the arena.”

Simon’s argument is borne out by the reality at Yankee Stadium. There, despite a whopping 9,000 off-street spaces, area residents still complain that on-street parking is impossible on game day, according to a Crain’s report.

Moreover, building extra parking will simply mean that more people are able to drive to the area instead. “Brennan’s proposal to compel more off-street parking in one of New York City’s most transit-accessible locations betrays a terrible lack of understanding regarding transportation and mobility,” said University of Pennsylvania parking expert Rachel Weinberger. “His idea will invite more traffic through his district, more traffic in adjoining districts, and by requiring all of that parking, other development is preempted.”

Agreed Simon, “You induce drivers if there is parking there.”

Steven Higashide of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which has analyzed the plans for Atlantic Yards and is a member of the Brooklyn Speaks coalition, said that underground parking had been a part of the Atlantic Yards plans, but was removed when the amount of development planned was scaled back.

“The only way Atlantic Yards can become part of a vibrant urban fabric is if the city and developer work to reduce driving to the site,” said Higashide. “Providing hundreds or thousands of extra parking spaces won’t do that.”

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Transit Lockbox Still Alive, Under Threat From GOP Assembly Members

Though the state legislature was expected to work well into the morning last night, dealing with major priorities like rent regulation and gay marriage in addition to lower-profile but still-important bills like the transit funding lockbox, the negotiated deals fell apart and the legislature put off all its business until this morning. The path to passage for any of those bills is a little less obvious than it was a day ago, but the lockbox still has a good chance of making it through the State Assembly.

The lockbox already passed the State Senate, where it was sponsored by Brooklyn Republican Marty Golden, and the powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced his support for the bill last night.

The bill should be on the Ways and Means Committee agenda this morning, said Lorrie Smith, the legislative director for lockbox sponsor James Brennan. “If Silver’s supporting it, then it should be on that agenda,” said Smith. The Ways and Means agenda has not been released yet, however. “We’re in kind of a holding pattern since late last evening,” Smith said.

There is still room on the calendar to pass the lockbox, said Smith, even as the time remaining in the session continues to tick away. If Assembly Republicans do decide to delay the bill with a fight over the payroll tax, as Silver’s office was worried about last night, however, that could complicate matters. “If that were to come about, it would be a problem,” admitted Smith.

“We have to hope that Senator Golden will ask them to let this go through,” said Smith. Streetsblog has a call in with Golden’s office to see if he’s communicated the importance of the lockbox legislation to his Republican colleagues in the Assembly.

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With One Month Left In Session, Advocates Push For Transit Funding Lockbox

Assembly Member Jim Brennan makes the case for protecting dedicated transit funds from raids. Senator Marty Golden stands behind him to the left and TWU Local 100 President John Samuelson is on the far right. Photo: Noah Kazis

Momentum is growing in the push to protect dedicated MTA funds from Albany’s predations, but with only one month left in the legislative session, time is ticking. Assembly Member Jim Brennan and Senator Marty Golden, the bipartisan sponsors of the transit funding lockbox bill, stood today with a broad coalition of transit advocates in the Times Square subway station to make a final push for their legislation.

Since 2009, Albany has stolen $260 million in dedicated funds from the MTA in order to patch up the state’s budget. The theft of those funds worsened an already bad fiscal situation for the transit authority, leading to devastating service cuts and fare hikes.

In order to keep Albany from continuing to use public transit as its piggy bank, Brennan and Golden introduced legislation that would make it more difficult for the state to divert dedicated funds. First, it would forbid the governor from including dedicated transit funds in “blanket sweeps.” In recent years, however, only $1.3 million of the $260 million stolen from transit were taken using this mechanism.

To completely prevent the legislative sweeps that have made up the rest of the raids on transit, it would be necessary to pass a constitutional amendment. Brennan and Golden’s bill aims to raise the political cost of stealing from transit by introducing a set of disclosure requirements.

For the legislature to steal dedicated transit funds, they would be required to pass a “diversion impact statement” outlining how much was being raided from each mass transit fund, how much had been raided over the past five years, and an estimate of what those raids would cost in terms of service, maintenance and security. These important sunshine measures hadn’t been included in an earlier draft of the legislation, but were a top priority for transit advocates and added later.

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Jim Brennan Wants to Get Rid of the Prospect Park West Bike Lane

Assembly Member Jim Brennan (inset) favors redesigning Prospect Park West to make this activity illegal or too dangerous to undertake. Photo: Planetgordon/Flickr

After Assembly Member James Brennan released the results of his telephone survey on the Prospect Park West bike lane last Friday, the assessment in the press was unanimous. WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein headlined her post on the poll results “They Like It. They Really Like It.” Gersh Kuntzman at The Brooklyn Paper began his story: “The survey says — again! — that Park Slopers like their controversial bike lane.”

The topline numbers in the Brennan poll — 44 percent for keeping the lane as is, 25 percent for making adjustments, and 28 percent for eliminating it — closely resembled the results of the web survey conducted by Brad Lander, Steve Levin, and Community Board 6 last year, which found that 49 percent of Park Slope residents wanted to keep the lane, 22 wanted to keep it and make adjustments, and 29 percent wanted to get rid of it.

Even the New York Post’s Sally Goldenberg, author of the most gratuitous anti-bike bile of 2011, led her Brennan poll story by noting that the bike lane “is a hit among Brooklyn residents in neighboring areas, a new survey shows.”

About the only person who didn’t read Jim Brennan’s poll as an endorsement of the bike lane is Jim Brennan. (If we’re also counting people who are obligated to oppose the bike lane, you can add Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden, the lawyer suing the city to remove it, to the list. So that makes two people.)

Earlier this week, Brennan’s office sent around a presentation [PDF], compiled for his office by the polling firm Kiley & Company, which includes the following header summarizing opinion on what should happen next: “After Hearing Arguments on Both Sides, Narrow Majority Favors Changing or Eliminating New Bike Lane.” You can only get to that narrow majority if you group the 25 percent who agreed with the idea of “altering it to address pedestrian and driver concerns” together with the 28 percent who actually want to remove the lane.

You could also say that a huge majority want to keep the lane or adjust it — the 44 percent who said the lane should stay as is, plus those 25 percent who like alterations. Unlike the Lander/Levin/CB 6 survey, Brennan’s poll didn’t suggest specific alterations to the design, so we don’t know what those 25 percent are really thinking. (Note: This didn’t stop the Brooklyn Paper from reprinting Brennan’s poll interpretation today.)

Despite the fact that his own survey found a substantial margin of support for the PPW redesign, Brennan’s office has been trying to portray those results as a reason to eliminate the bike lane ever since making the poll responses public.

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