DMI Blog All comments, ideas and thoughts on DMI Blog are property of their authors. Reasonable excerpts are permitted on other sites and blogs; otherwise reproduction without the author's permission is strictly prohibited. View our comment policy here. en Copyright 2012 Wed, 23 Nov 2011 14:11:55 -0500 States vs. Cities: Immigration Enforcement Policy in 2011 By afton branche Three years into the Obama administration and no comprehensive immigration reform in sight, immigration enforcement policy seems to be going two directions, characterized by smart policymaking at the city level and ill-advised restrictive policies in the states.

This month, legislators in New York and Washington D.C. made it clear that cities don’t have to get in the business of federal immigration enforcement. Yesterday, New York City Mayor Bloomberg signed an important measure limiting the city’s role in federal immigration enforcement. The new law keeps the Department of Corrections from turning over immigrants with no criminal convictions to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) upon their release from local jail, but makes key exceptions for known gang members or those on the terror watch list. Under this legislation, the first of its kind signed into law, local officials will no longer place immigration holds on New Yorkers without criminal histories.

In Washington, all thirteen members of the D.C. Council co-sponsored a bill which prevents the Department of Corrections from detaining suspected undocumented immigrants without current or previous convictions for violent crimes. The measure further stipulates that local jails will release immigrants after 24 hours if ICE officials fail to pick them up—typically, ICE has 48 hours to retrieve immigrants from local custody. Immigrant communities in Washington and New York should feel safer knowing that local law enforcement officers will no longer be doing double duty as ICE agents; so too, should non-immigrants—fewer resources spent on non-criminals necessarily means more resources allocated toward catching criminals and identifying threats to public safety.

Cities shouldn’t participate in enforcing our outdated civil immigration laws, which are enacted and funded at the federal level. Local governments are tasked with upholding public safety and ensuring communities’ trust in city police—there is evidence that civil immigration enforcement undermines both goals. Further, there is little connection between public safety and deporting undocumented immigrants without criminal pasts. And by narrowing the population eligible for jail time, New York and Washington will save millions in jailing and other correctional costs each year.

Across the country, other localities have been taking steps to restrain costly immigration enforcement programs. In Chicago, Illinois, Arlington, Virginia and elsewhere, elected officials have passed resolutions or laws attempting to opt-out of ICE’s controversial Secure Communities program. The fingerprint sharing “partnership” engages local resources in enforcing immigration laws, so that individuals booked for local crimes have their prints automatically forwarded to federal immigration authorities. In practice, this has resulted in thousands of immigrants deported for civil immigration violations, even though they were originally charged with or convicted of for minor crimes like traffic offenses. In addition, a groundbreaking study found that the program sweeps up Latinos in disproportionate numbers, and negatively affects due process for all immigrants apprehended. Despite these concerns, the Obama administration has essentially forbidden localities from exiting the program, and plans to expand Secure Communities nationwide by 2013.

While many cities are crafting smarter policies to mitigate the impact of immigration enforcement, some states are going the other direction, cooking up costly and expansive policies. In 2011, states including South Carolina, Indiana and Alabama have attempted to tighten the screws on immigrants, passing increasingly restrictive and potentially unconstitutional omnibus laws designed to identify, deport and simply drive out undocumented families.

Alabama’s law is the most radical, broadly requiring individuals to show “proof of immigration status for ‘any transaction between a person and the state or a political subdivision of the state.’” The implications of this provision are staggering—citizens could be required to produce papers when signing up for electricity service or garbage pick-up. It also includes language requiring public schools to determine student’s immigration status and barring landlords from knowingly renting to undocumented immigrants. According to Birmingham Mayor William Bell, the new measure “is virtually impossible to enforce.” Indeed, the law goes further than other states’ measures, even Arizona’s infamous SB1070. Beyond the obvious injustice of attempting to drive workers and consumers without papers out of the state, Alabama’s law fails as a sound piece of public policy thanks to its far-reaching unintended consequences.

The legislation allows residents to show driver’s licenses as proof of immigration status; but those with out-of-state licenses or military IDs could be forced to produce other documents when picking up car tags or signing up for membership at the local pool. It’s well known that certain populations, including African-Americans and the elderly, are less likely than the general population to have citizenship documents. Further, in the aftermath of the law, there were reports that immigrant families fled the state. The Center for American Progress found that the resulting labor shortages led to serious negative economic consequences: one farmer lost an estimated $300,000. These and other reported impacts are reportedly forcing Alabama lawmakers to consider “tweaking” the law.

Fortunately, the federal government successfully filed a complaint to halt elements of Alabama’s immigration law, and ultimately the state’s district court prevented key provisions from going into effect. But the fight is far from over: court challenges were filed this year in Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina to turn back similarly restrictive measures.

Politicians will continue to adopt immigration hawk stances and propose backward-thinking laws against the interests of the general populace, while smart policymakers know that it’s best to leave immigration enforcement to the feds. “Cracking down” on immigration won’t decrease unemployment, improve public schools or create safer neighborhoods; it’s time elected officials put aside silver-bullet immigration laws promising otherwise.

]]> Immigration Wed, 23 Nov 2011 14:11:55 -0500
The 99 Percent By John Petro I was among the thousands of people cramming into Foley Square Wednesday evening, observing those who had come down to show their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. I arrived at 4:30, and for the next hour roamed around the park. It had the energy of a festival, a celebration. The air was permeated by the sound of drums. Placards waved about in the air, many of them hastily written with marker on brown corrugated cardboard. And though the rally was organized by labor unions, those with union t-shirts were vastly outnumbered by those with no obvious union affiliation.
I could find no central focal point. If amplified speeches were going on, I could not hear them. Nearer to the drummers people were dancing. Standing on top of the fountain, I found it impossible to get a true sense of the size of the crowd. It was difficult to get it all within view.

This was symbolic, perhaps. The most frequent criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement is that there is no central organized message. However, looking out over the amorphous crowd that evening, it was very simple to identify what the movement was all about. That is, thousands were gathering here to speak out about economic injustice—injustices dealt to them, their families, and to the entire nation. There was a palpable sense that our democracy is in danger, that the voices of the many are being drowned out by the few: those with vast fortunes and a certain political agenda.

“We are the 99 percent,” the protesters chanted. In contrast, those that make the decisions that affect our lives are the other one percent. They’re the ones telling us that we’re better off if we allow corporations to pollute our air, to ship our jobs overseas, to cut corporate taxes and those on the wealthy. They tell us that we’re better off if we cut health benefits for workers, if we get rid of pensions, if we do away with the social safety net. We’re better off without high-speed rail or universal health care. These things are unattainable, we’re told, because government is out of money. If we raise taxes on the wealthiest to help pay for these things then the whole economy will fail, we’re told.

The crowd at Foley Square wasn’t falling for it.

Student loan debt was a common cause. After all, we were all told that we must go to college to get a good job. For some this is no problem; their parents can simply write a check. For others, loans are the only practical solution. Now many are out of college and are tens of thousands of dollars in debt. There are few jobs to be had and those who haven’t found one are wondering just how they’re supposed to pay all this debt off.

“The banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” the crowd chanted.

These are big, institutional problems that don’t lend themselves to easy answers. The seductive power of the Tea Party is that it offers simple, easy answers. Cut government and cut taxes. Get government out of your life and maybe someday you will be rich. The real answers aren’t going to be that easy.

Earlier that morning a Republican presidential candidate told the protesters that they ought not to blame Wall Street for the fact that they’re not rich. But no one at Foley Square said anything about wanting to become rich. For the former CEO of a fast-food pizza chain this may be a difficult idea to understand. It’s also difficult for New York City’s billionaire mayor to understand. He called the protesters “ridiculous.” This is the same mayor who expresses no concern over the growing gap between the rich and poor in his city.

The crowd at Foley Square wasn’t concerned about amassing riches. They wanted economic security and a say in their political process. They wanted to end the injustice that they see all about them, to eliminate want in the face of greed.

An hour later, looking south on Centre Street, the setting sun reflected off of the silver façade of a new luxury apartment building. A two-bedroom apartment in this building rents for $72,000 a year, a sum greater than many of the attendees’ salaries. And then the crowd began to move forward for the march down to Zuccotti Park. I walked with the chanting crowd in silence. When the march met with those encamped at Zuccotti Park there were cheers. There was dancing. Later a small group tried to storm some barricades. A white shirt officer swung his nightstick at the group. Thousands of cameras captured the moment.

]]> Fri, 07 Oct 2011 15:34:24 -0500
More Than Spare Change: How NYC Scams City Street Vendors By afton branche New York is home to an estimated 10,000 street vendors, the vast majority of whom are immigrants from destinations like Bangladesh, Senegal and China. Life on the job for these workers is inherently tough; most vendors work grueling hours, rain or shine, and earn incredibly low wages that they use to support families at home and abroad. But the web of rules regulating the industry makes it even more difficult for street vendors to get ahead.

Mayor Bloomberg has always been outspoken about the value immigrant entrepreneurs bring to New York, and recently announced a promising new project to assist potential business owners. Yet in many ways, our current city laws seem designed to drive this group of immigrant entrepreneurs out of business.

Often called “the smallest of small business owners,” street vendors receive an average of 50,000 tickets per year for a variety of violations, including parking more than 18 inches from the curb or less than 20 feet from a storefront. Violations of these and other rules result in staggering fines that represent a significant economic hardship to workers who make around $14,000 each year.

In 2006, the city increased the maximum fine for violations, making it so that a vendor cited for a few offenses could be fined as much as $1,000. Most vending violations fall under a graduated penalty system that increases fines for each violation within a two-year period. This means a first violation brings a fine of between $25 and $50, the second between $50 to $100 and so on. In addition, the graduated system applies to vendors even if they are cited for separate offenses. Take, for example, the case of a vendor cited for placing his table 20 inches from the curb one day, and for wearing a jacket that covers his license two months later. Under the current penalty scheme, the second violation would be treated as a repeat offense and he would be subject to a higher fine, even though it is completely unrelated.

Street vendors, who make their living selling low-cost goods, simply cannot afford to pay these fees, nor can they absorb them as a cost of business. Many are forced to lose their licenses, and instead choose to operate unlicensed and unregulated by the city.

Further, evidence shows that New York barely profits from this regulatory scheme. A recent study by the Independent Budget Office found that in fiscal year 2009, the city spent about $7.4 million on street regulation and enforcement of vending laws, while revenues from fees and fines added up to just $1.4 million. Of $15.8 million in fines levied during that period, the city only collected $900,000.

Cost issues aside, the sheer complexity of the vending regulation system also proves to be a barrier for vendors trying to stay on the right side of the law. According to the Street Vendor Project, most sellers don’t understand the maze of vending laws, and sometimes, neither do the police charged with enforcing them. The city’s rulebook does not clearly explain the rules, and it isn’t translated into some of the major languages vendors speak. Vendors also have trouble presenting their cases in front of the Environmental Control Board, an administrative court that provides neither interpreters nor court-appointed lawyers.

Two bills have been introduced in the New York City Council that would seriously improve economic conditions for street vendors throughout the city. The first bill, co-sponsored by 29 Council members, would lower the maximum vending fine to $250, such as it was before 2006. Co-sponsored by 31, the second bill amends the administrative code to ensure that vendors are subject to escalating fines only when they repeatedly commit the same offense. Reducing the fines would enable more vendors to pay off their debts to the city and hold on to their licenses.

It’s encouraging that these common-sense fixes to the system are gaining traction at City Hall. The City Council should waste no time in amending the vending regulations that impede so many street vendors trying to make an honest living. In addition, city agencies ought to invest more resources in educating street vendors about the rules they are expected to uphold. If the Mayor is serious about supporting the immigrant entrepreneurship, he should get behind the City Council’s efforts to lower the fines that too often cost street vendors their licenses and their livelihoods.

]]> Economy Thu, 26 May 2011 10:51:25 -0500
DMI Scholars Alumni: Where Are They Now? By afton branche This summer, the Drum Major Institute will begin its leadership pipeline program for the fifth class of DMI Scholars.

The DMI Scholars program helps bring talented young people from underrepresented communities into the field of public policy, allowing them to realize their dreams and serve as voices for their communities.

Among DMI Scholar alumni:

* 85% of DMI Scholars are students of color
* 59% are women
* 22% identify as LGBTQ
* 57% are first and second generation immigrants
* 50% come from low-income and working class families
* 28% are the first in their families to attend college

Here are a few updates on past DMI Scholars:

Joseph Thomas continues to serve as a Legislative Assistant on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and will begin law school this fall.

Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza is currently writing in Hong Kong for the Asian Human Rights Commission and will begin law school at Yale University this fall.

Zach Duffy was a national finalist for the Truman Scholarship this year and will be interning at Campus Progress, the youth arm of the Center for American Progress this summer.

Tamara Joachim recently joined the Brennan Center for Justice as a Research Associate.

Daniel Wu will begin a joint Ph.D. in Social Policy and Sociology at Harvard University in the fall.

Dana El Kurd will be researching neo-liberal economic policies in the Arab world and their effect on democratization this summer as a Research Fellow at the University of Houston.

Rakim Brooks is among the first Ed Baker Fellows at Demos where he will be writing about democratic values in shaping varied social, political and economic issues.

Julia Yang recently left the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund to begin a graduate program in Social Policy at Oxford University.

Joseph Taranto continues to serve as Legislative & Budget Director for New York City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito but will also begin his Master’s in Urban Policy Analysis at New School University this fall.

Gina Chen will be working at World Business Chicago this summer, an economic development public-private partnership in her hometown of Chicago. In the fall she will travel to China to research post-earthquake community development through a Fulbright grant.

]]> Youth Fri, 06 May 2011 11:23:41 -0500
City Cops To Obama: We Don’t Want To Enforce Broken Immigration System By afton branche In a recent White House meeting, President Obama and an eclectic group of administration officials, business and law enforcement leaders, former and current elected officials and other "stakeholders" discussed current prospects for comprehensive immigration reform, one of Obama's notable and still unfulfilled campaign promises.

According to official records of the gathering, big-city law enforcement leaders relayed their concerns that “without reform, enforcing federal immigration laws is a distraction from their important public safety and crime fighting mandates to keep their local communities safe.” In other words, using city and county resources to enforce outdated federal immigration laws compromises the ability of local police to do their jobs.

In the face of objections from both immigrant advocates and law enforcement experts, state legislatures across the country continue to consider Arizona-style laws that seek to involve local police in verifying immigrants’ citizenship status. And despite its failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, the Obama administration supports a host of programs explicitly designed to delegate immigration enforcement duties to local authorities.

287(g), the Criminal Alien Program and Secure Communities, three programs run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), leverage partnerships between local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities to identify and eventually deport non-citizens. In a new report, The Cost of Failure: The Burden of Immigration Enforcement in America’s Cities, the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy argues that these programs impose staggering fiscal, public safety and civic costs on the nation’s cash-strapped cities.

After examining the impact of these partnerships in major cities, we find that local immigration enforcement programs are costly for city budgets and local economies struggling to close budget gaps and preserve core services. As cities spend limited resources jailing and detaining immigrants in service of federal immigration priorities, they receive inadequate support in return. For example, one Government Accountability Office survey indicated that 62 percent of 287(g) enrolled law enforcement agencies received zero funding from the federal government for operating the program.

In addition, the report shows how local immigration enforcement can be counterproductive to protecting public safety. Using police officers to perform immigration duties and enforce civil immigration laws diverts time and resources away from criminal investigations. Local enforcement also compromises police-community relations necessary to policing city streets. When immigrants fear that contact with local police could expose them to federal immigration authorities, they hesitate to come forward to police when they are victims or witnesses of crime.

ICE maintains that immigration enforcement at the federal and local levels focuses on “criminal aliens” and immigrants who pose a threat to our public safety and national security, but evidence from cities around the country indicates otherwise. Too often, local immigration enforcement results in the deportation of immigrants that are never convicted of any crime. Since 2008, the Secure Communities program alone has resulted in the removal of over 52,000 non-criminal immigrants from the country, according to ICE figures.

It’s encouraging that the Obama administration is committed to getting immigration reform back on the Congressional agenda. Though the best way to fix the system is through legislative action, Obama can still take the advice of law enforcement experts and end the costly involvement of local police in enforcing federal immigration laws in such desperate need of repair.

]]> Cities Wed, 27 Apr 2011 10:37:00 -0500
Martin Luther King III Speaks Out on NYC Living Wage Campaign By Amy Traub 43 years ago today Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. The assassination occurred as he was supporting a strike of municipal sanitation workers, standing up for the principle that “every working American should earn enough to live a decent life” in the words of his son Martin Luther King III.

In memory of his father, King III made the following statement in support of New York City’s Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which he sees as part of “a national roadmap for continuing my father’s unfinished work of economic justice.”

Every year, on the anniversary of my father’s death, people pay tribute to his life and legacy—to the ideals and principles he worked so hard to achieve, not simply for the people of his time but ultimately for the many generations that would come after him.

But exactly what he was doing the day he was killed is often forgotten. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for the creation of living wage jobs. In his view, it was both a moral necessity and a civil right that every working American should earn enough to live a decent life and not worry about basic survival. More than forty years later, we continue to fall woefully short of his vision. Far too many working people in our communities and neighborhoods across this great country still earn poverty wages instead of living wages. This is a collective failure, and we must address it together as one nation.

New York City offers a national roadmap for continuing my father’s unfinished work of economic justice. Tonight elected officials, religious leaders, labor leaders, and local community members are gathering in Brooklyn and Bronx churches for mass meetings to build the next phase of the largest citywide living wage movement in the country. In recent months, the Living Wage NYC Coalition has quickly organized and mobilized thousands of residents to push for passage of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. A majority of City Council members back the legislation. Now I urge the rest to embrace it.

People see something very wrong happening: Corporations getting richer from tax subsidies offered in the name of economic development yet making people poorer with low-wage jobs. This extreme income disparity is the result of misguided public policy, and that’s why a movement has come together around getting better policy implemented: the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act would ensure that tax dollars create living wage jobs.

We need the living wage movement to succeed and spread to other parts of the country. Countless stories of the working poor today are about people making impossible choices: food or rent, clothing or electricity. When we pause over those stories, and understand their painful significance, we grasp something fundamental about a country as wealthy as ours: no working person should have to settle for surviving over living. It’s that simple.

Read the whole statement here.

Martin Luther King III is a Board Member at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, an organization founded in 1961 by Harry Wachtel, lawyer and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The organization was relaunched by Harry's son Bill Wachtel and Martin Luther King III in 1999. The Drum Major Institute has championed New York's living wage campaign as well as the growing nationwide fight for dignity for public employees, which King has also spoken out to support. In addition, King III serves as President and CEO of the King Center.

]]> Mon, 04 Apr 2011 11:59:32 -0500
NYC Should Take A Second Chance on the Census By afton branche New York’s official 2010 Census results came in yesterday far below expectations, stumping politicians and city planners alike. While the Census Bureau estimate puts New York’s population at 8.175 million, city officials expected the number to be closer to 8.4 million.

Mayor Bloomberg told the Daily News: "We don't quite understand the numbers. It just doesn't make any sense at all." Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz confessed to reporters: "I have to tell you I'm flabbergasted. I know they made a big, big mistake." Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went further, arguing that the Census "has never known how to count urban populations and needs to go back to the drawing board."

What happened? Preliminary analysis finds that the undercount was located in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods, including Corona, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Recent and undocumented immigrants are traditionally among the hardest to count populations; some immigrants hesitate to reveal personal information to the government, while others simply lack knowledge about the importance of the count. In addition, immigrants are more likely than native-born New Yorkers to live in overcrowded or irregular housing conditions that are particularly difficult for census workers to reach. Such challenges prompted an unprecedented outreach campaign from city agencies, businesses and community-based groups designed to boost participation among immigrant New Yorkers.

An accurate census is more than a simple population count, or a matter of civic duty. The census yields tangible economic benefits for the city, which means a significant undercount could have staggering consequences. Excluding over 225,000 residents from the census could cost New York millions in state and federal aid for schools, hospitals and other critical public services linked to population data. Private sector organizations also rely on census information; imprecise data on immigrant may discourage businesses from investing in new markets and creating jobs in growing neighborhoods.

Most importantly, the 2010 Census count serves as the foundation for population estimates that inform government and business decisions for the next decade. We can’t afford to let thousands of New Yorkers go uncounted. In many ways, Census data is at the foundation of continuing economic recovery.

Luckily, NYC has another shot at an accurate census that captures population shifts in immigrant neighborhoods. The city has until June 1st to issue a legal challenge of the figures; if successful, the challenge will result in an officially revised count to be used for future government programs that require official data, as well as population estimates until 2020. Mayor Bloomberg should take this opportunity to get the census right. A full count of recent and undocumented immigrants missed in the 2010 Census is in all New Yorkers’ economic interest.

]]> Cities Fri, 25 Mar 2011 14:56:29 -0500
Why We Can’t Afford to Give NY’s Richest a Tax Break By John Petro As protesters demanding the extension of the millionaire's tax descend on Albany, Governor Cuomo and the state senate Republican leadership have held firm on their desire to cut taxes for the state's wealthiest. They claim that extending the taxes would force wealthy households to move out of the state or that the tax would kill jobs, but these myths have been widely discredited. Even the Wall Street Journal chimed in, showing that there is no evidence that the wealthy would move to states with lower taxes.

Lawmakers could consider giving the state’s richest residents a tax break if these were normal times and city and state budgets were flush with revenue. But that is clearly not the case today. In fact, these are tax cuts that the state clearly cannot afford.

First, as I pointed out in the New York Daily News, the choices being made by Governor Cuomo could result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. With no money for transit investments, job growth in the city’s construction sector is expected to shrink by 18,000 jobs. Plus, 38,000 jobs across New York State depend on the ability of Cuomo and the legislature to fill a $10 billion gap in the budget for mass transit improvements.

Not only will these choices kill jobs, but they put the safety of New Yorkers at risk. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave New York’s infrastructure its worst grade ever. Nearly half of all bridges are structurally deficient. Our drinking water system needs $15 billion in upgrades, wastewater systems need $22 billion. Deferring needed maintenance now will just cost the state more money in the long run.

These choices may also lead to classroom overcrowding. New York City just announced that it will only construct half of the classroom space that it had planned because of budget cuts from Albany. Again, we’re prioritizing tax cuts for the rich over the critical needs of New York State.

Governor Cuomo insists that the state has a spending problem. But in the case of the state’s vital infrastructure, we have an investment problem. Our leaders cannot distinguish between “wasteful spending” and the critical investments that will create jobs, keep New Yorkers safe, and provide children the opportunity to achieve their educational potential.

]]> Wed, 23 Mar 2011 14:35:26 -0500
Don't Blame City Workers for New York's Budget Woes By Amy Traub “Across the country, taxpayers are providing pensions, benefits and job security protections for public workers that almost no one in the private sector enjoys.” wrote Mayor Bloomberg recently in the New York Times, “Taxpayers simply cannot afford to continue paying these costs, which are growing at rates far outpacing inflation.”

The mayor’s rhetoric was calm and conciliatory, and he spoke out against the radical anti-union measures being implemented in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states. Yet Mayor Bloomberg’s overall message fed into the same set of misconceptions that have fueled outrage in the Midwest: New York is an impoverished city strained to the breaking point by the excessive compensation demanded by our overpaid public employees. We have no choice but to cut public pay and decimate employees’ retirement prospects.

There are a few things wrong with this story. First, New York City’s budget crunch - like the state’s budget problems and the budget shortfalls in cities and states across the nation - is the result of the recession brought on by excessive risk-taking on Wall Street and lax government regulation, not excessive spending or compensation for public workers.

Some cities are desperately poor and (absent the increased federal or state aid they ought to be receiving) have no choice but to dramatically cut services, lay off public workers, and lower compensation to manage the revenue shortfall caused by the recession. But New York is not one of these impoverished places. Instead, the mayor and other city leaders have made a political decision not to tap into the city’s tremendous and growing private wealth in order to help New York in its time of need. This despite the fact that there is no evidence to indicate that wealthy residents flee tax increases. (Also despite the fact that laying off public workers destroys private sector jobs.)

Now an eye-opening new report by City Comptroller John Liu crunches the numbers and casts doubt on the contention that New York City’s public employees are overpaid. Among the key findings:

  • Without adjusting for age, education, or any other demographic factors, the average full-time government worker in NYC earns 17 percent less than the average private, for-profit employee.

  • The wages of City workers on average are lower than their private sector counterparts even though City workers are more highly educated

  • City employee benefits do not offset the adverse pay differential for highly-educated City workers.

The Comptroller’s study is well worth reading in its entirety. It may just have the power to change the debate in New York, and bring a new focus to options like Councilman Brad Lander’s ingenious proposal to bring in $8 billion in new city revenue by offsetting the extension of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest New Yorkers.

]]> New York Thu, 10 Mar 2011 11:56:26 -0500
Cuomo Must Embrace NY's Greatest Job Creation Engine: Mass Transit By John Petro While presenting his budget to Albany lawmakers last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo talked about the importance of creating jobs throughout the state. “We need jobs and we need revenue. Long-term, it's jobs, jobs, jobs." It’s a shame, then, that the governor is ignoring one of the state’s most powerful job-creation engines: mass transit.

Cuomo’s job creation strategy comes straight from the pages of the conservative playbook. Cut spending, slash government jobs, and cut taxes in order to become more “business friendly.” This approach overlooks the role of smart, targeted public investments to generate economic growth and jobs.

For an inspiring example, just look at New York City’s $2 billion investment in a subway extension to Manhattan’s far west side. Not only will the project employ thousands of construction workers, but the city’s investment is expected to generate $15 billion in private investment and the country’s fourth largest business district. That is an impressive return indeed.

Given the amazing power of transit investments to create jobs and attract private capital, it’s anyone's guess why the governor hasn’t begun to address a fast-approaching $10 billion gap in the MTA’s capital budget. The damage that the budget gap, if left unfilled, would inflict on job creation is difficult to overstate. The most recent capital program was estimated to create 38,500 jobs a year for nine years. These jobs are found in communities all across the state, from air conditioning manufacturers in Yorkville, sheet metal in Utica, propulsion systems from Johnson City, door systems in Plattsburgh, radio antennae from Tonowanda, and the list goes on.

But Cuomo, who insists he is focused on job creation, still has not met or spoken with MTA president Jay Walder about the impending funding gap. Cuomo may be busy with budget negotiations, but funding for the capital program is due to run out at the end of the year. At this time there are no credible proposals to fund the transit investments necessary to keep the system from falling apart, never mind a plan to create a transit system that will be competitive in the 21st Century.

With no plan to fill the $10 billion gap, the state’s contractors and construction workers are worried. The New York Building Congress released data showing that 18,000 construction jobs will fail to materialize if the MTA capital program is not fully funded. That would mean ten percent fewer construction jobs in 2012 than what is currently projected.

Instead of calling for job-creating investments, Cuomo is fixated on cutting spending and has an indefensible desire to cut taxes for the state’s high-income earners. This is a costly choice. It would reduce state revenue by approximately $5 billion a year, or half of the gap in the job-creating capital program. In fact, the governor’s budget would divert $100 million from the MTA, which will likely result in the loss of more jobs for transit workers and less money for investment.

There is little money to go around these days, but Cuomo must work hard to find a funding solution. There are some innovative ideas that should be explored, such as the role of private capital in funding new transit projects. In Florida, companies like Siemens were chomping at the bit to get a chance to invest in high speed rail (until Florida’s governor Rick Scott foolishly torpedoed that plan, at least). Cuomo has spoken of creating a state infrastructure bank, but plans for the bank don’t go much further than that. Cuomo has also resisted the idea of congestion pricing, which could create a new revenue stream for transit investments while cutting traffic delay in the city.

But the first step should be preserving what we already have, and that includes the payroll mobility tax. The tax, which passed in 2009 and generates $1.5 billion for transit each year, is under fire by short-sighted lawmakers from suburban districts. They claim that the tax kills jobs, but they’ve failed to consider that the alternative would destroy even more jobs throughout the state.

Meanwhile, New York City’s biggest competitors aren’t resting on their laurels. Los Angeles is in the middle of an aggressive plan to expand mass transit. London is investing billions in new commuter rail capacity, and Chinese cities are building hundreds of miles of new subways. These investments will pay even larger dividends as energy prices continue to grow.

Today, New Yorkers cope with a third-world bus system, crumbling stations, and antiquated track signals. New research shows that new commuting patterns—between boroughs and from the city into the suburbs—have not been followed by new transit lines, cutting workers off from jobs. Decades of disinvestment on the part of Albany lawmakers have got us where we are today.

Governor Cuomo must realize that the state’s transit systems are an asset, not a liability. Investments in transit can lead economic growth and development and create tens of thousands of jobs. But the question remains: will Cuomo deviate from his conservative talking points long enough to make these critical investments?

]]> Urban Affairs Fri, 04 Mar 2011 16:48:23 -0500
Mayor Emanuel’s Next Move on Immigration Policy By afton branche On the campaign trail, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel faced tough criticism from opponents for his inaction on immigration policy issues. Immigration advocates, on the ground and in Congress, claimed that he stood in the way of progress on comprehensive immigration reform during his time as White House chief of staff. It didn’t help that Emanuel’s most-quoted statement on immigration calls it the untouchable “third rail of politics.”

As Chicago’s next mayor, Emanuel will have a crucial opportunity to prove his critics on immigration policy wrong. To build trust and support in immigrant communities, the mayor must deliver on campaign promises, as well as commit to new policies aimed at integrating immigrants, who represent 20 percent of Chicago’s population, into the fabric of the city. Setting an ambitious integration agenda will surely help the Mayor-elect win over critics of his national immigration record, but it will also generate significant social and economic benefits for the city as a whole.

The new mayor can begin by looking to other immigrant-friendly cities, where many of the best immigrant integration policies have already been implemented. New York’s language access policy is a perfect example. Passed in 2008, the policy directs all city agencies to provide language services in the city’s six most commonly-spoken foreign languages. Enacting a similar policy in Chicago would yield city-wide results, at a lower cost. Translation and interpretation services, for example, would enable immigrant parents to participate in local schools and encourage undocumented crime witnesses to speak up to local police.

Second, Emanuel should implement his Chicago “DREAM Act,” which was a leading campaign promise. Under the proposal, the first of its kind in the nation, immigrant students would receive loans for community colleges and four-year universities at low interest rates provided they meet certain residency and age requirements. With affordable higher education, these students can get better jobs and pay more in taxes to support Chicago’s economy. Emanuel has said he intends to fund the plan by raising $5 million from business and civic leaders.

But access to higher education is only one of many challenges immigrant families face. Mayor-elect Emanuel should consider opening a Chicago Office of Immigrant Affairs to partner with city and community leaders in identifying pressing issues for new and established immigrant groups and advancing proven policy solutions to address them. Immigrant affairs offices in New York, Houston, San Francisco and elsewhere also promote civic participation and educate immigrants about their rights and responsibilities as city residents. Successful immigrant integration programming involves multiple city agencies and their partners in local communities; centralizing these efforts can help stakeholders avoid duplicating services and wasting limited resources.

Everyone wins when immigrants participate fully in city life, by buying homes, applying for small businesses or simply by accessing the vital services to which they are entitled; the city should play a role in ensuring this process happens quickly.

Political considerations likely influenced Rahm Emanuel’s weak support for immigration policy reforms during his White House tenure. But as he prepares to lead one of the country’s top immigrant destinations, Mayor-elect Emanuel will have to deal with these issues head-on. Advancing proven integration policies to welcome new immigrants and maximize their contributions to city of Chicago is an excellent place to start.

]]> Cities Thu, 03 Mar 2011 16:53:43 -0500
Paid Sick Leave Advances in Philadelphia By Amy Traub Across the nation, the attack on workers’ rights continues to mount: in Missouri, a state senator proposed rolling back child labor laws and reducing enforcement, while legislation to limit collective bargaining rights for public workers moved forward in Ohio.

But in the midst of the grim news and tough defensive battles, some city policymakers are moving in a more positive direction: asserting that what working people hit hard by the recession need is greater protection and more recognition of basic workplace rights. Philadelphia is one bright spot.

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Public Health and Human Services voted to approve legislation guaranteeing a small number of paid sick days to every person employed in Philadelphia. An estimated two in five private sector workers in the city currently lack this right. Based on San Francisco’s successful law guaranteeing paid sick leave, the Philadelphia bill would enable low-wage employees to avoid losing wages when illness strikes and they need to care for themselves or their children.

I had the opportunity to contribute testimony at the committee hearing. I spoke after a representative from the city’s Commerce Department, who was taken to task by legislators for failing to provide hard evidence for his claim that paid sick leave would burden businesses and harm Philadelphia’s economic competitiveness. Drawing on a study I conducted last year on paid sick leave in Philadelphia, I offered data on the relative success of San Francisco’s economy in the wake of paid sick leave legislation and noted:

In places where paid sick leave has been implemented, there is a significant divergence between predictions of economic doom beforehand and the actual impact. For example, in San Francisco the restaurant industry trade group initially asserted that the policy would substantially increase small business costs and discourage employment. Yet now that the policy has been in place for a number of years, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association calls the law “successful” and “the best public policy for the least cost,” acknowledging that employees have not abused paid sick leave. A top official at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, another original opponent to paid sick leave, admitted that “it has not been a huge issue that we have heard from our members about… I don’t think it’s quite on the minds of employers.”

Rather than predicting negative outcomes once again, I suggest that looking at the concrete evidence of how this policy has operated in practice is the best way to predict the impact in Philadelphia.

To read the rest of the testimony, click here.

]]> Employment Wed, 02 Mar 2011 14:01:17 -0500
Cheesehead Agonistes: Why Wisconsin's Fight Matters in New York By Amy Traub It was cold out, but the workers crowding the steps of City Hall Wednesday morning were fired up. New Yorkers shouted in support of public workers in Wisconsin battling their governor’s effort to destroy their unions by taking away workers’ rights to bargain and their unions’ ability to support itself through dues. “We Stand with Wisconsin Workers!” read a hand-lettered sign. But the retail employees, clerical workers, UAW members, actors, domestic workers - and yes, city and state employees - who made their way through the long security line to rally outside City Hall were also talking about New York.

At this and other solidarity rallies around the city, they were talking about New York’s shrinking middle class. About the centrality of unions - in both the public and private sectors - in fighting for good jobs capable of supporting a middle class standard of living. And about the attacks on public workers coming from both Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, While neither as vitriolic nor as existential than the assaults in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, New York’s attacks nevertheless draw their strength from and reinforce the same anti-worker trend.

That’s what makes commentaries like Bill Hammond’s recent Daily News column so absurd. Hammond asserts that public workers in New York “should thank their lucky stars that they're dealing with nice-guy, union-friendly Cuomo rather than the Cheeseheads' chief executive, Scott Walker.” After all, Cuomo “would never dream of attacking their right to organize or collectively bargain… [and is] going easy on them in the grand scheme of things.”

You read that right: rather than asking our mayor and our Democratic governor to support the vast majority of New Yorkers who work for a living by trying to retain jobs, preserve public services we rely on, and fight for living wages, we should be delighted that their attacks on workers aren’t worse! We should be grateful that they’re only attacking public pensions, rather than asking why they aren’t working to increase retirement security for everyone who works.

That’s precisely the twisted thinking rallies across America are working to challenge. The larger question is, who do our federal, state, and local governments really represent? Who has power in America: working people and their representatives, or the corporations and billionaires pouring money into our political system? The now-famous prank phone call from an activist impersonating right-wing billionaire David Koch to Wisconsin’s Governor Walker tells us a lot about the answer to that question in Wisconsin, but what about New York?

Bill Hammond points out that Governor Cuomo called union members "my brothers and sisters." Yet actions speak louder than words. As Harold Meyerson wrote in the Washington Post, unions function as "the linchpin of progressive change in America. Taking them off the political map isn't about budgets. It's about removing a check on right-wing and business power in America." Yet Governor Cuomo has worked actively to build up corporate power in the state through the Committee to Save New York.

And then there are those persistent questions: when New York, crushed like many other states by the deep national recession caused by Wall Street, finds itself short of revenue, do we ask the millionaires who long ago recovered from the recession to chip in a bit more to keep teachers in our classrooms and snow off our streets? Or do we start attacking bus drivers for having decent retirement benefits? The answers to these questions will tell us whose side our elected representatives are really on.

]]> Labor Wed, 23 Feb 2011 17:19:04 -0500
State Immigration Policies Gone Wild By afton branche In the absence of federal immigration reform, state governments have taken up immigration policymaking with remarkable zeal. In 2010, every state in session considered immigration laws and resolutions. In fact, the National Conference of State Legislatures finds that states passed a whopping 346 laws and resolutions addressing immigration issues. And last month alone, Fox News reported that states introduced more than 600 immigration measures.

On the positive end, several laws supported immigrant integration by funding refugee resettlement and naturalization assistance, or offering in-state tuition to undocumented youth. Of course, many other state legislatures have taken up restrictive and in some cases ridiculous immigration policies. Many laws focus on giving local police immigration enforcement powers in addition to their primary duties, while others impose voter ID schemes or enact employer verification requirements. The worst state laws attempt to turn public institutions into satellite ICE offices.

In Arizona, Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill that would force hospitals to verify whether a patient is in the country legally. Let’s hope that early opposition from doctors, medical professionals and immigrant advocates prevents this foolish policy from passing. But the fact that this is even on the table is frightening. In Virginia, the Democratic-led state senate successfully held off a spate of anti-immigrant laws, including one that would require local school boards to tally children “who could not provide a birth certificate or enrolled in English as a Second Language courses.”

It’s hard to figure out the legislative intent behind these measures. Do Arizona lawmakers really want to scare undocumented immigrants away from seeking treatment for contagious diseases? Do Virginia’s elected officials really want to discourage immigrant children from attending school? I think any legislator interested in a healthy or educated populace would not. But it seems that nothing is off-limits in the immigration debate. As one Virginia Democrat put it, "What's next -- they're going to require the grocery stores to find out if you're here legally before you can buy food?"

Too often, immigration hard-liners introduce bills intended to save money by targeting or identifying undocumented immigrants. In practice, however, restrictive policies end up draining public budgets and marginalizing legal immigrants in the process.

A powerful New York Times story highlights the impact of a recent Virginia policy that effectively cut off hundreds of legal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses. Under the law, federally-issued work permits were no longer sufficient proof of residence needed to get a license. The policy shift cost one Tunisian man his limousine business. The article goes on to describe the various remedies state officials used to help legal immigrants who were wrongly denied driver’s licenses—all at the taxpayers’ expense.

Supporters of local immigration crackdowns should know that verifying an individual’s immigration status is not as easy as it sounds. Immigration law is an exceedingly complex field, wherein a person’s right to stay in the country comes down to one piece of paper or ruling from a federal judge. Hospital workers or teachers shouldn’t be trained to recognize these documents or otherwise participate in half-baked immigration enforcement schemes. This would waste time and resources better used to assist the general public.

As we wait for Congress to take on immigration reform that addresses undocumented immigration, our elected officials should stop targeting immigrants and their families, and instead focus their energies on crafting laws that truly serve the public interest.

]]> Immigration Fri, 18 Feb 2011 13:29:26 -0500
Speaker Quinn Should Reconsider Stance on Sick Leave Policy By John Petro New research adds to the considerable evidence showing paid sick leave legislation would not harm businesses in New York City. Earlier this week, a study of San Francisco employers by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that a majority (two-thirds) of employers there support the law four years after it was implemented. Support was equally strong among small businesses.

This new research sheds new light on what impact a similar bill, delayed by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, would have in New York City.

When the vast majority of businesses in San Francisco say that the paid sick days hasn’t hurt their bottom line, it’s time for Speaker Quinn to take back her claim that it would kill small businesses in New York. The evidence is decidedly against her stance.

The study found that most workers don’t even use all of their allotted sick leave. The median number of paid sick days used by San Francisco employees was three. One quarter of all workers did not use a single paid sick day.

This suggests that previous cost estimates, which assumed workers would use all of their available days, are way higher than they would actually be.

Other findings from the survey, which polled 718 businesses and 1,200 workers in San Francisco:

  • Six out of seven businesses did not report any negative effect on their profitability because of paid sick leave.

  • Two-thirds of small businesses (1 to 9 employees) support paid sick leave.

  • Seventy-one percent of small business did not report any negative effect on their profitability (14 percent said “Don’t Know”).

  • Only four percent of small businesses reported that the new law worsened the predictability of employee absences, indicating that absenteeism is not an issue.

]]> Fri, 11 Feb 2011 12:48:39 -0500
I'd Miss Eli Manning: So Would NY's Economy By Amy Traub A highly profitable business plans to cut the pay of its frontline employees because, of course, it could always be more profitable. The only obstacle? That darn union…

It sounds like the story of last year’s strike at the upstate New York Mott’s plant But it’s also my tale of growing passion for the New York Giants. Just as I was anticipating a 2012 repeat of the thrilling 2008 Super Bowl win, I instead face a season bereft of Eli Manning, and a situation that looks eerily similar to the chronicles of corporate greed playing out across America.

The NFL is earning record profits. Yet, as football fans know, owners have suspended the current contract in an effort to make the players agree to play more regular season games while reducing the share of league revenue set aside for player salaries. The result is a likely lockout if a new contract can’t be reached by March 3. The NFL players may be glamorous major league athletes: but like many working Americans, they’re being told by a hugely profitable enterprise to work more for less pay.

Of course, football players make very good money. Few will be in line for food stamps even if they are effectively unemployed come March. But the threatened lockout isn’t just about them. While team owners stand to profit from guaranteed TV revenue whether or not NFL football actually gets played next season, the guy filling beer pitchers at my local sports bar won’t be so lucky. As Kim Freeman Brown of American Rights at Work explains “A lockout would impact 150,000 jobs and cause more than $160 million in lost revenue in every city with an NFL team.”

It's true, as the New York Times' Clyde Haberman never ceases to remind us, that the Giants and Jets in fact play in New Jersey. But that only means the economic pain would be spread throughout the metro area. Hotel and restaurant employees, workers selling tickets, manning concession stands, and serving football’s many support positions would all be collateral damage in the event of a lockout by NFL management.

And what about the players, who are, after all, the people we’re actually tuning in or showing up to watch on the job? If huge men with the eyes of the world on them can’t get a fair deal at work, what chance do the rest of us have?

]]> Labor Thu, 10 Feb 2011 15:19:34 -0500
(Re)calculating the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform By afton branche Last week, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) made a compelling case for comprehensive immigration reform in Poltico, pointing out the various economic benefits of a legalization program. In response, Heritage Foundation analyst Jena McNeill fired off a sharp rebuttal which advanced several common immigration myths.

McNeill starts by saying "the left" never argues that “amnesty” will improve the economy, but insist comprehensive immigration reform will boost the economy. She’s absolutely right: supporters of comprehensive immigration reform like Rep. Honda maintain that it will yield significant economic benefits, but only if a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants (what McNeill calls amnesty) is part of the deal.

No one argues that legalization alone can solve the problems of our broken immigration system, because it won’t. Nor will enacting an enforcement-only immigration bill, similar to the one put forward by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Comprehensive immigration reform will fully benefit the nation’s economy only if it measures up to its name. In addition to legalization and border enforcement measures, a comprehensive solution should include provisions for families and future workers to enter the country legally.

McNeill goes off track when she declares that comprehensive immigration reform is actually a “code phrase for amnesty,” invoked because Americans are against it. I’m all for decoding long-winded immigration terms, but this is wildly inaccurate. Comprehensive immigration reform is not a euphemism for “amnesty.” The phrase refers to a package of policies, in which a legalization plan is but one controversial component. According to the author, immigration reformers are playing word games because Americans “by and large don’t support amnesty. That’s why Americans supported the attempt by Arizona to actually enforce the law.” But this isn’t the full story. Several polls show that Americans who backed Arizona’s law also think undocumented immigrants living here should be able to do so legally, after paying fines and meeting other requirements. Americans want elected officials to combine enforcement measures with a firm but fair path to legal status. Sound familiar?

This approach would add a staggering $1.5 trillion to the U.S. GDP over the next ten years, according to an influential Center for American Progress study. In his op-ed, Honda also explains how newly legalized immigrants are likely to find better paying jobs, spend more in consumer dollars, and pay higher taxes. Indeed, research on the flawed 1986 legalization bill revealed lower poverty rates, higher homeownership rates and generally improved socioeconomic situations among legalized immigrants.

McNeill claims these economic gains are “likely obliterated” in light of low-skilled immigrants’ use of lavish “local, state and federal benefits, education, and services” which will continue even after “amnesty.” To support this assertion, McNeill cites a Heritage report from 2006 that finds low-skilled immigrants consumed more in services than they paid in taxes. Like most right-leaning studies of immigration’s fiscal impact, Heritage includes the costs of educating U.S. citizen and legal immigrant children in its accounting (The Congressional Budget Office, for example, does not). Obviously, public education costs money, but it isn’t a sunk cost; children in immigrant families who are students today will be workers and taxpayers down the road.

What about non-educational benefits? Actually, newly legalized immigrants under any comprehensive bill won’t be eligible to get means-tested benefits, like food stamps or student loans, for many years. Under the terms of a recent comprehensive bill introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), most undocumented immigrants legalized today will wait eight years to become legal permanent residents, then as LPRs, must wait another five years to be eligible for most forms of assistance. At any rate, weighing the potential burden of new immigrants on the public benefits system is old news. Back in 2006, CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that enacting the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which included a legalization provision, would raise $66 billion in revenue for the federal government over ten years, much more than the $54 billion in projected federal spending.

Rep. Honda and other reform-minded members of Congress should continue to tout the real economics of a comprehensive immigration overhaul. Despite claims to the contrary, it’s clear that arguments against comprehensive immigration reform based on overhyped fiscal concerns don’t hold water.

]]> Congress Wed, 09 Feb 2011 14:17:48 -0500
Cuomo and Bloomberg: Two of a Kind? By John Petro Though they may be sparring in the press, when it comes to deciding how to deal with their respective budget messes Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo are two of a kind. By marking essential services for cuts, both men have threatened to balance the budget on the backs of those that can least bear it: schoolchildren, the impoverished, and the elderly. Both the mayor and the governor, when describing their fiscal predicament, have pointed fingers at working men and women in the public sector as those responsible. And both men have steadfastly refused to consider asking the state’s most wealthy residents to contribute more, despite touting rhetoric of "shared sacrifice" to the public.

This is the state of politics in one of the country's most liberal cities and states.

If you were to hear Cuomo or Bloomberg tell it, you would think that there really is no alternative. Public workers must be stripped of their retirements, services that working families rely on must be slashed.

But there is an alternative, and it is one that Bloomberg championed himself nearly eight years ago. In 2003, faced with ugly budget deficits at the state and city level, Bloomberg worked with Republican and Democratic state lawmakers to raise revenue and keep essential services. The deal included a three-year income tax increase on high-income earners in the city and across the state.

The mayor called the tax increases “painful” but added that they were 'the right thing to do.'

Bloomberg said of the tax increase, 'The alternative would be to implement our contingency plan, which would force 10,000 additional layoffs, would really destroy the safety of the city, would have terrible impacts on the less fortunate and would be very damaging to our educational system.'

Ten years later, city and state budgets are once again in tatters, a result of the worst recession since World War II. Just as they would have done in 2003, budget cuts in 2011 would have terrible impacts on working families and the less fortunate. But this year Bloomberg has ruled out tax increases on the wealthy, even though high-income earners are doing better than ever.

And Governor Cuomo, far from calling for the wealthy to share the burden, is actually advocating a tax break for the wealthy. That would mean $2 billion less for education, for preventing homelessness, for job creation.

Bloomberg and Cuomo have defended their stance with a popular myth: raising taxes on the wealthy would lead them to move out of the state. This is flatly untrue. A study of the city's tax increases of 2003 found that those making over $250,000 were the least likely to leave the city.

There is no proof or evidence to suggest that the wealthy would move, and I find it hard to believe that the mayor and governor are unaware of this. But truth should not be confused with politics.

It's time that we tax fairly and cut wisely, not let millionaire's off the hook while cutting services for our children, seniors, and hardworking families. A majority of New Yorkers oppose rolling back taxes on high-income earners.

Instead, Bloomberg and Cuomo are feeding into a narrative that government spending caused our current budget problems, never mind the Wall Street-fueled recession and long-term unemployment. Unfortunately, this is a narrative that will do little to improve the lives of working families, the middle class, and the aspiring middle class. These families are going to have to find a way to get to work after their bus line is cut, to find a way to care for their elderly family members once senior centers are shuttered, and deal with encroaching homelessness, all on their own.

And for these families to take on these challenges while high-income earners get a tax cut, that is not just, it is not right, and it is not fair. This isn't the democracy that New Yorkers deserve.

]]> Tue, 08 Feb 2011 16:05:10 -0500
The Big Picture on Workers' Rights By Amy Traub Remarks at the Urban Justice Center Human Rights Luncheon, February 3 2011

You don’t have to work at a think tank to realize that these are dark days for working people. To begin with, millions of Americans aren’t working. Despite recent economic growth, we still have more than four job seekers for every available job in this country.

Times are also tough for people who have jobs. Not for everyone: pay on Wall Street broke records last year. Corporate profits are up, but wages for the typical household are flat after you factor in inflation. Some observers actually expect wages to begin falling in 2011 under pressure from all those unemployed workers who are now desperate and willing to work for a lot less.

Clearly the nation’s deep recession has a lot to do with this grim picture. But many of you are organizers in low-income communities, and you remember that the situation for working people was pretty bad even when times were supposedly good. During the last period of strong economic growth which ended in 2007, median wages barely budged. Working age households never made up for the income they lost in the last recession. The impact of the income loss was blunted, for many families, by rising home values and opportunities to borrow. But now the bill for that has come due, and families are really feeling how far behind they have fallen.

So far, I’ve talked about outcomes for working people. But we’re here today to discuss rights for working people. There’s a strong connection. When people have their rights in the workplace enforced and recognized, economic growth means broad prosperity. A rising tide lifts all boats, the way it did in the decades that followed World War II. Working people get a fair share of the growth they helped create.

]]> Labor Fri, 04 Feb 2011 11:24:28 -0500
Cuomo Budget Cuts MTA Operating Funds, Puts a Bandage on Capital Budget By John Petro The MTA will have $200 million less to run its trains and buses this year but will have slightly more money for its capital program, according to Governor Cuomo’s executive budget.

The budget would slash $200 million from the pool of tax dollars used to support the MTA’s operations, called MMTOA funds. The state used a similar budget maneuver last year, taking $140 from the transit authority’s dedicated tax revenue. That move resulted in the worst service cuts in memory along with a 17 percent fare hike for 30-day Metrocards.

Transit advocates hope that this year’s cut to the MTA’s operating budget won’t have the same effect. Gene Russianoff of the Straphanger’s Campaign has stated that MTA officials have assured him that there won’t be any service cuts or fare hikes this year. However, there are ways of reducing service without calling it a “service cut,” including less frequent cleanings or allowing bus runs to go unfilled if a driver calls out sick, that the MTA may need to employ.

What Cuomo’s budget takes away with one hand, however, it gives with another. The budget would put an additional $100 million into the MTA’s capital budget—the money used for new rail cars and buses, track and station maintenance, and expansion projects. This money isn’t nearly enough to begin addressing the almost $10 billion hole in the transit authority’s capital budget over the next three years. The $100 million included in the Cuomo budget would be repurposed from economic development funds, a good move since investments in mass transit are generally effective at spurring economic development.

Additionally, the budget raises the possibility of $194 million for the capital budget from 2005 Bond Act funds. It is unclear whether this constitutes new transit funding.

Essentially, Cuomo’s budget transfers money from the operating to the capital budget. Of the $200 million being cut from the operating budget, $165 million will be used to pay down the state’s past borrowing on transportation bonds. The remaining $35 million will go to the state’s general fund.

While it is essential that the governor and legislature find ways to fully fund the MTA’s capital program, which has a nearly $10 billion hole, taking critical funds used to maintain good service is not appropriate. Nor is $100 million, or even $294 million if the Bond Act funds are included, enough to begin plugging the capital budget hole.

The governor has repeatedly insisted that he would not raise taxes or implement new taxes. But without a new source of revenue for the capital program, there will be more pressure placed on the MTA’s operating budget. The MTA can trim its costs only so much before more service cuts or fare hikes are on the way. Some of these service cuts will only be slightly perceptible—dirtier train cars and stations, abandoned bus runs. If this trend of cutting operating funds continues, more severe service cuts will need to be considered.

Cuts like these will make it nearly impossible for the MTA to improve service and to update the region’s mass transit system for the 21st century.

]]> Tue, 01 Feb 2011 11:44:46 -0500
New Lawmakers Get To Work on Anti-Immigrant Agenda By afton branche In legislative houses across the country, newly-elected lawmakers are getting down to the business of fulfilling their campaign promises. Those elected vowing to crackdown on immigration have proposed various restrictionist and enforcement-oriented policies, which seem poised to satisfy voters rather than solve actual problems.

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry proclaimed that eliminating so-called “sanctuary cities” was an emergency item for the State Legislature. Generally, the term refers to city policies which affirm the separation between local law enforcement and immigration issues; cities with these laws on the books don’t waste local resources targeting immigrants for status checks. Perry campaigned on ending the practice in Texas, but it’s not clear that it existed in the first place. When asked by reporters to name a few “sanctuary” cities the legislature should target, Perry couldn’t name one. As Texas faces a budget shortfall as high as $27 billion, it’s scary that the governor has identified this imagined problem as a top legislative priority.

Not to be outdone, noted anti-immigration activist and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was elected this year after pledging to end voter fraud committed by undocumented immigrants and felons. Kobach cites a whopping 80 recorded cases of fraud in a decade, but he claims, of course, that there are many more unreported cases. Yet the Kansas City Star points out: “The facts of the 80 cases often show they are hardly nefarious and very, very rarely involve illegal aliens. Most importantly, they are pursued under existing law.” To solve this pressing non-issue, the Secretary wants to force voters to bring photo ID to the polls, and generously proposes to provide free IDs or birth certificates to poor Kansans, an improbable suggestion given the state’s $500 million budget gap.

In Perry and Kobach’s immigration measures, we see elected officials pledging to tackle issues that hardly seem like top priorities for states struggling with economic recovery. Moreover, research shows that restrictive immigration laws come with high price tags for cities and states. According to a Center for American Progress report released this week, local anti-immigrant ordinances cost cities and towns millions in legal fees and lost revenues. In Arizona, CAP found that the economic boycott of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 will add up to $253 million over the next few years. In legal fees alone, Arizona spent more than $1 million. It’s baffling, then, that in recent months state legislators in Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and elsewhere have passed or considered policies inspired by Arizona’s infamous law. Jumping on the anti-immigrant bandwagon may appeal to some voters, but it certainly doesn’t come cheap.

As elected and re-elected officials confront widespread fiscal challenges, they should realize that their immigrant constituents, including undocumented immigrants, are economic assets. They pay taxes, support local retail and grocery stores, open small business and otherwise generate significant economic activity. Perhaps now that campaign season is over, politicians can stop looking tough for base voters and see the shared interest in maximizing immigrants’ contributions to local economies. Ending the crusade to target immigrants through expensive and irrational state policies would be a good start.

]]> Economy Fri, 28 Jan 2011 17:23:41 -0500
Cutting the Campaign Cash: New York's Best Chance for Reform By Amy Traub Cutting public pensions won’t improve the lives of ordinary New Yorkers. Giving tax breaks to the state’s highest income residents won’t benefit most of us either. But at least one reform promoted by Governor Andrew Cuomo has the potential to truly transform New York’s politics, putting people, rather than corporate interests, in control of the political process. Publicly-funded, voter-owned elections represent our best chance to genuinely clean up Albany and assert democratic values in the face of special interests. And while shifting the balance of power is always an uphill fight, the governor’s support combined with strong voter approval for public financing of elections make this the year that New York may finally take back its political system.

That’s why, on the one-year anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allowed corporate interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections, a coalition spearheaded by the grassroots group Citizen Action joined members of the State Assembly in calling for publicly-financed elections in New York.

At first glance, campaign finance reform looks like a good government issue remote from the day-to-day concerns of New Yorkers facing tough times. But at a time when the top 1 percent of New Yorkers rake in 35 percent of the income and Wall Street bankers making bigger bonuses insist they’re still “not satisfied” with their payouts, reasserting ordinary citizens’ control over politicians and the policy they make is more important than ever. Whether it’s rent that’s too damn high, drilling that threatens our drinking water, or transit riders forced to pay more for less service, we need the voices of voters, not big money, calling the shots.

]]> Democracy Wed, 26 Jan 2011 10:10:41 -0500
A Day to Be Proud of Mayor Bloomberg By John Petro Here on DMIBlog, we're not exactly shy about being critical of Mayor Bloomberg. So it feels good at those times when we can be proud of our mayor for taking on an issue that advances social justice. Yesterday was such a day, when Mayor Bloomberg appeared with DMI board member Martin Luther King, III and the families of victims of gun violence to call for a comprehensive national background check system for the purchase of guns.

Beginning with the startling statistic that 34 Americans are killed by gun violence every day, Bloomberg called on the members of Congress to fix the "broken" background check system. On the CBS evening news, Bloomberg told Katie Couric, "We allow people to buy guns that we won't allow to get on an airplane." Many states have not contributed the names of the mentally ill to the national background check database. At the same time, Congress has under-funded the system, appropriating only five percent of the funds necessary to collect and enter the data, according to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg went on to call for the closing of the gun control loopholes that allow individuals to purchase guns at gun shows without passing a background check.

Maritn Luther King, III reaffirmed the mayor's statements, calling on Congress to "finally deliver on the long unfilled promise to make sure that every gun-buyer passes a background check. It is unconscionable to do anything less."

So, today we can be proud of Mayor Bloomberg for taking a politically difficult stance on gun control and for standing up for social justice.

]]> Urban Affairs Tue, 25 Jan 2011 12:16:15 -0500
State of the City: Bloomberg Failing Ordinary New Yorkers, More Families in Poverty, in Shelters, and on Food Stamps By John Petro Mayor Bloomberg's third term began badly for middle class New Yorkers. Twelve thousand families fell into poverty over the past year, a four percent increase. The number of food stamp recipients in the city is up by 15 percent, and the number of families staying in homeless shelters is up 13 percent over a year ago.

John Petro, urban policy analyst at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, said, "Too many New Yorkers are still unemployed, and for those that have full-time jobs, one-in-three make less than $29,000 a year. These New Yorkers might be able to hail a cab in the outer boroughs now, but they won’t be able to afford the fare.”

For middle class families, the economic outlook is dim:
• 356,000 New Yorkers are still unemployed.
• Nearly one-in-four families have incomes less than $25,000 a year.
• Even among those working full time, 30% have earnings below $30,000.

“Mayor Bloomberg boasts of economic recovery in New York City, but clearly he doesn’t understand the tremendous challenges that ordinary New Yorkers are facing. Too many of the city’s new jobs are low-paying jobs, and the cost of living in the city is only going up.”

On immigration and infrastructure investments, the mayor had the right message. But more needs to be done to help working families that can no longer get by with poverty-level wages.

"The mayor should reconsider his stance on living wage legislation currently in City Hall. This law would begin to boost wages for low-income New Yorkers, which would stimulate the economy."

The mayor also refused to raise taxes on the city's wealthiest one percent of New Yorkers who now take home 44 percent of all income earned in the city.

]]> Wed, 19 Jan 2011 14:03:02 -0500
Wal-Mart's PR Buzz Kill: Wal-Mart Kills Jobs By John Petro Wal-Mart launched a new public relations campaign on Monday to build support for a New York City store, including radio and print ads, direct mailers, and a new city-specific website. The effort is the work of Mayor Bloomberg’s former campaign manager, Bradley Tusk, who was hired by Wal-Mart last November.

But Tusk’s job just got a lot tougher. New York City Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio released a report yesterday that concludes that Wal-Mart destroys more jobs than it creates. For every job at a new Wal-Mart store, 1.4 retail jobs are lost in the surrounding community.

Facts like these can make things difficult for Wal-Mart, which often argues that the jobs they create are more important than the low wages they pay. In any case, you see no mention of job creation on Wal-Mart’s New York City website. On the other hand, you will find no less than six statements of support from Bloomberg spokesperson Andrew Brent.

Wal-Mart stores destroy jobs, increase poverty, and push down wages in the community. When you add in their dismal record of labor law compliance and the largest sexual discrimination lawsuit in US history, it’s surprising that even Mayor Bloomberg would go out of the way to express his support.

]]> Urban Affairs Thu, 13 Jan 2011 14:57:39 -0500
New Study Uncovers Wage Theft and Workplace Abuse in the Garden State By afton branche For day laborers, finding work too often means accepting less than minimum wage, forgoing safety equipment, or enduring abuse by crooked employers. A new study by the Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice highlights the harsh realities for these workers in the New Jersey day labor market, finding evidence of wage theft and other workplace violations. The authors surveyed over 113 workers at seven pick-up sites throughout the state.

The study shows just how flagrant worker exploitation in the informal economy has become: Nearly one in four workers reported being injured or assaulted on the job, and nearly 35 percent were abandoned by employers at a worksite. Around half of all workers were underpaid or not paid at all, while the overwhelming majority—94 percent—never received overtime pay.

Instead of lining unscrupulous employers’ pockets, these lost wages could have been spent in local businesses or otherwise supporting the regional economy. And as we’ve pointed out before, when employees don’t receive their fair share of wages, city and state budgets lose thousands in income and sales tax revenue. Wage theft also hurts law-abiding employers, as they find it more difficult to compete against competitors who steal from their employees to make larger profits.

What are stakeholders doing to end these abuses? According to the study, there is power in community organizing and immigrant advocacy. It finds that survey communities with strong local advocacy groups had the lowest rates of wage theft and among the lowest rates of workplace injury and assault; on the other hand, localities with no worker advocacy infrastructure had the highest rates of workplace violations. The majority of day laborers are undocumented immigrants, a group that is highly vulnerable to workplace abuses; many are afraid to speak up to authorities due to fears of retaliation. Indeed, the Seton Hall report found that 26 percent of workers said employers had threatened to report them to immigration if they complained. By educating day laborers about their rights and connecting them to employers who do follow the rules, community based-organizations help combat illegal working conditions in a very real way.

But they can’t do it alone. One professor who directed the survey explains: “These workers are being robbed, injured and beaten with impunity because of weak, underenforced and antiquated labor laws. What we really need now is to muster the political will to address this.” Municipal and state government agencies must do their part to revise and strengthen existing statutes against wage theft. The report recommends several fixes for New Jersey’s ineffective Wage Theft Statute, including a measure making it harder to misclassify employees as independent contractors that are ineligible for wage and hour protections.

For model legislation, New Jersey should look no further than, signed into law last month. Backed by community groups and lawmakers alike, the Wage Theft Prevention Act is a major step toward protecting the employment and labor standards that day laborers and thousands of other low-wage workers rely on.

The measure raises the stakes for employers who break wage and hour laws by creating higher penalties for wage theft, giving authorities new tools to ensure employers will pay fines, and encouraging workers to come forward.

The status quo favors no one but the greedy employers who profit from breaking the law and abusing their workers. This year, New Jersey labor advocates and elected officials should make fighting wage theft and enforcing workplace violations in the low-wage market a top priority, not only to help low-wage workers get their due, but also to support broader economic recovery.

]]> Employment Tue, 11 Jan 2011 12:28:03 -0500
Who Said It: Andrew Cuomo or John Boehner? By Amy Traub Public spending is the number one problem. Taxes are too high. And we've got to eliminate regulation. It sounds a lot like the rhetoric of the House's new Republican majority, the folks who strenuously expressed their concern over deficits, then pushed to extend the deficit-ballooning Bush tax for the wealthiest Americans (it looks like infrastructure investment and college aid to low-income students will be on the chopping block instead.) But this post isn't about Tea Party Republicans from South Carolina and Kentucky: it's about New York's newly inaugurated Democratic Governor, who made essentially the same arguments in his State of the State address on Wednesday.

New York, like other states hit by nation's massive recession, has faced a steep drop off in tax revenue even as the need for unemployment benefits and other fundamentals of the public safety net has increased costs. The result is a budget shortfall.

Governor Cuomo's answer? Cut income taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers, effectively giving a state-sponsored raise to individuals who already rake in more than $200,000 a year. Even the New York Post admits that the move will push the state billions of dollars further into the red, but it's a price we'll have to pay, Cuomo insists because: "The working families of New York cannot afford tax increases." After all, the multimillionaires who make New York the most unequal place in the nation should be thought of as workers too -- and the top 5% of earners who now bring home about half the income in the state just can't afford to chip in more.

But low-income New Yorkers who rely on the state for medical treatment apparently have resources to spare. They must brace for billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid funding. While the state's record number of millionaires count as "working families," families that depend on Medicaid have become "special interests."

]]> New York Fri, 07 Jan 2011 10:08:16 -0500
A New Year and a New Fare, But MTA Budget the Same Old Mess By John Petro The 30-day Metrocard went up by $15 on January 1st, and transit riders are wondering why, after last year's elimination of two subway lines and dozens of bus lines, they are being asked to pay more for less service.

On top of $104 Metrocards, there's even more bad news for transit riders: the MTA is projecting that it will be $207 million in the hole by the end of 2012 despite the fare increase. And then there's the $9 billion gap in the MTA's capital budget, which is for new trains and buses, fixing tracks, and system expansions. The State of New York has no plan to fill this gap.

So why is it that even after the third year of fare increases the MTA is still in the same old budget mess? Unfortunately, there are no easy or simple answers.

The MTA collected $150 million more in fare revenue in 2010 than it did in 2009, but this increase isn't enough to offset falling revenue from dedicated taxes and rising expenses. Many of the taxes used to support mass transit services--including real estate-related taxes--have dropped significantly since the Great Recession. The mass transit system received $600 million less in dedicated tax revenue in 2009 than it did in 2007. Only the payroll mobility tax, passed by the state legislature in 2009 and the target of much criticism, saved the MTA from financial collapse in 2010. Without that revenue, the MTA would have been $1.6 billion in the hole in 2010.

As for expenses, it cost $2.1 billion more to run the mass transit system in 2010 than it did in 2005 including inflation--that's a 23 percent increase over 2005 levels. While many are quick to say that labor costs are the culprit, the reality is that other costs are rising much more quickly. Labor costs have increased 16 percent since 2005, but non-labor costs have increased at twice that rate. Particularly troublesome for the MTA is the cost of past borrowing, the payments for which have increased by 54 percent since 2005.

Of course, labor costs make up the largest percentage of the MTA's overall budget, so increases in these costs have a significant impact on the MTA's bottom line. But the fact of the matter remains: non-labor costs have increased more quickly than labor costs in both percentage and dollar terms.

Even pension costs, a target of conservative scorn and anger, have risen more slowly than the cost of the MTA's ever-growing debt. And much of the rise in pension costs can be attributed to the lackluster performance of the pension fund's investments.

Taken together this means that the MTA, which had a surplus of a half billion dollars in 2005, will be lucky to scrape by with eight million in the bank by the end of the year. This is a very slim margin of error for a mass transit system that provides eight million rides a day.

So what can be done? On the expenses side, MTA chief Jay Walder has already made tremendous progress identifying cost-savings. In 2010, the MTA took measures that will save the authority $525 million a year, including cutting administrative positions and renegotiating contracts with suppliers. The MTA's latest budget identified $75 million in new savings for this year which will grow to $200 million by 2014. Governor Cuomo is lucky to inherit such a competent manager at the MTA and should keep him at his post. However, Cuomo has remained nearly silent on MTA-related issues, including whether or not he intends to keep Walder on the job.

As for the MTA's fastest-growing expense, payments on past borrowing, the answer begins with the MTA's capital budget. This is where the money for new train cars, buses, track and station repair, and system expansions comes from. As I mentioned earlier, there is currently a $9 billion hole in the MTA's capital budget. The responsibility of funding the capital program falls directly on the state legislature, the governor, and the City of New York. Unfortunately, for the past twenty years or so, the state has relied on costly borrowing to fund the capital budget. This borrowing has led to higher and higher debt costs, which are paid out of the operating budget.

So because the city and state have not funded the mass transit system's capital needs in a responsible manner, about forty cents of every dollar collected in fares is used to pay down the debt. If the state doesn't find a way to fill the $9 billion gap in the capital budget, one of two things will happen: either necessary repairs will not be made, putting the safety and reliability of the mass transit system in danger, or the MTA will be forced to borrow this money, forcing even steeper fare hikes and more severe service cuts.

But if transit riders are hoping that state lawmakers will come to their aid might want to reevaluate their chances. Last year the state legislature even went so far as to take $140 million from the MTA's dedicated pot of state funds. And Governor Cuomo, when asked if he would allow the same to happen again this year, said that transit funds were "fungible."

The governor has even refused to support congestion pricing, saying that he would not look to new revenue for the MTA this year.

But with no new funds coming, transit riders are going to be the ones that suffer. That's too bad, because fully funding the MTA's capital budget would not only prevent exorbitant fare hikes and service cuts (there is another hike scheduled for 2013), but would also create jobs in the moribund construction sector. The New York Building Congress reported last October that it is forecasting a rebound in 2012, but only if the MTA's capital budget is fully funded. "According to our estimates, more than 18,000 construction jobs would disappear from the 2012 forecast if the MTA is only able to maintain capital spending at 2011 levels, rather than fully funding its current five-year plan," the Building Congress noted.

A lot has to happen to protect transit riders from the prospect of a deteriorating transit system--one that they would have to pay a lot more for using. Much is dependent on whether state lawmakers take the appropriate action. They should start by vowing to leave dedicated transit funds for their intended purpose. They should then find a way to fully fund the MTA's capital program. Congestion pricing, perhaps?

]]> Urban Affairs Thu, 06 Jan 2011 14:47:43 -0500
Worst City Policies of 2010 By Amy Traub John Petro contributed to this post.

Corruption Takes a Toll in Bell
Progressives know government can be a powerful force for good in people's lives. So it's particularly devastating when the people charged with upholding the public trust -- local officials with the potential to improve the lives of their constituents -- instead betray the public. The year's most notorious case of municipal corruption occurred in the town of Bell, California, a working-class community outside of Los Angeles. The city's highest ranking officials secretly paid themselves exorbitant salaries and benefits, misappropriated city funds, and gave themselves illicit low-interest loans, according to criminal allegations and reports by the Los Angeles Times. To add insult to injury, the Bell case provided the Right with a pretext to attack the wages and benefits of rank-and-file public workers, suggesting that teachers and sanitation workers (who wouldn't see Bell-style compensation if they worked for a century) were similarly compromised. For destroying public trust and providing yet another revolting example of people at the top abusing their power, the corrupt practices of Bell officials rings out as one of the worst policies of 2010.

Blood from a Stone in New York
It might be enough make Ebenezer Scrooge squirm. In New York City the homeless population has grown to 36,600, up from 33,600 five years ago. At the same time the, city has cut services for the homeless and plans to further reduce funding for the Department of Homeless Services by $19 million over the next 18 months. But when the city announced its plan to charge working homeless families rent for sleeping in city shelters the public outcry was instantaneous. City officials insisted the program was an effort to instill greater responsibility in homeless families. But as one homeless advocate pointed out, "They are taking money... that could otherwise be used to help themselves get out of the shelter system. We're dealing with the poorest people, the people who are the most in need, and we're asking them to pay for a shelter of last resort." Under intense pressure, the city has since changed its stance. Working homeless families are now encouraged to put part of their income into savings. But for attempting to place an even more onerous burden on the poorest of the working poor, New York City's plan to charge homeless families rent finds a home among the worst policies of 2010.

Who Turned Out the Lights in Colorado Springs?
Smacked by the recession, many cities faced revenue shortfalls and tough budget choices in 2010. But few towns resorted the type of draconian service cutbacks seen in Colorado Springs, where residents voted against a property tax increase and the town instead opted to turn off streetlights (although residents who can afford to could choose to reactive their lights); shrink the police department any rely on private taxicabs to help with law enforcement; and leave neighborhood parks to wither (people with time and resources can volunteer to maintain their own local green spaces). "We did have a transit system," the Vice-Mayor told NPR. "That's gone almost completely now." Many commentators denounced Colorado Springs as an object lesson in the consequences of anti-tax extremism, but the city's small-government stance hides an inconvenient truth: a major source of Colorado Springs' economic strength is its reliance on the military and other state and federal public employment to anchor the local labor market. For gutting public services in accordance with a narrow, me-first ideology, Colorado Springs' cuts join our list of the worst policies of 2010.

Anti-Immigrant Fever in Fremont
In January, Kris Kobach will become Kansas' new Secretary of State, but his destructive influence already extends far beyond the borders of the Sunflower State. For the last several years, Kobach has made a cottage industry of advancing harsh city and state anti-immigrant statutes characterized by high municipal costs, significant damage to the local economy, and tremendous potential for discrimination against anyone who "looks" like they might be an unauthorized immigrant. This year, a Kobach-written ordinance was enacted in the town of Fremont, Nebraska, which banned hiring or renting to unauthorized immigrants. Although implementation has been blocked by a lawsuit, the ordinance's divisive impact is already being felt. Many of the city's long-time officials are resigning or retiring, noting that the immigration fight "wears you down." Taxpayers also feel the bite: the town raised property taxes in anticipation of an expensive legal battle. For exemplifying what one local attorney called "the power of fear" as it faced an increase in (predominantly legal) Latino residents, Fremont's anti-immigrant ordinance is one of the worst of 2010.

Wal-Mart's Broken Promises in Chicago
It's no secret that mega-retailer Wal-Mart desperately wants to get a foothold in urban markets. Similarly well-known is Wal-Mart's dismal record on workers' rights and its devastating impact on small businesses. New Wal-Mart stores have been shown to destroy nearly as many jobs as they create, push other stores out of business, and to drive down wages for workers throughout the entire community. In Chicago, where the retail chain has ambitions to open "several dozen" stores, Wal-Mart's strategy included buying off community leaders with charitable donations and splitting union solidarity by pitting construction unions versus retail unions. But most shamefully, Wal-Mart reneged on an agreement it had made with the unions and city leaders that helped secure City Council approval of its second Chicago store. City Aldermen and labor leaders thought they had an unwritten agreement with Wal-Mart to pay workers 50 cents above minimum wage and to give workers a minimum 40 cent raise after the first year. They thought wrong. The same day that the store was approved, Wal-Mart announced that there was, in fact, no wage deal. To Wal-Mart, for breaking a promise, and to the political leaders who failed to get a binding deal, the approval of Wal-Mart in Chicago is one of this year's worst city policies.

]]> Cities Wed, 22 Dec 2010 10:10:40 -0500
Best City Policies of 2010 By Amy Traub John Petro contributed to this post.

Denver Sparks Parental Involvement En Espanol
The experts agree: parental involvement has strong positive effects on students' achievement in school. When parents are engaged with their child's education, attendance improves, grades and test scores go up, and graduation rates rise. But how can school districts involve parents who don't speak English? In Denver, where three in five students are Latino and many have parents with poor English skills, the school system has taken to the radio waves. Through an hour-long weekly program called "Educa" (educate) the Denver Public Schools connect with Spanish-speaking parents about school policies, events, and issues in public education. Parents can also call in with questions about their children's school and the education system. The first-of-its-kind program broadcasts on three popular Spanish-language radio stations and has more than doubled its audience -- to 54,200 unique listeners -- over just a few months. For engaging immigrant parents in a format that speaks to them, the Denver schools' multicultural outreach efforts come in loud in clear on our list of the best policies of 2010.

Good Jobs Prevail in Pittsburgh
Eager for new development and jobs, cities commonly give developers multi-million dollar tax breaks to sweeten the pot and to get shovels in the ground. But when subsidies are given to projects that create low-wage jobs that keep families in poverty, taxpayers get the short end of the stick. Workers making poverty-level wages at publicly subsidized developments must still rely on public assistance like food stamps, Medicaid, or rental assistance. The result is economic dependence more than economic development. To make sure that taxpayer investments would pay off for city residents, Pittsburgh passed a common-sense piece of legislation: if a developer wanted tax breaks for a new development, workers in the new taxpayer-subsidized hotels, supermarkets, or office buildings must be paid the industry-standard prevailing wage. In an affirmation of the law's successful implementation in Pittsburgh, the surrounding Allegheny County quickly adopted a similar law. For ensuring that public tax dollars create good jobs with decent wages, Pittsburgh's prevailing wage law earns a spot on our list of 2010's best public policies.

Less Lock-up in New York
Treating young offenders like hardened criminals makes no sense -- sending a kid in trouble to a juvenile prison greatly increases that young person's chance of becoming an adult offender. Detaining kids also costs more money than community-based programs, which have a much better track record of preventing future criminality. Luckily, New York City is moving to eliminate unnecessary detention for youthful offenders, many of whom would otherwise be locked up while simply awaiting trial. The city is putting more kids into effective community-based alternatives to detention and reserving secure detention for only the most violent youthful offenders. New assessment tools have been developed to determine which youth should be sent to secure detention and which would be better served in the community. The bottom line is that secure detention for youth is now seen as the option of last resort, rather than the default option. For doing what's best for youth, the community, and the taxpayer, New York City's juvenile justice reforms are among this year's best public policies.

My Way or the Highway in Austin
n Austin, TX, whose frustrating traffic congestion provided the backdrop for the movie "Office Space," drivers waste an average of one and a half days stuck in traffic every year. Some business leaders pushed for a conventional response to congestion: wider roads and more highways. But the city opted to go down a different path. Recognizing that they could never build enough highways to eliminate traffic congestion, lawmakers instead put a $90 million bond issue on the ballot to improve Austin's existing streets and make them more hospitable to pedestrians and bicycles. According to blogger Austin Contrarian, "Most of Austin's roads outside of the central core were laid when the city was more rural than urban. no sidewalks, no bicycle lanes, no sewers, no street trees. But once rural roads now cut through major population centers." Austin voters approved the bonds on November 2nd. For affirming that transportation investments must include more than just new highway miles, Austin's bond walks straight onto our list of the best policies of 2010.

Cleveland Sues the Banks
It's the story of the decade: Ameriquest, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and other banks raked in record profits speculating on mortgages, pushing more and riskier home loans onto borrowers who clearly never had the means to pay them back. Then the house of cards collapsed. Foreclosure rates soared and cities were left to pick up the pieces. Arson, property deterioration, and crime in neighborhoods devastated by foreclosure imposed steep costs on municipalities just as the recession decimated their tax base. So some cities decided to fight back. The 2010 documentary "Cleveland vs. Wall Street" tells the story of one such fight, as the city of Cleveland sued more than twenty major banks for setting off a chain of events with negative consequences "entirely foreseeable by Wall Street." When a federal appeals court rejected the case earlier this year, Cleveland announced it would continue its fight to the Supreme Court. For striving to hold Wall Street accountable for the devastation it wreaked in its neighborhoods, Cleveland's suit wins a place on our best policy of 2010 list.

]]> Cities Mon, 20 Dec 2010 14:04:54 -0500