BY JOE MARVILLI
With a new legislative session comes a new budget and new policies the Independent Democratic Conference would like to see go into effect.
On Jan. 19, the IDC launched its 2015 policy agenda, “Invest New York,” outlining 15 key investments that would positively impact New Yorkers from all corners of the State and City.
“We’re trying to come up with a comprehensive program that meets the needs of many New Yorkers,” State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said.
Avella is also at the forefront of another IDC proposal, which would allow workers to claim a weekly benefit equal to half their weekly wage to care for a new child or a sick loved one. They would be able to do this for up to six weeks per year. The Queens senator’s bill would allow workers to use accrued sick time benefits to take care of ill members of their family.
The IDC’s senior support package would give seniors a refundable tax credit equal to 50 percent of out-of-pocket utility expenses, up from seven percent. The package also contains Avella’s push for a 10 percent discount on seniors’ DMV transactions.
There are also incentives to encourage middle-class housing developments, through enhanced funding for Mitchell-Lama and a Middle Income Housing Tax Credit, which gives tax credits to developers who build middle class housing.
“There are neighborhoods throughout the City and throughout the State that are crying out for middle class housing,” Avella said.
On top of that, the IDC is working to get middle class homeowners to invest in their property, with a green homes tax credit. Residents would get some tax relief for retrofitting or green development on their homes.
“This is something we obviously have to move with greater speed. We have to give incentives to people for solar energy or water heaters. It’s savings in the long run,” Avella said. “People want to invest in their own homes, but they need a little incentive.”
Similarly, the IDC agenda includes a sustainable communities program. This $150 million fund would provide matching grants for smart-growth investments that create neighborhoods that are pedestrian-focused, with environmentally-friendly construction. It would also revitalize waterfront property.
“Invest New York” is also looking at affordable housing, specifically the revitalization of the New York City Housing Authority. This three-point plan would put $500 million in a Public Housing Revitalization Fund for repairs and upgrades, restore $12 million in State operating subsidies for NYCHA and redevelop underused NYCHA land for affordable housing and mixed use. Legislation by Avella would give preference to disabled veterans for a public housing unit as well.
“Part of the problem has been the lack of funding for NYCHA. Eliminating the deficit we had, that’s very important,” Avella said. “Obviously, management is another issue, but first they have to have the money for the programs. We have to take care of the affordable housing we have now.”
The IDC plans to set up a School Construction Trust Fund as well, dedicating a $400 million revenue stream for school improvements and expansions. The fund would help alleviate overcrowding in the downstate regions, including New York City.
Avella said that the money will get the ball rolling for new schools once a site is found, although he criticized the School Construction Authority for its lackluster engagement with the residents most impacted.
“One of the criticisms I’ve always had about the SCA is they never reach out to the community to find locations. If there was more cooperation, we’d [be able to find locations],” he said. “It’s helpful to provide money for them when they do find the site.”
The IDC aims to give cities and counties the power to set their own minimum wage, up to 30 percent higher than the State’s.
Other portions of the agenda include an agricultural resurgency program, increases in child care credits and subsidies, a tax credit for school donations, student loan debt relief and increased housing for vulnerable populations, such as those with disabilities.
While Avella said that the IDC’s “Invest New York” plan was well-received, he did also acknowledge that there are “competing interests” from the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the State Senate, as well as the State Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“It’s a matter of sitting down and discussing what to do. Hopefully, we can get a majority of it in the budget,” he said.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joe Marvilli.