2017-04-19 / Political Page

Schumer: Get Repairs Back On Track

On the heels of yet another train derailment impacting the commutes of countless New York City-area transit riders, US Senator Charles E. Schumer is making a new push to prioritize investing in our rail systems before derailments and “maddening delays” happen more often than not. Schumer said that Amtrak is facing an over $28 billion state-of-good repair backlog, which could have contributed to the maintenance issues that caused the derailments over the past two weeks. In addition, other regional transit systems, including the MTA and NJT, also have serious maintenance backlogs. Schumer attributed the widespread issues plaguing the Northeast Corridor to a lack of funding, and called for a major increase in rail and transit maintenance funding to help address the issue.

“Maddening delays for rail commuters across the region, from Long Island to New Jersey, have exposed the repair backlog like never before,” said Schumer. “Even the smallest of maintenance issues, if left unchecked, can become the reason for the next big delay, or worse, disaster. For far too long, Amtrak has been tremendously undercapitalized to the point that they now have an over $28 billion State-of-Good-Repair backlog. In addition, transit systems across the region lack the necessary funding to make much needed repairs. So, simply put, no matter how hard Amtrak, or other rail systems, work to prioritize safety, because of a lack of funding, some projects and improvements are just not getting done.”

Schumer said that a plan to make these investments exists but has not made any traction yet in Congress. Specifically, Schumer highlighted his infrastructure blueprint, which called for a major investment of over $180 billion over the next 10 years to repair aging rail and transit systems, and specifically $5 billion a year to Amtrak, which would help alleviate delays. Schumer said making rail and transit improvements should be a major priority in any federal infrastructure legislation. In addition, Schumer said just providing basic increases to Amtrak’s capital account in the annual appropriations process would be a major lift to helping address some of these issues. Schumer said that if Republicans don’t pass that infrastructure bill we will need more immediate increases in capital funding for Amtrak to address the state of good repair backlog. Schumer, in an April 10 statement, vowed to make rail safety a top priority before another derailment inevitably occurs.

Schumer added, “We learned this lesson in New York in the 1970s when we systematically disinvested in the MTA and the system broke down. We had delays, derailments, dirty trains, ridership fell to historic lows. But when we made the change and invested in the system, ridership went through the roof and maintenance vastly improved. When you delay maintenance, it only leads to disaster.”

Over the past two weeks, there have been two derailments at Penn Station. On April 3, a New Jersey Transit train derailed, resulting in the closure of 8 tracks at Penn Station and delays for Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road commuters. The derailment was caused by equipment issues related to the rail tie and switch system, a maintenance problem Amtrak knew needed fixing, but had failed to immediately address. On March 24, an Acela train derailed as a result of a weakening of timber ties beneath the tracks that caused the rails to widen.

The lack of adequate investment in Amtrak has led to an over $28 billion state-of-good-repair backlog and has led to a situation where Amtrak is currently operating on some bridges built between 1890-1910, tunnels built between 1900-1910 and signaling systems dating back to 1930. This outdated system can only be addressed through a robust series of major federal investments in rail infrastructure. Such an investment would not only create jobs but also help to keep the Northeast corridor growing, Schumer maintained.

Schumer said maintenance issues are also made worse by a lack of redundant capacity (or alternate tracks) in and out of Penn Station. This means that when issues like those that occurred in the last two weeks do happen, the delays can last for days because there is only one way in and out of Penn Station. Schumer said increasing capacity into Penn Station is a major focus of the Gateway Program, and that successfully completing the Gateway project is the key to ensuring that small problems don’t become massive headaches, like they did this week.

In the Northeast alone, each day 750,000 people travel on rail systems from Washington, DC to Boston, contributing $50 billion to our national economy. The Northeast Corridor consists of 8 commuter railroad systems (including Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Rail Road and New Jersey Transit), and 4 freight railroad systems that carry shale oil, coal, and other goods to and from ports. Overall, the corridor includes a total of 2,000 daily trains. In its current state, service disruptions on the Northeast Corridor alone cost the national economy over $500 million per year and a loss of transit service on the Corridor for a single day would cost the US $100 million, Schumer emphasized.

Explaining the backlog, Schumer quoted from an infrastructure report card that explains that “…while safe to operate, much of the Northeast Corridors’ infrastructure is beyond its useful life [span], increasing maintenance costs and reducing system reliability. The average age of major NEC backlog projects is 111 years old, including 10 moveable bridges, three sets of tunnels, and one viaduct. Upgrades and repairs to basic infrastructure items like signals, power systems, and tracks, as well as service improvement projects to add capacity, are needed to meet growth in the northeastern economy and related travel demand.” Schumer explained how neglecting even the simplest of repairs to signals, tracks and rail ties are what can lead to the next derailment and maddening delay, as seen this past week.

QUEENS GOP MAYORAL POLL FAVORS MASSEY: According to a mayoral poll conducted by the Queens County Republican Executive Committee regarding two prospective candidates in the 2017 race, Paul Massey fared better than Michael Faulkner among Queens Republicans polled.

Based on the poll of the 18 Assembly districts within the country, of the 15 districts responding, the tally of mayoral preference showed Massey clearly ahead of Faulkner by a 9½ to 2½ margin. The eventual GOP candidate will face Democratic incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio in the November election, assuming the Democrats name de Blasio as the party’s choice in the election.

The Queens GOP party Chair Bob Turner stated, “Based on the Republican enrollment within each Assembly District, the weighted Massey preference would be more pronounced in a primary.”

The party’s district leaders are essential to the petitioning process and prior to a formal vote for an endorsement, the Queens County leadership is encouraging unanimity behind one candidate for New York City, Turner said.

TRUMP SLOWS PACE, TREADS LIGHTLY VS. NK: Fears that President Donald Trump might go bonkers and get the US into a sharp confrontation with North Korea – and God forbid – a real shooting war, it appears Trump is going to do the sensible thing and try to avoid an actual war.

Word out of the White House is that, despite North Korea’s threats to draw the US into a nuclear battle, after a series of embarrassing incidents last weekend, it changed its plans. North Korean leaders were celebrating the country’s 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder, by parading one of its star ballistic missiles through its capital city of Pyongyang. They had also planned to show off some other missiles, but one of them failed after lift-off which may have led their leader, Kim Jong-un to scrap some other portions of the program, which reportedly include development of a hydrogen bomb.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence described the failed missile test as a “provocation.” Trump had issued a threat to interrupt North Korea’s financial flow and the flow of its energy supplies, which are dependent upon US financial aid.

Trump also issued a statement on Sunday that China is helping the US deal with “the North Korean problem.” Reportedly the President has decided to restrain his comments about the North Korean situation, with the objective of not eliciting tougher responses from North Korea. But in reality there may not be any way of softening what emanates from North Korea.

Toning down Trump’s comments regarding North Korea’s responses and reactions might also be a result of learning that China does not have such strict control over North Korea.

STAVISKY’S FREE COLLEGE TUITION PLAN GETS BUDGET OK; URGES DREAM ACT PASSAGE: State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, after years of advocating, was able to secure free tuition for the middle-class to two- and four-year state colleges as part of the 2017-2018 budget.

Stavisky, a former high school teacher, has long been a proponent of greater access to the CUNY and SUNY system. The senator believes income should not determine who gets a college degree and who does not, especially at a time when a degree is essential for success, the Flushing lawmaker declared.

“The Excelsior Scholarship will level the playing field for students looking to further their education. No longer will young people have to decide between a low-wage job or a degree. As an educator,

I know the impact this program will have on New Yorkers. However, while thousands of families will benefit, children whose parents immigrated here illegally are left out. Yet another year goes by without the DREAM Act going from bill to law. I can only hope that the success of the Excelsior Scholarship will ultimately guide my colleagues to passing a fully realized DREAM Act,” Stavisky stated.

The agreed-upon legislation will be phased in over a three-year period, and provides free-tuition to students with a family Adjusted Gross Income equal to or less than $125,000. Students will be expected to enroll in at least 12 credits per semester and earn at least 30 credits each year, maintain a good GPA, remain on track to on-time graduation and agree to live and work within New York State upon graduation.

Stavisky introduced similar legislation in 2014, again in 2017 and has long pushed for free tuition for state schools.

In addition to the Excelsior Scholarship the budget also included:

 The New York State Part-Time scholarship for students attending a SUNY or CUNY school on a part-time basis.

 Enhanced Tuition Awards, similar to the Excelsior program, for eligible students attending private, not-for-profit higher education institutions.

A fully restored Opportunity Program budget.

Additional Maintenance of Effort funds for CUNY and SUNY to cover contract fringe benefits, costs of renting space, etc.

ADDABBO REMARKS ON FY 2018 STATE BUDGET: “I am thankful that after a long series of negotiations, the Governor and legislature have adopted a rather careful spending plan for the 2018 Fiscal Year, which provides services and assistance to the middle class, students, seniors and veterans of our state. We witnessed the problems that occur when an increasing number of non-fiscal policy issues are included in the budget. The budget also extends the Cross Bay Bridge reimbursement for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents, and improves tax relief programs, such as STAR, helping thousands of New Yorkers save money around tax time,” Addabbo said.

VALLONE ANNOUNCES MAJOR SUCCESS OF THIRD PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING CYCLE: Council Member Paul Vallone has announced the record-setting results of his third participatory budgeting cycle. Residents cast 6,214 votes, once again the most of any Council district in Queens, to decide how to spend at least $1,000,000 of Council Member Vallone’s capital funding on projects to improve Northeast Queens.

The winning projects were:

1. P.S. 41 Centennial Electrical Upgrade for School ($500,000 – 2,085 votes) – The 100-yearold school will receive a full electrical upgrade to meet safety standards and support 21st century technology.

2. NYPD Security Cameras ($141,000 – 1,729 votes) – Fund and install four NYPD security cameras in District 19. These security cameras will enhance crime prevention.

3. Bayside High School Student Locker Project ($650,000 – 1,603 votes) – This project will fund the installation of 3,200 new student lockers in the cafeteria and basement corridor, providing a locker for each student.

4. Whitestone Library Technology Upgrade ($100,000 – 1,226 votes) – This project will upgrade the East Flushing Library’s meeting room, which is used for public events and meetings.

As a result of the this year’s success, Vallone also announced that he will be allocating additional capital funding, in order to fully fund this upgrade. The total amount being funded for this year’s participatory budgeting winners is nearly $1.4 million dollars.

“The results clearly show that the district has overwhelmingly embraced the success of the participatory budgeting process. At a time when voter turnout is at a record low, we have created a way to engage our youth and youngest voters as to the power and importance of voting,” said Vallone. “This monumental eight-month task could not have been possible without the continuous dedication of our delegates, community liaisons, volunteers, staff and especially Vito Tautonico, our Director of Constituent Services, who spearheaded the process. I look forward to continuing to grow the process next year.”

“This is a celebration for Bayside and is completely on the heels of the parents and families of P.S. 41, who came together for the community,” said Joseph Ferrara, Principal of P.S. 41. “It speaks volumes on what a community can achieve when they come together.”

PHEFFER AMATO ON EDUCATION BUDGET: ‘BEST IN A VERY LONG TIME’: This past Sunday, April 9, the New York State budget negotiation process was finally completed, when the Assembly, the Senate and the governor came to an agreement on the budget. By the end of Sunday, both houses had passed the 2017-2018 budget and the Governor had affixed his signature.

“There are many great things in this budget, but one of the things I’m proudest of is the investment we made in education. It’s the best in a very, very long time,” said Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato. “I came into politics through work as a school parent, and we’ve struggled under New York’s unfair, convoluted education funding system. But after decades of cuts, rising demand and stagnation of effort, this year’s budget not only fully reinvests in long-overdue funding at both the K-12 and college levels, but it includes bold new initiatives to make education more accessible, affordable and effective for all.”

The 2017-2018 education budget includes:

- The free tuition plan for SUNY and CUNY, so all New Yorkers can access excellent public higher education.

- A $1 billion increase in base education aid, for a total of $25.7 billion.

- A $700 million increase in Foundation Aid, for a total of $17.2 billion.

- $817 million in funding for Pre-K.

- $35 million for after-school programs.

- $25 million for security upgrades to nonpublic schools, community centers and daycare facilities at risk of hate crimes or attacks.

- $300,000 for cyberbullying prevention.

- $25 million for technology projects at nonpublic schools.

- $1.5 million in restorations for the Consortium for Worker Education (CWE), to provide career training and job placement services, as well as $250,000 for an enhanced credentialing program.

- $16.7 million for Early College High School programs, which help at-risk students earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

- $5 million to expand half-day and full-day prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds.

- $2 million for Advance Placement (AP) Test Assistance.

- $2 million for the Master Teachers Program - $400,000 for Excellence in Teaching Awards.

- $103 million in funding for schools for the blind and deaf.

- $20 million for Teacher Resource and Computer Training Centers.

- $1 million to restore funding for adult literacy education.

- $1.2 million for regional community schools and technical centers.

- $5 million to hire STEM teachers and $7 million for costs related to complying with immunization requirements.

For more information contact Josh Hyman at 518-495-1324.

VAN BRAMER ANNOUNCES MUCH NEEDED RESURFACING OF POTHOLD-RIDDEN 21st STREET: City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer and the Department of Design and Construction announced the milling and resurfacing of 21st Street between Broadway and 47th Avenue. The project will begin this week, the week of April 11, and work will start at the intersection of Broadway and 21st Street, making travel safer and smoother along this 20-block stretch of 21st Street. This project is a part of the continuing improvement of transportation infrastructure that Council Member Van Bramer has called for in western Queens, including the nearly $1 million in improvements along Northern Boulevard announced in March to address the high number of pedestrian, cyclist and motorist accidents.

“The resurfacing of this twenty-block stretch along 21st Street in Long Island City will make travel safer and smoother for everyone,” said Van Bramer. “I have called on the Department of Transportation to make these crucial road improvements for years, and I am happy that work is set to begin this week to fix potholes and uneven driving conditions that make travel dangerous for cyclists and motorists. I will monitor this project timeline closely and look forward to cutting the ribbon on this project.”

HEVESI COMMENTS ON STATE BUDGET: Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi issued the following statement on Governor Cuomo’s budget: “I am deeply disappointed that Home Stability Support will not be included in this year’s final enacted state budget. This year was a particularly contentious budget process that not only produced a late budget, but also saw funding for many vital programs held flat or cut.

“That said, I am proud of the remarkable progress our Home Stability Support coalition has made over these months. We earned institutional support in the State Assembly with over 115 of my colleagues, including 30 Republicans, supporting the program. The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in the Senate has, and will continue to push for this program, and we have the support of the mainline Senate Democratic Conference.

“We have elected officials at the municipal, country and federal level that have signed on, as well as leaders in the faith community, advocates and service providers, and housing. This speaks to the conviction, held across our society, that the growing housing crisis must be addressed and the most vulnerable families in this state deserve to receive meaningful, lasting assistance.

“I intend to work with our advocate partners over the coming year to continue to push for Home Stability Support at the state level. We may not have secured HSS in this year’s budget but I am certain that it will ultimately pass in the future and help improve the lives of thousands of New Yorkers.”

CHAIRMAN CROWLEY ON TRUMP’S PLAN TO UNDERMINE HEALTH CARE LAW: House Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley (D–Queens) issued the following statement after the Trump administration signaled its plan to undermine the Affordable Health Care Act by withholding critical Cost Sharing reduction payments that help millions of Americans afford quality health care.

“Rather than improving our country’s health care system, President Trump is bent on destroying it. His most recent threat – to raise premiums for millions of Americans by withholding the law’s Cost Sharing Reduction payments – amounts to nothing more than political blackmail.

“But the health of the American people is far more important than the political games the President is playing. Withholding these payments is a blatant attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act and manufacture a crisis. This is not leadership.

“President Trump has a duty to continue implementing current law, including these payments. He also has a responsibility not to create chaos to coerce Congress into passing the latest Republican bill, which would have stripped access to affordable, quality insurance for millions and imposed a tax on seniors.

“Democrats will not be held hostage by President Trump’s petty partisan games. Instead, we will continue our work to expand affordable and quality health care choices for Americans.”

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