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Grassroots Bulletin

February Newsletter

President Obama Delivers His Second to Last State of the Union            

On January 20, President Obama gave his seventh State of the Union (SOTU) address. He reflected on a number of his administration’s accomplishments and highlighted remaining goals, including an overhaul of corporate tax structure, new cyber security standards, ways to address climate change, and new workforce training objectives.

Throughout the address, the President emphasized a number of progressive priorities that will likely face opposition in the Republican-controlled Congress.  Unlike past years, the President chose to spend the week ahead of his speech traveling around the country and publically laying the groundwork for his SOTU priorities.

Below is a summary of issues of particular interest to Con Edison.

The full text of the President’s speech can be found here.

Cyber Security
On multiple occasions prior to and again during his speech, the President said he would send a number of cybersecurity and data protection proposals to Congress. The President’s proposed Personal Data Notification & Protection Act would require all companies that have a consumer data breach to notify customers who are at risk. It would also criminalize the overseas trade in fraudulent identities.

In addition, the President announced he will urge Congress to pass an updated legislative proposal on threat information-sharing. The White House is taking these steps in an effort to increase information-sharing between companies and the government – filling a void left by Congress failing to enact meaningful legislation in this area. 

Environmental Policy
During his speech, the President referred to climate change as the greatest threat to future generations. He challenged climate skeptics and touted his environmental record. In addition to last year’s proposed limits on carbon emissions from new and existing power generators, on January 15, the Administration announced proposed regulations on methane emissions from natural gas production. The proposal did not cover local distribution companies, mostly due to the sector’s continuing efforts to modernize infrastructure and enhance pipeline safety.

Workforce Training
The President urged Congress to invest in workforce training in order to continue bolstering the economy. To that end, the President called on Congress to do the following:
• Provide two years free community college
• Expand and fund technical training
• Strengthen community college programs

President Obama called on businesses to join Vice President Biden’s initiative to connect community colleges with local employers to train workers in jobs such as coding and robotics. He also urged additional employers to offer educational benefits, paid apprenticeships and to hire veterans.

Tax & Economic Policy
In the lead up to the State of the Union address, the President put forward several proposals designed to help strengthen the middle class.  On the tax front, the President proposed a strategy to simplify the tax code, eliminate several loopholes, and use the savings for targeted investments.  

The President’s plan would do the following:

  • End what is known as the Capital Gains Trust Fund Loophole
  • Raise the total top Capital Gains and Dividends rate to 28 percent
  • Propose a new fee on the largest financial firms
  • Utilize these savings by:
       o Creating a new $500 second earner credit for homes where both spouses work
       o Tripling the Child Care Tax Credit
       o Providing students up to $2,500 a year toward completing a college degree
       o Giving 30 million additional workers access to retirement planning through their employers

The President also called on Congress to draft and pass legislation that guarantees paid sick leave, equal pay for women and men and increases the minimum wage.

A full version of this fact sheet can be found here.  

Cuomo Gives Fifth State of the State, Introduces 2015-16 Budget        


On January 21, Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his fifth annual State of the State address, outlining his priorities for 2015 under the title of “Opportunity Agenda: Restoring Economic Opportunity.”  Cuomo also unveiled his $141.6 billion 2015-2016 Executive Budget proposal during the address.

Cuomo’s budget would increase overall state spending by 1.7% -- keeping the rate under the voluntary 2% threshold imposed by the Governor in each of his fiscal plans.

The Executive Budget also outlines how to use the state’s $5.4 billion surplus, which resulted from subprime mortgage settlements reached with several large financial institutions.

The majority of Cuomo’s agenda focused on overhauling the public education system and only made brief mention of energy policy, or storm-related initiatives. 

The budget proposal does include a $20 million competitive fund program to attract clean energy companies to the Southern Tier, as well as $150 million for emergency response and homeland security efforts.  A new online system, “STORM”, will be created to coordinate federal, state, and local response efforts and track related costs to make it easier to apply for FEMA funding. 

Other highlights of the presentation include the following:
  • Infrastructure investments such as modernizing New York City’s airports, building four new MTA stations in the Bronx, and broadband deployment throughout the state;
  • $1.2 billion to offset Thruway toll increases for one year and to help finance the new Tappan Zee Bridge;
  • Decreasing the corporate tax rate from 6.5% to 2.5% for small businesses;
  • $1.7 billion in tax relief for homeowners and renters; and
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $11.50/ hour in New York City and $10.50/hour outside of the City. 

The legislature has embarked on public joint budget hearings – a pro forma process in Albany to examine the spending plan in greater detail before true negotiations between the two houses and the Executive begin in earnest. 

That process, however, was thrown into some uncertainty in the days following Cuomo’s address when it was unveiled that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Lower Manhattan) will face federal corruption charges for accepting millions in bribes and kickbacks.  A number of Assemblymembers have announced their candidacy for the Speaker position in advance of a planned February 10th election by the majority Democratic conference.     

Con Edison Files 2016 Electric Rate Case  


The filing will represent an increase of $368 million for customers throughout the company’s New York City and Westchester service area.  It will be the company’s first rate increase since April 1, 2012.  The new proposed rates will begin January 1, 2016 and will support system reliability, storm hardening efforts, and better service for customers. 

The new rate design will support better service through an improved website with greater mobile functionality and an expanded menu of self-service transactions, increasing our accessibility for customers.  The plan will also adequately fund investment for the enhanced security, reliability and resiliency of the electric delivery system.

The rate plan seeks to further strengthen our infrastructure in targeted areas, and addresses increased power demand associated with the current economic load growth in several areas, including Downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Lower West Side.  Major projects also include supporting Atlantic Yards housing construction by Barclay’s Center, the U.S. Tennis Association facilities’ expansion in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the Brooklyn Waterfront’s revitalization by Domino Sugar, and the Hudson Yards development in Manhattan.

Con Edison will also be in the final year of the four-year, $1billion storm hardening plan implemented following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  The company will continue the installation of both submersible transformers that can withstand flooding underground and certain overhead equipment that will minimize the length and number of people affected by outages related to bad weather. 

The rate proposal includes transmission system upgrades, physical security improvements at major substations, and strengthening cybersecurity measures.  Read the press release for more info.   

Con Edison and Town Hall Celebrate Black History Month   

February is Black History Month.  It will also mark the 18th consecutive year that Con Edison has partnered with Town Hall to celebrate by sponsoring free performances for school children in New York City. 

This year’s performers will be Urban Bush Women, a Brooklyn based dance troupe that showcases the integrity and power of women.

Last year, over 4,500 students attended the Black History Month Festival at Town Hall. For most students, the event was their introduction to a major theatrical experience on Broadway.  In addition to their studies and the performance, students will be invited to submit either a poster or essay expressing what they have learned.  Five students will be honored for their posters or essays during an awards ceremony this spring. 

A  Friday evening performance is held February 6 for Con Edison employees to enjoy with their families and other community partners. The performance is scheduled for 7:30pm. To reserve tickets employees should send an e-mail to powerofgiving@coned.com with “Town Hall” in the subject line.

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