Sometimes, the meat grinder Albany becomes as the legislative session lurches toward a close manages to spit out a prime piece of legislation. Sometimes, it disgorges drivel. And sometimes, it churns out both in a hunk of undigestible lard known as “the big ugly.”
For better and for worse, the 2019 edition is playing to form.
On the plus side, negotiations among Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Democratic leaders of the State Senate and Assembly are putting the finishing touches on nation-leading climate change legislation. It features a sensible compromise on carbon removal: A carbon-neutral economy by 2050, with at least 85 percent coming from carbon reduction. The other 15 percent can be offset by planting trees and the like. The measure wisely sets in law several Cuomo goals — that 70 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040, along with ambitious targets for offshore wind, solar power and battery capacity. Less clear is how money will be spent in disadvantaged communities; funds should be for climate change-related programs only, not nebulous jobs doled out by politicians.
Bad proposals include a bill to give for-profit American Water a $25 million annual break on its state franchise fee so it could pass the savings on to customers who pay sky-high bills. This tab would be paid for with higher taxes billed to the Long Island Power Authority, Verizon, Altice and National Grid, which would likely pass that on to their customers. But shifting property taxes of some Long Island communities, disguised as utility costs, to the utility bills of other communities, is a monumentally bad idea. Fortunately, poor execution has left the bill floundering in the Assembly, where it deserves to die.
Still in the grinder, possibly to be part of the big ugly: legislation that would codify when developers must pay prevailing wage — the hourly salary for union workers often established in collective-bargaining agreements. Cuomo rightly noted Monday that a bad prevailing wage bill could cost jobs, rather than create them. A good bill would mandate that only projects with a significant percentage of public funding pay the higher wages. Exemptions for nonprofit projects and those with significant lower-cost housing are essential. Lawmakers and Cuomo must ensure that Long Island’s most important projects, like the Nassau Hub and proposals for workforce housing, aren’t stopped or stymied. If that happens, higher wages won’t be the issue; there won’t be any work to do.
It’s ridiculous that an issue as culturally norm-changing as legalizing recreational marijuana is re-emerging for serious consideration at this late hour.
It would be best to resolve major issues openly and precisely. If it does move forward, all communities should have the choice to opt in to the sale of pot; at least the necessary debate can be had at the local level. It also would allow these jurisdictions to learn best practices from those who might opt in from the start, like New York City. We have similar concerns about a bill to grant driver’s licenses to immigrants here illegally and whether personal identifying information of this group would be routinely available to law enforcement.
We queasily await what emerges. — The editorial board