Archive for August, 2013

Missouri Gives Rick Perry a Taste of His Own Medicine

August 30, 2013

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been spending much of his time lately traveling to other states with the overt aim of luring their companies and thus poaching their jobs. In the run-up to his recent trip to Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon and other state officials have been seeking to turn the tables on Perry.

Click on the image to listen to Gov. Perry ad

Click on the image to listen to Gov. Perry’s ad

In Missouri television and radio ads paid for by a public-private group called TexasOne, Perry criticizes Nixon for vetoing a tax cut bill while enticing Missouri businesses with talk of Texas’s lack of a state income tax and limited regulation of business. In a response, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander wrote to Perry advising him that “instead of launching a wholesale public relations effort,” he should “spend time asking Texas business owners if there’s anything [he] can do to help their companies move forward.”

Nixon also responded to Perry with his own radio spot arguing that the Texas ads are misleading and that, in fact, Missouri has a better tax system and business climate than the Lone Star State. Nixon criticized the Missouri Chamber of Commerce for hosting Perry.

Missouri media also reacted to the Texas campaign. St. Louis radio station KTRS refused to play the Texas ads, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch produced its own version saying “Come to Texas… four million people who work [here], live in poverty….We have the lowest percentage of high-school graduates in America but we still manage to produce more toxic waste than any other state. So come to Texas and get a career in fast food….”

Good Jobs First has extensively covered the economic war among the states in several of our blog posts (for example, see Greg LeRoy’s primer for journalists) and in our  Job-Creation Shell Game report, in which one of the case studies is dedicated to Texas. In the report, we found that “interstate job moves have microscopic effect on state economies.” Specifically, under Perry’s first seven years in the office only 0.03 percent of Texas jobs base annually came from corporate relocations. We recommended that state governments should spend time and money to encourage start-ups and to support expansions in their states, not to waste money poaching jobs from each other.

Federal Task Force on Sandy Rebuilding Cites Need for Community Engagement

August 27, 2013

HSRTF_cover_imageThis is our third and final blog post reviewing the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force report Rebuilding Strategy, Stronger Communities, A Resilient Region released last week. Today we critique the report through the lens of community engagement and impacted communities.

The Task Force, chaired by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, compiled disaster recovery and rebuilding recommendations from two dozen federal agencies and departments to help prepare for future weather-related disasters.

Our previous posts were about the Task Force’s recommendations on transparency and regional economic development and community development.

Community Engagement and Impacted Communities

We are pleased to see the report’s numerous mentions of capacity building and community engagement in Sandy-impacted communities. However, we still would have hoped for requirements, not just recommendations for how local officials should incorporate democratic planning procedures into rebuilding efforts and how a community can best influence the allocation of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). The New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program, cited in the report as an example of community engagement in the rebuilding process, may be a worthwhile starting point, but more needs to be done if the Task Force’s goal for community engagement is to be met.  For example:

  • The Task Force’s recommendation for expanding and reinforcing existing workforce and training programs for impacted communities is good. Yet, unless there is significant collaboration and improvement with the notoriously underfunded and confusing landscape of workforce development in New York City this could be difficult to make happen. A good point of reference for improving the system can be found in Re-Envisioning the New York City Workforce System, released in March.
  • Simply encouraging officials to comply “to the greatest extent feasible” with HUD’s Section 3 provision (Section 3 requires beneficiaries of HUD funding to make best faith efforts that funds benefit low-income communities through job opportunities or training) does not improve the existing employment situation for people that need work, or in the case of New York, address the spotty record of implementation at agencies like  the New York City Housing Authority.

A case in point regarding capacity building: The Bloomberg Administration held numerous meetings in Sandy-affected communities via the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) project that subsequently released a report to help guide the rebuilding after the end of the mayor’s Administration this year. According to the city, SIRR held more than 24 briefings with elected officials and community-based organizations officials and ten meetings to “solicit input on resiliency priorities.” While these meetings may have been well intentioned, they were insufficient to have been the foundation for the city’s plan to allocate CDBG grants. As mentioned in our earlier post, community engagement shouldn’t be seen as slowing down the allocation of funds, but instead considered as a partnership to ensure funds get to New Yorkers impacted by the storm. Joan Byron of the Pratt Center summed up Mayor Bloomberg and the SIRR report best in this quote in The New York Times:

“His [Bloomberg’s] response to Sandy at the human level was appalling,” said Joan Byron, an urban planner who is director of policy at the Pratt Center for Community Development. “But the infrastructure stuff is brilliant.”

This brings us back to the need for broad community engagement to ensure disaster relief funds are allocated at the human level. And the best way to do that is for HUD to expect stronger engagement policies. Absent this, we are greatly worried that billions of dollars in disaster aid will bypass those that need it most.

A good place for HUD to start would be to expand the requirement for localities to provide more than seven-day write-in comment periods for submitting or amending Partial Actions Plans. It’s unfair to expect communities to analyze and respond on a short time frame about how local officials should spend billions of dollars. Without a stronger signal or outright requirement for additional time, (which is also being urged by groups in New Jersey) we will continue to see instances like last month, when the Bloomberg Administration failed to broadly publicize its comment period for an amendment to the city’s first plan to allocate CDBG funds. And if past disasters nationwide are any indication, Action Plans are regularly amended, (the majority of 9/11 CDBG grants to New York were amended or revised) creating many missed opportunities for the public.

Many low and moderate-income communities had long standing inequality issues before the Hurricane and that were then exacerbated. In order for resiliency efforts to move forward efficiently, local officials must better communicate with their constituents. The old adage about there being a silver lining holds profoundly true after Sandy: Federal officials have a chance to diversify the type of stakeholders who will be at decision-making tables around the region as neighborhoods rebuild in the face of climate change. The long-existing processes of allocating CDBG funds that too often excludes hard hit communities should have been more clearly addressed by the Task Force.

Thanks to GJNY’s Research Analyst Elizabeth Bird

Federal Task Force on Sandy Rebuilding Urges Regional Economic Development & Community Development

August 23, 2013

HSRTF_cover_imageThis is our second of three blog posts reviewing the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force report released earlier this week. Our first blog was on the report’s recommendations related to transparency. We also provided examples of where we believe the Task Force should have used its influence to require cities and states to agree to abide by the recommendations, especially those that would enhance democratic planning principles and benefit low and moderate-income communities.

For our second blog, we focus on economic development and community needs.

Regional Economic Development & Community Needs

We were thrilled to see the Task Force’s report reference regional coordination. Competition between cities and states has gotten out of control in recent years, with billions of unaccountable economic development dollars often used to shuffle jobs around regions rather than create new ones. Considering how New York allocated hundreds of millions of dollars in disaster aid after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to large financial and real estate interests in Lower Manhattan, fearing they would move, a bona fide conversation directed from the White House about thoughtful approaches to regional economic development planning is long overdue.

Additionally, the emphasis on how impacted communities can assist small businesses is another welcome change from policies implemented after 9/11. At that time, a disproportionate amount of the assistance from New York State went to boutique law firms and bond trading firms under the guise of aid to small business, a New York Times analysis found.

We are encouraged by the report’s recommendations that small businesses receive assistance with resiliency planning and that more types of small business that be made eligible for SBA loans, and in a wider range of loan amounts. Also helpful is the call for more flexibility for community-based intermediary lenders. However, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is expected to allocate a significant portion of CDBG-DR funds for business resiliency and rebuilding, is lacking transparency on its existing non-CDBG disaster relief aid for area businesses. This lack of transparency is a bad precedent for company-specific disaster aid.

There is a passing mention of tax-exempt bond financing in the report, while we suspect the potential for Sandy related private activity bonds can be an important tool to leverage affordable housing and other capital projects that have broad community benefits. If those bonds or other tax benefits become available, they should be used to promote truly affordable housing in the region and focus on the needs of working families and low-income communities. Lacking a requirement to do so, there is little to prevent what occurred after 9/11, when Liberty Bonds were used to build luxury housing, helping to establish Lower Manhattan as one of the region’s hottest and priciest neighborhoods.

The report accurately describes the region’s housing market as challenging. Many neighborhoods in the area, especially in New York City, are experiencing an affordability crisis and the New York City Housing Authority was ill-prepared for the storm. The loss of housing stock due to the hurricane was a double whammy as low vacancies meant there were limited places for displaced New Yorkers to go even temporarily. The report outlines several programs that could help repair homes and recommends that various agencies work with the private sector, including the philanthropic sector, to preserve and develop affordable housing.

Aside from affordability, the housing situation also faces environmental problems such as mold.   Not uncommon after disasters like Hurricane Sandy, mold is a problem for thousands of households in New York City but policies on how to fix the problem have not been effective, as the report implies. The recommendation that federal agencies streamline how to deal with “indoor air pollutants” is a welcome one.

An issue environmental justice advocates are particularly concerned about is that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color that have historically borne the brunt of hazardous waste dumping may have suffered additional damage as a result of  Sandy’s storm surge. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Plan EJ 2014” cited in the report is expected to provide various tools for community engagement and inclusive planning procedures. The Sandy Regional Assembly has been organizing and advocating for policies and capital projects to protect residents and workers from hazardous exposures in the event of severe weather, and create jobs for residents, as part of the rebuilding process.

We are pleased there’s no mention of using disaster aid to build market rate housing, yet there is also nothing in the report that will prevent this from happening. The Bloomberg Administration has done little to help the city’s middle class and working poor; its policies that displace small businesses combined with a proliferation of low-wage jobs have led to a dramatic increase in disparity. The administration continues stubbornly down the same economic development path after Sandy with recently proposed programs like the “Neighborhood Game Changer” causing anxiety in some communities.

The Task Force acknowledges the immense impact Hurricane Sandy had on our region. However, as mentioned in our first post, the report leaves too much responsibility on already struggling neighborhoods to push for its implementation and not enough of a mandate to local officials.

Thanks to GJNY’s Research Analyst, Elizabeth Bird

Federal Task Force on Sandy Rebuilding Pushes Transparency

August 22, 2013

cover_HSTF reportThis week the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force released its long-awaited Rebuilding Strategy, Stronger Communities, A Resilient Region report. Chaired by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, the task force compiled disaster recovery and rebuilding recommendations from two dozen federal agencies and departments to help prepare for future weather-related disasters.

News coverage of the report has focused mostly on the report’s calls for improved coordination between federal agencies and localities, resiliency efforts, upgrading critical infrastructure and greater attention to the impacts of climate change.  It is not surprising that New York City officials reportedly are embracing the report’s recommendations, as addressing climate change has been a focal point of the Bloomberg Administration.

The Task Force report also deserves attention for its broad recommendations on transparency, regional cooperation, equitable allocation of funds and addressing the storm’s impacts on low-income communities.   However, the report does not address the need to ensure that governments receiving federal funds re-focus rebuilding efforts on those most in need. Having tracked job creation subsidies and 9/11 federal rebuilding funds, we at Good Jobs New York know that programs created with the best of intentions too often wind up benefitting very few. We would have welcomed more guidance from the Task Force on issues such as:

  • Better engagement on proposed use of funds –  Both New York and New Jersey have provided minimal opportunities for residents to respond to public comment periods on proposed uses of Community Development Block Grant disaster aid. Regulations require a seven-day write-in comment period. Though New York City provided two weeks for its Partial Action Plan A, it only provided seven days for a proposed amendment to the plan. Nobody wants to slow funds from getting to the people and small businesses that need them, but the Task Force’s recommendation to expand local capacity building rings a little hollow without requiring better opportunities for engagement.
  • Access to funds for undocumented immigrants – The region and New York City especially, have a significant number of undocumented immigrants, many that have lost jobs and housing. As FEMA doesn’t count undocumented immigrants in its needs assessment most assuredly, more resources are needed. Federal officials should require that localities connect with community based organizations for a clearer needs assessment to ensure the region receives the funds that are warranted.

Good Jobs New York also reviewed the report’s recommendations with an eye towards transparency, economic development, and equity. We begin here with a look at transparency.


We could not agree more with the report’s recommendation for government agencies to be proactive in posting data, particularly related to funds allocated for the recovery and rebuilding. The report also calls for the creation of a central website of disaster relief data from multiple federal agencies, specifically HUD, FEMA, and SBA. Lessons from Hurricane Katrina clearly influenced the recommendations on transparency.

Multiple references to the waste and abuse of government funding after Katrina are cited as reasons for greater government oversight of recovery funding and accountability, both within government agencies and to the public. The successful oversight of funds allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), via the Recovery Accountability Transparency Board – which is also providing transparency of the Sandy disaster relief–reinforces the idea that greater transparency is possible and strongly supported by the public.

In line with these recommendations, the Task Force has created a Program Management Office (PMO) to both promote interagency information sharing as well as provide oversight and transparency of the Sandy disaster relief aid.   PMO’s data is expected to include performance reports, including data on numbers of people and businesses served and on infrastructure projects that received funding. A public website is expected by October 1. 

Some local transparency efforts are already in place. In New York City, lists of Sandy-related contracts and expenditures are available at the Comptrollers offices of New York City (found by searching “Hurricane Sandy” in the office’s “Checkbook 2.0” website) and New York State. In New Jersey efforts include The Sandy Recovery Scorecard and NJSandy Transparency. There is a proposal before the New York City Council, sponsored by Brad Lander (Brooklyn) and Donovan Richards, Jr. (Queens) for a transparency website that would provide data on jobs and the amount of aid allocated to specific projects.

Enhanced websites like these not only enhance accountability but also encourage public officials in different jurisdictions to engage in greater cooperation.

The recommendations in the report are an excellent starting point. But residents in long-ignored communities are beyond asking politely for a place at the decision making table and deserve more from federal officials to help support democratic planning and equitable use of Sandy funds.  

Thanks to GJNY’s Research Analyst, Elizabeth Bird