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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Where's the Outrage, People of New York City?

We have severely overcrowded public schools throughout the NYC,a depressed economy, and have been told that there will be raised fares for our city transportation... but the Department of Transportation has set aside a beautiful space in Lower Manhattan (see picture below) to move into in a year, at the cost of $11.8 million.
This space will remain empty during this year. Who are they kidding?
We need to take this space for a new school, or tell the Department of Buildings that we dont want them to move, and then ask the City of New York to use the rent money for our public school children.

City Spends Millions on Empty Offices
'Flushing $12 million down the drain,' Liu Says

By GRACE RAUH, Staff Reporter of the Sun, August 1, 2008

The city's Department of Transportation is paying millions of dollars in rent for six floors of premium office space that are sitting empty. (In the picture above, 55 Water Street is the skyscraper at the far left - Editor)

The department's move into the space will be delayed by at least one year, by the agency's estimation, and will cost the city a minimum of $11.8 million — the annual rent for the 368,147 square feet of office space at 55 Water St. in Lower Manhattan that the department will someday call its headquarters.

The stalled move and the city's payments for empty office space are raising objections from City Council members, who say it is disappointing that taxpayers are footing the bill for one year's worth of rent and getting nothing in return, especially at a moment when the city is facing a budget gap.

"No one would ever put up with this in their own life, paying for an office they don't use or a house they don't live in, but for some reason government gets away with this without any accountability or blame," a City Council member of Queens, Eric Gioia, said. "At a time when the city and state are in dire financial straits, it's very hard to ask people to tighten their belts or to pay more in taxes when government is paying for empty offices."

About 1,300 employees are scheduled to move into the 55 Water St. office in April 2009, one year after the agency began paying rent on the space. The employees now work in one of four transportation offices, three of which are located in Manhattan and one of which is in Queens.

A spokesman for the department, Seth Solomonow,(pictured at right) said that the delay is because of various unrelated design, technical, and logistical issues that can occur during moves of this scale. He said that the agency is paying annual rent of $32 a square foot for the office space, which he said is far below rates available in similar office space in Lower Manhattan.

"While we're disappointed not to be moving into the new space sooner, the 20-year lease rate we negotiated will save us money in the long-term," he wrote in an e-mail message.

Right now, the department pays about $11.8 million for the four offices they will be vacating, but Mr. Solomonow said that rents on those spaces are expected to increase significantly in the future. The department's total budget this year is $704 million.

The city signed a lease for the new office space under a former transportation commissioner, Iris Weinshall,(NY State Senator Charles Schumer's wife, see picture at right - Ed) who left the agency last year to become a vice chancellor at the City University of New York. Bringing employees together in a single office space was considered a way to create a more efficient and effective work environment. It does, however, go against one of Mayor Bloomberg's earliest campaign promises to move more government offices outside of Lower Manhattan.

The 54-story building that will eventually house the Department of Transportation takes up four adjoining city blocks and was the largest privately owned office building in the world when it opened in 1972. It is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama and managed by the New Water Street Corp.

It features views of the Brooklyn Bridge and two outdoor plazas, one of which is above ground and known as the "elevated acre." Every Tuesday night in August this summer, movies will be projected on a giant outdoor screen at one end of the space, according to the building's Web site.

The companies Standard & Poor's and Health Insurance Plan of New York share the building, which is heavily secured with guards, metal detectors, and scanners for bags. Security guards at one entrance said that the offices that the city agency is renting are empty right now.

"Come back next year," one guard said.

The chairman of the council's Transportation Committee, John Liu, (pictured at right)said that the Department of Transportation is not alone in its disappointment over the delays.

"New York City taxpayers are pretty disappointed about flushing $12 million down the drain," he said. "We're in austere budget times and this stuff cannot be accepted lightly."

From Betsy Combier:

The two articles below quote Mayor Bloomberg as wanting to move city agencies OUT of Manhattan and into the boroughs.

And, all of us I'm sure remember the last fare hike by the MTA. Queens City Council member John Liu asked the MTA President Peter Kalikow where the missing $1 billion was that had been listed in an MTA audit, and Mr. Kalikow's reply was,"I'll get back to you on that". (I attended this Transportation/Finance Committee meeting - Ed).

I posted on my website the story about how NYPIRG chief Gene Russianoff (pictured at right)sued the MTA to open the books so that the public could see where the money was going, and he won in New York State Supreme Court.

The MTA then hired the late husband of NY Court System Chief Judge Judith Kaye, Mr. Stephen Rachow Kaye of Proskauer Rose,(picured at right) and NYPIRG lost.

The judge ruled that it was not in the public interest to show the public the finances of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

I've still got some moves - Bloomberg
Saturday, July 5th 2008, 10:06 PM

As he enters the twilight of his administration, Mayor Bloomberg is still trying to fulfill one of his first campaign promises - getting some government offices out of lower Manhattan and into the outer boroughs.

The Health Department is poised to sign a deal to move some of its 15 downtown offices into 18 floors of a new building to be erected on the site of a decrepit parking garage at Queens Plaza.

The Correction Department will leave its Hudson St. headquarters and a Battery Park location for the former Bulova watch headquarters building in Astoria, Queens - putting top brass closer to Rikers Island.

"Logistically, it's easier for commissioners to be close to City Hall," said Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler (picture). "But there are plenty of advantages to spreading offices throughout the city."

Bloomberg campaigned in 2001 on a promise of moving city offices to less-crowded and less-expensive office space in outer boroughs. His "campaign accountability" scorecard on the city Web site said he achieved that years ago by moving five downtown Sanitation Department offices to Queens.

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which handles agencies' real estate needs, said the agency is always trying to consolidate operations.

Skyler noted that after 9/11, the administration realized that government offices could help provide a backbone to the reeling commercial real estate market downtown.

Other factors came into play as well: When Bloomberg took over the school system and created the Education Department, he installed it in the beautifully restored Tweed Courthouse directly behind City Hall so he could keep an eye on its bureaucrats.

Not every agency is discovering the joys of the outer boroughs, though. The Transportation Department, which has to empty its Tribeca headquarters next year when the building is turned into a condominium, is moving even farther downtown to the Financial District.

The move to 55 Water St. will consolidate 1,300 employees from four locations into six floors there - giving them views of the agency's Brooklyn Bridge and Staten Island ferry. The annual rent bill will rise $500,000 to $11.8 million.

"The move and consolidation is a real milestone for the agency," said Transportation spokesman Seth Solomonow. "Bringing all these offices together into an open workplace at one location - and close to other DOT and city facilities - is a great opportunity and will allow us to better serve the people of New York."

Rex Smith, Editor of the Albany (NY) Times Union, Advocates For Open Books at the NYS Transportation Department

This is the last day of Sunshine Week, in which newspapers around the country have spotlighted the importance of laws that keep government open and accountable. So here's what I think about the New York State Department of Transportation, and its refusal to release documents relating to last summer's near-collapse of the Dunn Memorial Bridge ramp. It's shameful arrogance by bureaucrats who are ignoring the intent of the state Freedom of Information Law so they can cover up information taxpayers are entitled to see. has followed the violation of the Freedom of Information Laws in the case of the MTA in New York City, and here are the articles we published:

NY Metropolitan Transit Authority Continues On It's Path of Keeping NYC Unsafe, User Unfriendly

New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority: Why is Service So Bad, and Where's the Money?

In our opinion, the New York State and New York City governments and Courts are protecting the MTA, the Commissioners of Transportation at the city and state levels, and everyone else in on the corruption currently strangling the state. There is an immediate need to hold all politicians in NY State accountable for withholding important fiscal spending information from the taxpaying public, and finally end the funneling of public funds into private pockets. The Appellate Division First Department decision posted in the article above saying that the MTA books should be kept secret and away from public eyes is an example, and we praise Mr. Rex Smith, Editor of the Times Union, for his editorial re-printed here as "fair use":

Exemptions cloud doing what's right
Rex Smith, TIMES UNION Editorial, Saturday, March 18, 2006

On these two pages of the newspaper we abandon the neutral approach to the news that is our obligation elsewhere. Those of us who write on these pages tell you what we think, rather than reflecting the varying points of view that typically surround what's reported on other pages of the paper.

So here's what I think about the New York State Department of Transportation, and its refusal to release documents relating to last summer's near-collapse of the Dunn Memorial Bridge ramp. It's shameful arrogance by bureaucrats who are ignoring the intent of the state Freedom of Information Law so they can cover up information taxpayers are entitled to see.

Can I be any more clear?

This is the last day of Sunshine Week, in which newspapers around the country have spotlighted the importance of laws that keep government open and accountable. It's not entirely coincidental, I must admit, that this week the Times Union asked a judge to order DOT to turn over documents about the ramp -- and pay the legal bills that will confront us as a result of our determination to make the state obey its Freedom of Information Law.

We know there are memos in DOT files that explain what engineers found some years ago when they inspected the rocker bearings that later shifted under that bridge ramp. We don't know exactly what the memos say. That's important, because it could answer the question of whether higher-ups ignored a danger that had been noticed by the experts in the field -- a danger that emerged to public view only when sections of the roadway, towering eight stories above the ground, slipped apart by two feet last summer, narrowly averting collapse.

Shortly after the roadway fell, Times Union transportation writer Cathy Woodruff filed a FOIL request to review the inspection records. DOT eventually let her look at some files, but only after removing a few crucial documents.

DOT officials say those secret documents fall into one of the categories that are exempt from mandatory disclosure under FOIL: intra-agency communications that are advisory or contain opinions. DOT's view, as nearly as I can understand it, is that the measurements and assessments of engineers represent their opinions, rather than facts. It's a rather odd stance, in my mind, because the junctures of steel and concrete on a bridge seem about as rooted in fact as anything I can imagine.(Emphasis added by editor)

Probably there are some opinions in DOT file cabinets. Certainly there are documents written by somebody like, oh, acting Transportation Commissioner Thomas J. Madison Jr., and his predecessors and advisers. Perhaps their opinion was that the danger engineers saw in the rocker bearings would be just too expensive to fix. Maybe they wrote memos to each other saying, "I advise you to leave this sort of expensive fix to the next administration, because it's my opinion that we don't want to leave Governor Pataki with a reputation as a big spender and thereby hurt his presidential campaign."

I made that last part up, you know. But if they felt that way, and if they put it in a memo, probably the law would allow them to keep it secret. It wouldn't be right to conceal it, mind you, but the law, sadly, would allow it.

Does the law allow Madison and his pals to conceal the engineers' reports? If it does, the FOIL law we celebrate this week, which for 32 years has given New Yorkers a view into how their state government does business, needs a fix-up by the state Legislature.

Too bad, isn't it, that this comes down to a question of law, rather than what's right? Because the right thing for the state to do is to open the files on the Dunn Memorial Bridge ramp. We're forced to rely on the law, with its exemptions, because the state refuses to do what's right and release the documents in the first place.

And for those who appreciate irony, consider the stance of Commissioner Madison, the document concealer, alongside these words of James Madison, the brilliant "Father of the Constitution" and a framer of the Bill of Rights: "A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."

Rex Smith is editor of the Times Union.

New York State Department of Transportation

As posted on this website earlier, in New york City the Mayor and Chancellor have not given the public any accurate information on where the $16 billion is going (consider that 620 people work at Education Headquarters, Tweed, and what they all do with about $56 million of the public's money is still a mystery:

More Than 620 People Work in One Building For New York City's Department of Education and "Earn" Millions

There are City-wide Cut-backs for Education, But Raises for Mayor Bloomberg's Pals and Deputy Mayors

Salaries of All New York City Employees are Public Information, and the Total Paid Out is $29 Billion, With a "B"

The spending of public money needs to be looked at carefully, and a Taxpayer Bill of Rights has been proposed:

Another voice / Taxpayer Bill of Rights
A real fiscal reform has been introduced in Albany

By MATTHEW MAGUIRE, The Buffalo News, 3/17/2006

Both Buffalo and Erie County are enduring long-term economic decline, and each must respond with a major fiscal structuring with one overriding goal: reducing government spending so it matches what taxpayers can actually afford.
Albany, which needs the same kind of fiscal discipline but is infamous for avoiding it, now is mulling an idea that could help New York's governments at all levels begin to control spending. And a Western New York legislator, Democratic Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, is leading the charge.

Schimminger this week joined Republican Sen. Ray Meier of Oneida County in supporting a constitutional amendment to limit Albany's annual spending increases to an affordable level - so that taxes can also be more affordable.

The amendment would limit budget growth to inflation plus population increases in the preceding year. This would ease the pressure Albany faces, year after year, to spend more than ever on health care, education and other programs. This pressure prompts Albany to increase spending at twice the rate of inflation or more, year after year. And it explains why our taxes are the nation's highest.

Western New York knows as well as any part of the state why this matters: No part of the state has seen more people and jobs driven to other states by high spending and taxes.

Between 1990 and 2005, the Buffalo Niagara region lost jobs, even as the nation sustained a robust growth rate of 22 percent. The losses were especially severe in the manufacturing sector, once the foundation of the region's economy.

To reverse these losses, New York must be more competitive for businesses and jobs, and lower taxes would help produce that result. The Meier-Schimminger proposal would not only help cut state taxes, it would also ease the burden of property taxes by prohibiting Albany from shifting to localities the costs of Medicaid and other programs.

Other states have approved similar checks on spending. The idea, usually called a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, guards against big spending increases during boom years. That's even more important in New York than in most states, because Albany relies inordinately on volatile tax revenues from Wall Street. This year, state officials say the highest-earning 1 percent of New Yorkers will provide 36 percent of income-tax revenue. If Wall Street slows down next year, Albany's cash flow could drop by billions of dollars.

A constitutional spending limit would eliminate boom-and-bust cycles in Albany's finances. It would reduce pressure for tax increases and more fiscal gimmicks. Before long, it would even allow dramatic tax cuts - spurring new business growth and jobs.

If this limit were in place now, it would still allow $2 billion or more in new spending on key needs. That's real money, even in high-spending New York.

We've heard plenty of talk about "fiscal reform" in Albany. Schimminger has advanced the reform we truly need.

Matthew Maguire, director of communications for the Business Council of New York State, is moderator of

Lawmakers propose constitutional amendment to limit budget growth

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