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Each year, New York City invests about $2 billion to encourage private development in the form of tax incentives and grants. But, according to a report released yesterday by the Center for Popular Democracy, the city does not require as a prerequisite for those grants progressive development practices that ensure worker safety and health.
Under programs offered by the New York Economic Development Corporation, the city in 2013 handed out millions in lucrative tax incentive financing to corporate entities at 596 locations. Thousands more of these projects are ongoing in New York City through other funding mechanisms known as public benefit corporations.
During 2011 and 2012, 36 construction workers in New York City lost their lives on the job. Most of these deaths occurred on construction projects where no mandatory safety and health training was required.
These horrific stories of construction worker fatality could all change with the de Blasio administration and the reintroduction of the Safe Jobs Act. If the Safe Jobs Act is approved by the New York City Council and signed into law, it will mandate safety and health training for all tax-incentivized development projects.
City residents should be outraged that their tax dollars are paying for the unsafe practices of unsavory developers and lining the pockets of construction contractors with a known record of safety and health violations.
An example of these egregious acts is the Brooklyn Bridge Park project, which is tax-incentivized. In 2012 a worker was struck in the face by a heavy metal end cap that dislodged during a water supply pressure test. At the same construction site, a pedestrian was struck by falling debris. During the past seven years, Brooklyn Bridge Park contractor Hudson Meridian has been cited seven times for failure to provide adequate guard rails to protect construction workers.
In rare and welcome show of bipartisanship, a bill inspired by Public Citizen’s 2012 report on the state of worker safety in the state of Maryland is headed to Governor Martin O’Malley’s desk to be signed.
The bill, HR 951, will establish a working group to make recommendations to Maryland’s General Assembly about the effects of requiring all state contractors to adhere to a variety of measures designed to keep workers safe.
If all goes according to plan, the new rules could be in place as early as 2015.
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Congress passed – unanimously in the Senate and without debate – and President Obama will sign, H.R. 2019, the “Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act” (named after a 10-year old child who died last year of brain cancer). If the legislation actually did what it touts – to finance pediatric research – it would be a noble bill for a noble cause.
But it is a fig-leaf bill. Its real purpose is to begin dismantling the presidential public financing system, and is very unlikely to produce any revenues for pediatric research.
The bill was originally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform. After Harper was unable to persuade Congress to approve earlier legislation that would have entirely defunded the public financing program, Harper re-worked the bill into what it is known now.
The legislation transfers public funds used to pay for the nominating conventions into the general treasury, then states that those funds may be used for pediatric research, if Congress ever decides to appropriate the funds for that purpose.
This same Congress slashed National Institute of Health (NIH) funding by $1.55 billion, which finances the pediatric research program, in the appropriations bills, and then placed caps on any further spending by NIH. The Kids First Research Act, if ever implemented, would transfer from the presidential public financing system to pediatric research, a pittance of what Congress slashed from the research budget. And even that pittance is not likely to happen. Given current spending caps on governmental agencies, Congress also would have to pass legislation lifting the spending ceiling for the National Institutes of Health to carry through with this appropriation, something that this Congress is very unlikely to do.