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Cuomo Takes Bow in Delivering on Justice Agenda, Calling Legislative Session ‘Most Productive in Modern Political History’

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo took a deserved bow in delivering on the Justice Agenda he laid out at his inauguration, calling this year’s Legislative Session “the most productive in modern political history.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo took a deserved bow in announcing historic progressive accomplishments during this year’s Legislative Session, delivering on his 2019 Justice Agenda first laid out in December, and calling it “the most productive in modern political history.”

“These sweeping reforms will ensure social and economic justice for all New Yorkers, address the devastating impact of climate change, support New York’s ongoing commitment to workers’ rights, modernize transportation systems across the state, and enhance the Empire State’s nation-leading commitment to gender equity and LGBTQ rights. All of this was done while enacting fiscally responsible policies including holding spending growth to 2 percent for the ninth consecutive year, enacting a permanent property tax cap and cutting taxes for the middle class,” the governor’s office stated.

“Six months ago we laid out our 2019 Justice Agenda – an aggressive blueprint to move New York forward – and today I’m proud to say we got it done,” Governor Cuomo said. “At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what you accomplish, and this was the most progressively productive legislative session in modern history. The product was extraordinary, and we maintained our two pillars – fiscal responsibility and economic growth paired with social progress on an unprecedented and nation-leading scale.”

Here’s a synopsis:

Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act: This legislation enacts the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, creating the most aggressive climate change program in the nation with goals to: reach zero carbon emissions in the electricity sector by 2040; install 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035; 6GW of solar by 2025; 3 GW of energy storage by 2030; and directs state entities to work toward a goal of investing 40 percent of clean energy and energy efficiency resources to benefit disadvantaged communities. Additionally, the law creates the Climate Action Council comprised of the leaders of various state agencies and authorities as well as legislative appointments to develop a plan outlining how the state will achieve an 85% reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, and eventually net zero emissions in all sectors of the economy. 

Permanent Property Tax Cap: Made permanent the 2% property tax cap, building upon the approximate $25 billion in taxpayer savings since it was implemented in 2012.

MTA Money and Management: Funded the MTA with an estimated $25 billion raised through Central Business District tolling, a new progressive mansion tax, and the elimination of the internet tax advantage. Implemented overdue MTA reforms including the developing a reorganization plan, modifying MTA Board appointments to align with appointing authority, requiring the MTA to undergo an independent forensic audit and efficiency review, and calling for a major construction review unit made up of outside experts to review major projects.

Advancing LGBTQ Rights: Governor Cuomo is enacting transformative legislation in support of LGBTQ rights, including the elimination of the gay and trans panic defense—closing a loophole in state law that allowed individuals to use the gay and trans panic defenses after attacking another based upon that victim’s gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The Governor also enacted into law the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and a ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy.

Establish a Farmworkers Bill of Rights: This legislation established a farmworkers bill of rights, granting overtime pay, a rest day and the right to unionize.

Enact Additional Sexual Harassment Protections: This package of reforms will lower the high bar set for employees to hold employers accountable under the New York Human Rights Law for sexual harassment by amending the requirement that conduct be “severe or pervasive” to constitute actionable conduct; extend the statute of limitations for employment sexual harassment claims filed with the Division of Human Rights from one year to three years; and protect employees’ rights to pursue complaints by mandating that all non-disclosure agreements in employment contracts include language stating that employees may still participate in government investigations conducted by local, state, and federal anti-discrimination agencies

Expand Statutes of Limitations for Rape: Statutes of limitations on rape cases impose a ticking clock on how long victims are able to come forward if they want to seek charges. Over the last year, victims who have suffered in silence for decades have bravely spoken about their abuse, and also have laid bare the state’s limited ability to prosecute their abusers due to the passage of time. In recognition of this fact, states across the country are lengthening or eliminating the statutes of limitations on crimes of sexual violence. This legislation extends the statute of limitations for Rape in the Second Degree and Third Degree, and expand the civil statute of limitations for claims related to these offenses, allowing victims greater opportunity to obtain justice.

Closing the Gender Wage Gap: Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has fought aggressively to increase safeguards for women in the workplace and close the gender pay gap in New York. This package of reforms includes legislation to expand the definition of “equal pay for equal work” to prohibit unequal pay on the basis of a protected class for all substantially similar work and to close any loopholes employers try to use to pay people less on the basis of their gender, race or other protected classes; as well as a salary history ban, which prohibits employers from asking or relying on salary history of applicants and employees in making job offers or determining wages.

Reauthorize and Expand the MWBE Program: The Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program has been highly successful since its inception, establishing the highest goals for MWBE participation in the entire nation and awarding thousands of state contracts to minority-owned and women-owned businesses. This legislation reauthorizes the MWBE program and extends the provisions of law relating to the participation of MWBEs in state contracts to ensure this effective program continues.

Tenant Protections: This package of reforms, known as Housing Stability and Tenant Protection act of 2019, enacts the most sweeping, aggressive tenant protections in state history, safeguarding affordable housing for millions of New Yorkers.

Remove the Non-Medical Exemptions for Vaccines: The United States is currently experiencing the worst outbreak of measles in more than 25 years, with outbreaks in pockets of New York primarily driving the crisis. As a result of non-medical vaccination exemptions, many communities across New York have unacceptably low rates of vaccination, and those unvaccinated children can often attend school where they may spread the disease to other unvaccinated students. This new law will remove non-medical exemptions from school vaccination requirements for children and help protect the public amid this ongoing outbreak.

Ensuring Quality Education: School aid increased by over $1 billion, bringing total school aid to a record $27.9 billion. In addition, new reporting requirements will address imbalances in the distribution of resources by prioritizing funding at the individual school level in order to advance a more transparent, equitable education system.

Makes the Jose R. Peralta DREAM Act a Reality: Finally opens the doors of higher education to thousands of New Yorkers by giving undocumented New York students the same advantages given to their citizen peers, including access to the Tuition Assistance Program and state administered scholarships such as Excelsior.

Expands Eligibility for the Excelsior Scholarship Free Tuition Program: As the state’s successful free tuition program enters its third year, students whose families make up to $125,000 annually will now be eligible to apply for the program, allowing more than 55 percent of full-time, in-state SUNY and CUNY students—or more than 210,000 New York residents—to attend college tuition-free when combined with TAP assistance.

Criminal Justice Reform: Sweeping criminal justice reform was delivered by eliminating cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent offenses, ensuring the right to a speedy trial, and transforming the discovery process.

Continued Investment in Infrastructure: Builds upon the Governor’s unprecedented commitment to invest $150 billion in infrastructure projects over the next five years.

Delivering on the Gateway Tunnel Project: This legislation establishes the Gateway Development Commission and creates a comprehensive rail investment program for purposes of the project. This bi-state effort, in cooperation with New Jersey, represents significant progress on a crucial project for our nation’s economy and security while restoring our role as a global leader in infrastructure.

Protecting the Environment: The launch of the Green New Deal—the most aggressive environmental protection initiative in the nation, the ban of single-use plastic bags, launch of the food waste recycling program and investment of an additional $500 million in clean water infrastructure, increasing the State’s historic investment to $3 billion, all of which serves to protect New Yorkers while combatting some of the most pressing threats to the environment.

Keeping New Yorkers Healthy: By codifying provisions of the Affordable Care Act, New Yorkers can rest assured that their health needs will be covered, regardless of Washington’s actions.

Supporting Workers’ Rights: Extended Janus protections to all local governments and guaranteed the right to organize and collectively bargain.

Promoting the Democracy Agenda: To boost New York’s voter turnout and ensure that New York’s elections remain fair and transparent, the following initiatives were enacted this year: synchronized federal and state elections, pre-registration for minors, early voting, universal transfer of registration, and the advancement of no-excuse absentee voting, and same-day registration.

Common Sense Gun Reform: Building upon the SAFE Act—the strongest gun control legislation in the country—additional measures were enacted this year to ensure guns were kept out of the wrong hands, including the Red Flag Bill, ban on bump stocks, and extending the background check waiting period.

Signing the Child Victims Act: The signing of this long-awaited legislation provided necessary relief to child victims of sexual abuse by amending New York’s antiquated laws to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, regardless of when the crime occurred.

Closing the LLC Loophole: Closed the LLC loophole by limiting political spending by an LLC to a total of $5,000 annually, which is the same limit as corporations. The new law also requires the disclosure of direct and indirect membership interests in the LLC making a contribution, and for the contribution to be attributed to that individual.

2019 Women’s Justice Agenda Accomplishments: With the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, Comprehensive Coverage Contraceptive Act, and the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, as well as the ban on revenge porn, and strengthened protections for breastfeeding in the workplace, Governor Cuomo continued his commitment to ensuring fairness and equality for women across New York State.

New capital funding investments this year include:

  • Full Funding for Extreme Winter Recovery: $65 million in State funding for the Extreme WINTER Recovery program. Provides enhanced assistance to local governments for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of local highways and roads impacted by New York State’s harsh winter weather. This unprecedented infrastructure investment in local roads and bridges is in addition to the $478 million in State funding provided through the CHIPS and Marchiselli programs, and $200 million for PAVE-NY and Bridge NY.
  • $120 Million Public Housing Investment: Building on the State’s unprecedented $550 million investment in the New York City Housing Authority, the Governor and Legislature are providing an additional $100 million in capital funding to help support its ongoing transformation while providing $20 million to support housing authorities and other housingoutside of New York City.
  • $100 Million for the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative: The Governor and Legislature are providing $100 million in capital funding to support the State’s up to $300 million commitment to communities impacted by Lake Ontario Flooding. Launched last month, the REDI Commission is working with localities along the shoreline to identify and support projects that will reduce the flooding risk to infrastructure while strengthening the region’s local economies.
  • $20 Million for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority: A $20 million capital appropriation is provided to support the first year of a five-year $100 million commitment from the Governor and Legislature to theNFTA to fund a five-year capital plan for maintenance and improvements of Metro Rail.
  • Penn Station 33rd Street Entrance: $425 million in capital funding will support the Penn Station 33rd Street Entrance project, and others associated with improvements to the Long Island Railroad. Just last month, the Governor unveiled final design renderings for the new main entrance to Penn Station located at 33rd street and 7th Avenue, which will provide much needed direct access to the LIRR Main Concourse and the New York City Subway.
  • $20 Million Investment in Public Libraries: A $20 million capital appropriation to public libraries will help libraries across New York State as they continue to transform into 21st century community hubs.
  • $30 Million for Higher Education Capital Matching Grant Program: A $30 million capital appropriation will support the Higher Education Capital Matching Grant Program, which under the Governor’s leadership is enabling independent colleges across the state to make critical investments in their infrastructure and equipment by providing matching capital grants.
  • $25 million Security Investment to Protect Against Hate Crimes: A $25 million capital appropriation is included for security projects at nonpublic schools, community centers, residential camps, and day care facilities at risk of hate crimes because of their ideology, beliefs, or mission.

New York to Award $2.5 Million Prizes in Global Competition to Reimagine State’s Canal System for Economic Development, Tourism

Recreational uses on The Erie Canal like MidLakes Navigation’s canalboats have brought economic revitalization for canaltowns like Fairport in upstate New York © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York State is holding a global competition to find the best ideas to re-imagine the New York State Canal System so it becomes an engine for economic growth upstate as well as a world-class tourist destination. The competition, run by the New York Power Authority and New York State Canal Corporation, is awarding up to $2.5 million to develop and implement the winning ideas.

“The Canal System is a vital part of New York’s storied past and it is critical that it continues to be an essential component of our state’s future,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “We’re looking for bold and innovative ideas that ensure the canal system and its surrounding communities can grow and prosper and with this competition, we encourage bright minds from across the globe to contribute their best ideas to help bring this piece of history to new heights.”

“Originally labeled Clinton’s Folly, the Erie Canal went on to become one of the most significant transportation milestones in our history, putting Upstate NY on the path to a century of prosperity,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “It is fitting that now, as we celebrate its bicentennial, we re-imagine how this iconic Canal can once again become an engine for economic growth across New York State.”

The competition was announced as New York continues the celebration of the bicentennial of the beginning of construction on the Erie Canal, in Rome, N.Y., on July 4, 1817. Next year, the State will mark the centennial of the 524-mile state Canal System, which includes the Erie, Champlain, Cayuga-Seneca and Oswego canals.

“There are many people in the public and private sector who are passionate about the canals,” said Gil C. Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, which operates the state Canal System as a subsidiary. “We want to translate that passion into sustainable projects that will make the canal corridor bigger and better.”

Quiniones unveiled the competition today at the World Canals Conference in Syracuse, where hundreds of canal experts and enthusiasts from three continents are meeting this week.

“The building of the Erie Canal took persistence, vision and overcoming deep skepticism, but its construction transformed this nation,” Brian U. Stratton, New York State Canal Corporation director said. “Now, we want to transform the canals so they become go-to travel and recreation destinations. The entries can come from anywhere. Good ideas have no boundaries.”

The goals of the competition include soliciting programs and initiatives that promote:

  • The Canal System and its trails as a tourist destination and recreational asset for New York residents and visitors;
  • Sustainable economic development along the Canal System;
  • The Canal System’s heritage; and
  • The long-term financial sustainability of the Canal Corporation

The competition will seek entries on two separate tracks, one for infrastructure; the other for programs that have the potential to increase recreation use and tourism.

In the first round, entrants will provide information about how their proposal meets core competition goals and outlines the applicant’s qualifications. Finalists will each receive $50,000 to implement their ideas for the second round, where they will partner with either a municipality along the Canal System or a non-profit engaged in canal-related work. A panel of judges will select two or more winners to receive between $250,000 and $1.5 million to plan their projects and implement them.

Submissions for the first round are due Dec. 4. The final winners will be announced next spring.

For more information, go to www.reimaginethecanals.com.

Climate Disasters Should Force Re-think of Trump (‘Cheater-in-Chief’) Tax Plan

How will the nation fund the recovery from the increasingly devastating climate disasters? The lates record-breaking climate catastrophes, Harvey and Irma, should cause re-thinking of the investment in climate action and Trump’s plan to cut taxes for the wealthiest © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Hurricane Harvey had just devastated Texas, the worst natural disaster up until two weeks later when the entire state of Florida was about to be destroyed by Hurricane Irma, as whole Caribbean island nations as well as the US territory of Puerto Rico had their infrastructure utterly decimated. And Hurricane Jose was on Irma’s tail. Meanwhile, Los Angeles and Oregon were being consumed by record wildfires. Congress had authorized $15 billion toward Hurricane Harvey relief and to replenish the nearly depleted funds of FEMA.

Indeed, in North Dakota on September 6, as Hurricane Irma was barreling toward Florida, Trump, the Tax-Cheat-in-Chief, gave an incoherent speech touting his tax plan that began with his incredulity in discovering that North Dakota was undergoing a massive drought.

“I just said to the governor, I didn’t know you had droughts this far north.  Guess what?  You have them.  But we’re working hard on it and it’ll disappear.  It will all go away,” Trump said.

Accuweather is projecting the cost of Harvey and Irma alone at $290 billion, or 1.5% of total GDP, which would erase the growth of the economy through year-end, according to Dr. Joel N. Myers, president and chairman.

That’s also more than one-fourth of the $1 trillion that Trump proposed for a 10-year infrastructure plan. Where will the money come from? And if all infrastructure spending has to be directed to Texas and Florida, where does that leave the rest of the country? Not to mention the $1 billion Trump is demanding as down payment on a $70 billion border wall.

Does this get you thinking that Trump and his administration, especially EPA Administrator and shill for the oil industry Scott Pruitt, should rethink their self-serving notion of climate change denial (self-serving because it is used to fuel their argument that they can overturn environmental regulations on the massively profitable fossil fuel industry)? Of course not.

But it should also cause them to rethink their totally corrupt plan for tax reform which is intended to starve the federal government of funds, balloon the budget deficit and national debt, all to shift more of wealth to the already fabulously wealthy. Especially when so many people have lost their businesses and jobs, which will certainly impact tax revenues.

Let’s just consider for a moment what taxes are supposed to be for. And yes, a considerable amount goes to pay for interest on bonds, but bonds are what are used to pay for infrastructure – they represent an investment in the future. And as we are considering how to replace the destroyed and decimated infrastructure, why not build back with sustainability in mind.

Just as in his speech declaring his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement (forged with US leadership and signed by 195 countries), Trump, who took a $900 million tax deduction on his failed Atlantic City casino and probably has never paid 40% tax in his life,lies to rationalize his tax plan, beginning with the lie that the US is the highest taxed nation in the world (not true) and that workers wages will increase if only shareholders and CEOs and the wealthiest 1% could keep an even greater percentage of their money (history shows the opposite).  (See New York Times, The False Promises in President Trump’s Tax Plan)

Remember: the wealthiest people used to be taxed at 90% – that was after World War II when the nation had to rebuild its treasury. We were able to afford the GI Bill which probably did more to create a middle class than anything since the New Deal. Now the wealthiest pay something between 35 to 40% – except that they don’t.

Trump (and Ryan) want to give a $170,000 annual windfall to the wealthiest Americans, while crumbs ($700) to the middle class who will lose the only tax deductions they can use.  $170,000 times four years worth mean in terms of free money (from tax-paying schnooks) is a lot of dough to invest in politicians and policy with a spectacular return: policies like enabling Big Pharma Sharks to hike up life-saving drugs by 5000%; Oil Barons to make sure incentives for wind and solar energy don’t help these industries develop into competitors; real estate developers who can delight in the tax advantages that let them take a $900 million deduction and build without interfering regulations on lands that are needed to soak up flood waters and health insurance companies to raise premiums to pad profits.

Now this nation is looking at more than $290 billion just to recover from the climate disasters which are becoming more and more frequent, hitting the high density developed urban centers.

If taxes for those who have the means to pay don’t cover the cost, who does? Ryan and the Republicans love to talk about “sacrifice” but the only ones they demand sacrifices from are not the wealthiest or the corporations, but Social Security and Medicare recipients, struggling middle class kids who need to take out loans to pay for college. Their concept is to take money out of the consumer economy, which starts a downward unvirtuous cycle of economic contraction. How do we know?” Because we have seen this movie before: the Bush tax cuts. Meanwhile, median income has risen to its highest levels in 1999 (under Bill Clinton) and 2016 (under Barack Obama) and their tax-and-spending plans.

The Trump/Ryan tax “plan” requires a federal budget that slashes spending for infrastructure, for research and development, for education, for environmental protection (and of course, eradicating any mention of climate change), even slashing spending for diplomacy and foreign aid. It depends on slashing Medicaid and subsidies to keep health insurance affordable (that’s why they are so desperate to repeal Obamacare).

It slashes the tax rate for corporations which already do not pay the nominal 35% rate. Many highly profitable corporations – including General Electric, Pepco Holdings, PG&E Corp., Priceline and Duke Energy – paid nothing into federal coffers from 2008-2015 yet benefit from all the services the government provides including roads, public safety, an educated workforce, mass transit, a military to defend their shipping.

To get to a tax cut without obscenely increasing the national debt, the Republicans say they will get rid of “loopholes” like the mortgage credit and property taxes – that would only complete the decimation of the Middle Class and destroy any semblance of an American Dream. What would make more sense, if they really cared to “reform” the tax code and stop the income distribution from middle class to the already fabulous rich, is to take away the mortgage tax credits on 2nd, 3rd homes and such, and take away the many special deductions that real estate developers like Trump has benefited from, as well as the loopholes that let hedge fund managers shield all but a fraction of their income from taxes that wage-earners pay.

Indeed, the policies that Trump are proposing – specifically, eliminating the tax deduction for state and local property taxes – would hurt blue-states that tend to have higher state and local taxes because they tend to have higher property taxes but provide more services and get less in federal payments than they send to the government, while red-states that have low state and local taxes (and crappy schools and health care) get more from the federal government (paid for by blue states) than they send.

And what about Puerto Rico. which already was in economic disaster – having defaulted on $70 billion in debt – and basically written off by the US government. It’s infrastructure is now totally destroyed. How will it be rebuilt? Here’s what I imagine:  Trump is so transactional, I can see a foreign country (China?) with big bucks and an interest in having a foothold in the Western Hemisphere buying Puerto Rico from the US. After all, what is $100 billion or $200 billion to put the island right?

Of course Trump’s tax “reform” plan – sketched out as if on the back of an envelope without any analysis – is really all about tax cuts to the wealthiest and to corporations. As Hillary Clinton said during a debate (which she won): “trickle down economics on steroids” from the guy who took a $900 million deduction for a failed real estate deal, which taxpayers – normal working stiffs – wind up paying for.

Those who have actually analyzed the plan have said that the wealthiest people – who have done astronomically well for decades, while middle class Americans have scarcely had a salary increase in 40 years, so that the gap between rich and poor has reached Grand Canyon proportions – would get a tax windfall of $170,000 a year, while middle class families would get something like $700. Where do the 1 percenters put that extra money which they scarcely need? Well, they invest in buying politicians and influencing policy, of course.

Tax “reform” figures into the Trump obsession with repealing Obamacare and leaving 32 million people without health insurance. It figures into the administration’s dismissal of the Gateway Tunnel project so important to the New York region’s infrastructure and economy.

But now, Trump’s Republican states are being whacked with climate catastrophes, and the money has to come from somewhere.

And let’s also be reminded that the growth in the economy – first, saving the nation from plunging into another Great Depression, and now rebounding to the highest median income, lowest unemployment rate ever and highest rate of health insurance coverage while reducing the poverty rate – happened because of Obama Administration policies and would have been even more effective in terms of raising wages and living standards if the Trump Administration did not steamroll back policies, like overtime pay, parental leave, and federal minimum wage and obstruct infrastructure development and the transition to clean, renewable energy.

People remark that the devastation in their neighborhoods from these massive climate disasters is like a bomb went off. Well, in wartime, taxes are raised – that’s how the rate on the wealthiest hit 90%, to pay off the World War II debt. This is wartime. This nation has to rebuild, and sustainably, responsibly. We need to invest in 21st and 22nd century technologies, to keep the United States a global leader. Otherwise, we will cede our leverage to China which has basically embraced the American model of spreading its political ideology (nominally, “Democracy”) through capitalism (nominally “free market” as opposed to centralized control) and is literally buying up influence over Africa and Asia.

Of course, Trump’s tax plan is Paul Ryan’s tax plan (Trump never actually had a plan), and the Republicans are content to let Trump destroy the nation and end the social safety net including Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, and possibly embroil us in World War III, until they can get jam through the tax plan they have coveted since Reagan.

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Trump’s Infrastructure Agenda Would Send US Back to 19th Century, End Global Leadership

The Pittsburgh skyline is visible today; a century ago, when steel and coal reigned supreme, the city would have been shrouded in cloud of pollution. Trump, pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, said he represented the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris, but 75% of Pittsburghers voted for Hillary Clinton © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

My return visit to Pittsburgh for my second Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn bike tour on the Great Allegheny Passage reaffirmed for me the stupidity of Donald Trump’s justification for abandoning the Paris Climate Agreement, that he was elected by the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris, and that what Pittsburghers want more than anything is to roll back time a century to the days when coal was king and steel mills were belching putrid smoke and men died prematurely in horrid working conditions, their lives under the thumb of Robber Barons who controlled industry and politics. Indeed, the people of Pittsburgh voted 75% for Hillary Clinton’s agenda and vision of America’s future.

But Trump’s entire agenda, beginning with a budget that would similarly reverse course on the very infrastructure and technology developments that would insure America’s leadership in the 21st century, rather than put us back a century.

We get a glimpse of what that is like on the outskirts of the city, in Clairton, where a huge mound of coal dwarfs a tractor truck, and across the bridge over the rail lines, is a chemical plant emitting a foul smell that penetrates the modest residential neighborhood across the street.

The city of Pittsburgh, itself, has risen anew, with glistening office towers and a new economy based on finance, health care, academics, robotics and technology. Its waterfront, once dominated by dirty industrial plants, is now a gorgeous bike path, which you can see so spectacularly from Mount Washington, the place from which George Washington surveyed to find a location to put a fort to protect British colonial interests, but from which in those bad ol’ days, the city would have been shrouded in haze.

Outside the city, where we start our bike tour near the beginning of the 150-mile long multi-purpose railtrail, in the state which built its economy on oil, coal and gas, there are windmills on the hilltops and solar farms in fields. Where we camp one night, in Confluence below the Youghiogheny River Reservoir dam built in 1944 to control flooding, the outflow has been tapped for hydroelectric power.

The biketrail – representing 150 of some 23,000 miles of similarly repurposed railtrails across the country – is a new lifeline for small towns like Meyersdale, which once supported six hotels, an elementary school and a high school, now all shuttered, and Dunbar, once a center for glassmaking and coal production. In Confluence, where the population today is 700, we add 200 to that roll during our stay.

The Trump agenda – and his budget to back it up – would cancel out the line for funding such repurposing projects that has existed since 1991, while eliminating incentives that helped jumpstart America’s fledgling clean, renewable energy industry where jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. The 374,000 now employed in solar eclipse the 74,000 people working as coal miners, indeed, exceed all the workers in oil, gas and coal combined; while wind energy employed 100,000. Worldwide – and places like Europe which are legions ahead of the US in wind and solar –  some 10 million people are employed in clean renewable energy jobs.

At the same time, the Trump Administration – EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – are sloping the playing field back in favor of climate-destroying fossil fuel industry, rolling back regulations that would allow coal mining companies to pollute water, removing protections on drilling and mining on federal lands, opening up exports of natural gas and oil, creating financial incentives for new nuclear plants, and ending tax credits for renewable energy, among a long, long list. Trump wants to really stick it to climate activists.

Trump’s promise to invest $1 trillion in America’s aging, decaying and obsolete infrastructure is also a sham – as evidenced by his Transportation director exiting the New York-New Jersey Hudson Gateway Tunnel project, and a budget that would rescind funding to rebuild the century-old tunnel.

One contrasts this myopia from the guy who boasted of being a “builder” with the bicentennial of the building of the Erie Canal, in 1817, a bold vision and engineering marvel, which quite literally made New York City the financial capital of the world by connecting the port of New York to the Midwest’s resources and markets with Europe. Even then, globalization, not isolation, is what made the United States a world power.

It’s not just the belching, choking pollution that Trump would like to go back to. In climate policy, energy policy, health care, tax reform, and now infrastructure, Trump envisions exacerbating the divide between rich and poor – and therefore political power as campaign finance and special interests increasingly determine who gets the “ear” in policy. His budget affirms his bias against transitioning away from a climate-destroying carbon energy economy in favor of clean, renewable, decentralized (and cheaper, less monopolistic) energy. His regulatory policy reverses the incentives as well as the progress. The Republican health care policy is as much a mechanism to cement power in the hands of the “haves” versus the have-nots – who are unlikely to challenge abusive employers if they are afraid of losing their health insurance; unable to join protest marches and rallies if they are in pain or suffering; and unable to have their concerns acted on by lawmakers if they don’t have the funds to contribute to campaigns.

Infrastructure, energy policy, the environment, technological innovation and prospects for economic growth, prosperity, social mobility and yes, political power are all connected. Climate justice, social justice, economic justice, political justice are all intertwined.

Trump would have us go back a century or two and cost the United States its global leadership.

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin