News Briefs Sept. 6, 2017

Poughkeepsie is facing a $1.6M fine for failure to keep buses in operation. Despite this, the city voted not to transfer bus ownership to the county. / Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Poughkeepsie at Risk of Federal Bus Fine

Facing a $1.6 million penalty by the Federal Transportation Administration for failure to keep buses in operation, the Poughkeepsie Common Council voted 4-3 on Aug. 28 to transfer Poughkeepsie’s ownership of six hybrid-fuel buses to Dutchess County. Advocates for the resolution suggest that the decommissioned vehicles will help reduce the $13 million debt currently held by the City of Poughkeepsie.

The ballot in favor of the resolution fell short by one vote of the majority required to pass. A separate resolution to sell the buses in an openbid action also failed to pass on Aug. 29. If the City of Poughkeepsie does not decide on an alternative course of action, it will incur a federal fine that it does not have the resources to pay. Finance Commissioner Marc Nelson predicted that in the absence of any policy change the city will need to raise taxes by 7.15 percent or begin layoffs in October (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Resolution to transfer city bus assets fails; $1.6M still owed,” 08.29.2017).

Dutchess County began to service the city bus routes in early July, but the Common Council voted against two earlier resolutions by Mayor Rob Rolison to contribute city funds and assets to the county operation. As a result, the city government entered political gridlock when Rolison twice vetoed the Common Council’s decision and resubmitted similar resolutions (Hudson Valley News Network, “Poughkeepsie
Bus Battle Ends,” 08.28.2017).

Throughout the summer, the six buses were parked in a garage and remained inactive, violating the federal mandate to put infrastructure assets to use. Provisory clauses in federal transportation funding allow for $1.6 million to be
recalled in the case that Poughkeepsie chooses to hold unused resources. Despite this risk, D-Ward 1 council member Chris Petsas voted against the resolution to transfer with the argument that holding onto the buses would help the city negotiate with the county for higher-quality bus service to local neighborhoods.

A key concern for Petsas was service for less affluent and more diverse suburbs to the north of the city that tend to rely more heavily on public transportation (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Common Council resolution would let city of Poughkeepsie sell bus assets,” 09.02.2017). The ongoing controversy over the future of the Poughkeepsie buses is part of a larger debate about the city debt. Based on a 2016 fiscal analysis by Capital Market Advisors, combining city bus service with the county bus service represented one of 42 possible policies that would help reduce overall debt in the city’s finances.

In a separate government study, Poughkeepsie was rated in 2014 to be under moderate fiscal stress along with 10 other cities out of 1043 in the United States (City of Poughkeepsie, “Bus Consolidation, Cost/Benefit Review,” 02.21.2017). On the other hand, former Poughkeepsie Administrator Deborah McDonnell reported an annual budget surplus in 2016 and predicted a budget surplus for 2017. Similarly, Moody’s Investors Services reclassified Poughkeepsie’s city bond prediction from negative to stable for the first time since 2010. Rolison has identified
the city’s credit rating as an administration priority and will continue to target policies that strengthen investor confidence. (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Poughkeepsie city administrator resigns,” 08.08.2017).

-Clark Xu, Guest Reporter

Trump administration to end DACA On Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, President Trump and Attorney General Sessions announced that the Trump administration planned to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program beginning March 5, 2018. DACA, implemented by President Obama in June 2012, allows undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to apply for a two-year renewable permit that would grant them a temporary work permit and prevent deportation (The Washington Post, “Trump administration announces end of immigration protection program for ‘dreamers’” 09.05.2017).

Since the program began, approximately 800,000 people have received deferred-action permits. The recipients of deferred action, colloquially called “DREAMers,” were often eligible for driver’s licenses and in-state tuition at public universities in some states. DACA has allowed many immigrants who grew up in the United States to remain in the communities they call home and contribute to American society without fear of deportation.

President Trump has not taken any legislative action at this point, but he has called on Congress to vote to strike down DACA within the next six months. Rather than acting immediately to end DACA, President Trump has given Congress a six-month window during which they can vote to preserve DACA. Alternately, they can come up with other safety nets for undocumented immigrants or reintroduce legislation such as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which provides a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the United States as children. President Trump has yet to explain what would happen if Congress failed to vote on this issue before March 5 (The New York Times, “The End of DACA: What We Know and Don’t Know,” 09.05.2017).

Both Trump and Sessions cited concerns about providing jobs to American citizens as their primary motivation for ending DACA. In statements employing rhetoric typical of anti-immigrant activists, Trump and Sessions explained that they hoped to end DACA so that unemployed Americans would have more access to employment opportunities. The Trump administration feels that Americans are denied jobs because immigrants with work permits are receiving those positions (The New York Times, “Trump Moves to End DACA and Calls On Congress To Act,” 09.05.2017).

Obama, who pioneered DACA and ensured that it was implemented during his presidency, responded to the Trump administration with anger and sorrow. Although Obama has maintained a relatively minor social media presence, he posted a lengthy statement to his Facebook page condemning the administration’s actions as “wrong,” “cruel” and “contrary to our spirit” as a country (Facebook, Barack Obama, posted 09.05.2017).

Because of the unclear future of DACA, the Department of Homeland Security has stopped accepting new applications for DACA status, but clarified that those looking to renew their two-year work permit and deportation protection can apply to do so before October 5. Those with active DACA status may remain in the United States until it expires. However, if Congress votes to repeal DACA, undocumented immigrants without active deportation protection could be subject to deportation beginning on March 6, 2018 (The New York Times, “The End of DACA: What We Know and Don’t Know,” 09.05.2017).

-Sarah Dolan, Contributing Editor

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