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Mo-Yain Tham

When people hear the words “New York,” they tend to think of the economic powerhouse New York City. New York State, however, once relied on the manufacturing activity of cities such as Buffalo to drive its economic engine. After the 2008 recession, Buffalo and other upstate industrial cities saw their manufacturing sector decline even further, and their economies have never fully recovered. As the Covid-19 pandemic morphed into an economic crisis, record high unemployment levels throughout New York put an increased strain on these post-industrial communities. While many pundits and politicians are calling for budget cuts — community leaders and advocates recognize that now is not the time for austerity.

Instead, they argue, New York needs to double down on public spending that stimulates economic regrowth and supports good jobs and healthier communities. Nowhere are possibilities of this more evident than in upstate cities like Buffalo, where low-income communities of color suffer doubly: from high levels of pollution and high levels of unemployment.

New Yorkers need long-term solutions that spur a Covid-19 recovery, invest in racial justice, and combat the climate crisis. One such solution is on its way in the form of a legislative package called Green Transit, Green Jobs. The legislation, which is co-sponsored by Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz and Senator Tim Kennedy, would mandate transit agencies across the state transition to zero-emission buses and create good jobs in the process.

By including our road-tested good jobs and equity policy, the U.S. Employment Plan, this legislation would incentivize transit agencies to purchase electric buses from high-road manufacturers committed to good wages, benefits, and training and retraining programs. This means that that every single public dollar New York spent on clean transit would also support good jobs, lift labor standards, and contribute to building a fair economy that works for working families.

At the same time, the bill would reduce the carbon emissions and the significant levels of pollution in the transportation sector, which makes up over one-third of greenhouse gas emissions statewide – making the legislation a natural complement to the historic Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’s goal to achieve zero-emission in New York by 2050.

The Green Transit, Green Jobs bill would contribute to the regrowth of the transportation manufacturing industry scattered throughout upstate New York, providing “forgotten” cities like Buffalo with a much-needed economic stimulus through good green job creation. In turn, the legislation would help New York State address the systemic issues experienced by low-income communities of color — chronic economic insecurity and persistent higher levels of pollution.

New York is home to some 8,500 transit buses. It’s time to put them on the road to good jobs and healthier communities.

Learn more about Green Transit, Green Jobs bills here.

Press conference for Green Jobs, Green Transit launch on August 26, 2020.

Mo-Yain Tham is a policy and research associate at Jobs to Move America.

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