Rooftop and community solar has been a bright-spot in New York's otherwise halting energy transition. Canva Images
Workers at Long Island’s leading rooftop solar installation firm voted to unionize, in a New York first. Then the company furloughed almost half of them.
By Julia Rock

As New York falls behind on its goals to build renewable energy, there has been one bright spot: small-scale solar.

New York is the national leader in community solar installation, and it’s ahead of its own schedule to build rooftop solar. But the workers driving that progress face low wages, unpredictable hours, and frequent layoffs. Until last month, the residential rooftop sector was entirely non-union.

On Saturday morning, a couple dozen people with signs and a giant inflatable rat stood on the busy corner of Bethpage that hosts EmPower, the leading Long Island rooftop solar installation firm that furloughed 40 percent of its workforce two weeks ago — just after employees voted to unionize with the United Auto Workers.

For years, New York towns kept the surplus funds after selling foreclosed houses at public auctions. Now, they have to give it back. Chester Paul Sgroi
New York municipalities used to keep the surplus from foreclosed homes sold at auction. Then the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
By Arabella Saunders

There’s a red house on Penny Place with three bedrooms, a fireplace, and baby pink tile in the bathroom. In 2022, Ulster County foreclosed on the home, in Ellenville, after the owner failed to pay a $13,390 tax bill. A company called Blue Door Housing bought it in a public auction for $103,200, and the county earned nearly $90,000. The former owner was left with nothing.

“It’s really, really devastating for people who have worked for 30 or 40 years to pay off their mortgage to lose this money this way,” said Tanya Dwyer, a foreclosure lawyer in the Hudson Valley. “It’s their retirement safety net. It’s the generational wealth their family has been building by protecting the house.”

Last May, the United States Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional in Tyler v. Hennepin County, arguing that a municipality keeping the surplus money in a tax foreclosure sale violates the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment. In 2015, Geraldine Tyler, an octogenarian living in Hennepin County, Minnesota, had her condo foreclosed on after failing to pay a $15,000 tax bill. The county sold her condo for $40,000 and kept the surplus $25,000, leaving Tyler — like the former owner of the house on Penny Place — with nothing.

Gov. Hochul vetoed 115 bills in 2023. New York Focus listed them all and rounded them up in a database. 

New York Focus reporter Colin Kinniburgh talked about the legislation that got shut down with Radio Catskill. 

The State of the State is just the curtain-raiser for New York’s budget process. The battle will dominate the coming months. Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul | Illustration: Maia Hibbett
The governor gave a preview of her budget priorities — and we looked out for 2024's major fights. Follow along to see what we're watching.
By New York Focus

It was the first in a series of big days in Albany. At 1 pm, Governor Kathy Hochul gave her 2024 State of the State address, outlining the past year’s achievements and the coming year’s priorities. The speech kicks off what’s sure to be a tense legislative session, as November’s elections loom and the governor and legislature work through their frosty relationship. We looked out for the year’s big political fights.

New York Focus had five reporters in the Capitol Tuesday, plus several more following along from home. We tracked Hochul’s every word — and those she omitted. We updated this page throughout the address, so check out our posts below to get a sense of what we were watching. Once it’s over, we took a look at what she didn’t say.

The State of the State is just the curtain-raiser for New York’s budget process — where Hochul proposes one set of spending priorities, the two legislative chambers put forth their counter offers, and they fight about it until they can pass the year’s biggest package of bills. Have questions you want us to answer? Send them in here.

We’re visiting the North Country, where we’re partnering with North Country Public Radio to host a conversation with residents about local media. Join us!

Under federal law, dark money groups can keep their donors private. New York law is supposed to protect against this opacity. Joe Shlabotnik via flickr
A “ghost entity” linked to Tom Suozzi spent $2 million attacking Kathy Hochul. Then the Board of Elections started an investigation, and it disappeared.
By Chris Bragg

To anonymously spend millions in New York elections, all you need is some creative paperwork, out-of-state consultants, and a delete button.

Last year, New York’s top election law enforcement official investigated whether the nonprofit Empire Results violated state law by failing to disclose the donors behind $2 million on ads attacking Governor Kathy Hochul during the 2022 primary. The state Board of Elections later closed the investigation — but not because the allegations lacked merit.

Instead, Board of Elections Enforcement Counsel Michael L. Johnson found his office lacked the teeth to tear into the consultants’ sophisticated operation. As the 2024 state elections loom, Empire Results’ methods could provide a roadmap for future entities seeking to keep their donors anonymous.

How do you experience the news where you live and in New York State, generally? What is the news media doing well, and what are we missing? Let us know by taking a few minutes to complete our survey. The next 60 people to take the survey will get a $10 gift card.


Copyright © New York Focus 2023, All rights reserved.
Staying Focused is compiled and written by Alex Arriaga
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