ILR School

High Road Policy

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High Road Policy (HRP) publishes quarterly memoranda on legislation, proposals, campaigns, governance arrangements, and other practical strategies for advancing a more democratic economy rooted in values of shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and participatory democracy. Memos are grounded in a combination of empirical evidence, academic scholarship, and lessons learned from practice. HRP memos contribute actionable insights to contemporary policy and political discourses in and beyond the regions and communities of Upstate New York.

HRP is a project of the Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab’s Data for Equitable Economic Development and Sustainability (Good DEEDS) initiative, which democratizes local and regional data for the purposes of: empowering residents, workers, and institutions; informing public policy debates; and providing an empirical basis for ensuring that development and change in local communities follows the High Road to shared prosperity for all, from the present to all future generations. To learn more, visit the High Road Policy website.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 8 of 8
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    Crisis of Care: How Commodification of Childcare Creates and Exacerbates Inequality in Erie County and New York State—and What to Do About It
    Weaver, Russell (2022-03)
    This special triple issue of High Road Policy uses Erie County, New York as a study area in which to explore different dimensions of inequality that are found within, transcend, and are exacerbated by the area’s childcare system. Secondary social and economic data are analyzed and brought into conversation with primary data collected from a survey of local childcare providers to uncover challenges in the industry. Special attention is paid to connections between low wages for care work, lack of capital resources for care providers, and insufficient public investments to fill revenue gaps for providers who care for children from low-income families. Along those lines, the special issue quantifies (a) undersupply of childcare in the study area, (b) the differences between observed childcare worker wages and local costs of living, and (c) gaps between true costs of care and the public subsidies that aim to cover childcare expenses for low-income families. Synthesizing findings from those exercises paints a partial picture of harms created by and within the existing, commodified childcare system. That picture acts as a springboard from which to launch into a discussion of what a fairer, more equitable and inclusive childcare system might look like in Erie County and New York State, and how participants in that system might begin building it. One concrete opportunity toward that end is arguably to broaden the existing proposal for a New York Health Act, which has considerable support, into a more comprehensive New York Care Act. At bottom, this special triple issue finds that the American childcare system is not broken. It is working as any system of market allocation is intended to operate – by ensuring that families with the greatest willingness and ability to pay for the commodity of childcare receive it, while leaving scores of working families behind. Consequently, the system does not need to be reformed. It needs to be meaningfully transformed. This issue offers realistic possibilities for beginning that process of system transformation in New York State in the here and now.
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    Back to the Future of Local Elections: Reestablishing Resident Voting Rights to Strengthen Municipal Democracy
    Weaver, Russell (2021-12)
    In the U.S., voting is treated as a discretionary political right rather than an inalienable natural right, meaning that who can and cannot vote is subject to variation over time and space. Although Americans are taught to believe that voting is now widely available to all adult citizens because of the successful struggles that extended the franchise to women and African Americans, the reality is far more complicated. To be sure, for much the nation’s historical record, voting rights were tied to residency, not citizenship – meaning that non-citizens (i.e., immigrants) were able to participate in elections at various levels of government. Non-citizen voting was widely practiced into the 20th Century, and it was not particularly controversial. That changed, however, when increasingly class-conscious immigrants began strengthening the power of labor relative to capital and adding fuel to progressive movements. To stamp out the potential threat that progressive immigrant voting blocs posed to status quo power relations, states steadily stripped non-citizens of voting rights. By the late 1920s, citizenship was a near-universal requirement for voting across the map. More recently, acknowledging that an inability to participate in the electoral decisions that affect one’s life is inconsistent with all notions of democracy, the immigrant rights movement has been actively working to reestablish resident-based (local) voting rights for non-citizens. Recent successes in places like Takoma Park, MD, and New York City offer examples to be followed by other jurisdictions. This article makes the case for reestablishing resident-based voting rights in the specific city of Buffalo, NY – first by presenting an historical and legal justification, and then by synthesizing relevant data to illustrate how extant patterns of inequality are reinforced when the political voices of immigrants and their neighborhoods are minimized. Ultimately, the article finds that restoring immigrant voting rights in Buffalo is both possible and justified; but that successfully doing so might hinge on first enacting sanctuary city policies to ensure non-citizens that their (eventual) participation in local elections will not expose them to federal immigration officials.
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    The Raise the Wage Act Could Lower Housing Cost Burden and Advance Racial Equity
    Weaver, Russell (2021-03)
    This article frames the federal Raise the Wage Act – a policy proposal to simultaneously raise the federal minimum wage and eliminate the existing two-tiered minimum wage system – as a targeted mechanism for increasing the income of low-wage workers (and, especially, low-wage workers of color), in pursuit of more universal goals of housing security and racial equity. The memo draws on data from the U.S. Census Bureau as part of a case study to show that “Raise the Wage” would meaningfully reduce housing cost-burden in the city of Buffalo, NY, particularly for households headed by persons of color. At bottom, the findings from this memo suggest that many low-income households stand to gain some measure of financial and housing security under the Raise the Wage Act. However, so long as wealth and power remain concentrated at the top of existing social hierarchies — or, more to the point, so long as existing social hierarchies remain in place — these marginal gains will be temporary at best. Thus, while raising the wage is an important near-term action for targeting more income to working people and families right now, for it to be a step up to the High Road – and not just another lateral move along the Low Road – the policy needs to be situated in a longer-term strategy to provide ordinary people with the means, resources, and infrastructure they need to live flourishing lives as members of self-determining communities.
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    Chartering an Inclusive, Sustainable, Democratic City
    Weaver, Russell (Cornell University, ILR Buffalo Co-Lab, 2020-12)
    This article advances an opportunity for the City of Buffalo, NY – or any home rule municipality — to deepen and expand participatory governance and community self-determination, by replacing its current corporate charter with one that is firmly grounded in community and human rights. The case for a rights-based charter is developed through selected engagements with and syntheses of (1) instructive work from organizers, scholars, and attorneys in the community rights movement, and (2) New York State and local laws related to municipal charter revision. Among the core arguments in favor of a rights-based charter is that communities are rarely active and authentic participants in the matters that collectively affect them. Instead, ordinary people experience life as relatively disempowered subjects left to adjust to and embrace the world that developers, corporations, and other powerholders create for and around them. When they do not embrace that world, and instead organize and mobilize challenges against it, communities typically find themselves outmatched by resource-rich opponents with access to power. Communities that draw on legal “allowable remedies” (e.g., lawsuits or appeals to regulatory agencies) to resist unwanted development projects are invariably outspent by their opponents, who work tirelessly to maintain and uphold a system of laws and norms that prioritizes individualized private property rights over collective community rights. These dynamics make it nearly impossible for people to work together to create equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and democratic communities. Remedying this reality is not a matter of reforming existing inequitable development rules, but of re-forming the governance structure in which development decisions get made. One potential mechanism for catalyzing this re-formative process is a rights-based charter that formally empowers communities of everyday people to, collectively and democratically, make decisions about the matters that affect their shared social and spatial environments.
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    Economic Development on Common Ground: Two Bipartisan State Policies for Defunding Low Road Infrastructure
    Weaver, Russell (2020-06)
    [Excerpt] On the backdrop of civil unrest and the nation’s politically discordant handling of COVID-19, these alarming figures bode poorly for the prospects of overcoming partisan gridlock to pass progressive, High Road legislation. At face value, members of opposing political parties seem too unwilling to cede any ground to their rivals to come together to enact meaningful change. To be sure, lawmaking bodies are even unable to agree that a global pandemic, which has thus far killed over 125,000 Americans and left tens of millions jobless, demands additional government intervention. Nevertheless, there is at least one domain where the two sides of the political divide appear to share common ground. Organizations and authors from right-leaning free market think tanks like the Mercatus Center to the left-leaning Good Jobs First have made the case to end targeted economic development subsidies and tax incentives. The next section explores the rationale for this position. From there, the memo highlights two opportunities to reform – and ultimately phase out – economic development incentives in New York State. Both opportunities were introduced to the New York State Assembly in the 2019-20 legislative session. Thus, the legislation already exists and does not need to be drafted anew. The bills are available to be reported out of committee and put to a vote (or, since the session has ended, reintroduced in 2020-21 and then reported out of committee for a full Chamber vote). They accordingly represent near-to medium-term actions that the State legislature can take to wind down and then end a practice that, as detailed below, is roundly derided across the political spectrum. Finally, the memo concludes with an even more immediate policy target: a federal COVID-19 relief package for state and local governments that might help end the “interstate economic development arms race.”
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    Defining and Advancing High Road Policy Concepts, Strategies, and Tactics
    Weaver, Russell (2020-06)
    [Excerpt] This Special Edition of High Road Policy (HRP) outlines a vision that opponents of the status quo can choose to stand for. It does so by proposing succinct answers to three basic questions: What is the High Road? What is High Road Policy? Through what means can High Road Policy be advanced? By answering these questions, this Special Edition of HRP aims to provide readers with a clearer understanding of what “High Road Policy” – both the concept and the journal – is all about. Concerning the latter, HRP’s Aims and Scope state that the outlet is committed to publishing on “policies, proposals, campaigns, governance arrangements, and other practical strategies for advancing a more democratic economy.” What follows is: (1) an overarching conceptual framework onto which those “policies, proposals,” and so forth can be mapped to determine how compatible they are with a High Road agenda; and (2) a plan of action that (a) articulates a theory of change and (b) introduces three interdependent strategies for implementing that theory of change, thereby supplanting the status quo with a democratic, fair, High Road system over time.
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    Deepening Democracy in Buffalo by Honoring Prior Commitments (And a Legacy)
    Weaver, Russell (2020-03)
    The waning years of the 2010s and the opening weeks of the 2020s have been rife with headlines, editorials, academic articles, lectures, and book titles lamenting a “crisis of democracy”. Among other things, the concerned authors and observers participating in the discourse cite foreign election interference; the global rise of populist authoritarians; the exorbitant financial costs of electoral politics and the attendant subordination of policy to wealth and corporate interests; increasing social and cultural cleavages and polarization; sharply rising inequality; the ongoing erosion of public trust; and a host of other factors as both causes and consequences of the present weakened state of democracy in and beyond the United States. Not surprisingly, in light of these trends, strengthening democratic institutions and expanding democratic participation are among the highest priorities included in proposals to combat intersecting social, economic, and ecological problems from local gentrification to global climate change. With that in mind, this policy memo highlights two opportunities for the City of Buffalo, New York to answer these urgent calls to deepen democracy. Both opportunities—promoting worker cooperatives and the use of participatory budgeting—have already been experimented with in Buffalo, and have received meaningful resource commitments from the City in the recent past. Earlier progress on those fronts is part of the legacy of former Delaware District Council Member Michael J. LoCurto, who championed both causes through legislation and advocacy. Honoring that legacy means renewing prior commitments to these causes and ensuring that they become lasting fixtures of local governance.
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    Prioritizing Racial Equity and Social Justice in New York State
    Weaver, Russell (Cornell University, ILR Buffalo Co-Lab, 2020-11)
    This issue of High Road Policy draws on the work of prominent racial equity scholars and activists to outline a framework for transforming New York State (NYS) government into an engine of racial equity and social justice. The three essential pillars of that framework include: (1) establishing a statewide office of racial equity and social justice; (2) empowering that office to oversee a deeply inclusive, participatory process that leads to a statewide vision and strategic action plan for racial equity and social justice; and (3) adopting equity tools, such as requirements for equity impact analysis (EIA), that facilitate the implementation of that vision. Two proposals that were introduced to the NYS Assembly in the 2019-20 legislative session contain many of the blueprints for building this infrastructure. This article introduces readers to those proposals, unpacks their essential provisions and how they connect to one another, identifies opportunities to modify the bills so they better reinforce one another, and illustrates how existing NYS environmental laws and regulations offer a clear precedent and model for moving both bills forward and radically transforming NYS government for racial equity and social justice.