All posts by Rebecca Harris

Pitch: Marijuana Policy in the U.S.

Partnering with Matt MacVey
Headline: The Economics of Marijuana
Slug: Weedonomics
Key elements: The country is in a major transitional phase on marijuana policy, not just at the state level but at the federal level as well within the Justice Department. Marijuana-related arrests cost taxpayers around $15 billion a year, and $75 million in New York City alone.  In comparison, estimates of tax revenue that the U.S. government would take in if marijuana was legalized and taxed is between $40 -$100 billion. This is also a unique issue because technically marijuana is still federally illegal, but each state is individually changing its own laws and as a result the nation is a patchwork of different marijuana policies. How much would legalizing marijuana affect the prison-system funded by taxpayer dollars, and how much would it affect the federal budget?  Where does each state currently stand with its marijuana policies?
News hook: This topic is very newsworthy since new things are happening in this area each week. We could look at this through the lens of Colorado and Washington’s new policies to see how the change is actually playing out on the state level, or we track the shift in policy around the country.

Harris/Reyna ARRA Fund Piece

photo copy


We envision the layout for our piece to look something like this. One the top left is a chart that shows how much money each NYC Department/agency received in stimulus funding, and how much they have spent. The pink (or whatever color) shows how much of the stimulus funding that department has spent, the black shows how much in stimulus they received in total.

On the bottom left, we have a pie chart that shows a breakdown of the 2014 NYC budget, so that you can compare how well each agency is doing in terms of using their funding vs. how much they’re about to receive from the budget.

On the right side, we want to create two infographics, one that lists the top 5 worst agencies in terms of using their stimulus funding, and one that shows the top 5 best. We would outline which program their funding was meant for and what that program would do.

Our piece would also include a text component as well. This is obviously a very preliminary, rough sketch but we thinks it’s a good start to organizing what the best way is to present our data.

Update on our story:

We have contacted Doug Turetsky and someone over at DYCD who were both confused because our data shows that DYCD hasn’t spent any of its stimulus funding, however both of them told us that DYCD has spent all of that funding. Doug is checking with one of his analysts and getting back to us to figure out what the discrepancy is, as well as the DYCD employee.

We’ve called the other agencies as well and couldn’t get in touch with anyone so we’ll be pursuing that as well as talking to James Parrot.

NYC Agencies: Best and Worst pitch

By: Rebecca Harris and Rikki Reyna

New York City Budget: Who Uses and Abuses Funds

Slug: NYC Agencies Best and Worst

Key elements: 

– Stimulus funds

– Progress of projects that used stimulus funds

– Ranking of city agencies who received funds


The Mayor released his preliminary budget. The city is talking about money. Who gets it, what programs do they spend it on, and how much do they need? De Blasio even chastised Albany and the Federal Government for putting the squeeze on New York City’s budget.

But if every city department got every dollar they asked for, would that solve everything?

 A look into how various city departments spent the federal stimulus money they received five years ago shows that an influx of money is not a silver bullet. Because in many cases that money is not spent.

Data on the usage of stimulus funds provided to New York City agencies through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, found here, shows that in many cases the funds were underutilized, if used at all. For each project, the data gives a description of the project’s goals, how much money it received, the city agency that received the money for the project, and what percentage of the money was spent and what percentage of the project was completed.

Some of the worst offenders included…

Top 5 worst:

1) Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) – Out of School Time (OST), provides a mix of after-school activities for youth, Given $8,300,000 and has spent -0.28%

2) Department of Education (DOE) – Education Services for Special Needs Students, Given $316,603,358 has spent 0% of it

3) Department of Probation (DOP) – Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Probation Investigation and Community Supervison, given $3,976,000 has spent 0% of funds

4) Department of Small Business Services (SBS) – Individual Training Grants, given $9,941,858 spent 0%

5) (SBS) – Workforce 1 Career Centers, given $1,722,515 spent 0%

Our project would investigate some of these cases in which the money was grossly underused to seek to answer, why wasn’t the money spent and where did it go? And do these examples reflect a larger, systematic misuse of project funds by the respective city agencies.


Barbara Fife, Baruch College, Former NYC Deputy Mayor

Dick Dadey, Executive Director, Citizens Union

Steve Malanga, Senior Fellow, Senior Editor, Manhattan Institute

E.J. McMahan, Economist, Manhattan Institute

Nicole Gelinas, Senior Fellow, Contributing Editor, Manhattan Institute

Ronnie Lowenstein, Director, Independent Budget Office

Doug Turetsky, Communications Director, Independent Budget Office

James Parrot, Deputy Director, Chief Economist, Fiscal Policy Institute

Charles Brecher, Research Director, Prof., Citizens Budget Commission, Wagner, NYU

Betsy Lynam, Deputy Research Director, Citizens Budget Commission

Carol Kellerman, President, Citizens Budget Commission