Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/108 Thu, 22 Feb 2018 20:56:35 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? $72.4 Billion, with Charles Brecher http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7464:what-s-the-data-point-72-4-billion-with-charles-brecher http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7464:what-s-the-data-point-72-4-billion-with-charles-brecher whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 30 -- $72.4 Billion, with Charles Brecher [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp w cbrecher 120

Health care policy and health care funding are among the most pressing issues facing the country, state, and city. Chuck Brecher is an expert on those and related topics, having been research director at Citizens Budget Commission for more than 30 years and now health policy advisor for CBC. Brecher joined the podcast to discuss recent news out of Washington, D.C. that is important to New York, as well as a variety of health care related issues facing New York State and City.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis) and guest Charles Brecher. Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? $72.4 Billion, with Charles Brecher Thu, 08 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? $88.7 billion, with Mara Gay http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7454:what-s-the-data-point-88-7-billion-with-mara-gay http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7454:what-s-the-data-point-88-7-billion-with-mara-gay whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 29 -- $88.7 billion, with Mara Gay [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

Mara Gay Wall Street Journal

On Thursday, Feburary 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his preliminary budget proposal for city fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1. On Friday, February 2, Mara Gay of the Wall Street Journal joined the podcast to break it down, discuss de Blasio's budgeting practices, and look ahead to the key policy and budget issues of the next few months. The budget, which calls for $88.7 billion in spending, will be the topic of hearings and negotiations over the next several months. De Blasio will also have to deal with federal and state budgetary decisions -- and he'll go to Albany on Monday, February 5, to testify at a state legislative budget hearing. We discuss it all on this episode.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis) and guest Mara Gay (@MaraGay). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? $88.7 billion, with Mara Gay Fri, 02 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
What’s The [Data] Point? $14.3 Billion, with Robert Mujica and Dean Fuleihan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7438:what-s-the-data-point-14-3-billion-with-robert-mujica-and-dean-fuleihan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7438:what-s-the-data-point-14-3-billion-with-robert-mujica-and-dean-fuleihan whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 28 -- $14.3 Billion, with Robert Mujica and Dean Fuleihan [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

robert mujica cbc panel jan23

State Budget Director Robert Mujica and New York City First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan spoke at a CBC event on Wednesday, January 24 to discuss the implications of the recently-passed federal tax reform on the state and city. Mujica and Fuleihan discussed how the state and city are responding, with a great deal of budget fallout to come. Ben and Maria were there and provide an intro and brief discussion of the speeches, and this episode then brings you the full remarks from Mujica and Fuleihan, with enlightening audience Q&A after each. You can also catch the video of the entire event, which included two-panel discussions, at the CBC website.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What’s The [Data] Point? $14.3 Billion, with Robert Mujica and Dean Fuleihan Thu, 25 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
10 Burning Questions After Cuomo’s State of the State and Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7430:10-burning-questions-after-cuomo-s-state-of-the-state-and-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7430:10-burning-questions-after-cuomo-s-state-of-the-state-and-budget Cuomo budget presentation 2018

Gov. Cuomo during his budget presentation (photo: The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his executive budget for the next fiscal year on Tuesday, centering his presentation around the threat to New York posed by the new federal tax code and possibilities for combatting it and other policies from Washington, D.C. The budget address came almost two weeks after Cuomo’s State of the State speech, at which he presented his 2018 policy agenda.

In both cases, Cuomo left unsaid key aspects of major proposals -- most notably on reforming the state’s tax code and instituting a congestion pricing scheme in New York City -- indicating that details would be forthcoming through imminent state reports and worked out in discussions with experts, stakeholders, and lawmakers. How the state will deal with those two issues are among a number of big questions unanswered after Cuomo set the table for the 2018 state budget and legislative session. (In the days after his budget presentation, Cuomo's Department of Taxation and Finance released a preliminary report on the federal tax reforms with suggestions for how New York can possibly blunt the impact and the "Fix NYC" group Cuomo empaneled last year released its recommendations for a congestion pricing program. These reports set the stage for public debate, Cuomo to shape his proposals, legislative hearings, and negotiations among state leaders.)

The state is facing a $4.4 billion budget gap. Even if the state adheres, as expected, to the 2 percent spending growth cap that Cuomo has implemented each year, there would still be a $1.7 billion gap to be reckoned with. The state is also expecting millions of dollars in federal cuts to state healthcare programs, though the extent is not yet clear as federal negotiations continue.

Also troubling Cuomo and legislators who will negotiate the new state budget is the recently passed federal tax code overhaul, ushered in by the Republican-controlled Congress and President Donald Trump, which severely limits the state and local tax deduction, disproportionately burdening many New Yorker taxpayers. These changes do not necessarily immediately cut into state funds, but they pose significant threats to the New York economy and could risk out-migration of middle- and upper-income New Yorkers, as Cuomo said when presenting his budget and possible ways to dodge the “economic missile” coming at New York.

The fixes, painted in broad strokes on Tuesday by Cuomo and elaborated on by his budget director Robert Mujica in a post-address session with reporters, include the implementation of a statewide employer-based payroll tax to replace some income taxes and opportunities for charitable contributions that would be deductible from federal adjusted gross income. Addressing the deficit would involved various cuts -- especially to transportation, social services and mental hygiene -- cost shifts, including to New York City, and more than $1 billion in revenue generated by new taxes and fees.

The proposed budget would raise total spending by 2.3 percent, including a 3 percent increase in school aid, a $769-million bump. This includes a $338 million increase in foundation aid, which supplements local funding for school districts to ensure students’ rights to a “sound education,” $50 million for high-needs “community schools,” and $15 million more for universal pre-kindergarten programs.

Also in Cuomo’s spending plan are a number of policy initiatives with little or no financial component, including the Child Victims Act, anti-gun, anti-gang and anti-sexual harassment legislation, electoral reform, and criminal justice reforms.

There is a great deal of policy and budget negotiation to come before the April 1 start of the new fiscal year. Here are ten of the outstanding questions:

1. How will Cuomo close the budget deficit if the Senate GOP is opposed to any tax increases?
The executive budget relies on a slew of new taxes to balance the budget including a tax on opioid manufacturers, internet sales, and e-cigarette products. It also proposes capturing the windfall coming to certain insurance companies -- who benefit from the new corporate tax rate under the federal tax overhaul -- by imposing a 14 percent surcharge on those gains, and the creation of a new pre-licensing course for beginner drivers which will cost $8 each.

“You can’t possibly get anywhere near where you want to be on education and health care unless you raise revenues. It’s just too big a deficit and the choice of cutting education or cutting health care, I don’t think is a place anyone wants to go to this year. So you have to raise revenue,’’ said Cuomo.

When asked by a reporter if he would approve the new taxes, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, of Long Island, replied with a simple, “No.” How Cuomo will sell some or all of them to the Senate majority remains to be seen.

2. What will Cuomo’s congestion pricing plan actually look like?
Cuomo has said that he supports some version of congestion pricing, which would mitigate traffic congestion by charging fees to drivers entering the busiest parts of New York City and would generate revenue for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). While the governor alluded to some general principles, he also said in his budget address that he was waiting for recommendations from the “Fix NYC” panel, which were subsequently released. Cuomo indicated that he won’t be proposing tolls on the East River bridges, explaining that the system can be targeted differently.

“The technology exists, we have to define the zone, we have to determine the fees, we have to determine the hours, and it's literally an on-going spectrum of options. You can change the hours, different rates for different vehicles, different rates for different trucks, and you'll get that full report at the end of this week,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “My point is, it has to be fair to all people in all industries. You have yellow cars, now black cars, green cars, blue cars, purple cars they all have to be treated the same. I don't want anyone saying they had a competitive advantage or this advantage because we put a surcharge on one versus the other.”

When Fix NYC released its recommendations, Cuomo said he will review them closely and "discuss the alternatives with the legislature over the next several months." He added, "There is no doubt that we must finally address the undeniable, growing problem of traffic congestion in Manhattan's central business district and present a real, feasible plan that will pass the legislature to raise money for MTA improvements, without raising rider fares."

3. What will the state tax code rewrite actually look like? Will a focus on the deficit and the tax scheme make almost everything else deprioritized?
On Tuesday, Cuomo announced the New York State Taxpayer Protection Act, but presented it as possible options, including restructuring the state tax code by shifting from an employee-paid system to an employer-paid system through a new payroll tax. There would be many details to work through in making such a change, as Cuomo indicated the state would not totally eliminate the personal income tax system.

“Restructuring the tax code is complicated, there's no doubt about it, but it's also simple at the same time,” said Cuomo. “Washington hit a button and launched an economic missile and it says ‘New York’ on it and it's heading our way. You know what my recommendation is? Get out of the way before it lands. They want to shoot at our tax code the way it was? We change the tax code and we change it in a way that thwarts their attack.”

On Wednesday the Department of Taxation and Finance issued a preliminary report highlighting options for the state. The administration would have to figure out how to convince employers to opt into the new payroll tax system if it wants to move forward with that reform as part of the overhaul. Designing that proposal and a new overall state tax system will be no small task, even if Cuomo could do so unilaterally.

Making up for the local property tax deduction will be more complicated, Cuomo acknowledged. Localities will have to find innovative ways to share services and cut costs. Governments can also potentially circumvent the cuts by setting up charitable organizations for education and healthcare, which taxpayers could contribute to in order to receive deductions.

4. How will the sexual harassment claim rocking the IDC impact budget talks over sexual harassment legislation?
Earlier this month, there seemed to be consensus in Albany that the issue of workplace sexual harassment must be addressed legislatively, both in government and the private sector. Republican and Democratic lawmakers in both houses acknowledged a need for comprehensive protections for women following a national outcry over the issue. 

In his State of the State and executive budget, Cuomo called for consistent sexual harassment guidelines for all levels of government and said public funds should not be used in settlements. Furthermore, Cuomo proposed banning confidential settlements and said that any entities with business before the state would be required to disclose how many sexual harassment cases they have settled.

These proposals and the negotiations to come will also be informed by a recent claim by a former Senate staffer, Erica Vladimer, who told a Huffington Post reporter that in 2015 she had been forcibly kissed outside a bar by Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, her boss at the time. Klein will be one of the ‘four men in the room’ who decide what goes into the final budget bills at the end of March. He and members of the IDC have vehemently denied Vladimer’s claim, and Klein has requested an investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) while proclaiming his innocence.

Klein has continued to express support for pushing ahead with new sexual harassment laws. It is unclear how and when the investigation will unfold, or what effect it will have on the legislative negotiations.

5. Is there any real hope for bail and other criminal justice reforms Cuomo is seemingly prioritizing as a big-ticket issue this year?
Cuomo’s executive budget builds on last year’s passage of legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old with a comprehensive package on pretrial justice reform. The governor’s plan includes a significant reduction of the use of cash bail, discovery reform to ensure that defendants’ lawyers have access to all evidence cited in a case, and speedy trial enforcement.

“These changes will build on the reforms enacted during my tenure as governor. Last year, we raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, affecting thousands of young people who will have a brighter future,” he said.

Certain advocates called the governor’s bail, discovery, and speedy trial bills “good starting points for progressive reform,” but criticized the bail bill for its broad allowance of “preventative detention” -- when a judge determines that a person’s release would impede an investigation -- which would still require people to pay for their supervised release. Some also took issue with the speedy trial proposal, which they said does little to address structural problems created by New York’s prosecutorial readiness rule, which starts the “speedy trial” clock from the time of the prosecution’s declaration of trial readiness rather than from the start of the defendant’s case.

“The governor’s budget bill is a starting point and we look forward to working with the administration and the state legislature to push for the reforms necessary to make sure that in New York, as the governor noted in his State of the State speech, ‘Race and wealth should not be factors in our justice system,’” said Gabriel Sayegh, co-executive director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice.

Bail reform has been a point of contention in Albany for years, and given how contentious the “raise the age” debate was during the 2017 budget negotiations, getting the Senate Majority on board with these ambitious criminal justice initiatives may be especially difficult for Cuomo. While the governor is known for pushing through his top priorities, it is not clear how much political capital he is going to put into seeing these reforms passed.

6. Will Cuomo and the IDC be able to get electoral reform of some kind passed?
Electoral reform groups rejoiced when the budget estimated that the implementation of early voting would cost counties approximately $6.4 million, though it stopped short of providing funds for the initiative. Early voting has passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly multiple times, but has been stalled by the Republican-led Senate.

The “Let NY Vote” coalition of grassroots groups applauded the governor in a statement. “This is a bipartisan, no brainer: New Yorkers should be able to exercise their basic democratic rights without unnecessary barriers. We are looking forward to negotiating with the state legislature to ensure early voting receives adequate funding," they wrote.

IDC leader Klein, whose group of breakaway Democrats forms a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans, has also said that early voting will be a priority this year, but expansion of voting rights is something Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has so far not buckled on. Early voting is one of a handful of electoral reforms being pushed by Cuomo and other Democrats, also including same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting.

7. What impact will Cuomo not calling special elections have on the budget process?
The days available for Cuomo to call a special election for the 11 vacant Senate and Assembly seats, to ensure that these districts have representation during budget negotiations, are quickly evaporating. While Cuomo could have called the special election as soon as January 1, he has declined to do so, having previously raised questions around ‘politicizing’ the budget process. There is a chance that if the two Senate seats -- previously held by George Latimer and Ruben Diaz, Sr. -- are filled by Democrats, it could shift the balance of power in that chamber.

The election may be held no less than 70 days after the governor’s proclamation, which means Cuomo has approximately a week left to have the seats filled before March 31, when the state’s $160-billion plus budget is due. Aside from the questions around Senate control, government reform groups and others have pointed out that New Yorkers in the 11 districts at hand do not currently have equal representation during budget and legislative business.

8. How will MTA funding play out?
In his executive budget, the governor did outline his plan for stabilizing the ailing transit system that serves the New York City area, but the fine print included swelling New York City’s responsibility for the MTA’s capital improvements, as first noted by Politico New York.

Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog, termed the measures an “unjustified shift” of costs to the city. “The Executive Budget asserts the responsibility for funding New York City subway and bus capital improvements should rest solely with the City of New York, which would require a sevenfold increase in City capital contributions,” said CBC President Carol Kellerman, in a statement on the proposed budget. “In addition, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) would be authorized to establish Transportation Improvement Districts within New York City that capture revenues from rising property values - without the City's approval. These proposals are an attempt to impose an onerous cost shift onto New York City residents and businesses, who already pay an estimated 72 percent of MTA dedicated taxes and subsidies.”

An unnamed state official told Politico that the state was reinforcing a 1981 law that already requires the city to fund its subways, a claim that has been called dubious by a number of experts. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will no doubt raise the question of MTA funding when he testifies at a legislative budget hearing in Albany on February 5.

9. Will Cuomo's pledge to continue all his economic development programs be scrutinized?
During previous budget negotiations, Cuomo faced little pushback for inclusion in the budget bills of his signature economic development programs, despite corruption trials and questions about their transparency and effectiveness.

“All the investments continue, all the upstate investments, all the projects continue upstate and downstate, economic development. We would have another round of our REDCs of URIs and Downtown Revitalization,” said Cuomo, referring to his Regional Economic Development Councils and Upstate Revitalization Initiatives.

Budget watchdogs, like CBC, noted that once again the governor introduced funding for programs without accompanying them with meaningful reform. “Despite a lack of tangible success, the Governor continues to propose excessive spending on economic development initiatives, including a $300 million High Technology Innovation and Economic Development Infrastructure Program and $600 million for a life sciences laboratory in the Capital District,” said CBC's Kellermann. “The Governor and Legislature need to adopt significant reforms to the State's economic development program.”

Senate Majority Leader Flanagan has vowed to push back this time, particularly against Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been criticized for lack of transparency and favoritism. “I think there’s questions that should be rightly asked about the councils, their independence, what type of disclosure they should have to do,” Flanagan told reporters on Wednesday at the Capitol. “I guarantee you this, whatever is done will be done legally and in the full discourse publicly.”

Still, Flanagan made similar statements last year, and yet virtually all of the governor’s economic development projects were pushed through with little scrutiny during the budget process. What did not pass, were any of the contracting or transparency reforms that were being pushed by outside watchdogs or members of the Legislature.

10. Will Cuomo push for marijuana legalization?
The executive budget proposes funding a taskforce to examine the economic, health, and public safety impact on New Yorkers of marijuana legalization happening in neighboring states of Massachusetts, and likely soon, New Jersey.

Cuomo is a known detractor of the drug, though he reluctantly allowed the state to pass a limited medical marijuana program in 2014. It’s unclear what he will do with the data collected by the study, but his interest in looking at marijuana legalization appears to be in some small part a rebuke against the recent moves by the federal government to step up marijuana regulation and enforcement.

“Marijuana — things are happening. New Jersey may legalize marijuana. Massachusetts already has. On the other hand, Attorney General Sessions says he's going to end marijuana in every state,” said Cuomo, later adding. “It'd be nice to have some facts in the middle of the debate once in a while.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: this article has been updated with some new information as it has been released since Cuomo's budget address.

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10 Burning Questions After Cuomo’s State of the State and Budget Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:57:37 +0000
What’s The [Data] Point? $3.2 Billion, with James Patchett http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7417:what-s-the-data-point-3-2-billion-with-james-patchett http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7417:what-s-the-data-point-3-2-billion-with-james-patchett whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 26 -- $3.2 Billion, with James Patchett [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

patchett and ben

James Patchett is the President and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the city's nonprofit arm dedicated to spurring job and industry growth, managing special projects, and implementing certain infrastructure projects. Patchett joined the podcast to discuss the City's development strategy, tax breaks, NYC Ferry, and the BQX streetcar project, and to respond to a new Citizens Budget Commission report evaluating the City's approach to economic development.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis), and guest James Patchett (@jbpatchett) of the Economic Development Corporation (@NYCEDC). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What’s The [Data] Point? $3.2 Billion, with James Patchett Fri, 12 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
What’s The [Data] Point? 2.7%, with Alex Heil of the Port Authority http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7376:what-s-the-data-point-2-7-with-alex-heil-of-the-port-authority http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7376:what-s-the-data-point-2-7-with-alex-heil-of-the-port-authority whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 24 -- 2.7%, with Alex Heil of the Port Authority [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

alex heil wtdp pic

Alex Heil, chief economist for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, joined the podcast to discuss his economic forecasts for the Port Authority region; key trends around use of Port Authority bridges, tunnels, ports, and airports; and infrastructure investments that are in motion or needed.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulisMariaDoulis), and guest Alex Heil of the Port Authority (@PANYNJ). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What’s The [Data] Point? 2.7%, with Alex Heil of the Port Authority Wed, 20 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
State Faces Budget Deficit Ahead of Possible Gut Punch from Washington http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7370:state-faces-budget-deficit-ahead-of-possible-gut-punch-from-washington http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7370:state-faces-budget-deficit-ahead-of-possible-gut-punch-from-washington Cuomo top aides budget

Gov. Cuomo and top aides (photo: The Governor's Office)


With the state facing a larger than usual expected budget shortfall for its next fiscal year, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been railing against the devastating impact proposed federal tax reforms would have on New York state finances.

The controversial reform plan that is still being negotiated in Washington, D.C. would either modify or completely eliminate the ability of New Yorkers to deduct state and local taxes from federal tax burdens and likely have deep economic impact for heavily Democratic states like New York, which typically have higher state and local taxes. As of Thursday, Republicans in the House and Senate say they have agreed on a tentative deal that would cap deductions at $10,000, reports NBC News. While negotiations are ongoing, Congress is expected to vote on a final deal this week.

Cuomo, a Democrat entering the final year of his second term, has said that the tax plan would “rape and pillage” New York at a time when the state is already faced with a $4.5 billion budget deficit -- the largest since Cuomo took office in 2011 -- and the governor has called on congressional Republicans from New York who support the tax plan to resign.

“There is no taxpayer in this state that lives in a congressional district that won't be hurt,” said Cuomo. “Because there's only one state budget. And we start with the $4 billion deficit. You put the state at a structural disadvantage. The taxes would go up on everyone. And that's not complicated math.”

In January, Cuomo will outline both his 2018 policy agenda in his State of the State speech as well as his executive budget proposal. The new state fiscal year begins April 1. As Cuomo and his team prepare that budget, there are troubling signs at both the state and federal levels.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has projected lower-than-expected tax revenue for the current and upcoming fiscal years. State operating funds receipts will be $1.8 billion lower than projections in the Division of Budget’s August financial plan for this fiscal year, which ends March 31, and $2.8 billion lower in 2018-19, according to a November report by DiNapoli’s office. The $4.5 billion gap may be exacerbated in the coming fiscal year by fallout from federal tax reforms.

But, if the administration continues to adhere to Cuomo’s self-imposed 2 percent limit on annual growth in state operating spending -- and it intends to, according to a spokesperson for Cuomo’s Division of the Budget -- the deficit the state will be facing drops to $1.7 billion for next fiscal year. Federal reforms could make budget negotiations even more challenging. If New Yorkers lose most of their state and local tax deductibility, there will almost certainly be more calls for the state to cut taxes.

Additionally, Politico New York has reported that another $1 billion hole may be carved into the budget if the federal government defunds a portion of the state’s Essential Plan, sometimes called the Basic Health Plan, which provides low-cost health insurance to residents earning less than twice the federal poverty level. And, in March, the state will run out funds for Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), a joint state-federal healthcare program, if it is not renewed by Congress. The state relies on $1 billion in federal CHIP funds to insure 330,000 children.

“His problem is compounded because he'll have to go to battle over healthcare spending for the first time in history,” said E.J. McMahon, research director at the Empire Center for Public Policy, speaking of Gov. Cuomo. “It's going to be the most pressured budget since his first year in office -- easily.”

Cuomo, who is running for reelection in 2018 and has presidential ambitions, has prided himself on passing on-time budgets and restoring fiscal order to Albany. He has already said he would link any pay raises for legislators, which are long overdue, to whether or not a budget deal is reached in a timely manner. This year’s $153-billion budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 was passed nine days late

To address the existing budget gap, the state must either cut spending or increase taxes. Cuomo’s office is now tasked with devising a financial plan that will not cripple agencies or end needed programs, but that will also not drive out the state’s highest income earners, whose taxes provide 40 percent of New York’s operational funding.

It is unclear to what extent the final federal tax bill -- if passed -- will affect New York and its taxpayers, but some fear it could provide additional motivation for the state’s top 1 percent to take residency elsewhere. Passage would likely dash any Democratic hopes for an expanded millionaire’s tax, such as the policy advocated by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

If millionaires and billionaires leave the state, “the burden then falls to everyone else: the middle class and the working families,” Cuomo said Wednesday in Albany at the awards ceremony for his 10 Regional Economic Development Councils.

Federal tax policy aside, experts say the widening gap between the state’s anticipated tax revenue and receipts is unusual given what is, overall, a well-performing economy and a booming stock market. While there are certain indications that suggest state personal income tax receipts have been depressed this year by taxpayer behavior in light of possible federal tax changes, the extent of any such impact is difficult to estimate, according to the comptroller’s office.

There is some debate as to how to handle the upcoming budget deficit, which Cuomo has acknowledged is likely to significantly impact education funding, which may not see the typical annual increases of recent years.

Comptroller DiNapoli has repeatedly urged that the state take steps to eliminate projected budget gaps and achieve structural budget balance, including, for example, minimizing use of one-time resources to support recurring spending and avoiding the use of administrative or accounting actions that lower the appearance of spending but do not eliminate the state’s obligation.

These recommendations are echoed by the fiscal watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), which has highlighted how the state has created the appearance of meeting the 2 percent cap on spending increases by shifting certain personnel expenses to the capital budget.

"Education, Medicaid, and personnel are the three things that he could target. We certainly think a lot of the economic development spending should be curtailed, but that's a slightly smaller pot," said David Friedfel, director of state studies at CBC.

Cuomo’s administration often touts spending restraint and disputes the CBC’s characterization of its spending patterns. A spokesperson for the Division of the Budget said that the positions in question had been categorized as capital expenses because they had been associated with capital projects.

“Governor Cuomo has been rigorous and effective in constraining State spending growth, achieving more fiscally responsible results than those of his predecessors. The current year’s budget holds spending growth to historically low levels for the seventh consecutive year while balancing the budget and lowering taxes for all New Yorkers.” said Morris Peters, of the state’s Division of the Budget.

Legislative leaders are divided on how to approach the budget and looming deficit. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, has opposed increasing taxes on high-income earners.

"Senator Flanagan believes we must continue to strictly adhere to the two percent spending cap, which would cut the Governor's projected deficit in half, and review every single dollar the state spends," said Scott Reif, spokesperson for Flanagan, in a statement.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, did not express much concern when speaking to reporters last week, noting that when Cuomo was first elected to office the state was forced to wrestle with a $10 billion budget deficit. “But we’re New Yorkers and we’ll find our way through it,” he said.

Cuomo’s budget director Robert Mujica is asking agencies to keep their budgets stagnant and others are questioning whether Cuomo’s signature infrastructure projects or economic development programs should see cuts, or perhaps a controversial tax break for the film and television industry that has cost the state $31 million since 2010.

While many have praised Cuomo for keeping the deficit relatively low since taking office, according to McMahon, the state’s fiscal situation in 2010 and next year are not necessarily comparable.

“In 2010, there was low-hanging fruit then that is not low-hanging now,” said McMahon, noting that Cuomo’s office significantly restructured state personnel. “The first place they will go is school aid. Medicaid is more complicated because there are three levels of payment and it is controlled by federal law.”

Education advocates pushed back on the suggestion that cutting education funding was the way to address the deficit. Instead, the state should reinstate the millionaires’ and billionaires’ tax to levels they were at before Cuomo took office and end tax loopholes for hedge-fund and private-equity billionaires, according to Billy Easton, executive director for Alliance for Quality Education of New York, a teachers-union-allied nonprofit.

“They shouldn’t say the outcome is we’re going to increase the deficit in educational opportunity for black, brown, and low-income kids,” said Easton.

The governor, meanwhile, has vowed to continue to challenge the federal government and members of congress who support the cuts. “I will fight this economic civil war every day that I am governor of the State of New York,” he said on Wednesday.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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State Faces Budget Deficit Ahead of Possible Gut Punch from Washington Sun, 17 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
What's The [DATA] Point? 1996, with Chris Jones of the Regional Plan Association http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7367:what-s-the-data-point-1996-with-chris-jones-of-rpa http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7367:what-s-the-data-point-1996-with-chris-jones-of-rpa whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 23 -- 1996, with Chris Jones of the Regional Plan Association [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

chris jones wtdp ep 23

The Regional Plan Association (RPA) just released its latest comprehensive 25-year regional plan -- The Fourth Plan -- to help New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut plan for the present and the future. RPA's Chief Planner, Chris Jones, joined the podcast to discuss the plan, its goals and key components, possible challenges, and immediate steps toward needed progress.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guest Chris Jones of RPA (@RegionalPlan). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [DATA] Point? 1996, with Chris Jones of the Regional Plan Association Thu, 14 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
With Phase One Going on Trial, Cuomo’s Buffalo Investment Moves Ahead with Broken Reform Promises http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7353:with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7353:with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises Cuomo jobs western new york

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)


As federal corruption trials loom for several associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the administration is forging ahead with Buffalo Billion II, the second phase in an ambitious plan to revitalize Buffalo’s beleaguered economy and help transform Upstate New York into a hub of technology innovation and jobs. The first phase saw the massive alleged bid-rigging and kickback scandal that rocked state politics when outlined in September 2016 by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and will loom over Cuomo’s 2018 reelection campaign.

In April, the state Legislature approved $500 million in budgetary funds for the Buffalo Billion II, which marks a shift in the investment in Western New York. The initial Buffalo Billion program, touted by Cuomo as a major success in revitalizing that city despite the scandal, poured the bulk of the $1 billion in funds into a controversial solar panel factory, while Buffalo Billion II investments are diverse and largely infrastructural, including the development of waterfront and rail access, tourism, and job training initiatives.

Critics -- including lawmakers, financial analysts and good government groups -- acknowledge steps the Cuomo administration has since taken to improve the contracting process, but say they remain skeptical of the Buffalo Billion extension and how it is administered. Calling its approval “a blank check” to the governor with little oversight, they question why these small projects are not being funded through traditional means -- like via local governments -- and whether these investments are tax dollars well-spent. Meanwhile, other promises the governor made in the wake of the scandal were abandoned by Cuomo, who had promised unilateral action that did not materialize.

“There’s two problems here. One is the corruption problem, which is obviously paramount in the upcoming trials,” said David Friedfel, director of state affairs for Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan watchdog. “But a second problem that we’ve voiced concern about, which is sort of getting lost in the conversation, is that a lot of these are a bad investment of state taxpayer dollars.”

The Buffalo solar panel factory, which received about $750 million in state subsidies, as well as a state-funded nanotechnology hub in Syracuse, are at the center of last year’s sweeping probe by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, which ensnared nine men -- including two who had been powerful state officials -- whose trials may overshadow the 2018 legislative session in Albany, set to begin in January.

On January 8, jury selection is scheduled to start in the trial of Cuomo’s former close confidant and aide Joe Percoco, along with three construction and energy executives who had business before the state and are accused of arranging bribes for Percoco and his wife in exchange for Percoco’s government influence.

On May 15, jury selection for the trial of former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered and praised over several years as a key architect of his upstate economic development efforts, and executives from LP Ciminelli, a construction company tied to the factory and Cuomo’ campaign coffers, will commence.

Two Syracuse developers, Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who run COR Development, will be defendants in both trials. Eight defendants in total have pleaded not guilty, while a ninth, lobbyist and former Cuomo ally Todd Howe, pleaded guilty to numerous felony charges and is cooperating with prosecutors. While Cuomo was not directly implicated in the federal complaint, prosecutors note that he received large campaign donations from the business people involved in the scheme, often at Howe’s behest. The governor also oversaw the economic development programs that were allegedly taken advantage of and dismissed calls for greater independent contracting oversight, both before and after the scandal broke, though he did make some relatively minor adjustments.

In November 2016, two months after the charges were outlined, Cuomo expressed dismay over the scandals that were threatening to undercut his signature economic development programs and vowed to quickly strengthen oversight and ethics, though all under his purview. Notably, Empire State Development, the state’s economic development authority, would immediately begin to oversee projects run by entities associated with SUNY Polytechnic, Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and Fuller Road Management Corp., state-affiliated nonprofits created to more quickly disburse economic development funding that Kaloyeros is accused of using to illegally direct contracts.

“I believe this public trust and integrity issue must be addressed – directly and forthrightly. I don’t believe in denial as a life strategy. I believe you must face your problems, no matter how unpleasant, and do your best to resolve them,” Cuomo said in a long statement outlining his response to the scandal and news of problems at CUNY. “It is time for action, not words.”

Cuomo promised a series of actions and proposals, some that would need legislative approval and others he categorized as “steps we can take immediately.” Most of those promised reforms did not materialize.

In the November 2016 statement, Cuomo vowed, “I will order my campaign and my party not to accept campaign contributions from companies once a Request for Proposals has been announced, and for six months following the conclusion for the winner,” adding, “I believe the other state offices and the legislature should do the same and will propose such a law.” According to Cuomo’s office, his pledge was not followed through on.

While his campaign did not follow through, in January of this year, Cuomo outlined his ethics platform and proposed creating such bans for all government leaders overseeing contracting processes. It did not pass.

In November 2016, under other ‘immediate’ actions he would be taking, Cuomo acknowledged that “[t]he contracting systems at CUNY and SUNY have become the focus of US Attorney and IG inquiries in the past several months. To insure more permanent supervision, I will create and appoint separate Inspector Generals for both SUNY and CUNY.” These IGs were not created.

Cuomo also said in November 2016, “I will also appoint a Chief Procurement Officer for the Executive branch. That person will be charged with reviewing all state contracts, with an eye towards eliminating any wrongdoing, conflicts of interest or collusion. And just so there is no confusion, I do mean all contracts.” The governor did not appoint such an officer.

Instead of immediate action on these promises, they were turned into proposals in Cuomo’s 2017 agenda that did not pass in the April budget or June legislative agreements that followed. Asked about the lack of follow-through on the promises from November 2016, Cuomo’s office pointed to the Legislature. In the November 2016 statement Cuomo had classified the proposals among “actions I can take under my own authority."

Enacted or not, critics say that these appointments would make no substitute for outside oversight.

Two months later, during the Buffalo leg of his six-stop 2017 State of the State tour, Cuomo made no mention of the scandals or his ethics platform, painting a rosy picture of his administration’s efforts to revitalize the city, and vowing to “double down” on the projects.

“Buffalo Billion squared because it takes Buffalo Billion I and it takes Buffalo Billion II, and there’s a synergy between the two of them that will be exponential,” Cuomo said. “The principles of it are going to be to build on Western New York’s renaissance, which you’ve all accomplished already, help more small businesses in downtown areas and strategically invest in regional industries.”

As the next phase of those efforts unfold with the backdrop of the corruption trials, the new Buffalo Billion does appear less vulnerable to bid-rigging, in part due to a series of voluntary fixes adopted by Cuomo’s administration, and also because of increased scrutiny from the press and government watchdogs.

The shift of economic development projects from under SUNY-affiliated nonprofits to Empire State Development, which can be audited by the comptroller’s office, is a key step, and ESD, a public authority, has modified its own contracting protocols based on recommendations by state-contracted consultants from Guidepost Solutions. (Cuomo announced he was hiring Guidepost to do a review soon after the scandal broke.)

Asked for comment about the steps the administration has taken to address the corruption scandal in the Buffalo Billion and which Cuomo promises has followed through on as Buffalo Billion II moves ahead, a spokesperson for Cuomo provided some background information but pointed Gotham Gazette to prior public statements by state officials.

“We share your goal of preventing fraud, waste and abuse. ESD has taken substantive steps to strengthen applicable processes to address the concerns you have raised and to implement your recommendations, including our support of strengthened governance provided to non-profits associated with SUNY,” Zemsky of ESD wrote in a letter sent to Guidepost Solutions’ head Bart Schwartz in April.

According to the governor's office, those Guidepost-suggested changes include reforms related to procurement, construction, property and equipment acquisition, and grant compliance. More specifically, there are new controls and procedures to improve payment processing and project management‎, with a focus on project timelines, billing, budgeting, documentation verification, payroll, and how RFPs and bids are evaluated.

There has been little contract or spending activity related to Buffalo Billion II in 2017, according to records provided by the governor’s office, but a handful of relatively smaller projects have made it past the planning stage. A new building for University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine, is expected to be completed in December and will house an incoming class of students for the semester commencing January 2018. A welcome center on Grand Island, which is expected to become a vital component of New York's tourism industry, drawing in $100 billion and “supporting more than 900,000 jobs,” is expected to be fully constructed and in use by August 2018, according to Cuomo’s office.

Government watchdogs and reformers commend the government’s efforts to create more accountability for these projects but say they are no replacement for long-term, independent oversight.

The watchdogs call for a “database of deals,” which would digitally compile every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; dramatic overhaul of the campaign finance system to eliminate the appearance or reality of pay-to-play; and a bill to restore the powers of the state comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services before they are approved. That power was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011, in part to expedite the flow of economic development funds aimed at upstate revitalization, a move that was criticized intensely when the corruption revelations came to light.

"As with all of the economic development programs subject to our review, we are closely looking at payment requests,” said Jennifer Freeman, a spokesperson for DiNapoli's office in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The problem is not all contracts and payments are subject to our review, which is why State Comptroller DiNapoli is pushing for major procurement reforms to improve oversight."

These long-sought reforms appeared to have some momentum in the 2017 legislative session, but wound up going nowhere due to pushback from Cuomo, even as more economic development money was approved.

There is less pushback against Buffalo Billion II, in part because the state projects involved are less controversial and more diverse than those announced in 2012. At that time, many questioned the state’s decision to spend $750 million on the SolarCity manufacturing plant that made a splash when it was purchased by Tesla’s Elon Musk, but has failed to the deliver the promised jobs. However, those watching Albany, and Buffalo, say questions remain about why the state is overseeing projects typically done by a local development authority or industrial development authority.

“In Buffalo, you have the state economic development corporation calling the shots on dinky expenditures on small real estate and street improvement projects,” said John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, a watchdog group that has focused on economic development spending, especially upstate. “Is Buffalo Billion II a good investment compared to traditional government spending on clean water, road repair and public transit?”

Kaehny added that it is still preferable that the government make many small bets on small businesses, which is the emphasis of Buffalo Billion II, rather than “rolling the dice on giant, high risk, corporate handouts like Buffalo Billion I did with Tesla, Riverbend.”

Cuomo, a Democrat who has said he’s seeking a third term in 2018 and appears to be considering a run for president in 2020, may see Buffalo as an opportunity to shape his national image as a leader who successfully resuscitated one of America’s largest, long-suffering post-industrial cities -- succeeding where many others have failed. Though that narrative is likely to be complicated by the corruption scandal, with more to be determined by the trials set to begin in 2018.

The governor has called his work in Buffalo successful, pointing to a declining unemployment rate in the formerly industrial city, a rate that dropped from 7.9 percent in October 2010 to a 15-year-low of 4.9 by October 2016, and there is a chorus of voices backing him up. But Western New York’s job growth continues to lag behind the national average.

Part of the boom is related to an increase in construction jobs. For the five-year period ending in 2015, the number of construction jobs in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Metro Area rose by 10.1 percent, an all-time record, according to Cuomo’s office, and by 9.3 percent in Erie County. The state investment has generated buzz and created an air of optimism and excitement for both Buffalonians and outsiders, including companies that have eyed the state’s second largest city. The city has recently seen investments from General Motors, Geico, Goldman Sachs, General Mills, Sumitomo Rubber, and Moog and Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked Buffalo second in the nation for start-up communities, according to the governor’s office.

The governor and his aides also say young people are flocking back to Buffalo: the number of young adults ages 20 to 34 in the Buffalo-Niagara region has increased by 8.3 percent since 2010.

Still, lawmakers whose districts should benefit from the funds have critiques of both phases of the program. Assembly Member Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, has been a vocal critic of the Legislature’s approval of the Buffalo Billion II and has joined calls for reforms in the wake of the the 2016 scandal. While acknowledging that Western New York has been infused with optimism and entrepreneurship, Walter says he attributes some of the economic prosperity to initiatives that predate Cuomo.

“My biggest concerns are, from what I've seen, is an inability to actually provide any data that shows that the programs are working,” he said of the initial Buffalo Billion program, noting that SolarCity was initially intended to house many types of industries before it became a solar panel factory. add

“The idea all along was we don't want a silver bullet, there's not a silver bullet solution to the economic woes of Western New York. We can't just have one big project, but that's exactly what this is turned into,” said Walter, who got in a heated back and forth with ESD head Howard Zemsky last month at an Assembly hearing on the progress of Buffalo Billion and other economic development programs.

The governor’s office says it is creating a “comprehensive and diverse portfolio of investments that collectively is driving the future of Buffalo’s continuing economic recovery.”

But while Buffalo Billion II may provide more tangible investments into the area, Walter questioned why the funds were not lined out by project in the 2017 budget, and criticized the opaque process through which it was passed.

“We're giving a blank check to the governor, to the Empire State Development, to whoever is going to be administering these funds,” he said. “So yeah, I still have great concern because we've given up all legislative authority over how this money is going to be spent.”

Others, like Democratic Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, says she and her constituents welcome the investment from the state. While she recognizes concerns, Peoples-Stokes said she has witnessed a dramatic change in the long-struggling city in terms of opportunity, entrepreneurship, and investment from major companies, as well as college students choosing to remain in Buffalo’s downtown after graduation.

“For me, at the end of the day, to see economic development dollars have a meaningful impact in the core of our city, I’m satisfied with that,” she said. “Because for years, literally years -- this is not my first go around, I’ve been here for 15 years -- I’ve never seen the type of resources put into Buffalo as we’ve seen under Governor Cuomo.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistated the trial date of the LP Ciminelli executives.

Note: this story has been updated with more information on the reforms adopted from the Guidepost recommendations.

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With Phase One Going on Trial, Cuomo’s Buffalo Investment Moves Ahead with Broken Reform Promises Thu, 07 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
What’s The [Data] Point? 10, with Michael Jacobson http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7351:what-s-the-data-point-10-with-michael-jacobson http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7351:what-s-the-data-point-10-with-michael-jacobson whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 22 -- 10, with Michael Jacobson [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

jacobson wtdp w carol ben

Michael Jacobson is the executive director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and is involved in efforts to close the Rikers Island jail complex. Previously, he has served as the city's correction commissioner as well as the probation commissioner. He joined the podcast to discuss his work as a member of the Lippman Commission convened by the City Council to solve the crisis at Rikers, especially the plans for expanding borough-based jail facilities that would replace the Rikers jails if all goes according to plan.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guest Michael Jaobson (@Michaelislg). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What’s The [Data] Point? 10, with Michael Jacobson Wed, 06 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000