Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/scott-stringer 2018-06-23T23:41:00+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com What's The [Data] Point? $225 million, with Comptroller Scott Stringer 2018-06-21T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7755:what-s-the-data-point-225-million-with-comptroller-scott-stringer Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The [Data] Point? Episode 44</strong><strong> -- $225 million,&nbsp;with Comptroller Scott Stringer [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <!--<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/wtdp-w-cbrecher-120.jpg" alt="wtdp w cbrecher 120" width="440" height="120" style="display: block; margin: 10px auto;" /></p>--> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/stringer-wtdp.jpg" alt="stringer wtdp" width="277" height="174" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>City Comptroller Scott Stringer is responsible for overseeing city finances and for managing the city's massive pension funds. He joined the podcast to discuss the newly-passed $89 billion city budget, the city's broader financial picture, whether the Mayor and City Council are putting enough money in reserves, the three city agencies on his new "watch list," how he approaches his role as an "activist-fiduciary" of the pension funds, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis of CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MariaDoulis</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/461481108&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/whats-the-data-point.jpg" alt="whats the data point" width="600" height="600" /></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What's The [Data] Point? Episode 44</strong><strong> -- $225 million,&nbsp;with Comptroller Scott Stringer [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]</strong></p> <!--<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/wtdp-w-cbrecher-120.jpg" alt="wtdp w cbrecher 120" width="440" height="120" style="display: block; margin: 10px auto;" /></p>--> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/stringer-wtdp.jpg" alt="stringer wtdp" width="277" height="174" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>City Comptroller Scott Stringer is responsible for overseeing city finances and for managing the city's massive pension funds. He joined the podcast to discuss the newly-passed $89 billion city budget, the city's broader financial picture, whether the Mayor and City Council are putting enough money in reserves, the three city agencies on his new "watch list," how he approaches his role as an "activist-fiduciary" of the pension funds, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (<a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>), Maria Doulis of CBC (<a href="https://twitter.com/MariaDoulis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MariaDoulis</a>). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/461481108&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Community Boards and Land Use 2018-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-20T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7749:mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-community-boards-and-land-use Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/corey-jo-comm-board-2.jpg" alt="corey jo comm board 2" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>A community board meeting (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The mayor’s Charter Revision Commission met on Tuesday at the Pratt Institute for the third of its four <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7705-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-announces-preliminary-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">expert advisory issue forums</a>, this time discussing potential changes to community boards and the city’s land use process. The first meeting, held last Tuesday, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7733-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-and-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener">focused on voting and election reform</a>, while the second, held last Thursday, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7744-mayor-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">focused on campaign finance reform</a>.</p> <p>The commission, consisting of 15 members appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, including Chair Cesar Perales, will finalize a list of proposed changes to the city charter by early September that will then appear on the general election ballot in November for voters to approve or disapprove.</p> <p>Stakeholders and experts such as City Comptroller Scott Stringer, community board members, academics, and advocates provided commentary and recommendations for the commission regarding the issues of community boards and land use; on some issues, the panelists and the commissioners all seemed to be in broad consensus, while on others there was evident discord.</p> <p>One area of relative cohesion was a recommendation that all community boards have a full time expert on urban planning as a paid staff member, though it is unclear that this would rise to the level of being charter-mandated (there has been City Council <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5662:bill-would-require-city-planner-at-each-community-board-kallos" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> introduced to make such a requirement for each community board, which, if passed, would become a part of the city’s administrative code, not the charter). Most community boards are said to be understaffed and rely on volunteers to do important work; board members are all volunteers, which can both tilt the demography of the boards in certain directions, like wealthier than the represented area, and lends itself to a general lack of intimate knowledge of planning.</p> <p>Stringer, who noted that he became the youngest ever appointee to a community board in 1977 at the age of 16, made his position clear, saying “what is truly needed” is “a full time urban planner on the staff of every community board.”</p> <p>“The sole responsibility of this planner would be to support the board’s analysis in the development of recommendations on land use matters and to coordinate community based planning activities,” he continued. “Expertise of the urban planner would better enable community boards to conduct comprehensive community planning.” Stringer said the urban planner should have a degree in urban planning, architecture, real estate development, public policy, “or similar disciplines,” and that the city must “include the necessary budget appropriations to fund this position.”</p> <p>“A community planner would be a game-changer in communities that are experiencing extraordinary land use applications, and quite frankly, they don’t have the expertise and they’re at a tremendous disadvantage,” Stringer said.</p> <p>Kyle Bragg, a charter revision commissioner and secretary-treasurer of labor union 32BJ SEIU, questioned whether all community boards would need a land use professional, saying that land use applications (ULURPs) are not constantly being considered in a community board like Far Rockaway as much as in Midtown Manhattan. Stringer disagreed, saying that development is occurring all over the city and that “gentrification knows no bounds.”</p> <p>Stringer also recommended that the city provide training on issues of land use to members of community boards on a periodic basis, something that Stringer said he prioritized as Manhattan Borough President (borough presidents appoint most community board members in their respective boroughs).</p> <p>Stringer did not, however, endorse community board member term limits, breaking with some of his fellow testifiers. “When you have term limits, you also have a lame duck status that sets in,” he said. “We’re gonna see that with people now in their fifth year wondering what office they’re gonna run for next, and I dare say you’re gonna see a lot of musical chairs and people thinking about the future, not necessarily the job in front of them. And that’s just the reality of elected term limits,” he said, in apparent reference to the dozens of City Council members, five borough presidents, and three citywide officials who are all term-limited at the end of the current term. Instead, he endorsed a process undertaken during his borough presidency of periodic reviews of board members, reappointing those doing a good job and sacking those who weren’t.</p> <p>Community board members who testified did not offer unequivocal support to term limits.</p> <p>“I think it takes a couple of years to try to figure out how to write a resolution, how to understand city government,” said Shah Ally, chair of Manhattan Community Board 12. “But I also don’t think you need to be on the board 30 years, either.”</p> <p>Rachel Bloom of government reform group Citizens Union, meanwhile, took an unambiguous stance in favor of term limits.</p> <p>“Community board members should be term-limited, serving [up to] five consecutive two-year terms,” she said, while noting that the term limits should be phased in gradually to “ensure there is not a mass exodus of institutional knowledge from the boards.”</p> <p>Stringer claimed that community boards have deviated significantly from their ancestral origin in 1951, at the impetus of Manhattan Borough President Robert Wagner, as Community Planning Boards. The comptroller said that, with numerous elected officials maintaining district offices, the use of community boards for constituent services draws resources away from the more integral tenet of land use.</p> <p>During the portion of the commission hearing focused on land use, two general themes played out among the speakers: that the land use process does not adequately facilitate community input and that the process is more geared toward short-term zoning concerns and less toward long-term community planning.</p> <p>“The symptom of the conflict, the neighborhood-city conflict, throughout much of the ULURP process that can both stop good things from happening and also not give communities power over unneeded or unwanted uses, is a sense that there is no ability to proactively community plan,” said Moses Gates, the vice president of housing and neighborhood planning at the Regional Plan Association. “That unless you’re able to put forth a positive vision that has some oomph behind it, and some ability to be recognized, that the only option you’re left with is an option of obstruction, or an option of essentially trying to go through the process and make the best of what might be perceived as a bad deal.”</p> <p>Gates recommended the creation of an “Office of Community-Based Planning” to assist communities, and community boards, in land use and planning. Gates also recommended a charter codification of a “fair share” program, wherein communities shoulder burdens of ill-desired land uses, like a sewage treatment plant for instance, equally, instead of being shouldered disproportionately by communities without the political and social capital to fight those land uses.</p> <p>“Planning is more than land use,” said Elena Conte, director of policy at the Pratt Center for Community Development. “It properly considers the systems and the structures into which land use fits. It’s about the social, environmental, and economic wellbeing, and land use is not planning. And so I think we are asking the wrong questions of our land use procedures, right? Both government, stakeholders, developers, and communities feel as though too much is being lumped onto the process unfairly.”</p> <p>Others, such as Hunter College professor Tom Angotti, said that the important decisions are often made unaccountably in the “pre-ULURP” process, meaning a period before the city’s official Uniform Land Use Review Process that takes land use decisions from developers or the City Planning Department to community boards to the Borough President and Borough Board to the City Planning Commission and, finally, to the City Council.</p> <p>“All those discussions that go on, side discussions, agreements that get made behind closed doors, are part of the undemocratic process that precedes ULURP,” said Angotti. “And it’s followed by a series of public hearings, at the community level, at the borough president level, at the City Planning Commission level, at the City Council level, which are more theater than true democracy. Why? Because we’re stuck in a method for participation that is bankrupt.” Angotti noted that concerned citizens are often forced to wait hours in order to testify for three minutes to a few sleepy-eyed bureaucrats.</p> <p>Angotti also recommended that ULURP decisions be made based on preordained “197-a” plans submitted by community boards, rather than on an ad hoc basis. Since the 1989 charter revision that established 197-a plans considerable by the City Planning Commission, only 17 community plans have been submitted to the city.</p> <p>“The biggest single reform could be a charter requirement that every ULURP action be consistent with a 197-a plan,” forcing both community boards to submit such plans and the City Planning Commission to take them seriously and not simply shelve them.</p> <p>Commision Chair Perales, however, criticized the land use panel of testifiers as failing to clearly present their recommendations in a digestible manner.</p> <p>“We are supposed to put something clear and concrete before the voters,” Perales said. “We’re not decision-makers here. We’re here to determine what it is the issues that you think should be addressed in a revision of the city charter. And if you have the opportunity, or are so inclined, maybe go back and send us something that will help us to digest, better understand, what your positions are on what we can do about land use with what are gonna be relatively minor changes in the city charter.”</p> <p>“Remember,” he continued, “you don’t want to go into the voting booth and have to review a three page referendum that this planning commission put before you, so we have a tough job, and while we have been persuaded by many of your comments, I’m not so sure we understand how to put it before the voters.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/corey-jo-comm-board-2.jpg" alt="corey jo comm board 2" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>A community board meeting (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The mayor’s Charter Revision Commission met on Tuesday at the Pratt Institute for the third of its four <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7705-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-announces-preliminary-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">expert advisory issue forums</a>, this time discussing potential changes to community boards and the city’s land use process. The first meeting, held last Tuesday, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7733-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-and-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener">focused on voting and election reform</a>, while the second, held last Thursday, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7744-mayor-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">focused on campaign finance reform</a>.</p> <p>The commission, consisting of 15 members appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, including Chair Cesar Perales, will finalize a list of proposed changes to the city charter by early September that will then appear on the general election ballot in November for voters to approve or disapprove.</p> <p>Stakeholders and experts such as City Comptroller Scott Stringer, community board members, academics, and advocates provided commentary and recommendations for the commission regarding the issues of community boards and land use; on some issues, the panelists and the commissioners all seemed to be in broad consensus, while on others there was evident discord.</p> <p>One area of relative cohesion was a recommendation that all community boards have a full time expert on urban planning as a paid staff member, though it is unclear that this would rise to the level of being charter-mandated (there has been City Council <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5662:bill-would-require-city-planner-at-each-community-board-kallos" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> introduced to make such a requirement for each community board, which, if passed, would become a part of the city’s administrative code, not the charter). Most community boards are said to be understaffed and rely on volunteers to do important work; board members are all volunteers, which can both tilt the demography of the boards in certain directions, like wealthier than the represented area, and lends itself to a general lack of intimate knowledge of planning.</p> <p>Stringer, who noted that he became the youngest ever appointee to a community board in 1977 at the age of 16, made his position clear, saying “what is truly needed” is “a full time urban planner on the staff of every community board.”</p> <p>“The sole responsibility of this planner would be to support the board’s analysis in the development of recommendations on land use matters and to coordinate community based planning activities,” he continued. “Expertise of the urban planner would better enable community boards to conduct comprehensive community planning.” Stringer said the urban planner should have a degree in urban planning, architecture, real estate development, public policy, “or similar disciplines,” and that the city must “include the necessary budget appropriations to fund this position.”</p> <p>“A community planner would be a game-changer in communities that are experiencing extraordinary land use applications, and quite frankly, they don’t have the expertise and they’re at a tremendous disadvantage,” Stringer said.</p> <p>Kyle Bragg, a charter revision commissioner and secretary-treasurer of labor union 32BJ SEIU, questioned whether all community boards would need a land use professional, saying that land use applications (ULURPs) are not constantly being considered in a community board like Far Rockaway as much as in Midtown Manhattan. Stringer disagreed, saying that development is occurring all over the city and that “gentrification knows no bounds.”</p> <p>Stringer also recommended that the city provide training on issues of land use to members of community boards on a periodic basis, something that Stringer said he prioritized as Manhattan Borough President (borough presidents appoint most community board members in their respective boroughs).</p> <p>Stringer did not, however, endorse community board member term limits, breaking with some of his fellow testifiers. “When you have term limits, you also have a lame duck status that sets in,” he said. “We’re gonna see that with people now in their fifth year wondering what office they’re gonna run for next, and I dare say you’re gonna see a lot of musical chairs and people thinking about the future, not necessarily the job in front of them. And that’s just the reality of elected term limits,” he said, in apparent reference to the dozens of City Council members, five borough presidents, and three citywide officials who are all term-limited at the end of the current term. Instead, he endorsed a process undertaken during his borough presidency of periodic reviews of board members, reappointing those doing a good job and sacking those who weren’t.</p> <p>Community board members who testified did not offer unequivocal support to term limits.</p> <p>“I think it takes a couple of years to try to figure out how to write a resolution, how to understand city government,” said Shah Ally, chair of Manhattan Community Board 12. “But I also don’t think you need to be on the board 30 years, either.”</p> <p>Rachel Bloom of government reform group Citizens Union, meanwhile, took an unambiguous stance in favor of term limits.</p> <p>“Community board members should be term-limited, serving [up to] five consecutive two-year terms,” she said, while noting that the term limits should be phased in gradually to “ensure there is not a mass exodus of institutional knowledge from the boards.”</p> <p>Stringer claimed that community boards have deviated significantly from their ancestral origin in 1951, at the impetus of Manhattan Borough President Robert Wagner, as Community Planning Boards. The comptroller said that, with numerous elected officials maintaining district offices, the use of community boards for constituent services draws resources away from the more integral tenet of land use.</p> <p>During the portion of the commission hearing focused on land use, two general themes played out among the speakers: that the land use process does not adequately facilitate community input and that the process is more geared toward short-term zoning concerns and less toward long-term community planning.</p> <p>“The symptom of the conflict, the neighborhood-city conflict, throughout much of the ULURP process that can both stop good things from happening and also not give communities power over unneeded or unwanted uses, is a sense that there is no ability to proactively community plan,” said Moses Gates, the vice president of housing and neighborhood planning at the Regional Plan Association. “That unless you’re able to put forth a positive vision that has some oomph behind it, and some ability to be recognized, that the only option you’re left with is an option of obstruction, or an option of essentially trying to go through the process and make the best of what might be perceived as a bad deal.”</p> <p>Gates recommended the creation of an “Office of Community-Based Planning” to assist communities, and community boards, in land use and planning. Gates also recommended a charter codification of a “fair share” program, wherein communities shoulder burdens of ill-desired land uses, like a sewage treatment plant for instance, equally, instead of being shouldered disproportionately by communities without the political and social capital to fight those land uses.</p> <p>“Planning is more than land use,” said Elena Conte, director of policy at the Pratt Center for Community Development. “It properly considers the systems and the structures into which land use fits. It’s about the social, environmental, and economic wellbeing, and land use is not planning. And so I think we are asking the wrong questions of our land use procedures, right? Both government, stakeholders, developers, and communities feel as though too much is being lumped onto the process unfairly.”</p> <p>Others, such as Hunter College professor Tom Angotti, said that the important decisions are often made unaccountably in the “pre-ULURP” process, meaning a period before the city’s official Uniform Land Use Review Process that takes land use decisions from developers or the City Planning Department to community boards to the Borough President and Borough Board to the City Planning Commission and, finally, to the City Council.</p> <p>“All those discussions that go on, side discussions, agreements that get made behind closed doors, are part of the undemocratic process that precedes ULURP,” said Angotti. “And it’s followed by a series of public hearings, at the community level, at the borough president level, at the City Planning Commission level, at the City Council level, which are more theater than true democracy. Why? Because we’re stuck in a method for participation that is bankrupt.” Angotti noted that concerned citizens are often forced to wait hours in order to testify for three minutes to a few sleepy-eyed bureaucrats.</p> <p>Angotti also recommended that ULURP decisions be made based on preordained “197-a” plans submitted by community boards, rather than on an ad hoc basis. Since the 1989 charter revision that established 197-a plans considerable by the City Planning Commission, only 17 community plans have been submitted to the city.</p> <p>“The biggest single reform could be a charter requirement that every ULURP action be consistent with a 197-a plan,” forcing both community boards to submit such plans and the City Planning Commission to take them seriously and not simply shelve them.</p> <p>Commision Chair Perales, however, criticized the land use panel of testifiers as failing to clearly present their recommendations in a digestible manner.</p> <p>“We are supposed to put something clear and concrete before the voters,” Perales said. “We’re not decision-makers here. We’re here to determine what it is the issues that you think should be addressed in a revision of the city charter. And if you have the opportunity, or are so inclined, maybe go back and send us something that will help us to digest, better understand, what your positions are on what we can do about land use with what are gonna be relatively minor changes in the city charter.”</p> <p>“Remember,” he continued, “you don’t want to go into the voting booth and have to review a three page referendum that this planning commission put before you, so we have a tough job, and while we have been persuaded by many of your comments, I’m not so sure we understand how to put it before the voters.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Added Scrutiny of City’s Delinquent Contracting Practices 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7748:added-scrutiny-of-city-s-delinquent-contracting-practices Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cm-stephlevin-ant-reynoso.jpg" alt="cm stephlevin ant reynoso" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Levin (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> does not do enough to address the tremendous backlog of city contracts with nonprofit groups that have been left languishing by city agencies, the groups say. This comes after a recent <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> from the city comptroller that shows 81 percent of new and renewed contracts were registered retroactively, meaning after their start date, last fiscal year. Human services were the most affected, with more than 90 percent of contracts in this category submitted retroactively to the comptroller’s office by city agencies, half of them late by six months or more.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council recently agreed to a $89.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Though it continues to increase spending at various city agencies that rely on human services nonprofits, there is no accompanying deal to address the rampant contracting delays across city agencies.</p> <p>The problem of contract delays affects cash flow and services to the public, and also compounds other issues, such as contracts not accounting enough for overhead expenses, that together contribute to a financial crisis for many organizations that the city contracts with to provide vital services from homeless shelters to after school programs.</p> <p>“It needs to be a priority of this administration to fix the backlog in contract registration and also the significant amount of contract amendments that are pending from investments the city made last year: money that was announced on July 1 of 2017 that providers still have not gotten in June of 2018,” said Michelle Jackson, spokesperson for the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG), in an interview last week. The group, which consists of nine associations and represents some 2,000 human services provider organizations in New York City, will be testifying at a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=605915&amp;GUID=E847EE2B-9412-4205-B4B2-D7FE144D23D8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">oversight hearing</a> on the issue at City Hall this Thursday, June 21. “There really needs to be a focus on getting all of those amendments and registrations up to date,” Jackson added.</p> <p>The delay in the city’s procurement process means vendors -- predominately nonprofits in the human services sector -- are forced to either fund their own work while they wait for the city to register and approve their contracts, or delay starting operations entirely. For providers waiting to have their contracts renewed, Jackson said, “they have to just keep operating the service because you don’t just send all the kids home, you don’t kick everyone out of the shelter. It’s not like a construction project where you can just wait to get all your documents signed…Nonprofits are taking a real fiscal and legal liability by waiting for these contracts.”</p> <p>It’s a system in “dire need of reform,” according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, Stringer’s spokesperson added: “One of city government’s most important jobs is delivering services to New Yorkers in need – that’s why fixing the city procurement process is urgent and essential. Providing services to our most vulnerable residents depends on our ability to execute social service contracts expediently.”</p> <p>The next step in addressing the issue is this week’s hearing of the City Council Committees on Contracts and General Welfare at City Hall, which will be co-chaired by Brooklyn Council Members Justin Brannan and Stephen Levin, the respective chairs of those committees. The “process has to be sped up,” Levin said.</p> <p>“These providers are operating at significant deficit and often we engage with providers that are doing a lot of the work that we would like to see providers do, and they are doing it on their own fundraising,” Levin told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The backlog is also putting pressure on the city’s Returnable Grant Fund, a revolving fund providing interest-free loans to nonprofits. February testimony from Acting Chair of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, Dan Symon, to the City Council was referenced in the comptroller’s report, claiming the Fund processed 751 loans for nonprofits in fiscal year 2017 as a “direct result of delayed contract awards.” The combined total of these loans was $149.9 million.</p> <p>“We need to make sure we are providing services equitably across the board,” Levin said. “That when you go to shelter you’re not just lucking out in getting into a good provider or a provider that’s has the ability to raise significant money versus a provider that can’t. That’s not an equitable system.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio and his administration were widely criticized following the release of Stringer’s report, with questions raised about the progressive mayor’s commitment to human services organizations and their clients. The issues raised by the comptroller’s report are longstanding and nonprofits groups and their supporters <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6266-city-approach-to-nonprofit-contracting-questioned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have been lobbying city government to improve the process for sometime</a>.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, a City Hall spokesperson said the mayor’s office has been working to reduce contracting backlogs and that model budgets -- a system introduced this year designed to increase rates for providers funded below what is considered the ‘model’ to deliver appropriate service -- will help these departments fulfil their administrative duties to outside contractors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve invested more than a quarter-billion new dollars annually in our shelter provider partners to address decades of disinvestment and reform outdated rates they were paid for many years,” the spokesperson said. “We have also been working closely with these vital partners to resolve inherited contracting backlogs, implement model budgets for the first time ever, and address any outstanding challenges they may have to ensure they can deliver the services our neighbors in need deserve as they get back on their feet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Due to this work in resolving contracting issues, the City Hall spokesperson said this year is the first time in recent memory that providers will be operating with registered current contracts. As of May 2018, 97 percent of fiscal year 2018 contracts are registered and active, with only one contract still at the comptroller’s office and another contract pending provider budget submission.</p> <p>According to the comptroller’s report, the seven city agencies that contract for the majority of human service programs are: the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Education (DOE), Department of Youth &amp; Community Development (DYCD), Department for the Aging (DFTA), Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).</p> <p>All of these departments submitted more than half of their registration and renewal contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year. DHS and HRA submitted 100 percent of these contracts retroactively, and the DOE was at 99.8 percent of registration and renewal contracts submitted after their start date. In HRA’s case, more than 60 percent of retroactive contracts were submitted to the comptroller’s office more than six months after the contract was due to start.</p> <p>Despite the backlog, some departments are set to receive less funding in fiscal year 2019 than in the current, soon-to-end fiscal year, according to the city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> that was released on Monday June 12.</p> <p>DYCD, for example, is receiving about $121 million less in funding via the city budget this financial year, yet of 859 registered or renewed contracts it received last year, 795 (92.5 percent) were submitted retroactively, according to the comptroller’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. Similarly, DOHMH is allocated $112 million less in fiscal 2019 than it was in 2018, and of 314 new and renewed contracts it handled last fiscal year, 265 (or 84.4 percent) were submitted after their start date.</p> <p>When asked if the budget has allocated enough resources to these city agencies that are struggling with contracting, Council Member Brannan said: “This is something we intend to discuss at the hearing on the 21st, both from the administration side as well as what the providers think. I am committed to working with the Speaker, Administration, as well as the Comptroller, to ensure we are processing contracts in as swift a manner as possible so that vital services are not being jeopardized due to procedural snafus that can be remedied.”</p> <p>“I hope that through our hearing we can shed light on the administration’s progress implementing model budgeting across different agencies as well as seeing how the providers are faring with model budgeting,” Brannan added. &nbsp;</p> <p>DHS and the DOE, which respectively submitted 100 percent and 99.8 percent of contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year, are both receiving an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. According to the city’s preliminary budget, DHS is receiving more than $183 million in additional funding compared to the current fiscal year and DOE is budgeted an additional $1.2 billion.</p> <p>Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Levin said the Council’s preliminary budget hearing with DHS dealt largely with where the increased funding is going and he is confident the additional funding will help the agency in improving contract delays.</p> <p>“In our preliminary budget hearing with DHS, we did talk a lot about where a lot of the increased funding is going and they spoke a lot about the model budget contract,” Levin said. “So we’re expecting that it should be able to be covered in the significant increases in budget year-over-year in DHS. I have every expectation that they’ll be able to be covered it for sure. And if they’re not, there’s opportunities to do budget modifications.”</p> <p>“We need a system that’s set up that can afford the services that we need to provide for over 60,000 people in shelter ...” Levin continued. “We need to make sure that the providers are funded enough so that they can provide adequate services.”</p> <p>Comptroller Stringer's report makes two recommendations for improving the processing of contracts within city agencies: to stipulate deadlines for every agency that handles contract applications and to implement a transparent tracking system for vendors to follow their applications through the process. But the report also describes an extremely cumbersome system, weighed down in bureaucracy, in which up to five departments sometimes will handle a contract before it reaches the comptroller’s office -- the only agency with a deadline, which is 30 days -- where it is ultimately approved or kicked back to city agencies for more processing.</p> <p>“What we’re looking at now is 100 percent late registration [from some departments] and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow to get that fixed?” Jackson, of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group, said, adding that while she “absolutely agrees” with the comptroller’s recommendations, “a tracking system and a timeline are not going to fix the backlog” already in existence.</p> <p>The HSASG is calling for a “SWAT Team” to immediately help clear the backlog, as well as allocation and recognition of this in the budget. Jackson said the group is asking for an additional $200 million to human services, not only to fix the contracting delays, but to also go to areas such as benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs.</p> <p>“A lot of these contracts don’t have cost escalators, and obviously in New York City rent goes up every year (a lot of expenses go up), and there’s not a way to capture that,” Jackson said. “Of course we were disappointed to not see further investment in the sector but we appreciate it’s a long-term investment that needs to be made.”</p> <p>Brannan said he “supports the recommendations” laid out in the comptroller’s report and that he is “working with the Comptroller’s office to come up with potential legislative fixes that would provide for agencies to process city contracts within a much more reasonable period of time.” He said he’s spoken to the Mayor's Office of Contract Services about next phases in rolling out the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort), saying it “in theory should significantly reduce procurement delays.”</p> <p>The spokesperson from City Hall also said the planned updates to PASSport will “make it easier for agencies to order and pay for goods off centralized contracts.” The system, which was initially launched in August 2017, will be updated with “phase two” in 2019 and “phase three” will launch approximately one year later to “enable online bidding and invoice management for all agencies,” the spokesperson said. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York City isn’t the first city to require urgent and comprehensive procurement reform. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on fixing that city’s similarly “slow and burdensome” contracting system provided the administration with a range of recommendations that might be applicable in New York City today. These included, not only fixed deadlines for every department and a transparent tracking system, but also recommendations to increase public information and awareness of the city’s contracting system; allow simultaneous review by agencies; develop clear and explicit procedures for fast-tracking contracts; and use a post-audit approach to test compliance by departments, instead of every single contract moving through the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>There is no indication of any other measures being taken to address the contracting backlog in New York City, though the City Hall spokesperson said: “We are continuously looking to improve our practices to also realize timely procurement.”</p> <p>More ideas will likely be raised at Thursday’s Council hearing, but for those in the nonprofit sector, the fiscal year 2019 budget was the perfect place for the city to demonstrate its understanding of, and commitment to solving, the problem. “We would have liked to see it in the budget, even if it was just a statement about how to get all this money out the door,” Jackson said. “I think there needs to be a real recognition that this is a priority to fix the registration process and it needs to happen right away.”</p> <p>

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cm-stephlevin-ant-reynoso.jpg" alt="cm stephlevin ant reynoso" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Levin (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> does not do enough to address the tremendous backlog of city contracts with nonprofit groups that have been left languishing by city agencies, the groups say. This comes after a recent <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> from the city comptroller that shows 81 percent of new and renewed contracts were registered retroactively, meaning after their start date, last fiscal year. Human services were the most affected, with more than 90 percent of contracts in this category submitted retroactively to the comptroller’s office by city agencies, half of them late by six months or more.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council recently agreed to a $89.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Though it continues to increase spending at various city agencies that rely on human services nonprofits, there is no accompanying deal to address the rampant contracting delays across city agencies.</p> <p>The problem of contract delays affects cash flow and services to the public, and also compounds other issues, such as contracts not accounting enough for overhead expenses, that together contribute to a financial crisis for many organizations that the city contracts with to provide vital services from homeless shelters to after school programs.</p> <p>“It needs to be a priority of this administration to fix the backlog in contract registration and also the significant amount of contract amendments that are pending from investments the city made last year: money that was announced on July 1 of 2017 that providers still have not gotten in June of 2018,” said Michelle Jackson, spokesperson for the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG), in an interview last week. The group, which consists of nine associations and represents some 2,000 human services provider organizations in New York City, will be testifying at a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=605915&amp;GUID=E847EE2B-9412-4205-B4B2-D7FE144D23D8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">oversight hearing</a> on the issue at City Hall this Thursday, June 21. “There really needs to be a focus on getting all of those amendments and registrations up to date,” Jackson added.</p> <p>The delay in the city’s procurement process means vendors -- predominately nonprofits in the human services sector -- are forced to either fund their own work while they wait for the city to register and approve their contracts, or delay starting operations entirely. For providers waiting to have their contracts renewed, Jackson said, “they have to just keep operating the service because you don’t just send all the kids home, you don’t kick everyone out of the shelter. It’s not like a construction project where you can just wait to get all your documents signed…Nonprofits are taking a real fiscal and legal liability by waiting for these contracts.”</p> <p>It’s a system in “dire need of reform,” according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, Stringer’s spokesperson added: “One of city government’s most important jobs is delivering services to New Yorkers in need – that’s why fixing the city procurement process is urgent and essential. Providing services to our most vulnerable residents depends on our ability to execute social service contracts expediently.”</p> <p>The next step in addressing the issue is this week’s hearing of the City Council Committees on Contracts and General Welfare at City Hall, which will be co-chaired by Brooklyn Council Members Justin Brannan and Stephen Levin, the respective chairs of those committees. The “process has to be sped up,” Levin said.</p> <p>“These providers are operating at significant deficit and often we engage with providers that are doing a lot of the work that we would like to see providers do, and they are doing it on their own fundraising,” Levin told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The backlog is also putting pressure on the city’s Returnable Grant Fund, a revolving fund providing interest-free loans to nonprofits. February testimony from Acting Chair of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, Dan Symon, to the City Council was referenced in the comptroller’s report, claiming the Fund processed 751 loans for nonprofits in fiscal year 2017 as a “direct result of delayed contract awards.” The combined total of these loans was $149.9 million.</p> <p>“We need to make sure we are providing services equitably across the board,” Levin said. “That when you go to shelter you’re not just lucking out in getting into a good provider or a provider that’s has the ability to raise significant money versus a provider that can’t. That’s not an equitable system.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio and his administration were widely criticized following the release of Stringer’s report, with questions raised about the progressive mayor’s commitment to human services organizations and their clients. The issues raised by the comptroller’s report are longstanding and nonprofits groups and their supporters <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6266-city-approach-to-nonprofit-contracting-questioned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have been lobbying city government to improve the process for sometime</a>.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, a City Hall spokesperson said the mayor’s office has been working to reduce contracting backlogs and that model budgets -- a system introduced this year designed to increase rates for providers funded below what is considered the ‘model’ to deliver appropriate service -- will help these departments fulfil their administrative duties to outside contractors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve invested more than a quarter-billion new dollars annually in our shelter provider partners to address decades of disinvestment and reform outdated rates they were paid for many years,” the spokesperson said. “We have also been working closely with these vital partners to resolve inherited contracting backlogs, implement model budgets for the first time ever, and address any outstanding challenges they may have to ensure they can deliver the services our neighbors in need deserve as they get back on their feet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Due to this work in resolving contracting issues, the City Hall spokesperson said this year is the first time in recent memory that providers will be operating with registered current contracts. As of May 2018, 97 percent of fiscal year 2018 contracts are registered and active, with only one contract still at the comptroller’s office and another contract pending provider budget submission.</p> <p>According to the comptroller’s report, the seven city agencies that contract for the majority of human service programs are: the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Education (DOE), Department of Youth &amp; Community Development (DYCD), Department for the Aging (DFTA), Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).</p> <p>All of these departments submitted more than half of their registration and renewal contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year. DHS and HRA submitted 100 percent of these contracts retroactively, and the DOE was at 99.8 percent of registration and renewal contracts submitted after their start date. In HRA’s case, more than 60 percent of retroactive contracts were submitted to the comptroller’s office more than six months after the contract was due to start.</p> <p>Despite the backlog, some departments are set to receive less funding in fiscal year 2019 than in the current, soon-to-end fiscal year, according to the city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> that was released on Monday June 12.</p> <p>DYCD, for example, is receiving about $121 million less in funding via the city budget this financial year, yet of 859 registered or renewed contracts it received last year, 795 (92.5 percent) were submitted retroactively, according to the comptroller’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. Similarly, DOHMH is allocated $112 million less in fiscal 2019 than it was in 2018, and of 314 new and renewed contracts it handled last fiscal year, 265 (or 84.4 percent) were submitted after their start date.</p> <p>When asked if the budget has allocated enough resources to these city agencies that are struggling with contracting, Council Member Brannan said: “This is something we intend to discuss at the hearing on the 21st, both from the administration side as well as what the providers think. I am committed to working with the Speaker, Administration, as well as the Comptroller, to ensure we are processing contracts in as swift a manner as possible so that vital services are not being jeopardized due to procedural snafus that can be remedied.”</p> <p>“I hope that through our hearing we can shed light on the administration’s progress implementing model budgeting across different agencies as well as seeing how the providers are faring with model budgeting,” Brannan added. &nbsp;</p> <p>DHS and the DOE, which respectively submitted 100 percent and 99.8 percent of contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year, are both receiving an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. According to the city’s preliminary budget, DHS is receiving more than $183 million in additional funding compared to the current fiscal year and DOE is budgeted an additional $1.2 billion.</p> <p>Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Levin said the Council’s preliminary budget hearing with DHS dealt largely with where the increased funding is going and he is confident the additional funding will help the agency in improving contract delays.</p> <p>“In our preliminary budget hearing with DHS, we did talk a lot about where a lot of the increased funding is going and they spoke a lot about the model budget contract,” Levin said. “So we’re expecting that it should be able to be covered in the significant increases in budget year-over-year in DHS. I have every expectation that they’ll be able to be covered it for sure. And if they’re not, there’s opportunities to do budget modifications.”</p> <p>“We need a system that’s set up that can afford the services that we need to provide for over 60,000 people in shelter ...” Levin continued. “We need to make sure that the providers are funded enough so that they can provide adequate services.”</p> <p>Comptroller Stringer's report makes two recommendations for improving the processing of contracts within city agencies: to stipulate deadlines for every agency that handles contract applications and to implement a transparent tracking system for vendors to follow their applications through the process. But the report also describes an extremely cumbersome system, weighed down in bureaucracy, in which up to five departments sometimes will handle a contract before it reaches the comptroller’s office -- the only agency with a deadline, which is 30 days -- where it is ultimately approved or kicked back to city agencies for more processing.</p> <p>“What we’re looking at now is 100 percent late registration [from some departments] and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow to get that fixed?” Jackson, of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group, said, adding that while she “absolutely agrees” with the comptroller’s recommendations, “a tracking system and a timeline are not going to fix the backlog” already in existence.</p> <p>The HSASG is calling for a “SWAT Team” to immediately help clear the backlog, as well as allocation and recognition of this in the budget. Jackson said the group is asking for an additional $200 million to human services, not only to fix the contracting delays, but to also go to areas such as benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs.</p> <p>“A lot of these contracts don’t have cost escalators, and obviously in New York City rent goes up every year (a lot of expenses go up), and there’s not a way to capture that,” Jackson said. “Of course we were disappointed to not see further investment in the sector but we appreciate it’s a long-term investment that needs to be made.”</p> <p>Brannan said he “supports the recommendations” laid out in the comptroller’s report and that he is “working with the Comptroller’s office to come up with potential legislative fixes that would provide for agencies to process city contracts within a much more reasonable period of time.” He said he’s spoken to the Mayor's Office of Contract Services about next phases in rolling out the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort), saying it “in theory should significantly reduce procurement delays.”</p> <p>The spokesperson from City Hall also said the planned updates to PASSport will “make it easier for agencies to order and pay for goods off centralized contracts.” The system, which was initially launched in August 2017, will be updated with “phase two” in 2019 and “phase three” will launch approximately one year later to “enable online bidding and invoice management for all agencies,” the spokesperson said. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York City isn’t the first city to require urgent and comprehensive procurement reform. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on fixing that city’s similarly “slow and burdensome” contracting system provided the administration with a range of recommendations that might be applicable in New York City today. These included, not only fixed deadlines for every department and a transparent tracking system, but also recommendations to increase public information and awareness of the city’s contracting system; allow simultaneous review by agencies; develop clear and explicit procedures for fast-tracking contracts; and use a post-audit approach to test compliance by departments, instead of every single contract moving through the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>There is no indication of any other measures being taken to address the contracting backlog in New York City, though the City Hall spokesperson said: “We are continuously looking to improve our practices to also realize timely procurement.”</p> <p>More ideas will likely be raised at Thursday’s Council hearing, but for those in the nonprofit sector, the fiscal year 2019 budget was the perfect place for the city to demonstrate its understanding of, and commitment to solving, the problem. “We would have liked to see it in the budget, even if it was just a statement about how to get all this money out the door,” Jackson said. “I think there needs to be a real recognition that this is a priority to fix the registration process and it needs to happen right away.”</p> <p>

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Created in Budget, State Pay Commission Off to Slow, Rocky Start 2018-06-07T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-07T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7723:created-in-budget-state-pay-commission-off-to-slow-rocky-start Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/31855145180_11db3157c4_z.jpg" alt="Carl McCall Cuomo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Carl McCall (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The pay commission tasked with proposing salary adjustments of New York State legislators, statewide elected officials, and top executive branch employees, created in this year’s enacted budget, appears to be in a state of disarray.</p> <p>The appointed chair of the commission, New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, announced in May that she could not serve on the commission, citing what she believed to be the unconstitutionality of a judge determining matters that could end up before her in court. She has not been replaced, and the commission has not held a meeting.</p> <p>The commission, as laid out in the budget document passed in late March, is to be made up of five individuals: DiFiore, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller Carl McCall, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson. McCall and Thompson are now chairs of the Boards of Trustees at SUNY and CUNY, respectively.</p> <p>The commissioners have until December to submit recommendations for whether legislators in the Assembly and Senate, statewide officials (governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general), and certain executive branch officials should receive a pay increase, and if so, by how much. Legislators, who are elected every two years, have not had a base salary increase in nearly 20 years. A different effort at a pay commission <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6625-state-pay-commission-implodes-as-cuomo-appointees-effectively-kill-salary-increases" target="_blank" rel="noopener">went off the rails in 2016</a> when Cuomo, through his appointees, insisted on ethics reforms in conjunction with salary increases. The governor has said he supports higher salaries for lawmakers but that he also wants to see accompanying changes, and he has insisted that it is essential to raise the pay the state offers agency commissioners and top gubernatorial aides in order to attract top talent.</p> <p>Along with salary, the new commission can also make other recommendations, such as the prohibition of outside income that Cuomo says is necessary, and its recommendations will automatically go into effect if legislators don’t act to prevent it before January 1, 2019.</p> <p>The commission, in the midst of the ongoing drama, has not held a meeting in the more than two months since its creation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for DiNapoli, Jennifer Freeman, said that there are no firm dates yet decided on for the first meeting, but that “dates being discussed are currently in July.” This would give commissioners approximately five months to deliberate and draw up recommendations. It is unclear what will happen with the position intended for DiFiore, and whether legislators may need to pass a bill to name a new commissioner before their session ends later this month.</p> <p>State legislators receive a base salary of $79,500 per year, unchanged since 1999. Legislators are allowed to earn outside income, opening the door to conflicts of interest. Majority conferences also award stipends, colloquially known as “lulus,” to committees chairs, a practice that has been abused.</p> <p>The system, as it stands, has been alleged to help foster a culture of corruption and limit the pool of individuals who will consider working in state government.</p> <p>When the 2016 commission fell apart, good government groups criticized it and state leaders for failing to raise lawmakers’ salaries. Reinvent Albany, one reform group, is among those in favor of a pay raise, saying that the cost of living has risen substantially since the 1999 wage was set, and that the salary not keeping up with the cost of living leads to more lawmakers taking outside income.</p> <p>“I think most people recognize that, in particular for the New York City members, that it’s awfully hard to make a living off the salary they make if they’re not holding outside jobs,” said Alex Camarda, Reinvent Albany’s senior policy advisor. “And there’s certainly been a desire by the good government community to see elected officials have their outside income curtailed so that they don’t have conflicts of interest when they are considering policy before the state.”</p> <p>Citizens Union, another government reform group, said the prior commission should recommend pay increases but not tie them to other legislation, including ethics reform, to avoid any exchange of policies that have merit on their own and the typical Albany horse-trading. Though a deal that largely involves aspects of legislators’ jobs would be less transparently questionable than the 1999 trade that saw pay increase tied to legislation establishing charter schools in New York.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Ethan Geringer-Sameth, public policy and program manager at Citizens Union, said that CU’s position remains unchanged: that legislators should get a pay raise, that the pay raise should be decoupled from other legislation, and that the increase should be even higher if outside income is banned. The organization also wants to see a wide range of ethics and campaign finance reform enacted separately.</p> <p>The U.S. Congress and the New York City Council both pay members substantially more than the State Legislature: members of Congress make $174,000 while members of the City Council make $148,500. The City Council, in 2016, voted to raise salaries substantially, from $112,500 to $148,500, while also banning almost all forms of outside income.</p> <p>“Outside income was severely limited and the Council Members here in New York City got a substantial pay raise,” Camarda said. “And I think it serves as a model for the state as well as the U.S. Congress. And it would be good to put it to bed finally.”</p> <p>Cuomo, as of two months ago, conditionally supports pay raises for legislators; the governor said in March that he would support pay raises for legislators if the budget was passed on time, which it was. The governor’s office appears to have reverted to a neutral stance on the issue.</p> <p>“There is now an independent commission that will review legislative pay that has not increased for 18 years. We’ll leave it to the commission to decide – that is what is in the law,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens in an email to Gotham Gazette. Stevens declined to comment about what will happen with the commission post DiFiore has declined.</p> <p>Through a spokesperson, DiNapoli declined to comment on the commission or his positions on the matters at hand. A representative for Stringer did not respond to requests for comment. McCall also declined to comment; a representative said that the commissioners are refraining from public comment before the meeting takes place. Thompson could not be reached for comment.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/31855145180_11db3157c4_z.jpg" alt="Carl McCall Cuomo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Carl McCall (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The pay commission tasked with proposing salary adjustments of New York State legislators, statewide elected officials, and top executive branch employees, created in this year’s enacted budget, appears to be in a state of disarray.</p> <p>The appointed chair of the commission, New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, announced in May that she could not serve on the commission, citing what she believed to be the unconstitutionality of a judge determining matters that could end up before her in court. She has not been replaced, and the commission has not held a meeting.</p> <p>The commission, as laid out in the budget document passed in late March, is to be made up of five individuals: DiFiore, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller Carl McCall, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson. McCall and Thompson are now chairs of the Boards of Trustees at SUNY and CUNY, respectively.</p> <p>The commissioners have until December to submit recommendations for whether legislators in the Assembly and Senate, statewide officials (governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general), and certain executive branch officials should receive a pay increase, and if so, by how much. Legislators, who are elected every two years, have not had a base salary increase in nearly 20 years. A different effort at a pay commission <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6625-state-pay-commission-implodes-as-cuomo-appointees-effectively-kill-salary-increases" target="_blank" rel="noopener">went off the rails in 2016</a> when Cuomo, through his appointees, insisted on ethics reforms in conjunction with salary increases. The governor has said he supports higher salaries for lawmakers but that he also wants to see accompanying changes, and he has insisted that it is essential to raise the pay the state offers agency commissioners and top gubernatorial aides in order to attract top talent.</p> <p>Along with salary, the new commission can also make other recommendations, such as the prohibition of outside income that Cuomo says is necessary, and its recommendations will automatically go into effect if legislators don’t act to prevent it before January 1, 2019.</p> <p>The commission, in the midst of the ongoing drama, has not held a meeting in the more than two months since its creation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for DiNapoli, Jennifer Freeman, said that there are no firm dates yet decided on for the first meeting, but that “dates being discussed are currently in July.” This would give commissioners approximately five months to deliberate and draw up recommendations. It is unclear what will happen with the position intended for DiFiore, and whether legislators may need to pass a bill to name a new commissioner before their session ends later this month.</p> <p>State legislators receive a base salary of $79,500 per year, unchanged since 1999. Legislators are allowed to earn outside income, opening the door to conflicts of interest. Majority conferences also award stipends, colloquially known as “lulus,” to committees chairs, a practice that has been abused.</p> <p>The system, as it stands, has been alleged to help foster a culture of corruption and limit the pool of individuals who will consider working in state government.</p> <p>When the 2016 commission fell apart, good government groups criticized it and state leaders for failing to raise lawmakers’ salaries. Reinvent Albany, one reform group, is among those in favor of a pay raise, saying that the cost of living has risen substantially since the 1999 wage was set, and that the salary not keeping up with the cost of living leads to more lawmakers taking outside income.</p> <p>“I think most people recognize that, in particular for the New York City members, that it’s awfully hard to make a living off the salary they make if they’re not holding outside jobs,” said Alex Camarda, Reinvent Albany’s senior policy advisor. “And there’s certainly been a desire by the good government community to see elected officials have their outside income curtailed so that they don’t have conflicts of interest when they are considering policy before the state.”</p> <p>Citizens Union, another government reform group, said the prior commission should recommend pay increases but not tie them to other legislation, including ethics reform, to avoid any exchange of policies that have merit on their own and the typical Albany horse-trading. Though a deal that largely involves aspects of legislators’ jobs would be less transparently questionable than the 1999 trade that saw pay increase tied to legislation establishing charter schools in New York.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Ethan Geringer-Sameth, public policy and program manager at Citizens Union, said that CU’s position remains unchanged: that legislators should get a pay raise, that the pay raise should be decoupled from other legislation, and that the increase should be even higher if outside income is banned. The organization also wants to see a wide range of ethics and campaign finance reform enacted separately.</p> <p>The U.S. Congress and the New York City Council both pay members substantially more than the State Legislature: members of Congress make $174,000 while members of the City Council make $148,500. The City Council, in 2016, voted to raise salaries substantially, from $112,500 to $148,500, while also banning almost all forms of outside income.</p> <p>“Outside income was severely limited and the Council Members here in New York City got a substantial pay raise,” Camarda said. “And I think it serves as a model for the state as well as the U.S. Congress. And it would be good to put it to bed finally.”</p> <p>Cuomo, as of two months ago, conditionally supports pay raises for legislators; the governor said in March that he would support pay raises for legislators if the budget was passed on time, which it was. The governor’s office appears to have reverted to a neutral stance on the issue.</p> <p>“There is now an independent commission that will review legislative pay that has not increased for 18 years. We’ll leave it to the commission to decide – that is what is in the law,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens in an email to Gotham Gazette. Stevens declined to comment about what will happen with the commission post DiFiore has declined.</p> <p>Through a spokesperson, DiNapoli declined to comment on the commission or his positions on the matters at hand. A representative for Stringer did not respond to requests for comment. McCall also declined to comment; a representative said that the commissioners are refraining from public comment before the meeting takes place. Thompson could not be reached for comment.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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</p>
Elected Officials, Advocates Push for Instant Runoff Voting 2018-05-01T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-01T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7650:elected-officials-advocates-push-for-instant-runoff-voting Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/fair-vote-sam.jpg" alt="fair vote sam" width="600" height="451" /></p> <p>Tuesday's press conference (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Several prominent Democratic elected officials and voting reform advocates on Tuesday assembled outside City Hall to call for instant runoff voting in citywide primary elections. Specifically, they said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, which just began a series of public hearings across the city, should include it among the proposals it puts before voters on the ballot this November.</p> <p>Instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, allows voters to rank primary candidates in order of preference so that if one candidate does not cross the required threshold for victory, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the votes are redistributed based on the second choice selected by voters who had selected the eliminated candidate first, and so on until a winner emerges. The system prevents what can be costly and labor-intensive runoff elections, such as the one held in the 2013 primary election for public advocate.</p> <p>Runoffs are currently only required in the three citywide races, for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, and occur among the top two vote-getters if no candidate hits 40 percent in the first round of the primary.</p> <p>Though prior instant runoff proposals originating in the City Council have failed, the group of electeds and advocates sought to seize on an opportunity presented by the mayor’s creation of the Charter Revision Commission. The commission, which is holding hearings across the five boroughs to solicit public input as to what its agenda should be, can consider any proposal presented to it, though de Blasio charged its members with particularly looking at voting access and campaign finance reform. Its recommendations will take the form of ballot referenda to be offered to voters in this year’s general election.</p> <p>“I am the face of instant runoff, let me remind you,” said Public Advocate Letitia James at Tuesday’s news conference, on the steps of City Hall. The 2013 public advocate runoff -- which James won over then-State Senator Daniel Squadron -- cost an estimated $13 million to taxpayers, surpassing the office’s combined budget for James’ entire first four-year term. James said Tuesday that instant runoffs are the “least expensive and more democratic option” for the city.</p> <p>“It forces you to appeal to all voters as opposed to one Democratic base,” James added. “And this means more engagement, and less polarization and more democracy. It means listening to people you might not usually listen to and a freer exchange of ideas and is consistent with our principle of democracy and free elections,” James added. She later also suggested that if the mayor’s commission failed to take up the proposal, a separate Charter Revision Commission being created by the City Council, through a bill co-sponsored by James, could step in. &nbsp;</p> <p>Also in attendance Tuesday were Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Ben Kallos, all Democrats. James, Stringer, and Adams are all widely considered to be contenders for the 2021 mayoral race and share overlapping bases of supporters. It’s unclear, though, whether a runoff, instant or otherwise, will come into play in that race and who might benefit from which format. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a fourth likely Democratic mayoral candidate, and several others may also jump into the race, creating a crowded field more apt to produce a runoff.</p> <p>The 2013 Democratic mayoral primary narrowly avoided a runoff, with eventual winner Bill de Blasio earning just above the 40 percent threshold. There was a Democratic runoff in the 2009 primary for public advocate, which de Blasio won. The 2001 Democratic mayoral primary was also settled through a runoff.</p> <p>“Cities that have adopted instant runoff voting to eliminate runoffs have not only saved millions of dollars but have also improved their democracies by making sure that we are electing our leaders in an election where the most voters, the most diverse voters, are at the polls at one time,” said Grace Ramsey, deputy outreach director for FairVote, a nonpartisan advocacy group, at the news conference. Ramsey noted that 15 cities across the country have already implemented instant runoffs. A FairVote analysis of the 2013 public advocate runoff also showed that the Democratic primary runoff electorate was older, whiter, and wealthier than Democrats overall, and only reflected a 7 percent turnout. It occured on Tuesday, October 1, 2013.</p> <p>Critiquing the state’s arcane election laws, Stringer said instant runoffs are a “progressive leap” that would allow elections to be decided quickly and efficiently, and he said the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission affords the city a prime opportunity to pursue the policy. “We don’t have to go to Albany and deal with that political dysfunction in order to get this electoral reform,” he said, an apparent reference to that fact that many other voting and election laws are dictated by the state.</p> <p>In December, Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, testified before the City Council on the 2017 elections and warned them that they had “dodged a bullet” by narrowly avoiding a runoff in the mayoral primary for the Reform Party line. Kellner said at the news conference Tuesday that the state already has the technology and capability to implement instant runoff voting, and reiterated the cost savings associated with implementing the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We cannot continue to have an 8-track method in an iPhone age,” said Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. “It is time to ensure that the process encourages people to come out. We live in real time, we live in instant time...Let’s make sure runoff elections are a thing of the past and let’s do it in the right way.”</p> <p>The proposal put forward on Tuesday was not the first attempt at eliminating runoff elections. In 2014, Council Member Lander sponsored a bill to call a referendum on the issue. Mayor de Blasio didn’t support it at the time and has since been lukewarm on the proposal. Asked Tuesday by a reporter if there was any opposition to the proposal, Lander said, “I think it’s just an issue that it’s change and change is not always easy. This is a change to our electoral processes and that’s not something we’re always ready to do.”</p> <p>As the group was gathered at City Hall, a parallel voting reform effort was being advanced in the state capital as well. The state Senate Democrats, led by Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, unveiled <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/377827073/05-01-18-Why-Don-t-More-New-Yorkers-Vote-A-Statewide-Snapshot-Identifying-Low-Voter-Turnout" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a new report</a> highlighting the shortcomings of the state’s election system that led to an abysmally low voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. They also released an accompanying package of bills to address voter access and participation. The conference is in the minority, though, and there is limited likelihood that the Republican majority will advance the reforms being sought, such as early voting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7369-state-board-of-elections-official-says-city-must-move-to-instant-runoff-voting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/fair-vote-sam.jpg" alt="fair vote sam" width="600" height="451" /></p> <p>Tuesday's press conference (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Several prominent Democratic elected officials and voting reform advocates on Tuesday assembled outside City Hall to call for instant runoff voting in citywide primary elections. Specifically, they said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, which just began a series of public hearings across the city, should include it among the proposals it puts before voters on the ballot this November.</p> <p>Instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, allows voters to rank primary candidates in order of preference so that if one candidate does not cross the required threshold for victory, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the votes are redistributed based on the second choice selected by voters who had selected the eliminated candidate first, and so on until a winner emerges. The system prevents what can be costly and labor-intensive runoff elections, such as the one held in the 2013 primary election for public advocate.</p> <p>Runoffs are currently only required in the three citywide races, for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, and occur among the top two vote-getters if no candidate hits 40 percent in the first round of the primary.</p> <p>Though prior instant runoff proposals originating in the City Council have failed, the group of electeds and advocates sought to seize on an opportunity presented by the mayor’s creation of the Charter Revision Commission. The commission, which is holding hearings across the five boroughs to solicit public input as to what its agenda should be, can consider any proposal presented to it, though de Blasio charged its members with particularly looking at voting access and campaign finance reform. Its recommendations will take the form of ballot referenda to be offered to voters in this year’s general election.</p> <p>“I am the face of instant runoff, let me remind you,” said Public Advocate Letitia James at Tuesday’s news conference, on the steps of City Hall. The 2013 public advocate runoff -- which James won over then-State Senator Daniel Squadron -- cost an estimated $13 million to taxpayers, surpassing the office’s combined budget for James’ entire first four-year term. James said Tuesday that instant runoffs are the “least expensive and more democratic option” for the city.</p> <p>“It forces you to appeal to all voters as opposed to one Democratic base,” James added. “And this means more engagement, and less polarization and more democracy. It means listening to people you might not usually listen to and a freer exchange of ideas and is consistent with our principle of democracy and free elections,” James added. She later also suggested that if the mayor’s commission failed to take up the proposal, a separate Charter Revision Commission being created by the City Council, through a bill co-sponsored by James, could step in. &nbsp;</p> <p>Also in attendance Tuesday were Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Ben Kallos, all Democrats. James, Stringer, and Adams are all widely considered to be contenders for the 2021 mayoral race and share overlapping bases of supporters. It’s unclear, though, whether a runoff, instant or otherwise, will come into play in that race and who might benefit from which format. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a fourth likely Democratic mayoral candidate, and several others may also jump into the race, creating a crowded field more apt to produce a runoff.</p> <p>The 2013 Democratic mayoral primary narrowly avoided a runoff, with eventual winner Bill de Blasio earning just above the 40 percent threshold. There was a Democratic runoff in the 2009 primary for public advocate, which de Blasio won. The 2001 Democratic mayoral primary was also settled through a runoff.</p> <p>“Cities that have adopted instant runoff voting to eliminate runoffs have not only saved millions of dollars but have also improved their democracies by making sure that we are electing our leaders in an election where the most voters, the most diverse voters, are at the polls at one time,” said Grace Ramsey, deputy outreach director for FairVote, a nonpartisan advocacy group, at the news conference. Ramsey noted that 15 cities across the country have already implemented instant runoffs. A FairVote analysis of the 2013 public advocate runoff also showed that the Democratic primary runoff electorate was older, whiter, and wealthier than Democrats overall, and only reflected a 7 percent turnout. It occured on Tuesday, October 1, 2013.</p> <p>Critiquing the state’s arcane election laws, Stringer said instant runoffs are a “progressive leap” that would allow elections to be decided quickly and efficiently, and he said the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission affords the city a prime opportunity to pursue the policy. “We don’t have to go to Albany and deal with that political dysfunction in order to get this electoral reform,” he said, an apparent reference to that fact that many other voting and election laws are dictated by the state.</p> <p>In December, Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, testified before the City Council on the 2017 elections and warned them that they had “dodged a bullet” by narrowly avoiding a runoff in the mayoral primary for the Reform Party line. Kellner said at the news conference Tuesday that the state already has the technology and capability to implement instant runoff voting, and reiterated the cost savings associated with implementing the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We cannot continue to have an 8-track method in an iPhone age,” said Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. “It is time to ensure that the process encourages people to come out. We live in real time, we live in instant time...Let’s make sure runoff elections are a thing of the past and let’s do it in the right way.”</p> <p>The proposal put forward on Tuesday was not the first attempt at eliminating runoff elections. In 2014, Council Member Lander sponsored a bill to call a referendum on the issue. Mayor de Blasio didn’t support it at the time and has since been lukewarm on the proposal. Asked Tuesday by a reporter if there was any opposition to the proposal, Lander said, “I think it’s just an issue that it’s change and change is not always easy. This is a change to our electoral processes and that’s not something we’re always ready to do.”</p> <p>As the group was gathered at City Hall, a parallel voting reform effort was being advanced in the state capital as well. The state Senate Democrats, led by Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, unveiled <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/377827073/05-01-18-Why-Don-t-More-New-Yorkers-Vote-A-Statewide-Snapshot-Identifying-Low-Voter-Turnout" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a new report</a> highlighting the shortcomings of the state’s election system that led to an abysmally low voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. They also released an accompanying package of bills to address voter access and participation. The conference is in the minority, though, and there is limited likelihood that the Republican majority will advance the reforms being sought, such as early voting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7369-state-board-of-elections-official-says-city-must-move-to-instant-runoff-voting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
De Blasio Points to Cuomo’s NYCHA Order as ‘Potentially Dangerous’ to City Budget 2018-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7644:de-blasio-points-to-cuomo-s-nycha-order-as-potentially-dangerous-to-city-budget Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/guvandrcuomo-comm-center.jpg" alt="guvandrcuomo comm center" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo with top NYC officials and others (photo: Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order earlier this month to impose an external monitor on the crisis-plagued New York City Housing Authority has turned into a potential budget boondoggle for the city, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning on Thursday of the “unforeseen consequences” the order could have on the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO_180.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">governor’s order</a> came after months of escalating problems at NYCHA developments that highlighted the decades-long financial struggles and mismanagement at the city-run agency. NYCHA was also sued by a group of tenants and advocates citing the harsh living conditions in NYCHA apartments, including issues with mold, lead paint, and dramatic failures in heat and hot water systems this past winter during extreme cold spells. That led Cuomo to declare in his order that the conditions at NYCHA “constitute a public nuisance affecting the security of life and health in the city of New York” and that the city could not adequately respond to an imminent disaster.</p> <p>The emergency declaration ordered the selection of an “Independent Emergency Manager” to oversee repairs to mitigate harmful conditions and to create a plan to utilize $550 million in state funding pegged for NYCHA. The order also eased procurement rules to speed up the pace of repair and maintenance work.</p> <p>But the order also notes that any repairs ordered by the emergency manager must be paid by the city, as per the state Public Health Law, which Mayor de Blasio took issue with on Thursday during his Executive Budget presentation as he spoke of other “unfunded mandates,” cuts, and cost-shifts that the city was saddled with under the latest state budget.</p> <p>“The more we and other analysts have looked at that executive order, the more we see a very challenging and potentially dangerous element of it in terms of our budget,” de Blasio said at City Hall. He said that “open-ended language” in the order could mean millions in cost for the city, which would not be approved through the city’s budget process, and therefore would not allow the City Council, the mayor, or comptroller any control over spending.</p> <p>“We are concerned that that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year’s budget,” he added.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly touted investments he has made in NYCHA since taking office, including $1.6 billion in operating funds and $2.1 billion in capital money. Under his <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/nextgen-nycha.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NextGeneration NYCHA plan</a> to get the struggling agency back on its feet, NYCHA has managed to turn around its operating finances, no longer running an annual deficit, though it still faces many billions in capital repair and construction needs.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio announced an added $20 million investment over the next two fiscal years to further reduce the backlog of repairs at NYCHA by 50,000 cases. But the massive capital need remains, estimated at $25 billion, and growing. The City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently called</a> on the mayor to add another $2.45 billion in NYCHA capital funding to the budget (the city has separate operating and capital spending plans). Though no additional capital funding was added in the executive budget, the city has already allocated $423 million in capital for fiscal year 2019, according to Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson.</p> <p>But for all the potential burden that de Blasio spoke of, the actual effect of Cuomo’s order is unclear and the mayor is not entirely helpless in the process. Budget watchdogs also currently have no idea how much money it could cost the city. “That’s a total unknown at this point,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director for the Independent Budget Office, a city-funded monitor.</p> <p>Sean Campion, senior research associate at Citizens Budget Commission, an independent nonprofit, said the governor’s order is a “good first step” to chip away at the housing authority’s massive needs, but he acknowledged that the order is “somewhat vague” about the city’s responsibilities. “It definitely sets a new precedent. The impact is yet to be determined. There’s obviously some benefits to having this monitor come in and develop a plan for spending the state money and whatever city money the city wants to chip in as well,” he said.</p> <p>He also noted that, as per the order, the emergency manager will have to be chosen “unanimously” by the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the president of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents. If they fail to do so within the mandated time frame, the decision falls to Comptroller Scott Stringer. “So whoever’s going to be appointed to this position is in some ways going to be appointed by city elected officials, none of whom really have an incentive to essentially give the monitor a blank check for funding all of NYCHA’s repair needs. All that’s sort of tempered the risk,” Campion said.</p> <p>Several elected officials stood with Cuomo when he signed the order -- including Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres, former chair of the Council’s public housing committee -- and heaped praise on the governor for taking action, though most had not read the language contained in the order. The officials posed with Cuomo for celebratory photos, behind a banner reading “Standing with NY Tenants.”</p> <p>After the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times first pointed out</a> the potential costs the city would have to bear, some of the same officials demurred.</p> <p>“We have concerns about some of the ramifications of the order, but we are still reviewing it and discussing our options and potential costs,” said Speaker Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “NYCHA is in crisis and the situation required swift action. We will work with the governor, the mayor and the tenants to find solutions to the worst problems affecting the residents. We are all in agreement that they have suffered for too long.”</p> <p>Stringer, the city’s chief financial officer, declined to comment through a spokesperson. Public Advocate Letitia James’ office did not provide a comment for this article. She told the Times that the order was an unfunded mandate and that the state should consider taking on the costs of implementing it rather than the city. &nbsp;</p> <p>Among the group of city officials, the order’s fiercest defender is Torres, who has in recent weeks positioned himself in close proximity to Cuomo in pushing for NYCHA’s interests and castigating the mayor’s perceived failures. “I think the mayor would be wise to view the executive order as an opportunity to improve public housing rather than a challenge,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “[T]he notion that more funding for public housing is a problem is as insulting as it is idiotic.”</p> <p>Torres echoed Campion’s point that the city, not the state, will pick the emergency manager, and said it was “disingenuous” for the mayor to claim he has no role. “So I presume he would select someone who would work with the city to develop a financially feasible plan. Even if the mayor has political objections to the executive order, leadership often means making the best of a bad situation, but there’s no evidence that the administration’s even attempting to do so. It’s simply whining, rather than problem-solving,” he said.</p> <p>He also brushed aside concerns that the city will have to bear more costs, insisting that activists have long pushed for $1 billion annually in funding for NYCHA and that no officials or activists have suggested using the emergency manager to fund NYCHA’s full $25 billion need. “But can the city play a greater role in addressing the most critical infrastructure needs of public housing? I would submit to you that the answer’s ‘yes’ and the executive order creates an opportunity to do so,” Torres said. “The administration has often made piecemeal investments in public housing in response to crises. The executive order forces the city to take a more systematic, a more planned approach to addressing the longer term critical infrastructure needs of public housing.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s latest expense budget plan, presented Thursday, is for $89 billion for next fiscal year, while the updated five-year capital commitment plan is for $82 billion. The mayor has regularly reminded audiences, though, that NYCHA is its own authority, not a mayoral or city agency, and has its own budget plans, which the city has continued to contribute to under his watch.</p> <p>De Blasio hopes to quell some of the overarching concerns about Cuomo’s executive order and optimistically said Thursday that he has had conversations with the governor to modify it.</p> <p>“Even though the Governor and I have disagreements we still talk regularly. I talked to him earlier in the week,” he explained to reporters. “We still attempt to reason together...I don’t think he necessarily intended a massive unfunded mandate on New York City. I think he – I certainly don’t think he intended to interfere with day-to-day operations of NYCHA. We need to have that conversation and work it through...because the last thing you’d want is to have the state issue an executive order that backfires for the people it’s supposed to serve.”</p> <p>Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson, <a href="https://twitter.com/RichAzzopardi/status/989874940156563457" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted Friday</a> that the executive order would be adjusted once an ongoing federal investigation into NYCHA’s handling of lead paint concludes and “determines de Blasio’s liability” for what he called a debacle. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment or offer further clarity.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/guvandrcuomo-comm-center.jpg" alt="guvandrcuomo comm center" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo with top NYC officials and others (photo: Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order earlier this month to impose an external monitor on the crisis-plagued New York City Housing Authority has turned into a potential budget boondoggle for the city, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning on Thursday of the “unforeseen consequences” the order could have on the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO_180.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">governor’s order</a> came after months of escalating problems at NYCHA developments that highlighted the decades-long financial struggles and mismanagement at the city-run agency. NYCHA was also sued by a group of tenants and advocates citing the harsh living conditions in NYCHA apartments, including issues with mold, lead paint, and dramatic failures in heat and hot water systems this past winter during extreme cold spells. That led Cuomo to declare in his order that the conditions at NYCHA “constitute a public nuisance affecting the security of life and health in the city of New York” and that the city could not adequately respond to an imminent disaster.</p> <p>The emergency declaration ordered the selection of an “Independent Emergency Manager” to oversee repairs to mitigate harmful conditions and to create a plan to utilize $550 million in state funding pegged for NYCHA. The order also eased procurement rules to speed up the pace of repair and maintenance work.</p> <p>But the order also notes that any repairs ordered by the emergency manager must be paid by the city, as per the state Public Health Law, which Mayor de Blasio took issue with on Thursday during his Executive Budget presentation as he spoke of other “unfunded mandates,” cuts, and cost-shifts that the city was saddled with under the latest state budget.</p> <p>“The more we and other analysts have looked at that executive order, the more we see a very challenging and potentially dangerous element of it in terms of our budget,” de Blasio said at City Hall. He said that “open-ended language” in the order could mean millions in cost for the city, which would not be approved through the city’s budget process, and therefore would not allow the City Council, the mayor, or comptroller any control over spending.</p> <p>“We are concerned that that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year’s budget,” he added.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly touted investments he has made in NYCHA since taking office, including $1.6 billion in operating funds and $2.1 billion in capital money. Under his <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/nextgen-nycha.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NextGeneration NYCHA plan</a> to get the struggling agency back on its feet, NYCHA has managed to turn around its operating finances, no longer running an annual deficit, though it still faces many billions in capital repair and construction needs.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio announced an added $20 million investment over the next two fiscal years to further reduce the backlog of repairs at NYCHA by 50,000 cases. But the massive capital need remains, estimated at $25 billion, and growing. The City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently called</a> on the mayor to add another $2.45 billion in NYCHA capital funding to the budget (the city has separate operating and capital spending plans). Though no additional capital funding was added in the executive budget, the city has already allocated $423 million in capital for fiscal year 2019, according to Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson.</p> <p>But for all the potential burden that de Blasio spoke of, the actual effect of Cuomo’s order is unclear and the mayor is not entirely helpless in the process. Budget watchdogs also currently have no idea how much money it could cost the city. “That’s a total unknown at this point,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director for the Independent Budget Office, a city-funded monitor.</p> <p>Sean Campion, senior research associate at Citizens Budget Commission, an independent nonprofit, said the governor’s order is a “good first step” to chip away at the housing authority’s massive needs, but he acknowledged that the order is “somewhat vague” about the city’s responsibilities. “It definitely sets a new precedent. The impact is yet to be determined. There’s obviously some benefits to having this monitor come in and develop a plan for spending the state money and whatever city money the city wants to chip in as well,” he said.</p> <p>He also noted that, as per the order, the emergency manager will have to be chosen “unanimously” by the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the president of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents. If they fail to do so within the mandated time frame, the decision falls to Comptroller Scott Stringer. “So whoever’s going to be appointed to this position is in some ways going to be appointed by city elected officials, none of whom really have an incentive to essentially give the monitor a blank check for funding all of NYCHA’s repair needs. All that’s sort of tempered the risk,” Campion said.</p> <p>Several elected officials stood with Cuomo when he signed the order -- including Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres, former chair of the Council’s public housing committee -- and heaped praise on the governor for taking action, though most had not read the language contained in the order. The officials posed with Cuomo for celebratory photos, behind a banner reading “Standing with NY Tenants.”</p> <p>After the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times first pointed out</a> the potential costs the city would have to bear, some of the same officials demurred.</p> <p>“We have concerns about some of the ramifications of the order, but we are still reviewing it and discussing our options and potential costs,” said Speaker Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “NYCHA is in crisis and the situation required swift action. We will work with the governor, the mayor and the tenants to find solutions to the worst problems affecting the residents. We are all in agreement that they have suffered for too long.”</p> <p>Stringer, the city’s chief financial officer, declined to comment through a spokesperson. Public Advocate Letitia James’ office did not provide a comment for this article. She told the Times that the order was an unfunded mandate and that the state should consider taking on the costs of implementing it rather than the city. &nbsp;</p> <p>Among the group of city officials, the order’s fiercest defender is Torres, who has in recent weeks positioned himself in close proximity to Cuomo in pushing for NYCHA’s interests and castigating the mayor’s perceived failures. “I think the mayor would be wise to view the executive order as an opportunity to improve public housing rather than a challenge,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “[T]he notion that more funding for public housing is a problem is as insulting as it is idiotic.”</p> <p>Torres echoed Campion’s point that the city, not the state, will pick the emergency manager, and said it was “disingenuous” for the mayor to claim he has no role. “So I presume he would select someone who would work with the city to develop a financially feasible plan. Even if the mayor has political objections to the executive order, leadership often means making the best of a bad situation, but there’s no evidence that the administration’s even attempting to do so. It’s simply whining, rather than problem-solving,” he said.</p> <p>He also brushed aside concerns that the city will have to bear more costs, insisting that activists have long pushed for $1 billion annually in funding for NYCHA and that no officials or activists have suggested using the emergency manager to fund NYCHA’s full $25 billion need. “But can the city play a greater role in addressing the most critical infrastructure needs of public housing? I would submit to you that the answer’s ‘yes’ and the executive order creates an opportunity to do so,” Torres said. “The administration has often made piecemeal investments in public housing in response to crises. The executive order forces the city to take a more systematic, a more planned approach to addressing the longer term critical infrastructure needs of public housing.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s latest expense budget plan, presented Thursday, is for $89 billion for next fiscal year, while the updated five-year capital commitment plan is for $82 billion. The mayor has regularly reminded audiences, though, that NYCHA is its own authority, not a mayoral or city agency, and has its own budget plans, which the city has continued to contribute to under his watch.</p> <p>De Blasio hopes to quell some of the overarching concerns about Cuomo’s executive order and optimistically said Thursday that he has had conversations with the governor to modify it.</p> <p>“Even though the Governor and I have disagreements we still talk regularly. I talked to him earlier in the week,” he explained to reporters. “We still attempt to reason together...I don’t think he necessarily intended a massive unfunded mandate on New York City. I think he – I certainly don’t think he intended to interfere with day-to-day operations of NYCHA. We need to have that conversation and work it through...because the last thing you’d want is to have the state issue an executive order that backfires for the people it’s supposed to serve.”</p> <p>Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson, <a href="https://twitter.com/RichAzzopardi/status/989874940156563457" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted Friday</a> that the executive order would be adjusted once an ongoing federal investigation into NYCHA’s handling of lead paint concludes and “determines de Blasio’s liability” for what he called a debacle. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment or offer further clarity.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Presents $89 Billion Executive Budget Plan 2018-04-26T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7641:de-blasio-presents-89-billion-executive-budget-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/28250598809_83ac2949a7_z_1.jpg" alt="de Blasio budget presentation" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio presents a budget (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled an $89.06 billion executive budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year on Thursday, decrying new spending that the city must undertake to meet shortfalls and unfunded mandates imposed by the new state budget approved last month, and cautioning of federal actions that could affect the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The latest budget proposal reflects a net spending increase of about $390 million from the mayor’s preliminary budget released in February. Back then, the mayor had promised to find $500 million in additional savings, and his new budget over-delivered by finding about $754 million through efficiencies at city agencies, implementing a partial hiring freeze for managerial positions, and reevaluating the city’s debts payments, he explained at City Hall on Thursday.</p> <p>In total, the proposed budget is $3.82 billion more than the budget adopted last year in June. Much of the uptick is organic, stemming from increased labor costs and a massive headcount of city employees, which, like the overall budget, has increased significantly under de Blasio. The city is able to pay for the state “hits,” as de Blasio called them, and other elements of added spending in part through nearly $1 billion in new revenue at the city’s disposal.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio invoked his oft-stated goal of making New York City the “fairest big city in America” as he explained the proposed budget, though it is still unclear how he will measure whether that mission is being accomplished relative to other cities. Particulars of how New York is approaching that goal, according to the mayor, were evident in this and other budget presentations.</p> <p>“All of the things that we’ve done and all the things we hope to do revolve around a simple principle...that progressives need to be fiscally responsible,” de Blasio said, repeating what has become a refrain of his budget talks. He argued that his approach contrasts with previous administrations that failed to create the savings and reserves that his administration has put away each year, and he defended the increases in city spending he has overseen.</p> <p>“This is a downpayment on a more fair future for New Yorkers,” he said at one point.</p> <p>The biggest new investment for the executive budget from prior spending plans, which the mayor had announced at City Hall on Wednesday at a celebratory press conference, is a $125 million infusion towards ensuring that city schools receive adequate “Fair Student Funding,” increasing the funding floor from 87 percent to 90 percent of what schools need citywide.</p> <p>The executive budget -- which will now form the basis for the next round of negotiations with the City Council before a deal is due by July 1 -- also targets other specific areas for more funding: $41 million for cybersecurity; $103 million for 3,000 security barriers; $30.5 million to expand child literacy programs; $12 million to hire social workers for students in homeless shelters; and $20 million over the next two fiscal years to reduce the backlog of repair and maintenance work at public housing developments.</p> <p>The city is also funding a $1.2 million study to assess the ThriveNYC mental health program and creating an online parking permit system for $2 million. Another $1.8 million will help provide a Mobile Trauma Response Unit to every borough and $7.1 million will go to workforce development initiatives.</p> <p>The major areas where the city had to shell out funding related to the “hits from Albany.” The recent state budget foisted about $530 million in added costs on the city, about 25 percent of all new spending in the executive budget, but only 0.6 percent of the total spending plan put forth by the mayor.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>De Blasio was at pains to point out that the city would have to spend $254 million in operating costs to help address the “mismanagement of State-run subways,” a requirement that Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature forced on the city through the state budget after the mayor had refused to fund half of the MTA’s $836 million Subway Action Plan. (The city will also have to spend another $164 million for capital expenditure under the plan).</p> <p>The mayor also pointed to a $140 million shortfall in state education aid, which prompted the funding he announced on Wednesday. De Blasio later noted in response to a question from Gotham Gazette that the shortfall was based on the amount of funding the city projected it would receive from the state, following the pattern of state aid from the last few years. He said multiple times that the city had expected more education funding from Albany in part because it is a state election year, implying lawmakers would want to be able to boast to constituents in their districts about the school money they delivered.</p> <p>One key unfunded mandate highlighted by de Blasio will cost $108 million to meet the requirements of the state’s “Raise the Age” law passed last year, under which 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer treated as adults in the criminal justice system and are instead brought under the juvenile justice system and housed in differently facilities from older detainees. The law will partially go into effect in October. The state also cut $31 million to the “Close to Home” juvenile justice program that the city is making up.</p> <p>The budget also reflects a $159 million increase in spending on homeless services, as part of the mayor’s revamped plan to tackle the crisis. De Blasio defended the spending, which is forecasted to reach $2.1 billion for the 2019 fiscal year, insisting that the city is beginning to “turn the tide.”</p> <p>“The new approach required opening a lot more shelters...That is a substantial cost and, as with many other things, the cost has grown but it will eventually help us save money,” he said, citing the planned closures of cluster sites and emergency hotel shelters under the approach.</p> <p>Perhaps the most significant omission from the mayor’s latest budget plan is funding for the Fair Fares proposal, to provide half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. The City Council, in its <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations">official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget</a>, made Fair Fares its top priority and Council Speaker Corey Johnson has vowed to push for it in budget negotiations. De Blasio insists it should be the responsibility of the MTA, but that he is also happy to have it paid for through a tax increase on the city’s highest earners.</p> <p>Another Council ask that the mayor has so far refused to fund is a $400 property tax rebate for homeowners that make less than $150,000 a year, which would cost roughly $187 million.</p> <p>The city also maintains its current level of reserves though the Council called for another $500 million in rainy day funds and the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, has also called for increases in the “budget cushion” of savings. De Blasio’s administration has already put away about $5.5 billion in different pots of reserves, including billions in recurring set-asides each year.</p> <p>The mayor indicated that he was open to negotiating all three items. “We will talk about each of those. We’re going to be really concerned about the pricetag and the impact on our future of each of those choices. But we have not concluded anything on any of them yet,” he said.</p> <p>Speaker Johnson and Council Members Daniel Dromm and Vanessa Gibson, who respectively chair the finance committee and the capital budget subcommittee, said in a statement that they were “disappointed” that all the Council’s priorities were not funded, but “encouraged” that the city found nearly $1 billion in new revenue.</p> <p>“The administration should use this additional revenue to institute Fair Fares to help our most vulnerable neighbors, fund a $400 property tax rebate for middle class homeowners, and put away $500 million in reserves to strengthen our financial position moving forward and increase our ability to weather future shocks,” they said.</p> <p>Notably, de Blasio said the administration could not account for the budgetary effects of a recent executive order signed by the governor to appoint an independent monitor at the New York City Housing Authority. The order requires the city to fund any repair work mandated by the monitor, a currently indeterminable cost that could be in the millions, as first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html">reported by the New York Times</a>. “We are concerned that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year's budget,” de Blasio said.</p> <p>The monitor should soon be chosen by a consensus of de Blasio, Johnson, and a NYCHA tennt leader, as dictated in the Cuomo order.</p> <p>On the bright side, though the Trump administration seemed to threaten large budgetary cuts that would have affected New York City, major reductions in federal funding have not come to pass. “The negative impact on New York City has been much less than expected,” de Blasio said, though warning of the unpredictability of the winds in Washington D.C. “The federal context shifts not weekly, not daily, but hourly nowadays. We’re all a little thrown by that,” he said.</p> <p>And the city has not experienced an economic slowdown that was widely expected in the last few years, even as the mayor admitted that wild fluctuations in the stock market continue to confound the city’s observers. Recent economic trends led to the increased revenue the city is using to offset the state maneuvers, and unemployment remains at or near record lows across the five boroughs. Still, some question whether de Blasio’s overall fiscal approach will lead to significant pain down the road, given the large increase in government headcount and associated pension and health care costs.</p> <p>In a statement reacting to the executive budget, Comptroller Stringer praised de Blasio for the areas in which he is adding targeted spending, but also said reserves need to be boosted.&nbsp;</p> <p>"While our economy is in a solid position, with continued hostility from Washington, it is critical that we harness this year’s extraordinary inflow of one-time, non-recurring revenue to bolster City reserves," Stringer said.</p> <p>"We must continue to vigorously scrub City agencies for savings and I urge the Administration to shine a bright light on the effectiveness of agency spending," the comptroller continued. "We will continue to closely monitor the progress of City agencies toward achieving their goals in the most cost-effective manner possible, particularly those highlighted on our Agency Watch List: the Department of Correction, the Department of Education, and the Department of Homeless Services."</p> <p>Similarly, watchdog organization Citizens Budget Commission took issue with the mayor's budget plan, with a statement saying that&nbsp;it "increases operating spending at more than twice the rate of inflation and misses an opportunity to bolster reserves as strong tax revenue growth continues." CBC pointed to rising spending and headcount, and ballooning costs of homeless shelters and overtime pay. It also pointed out that the Citywide Savings Plan does not include much by way of new agency savings. CBC did give de Blasio credit for taking "some prudent steps," such as more money to account for pension costs and removal of aniticpated revenue from taxi medallion sales that are unlikely to occur.</p> <p>“No one sees storm clouds on the horizon,” de Blasio said, noting that the country is experiencing the second largest economic expansion in history. “It can’t go on forever. When it ends, we are going to have serious consequences here in the city. We don’t see it right now.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/28250598809_83ac2949a7_z_1.jpg" alt="de Blasio budget presentation" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio presents a budget (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled an $89.06 billion executive budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year on Thursday, decrying new spending that the city must undertake to meet shortfalls and unfunded mandates imposed by the new state budget approved last month, and cautioning of federal actions that could affect the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The latest budget proposal reflects a net spending increase of about $390 million from the mayor’s preliminary budget released in February. Back then, the mayor had promised to find $500 million in additional savings, and his new budget over-delivered by finding about $754 million through efficiencies at city agencies, implementing a partial hiring freeze for managerial positions, and reevaluating the city’s debts payments, he explained at City Hall on Thursday.</p> <p>In total, the proposed budget is $3.82 billion more than the budget adopted last year in June. Much of the uptick is organic, stemming from increased labor costs and a massive headcount of city employees, which, like the overall budget, has increased significantly under de Blasio. The city is able to pay for the state “hits,” as de Blasio called them, and other elements of added spending in part through nearly $1 billion in new revenue at the city’s disposal.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio invoked his oft-stated goal of making New York City the “fairest big city in America” as he explained the proposed budget, though it is still unclear how he will measure whether that mission is being accomplished relative to other cities. Particulars of how New York is approaching that goal, according to the mayor, were evident in this and other budget presentations.</p> <p>“All of the things that we’ve done and all the things we hope to do revolve around a simple principle...that progressives need to be fiscally responsible,” de Blasio said, repeating what has become a refrain of his budget talks. He argued that his approach contrasts with previous administrations that failed to create the savings and reserves that his administration has put away each year, and he defended the increases in city spending he has overseen.</p> <p>“This is a downpayment on a more fair future for New Yorkers,” he said at one point.</p> <p>The biggest new investment for the executive budget from prior spending plans, which the mayor had announced at City Hall on Wednesday at a celebratory press conference, is a $125 million infusion towards ensuring that city schools receive adequate “Fair Student Funding,” increasing the funding floor from 87 percent to 90 percent of what schools need citywide.</p> <p>The executive budget -- which will now form the basis for the next round of negotiations with the City Council before a deal is due by July 1 -- also targets other specific areas for more funding: $41 million for cybersecurity; $103 million for 3,000 security barriers; $30.5 million to expand child literacy programs; $12 million to hire social workers for students in homeless shelters; and $20 million over the next two fiscal years to reduce the backlog of repair and maintenance work at public housing developments.</p> <p>The city is also funding a $1.2 million study to assess the ThriveNYC mental health program and creating an online parking permit system for $2 million. Another $1.8 million will help provide a Mobile Trauma Response Unit to every borough and $7.1 million will go to workforce development initiatives.</p> <p>The major areas where the city had to shell out funding related to the “hits from Albany.” The recent state budget foisted about $530 million in added costs on the city, about 25 percent of all new spending in the executive budget, but only 0.6 percent of the total spending plan put forth by the mayor.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>De Blasio was at pains to point out that the city would have to spend $254 million in operating costs to help address the “mismanagement of State-run subways,” a requirement that Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature forced on the city through the state budget after the mayor had refused to fund half of the MTA’s $836 million Subway Action Plan. (The city will also have to spend another $164 million for capital expenditure under the plan).</p> <p>The mayor also pointed to a $140 million shortfall in state education aid, which prompted the funding he announced on Wednesday. De Blasio later noted in response to a question from Gotham Gazette that the shortfall was based on the amount of funding the city projected it would receive from the state, following the pattern of state aid from the last few years. He said multiple times that the city had expected more education funding from Albany in part because it is a state election year, implying lawmakers would want to be able to boast to constituents in their districts about the school money they delivered.</p> <p>One key unfunded mandate highlighted by de Blasio will cost $108 million to meet the requirements of the state’s “Raise the Age” law passed last year, under which 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer treated as adults in the criminal justice system and are instead brought under the juvenile justice system and housed in differently facilities from older detainees. The law will partially go into effect in October. The state also cut $31 million to the “Close to Home” juvenile justice program that the city is making up.</p> <p>The budget also reflects a $159 million increase in spending on homeless services, as part of the mayor’s revamped plan to tackle the crisis. De Blasio defended the spending, which is forecasted to reach $2.1 billion for the 2019 fiscal year, insisting that the city is beginning to “turn the tide.”</p> <p>“The new approach required opening a lot more shelters...That is a substantial cost and, as with many other things, the cost has grown but it will eventually help us save money,” he said, citing the planned closures of cluster sites and emergency hotel shelters under the approach.</p> <p>Perhaps the most significant omission from the mayor’s latest budget plan is funding for the Fair Fares proposal, to provide half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. The City Council, in its <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations">official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget</a>, made Fair Fares its top priority and Council Speaker Corey Johnson has vowed to push for it in budget negotiations. De Blasio insists it should be the responsibility of the MTA, but that he is also happy to have it paid for through a tax increase on the city’s highest earners.</p> <p>Another Council ask that the mayor has so far refused to fund is a $400 property tax rebate for homeowners that make less than $150,000 a year, which would cost roughly $187 million.</p> <p>The city also maintains its current level of reserves though the Council called for another $500 million in rainy day funds and the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, has also called for increases in the “budget cushion” of savings. De Blasio’s administration has already put away about $5.5 billion in different pots of reserves, including billions in recurring set-asides each year.</p> <p>The mayor indicated that he was open to negotiating all three items. “We will talk about each of those. We’re going to be really concerned about the pricetag and the impact on our future of each of those choices. But we have not concluded anything on any of them yet,” he said.</p> <p>Speaker Johnson and Council Members Daniel Dromm and Vanessa Gibson, who respectively chair the finance committee and the capital budget subcommittee, said in a statement that they were “disappointed” that all the Council’s priorities were not funded, but “encouraged” that the city found nearly $1 billion in new revenue.</p> <p>“The administration should use this additional revenue to institute Fair Fares to help our most vulnerable neighbors, fund a $400 property tax rebate for middle class homeowners, and put away $500 million in reserves to strengthen our financial position moving forward and increase our ability to weather future shocks,” they said.</p> <p>Notably, de Blasio said the administration could not account for the budgetary effects of a recent executive order signed by the governor to appoint an independent monitor at the New York City Housing Authority. The order requires the city to fund any repair work mandated by the monitor, a currently indeterminable cost that could be in the millions, as first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html">reported by the New York Times</a>. “We are concerned that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year's budget,” de Blasio said.</p> <p>The monitor should soon be chosen by a consensus of de Blasio, Johnson, and a NYCHA tennt leader, as dictated in the Cuomo order.</p> <p>On the bright side, though the Trump administration seemed to threaten large budgetary cuts that would have affected New York City, major reductions in federal funding have not come to pass. “The negative impact on New York City has been much less than expected,” de Blasio said, though warning of the unpredictability of the winds in Washington D.C. “The federal context shifts not weekly, not daily, but hourly nowadays. We’re all a little thrown by that,” he said.</p> <p>And the city has not experienced an economic slowdown that was widely expected in the last few years, even as the mayor admitted that wild fluctuations in the stock market continue to confound the city’s observers. Recent economic trends led to the increased revenue the city is using to offset the state maneuvers, and unemployment remains at or near record lows across the five boroughs. Still, some question whether de Blasio’s overall fiscal approach will lead to significant pain down the road, given the large increase in government headcount and associated pension and health care costs.</p> <p>In a statement reacting to the executive budget, Comptroller Stringer praised de Blasio for the areas in which he is adding targeted spending, but also said reserves need to be boosted.&nbsp;</p> <p>"While our economy is in a solid position, with continued hostility from Washington, it is critical that we harness this year’s extraordinary inflow of one-time, non-recurring revenue to bolster City reserves," Stringer said.</p> <p>"We must continue to vigorously scrub City agencies for savings and I urge the Administration to shine a bright light on the effectiveness of agency spending," the comptroller continued. "We will continue to closely monitor the progress of City agencies toward achieving their goals in the most cost-effective manner possible, particularly those highlighted on our Agency Watch List: the Department of Correction, the Department of Education, and the Department of Homeless Services."</p> <p>Similarly, watchdog organization Citizens Budget Commission took issue with the mayor's budget plan, with a statement saying that&nbsp;it "increases operating spending at more than twice the rate of inflation and misses an opportunity to bolster reserves as strong tax revenue growth continues." CBC pointed to rising spending and headcount, and ballooning costs of homeless shelters and overtime pay. It also pointed out that the Citywide Savings Plan does not include much by way of new agency savings. CBC did give de Blasio credit for taking "some prudent steps," such as more money to account for pension costs and removal of aniticpated revenue from taxi medallion sales that are unlikely to occur.</p> <p>“No one sees storm clouds on the horizon,” de Blasio said, noting that the country is experiencing the second largest economic expansion in history. “It can’t go on forever. When it ends, we are going to have serious consequences here in the city. We don’t see it right now.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Trump Administration Attacks on Title X Could Result in Even More Deceptive Women’s Health Clinics 2018-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7563:trump-administration-attacks-on-title-x-could-result-in-even-more-deceptive-women-s-health-clinics Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/scott-pp100_cityhall_057.jpg" alt="scott pp100 cityhall 057" width="600" height="410" /></p> <p>Comptroller Stringer with Planned Parenthood (photo via @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>The Trump-Pence administration just took aim at the Title X program—the nation’s long-standing program for affordable birth control and other sexual and reproductive health care that more than four million people nationwide, including 150,000 New Yorkers, rely on each year.</p> <p>The administration issued a new call for funding applications that radically changes the program's priorities—and that will shift funding away from expert sexual and reproductive health care providers, to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that masquerade as legitimate health care facilities solely to shame and mislead pregnant individuals about their reproductive health options.</p> <p>There’s no denying it: This is all part of a coordinated attack on access to accurate sexual and reproductive health care information—and to access to birth control and safe, legal abortion.</p> <p>The attacks don’t stop there. On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard its first major reproductive rights case since the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s anti-abortion appointee—and the case could also change how crisis pregnancy centers operate. It will determine whether crisis pregnancy centers will be allowed to continue to lie to people about their reproductive health care options by calling it First Amendment promoted speech.</p> <p>Let’s be clear – we must fight back against these attacks to ensure that New Yorkers, especially those with low incomes, continue to have the fundamental health care they need and deserve.</p> <p>Since 1970, the government has awarded Title X grants to sexual and reproductive health care providers that offer contraception, STI testing, cancer screenings and more to help uninsured and underinsured individuals afford them. Historically, Title X is meant to ensure that every person—regardless of where they live, how much money they make, their background, or whether or not they have health insurance—has access to basic, preventive sexual and reproductive health care. This program is a critical safety net for many people who would otherwise go without health care, like those in low-income communities and communities of color who disproportionately face barriers to care.</p> <p>When programs like this are under attack, it’s our most marginalized communities and at-risk families who stand to suffer the most. As a recent report by the New York City Comptroller’s Office showed, in 2015, 91 percent of people served under Title X throughout New York State were women, and 60 percent had incomes at or below the federal poverty line. Nearly one-third were uninsured.</p> <p>The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ new guidelines for Title X would push these patients to go to facilities that emphasize abstinence-only ideology and that do not offer the full range of birth control options. The new guidelines are designed to roll back access to highly effective forms of birth control, like long-acting reversible contraceptives (IUDs and implants).</p> <p>These guidelines also clearly open the door to anti-abortion fake clinics participating in the program, even though they use deceptive tactics such as providing medically inaccurate information to women, including lying about the gestational age of a pregnancy in order to make it harder for someone to access an abortion.</p> <p>Already, throughout New York City, crisis pregnancy centers masquerade as legitimate health care facilities solely to shame and mislead pregnant individuals about their reproductive health options and prevent them from seeking abortion care. The new Title X guidelines could result in these fake clinics receiving taxpayer dollars and expanding, targeting even more people who are seeking legitimate reproductive health care services. These misleading anti-abortion facilities may continue to exist—but we shouldn’t be supporting them with federal taxpayer money.</p> <p>This egregious attack on Title X is an attack on women and vulnerable communities, and on the rights of New Yorkers to make the health decisions best for them and their families.</p> <p>All New Yorkers should have control over their sexual and reproductive lives. This includes the decision of whether, when, and how to have children, how to practice healthy and respectful sexuality, how to protect ourselves and our partners against STDs, and more. When we make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care, we determine our own futures. And when our reproductive autonomy is under threat, so too is our collective health and well-being as a community and as a city.</p> <p>We will do everything we can to ensure that all people are empowered to take control of their health and their futures. We see the hostile agenda coming from Washington to take away our basic freedoms and target our most vulnerable communities, and we are ready to fight for you and with you every step of the way.</p> <p>***<br />Scott M. Stringer is the New York City Comptroller. Laura McQuade is President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCComptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCComptroller</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/PPNYCAction" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@PPNYCAction</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/scott-pp100_cityhall_057.jpg" alt="scott pp100 cityhall 057" width="600" height="410" /></p> <p>Comptroller Stringer with Planned Parenthood (photo via @NYCComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>The Trump-Pence administration just took aim at the Title X program—the nation’s long-standing program for affordable birth control and other sexual and reproductive health care that more than four million people nationwide, including 150,000 New Yorkers, rely on each year.</p> <p>The administration issued a new call for funding applications that radically changes the program's priorities—and that will shift funding away from expert sexual and reproductive health care providers, to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that masquerade as legitimate health care facilities solely to shame and mislead pregnant individuals about their reproductive health options.</p> <p>There’s no denying it: This is all part of a coordinated attack on access to accurate sexual and reproductive health care information—and to access to birth control and safe, legal abortion.</p> <p>The attacks don’t stop there. On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard its first major reproductive rights case since the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s anti-abortion appointee—and the case could also change how crisis pregnancy centers operate. It will determine whether crisis pregnancy centers will be allowed to continue to lie to people about their reproductive health care options by calling it First Amendment promoted speech.</p> <p>Let’s be clear – we must fight back against these attacks to ensure that New Yorkers, especially those with low incomes, continue to have the fundamental health care they need and deserve.</p> <p>Since 1970, the government has awarded Title X grants to sexual and reproductive health care providers that offer contraception, STI testing, cancer screenings and more to help uninsured and underinsured individuals afford them. Historically, Title X is meant to ensure that every person—regardless of where they live, how much money they make, their background, or whether or not they have health insurance—has access to basic, preventive sexual and reproductive health care. This program is a critical safety net for many people who would otherwise go without health care, like those in low-income communities and communities of color who disproportionately face barriers to care.</p> <p>When programs like this are under attack, it’s our most marginalized communities and at-risk families who stand to suffer the most. As a recent report by the New York City Comptroller’s Office showed, in 2015, 91 percent of people served under Title X throughout New York State were women, and 60 percent had incomes at or below the federal poverty line. Nearly one-third were uninsured.</p> <p>The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ new guidelines for Title X would push these patients to go to facilities that emphasize abstinence-only ideology and that do not offer the full range of birth control options. The new guidelines are designed to roll back access to highly effective forms of birth control, like long-acting reversible contraceptives (IUDs and implants).</p> <p>These guidelines also clearly open the door to anti-abortion fake clinics participating in the program, even though they use deceptive tactics such as providing medically inaccurate information to women, including lying about the gestational age of a pregnancy in order to make it harder for someone to access an abortion.</p> <p>Already, throughout New York City, crisis pregnancy centers masquerade as legitimate health care facilities solely to shame and mislead pregnant individuals about their reproductive health options and prevent them from seeking abortion care. The new Title X guidelines could result in these fake clinics receiving taxpayer dollars and expanding, targeting even more people who are seeking legitimate reproductive health care services. These misleading anti-abortion facilities may continue to exist—but we shouldn’t be supporting them with federal taxpayer money.</p> <p>This egregious attack on Title X is an attack on women and vulnerable communities, and on the rights of New Yorkers to make the health decisions best for them and their families.</p> <p>All New Yorkers should have control over their sexual and reproductive lives. This includes the decision of whether, when, and how to have children, how to practice healthy and respectful sexuality, how to protect ourselves and our partners against STDs, and more. When we make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care, we determine our own futures. And when our reproductive autonomy is under threat, so too is our collective health and well-being as a community and as a city.</p> <p>We will do everything we can to ensure that all people are empowered to take control of their health and their futures. We see the hostile agenda coming from Washington to take away our basic freedoms and target our most vulnerable communities, and we are ready to fight for you and with you every step of the way.</p> <p>***<br />Scott M. Stringer is the New York City Comptroller. Laura McQuade is President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCComptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCComptroller</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/PPNYCAction" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@PPNYCAction</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
City Council Begins Examination of De Blasio Budget Plan 2018-03-05T05:00:00+00:00 2018-03-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7519:city-council-begins-examination-of-de-blasio-budget-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39374999445_4a8f99892f_z.jpg" alt="Speaker Corey Johnson podium" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Council Speaker Johnon (photos: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council members pressed budget officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for more transparency and a better accounting of spending and revenue plans at a Monday hearing on the mayor’s $88.67 billion proposed preliminary budget for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1. It was the first hearing of what will be weeks of public discussions, and the first under the new City Council speaker and new Council finance committee chair.</p> <p>“I want to focus on what will be a recurring theme of these hearings -- ensuring that the City budget is fair, transparent, and accountable to New Yorkers,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in his opening statement, kicking off the series of hearings at which agency heads and top city officials will present to the Council their funding priorities for the next fiscal year while defending their programs and practices.</p> <p>“For too long, administration after administration has presented the budget to the Council in a manner that makes it difficult for us to do our Charter-mandated duty of budget oversight and&nbsp;review,” Johnson said, decrying the “frequent usage of vague and over-inclusive units of appropriation” that make city spending hard to track, and the lack of measurable connections between budgeting and results.</p> <p>Johnson also expressed concern about the ballooning of the city budget under de Blasio, noting that the city expects to spend as much as $95.2 billion by the 2022 fiscal year, and promised a “renewed focus” on the city’s capital budget. Johnson has created a special capital budget subcommittee for that purpose.</p> <p>Over the course of several hours, the Council heard testimony Monday from representatives of the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Finance, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and representatives of the Independent Budget Office. The hearing saw a few testy exchanges between Council members and new OMB Director Melanie Hartzog, indicative of the increased independence that Johnson has promised under his leadership. Members pushed hard when Hartzog gave them answers that they believed lacked sufficient detail and Hartzog, in turn, seemed to dig in when faced with repeated critical questions.</p> <p>Council Member Daniel Dromm, the new chair of the finance committee, emphasized in his opening statement that the Council would have a clear eye on “accountability, performance and efficiency” in the upcoming budget hearings. “Even within an $88 billion budget, resources are scarce and our city’s needs are great,” he said. “With so many competing, worthy priorities, we owe it to our constituents to honestly evaluate all levels of the budget.”</p> <p>Although Dromm noted that de Blasio had proposed little in the way of new spending -- $393.5 million in additional spending for the current fiscal year and $364 million for the next -- he said particular items called for increased oversight.</p> <p>Among those are spending on homelessness, which has increased by $2.8 billion under de Blasio, including a $150 million baseline increase in the preliminary budget for shelters. “Obviously, the Council supports spending money in order to combat homelessness and to provide everyone in the shelter system with a safe and permanent home,” Dromm said. “But that does not mean that we will authorize the administration to spend carte blanche.” He said the Council had yet to hear a “clearly articulated strategy” on homelessness from the administration.</p> <p>Dromm also questioned whether the mayor’s Citywide Savings Program (CSP), a voluntary program for city agencies, was finding “real efficiencies” and pushed for reporting by the administration on the CSP’s implementation in the annual Mayor’s Management Report.</p> <p>“Our emphasis in the preliminary budget is caution,” OMB Director Hartzog told the Council, stressing that the $750 million in new spending across the two years in the budget was offset by $900 million in savings. Hartzog took over her portfolio two months ago after her predecessor Dean Fuleihan was appointed first deputy mayor by de Blasio.</p> <p>In her testimony, Hartzog warned of nearly $1 billion in fiscal threats the city faces from the state and federal budgets that will affect everything from education and public safety to affordable housing, health care, and transit funding. “Facing great risks from both Albany and Washington, we respond with caution by adhering to the same foundational principles of fiscal management that we have in the past,” she said.</p> <p>In keeping with past years, the city has set aside “strong reserves that serve as a buffer to the unexpected,” Hartzog said. The preliminary budget includes $5.5 billion in reserves, including $1 billion in the general reserve, $250 million in the Capital Stabilization Reserve, and $4.25 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund.</p> <p>Hartzog touted the city’s “targeted, prudent investments” in the new budget, including the expansion of pre-kindergarten for more three-year-olds in the city, efforts to increase the city’s affordable housing stock, funding to protect tenants from construction harassment, increased capital funding for the New York City Housing Authority, spending on mental health services and the full rollout of the NYPD’s body camera program, among others.</p> <p>Hartzog also said that funding for DemocracyNYC, a voter engagement program announced by the mayor in his State of the City speech last month, would be included in the executive budget which is released after the Council has held weeks of hearings and had an opportunity to respond to the preliminary spending plan.</p> <p>It was clear early on that Johnson did not intend to take it easy on the administration, jumping straight into property tax reform as he questioned Hartzog. The mayor had promised action on property taxes in January but has yet to make any policy moves. Despite repeated pushing from Johnson, Hartzog was similarly noncommittal. “As the mayor said, you’ll hear more from us very soon,” she said, without providing a concrete timeline.</p> <p>In several instances, when Council members expressed disappointment with the funds allocated to certain programs and agencies, Hartzog promised to have ongoing conversations with them. But, at Dromm’s urging, Council members avoided going deeper into agency-specific questions, a break from previous years when members grilled top budget officials on various aspects of city government. There will be specific agency budget hearings beginning Tuesday.</p> <p>One issue that several members returned to, however, was the city’s spending on housing homeless New Yorkers in cluster sites and emergency hotel shelters. Hartzog repeatedly told members the city could not delineate that spending, owing to constant updates and reestimates of costs related to homelessness spending. Johnson noted that the preliminary budget included a $169 million increase in baseline funding for shelters, but with few results to show for it.</p> <p>“It’s concerning to the Council that we keep adding hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis but we haven’t seen a significant decrease in the homeless population,” Johnson said to Hartzog at one point.</p> <p>Johnson also failed to get a commitment from Hartzog on providing more units of appropriations in the budgets for city agencies that lack detail and transparency. He noted, for instance, that the Department of Corrections has one budget line for jail operations, despite running several jails across the city. Hartzog said she could not commit then and there to creating more units but promised to work with the Council on its concerns.</p> <p>Other members followed Johnson’s lead, some forcefully pushing their priorities that included funding for the summer youth employment program, increased contracting for minority- and women-owned businesses, senior services, health coverage, and more.</p> <p>Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration, raised the issue of funding for the ailing MTA and scandal-ridden NYCHA. “They are two areas where the mayor has to some degree or another, I won’t say abdicated, that’s too judgmental, but has offered the view that they are either not his problem or the origin of the problems lie elsewhere,” Lancman said.</p> <p>Hartzog tried to float arguments that de Blasio has put forward -- that the state should fund the MTA and new MTA revenue streams should include “lockboxes” to keep the money in the city, and that the administration had made unprecedented investments in NYCHA in the absence of federal and state funds. Lancman, though, cut Hartzog off and insisted she focus on the budget before them.</p> <p>Although tensions did not boil over, it was obvious that the Council was not pulling its punches. Johnson acknowledged as much at the end of his round of questioning. “It’s never personal,” he told Hartzog. “It’s just doing our job.”</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, who testified in the afternoon, praised the mayor’s budget proposal for including more funding for the expansion of 3-K for All, capital funds to repair and replace NYCHA heating systems, and for closing the first jail on Rikers Island.</p> <p>But Stringer had a warning for the Council and the administration. “I am concerned that we are beginning to see warning signs of a slowing economy,” he said, emphasizing as he has done for years that the city needs to set aside more rainy day funds. “More than ever, our spending decisions must be data-driven and evidence-based. We must ensure that no dollar is going to waste,” he added. Two signs he pointed to were significant job losses in the last quarter of 2017, after years of sustained employment growth, and a reduction in the city’s cash balance -- from $5.4 billion in fiscal year 2017 to only $1 billion in the current fiscal year -- from slowing growth of non-property tax revenue.</p> <p>Stringer had clear prescriptions for the city. He has called for a “budget cushion” between 12 and 18 percent of the city’s operational budget, while the city’s reserves currently stand at only 9 percent or $8.5 billion.</p> <p>“A more robust savings program is critical to building up our reserves and reducing the likelihood of cutting city services down the line,” he said. “But it is not enough to find a few efficiencies here and there. It’s time to start applying a much more rigorous test to our spending – are we getting real results for our investments?”</p> <p>He also reiterated that he would be closely examining the budgets and expenditure of city agencies on his “watch list” -- the Department of Homeless Services, the Department of Education,2 and the Department of Correction. “Let me be very clear here in saying that I wholly agree with, and share, the mayor’s goals of reducing homelessness, improving our public schools, and closing Rikers,” he said. “But we must ensure that we are working toward these goals as efficiently and effectively as possible. Because as things stand now, I’m concerned that we are in a weaker position than we should be.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39374999445_4a8f99892f_z.jpg" alt="Speaker Corey Johnson podium" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Council Speaker Johnon (photos: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council members pressed budget officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for more transparency and a better accounting of spending and revenue plans at a Monday hearing on the mayor’s $88.67 billion proposed preliminary budget for the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1. It was the first hearing of what will be weeks of public discussions, and the first under the new City Council speaker and new Council finance committee chair.</p> <p>“I want to focus on what will be a recurring theme of these hearings -- ensuring that the City budget is fair, transparent, and accountable to New Yorkers,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in his opening statement, kicking off the series of hearings at which agency heads and top city officials will present to the Council their funding priorities for the next fiscal year while defending their programs and practices.</p> <p>“For too long, administration after administration has presented the budget to the Council in a manner that makes it difficult for us to do our Charter-mandated duty of budget oversight and&nbsp;review,” Johnson said, decrying the “frequent usage of vague and over-inclusive units of appropriation” that make city spending hard to track, and the lack of measurable connections between budgeting and results.</p> <p>Johnson also expressed concern about the ballooning of the city budget under de Blasio, noting that the city expects to spend as much as $95.2 billion by the 2022 fiscal year, and promised a “renewed focus” on the city’s capital budget. Johnson has created a special capital budget subcommittee for that purpose.</p> <p>Over the course of several hours, the Council heard testimony Monday from representatives of the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Finance, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and representatives of the Independent Budget Office. The hearing saw a few testy exchanges between Council members and new OMB Director Melanie Hartzog, indicative of the increased independence that Johnson has promised under his leadership. Members pushed hard when Hartzog gave them answers that they believed lacked sufficient detail and Hartzog, in turn, seemed to dig in when faced with repeated critical questions.</p> <p>Council Member Daniel Dromm, the new chair of the finance committee, emphasized in his opening statement that the Council would have a clear eye on “accountability, performance and efficiency” in the upcoming budget hearings. “Even within an $88 billion budget, resources are scarce and our city’s needs are great,” he said. “With so many competing, worthy priorities, we owe it to our constituents to honestly evaluate all levels of the budget.”</p> <p>Although Dromm noted that de Blasio had proposed little in the way of new spending -- $393.5 million in additional spending for the current fiscal year and $364 million for the next -- he said particular items called for increased oversight.</p> <p>Among those are spending on homelessness, which has increased by $2.8 billion under de Blasio, including a $150 million baseline increase in the preliminary budget for shelters. “Obviously, the Council supports spending money in order to combat homelessness and to provide everyone in the shelter system with a safe and permanent home,” Dromm said. “But that does not mean that we will authorize the administration to spend carte blanche.” He said the Council had yet to hear a “clearly articulated strategy” on homelessness from the administration.</p> <p>Dromm also questioned whether the mayor’s Citywide Savings Program (CSP), a voluntary program for city agencies, was finding “real efficiencies” and pushed for reporting by the administration on the CSP’s implementation in the annual Mayor’s Management Report.</p> <p>“Our emphasis in the preliminary budget is caution,” OMB Director Hartzog told the Council, stressing that the $750 million in new spending across the two years in the budget was offset by $900 million in savings. Hartzog took over her portfolio two months ago after her predecessor Dean Fuleihan was appointed first deputy mayor by de Blasio.</p> <p>In her testimony, Hartzog warned of nearly $1 billion in fiscal threats the city faces from the state and federal budgets that will affect everything from education and public safety to affordable housing, health care, and transit funding. “Facing great risks from both Albany and Washington, we respond with caution by adhering to the same foundational principles of fiscal management that we have in the past,” she said.</p> <p>In keeping with past years, the city has set aside “strong reserves that serve as a buffer to the unexpected,” Hartzog said. The preliminary budget includes $5.5 billion in reserves, including $1 billion in the general reserve, $250 million in the Capital Stabilization Reserve, and $4.25 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund.</p> <p>Hartzog touted the city’s “targeted, prudent investments” in the new budget, including the expansion of pre-kindergarten for more three-year-olds in the city, efforts to increase the city’s affordable housing stock, funding to protect tenants from construction harassment, increased capital funding for the New York City Housing Authority, spending on mental health services and the full rollout of the NYPD’s body camera program, among others.</p> <p>Hartzog also said that funding for DemocracyNYC, a voter engagement program announced by the mayor in his State of the City speech last month, would be included in the executive budget which is released after the Council has held weeks of hearings and had an opportunity to respond to the preliminary spending plan.</p> <p>It was clear early on that Johnson did not intend to take it easy on the administration, jumping straight into property tax reform as he questioned Hartzog. The mayor had promised action on property taxes in January but has yet to make any policy moves. Despite repeated pushing from Johnson, Hartzog was similarly noncommittal. “As the mayor said, you’ll hear more from us very soon,” she said, without providing a concrete timeline.</p> <p>In several instances, when Council members expressed disappointment with the funds allocated to certain programs and agencies, Hartzog promised to have ongoing conversations with them. But, at Dromm’s urging, Council members avoided going deeper into agency-specific questions, a break from previous years when members grilled top budget officials on various aspects of city government. There will be specific agency budget hearings beginning Tuesday.</p> <p>One issue that several members returned to, however, was the city’s spending on housing homeless New Yorkers in cluster sites and emergency hotel shelters. Hartzog repeatedly told members the city could not delineate that spending, owing to constant updates and reestimates of costs related to homelessness spending. Johnson noted that the preliminary budget included a $169 million increase in baseline funding for shelters, but with few results to show for it.</p> <p>“It’s concerning to the Council that we keep adding hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis but we haven’t seen a significant decrease in the homeless population,” Johnson said to Hartzog at one point.</p> <p>Johnson also failed to get a commitment from Hartzog on providing more units of appropriations in the budgets for city agencies that lack detail and transparency. He noted, for instance, that the Department of Corrections has one budget line for jail operations, despite running several jails across the city. Hartzog said she could not commit then and there to creating more units but promised to work with the Council on its concerns.</p> <p>Other members followed Johnson’s lead, some forcefully pushing their priorities that included funding for the summer youth employment program, increased contracting for minority- and women-owned businesses, senior services, health coverage, and more.</p> <p>Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration, raised the issue of funding for the ailing MTA and scandal-ridden NYCHA. “They are two areas where the mayor has to some degree or another, I won’t say abdicated, that’s too judgmental, but has offered the view that they are either not his problem or the origin of the problems lie elsewhere,” Lancman said.</p> <p>Hartzog tried to float arguments that de Blasio has put forward -- that the state should fund the MTA and new MTA revenue streams should include “lockboxes” to keep the money in the city, and that the administration had made unprecedented investments in NYCHA in the absence of federal and state funds. Lancman, though, cut Hartzog off and insisted she focus on the budget before them.</p> <p>Although tensions did not boil over, it was obvious that the Council was not pulling its punches. Johnson acknowledged as much at the end of his round of questioning. “It’s never personal,” he told Hartzog. “It’s just doing our job.”</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer, who testified in the afternoon, praised the mayor’s budget proposal for including more funding for the expansion of 3-K for All, capital funds to repair and replace NYCHA heating systems, and for closing the first jail on Rikers Island.</p> <p>But Stringer had a warning for the Council and the administration. “I am concerned that we are beginning to see warning signs of a slowing economy,” he said, emphasizing as he has done for years that the city needs to set aside more rainy day funds. “More than ever, our spending decisions must be data-driven and evidence-based. We must ensure that no dollar is going to waste,” he added. Two signs he pointed to were significant job losses in the last quarter of 2017, after years of sustained employment growth, and a reduction in the city’s cash balance -- from $5.4 billion in fiscal year 2017 to only $1 billion in the current fiscal year -- from slowing growth of non-property tax revenue.</p> <p>Stringer had clear prescriptions for the city. He has called for a “budget cushion” between 12 and 18 percent of the city’s operational budget, while the city’s reserves currently stand at only 9 percent or $8.5 billion.</p> <p>“A more robust savings program is critical to building up our reserves and reducing the likelihood of cutting city services down the line,” he said. “But it is not enough to find a few efficiencies here and there. It’s time to start applying a much more rigorous test to our spending – are we getting real results for our investments?”</p> <p>He also reiterated that he would be closely examining the budgets and expenditure of city agencies on his “watch list” -- the Department of Homeless Services, the Department of Education,2 and the Department of Correction. “Let me be very clear here in saying that I wholly agree with, and share, the mayor’s goals of reducing homelessness, improving our public schools, and closing Rikers,” he said. “But we must ensure that we are working toward these goals as efficiently and effectively as possible. Because as things stand now, I’m concerned that we are in a weaker position than we should be.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Comptroller's Analysis of De Blasio Budget Plan Includes New Agency 'Watch List' 2018-02-23T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-23T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7492:comptroller-s-analysis-of-de-blasio-budget-plan-includes-new-agency-watch-list Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/38911345984_715c6fb774_z.jpg" alt="Stringer De Blasio climate budget" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio and Stringer, right (photo:&nbsp;Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer on Friday released <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-analysis-of-new-york-citys-preliminary-fy-2019-budget/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his analysis</a> of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1. Stringer said that the administration does not have enough of a “budget cushion” to rely on as economic prospects look gloomier going forward, urged de Blasio to reduce wasteful spending in what is an $88.67 billion budget plan, and unveiled his first “agency watch list,” initially including three city departments “of most concern when it comes to budgeting.”</p> <p>For roughly 20 minutes in a conference room in the Dinkins Municipal Building, home to the comptroller’s offices, Stringer praised de Blasio’s budget for closing Rikers Island, expanding early childhood education, and funneling resources toward deficient heating systems in public housing, but also argued that various city agencies have not been sufficiently transparent or effective. The comptroller also warned about the city’s growing projected budget gaps for years to come, which are part of the outlook for next fiscal year, where a balanced budget is planned, as mandated by law.</p> <p>In making his case for the need for the city needing additional savings, Stringer said that though the New York City economy is strong, growth will slow next fiscal year and beyond. He also pointed to federal factors that he said would adversely affect New Yorkers. “With President Trump’s proposed budget cuts going after the most vulnerable New Yorkers and his tax bill targeting our economy, it’s critical that New York City prepares for whatever comes tomorrow,” he said. “That means spending our limited resources in a way that achieves maximum impact.”</p> <p>To that end, he introduced the “agency watch list,” which he described as a list of agencies “where we appear to be spending more without measurable results.” The list includes the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Corrections (DOC).</p> <p>“I am calling on the Mayor to undertake real evaluations of this spending,” Stringer continued. “What are the goals of the programs? Are they being met? Are we measuring the outcomes?”</p> <p>He added, “It’s time to start taking a hard, data-driven, quantified look at what these agencies are doing.”</p> <p>Repeating questions he has raised in the past regarding DHS, Stringer said that while the city must allocate significant resources to help homeless people, it had not gotten the bang for its buck. He explained that spending on homeless services has soared, nearly doubling since 2013, while the homeless population in shelters has increased over the last five years by over 10,000 individuals.</p> <p>“As the person who exposed this crisis with our sweeping audit of shelters in 2015, I support taking every measure we can to reduce homelessness,” he explained. “But if we’re going to solve this problem, we have to know: is our spending leading to results?”</p> <p>Meanwhile, DOC has also seen its spending rise in recent years while the city’s jail population has declined by north of 30 percent in the last decade. During the same timeframe, the cost per year of housing each detainee has ballooned from $117,000 in 2008 to $270,000 in 2017.</p> <p>Education spending has been mismanaged, Stringer said, also repeating past criticisms in citing “rampant waste and a lack of accountability at DOE.” According to Stringer, the DOE spends too much on bureaucracy and not enough in classrooms. He cited the large jump in employment at DOE headquarters. “Since 2012, DOE has added over 400 new central administrative staff,” he said. “That’s growth of 24 percent. But the number of teaching staff has only grown by half that rate, 12 percent.”</p> <p>The comptroller also noted $1 billion of spending on broadband that has provided unsatisfactory Internet services, according to a survey of New York City public school teachers. What’s more, the city could not account for much of its investment in technological equipment. “In an audit my office did in 2014, DOE was unable to account for one-third of its computer monitors, laptops, and tablets,” he said.</p> <p>More broadly, Stringer said the city should set aside more room in its budget to “help the city weather unexpected events.” The comptroller insists that the ideal range for the city’s “budget cushion” is between 12 and 18 percent of its yearly spending. De Blasio, for his part, maintains that the current 9 percent of spending is adequate, brushing aside Stringer’s recommendation. <br /> <br />“We are in uncertain times,” Stringer said Friday. “Economic growth is slowing down, especially when we look ahead to 2020,” Stringer said. “We need to do more to prepare.”</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette Friday afternoon, de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein turned the comptroller’s analysis around. “The Mayor’s made dramatic investments in homeless outreach, our schools, and our corrections system,” she stated. “They have helped lead the city to records in job creation, test scores, and crime prevention. We appreciate the comptroller highlighting these gains.”</p> <p>Beyond the proposed expense budget that de Blasio has put forward, Stringer also critiqued the other city spending plan that runs concurrently with the budget. “There is simply no accountability in the capital budget,” Stringer said. “And that means agencies simply do what they want, which may not be what the city needs.”</p> <p>“Right now,” Stringer said, “we have huge pots of money appropriated, for only the most vaguely defined purposes.” As examples of the city’s mismanagement, Stringer cited a $33.5 million “acquisition fund” for the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which, according to Stringer, has not been spent, a fire and rescue facility in Brooklyn that was $20 million over budget, as well as recent Brooklyn Bridge repairs that cost $140 million more than expected.</p> <p>Stringer’s analysis of the capital budget is likely to resonate at the City Council. New Speaker Corey Johnson created a new subcommittee on the capital budget, and a capital budget hearing will be part of the upcoming weeks of hearings the Council will hold on the preliminary budget.</p> <p>“Our capital planning and budgeting process is a disaster,” Stringer said Friday, “and it’s been allowed to continue for far too long.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/38911345984_715c6fb774_z.jpg" alt="Stringer De Blasio climate budget" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio and Stringer, right (photo:&nbsp;Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer on Friday released <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-analysis-of-new-york-citys-preliminary-fy-2019-budget/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his analysis</a> of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1. Stringer said that the administration does not have enough of a “budget cushion” to rely on as economic prospects look gloomier going forward, urged de Blasio to reduce wasteful spending in what is an $88.67 billion budget plan, and unveiled his first “agency watch list,” initially including three city departments “of most concern when it comes to budgeting.”</p> <p>For roughly 20 minutes in a conference room in the Dinkins Municipal Building, home to the comptroller’s offices, Stringer praised de Blasio’s budget for closing Rikers Island, expanding early childhood education, and funneling resources toward deficient heating systems in public housing, but also argued that various city agencies have not been sufficiently transparent or effective. The comptroller also warned about the city’s growing projected budget gaps for years to come, which are part of the outlook for next fiscal year, where a balanced budget is planned, as mandated by law.</p> <p>In making his case for the need for the city needing additional savings, Stringer said that though the New York City economy is strong, growth will slow next fiscal year and beyond. He also pointed to federal factors that he said would adversely affect New Yorkers. “With President Trump’s proposed budget cuts going after the most vulnerable New Yorkers and his tax bill targeting our economy, it’s critical that New York City prepares for whatever comes tomorrow,” he said. “That means spending our limited resources in a way that achieves maximum impact.”</p> <p>To that end, he introduced the “agency watch list,” which he described as a list of agencies “where we appear to be spending more without measurable results.” The list includes the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Corrections (DOC).</p> <p>“I am calling on the Mayor to undertake real evaluations of this spending,” Stringer continued. “What are the goals of the programs? Are they being met? Are we measuring the outcomes?”</p> <p>He added, “It’s time to start taking a hard, data-driven, quantified look at what these agencies are doing.”</p> <p>Repeating questions he has raised in the past regarding DHS, Stringer said that while the city must allocate significant resources to help homeless people, it had not gotten the bang for its buck. He explained that spending on homeless services has soared, nearly doubling since 2013, while the homeless population in shelters has increased over the last five years by over 10,000 individuals.</p> <p>“As the person who exposed this crisis with our sweeping audit of shelters in 2015, I support taking every measure we can to reduce homelessness,” he explained. “But if we’re going to solve this problem, we have to know: is our spending leading to results?”</p> <p>Meanwhile, DOC has also seen its spending rise in recent years while the city’s jail population has declined by north of 30 percent in the last decade. During the same timeframe, the cost per year of housing each detainee has ballooned from $117,000 in 2008 to $270,000 in 2017.</p> <p>Education spending has been mismanaged, Stringer said, also repeating past criticisms in citing “rampant waste and a lack of accountability at DOE.” According to Stringer, the DOE spends too much on bureaucracy and not enough in classrooms. He cited the large jump in employment at DOE headquarters. “Since 2012, DOE has added over 400 new central administrative staff,” he said. “That’s growth of 24 percent. But the number of teaching staff has only grown by half that rate, 12 percent.”</p> <p>The comptroller also noted $1 billion of spending on broadband that has provided unsatisfactory Internet services, according to a survey of New York City public school teachers. What’s more, the city could not account for much of its investment in technological equipment. “In an audit my office did in 2014, DOE was unable to account for one-third of its computer monitors, laptops, and tablets,” he said.</p> <p>More broadly, Stringer said the city should set aside more room in its budget to “help the city weather unexpected events.” The comptroller insists that the ideal range for the city’s “budget cushion” is between 12 and 18 percent of its yearly spending. De Blasio, for his part, maintains that the current 9 percent of spending is adequate, brushing aside Stringer’s recommendation. <br /> <br />“We are in uncertain times,” Stringer said Friday. “Economic growth is slowing down, especially when we look ahead to 2020,” Stringer said. “We need to do more to prepare.”</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette Friday afternoon, de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein turned the comptroller’s analysis around. “The Mayor’s made dramatic investments in homeless outreach, our schools, and our corrections system,” she stated. “They have helped lead the city to records in job creation, test scores, and crime prevention. We appreciate the comptroller highlighting these gains.”</p> <p>Beyond the proposed expense budget that de Blasio has put forward, Stringer also critiqued the other city spending plan that runs concurrently with the budget. “There is simply no accountability in the capital budget,” Stringer said. “And that means agencies simply do what they want, which may not be what the city needs.”</p> <p>“Right now,” Stringer said, “we have huge pots of money appropriated, for only the most vaguely defined purposes.” As examples of the city’s mismanagement, Stringer cited a $33.5 million “acquisition fund” for the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which, according to Stringer, has not been spent, a fire and rescue facility in Brooklyn that was $20 million over budget, as well as recent Brooklyn Bridge repairs that cost $140 million more than expected.</p> <p>Stringer’s analysis of the capital budget is likely to resonate at the City Council. New Speaker Corey Johnson created a new subcommittee on the capital budget, and a capital budget hearing will be part of the upcoming weeks of hearings the Council will hold on the preliminary budget.</p> <p>“Our capital planning and budgeting process is a disaster,” Stringer said Friday, “and it’s been allowed to continue for far too long.”</p> <p> </p>