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/state-budget 2019-01-24T11:16:15+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 9 Key Takeaways for New York City from Cuomo's State of the State and Budget 2019-01-21T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-21T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8217-9-key-takeaways-for-new-york-city-from-cuomo-s-state-of-the-state-and-budget Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/govcuomo-jus.jpg" alt="govcuomo jus" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio applauds Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech and accompanying $175.2 billion state budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 had something for everything. The 354-page policy book lays out proposals, big and small, on everything from criminal justice reform, transit and infrastructure funding, workforce protections to rent regulations, voting and ethics reform, farmer benefits, legalizing marijuana, women’s rights and reproductive health, LGBTQ protections, and environmental regulation, to name just a few.</p> <p>The budget proposal, with its long list of policy priorities, has several measures that will have significant consequences for New York City and its own budget, the first draft of which Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon present. The state fiscal year begins April 1, the city’s begins July 1. Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, <a href="https://cbcny.org/advocacy/statement-nys-executive-budget-fy-2020">noted</a> in its assessment that the governor’s budget proposal cuts nearly $100 million in reimbursements and aid to the city.</p> <p>And while some of the governor’s initiatives may benefit the city or line up with de Blasio’s priorities, there are others that could end up being a burden and might prompt staunch opposition from the mayor and state legislators who represent districts in the five boroughs. De Blasio expressed concern about a few proposals in the hours after the governor’s presentation, while conceding that “there's a lot to like in the speech.” Below are eight key takeaways for the city from Cuomo’s policy and budget plans.</p> <p><strong>Cuomo wants the city to split MTA costs with the state. De Blasio disagrees.</strong><br /> Cuomo has embraced congestion pricing as a key proposal to garner resources for the MTA and stem the tide of years of disinvestment that have left large funding obligations and a crumbling subway system. While he has still not fully fleshed out a congestion pricing plan, Cuomo estimated such a system could bring in about $15 billion in revenue over a ten-year period, but also insisted that any shortfall to fund the subways and buses over and above that should be split 50-50 between the city and the state. He argued that over several MTA capital plans the city’s contributions to the MTA have been falling and the state’s contributions have been rising, a characterization that de Blasio later took issue with.</p> <p>Cuomo, who effectively controls the MTA and appoints a plurality of its board members and its leadership, is proposing an overhaul of the agency’s management, which he has blamed for repeated failures over the years and again in his speech. “It was purposefully designed so that everyone can point fingers at everybody else, and nobody's responsible,” he said, even though he has claimed credit for its successes in the past and he has recently re-exerted control relative to the L-train shutdown.</p> <p>The details of Cuomo’s MTA management reform plan are also still not fully clear.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly said the best solution to the MTA’s financial woes is a millionaire’s tax, an idea that is anathema to Cuomo. In his Albany news conference shortly after the governor’s speech, the mayor reiterated the proposal as he pushed back against the governor’s suggestions. “Now, there’s a lot of good ideas on the table and here's a chance to decide which combination of those ideas will actually solve the problem,” he said of funding the MTA. “But yet you can't take it out of the city budget, it’s not going to work.” Though he continues to say he prefers the millionaire’s tax, de Blasio’s rhetoric around congestion pricing has warmed considerably.</p> <p><strong>Reforms needed to close Rikers Island may soon be reality</strong><br />The governor’s budget proposal includes support for several criminal justice reforms which de Blasio has said are crucial to the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex within 10 years. Among those are ending cash bail, among other reforms to pretrial detention processes, and passing Kalief’s Law, a speedy trial reform named for Kalief Browder, the Bronx youth who spent three years on Rikers Island on charges of stealing a backpack. Never convicted, Browder was released but later died by suicide, which was attributed to his harsh treatment while in detention.</p> <p>De Blasio has said that bail and speedy trial reform would work in concert with ongoing efforts to reduce the population of Rikers down below 5,000, the threshold the city estimates it would need to reach in order to house detainees in borough-based facilities that are being planned. The city jail population is now under 8,000, de Blasio announced during his State of the City address.</p> <p><strong>Rent regulations will help de Blasio’s affordable housing plan</strong><br />De Blasio’s ambitious plan to create and preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026 is on track according to city estimates and broke a record in 2018 by financing 34,160 affordable units, the most in one year for any administration. That plan could benefit massively from a push by the governor and the Legislature to strengthen rent regulations, which are set to expire at the end of June.</p> <p>Cuomo has expressed support for ending vacancy decontrol whereby upon certain vacancies landlords can remove units from the regulated rolls, eliminating preferential rent limits, and reforming the process by which landlords can assess tenants for improvements to buildings and apartments. All are items that de Blasio praised while noting that he would have to see more details. Such regulations would have been “inconceivable” when Republicans controlled the state Senate, he said as he anticipated seeing stronger laws in place this year. “It's going to help us preserve affordable housing in New York City,” de Blasio said. “And certainly from what the governor said in the speech, I'm encouraged.</p> <p><strong>Education and mayoral control</strong><br />Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase in education funding statewide -- an increase of $1 billion from the current year for a total of $27.7 billion -- and proposed a new school funding formula called “Education Equity,” emphasizing that current funding is not flowing to the poorest schools in poorer school districts.</p> <p>The governor presented new data based on his administration’s analysis of numbers provided to the state by large schools districts that had been required by a law passed last year meant to assess exactly how districts are allocating education funds. Cuomo showed data that indicated all the largest school districts are funding their wealthier schools at higher rates than their poorer schools, though de Blasio questioned the presentation and said the city would have more to say soon. It’s not immediately clear how Cuomo’s administration calculated its numbers.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposal looks like it would set up a fight with the mayor, who insisted that the governor should fully fund the “Foundation Aid” formula as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, which Cuomo has argued is settled and a relic of the past.</p> <p>De Blasio did praise the governor for proposing a three-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, which Cuomo has done in the past though he has appeared comfortable settling on multiple one-year extensions (last time it was two years) as a means of frustrating the mayor. “[U]nder a mayoral control model that we have in New York City for the last five years, we have consistently moved resources to schools in greater need,” de Blasio said, noting that Cuomo’s presentation “did not reflect the reality we know in New York City” and promising to correct the record.</p> <p>Notably, Cuomo has not initially indicated a plan to raise the cap on charter schools in New York City, a statutory limit that will soon be hit. Cuomo has been a staunch supporter of charters (and de Blasio has mostly been an opponent), but he has been relatively quiet on the issue as he has moved left over the last few years and repaired his relationship with the teachers unions. Still, Cuomo has made sure that charters have secured key protections in state agreements, though this year could hold a different approach.</p> <p><strong>Speed cameras and bus lane cameras</strong><br /> Last year, a limited speed camera program around schools in New York City lapsed amid legislative intransigence led by state Senate Republicans but was revived through an agreement among the governor, mayor, and New York City Council. Cuomo has proposed reinstating the program in state law through 2022, expanding the number of camera zones from 140 to 290, as well as removing a cap on bus lane cameras and allowing automated cameras to enforce “block-the-box” violations in the proposed congestion pricing zone. The bill would also create a new camera program to combat violations in Manhattan that contribute to congestion.</p> <p><strong>Infrastructure program highlights include JFK, LaGuardia Airports</strong><br />Cuomo touted an additional planned $150 billion investment in infrastructure in his third term, building on projects that are already underway and several new ones that he is expected to launch. Among those are the renovations of LaGuardia Airport, the new JFK Airport, four new Metro North stations in the Bronx, an expansion of the Javits Convention Center, and the opening of the Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn.</p> <p><strong>Anti-terror initiatives</strong><br /> New York City continues to be one of the most prominent terror targets in the world and Cuomo offered several measures to improve security and preparedness, including legislation to ban gun bump stocks, prohibit weaponized drones, and regulations on the sale of certain explosives.</p> <p>Two measures were directly impelled by incidents in New York City -- the governor proposed a bill to require two pieces of identification to rent a vehicle, citing attacks carried out across the world and particularly the 2017 Halloween attack on the West Side Highway that claimed the lives of eight people. Cuomo also proposed investments in “infrastructure hardening” such as traffic bollards and crash barriers to protect civilians.</p> <p><strong>Lead exposure thresholds</strong><br />Cuomo proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels that would lead to an immediate public health response, which could potentially become a prominent issue in New York City where residents of the New York City Housing Authority have been fighting with the administration for years over lead paint in their apartments.</p> <p><strong>Other policies apply to New York City</strong><br />A variety of other policies the governor is backing would apply to New York City and have an impact in the five boroughs, including some measures that have already passed the Legislature, like voting reforms, a ban on gay conversion therapy, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. This list also includes the planned expansion of abortion rights, more gun control, the Child Victims Act to address child sex abuse, and the Dream Act to provide state tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and their children, among other policies. Also in this category is the expected legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/govcuomo-jus.jpg" alt="govcuomo jus" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio applauds Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech and accompanying $175.2 billion state budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 had something for everything. The 354-page policy book lays out proposals, big and small, on everything from criminal justice reform, transit and infrastructure funding, workforce protections to rent regulations, voting and ethics reform, farmer benefits, legalizing marijuana, women’s rights and reproductive health, LGBTQ protections, and environmental regulation, to name just a few.</p> <p>The budget proposal, with its long list of policy priorities, has several measures that will have significant consequences for New York City and its own budget, the first draft of which Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon present. The state fiscal year begins April 1, the city’s begins July 1. Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, <a href="https://cbcny.org/advocacy/statement-nys-executive-budget-fy-2020">noted</a> in its assessment that the governor’s budget proposal cuts nearly $100 million in reimbursements and aid to the city.</p> <p>And while some of the governor’s initiatives may benefit the city or line up with de Blasio’s priorities, there are others that could end up being a burden and might prompt staunch opposition from the mayor and state legislators who represent districts in the five boroughs. De Blasio expressed concern about a few proposals in the hours after the governor’s presentation, while conceding that “there's a lot to like in the speech.” Below are eight key takeaways for the city from Cuomo’s policy and budget plans.</p> <p><strong>Cuomo wants the city to split MTA costs with the state. De Blasio disagrees.</strong><br /> Cuomo has embraced congestion pricing as a key proposal to garner resources for the MTA and stem the tide of years of disinvestment that have left large funding obligations and a crumbling subway system. While he has still not fully fleshed out a congestion pricing plan, Cuomo estimated such a system could bring in about $15 billion in revenue over a ten-year period, but also insisted that any shortfall to fund the subways and buses over and above that should be split 50-50 between the city and the state. He argued that over several MTA capital plans the city’s contributions to the MTA have been falling and the state’s contributions have been rising, a characterization that de Blasio later took issue with.</p> <p>Cuomo, who effectively controls the MTA and appoints a plurality of its board members and its leadership, is proposing an overhaul of the agency’s management, which he has blamed for repeated failures over the years and again in his speech. “It was purposefully designed so that everyone can point fingers at everybody else, and nobody's responsible,” he said, even though he has claimed credit for its successes in the past and he has recently re-exerted control relative to the L-train shutdown.</p> <p>The details of Cuomo’s MTA management reform plan are also still not fully clear.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly said the best solution to the MTA’s financial woes is a millionaire’s tax, an idea that is anathema to Cuomo. In his Albany news conference shortly after the governor’s speech, the mayor reiterated the proposal as he pushed back against the governor’s suggestions. “Now, there’s a lot of good ideas on the table and here's a chance to decide which combination of those ideas will actually solve the problem,” he said of funding the MTA. “But yet you can't take it out of the city budget, it’s not going to work.” Though he continues to say he prefers the millionaire’s tax, de Blasio’s rhetoric around congestion pricing has warmed considerably.</p> <p><strong>Reforms needed to close Rikers Island may soon be reality</strong><br />The governor’s budget proposal includes support for several criminal justice reforms which de Blasio has said are crucial to the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex within 10 years. Among those are ending cash bail, among other reforms to pretrial detention processes, and passing Kalief’s Law, a speedy trial reform named for Kalief Browder, the Bronx youth who spent three years on Rikers Island on charges of stealing a backpack. Never convicted, Browder was released but later died by suicide, which was attributed to his harsh treatment while in detention.</p> <p>De Blasio has said that bail and speedy trial reform would work in concert with ongoing efforts to reduce the population of Rikers down below 5,000, the threshold the city estimates it would need to reach in order to house detainees in borough-based facilities that are being planned. The city jail population is now under 8,000, de Blasio announced during his State of the City address.</p> <p><strong>Rent regulations will help de Blasio’s affordable housing plan</strong><br />De Blasio’s ambitious plan to create and preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026 is on track according to city estimates and broke a record in 2018 by financing 34,160 affordable units, the most in one year for any administration. That plan could benefit massively from a push by the governor and the Legislature to strengthen rent regulations, which are set to expire at the end of June.</p> <p>Cuomo has expressed support for ending vacancy decontrol whereby upon certain vacancies landlords can remove units from the regulated rolls, eliminating preferential rent limits, and reforming the process by which landlords can assess tenants for improvements to buildings and apartments. All are items that de Blasio praised while noting that he would have to see more details. Such regulations would have been “inconceivable” when Republicans controlled the state Senate, he said as he anticipated seeing stronger laws in place this year. “It's going to help us preserve affordable housing in New York City,” de Blasio said. “And certainly from what the governor said in the speech, I'm encouraged.</p> <p><strong>Education and mayoral control</strong><br />Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase in education funding statewide -- an increase of $1 billion from the current year for a total of $27.7 billion -- and proposed a new school funding formula called “Education Equity,” emphasizing that current funding is not flowing to the poorest schools in poorer school districts.</p> <p>The governor presented new data based on his administration’s analysis of numbers provided to the state by large schools districts that had been required by a law passed last year meant to assess exactly how districts are allocating education funds. Cuomo showed data that indicated all the largest school districts are funding their wealthier schools at higher rates than their poorer schools, though de Blasio questioned the presentation and said the city would have more to say soon. It’s not immediately clear how Cuomo’s administration calculated its numbers.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposal looks like it would set up a fight with the mayor, who insisted that the governor should fully fund the “Foundation Aid” formula as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, which Cuomo has argued is settled and a relic of the past.</p> <p>De Blasio did praise the governor for proposing a three-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, which Cuomo has done in the past though he has appeared comfortable settling on multiple one-year extensions (last time it was two years) as a means of frustrating the mayor. “[U]nder a mayoral control model that we have in New York City for the last five years, we have consistently moved resources to schools in greater need,” de Blasio said, noting that Cuomo’s presentation “did not reflect the reality we know in New York City” and promising to correct the record.</p> <p>Notably, Cuomo has not initially indicated a plan to raise the cap on charter schools in New York City, a statutory limit that will soon be hit. Cuomo has been a staunch supporter of charters (and de Blasio has mostly been an opponent), but he has been relatively quiet on the issue as he has moved left over the last few years and repaired his relationship with the teachers unions. Still, Cuomo has made sure that charters have secured key protections in state agreements, though this year could hold a different approach.</p> <p><strong>Speed cameras and bus lane cameras</strong><br /> Last year, a limited speed camera program around schools in New York City lapsed amid legislative intransigence led by state Senate Republicans but was revived through an agreement among the governor, mayor, and New York City Council. Cuomo has proposed reinstating the program in state law through 2022, expanding the number of camera zones from 140 to 290, as well as removing a cap on bus lane cameras and allowing automated cameras to enforce “block-the-box” violations in the proposed congestion pricing zone. The bill would also create a new camera program to combat violations in Manhattan that contribute to congestion.</p> <p><strong>Infrastructure program highlights include JFK, LaGuardia Airports</strong><br />Cuomo touted an additional planned $150 billion investment in infrastructure in his third term, building on projects that are already underway and several new ones that he is expected to launch. Among those are the renovations of LaGuardia Airport, the new JFK Airport, four new Metro North stations in the Bronx, an expansion of the Javits Convention Center, and the opening of the Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn.</p> <p><strong>Anti-terror initiatives</strong><br /> New York City continues to be one of the most prominent terror targets in the world and Cuomo offered several measures to improve security and preparedness, including legislation to ban gun bump stocks, prohibit weaponized drones, and regulations on the sale of certain explosives.</p> <p>Two measures were directly impelled by incidents in New York City -- the governor proposed a bill to require two pieces of identification to rent a vehicle, citing attacks carried out across the world and particularly the 2017 Halloween attack on the West Side Highway that claimed the lives of eight people. Cuomo also proposed investments in “infrastructure hardening” such as traffic bollards and crash barriers to protect civilians.</p> <p><strong>Lead exposure thresholds</strong><br />Cuomo proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels that would lead to an immediate public health response, which could potentially become a prominent issue in New York City where residents of the New York City Housing Authority have been fighting with the administration for years over lead paint in their apartments.</p> <p><strong>Other policies apply to New York City</strong><br />A variety of other policies the governor is backing would apply to New York City and have an impact in the five boroughs, including some measures that have already passed the Legislature, like voting reforms, a ban on gay conversion therapy, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. This list also includes the planned expansion of abortion rights, more gun control, the Child Victims Act to address child sex abuse, and the Dream Act to provide state tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and their children, among other policies. Also in this category is the expected legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
15 Notable Cuomo Proposals Not In His State of the State Speech 2019-01-17T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-17T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8213-15-notable-cuomo-proposals-not-in-his-state-of-the-state-speech Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/32881220978_1373afdcc8_z.jpg" alt="32881220978 1373afdcc8 z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>In his <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8202-promising-sweeping-change-cuomo-outlines-state-of-the-state-policy-agenda-and-175-billion-budget-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">expansive State of the State speech</a> on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo articulated wide-ranging priorities for the legislative session and the budget for the 2020 fiscal year that is due April 1. But there was plenty left unsaid in the 80-minute speech, included instead in the detailed policy book and budget documents released along with the governor’s address. Some of those proposals could have broad social and economic consequences for the state should they come to pass, with many likely to move forward as Democrats control the entire State Legislature.</p> <p>But the governor has also been known to include proposals in past policy books and budgets without putting any political capital behind them once negotiations with the Legislature are underway. Below is a list of notable Cuomo proposals that didn’t make it into <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8202-promising-sweeping-change-cuomo-outlines-state-of-the-state-policy-agenda-and-175-billion-budget-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the governor’s speech</a>:</p> <p><strong>Increasing protections against harassment in the workplace</strong><br />Though the governor has touted passing last year the strongest laws in the nation against sexual harassment in the workplace, he did not mention them at all during his State of the State speech. Nonetheless, his plans do include proposals to expand the protections passed last year, including by lowering what some have called onerous standards for proving harassment under the Human Rights Law, mandating that non-disclosure agreements articulate a victim’s right to file a complaint or participate in an investigation, and requiring workplaces to prominently display sexual harassment informational posters.</p> <p>The governor and legislators have been under pressure from advocates and some lawmakers to hold public hearings on sexual harassment in both the public and private sector -- hearings that were not held before last year’s laws were passed -- and to strengthen the new laws. While Cuomo included enhanced laws in his proposals, legislative leaders announced a joint hearing for February 13.</p> <p>Cuomo is also proposing removal of the statute of limitations for reporting rape.</p> <p><strong>Pursuing universal access to health care</strong><br />The governor will establish a commission comprised of the Department of Health, Department of Financial Services, health care and insurance experts to explore how the state can provide universal access to health care in the state. The commission would have to issue a report by December 1.</p> <p>Cuomo has dismissed calls from legislators and advocates to support creation of a single-payer health care system in New York, but outlined several health care proposals in his speech and included the commission in his written plans.</p> <p><strong>Criminal penalties for assaulting the press</strong><br />Taking direct aim at President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press, including calling journalists the “enemy of the people,” and accusations of “fake news” against reporters, Cuomo, who has had his own issues with the press, is proposing legislation that would make it a felony to assault a journalist while they are doing their job. Journalists would join several other classes of worker, such as nurses, in this category.</p> <p><strong>Creating a database of economic development deals</strong><br />Cuomo’s budget proposes several reforms to state contracting processes, which have been at the center of recent corruption scandals that have marred his administration. Among those reforms is an online database of economic development projects that receive state assistance. Good government advocates have repeatedly called for that “database of deals” to provide more accountability for state spending and the Legislature has in the past promised to pass such legislation even if the governor did not support it.</p> <p>It’s unclear if the database the governor has in mind will meet the expectations of those who have demanded such a public accounting, which would ideally show investments and their results in granular detail.</p> <p><strong>Protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation</strong><br />The governor backed the “One Day to Save New Yorkers” bill, a small but significant change to sentencing for Class A misdemeanors. The bill would reduce the maximum punishment for such offenses from 365 days -- exactly one year -- to 364, in an effort to protect undocumented immigrants who, if convicted of crimes with a sentence of one year or more, could face deportation proceedings.</p> <p><strong>A permanent watchdog over police-involved killings</strong><br />Cuomo signed an executive order in 2015 giving the state Attorney General the authority of a &nbsp;special prosecutor to investigate instances where unarmed civilians are killed by law enforcement officers. His budget proposal includes support for legislation to codify that order by creating a permanent special counsel to probe such incidents, something he has backed in the past.</p> <p>Additionally, Cuomo’s budget would require all law enforcement agencies across the state to implement a use-of-force policy and to collect and report all data on incidents where the use of force leads to death or injury.</p> <p><strong>Tackling lead exposure among children</strong><br />The governor has proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels in children that would trigger intervention by public health officials. The proposal could be particularly significant for New York City, where the city’s public housing authority (NYCHA) has been sued in federal court for failing to deal with lead paint in its apartments (and covering up missed inspections) while Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly downplayed the number of children exposed to lead.</p> <p><strong>Creating a new agency to help domestic violence survivors</strong><br />The budget proposes creating a new state agency called the Division of Victim Prevention and Response, by consolidating the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the Office of Victim Services, and the Office of Campus Safety.</p> <p>The governor is also proposing legislation to modernize policies for providing relief to domestic violence survivors -- no longer requiring them to pay certain costs for staying in a domestic violence shelter and removing the requirement that they must apply for public assistance. He is also creating a task force to study the state’s service delivery system for survivors. Cuomo is also pushing the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would expand certain protections for survivors caught up in the criminal justice system.</p> <p><strong>Protecting breastfeeding mothers from workplace discrimination</strong><br />The governor intends to propose legislation that would clearly establish lactation as a pregnancy-related condition covered by the state’s Human Rights Law. It would ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding women (i.e. to pump) or be liable under the law. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Expanding protections against wage theft</strong><br />In his “first 100 days” agenda, Cuomo spoke about passing new protections for the freelance and gig economy but made no reference to it on Tuesday and his policy book only mentions it sparingly, in its introductory section. What the document does include is a proposal to expand criminal penalties for wage theft, a crime of which freelancers and gig workers often find themselves the victims. The budget proposes changing the state’s labor law and establishing an expanded range of violations, from misdemeanors to felonies, for wage theft. It would also give the state Department of Labor the authority to refer cases for criminal prosecution.</p> <p><strong>Protecting sex trafficking victims</strong><br />The budget commits to closing loopholes in the state’s rape shield laws, which are meant to protect victims of sexual violence by limiting evidence of their sexual history from being introduced in court. Cuomo’s budget proposes expanding the law to cover sex trafficking victims and to prevent prostitution convictions from being used against victims.</p> <p><strong>Establishing compassionate release</strong><br />Cuomo’s budget proposes introducing legislation to establish a compassionate release process for incarcerated individuals above the age of 55 suffering from debilitating health issues. The bill would allow these individuals to be considered for medical parole after serving half their sentence.</p> <p><strong>Promoting corporate diversity and pay equity</strong><br />Cuomo’s budget creates a Task Force on Representation and Corporate Transparency, to devise ways the state can promote diversity on corporate boards and in their workforce and to ensure pay equity. Cuomo will also order a study -- by the Department of State, Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights -- of the gender and racial composition and inequity of boards of firms that have state contracts.</p> <p><strong>Encouraging youth participation and engagement</strong><br />The policy book proposes creating a Youth Council made up of 62 young people, one from each county in the state, between the ages of 13 and 21. The council is meant to operate for two years, meeting at least three times a year, to inform the state government’s policies on education, the environment, civic engagement, and juvenile justice. It would also include subcommittees dedicated to discussing sexual harassment and assault, female empowerment, and cyberbullying.</p> <p><strong>Extending the millionaire’s tax and closing the carried interest loophole</strong><br />The state’s millionaire’s tax is slated to expire at the end of 2019 and so far its fate has remained somewhat uncertain, though Cuomo announced his intention to renew it during a December policy speech. The governor’s policy book proposals includes a five-year extension of the tax to retain the $4.4 billion that it is estimated to bring to the state coffers each year from roughly 60,000 taxpayers, half of whom are from out of state.</p> <p>The governor is also proposing to do away with the “carried interest” loophole. Hedge fund managers, private equity investors, and venture capitalists earn a portion of their income in the form of carried interest, which is taxed at a lower rate than regular income, costing the state about $100 million, according to state estimates. Cuomo has proposed a change in how this income is treated, and would impose a 17 percent “fairness fee” to raise about $1.1 billion annually.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8210-cuomo-s-voting-campaign-finance-and-ethics-reform-proposals" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/32881220978_1373afdcc8_z.jpg" alt="32881220978 1373afdcc8 z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>In his <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8202-promising-sweeping-change-cuomo-outlines-state-of-the-state-policy-agenda-and-175-billion-budget-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">expansive State of the State speech</a> on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo articulated wide-ranging priorities for the legislative session and the budget for the 2020 fiscal year that is due April 1. But there was plenty left unsaid in the 80-minute speech, included instead in the detailed policy book and budget documents released along with the governor’s address. Some of those proposals could have broad social and economic consequences for the state should they come to pass, with many likely to move forward as Democrats control the entire State Legislature.</p> <p>But the governor has also been known to include proposals in past policy books and budgets without putting any political capital behind them once negotiations with the Legislature are underway. Below is a list of notable Cuomo proposals that didn’t make it into <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8202-promising-sweeping-change-cuomo-outlines-state-of-the-state-policy-agenda-and-175-billion-budget-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the governor’s speech</a>:</p> <p><strong>Increasing protections against harassment in the workplace</strong><br />Though the governor has touted passing last year the strongest laws in the nation against sexual harassment in the workplace, he did not mention them at all during his State of the State speech. Nonetheless, his plans do include proposals to expand the protections passed last year, including by lowering what some have called onerous standards for proving harassment under the Human Rights Law, mandating that non-disclosure agreements articulate a victim’s right to file a complaint or participate in an investigation, and requiring workplaces to prominently display sexual harassment informational posters.</p> <p>The governor and legislators have been under pressure from advocates and some lawmakers to hold public hearings on sexual harassment in both the public and private sector -- hearings that were not held before last year’s laws were passed -- and to strengthen the new laws. While Cuomo included enhanced laws in his proposals, legislative leaders announced a joint hearing for February 13.</p> <p>Cuomo is also proposing removal of the statute of limitations for reporting rape.</p> <p><strong>Pursuing universal access to health care</strong><br />The governor will establish a commission comprised of the Department of Health, Department of Financial Services, health care and insurance experts to explore how the state can provide universal access to health care in the state. The commission would have to issue a report by December 1.</p> <p>Cuomo has dismissed calls from legislators and advocates to support creation of a single-payer health care system in New York, but outlined several health care proposals in his speech and included the commission in his written plans.</p> <p><strong>Criminal penalties for assaulting the press</strong><br />Taking direct aim at President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press, including calling journalists the “enemy of the people,” and accusations of “fake news” against reporters, Cuomo, who has had his own issues with the press, is proposing legislation that would make it a felony to assault a journalist while they are doing their job. Journalists would join several other classes of worker, such as nurses, in this category.</p> <p><strong>Creating a database of economic development deals</strong><br />Cuomo’s budget proposes several reforms to state contracting processes, which have been at the center of recent corruption scandals that have marred his administration. Among those reforms is an online database of economic development projects that receive state assistance. Good government advocates have repeatedly called for that “database of deals” to provide more accountability for state spending and the Legislature has in the past promised to pass such legislation even if the governor did not support it.</p> <p>It’s unclear if the database the governor has in mind will meet the expectations of those who have demanded such a public accounting, which would ideally show investments and their results in granular detail.</p> <p><strong>Protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation</strong><br />The governor backed the “One Day to Save New Yorkers” bill, a small but significant change to sentencing for Class A misdemeanors. The bill would reduce the maximum punishment for such offenses from 365 days -- exactly one year -- to 364, in an effort to protect undocumented immigrants who, if convicted of crimes with a sentence of one year or more, could face deportation proceedings.</p> <p><strong>A permanent watchdog over police-involved killings</strong><br />Cuomo signed an executive order in 2015 giving the state Attorney General the authority of a &nbsp;special prosecutor to investigate instances where unarmed civilians are killed by law enforcement officers. His budget proposal includes support for legislation to codify that order by creating a permanent special counsel to probe such incidents, something he has backed in the past.</p> <p>Additionally, Cuomo’s budget would require all law enforcement agencies across the state to implement a use-of-force policy and to collect and report all data on incidents where the use of force leads to death or injury.</p> <p><strong>Tackling lead exposure among children</strong><br />The governor has proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels in children that would trigger intervention by public health officials. The proposal could be particularly significant for New York City, where the city’s public housing authority (NYCHA) has been sued in federal court for failing to deal with lead paint in its apartments (and covering up missed inspections) while Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly downplayed the number of children exposed to lead.</p> <p><strong>Creating a new agency to help domestic violence survivors</strong><br />The budget proposes creating a new state agency called the Division of Victim Prevention and Response, by consolidating the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the Office of Victim Services, and the Office of Campus Safety.</p> <p>The governor is also proposing legislation to modernize policies for providing relief to domestic violence survivors -- no longer requiring them to pay certain costs for staying in a domestic violence shelter and removing the requirement that they must apply for public assistance. He is also creating a task force to study the state’s service delivery system for survivors. Cuomo is also pushing the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would expand certain protections for survivors caught up in the criminal justice system.</p> <p><strong>Protecting breastfeeding mothers from workplace discrimination</strong><br />The governor intends to propose legislation that would clearly establish lactation as a pregnancy-related condition covered by the state’s Human Rights Law. It would ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding women (i.e. to pump) or be liable under the law. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Expanding protections against wage theft</strong><br />In his “first 100 days” agenda, Cuomo spoke about passing new protections for the freelance and gig economy but made no reference to it on Tuesday and his policy book only mentions it sparingly, in its introductory section. What the document does include is a proposal to expand criminal penalties for wage theft, a crime of which freelancers and gig workers often find themselves the victims. The budget proposes changing the state’s labor law and establishing an expanded range of violations, from misdemeanors to felonies, for wage theft. It would also give the state Department of Labor the authority to refer cases for criminal prosecution.</p> <p><strong>Protecting sex trafficking victims</strong><br />The budget commits to closing loopholes in the state’s rape shield laws, which are meant to protect victims of sexual violence by limiting evidence of their sexual history from being introduced in court. Cuomo’s budget proposes expanding the law to cover sex trafficking victims and to prevent prostitution convictions from being used against victims.</p> <p><strong>Establishing compassionate release</strong><br />Cuomo’s budget proposes introducing legislation to establish a compassionate release process for incarcerated individuals above the age of 55 suffering from debilitating health issues. The bill would allow these individuals to be considered for medical parole after serving half their sentence.</p> <p><strong>Promoting corporate diversity and pay equity</strong><br />Cuomo’s budget creates a Task Force on Representation and Corporate Transparency, to devise ways the state can promote diversity on corporate boards and in their workforce and to ensure pay equity. Cuomo will also order a study -- by the Department of State, Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights -- of the gender and racial composition and inequity of boards of firms that have state contracts.</p> <p><strong>Encouraging youth participation and engagement</strong><br />The policy book proposes creating a Youth Council made up of 62 young people, one from each county in the state, between the ages of 13 and 21. The council is meant to operate for two years, meeting at least three times a year, to inform the state government’s policies on education, the environment, civic engagement, and juvenile justice. It would also include subcommittees dedicated to discussing sexual harassment and assault, female empowerment, and cyberbullying.</p> <p><strong>Extending the millionaire’s tax and closing the carried interest loophole</strong><br />The state’s millionaire’s tax is slated to expire at the end of 2019 and so far its fate has remained somewhat uncertain, though Cuomo announced his intention to renew it during a December policy speech. The governor’s policy book proposals includes a five-year extension of the tax to retain the $4.4 billion that it is estimated to bring to the state coffers each year from roughly 60,000 taxpayers, half of whom are from out of state.</p> <p>The governor is also proposing to do away with the “carried interest” loophole. Hedge fund managers, private equity investors, and venture capitalists earn a portion of their income in the form of carried interest, which is taxed at a lower rate than regular income, costing the state about $100 million, according to state estimates. Cuomo has proposed a change in how this income is treated, and would impose a 17 percent “fairness fee” to raise about $1.1 billion annually.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8210-cuomo-s-voting-campaign-finance-and-ethics-reform-proposals" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
What's The [Data] Point? $175.2 Billion, Cuomo's Executive Budget 2019-01-17T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-17T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8211-what-s-the-data-point-175-2-billion-cuomo-s-executive-budget 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 62</strong><strong> -- $175.2 Billion, Cuomo's Executive Budget, with Andrew Rein of CBC [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/img_7035.jpg" alt="img 7035" width="125" height="131" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>$175.2 billion is the size of Governor Andrew Cuomo's Executive Budget plan for Fiscal Year 2020, unveiled earlier this week and now the basis for hearings and negotiations with the Legislature.</p> <p>The New York budget is one of the largest government budgets in the world, and it’s poised to grow 4 percent over this year’s budget for fiscal year 2019.&nbsp;The Governor has included proposals for everything from congestion pricing to recreation marijuana and sports gambling legalization. Of particular note are significant spending increases on priorities such as education that are backed by a five-year extension of the income tax surcharge on millionaires. Andrew Rein, new president of Citizens Budget Commission, joined the hosts to give an initial assessment of the Governor's budget plan.</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/560645520%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-TndWB&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="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<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 62</strong><strong> -- $175.2 Billion, Cuomo's Executive Budget, with Andrew Rein of CBC [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/img_7035.jpg" alt="img 7035" width="125" height="131" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>$175.2 billion is the size of Governor Andrew Cuomo's Executive Budget plan for Fiscal Year 2020, unveiled earlier this week and now the basis for hearings and negotiations with the Legislature.</p> <p>The New York budget is one of the largest government budgets in the world, and it’s poised to grow 4 percent over this year’s budget for fiscal year 2019.&nbsp;The Governor has included proposals for everything from congestion pricing to recreation marijuana and sports gambling legalization. Of particular note are significant spending increases on priorities such as education that are backed by a five-year extension of the income tax surcharge on millionaires. Andrew Rein, new president of Citizens Budget Commission, joined the hosts to give an initial assessment of the Governor's budget plan.</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/560645520%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-TndWB&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="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Promising Sweeping Change, Cuomo Outlines State of the State Policy Agenda and $175 Billion Budget Plan 2019-01-15T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8202-promising-sweeping-change-cuomo-outlines-state-of-the-state-policy-agenda-and-175-billion-budget-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cuomo-sotos-ja.jpg" alt="cuomo sotos ja" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat starting his third term, laid out an ambitious social, economic, and racial “justice agenda” at his State of the State speech on Tuesday as he also presented a $175.2 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 state fiscal year that begins April 1.</p> <p>Speaking at the Hart Theater in Albany, Cuomo celebrated full Democratic control of the State Legislature for the first time in his tenure and promised quick movement on a raft of legislation within the first 100 days of the new legislative session, which began last week. “We’re off with a bang,” Cuomo mused, as he began his roughly 80-minute speech by playing a video of the Tuesday morning demolition of the old Tappan Zee bridge. Indeed, the returning Democratic majority in the Assembly and new majority in the Senate have already begun passing bills long-stalled in what had been the Republican-led upper chamber, including several voting reforms and protections for LGBT New Yorkers -- all legislation Cuomo is expected to soon sign.</p> <p>Cuomo had already articulated much of his State of the State policy agenda in the previous weeks, but added new elements both in his speech and the accompanying policy book, while also reviewing what he sees as his top accomplishments and connecting policy plans to his budget outline. He also repeatedly took issue with federal policies, such as tax reforms he said are causing crises in the state, and sought to juxtapose New York with the Trump administration on issues like immigration.</p> <p>With both the Assembly and Senate under the party’s control, Cuomo and the Legislature are in a position to advance sweeping progressive bills and a budget that would make significant shifts in everything from education and health care to elections, women’s rights, the criminal justice system, environmental and rent regulations, mass transit, and labor protections, to name a few. The governor outlined policies from ending the use of cash bail to legalizing recreational adult use of marijuana to a “Green New Deal” for New York that increases investments in renewable energy. He also outlined sweeping campaign finance and government ethics reform plans, some of which may set up clashes with the Legislature, and made a surprise announcement that he and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli had come to an agreement about contract pre-review that the governor had previously resisted.</p> <p>As he has done since running for reelection, and most forcefully in his inaugural speech on Ellis Island on New Year’s Day, Cuomo presented New York as a countervailing force to the federal government under President Donald Trump and as a vanguard for progressive policies in the nation. Though he has dismissed rumors that he harbors greater ambitions for 2020, the speech could easily sketch the outline of a presidential campaign.</p> <p>“We face real challenges in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “We have a federal government that is assaulting our values, our liberties, our rights and our economy.”</p> <p>Cuomo noted that the state would have to fill a budget gap of $3.1 billion, even as he boasted of his record on fiscal management, reduction in taxes to their lowest in decades, and positive credit ratings for the state. But he warned of slowing revenues, blaming the 2017 federal tax code overhaul that reduced the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction that New York taxpayers can claim. While pointing to an increased overall tax burden for many New Yorkers, especially those who pay high property taxes, Cuomo pitched proposals to reduce taxes on the middle-class at a cost of $1.8 billion and to permanently cap property tax increases at 2 percent annually (everywhere outside New York City), something the state has done annually for several years.</p> <p>On both education and health care funding, which comprise the two largest chunks of the state budget, Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase. He proposed a total education budget of $27.7 billion, an increase of $1 billion, and floated a new funding method called the “Education Equity” formula, to ensure that state aid to poorer districts is distributed equitably to poorer schools, rather than what he depicted as the lopsided distribution under the current ‘Foundation Aid’ formula that does not dictate where money goes within districts. Education funding may also form the basis for disagreement with the Legislature, both houses of which are likely to push for more than a $1 billion increase in overall state funding to localities.</p> <p>Health care spending would increase to $19.6 billion, up from $18.9 billion, though the governor also warned of federal cuts, including $2.5 billion to Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments and $1 billion to cost-share reduction payments, besides the perennial threat from Republicans seeking to undermine the Affordable Care Act.</p> <p>A leader who wants to be known as a builder, and one who can get large projects completed, Cuomo touted his successful infrastructure projects and those that will come to completion in the next few years. At the same time, he took no ownership of the crisis at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), seeking, as he has done in the past, to deflect blame for the crumbling subway system and the mismanaged agency where he appoints the largest share of board members and its leadership. Cuomo proposed overhauling the agency to clarify who controls it, though he already does, in effect, but did not offer specifics. He also reiterated a push for a congestion pricing proposal that he said could bring in $15 billion for the agency (apparently over a ten-year window, though details have not been released), far short of its estimated needs, and insisted that any other need should be split evenly between the city and state, setting up another battle with Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of women’s rights protections, including codifying the protections of Roe v. Wade by amending the state constitution, passing the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act. He also said he would enact the Equal Rights Amendment, outlaw revenge pornography, eliminate the statute of limitations for rape, modernize the pay equity law and take efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates and the related racial disparities.</p> <p>Touting the state’s passage of strong gun protections in his first term -- Cuomo mentioned he was speaking on the sixth anniversary of passage of his signature SAFE Act legislation -- the governor pushed for enacting new regulations including a “red flag” bill, expanding the waiting period for background checks, and banning bump stocks, all of which appear likely to sail through the Legislature.</p> <p>The governor also put forth his version of a Green New Deal, which would move the state towards 100 percent clean energy by 2040. He said he would create a new Climate Action Council to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, establish a $70 million property tax compensation fund to incentivize localities to close obsolete power plants and transition to clean energy, and announced several investments in clean water infrastructure and expanding environmental protection efforts.</p> <p>Cuomo called for the passage of several other bills that languished for years when Republicans controlled the Senate, including the Jose Peralta Dream Act (renamed for the state Senator who passed away last year and had championed it), the Child Victims Act, and reformed rent regulations to protect tenants and the state’s affordable housing stock.</p> <p>He also reiterated a call for a criminal justice reform package that would eliminate cash bail and enact speedy trial reform and discovery reform. In further outlining his support for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, Cuomo said it is expected to bring in about $300 million in annual tax revenue for the state, though the governor’s proposal would allow municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana stores. He insisted that legalization would have to go hand-in-hand with decriminalization, pushing for automatically sealing certain marijuana-related criminal records, and investment in communities.</p> <p>“Let's stop the disproportionate impact on communities of color," he said. “Let's create an industry that empowers the poor communities that paid the price and not the rich corporations that come in to make a profit.”</p> <p>Toward the end of his speech, Cuomo again performed the annual ritual of discussing the need for building public trust in government and preventing the repeated scandals that have rocked the state, including his administration and many legislators. The governor outlined a host of proposals -- many repeated from past years, several new -- meant to ensure greater transparency in government and prevent public corruption.</p> <p>He unveiled a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” which would lower the threshold for financial disclosure of lobbying, expand the period of time that legislators and policy-makers in state government are banned from lobbying after they leave their positions, and require increased conflicts of interest disclosures by lobbyists. If the Legislature refuses to take up the idea, Cuomo said he would unilaterally prohibit any lobbyists that do not voluntarily follow the code from lobbying the executive branch. Additionally, he proposed a number of campaign finance reforms -- banning corporate contributions, establishing a public campaign financing program, reducing contribution limits, and completely closing the LLC loophole (with expressed intention for further action, the state Legislature passed bills on Monday to severely limit contributions from LLCs but it remains open to exploitation).</p> <p>Cuomo also announced a proposal to expand the Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, an idea that has been around for decades but rejected by legislators, and the state procurement reforms on which he reached an agreement with Comptroller DiNapoli.</p> <p>In a news conference in Albany after the governor’s speech, Mayor de Blasio broadly praised the platform that Cuomo set out to achieve. In particular, he was encouraged that Cuomo separately proposed extending mayoral control of New York City schools, set to expire in June, by three years. In previous years when it was due to expire, the governor had also suggested a three-year extension but he and Republicans in the Senate had used mayoral control as leverage to extract concessions from the city. There may still be some appetite in both branches for pushing de Blasio on his leadership of city schools.</p> <p>The mayor did strike a note of caution about a few items. He insisted on the need for a long-term funding stream for the MTA -- he has been hesitant to fully embrace congestion pricing and has instead said a millionaire’s tax would be the best solution -- and said Cuomo’s portrayal of the history of the agency’s funding -- that the state has stepped in to fund it in recent years while the city has been reducing its contributions -- “simply wasn’t accurate.” As he has indicated in the past, he disagreed that the city should bear half the costs of funding shortfalls in MTA needs. He also pushed back against the governor’s critique of the city’s school funding formula, insisting that the city has consistently sent money to the schools that need it most.</p> <p>De Blasio promised he would have more to say as he and his team review Cuomo’s proposals in fine print, and offer their own rebuttals to Cuomo’s depiction of MTA and school funding.</p> <p>The governor’s speech now sets the stage for negotiations with the Legislature, which will soon issue its own budget priorities. However, it appears that the pace of action in Albany will be far different from past years where almost every significant legislative action was lumped into a big budget agreement right around the April 1 deadline. Legislators have already shown they plan to pass legislation and send it to Cuomo to sign.</p> <p>And for the first time this year, there will no longer be the infamous “three men in a room” negotiating the spending plan for the next year, as Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first female leader of a legislative chamber, will join the governor and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in hashing out policy and budget deals as those negotiations are needed.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cuomo-sotos-ja.jpg" alt="cuomo sotos ja" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat starting his third term, laid out an ambitious social, economic, and racial “justice agenda” at his State of the State speech on Tuesday as he also presented a $175.2 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 state fiscal year that begins April 1.</p> <p>Speaking at the Hart Theater in Albany, Cuomo celebrated full Democratic control of the State Legislature for the first time in his tenure and promised quick movement on a raft of legislation within the first 100 days of the new legislative session, which began last week. “We’re off with a bang,” Cuomo mused, as he began his roughly 80-minute speech by playing a video of the Tuesday morning demolition of the old Tappan Zee bridge. Indeed, the returning Democratic majority in the Assembly and new majority in the Senate have already begun passing bills long-stalled in what had been the Republican-led upper chamber, including several voting reforms and protections for LGBT New Yorkers -- all legislation Cuomo is expected to soon sign.</p> <p>Cuomo had already articulated much of his State of the State policy agenda in the previous weeks, but added new elements both in his speech and the accompanying policy book, while also reviewing what he sees as his top accomplishments and connecting policy plans to his budget outline. He also repeatedly took issue with federal policies, such as tax reforms he said are causing crises in the state, and sought to juxtapose New York with the Trump administration on issues like immigration.</p> <p>With both the Assembly and Senate under the party’s control, Cuomo and the Legislature are in a position to advance sweeping progressive bills and a budget that would make significant shifts in everything from education and health care to elections, women’s rights, the criminal justice system, environmental and rent regulations, mass transit, and labor protections, to name a few. The governor outlined policies from ending the use of cash bail to legalizing recreational adult use of marijuana to a “Green New Deal” for New York that increases investments in renewable energy. He also outlined sweeping campaign finance and government ethics reform plans, some of which may set up clashes with the Legislature, and made a surprise announcement that he and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli had come to an agreement about contract pre-review that the governor had previously resisted.</p> <p>As he has done since running for reelection, and most forcefully in his inaugural speech on Ellis Island on New Year’s Day, Cuomo presented New York as a countervailing force to the federal government under President Donald Trump and as a vanguard for progressive policies in the nation. Though he has dismissed rumors that he harbors greater ambitions for 2020, the speech could easily sketch the outline of a presidential campaign.</p> <p>“We face real challenges in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “We have a federal government that is assaulting our values, our liberties, our rights and our economy.”</p> <p>Cuomo noted that the state would have to fill a budget gap of $3.1 billion, even as he boasted of his record on fiscal management, reduction in taxes to their lowest in decades, and positive credit ratings for the state. But he warned of slowing revenues, blaming the 2017 federal tax code overhaul that reduced the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction that New York taxpayers can claim. While pointing to an increased overall tax burden for many New Yorkers, especially those who pay high property taxes, Cuomo pitched proposals to reduce taxes on the middle-class at a cost of $1.8 billion and to permanently cap property tax increases at 2 percent annually (everywhere outside New York City), something the state has done annually for several years.</p> <p>On both education and health care funding, which comprise the two largest chunks of the state budget, Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase. He proposed a total education budget of $27.7 billion, an increase of $1 billion, and floated a new funding method called the “Education Equity” formula, to ensure that state aid to poorer districts is distributed equitably to poorer schools, rather than what he depicted as the lopsided distribution under the current ‘Foundation Aid’ formula that does not dictate where money goes within districts. Education funding may also form the basis for disagreement with the Legislature, both houses of which are likely to push for more than a $1 billion increase in overall state funding to localities.</p> <p>Health care spending would increase to $19.6 billion, up from $18.9 billion, though the governor also warned of federal cuts, including $2.5 billion to Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments and $1 billion to cost-share reduction payments, besides the perennial threat from Republicans seeking to undermine the Affordable Care Act.</p> <p>A leader who wants to be known as a builder, and one who can get large projects completed, Cuomo touted his successful infrastructure projects and those that will come to completion in the next few years. At the same time, he took no ownership of the crisis at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), seeking, as he has done in the past, to deflect blame for the crumbling subway system and the mismanaged agency where he appoints the largest share of board members and its leadership. Cuomo proposed overhauling the agency to clarify who controls it, though he already does, in effect, but did not offer specifics. He also reiterated a push for a congestion pricing proposal that he said could bring in $15 billion for the agency (apparently over a ten-year window, though details have not been released), far short of its estimated needs, and insisted that any other need should be split evenly between the city and state, setting up another battle with Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of women’s rights protections, including codifying the protections of Roe v. Wade by amending the state constitution, passing the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act. He also said he would enact the Equal Rights Amendment, outlaw revenge pornography, eliminate the statute of limitations for rape, modernize the pay equity law and take efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates and the related racial disparities.</p> <p>Touting the state’s passage of strong gun protections in his first term -- Cuomo mentioned he was speaking on the sixth anniversary of passage of his signature SAFE Act legislation -- the governor pushed for enacting new regulations including a “red flag” bill, expanding the waiting period for background checks, and banning bump stocks, all of which appear likely to sail through the Legislature.</p> <p>The governor also put forth his version of a Green New Deal, which would move the state towards 100 percent clean energy by 2040. He said he would create a new Climate Action Council to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, establish a $70 million property tax compensation fund to incentivize localities to close obsolete power plants and transition to clean energy, and announced several investments in clean water infrastructure and expanding environmental protection efforts.</p> <p>Cuomo called for the passage of several other bills that languished for years when Republicans controlled the Senate, including the Jose Peralta Dream Act (renamed for the state Senator who passed away last year and had championed it), the Child Victims Act, and reformed rent regulations to protect tenants and the state’s affordable housing stock.</p> <p>He also reiterated a call for a criminal justice reform package that would eliminate cash bail and enact speedy trial reform and discovery reform. In further outlining his support for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, Cuomo said it is expected to bring in about $300 million in annual tax revenue for the state, though the governor’s proposal would allow municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana stores. He insisted that legalization would have to go hand-in-hand with decriminalization, pushing for automatically sealing certain marijuana-related criminal records, and investment in communities.</p> <p>“Let's stop the disproportionate impact on communities of color," he said. “Let's create an industry that empowers the poor communities that paid the price and not the rich corporations that come in to make a profit.”</p> <p>Toward the end of his speech, Cuomo again performed the annual ritual of discussing the need for building public trust in government and preventing the repeated scandals that have rocked the state, including his administration and many legislators. The governor outlined a host of proposals -- many repeated from past years, several new -- meant to ensure greater transparency in government and prevent public corruption.</p> <p>He unveiled a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” which would lower the threshold for financial disclosure of lobbying, expand the period of time that legislators and policy-makers in state government are banned from lobbying after they leave their positions, and require increased conflicts of interest disclosures by lobbyists. If the Legislature refuses to take up the idea, Cuomo said he would unilaterally prohibit any lobbyists that do not voluntarily follow the code from lobbying the executive branch. Additionally, he proposed a number of campaign finance reforms -- banning corporate contributions, establishing a public campaign financing program, reducing contribution limits, and completely closing the LLC loophole (with expressed intention for further action, the state Legislature passed bills on Monday to severely limit contributions from LLCs but it remains open to exploitation).</p> <p>Cuomo also announced a proposal to expand the Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, an idea that has been around for decades but rejected by legislators, and the state procurement reforms on which he reached an agreement with Comptroller DiNapoli.</p> <p>In a news conference in Albany after the governor’s speech, Mayor de Blasio broadly praised the platform that Cuomo set out to achieve. In particular, he was encouraged that Cuomo separately proposed extending mayoral control of New York City schools, set to expire in June, by three years. In previous years when it was due to expire, the governor had also suggested a three-year extension but he and Republicans in the Senate had used mayoral control as leverage to extract concessions from the city. There may still be some appetite in both branches for pushing de Blasio on his leadership of city schools.</p> <p>The mayor did strike a note of caution about a few items. He insisted on the need for a long-term funding stream for the MTA -- he has been hesitant to fully embrace congestion pricing and has instead said a millionaire’s tax would be the best solution -- and said Cuomo’s portrayal of the history of the agency’s funding -- that the state has stepped in to fund it in recent years while the city has been reducing its contributions -- “simply wasn’t accurate.” As he has indicated in the past, he disagreed that the city should bear half the costs of funding shortfalls in MTA needs. He also pushed back against the governor’s critique of the city’s school funding formula, insisting that the city has consistently sent money to the schools that need it most.</p> <p>De Blasio promised he would have more to say as he and his team review Cuomo’s proposals in fine print, and offer their own rebuttals to Cuomo’s depiction of MTA and school funding.</p> <p>The governor’s speech now sets the stage for negotiations with the Legislature, which will soon issue its own budget priorities. However, it appears that the pace of action in Albany will be far different from past years where almost every significant legislative action was lumped into a big budget agreement right around the April 1 deadline. Legislators have already shown they plan to pass legislation and send it to Cuomo to sign.</p> <p>And for the first time this year, there will no longer be the infamous “three men in a room” negotiating the spending plan for the next year, as Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first female leader of a legislative chamber, will join the governor and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in hashing out policy and budget deals as those negotiations are needed.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Agenda 2019: City & State Budgets on Mostly Solid Ground, with Major Questions Looming 2018-12-16T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-16T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8147-agenda-2019-city-state-budgets-on-mostly-solid-ground-with-major-questions-looming Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/38830501065_76fa4325c9_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo budget presentation" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>New York’s economy has seen several rosy years in the decade since the Great Recession, with a run of steady growth, increasing job numbers, rising wages, and reliable tax revenue that has defied historical trends -- and led to growing city and state government budgets. But 2019 may be the peak of that economic swing as economic experts predict a long-expected slowdown to set in before 2020. New York City, the experts say, seems better equipped to weather any adverse effects of slowing growth and the state may struggle, presenting some hard choices for Democrats who will fully control state government come January and have a long list of priorities, some of which have financial costs attached.</p> <p>Also complicating the fiscal pictures as the state and city levels are projected budget gaps that must be closed, looming negotiations over how to fund the next MTA capital budget plan and its tens of billions of dollars to fix the subways, and the still unclear effects of recent federal tax reforms, among other outstanding questions. The finances of New York City continue to show a rosier picture than those of the state, with the city economy essential to the state’s ability to spend more each year, though the state has grown its budget in much more limited fashion than the city under Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo will present his State of the State address and executive budget for the fiscal year that begins April 1. Afterward, de Blasio will respond to the governor’s budget plan -- which will set the stage for negotiations with the state Legislature, de Blasio, and others -- and release his own preliminary budget for the next city fiscal year, which will begin July 1. Once the state budget is finalized, the city will be able to take its details -- funding levels, new mandates, and more -- into account as it creates its own budget. The specifics of the annual struggle over what the state is asking or requiring of the city are to be seen, though Cuomo has already indicated he plans to seek more money for the MTA from de Blasio.</p> <p>Budgets are statements of values as much as they are financial planning documents and Cuomo and de Blasio, both Democrats, face pressure each year to balance their policy priorities with fiscal restraint, as well as the demands of others, especially members of the respective legislative bodies each must negotiate with. The governor prides himself on having passed eight on-time or nearly on-time budgets with a 2 percent cap on increased spending, though he is known to manipulate the numbers to say he has stuck to that limit even though some years he has not. De Blasio boasts of record amounts of savings, though watchdogs regularly say that he is not socking away enough given the extended economic boom while he is spending too much, especially in recurring costs like through a significant expansion of the city workforce.</p> <p>The agreed upon state budget was more than $168 billion for the current 2019 fiscal year, with savings that are far too minimal according to every expert. And the mayor’s administration, though praised by fiscal monitors for its responsible financial planning, has overseen ballooning expenditures, passing a nearly $90 billion budget for fiscal 2019 -- it was $72.7 in the final year of the Bloomberg administration.</p> <p>But New York City revenue is largely based on property taxes, which would remain relatively stable even in the event of an economic slowdown. The state on the other hand is far more vulnerable since personal income tax and sales tax contribute a bulk to state revenue.</p> <p>Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the current economic expansion, the second-longest in the country’s history, will continue through most of 2019, bolstered by the federal tax cuts passed in 2017 (even if many New Yorkers’ tax burdens increase due to the new cap on state and local deductibles). It should allow both the state and the city to keep spending, though experts warn that both should prepare for what will happen down the line. Both the Cuomo and de Blasio administrations, along with the state Legislature and City Council, respectively, should be putting more money towards rainy day funds, fiscal experts say; particularly the state, especially as necessary infrastructure investments loom large and add to already rising debt obligations.</p> <p><strong>New York State</strong><br />The state budget remains far more precariously placed in the case of a downturn, even though one isn’t expected to hit soon. The governor has reiterated in recent months that he will continue to abide by a self-imposed 2 percent limit on increased annual expenditures, which presents little wiggle room to add major spending initiatives, though it remains to be seen if the governor will employ one of his many budget maneuvers to obscure actual spending increases. For instance, the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/press/2018/pr-enactfy19.html">State Fiscal Year 2019 budget</a>, which began April 1, included a provision that funnels Payroll Mobility Tax revenue directly to the MTA instead of going through the state, effectively shifting $1.5 billion out of the budget.</p> <p>“Part of the problem is they’ve technically abided by it but they’ve only done that by shifting things around and reclassifying things, not necessarily through stringent cost controls,” said David Friedfel, director of state studies at Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit watchdog. “The more they play those tricks, the harder they will be to find in the future if that’s how they choose to close the gap.”</p> <p>The New York State Division of Budget’s&nbsp;<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy19/enac/fy19myfp.pdf">mid-year financial update</a>, released in November, predicted that the state will meet its revenue projections by the end of the fiscal year. Even at the state level, budget gaps remain manageable, at about $3.1 billion for fiscal year 2020, a number that is quickly cut if the 2 percent growth is factored in.</p> <p>State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released his own&nbsp;<a href="https://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2018/quick-start-report.pdf">financial update</a>&nbsp;in November, estimating that overall tax revenues would decrease by 1.8 percent by the end of the state’s 2019 fiscal year (end of March). Though personal income tax revenues are expected to fall by 2.5 percent, business and consumption taxes are set to increase by a total of 6.5 percent, the report estimated. Tax revenues are expected to increase by 5.9 in the 2020 fiscal year and then at a lower rate, 2.4 percent in the 2021 fiscal year.</p> <p>Similar to city representatives, officials in DiNapoli’s office said in a background briefing that they expect a soft landing for the economy, despite the volatility in national and international markets. They have yet to determine the full impacts of the federal tax code overhaul, which capped State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions at $10,000 annually, raising concerns that high earners facing larger tax bills would in some cases fold to out-migration pressures, leaving the state and taking their tax dollars with them. Given New York’s position as a high-tax state, even many upper middle class homeowners in expensive New York City suburbs, and in the city itself, will be facing increased tax burdens, though it is not immediately clear that these factors will lead to a significant increase in the number of higher earners leaving the state. New York has consistently seen out-migration each year and has lost a net of 1 million residents since 2010,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/ny-out-migration-tops-1m-since-2010/">according</a>&nbsp;to The Empire Center, a think tank. A report issued by the center&nbsp;<a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/checklist-2018/">in March</a>&nbsp;suggested that the state should undertake several reforms to encourage the economic competitiveness which could help reverse that trend.</p> <p>The state took measures to decouple state tax provisions from the federal tax code, including decoupling from the SALT limit to prevent higher state taxes, and changes to the child tax credit and the single filer deduction. The state also created two new programs -- the Employer Compensation Expense Program and the State Charitable Gifts Trust Fund -- in an effort to limit state taxpayers’ exposure to federal tax changes, but neither program appears to have caught on in any significant way. Officials in the state comptroller’s office said the impacts of the SALT deduction in particular wouldn’t be evident until during next fiscal year, particularly if it encourages people to move out of state.</p> <p>Other risks in federal funding to the state seen in recent years -- Republican proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act and make drastic cuts to Medicaid -- have also mitigated, the officials said, since those proposals have failed to come to fruition. But federal funding does remain uncertain as Congress is in the middle of negotiating the current federal budget with President Donald Trump, who has threatened a government shutdown if Congress does not approve funding for a wall along the southern border that he had promised Mexico would pay for. The ballooning federal deficit incurred from the Trump-led tax cuts have also increased pressure on federal spending, which could trickle down to the aid that New York receives for transportation, health care, and education, among other things.</p> <p>“The state is in decent financial position but not when you consider the fact that we are nine years or so into an economic expansion,” CBC’s Friedfel said. “The state has been gifted with $12 billion in financial settlements and some additional revenues yet the state’s reserves are not where they should be or could be. They haven’t been added to in about four years. And liabilities are still out there.”</p> <p>As Friedfel noted, the state’s rainy day funds stand at only about $2 billion, a pittance when looked at in the context of a downturn. In the case of a recession, Friedfel estimated, the state could face up to $50 billion in combined losses over a four-year period. “California is doing a very good job on their reserves. They’re gonna have close to 10 percent of state operating spending in their reserves, which is really what New York should be aiming for,” he said. “Instead of $2 billion, we should be closer to $10 billion.”</p> <p>As with the city, the state’s debt also continues to rise, particularly with the governor having launched an ambitious infrastructure program that includes modernizing existing facilities and building new ones across the state, including bridges, airports and bus systems. The state’s debt service payments for fiscal year 2019 stood at $5.5 billion and are&nbsp;<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy19/enac/fy19myfp.pdf">projected</a>&nbsp;to rise to $6.6 billion in 2020. New York currently&nbsp;<a href="https://www.osc.state.ny.us/finance/finreports/fcr/2018/debt.htm">ranks</a>&nbsp;second-highest in the country, behind California, in outstanding debt.</p> <p>Year after year, DiNapoli has waved a red flag over the state’s debt obligations and officials in his office are keeping a close eye on whether those will increase in the upcoming year. There will be particularly pressing needs -- the MTA, NYCHA -- where the state will have to work with the city to fund large capital improvements. The current 2015-2019 MTA capital plan remains underfunded and the Fast Forward Plan, proposed by New York City Transit President Andy Byford to modernize the city’s subway and bus systems, may cost nearly $40 billion, with no plan proposed to pay for it in its entirety. A congestion pricing program for New York City has been embraced by the governor and many in the state Legislature as a funding stream, but even if implemented quickly and without carve-outs it would fall far short of meeting the goal.</p> <p>“That’s one of the biggest questions,” said Gelinas from the Manhattan Institute, “especially if the economy continues to do well. How much does Governor Cuomo go after the city for MTA funding and in multiple billions of dollars...and does that cut into the city’s other priorities?”</p> <p>IBO’s Lowenstein also echoed that concern. “The state has a great deal of leverage over the city and its own fiscal concerns and it would be unreasonable to expect these issues get resolved without city participation.”</p> <p>Last time Cuomo and de Blasio negotiated the MTA capital plan, the governor successfully convinced the mayor to significantly increase city funds for the authority. Cuomo has repeatedly stated publicly in recent months that he will be pushing the city to pay “its fair share” for the MTA. De Blasio has called for an added tax on high-earners to provide dedicated funding for the MTA, a proposal that Cuomo has publicly mocked as fantasy on several occasions.</p> <p>The state Legislature next year will also include several newly-elected Democrats who expressed support for increased education funding, per the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, which could add billions to the state budget. The state Board of Regents recently proposed a $2.1 billion increase in education funding for next year, which would be a significant jump from the current fiscal year’s increase.</p> <p>New York already spends nearly twice the national average on per-pupil funding, said CBC’s Friedfel, but doesn’t necessarily allocate funding to the districts that need it most. CBC has&nbsp;<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/better-foundation-aid-formula">argued</a>&nbsp;for changing the key formula, known as Foundation Aid, noting that many wealthy districts receive it despite already spending more than the national average and more than the already-high state average by leveraging local tax dollars.</p> <p>Another open question is what the state will do with about $900 million in unspent or unallocated one-time funds from Extraordinary Monetary Settlements, recovered from the financial industry in the wake of the 2008-09 market crash. Since state fiscal year 2015, the state has received nearly $11.2 billion in those settlements.</p> <p>Though the governor has repeatedly said he will divert those funds to capital investments, and he mostly has, he has also used them for budget balancing purposes, DiNapoli’s office noted.</p> <p>“The governor should be putting much more money of any one-time revenue sources aside for the MTA, things like court settlements or just better-than-expected revenues,” Gelinas said, noting the dire need to fund the transit agency. “We haven’t put enough of that money aside for the MTA.” Cuomo has, on the other hand, dedicated financial settlement money to his signature infrastructure projects, like the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.</p> <p>Unlikely to impact the next state budget, but certainly on the negotiating table in the new legislative year, is the push to revolutionize how New York provides health insurance and health care. Several legislators, long-time and newly elected, are pushing for the New York Health Act, which would establish a single-payer health care system in the state and could cost nearly $140 billion in additional state expenditure by 2022, according to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2424.html">a RAND Corporation study</a>. Though the act could reduce total health care spending by 3 percent by 2031, the study found. Cuomo has said he supports a single-payer system, but has insisted that it should be implemented by the federal government rather than the state, and said that he does not see it make fiscal sense for New York.</p> <p>New York already has one of the largest Medicaid programs in the country, comprising a huge chunk of the state budget (education and Medicaid are the two biggest spending programs). But enrollment has been relatively flat over the last three years. If that trend continues, Friedfel said, the state could find more savings in the budget.</p> <p>Friedfel also noted at least one development on the horizon that could have a significant impact on state tax revenue. “The million pound gorilla in the room is what’s gonna happen with the state’s millionaire’s tax,” Friedfel said. The tax is due to expire on December 31, 2019, and though prominent elected officials have called for extending, and even expanding, the program, CBC’s position is that it should be allowed to sunset to help with the state’s economic competitiveness and to keep high-earners from leaving because of the SALT deduction cap.</p> <p>While Cuomo has overseen its repeated extension and he has dismissed calls to expand it,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8047-tax-issues-at-center-of-new-york-elections-albany-year-to-come">during the recent election cycle</a>&nbsp;he was mum about what he wants to do with the current millionaire’s tax.</p> <p><strong>New York City</strong><br />The city released its latest budget modification in November, revising spending up by $1.4 billion, for a total of $90.56 billion for the 2019 fiscal year, which ends June 30. That marks a high point for city spending, and an $18 billion increase from before de Blasio came to power in 2014. The city’s Office of Management and Budget projects a manageable $3.17 billion budget gap -- the difference between expected revenues and projected expenditures -- for the 2020 fiscal year starting July 1. OMB expects that gap to rise to $3.36 billion for fiscal year 2022, the end of the current four-year financial plan period, by when expenditures are projected to reach a whopping $99.6 billion.</p> <p>As City Comptroller Scott Stringer noted in his <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/annual-state-of-the-citys-economy-and-finances/?utm_source=Media-All&amp;utm_campaign=d8ec0a9cbb-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_08_COPY_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_7cd514b03e-d8ec0a9cbb-109199453">latest financial report</a> released on Friday, OMB tends to issue more conservative estimates of revenues in upcoming years, allowing the administration more leeway to adjust spending. Stringer’s report estimates the budget gap to be lower, about $2.6 billion in FY2019 and $2.8 billion in FY2022. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve come out of a run of a number of years of good economic conditions and good fiscal conditions here in the city...but we’re not seeing anything in the numbers that suggests it’s going to end anytime soon,” said Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city-funded agency.</p> <p>In a background briefing, an official at Comptroller Stringer’s office acknowledged that there’s significant uncertainty, with even the Federal Reserve appearing divided about where the economy is heading. There are mixed signals in the market -- unemployment is markedly low which should lead to higher inflation, but hasn’t.</p> <p>But the comptroller’s office is cautiously optimistic and no economist currently projects a recession -- though one is never out of the question -- but rather a return to a slower rate of growth by the time 2020 rolls around.</p> <p>“[We’re] expecting a great deal more softness in economic growth,” said IBO’s Lowenstein. “Not a recession but a much softer U.S. economy. And as far as the local economy’s concerned, we’ve already begun to see the weakening.” She pointed to the drop in job growth over the last few months and also noted that though the job market has diversified with more jobs created outside the financial industry than before the last recession, most of the new jobs have been in lower-paying industries.</p> <p>But she said that slower growth won’t create out-of-control deficits. “We’re looking at gaps that are readily manageable, of the size that we’ve managed in the past,” she said.</p> <p>The official from the comptroller’s office agreed that the city has the capacity to manage outyear budget gaps, particularly with a strong budget surplus each year that has allowed the city to maintain a healthy, if not optimal, level of reserves. The de Blasio administration put away added rainy day funds in the current fiscal year, responding to demands from the City Council. The result included a total of $1.25 billion in the general reserve, $4.35 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund, and $250 million in the capital stabilization reserve.</p> <p>The city’s budget cushion has been increasing over the years and stood at about 11.2 percent at the start of the current fiscal year, though the comptroller has urged the administration to maintain levels between 12 and 18 percent, the lower range of which would have required more than $6.3 billion to hit the upper end.</p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>There are of course various risks that the city must manage. One big vulnerability, according to the official from the comptroller’s office, is the size of the city’s workforce, which has added more than 30,000 workers under de Blasio.</p> <p>“If you look at the November budget update...the biggest issue is the increased expected spending on labor,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank. She noted that <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/fp11-18.pdf">the report</a> increased the labor reserve for fiscal year 2020 by $704 million, for 2021 by nearly $1 billion and for 2022 by about $1.4 billion.</p> <p>“It just shows that these labor agreements that the mayor is making with the unions are costing a little bit more money than expected,” she said. “So the basic story is if the economy keeps doing well, we can probably squeak by with balancing next year’s budget...but if the economy does fall into a recession, with the higher labor costs making these deficits a little bit bigger over the next few years, they would pose a bigger problem for the city.”</p> <p>Gelinas said the city must take aggressive cost-cutting measures in labor agreements, particularly health care spending, to help avert layoffs and service cuts in the case of a recession. “Longterm, health care savings have to be much more aggressive,” she said. “The healthcare fringe benefit budget for the upcoming fiscal year will be almost $11.5 billion and it’s continuing to rise. It’s going to $12.5 billion by the end of the financial plan.”</p> <p>“No mayor has ever gotten through two terms without a recession,” she added on the eve of de Blasio’s sixth year in office.</p> <p>The city’s debt obligations have also been rising, owing to a massive capital program, which pays for building and maintaining the city’s infrastructure such as roads, parks, schools, and libraries.</p> <p>“Debt service is one of the two big sources of growth in city spending,” said IBO’s Lowenstein, referring to the annual debt payments that are included in the city’s expense budget. “It’s debt service and healthcare, and they’re both big and they’re both growing very fast.” Debt service -- which is accounted for in the city’s annual operating budget -- is budgeted at a total of $6.8 billion for fiscal year 2019, according to the November update, and is expected to rise to $8.3 billion by fiscal year 2022.</p> <p>Unlike most other municipalities, New York City’s capital program is funded entirely through borrowing, incurring massive debt that must necessarily be paid off every year, which could pose problems in the long run. “It’s less that we can’t continue to pay the debt service on the commitments that we’ve made but rather that they’re crowding out other things that the city might want to do,” Lowenstein said. “And our ability to expand those capital commitments is not unlimited. Especially in an era when interest rates are rising.”</p> <p>Rising debt service also gives the mayor and City Council “less leeway to budget for other things ranging from teachers to cops to road repair,” she said.</p> <p>Stringer has repeatedly raised the issue of rising debt, though it’s not yet out of control. The rule of thumb for his office is that debt service should not exceed 15 percent of tax revenues, a level it is well below currently. And the City Council has also attempted to make changes to the mismanaged capital funding process, creating a new subcommittee this year dedicated to examining the capital budget, finding ways to make it more efficient and reducing cost overruns. Upcoming City Council budget hearings may indicate whether that subcommittee and its focus are having any real impact.</p> <p>But there are big items that may add significantly to the city’s capital investments and therefore create an additional debt burden. Those include funding for the beleaguered New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). In both cases, the city may have no choice but to commit billions more dollars, particularly pending the outcome of negotiations with federal officials over NYCHA and with state officials over the MTA, for which the city typically kicks in significant capital funds.</p> <p>“The city may not have choices so the speed with which this occurs may be out of our hands,” Lowenstein said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to ntoe that the Capital Stabilization Reserve is $250 million, not $250 billion.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/38830501065_76fa4325c9_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo budget presentation" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>New York’s economy has seen several rosy years in the decade since the Great Recession, with a run of steady growth, increasing job numbers, rising wages, and reliable tax revenue that has defied historical trends -- and led to growing city and state government budgets. But 2019 may be the peak of that economic swing as economic experts predict a long-expected slowdown to set in before 2020. New York City, the experts say, seems better equipped to weather any adverse effects of slowing growth and the state may struggle, presenting some hard choices for Democrats who will fully control state government come January and have a long list of priorities, some of which have financial costs attached.</p> <p>Also complicating the fiscal pictures as the state and city levels are projected budget gaps that must be closed, looming negotiations over how to fund the next MTA capital budget plan and its tens of billions of dollars to fix the subways, and the still unclear effects of recent federal tax reforms, among other outstanding questions. The finances of New York City continue to show a rosier picture than those of the state, with the city economy essential to the state’s ability to spend more each year, though the state has grown its budget in much more limited fashion than the city under Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo will present his State of the State address and executive budget for the fiscal year that begins April 1. Afterward, de Blasio will respond to the governor’s budget plan -- which will set the stage for negotiations with the state Legislature, de Blasio, and others -- and release his own preliminary budget for the next city fiscal year, which will begin July 1. Once the state budget is finalized, the city will be able to take its details -- funding levels, new mandates, and more -- into account as it creates its own budget. The specifics of the annual struggle over what the state is asking or requiring of the city are to be seen, though Cuomo has already indicated he plans to seek more money for the MTA from de Blasio.</p> <p>Budgets are statements of values as much as they are financial planning documents and Cuomo and de Blasio, both Democrats, face pressure each year to balance their policy priorities with fiscal restraint, as well as the demands of others, especially members of the respective legislative bodies each must negotiate with. The governor prides himself on having passed eight on-time or nearly on-time budgets with a 2 percent cap on increased spending, though he is known to manipulate the numbers to say he has stuck to that limit even though some years he has not. De Blasio boasts of record amounts of savings, though watchdogs regularly say that he is not socking away enough given the extended economic boom while he is spending too much, especially in recurring costs like through a significant expansion of the city workforce.</p> <p>The agreed upon state budget was more than $168 billion for the current 2019 fiscal year, with savings that are far too minimal according to every expert. And the mayor’s administration, though praised by fiscal monitors for its responsible financial planning, has overseen ballooning expenditures, passing a nearly $90 billion budget for fiscal 2019 -- it was $72.7 in the final year of the Bloomberg administration.</p> <p>But New York City revenue is largely based on property taxes, which would remain relatively stable even in the event of an economic slowdown. The state on the other hand is far more vulnerable since personal income tax and sales tax contribute a bulk to state revenue.</p> <p>Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the current economic expansion, the second-longest in the country’s history, will continue through most of 2019, bolstered by the federal tax cuts passed in 2017 (even if many New Yorkers’ tax burdens increase due to the new cap on state and local deductibles). It should allow both the state and the city to keep spending, though experts warn that both should prepare for what will happen down the line. Both the Cuomo and de Blasio administrations, along with the state Legislature and City Council, respectively, should be putting more money towards rainy day funds, fiscal experts say; particularly the state, especially as necessary infrastructure investments loom large and add to already rising debt obligations.</p> <p><strong>New York State</strong><br />The state budget remains far more precariously placed in the case of a downturn, even though one isn’t expected to hit soon. The governor has reiterated in recent months that he will continue to abide by a self-imposed 2 percent limit on increased annual expenditures, which presents little wiggle room to add major spending initiatives, though it remains to be seen if the governor will employ one of his many budget maneuvers to obscure actual spending increases. For instance, the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/press/2018/pr-enactfy19.html">State Fiscal Year 2019 budget</a>, which began April 1, included a provision that funnels Payroll Mobility Tax revenue directly to the MTA instead of going through the state, effectively shifting $1.5 billion out of the budget.</p> <p>“Part of the problem is they’ve technically abided by it but they’ve only done that by shifting things around and reclassifying things, not necessarily through stringent cost controls,” said David Friedfel, director of state studies at Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit watchdog. “The more they play those tricks, the harder they will be to find in the future if that’s how they choose to close the gap.”</p> <p>The New York State Division of Budget’s&nbsp;<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy19/enac/fy19myfp.pdf">mid-year financial update</a>, released in November, predicted that the state will meet its revenue projections by the end of the fiscal year. Even at the state level, budget gaps remain manageable, at about $3.1 billion for fiscal year 2020, a number that is quickly cut if the 2 percent growth is factored in.</p> <p>State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released his own&nbsp;<a href="https://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2018/quick-start-report.pdf">financial update</a>&nbsp;in November, estimating that overall tax revenues would decrease by 1.8 percent by the end of the state’s 2019 fiscal year (end of March). Though personal income tax revenues are expected to fall by 2.5 percent, business and consumption taxes are set to increase by a total of 6.5 percent, the report estimated. Tax revenues are expected to increase by 5.9 in the 2020 fiscal year and then at a lower rate, 2.4 percent in the 2021 fiscal year.</p> <p>Similar to city representatives, officials in DiNapoli’s office said in a background briefing that they expect a soft landing for the economy, despite the volatility in national and international markets. They have yet to determine the full impacts of the federal tax code overhaul, which capped State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions at $10,000 annually, raising concerns that high earners facing larger tax bills would in some cases fold to out-migration pressures, leaving the state and taking their tax dollars with them. Given New York’s position as a high-tax state, even many upper middle class homeowners in expensive New York City suburbs, and in the city itself, will be facing increased tax burdens, though it is not immediately clear that these factors will lead to a significant increase in the number of higher earners leaving the state. New York has consistently seen out-migration each year and has lost a net of 1 million residents since 2010,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/ny-out-migration-tops-1m-since-2010/">according</a>&nbsp;to The Empire Center, a think tank. A report issued by the center&nbsp;<a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/checklist-2018/">in March</a>&nbsp;suggested that the state should undertake several reforms to encourage the economic competitiveness which could help reverse that trend.</p> <p>The state took measures to decouple state tax provisions from the federal tax code, including decoupling from the SALT limit to prevent higher state taxes, and changes to the child tax credit and the single filer deduction. The state also created two new programs -- the Employer Compensation Expense Program and the State Charitable Gifts Trust Fund -- in an effort to limit state taxpayers’ exposure to federal tax changes, but neither program appears to have caught on in any significant way. Officials in the state comptroller’s office said the impacts of the SALT deduction in particular wouldn’t be evident until during next fiscal year, particularly if it encourages people to move out of state.</p> <p>Other risks in federal funding to the state seen in recent years -- Republican proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act and make drastic cuts to Medicaid -- have also mitigated, the officials said, since those proposals have failed to come to fruition. But federal funding does remain uncertain as Congress is in the middle of negotiating the current federal budget with President Donald Trump, who has threatened a government shutdown if Congress does not approve funding for a wall along the southern border that he had promised Mexico would pay for. The ballooning federal deficit incurred from the Trump-led tax cuts have also increased pressure on federal spending, which could trickle down to the aid that New York receives for transportation, health care, and education, among other things.</p> <p>“The state is in decent financial position but not when you consider the fact that we are nine years or so into an economic expansion,” CBC’s Friedfel said. “The state has been gifted with $12 billion in financial settlements and some additional revenues yet the state’s reserves are not where they should be or could be. They haven’t been added to in about four years. And liabilities are still out there.”</p> <p>As Friedfel noted, the state’s rainy day funds stand at only about $2 billion, a pittance when looked at in the context of a downturn. In the case of a recession, Friedfel estimated, the state could face up to $50 billion in combined losses over a four-year period. “California is doing a very good job on their reserves. They’re gonna have close to 10 percent of state operating spending in their reserves, which is really what New York should be aiming for,” he said. “Instead of $2 billion, we should be closer to $10 billion.”</p> <p>As with the city, the state’s debt also continues to rise, particularly with the governor having launched an ambitious infrastructure program that includes modernizing existing facilities and building new ones across the state, including bridges, airports and bus systems. The state’s debt service payments for fiscal year 2019 stood at $5.5 billion and are&nbsp;<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy19/enac/fy19myfp.pdf">projected</a>&nbsp;to rise to $6.6 billion in 2020. New York currently&nbsp;<a href="https://www.osc.state.ny.us/finance/finreports/fcr/2018/debt.htm">ranks</a>&nbsp;second-highest in the country, behind California, in outstanding debt.</p> <p>Year after year, DiNapoli has waved a red flag over the state’s debt obligations and officials in his office are keeping a close eye on whether those will increase in the upcoming year. There will be particularly pressing needs -- the MTA, NYCHA -- where the state will have to work with the city to fund large capital improvements. The current 2015-2019 MTA capital plan remains underfunded and the Fast Forward Plan, proposed by New York City Transit President Andy Byford to modernize the city’s subway and bus systems, may cost nearly $40 billion, with no plan proposed to pay for it in its entirety. A congestion pricing program for New York City has been embraced by the governor and many in the state Legislature as a funding stream, but even if implemented quickly and without carve-outs it would fall far short of meeting the goal.</p> <p>“That’s one of the biggest questions,” said Gelinas from the Manhattan Institute, “especially if the economy continues to do well. How much does Governor Cuomo go after the city for MTA funding and in multiple billions of dollars...and does that cut into the city’s other priorities?”</p> <p>IBO’s Lowenstein also echoed that concern. “The state has a great deal of leverage over the city and its own fiscal concerns and it would be unreasonable to expect these issues get resolved without city participation.”</p> <p>Last time Cuomo and de Blasio negotiated the MTA capital plan, the governor successfully convinced the mayor to significantly increase city funds for the authority. Cuomo has repeatedly stated publicly in recent months that he will be pushing the city to pay “its fair share” for the MTA. De Blasio has called for an added tax on high-earners to provide dedicated funding for the MTA, a proposal that Cuomo has publicly mocked as fantasy on several occasions.</p> <p>The state Legislature next year will also include several newly-elected Democrats who expressed support for increased education funding, per the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, which could add billions to the state budget. The state Board of Regents recently proposed a $2.1 billion increase in education funding for next year, which would be a significant jump from the current fiscal year’s increase.</p> <p>New York already spends nearly twice the national average on per-pupil funding, said CBC’s Friedfel, but doesn’t necessarily allocate funding to the districts that need it most. CBC has&nbsp;<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/better-foundation-aid-formula">argued</a>&nbsp;for changing the key formula, known as Foundation Aid, noting that many wealthy districts receive it despite already spending more than the national average and more than the already-high state average by leveraging local tax dollars.</p> <p>Another open question is what the state will do with about $900 million in unspent or unallocated one-time funds from Extraordinary Monetary Settlements, recovered from the financial industry in the wake of the 2008-09 market crash. Since state fiscal year 2015, the state has received nearly $11.2 billion in those settlements.</p> <p>Though the governor has repeatedly said he will divert those funds to capital investments, and he mostly has, he has also used them for budget balancing purposes, DiNapoli’s office noted.</p> <p>“The governor should be putting much more money of any one-time revenue sources aside for the MTA, things like court settlements or just better-than-expected revenues,” Gelinas said, noting the dire need to fund the transit agency. “We haven’t put enough of that money aside for the MTA.” Cuomo has, on the other hand, dedicated financial settlement money to his signature infrastructure projects, like the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.</p> <p>Unlikely to impact the next state budget, but certainly on the negotiating table in the new legislative year, is the push to revolutionize how New York provides health insurance and health care. Several legislators, long-time and newly elected, are pushing for the New York Health Act, which would establish a single-payer health care system in the state and could cost nearly $140 billion in additional state expenditure by 2022, according to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2424.html">a RAND Corporation study</a>. Though the act could reduce total health care spending by 3 percent by 2031, the study found. Cuomo has said he supports a single-payer system, but has insisted that it should be implemented by the federal government rather than the state, and said that he does not see it make fiscal sense for New York.</p> <p>New York already has one of the largest Medicaid programs in the country, comprising a huge chunk of the state budget (education and Medicaid are the two biggest spending programs). But enrollment has been relatively flat over the last three years. If that trend continues, Friedfel said, the state could find more savings in the budget.</p> <p>Friedfel also noted at least one development on the horizon that could have a significant impact on state tax revenue. “The million pound gorilla in the room is what’s gonna happen with the state’s millionaire’s tax,” Friedfel said. The tax is due to expire on December 31, 2019, and though prominent elected officials have called for extending, and even expanding, the program, CBC’s position is that it should be allowed to sunset to help with the state’s economic competitiveness and to keep high-earners from leaving because of the SALT deduction cap.</p> <p>While Cuomo has overseen its repeated extension and he has dismissed calls to expand it,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8047-tax-issues-at-center-of-new-york-elections-albany-year-to-come">during the recent election cycle</a>&nbsp;he was mum about what he wants to do with the current millionaire’s tax.</p> <p><strong>New York City</strong><br />The city released its latest budget modification in November, revising spending up by $1.4 billion, for a total of $90.56 billion for the 2019 fiscal year, which ends June 30. That marks a high point for city spending, and an $18 billion increase from before de Blasio came to power in 2014. The city’s Office of Management and Budget projects a manageable $3.17 billion budget gap -- the difference between expected revenues and projected expenditures -- for the 2020 fiscal year starting July 1. OMB expects that gap to rise to $3.36 billion for fiscal year 2022, the end of the current four-year financial plan period, by when expenditures are projected to reach a whopping $99.6 billion.</p> <p>As City Comptroller Scott Stringer noted in his <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/annual-state-of-the-citys-economy-and-finances/?utm_source=Media-All&amp;utm_campaign=d8ec0a9cbb-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_08_COPY_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_7cd514b03e-d8ec0a9cbb-109199453">latest financial report</a> released on Friday, OMB tends to issue more conservative estimates of revenues in upcoming years, allowing the administration more leeway to adjust spending. Stringer’s report estimates the budget gap to be lower, about $2.6 billion in FY2019 and $2.8 billion in FY2022. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve come out of a run of a number of years of good economic conditions and good fiscal conditions here in the city...but we’re not seeing anything in the numbers that suggests it’s going to end anytime soon,” said Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city-funded agency.</p> <p>In a background briefing, an official at Comptroller Stringer’s office acknowledged that there’s significant uncertainty, with even the Federal Reserve appearing divided about where the economy is heading. There are mixed signals in the market -- unemployment is markedly low which should lead to higher inflation, but hasn’t.</p> <p>But the comptroller’s office is cautiously optimistic and no economist currently projects a recession -- though one is never out of the question -- but rather a return to a slower rate of growth by the time 2020 rolls around.</p> <p>“[We’re] expecting a great deal more softness in economic growth,” said IBO’s Lowenstein. “Not a recession but a much softer U.S. economy. And as far as the local economy’s concerned, we’ve already begun to see the weakening.” She pointed to the drop in job growth over the last few months and also noted that though the job market has diversified with more jobs created outside the financial industry than before the last recession, most of the new jobs have been in lower-paying industries.</p> <p>But she said that slower growth won’t create out-of-control deficits. “We’re looking at gaps that are readily manageable, of the size that we’ve managed in the past,” she said.</p> <p>The official from the comptroller’s office agreed that the city has the capacity to manage outyear budget gaps, particularly with a strong budget surplus each year that has allowed the city to maintain a healthy, if not optimal, level of reserves. The de Blasio administration put away added rainy day funds in the current fiscal year, responding to demands from the City Council. The result included a total of $1.25 billion in the general reserve, $4.35 billion in the Retiree Health Benefits Trust Fund, and $250 million in the capital stabilization reserve.</p> <p>The city’s budget cushion has been increasing over the years and stood at about 11.2 percent at the start of the current fiscal year, though the comptroller has urged the administration to maintain levels between 12 and 18 percent, the lower range of which would have required more than $6.3 billion to hit the upper end.</p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>There are of course various risks that the city must manage. One big vulnerability, according to the official from the comptroller’s office, is the size of the city’s workforce, which has added more than 30,000 workers under de Blasio.</p> <p>“If you look at the November budget update...the biggest issue is the increased expected spending on labor,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank. She noted that <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/fp11-18.pdf">the report</a> increased the labor reserve for fiscal year 2020 by $704 million, for 2021 by nearly $1 billion and for 2022 by about $1.4 billion.</p> <p>“It just shows that these labor agreements that the mayor is making with the unions are costing a little bit more money than expected,” she said. “So the basic story is if the economy keeps doing well, we can probably squeak by with balancing next year’s budget...but if the economy does fall into a recession, with the higher labor costs making these deficits a little bit bigger over the next few years, they would pose a bigger problem for the city.”</p> <p>Gelinas said the city must take aggressive cost-cutting measures in labor agreements, particularly health care spending, to help avert layoffs and service cuts in the case of a recession. “Longterm, health care savings have to be much more aggressive,” she said. “The healthcare fringe benefit budget for the upcoming fiscal year will be almost $11.5 billion and it’s continuing to rise. It’s going to $12.5 billion by the end of the financial plan.”</p> <p>“No mayor has ever gotten through two terms without a recession,” she added on the eve of de Blasio’s sixth year in office.</p> <p>The city’s debt obligations have also been rising, owing to a massive capital program, which pays for building and maintaining the city’s infrastructure such as roads, parks, schools, and libraries.</p> <p>“Debt service is one of the two big sources of growth in city spending,” said IBO’s Lowenstein, referring to the annual debt payments that are included in the city’s expense budget. “It’s debt service and healthcare, and they’re both big and they’re both growing very fast.” Debt service -- which is accounted for in the city’s annual operating budget -- is budgeted at a total of $6.8 billion for fiscal year 2019, according to the November update, and is expected to rise to $8.3 billion by fiscal year 2022.</p> <p>Unlike most other municipalities, New York City’s capital program is funded entirely through borrowing, incurring massive debt that must necessarily be paid off every year, which could pose problems in the long run. “It’s less that we can’t continue to pay the debt service on the commitments that we’ve made but rather that they’re crowding out other things that the city might want to do,” Lowenstein said. “And our ability to expand those capital commitments is not unlimited. Especially in an era when interest rates are rising.”</p> <p>Rising debt service also gives the mayor and City Council “less leeway to budget for other things ranging from teachers to cops to road repair,” she said.</p> <p>Stringer has repeatedly raised the issue of rising debt, though it’s not yet out of control. The rule of thumb for his office is that debt service should not exceed 15 percent of tax revenues, a level it is well below currently. And the City Council has also attempted to make changes to the mismanaged capital funding process, creating a new subcommittee this year dedicated to examining the capital budget, finding ways to make it more efficient and reducing cost overruns. Upcoming City Council budget hearings may indicate whether that subcommittee and its focus are having any real impact.</p> <p>But there are big items that may add significantly to the city’s capital investments and therefore create an additional debt burden. Those include funding for the beleaguered New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). In both cases, the city may have no choice but to commit billions more dollars, particularly pending the outcome of negotiations with federal officials over NYCHA and with state officials over the MTA, for which the city typically kicks in significant capital funds.</p> <p>“The city may not have choices so the speed with which this occurs may be out of our hands,” Lowenstein said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to ntoe that the Capital Stabilization Reserve is $250 million, not $250 billion.&nbsp;</p>
Too Much Debt, Not Enough Savings: State Finances on Rocky Ground Comptroller Says 2018-07-26T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7832-too-much-debt-not-enough-savings-state-finances-on-rocky-ground-comptroller-says Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/dinapoli_bronx_presser.jpg" alt="Tom DiNapoli Comptroller Bronx" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Comptroller DiNapoli (photo: @NYSComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>For New York’s fiscal picture, “Trump’s policies are as great a concern as the economic cycle,” according to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who spoke at length recently about the state’s finances and economy, which are precarious for a number of reasons.</p> <p>During a 30-minute interview with Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max for a special on Manhattan Neighborhood Network that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38l05FB-MWM" target="_blank" rel="noopener">aired Sunday</a>, DiNapoli discussed the state’s limited savings relative to its spending, its high indebtedness, and its weak preparedness for any future economic downturn, whether influenced by federal policy or a more expected cyclical recession.</p> <p>If the economy sours and tax revenues decrease, New York state government has few methods of recourse beyond cutting spending, DiNapoli said, because of the limited amount that has been socked away. If and when another recession hits, “we don’t have the cushion of reserves to draw on,” since the state maintains savings well below the statutorily-set minimum, the comptroller said. DiNapoli said that, while New York could be setting aside up to $5 billion in reserves, it only maintains around $2 billion, and that the state last made a deposit in its reserve account in 2015. That’s compared to a state budget of about $168 billion for the current fiscal year.</p> <p>DiNapoli pointed out that the state has decided to spend billions in settlements with financial institutions, as opposed to putting some or most of that money away in savings.</p> <p>Recession or not, “New York State will suffer” if the Republican Party keeps its majorities in both chambers of Congress, DiNapoli added, with a nod toward the federal tax reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in late 2017. Trump and Congressional Republicans could fully repeal the Affordable Care Act or further slash funding for social services, DiNapoli warned, both of which could hurt New York.</p> <p>Otherwise, DiNapoli mostly shied away from political statements; while he is a Democrat, the state comptroller is an ostensibly nonpartisan position, though political ideology certainly has some effect on policy-making and oversight work. It is one of the four statewide elected positions, along with governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, and it may be the least-known and least-understood. DiNapoli explained he essentially runs New York’s “Office of Accountability” — which audits state agencies, public authorities, and local governments, approves state contracts, comments on state fiscal practices, and manages the state’s pool of unclaimed funds, returning over $1.5 million a day to New Yorkers, among other tasks. The comptroller also manages the state’s massive public employee pension system.</p> <p>“It’s the best job in government,” he said.</p> <p>New York, DiNapoli said, is in better fiscal shape now than it was during the Great Recession, noting that the state has gained back the jobs and revenue lost during the financial crisis.</p> <p>But economic recovery in the state has been fractured, with most gains heavily concentrated in New York City and its surrounding area. DiNapoli described New York’s post-recession recovery era as “a tale of two economies,” with regions like the Southern Tier, Adirondacks, Mohawk Valley, and Central New York far less economically successful than New York City has been.</p> <p>Still, DiNapoli emphasized, New York is overall in strong economic shape, and he noted that, as opposed to recoveries from previous economic downturns, the state’s post-2008 bounceback was not led by Wall Street. Rather, a more diverse group of industries — technology, healthcare, and tourism, for instance — collectively resurrected the economy. To this day, the state’s financial industry is smaller than it was before the recession in terms of jobs.</p> <p>“This strong recovery has been stronger and longer than past recoveries,” he said, though, he added, it will end at a certain point. When that time comes, New York may be in trouble.</p> <p>Beyond maintaining a thin cushion of reserves, New York is one of the country’s most indebted states, DiNapoli said, and it’s only due to “gimmicks” that the state appears to be under its debt cap. So, when a crisis hits, the state may have no choice but to cut spending on social services. DiNapoli urged New Yorkers to be more conservative in their expectations of future revenue and spending, and he spoke of the political challenge of strengthening New York’s long-term financial security.</p> <p>As the “least partisan of offices,” in DiNapoli’s framing, the Office of the Comptroller is not as beholden to the political logic of short-term decision-making as the governor’s office or state Legislature may be. Crafting the state’s budget, though, is ultimately a political project, meaning initiatives that would bolster New York’s economic future but provide little immediate political gain, like setting aside reserve funds, are often neglected.</p> <p>DiNapoli expects the Democrats to take control of the state Senate after this fall’s elections, thus bringing unified Democratic rule to Albany in 2018, assuming the governorship and Assembly remain Democratic, which is likely, and for regional interests to dominate spending debates. When asked if New Yorkers should be worried about that possibility -- Republicans often argue that full Democratic control of state government would be fiscally disastrous -- DiNapoli said he does not distinguish between the spending habits of the two major parties — “Republicans are not shy about spending money,” he said — and therefore does not necessarily foresee an increase in spending under Democratic control. Many Democrats are calling for higher taxes on top earners, though, something that Republicans continue to sound the alarm about.</p> <p>DiNapoli urged voters to “evaluate candidates not just on their party labels, but on who they are.” A lifelong Democrat who grew up in a Republican household on Long Island, DiNapoli said he joined the Democratic Party for its “open and free-flowing” spirit, which both strengthens and hinders it. Though the response to Trump has made the party stronger, brought more young people and women into its fold, and encouraged “open and honest competition,” DiNapoli said, the Democrats “need to not beat each other up and let others win.”</p> <p>He pointed to the divide in the party exposed and deepened by the Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton presidential primary, a “wound reopened” by Clinton’s loss in the general election, as particularly concerning.</p> <p>The Democrats “often lose elections by fighting each other,” DiNapoli said. Significant intraparty fighting is occurring for Democrats right now in New York, as both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul are being challenged in the primary, by Cynthia Nixon and City Council Member Jumaane Williams, respectively, among other contentious legislative races. There is also a wide open primary for attorney general, with four strong candidates campaigning. DiNapoli, who is not facing a primary challenge, told Max he is endorsing Cuomo and Hochul for reelection, but declined to endorse any of the Democratic attorney general candidates — Letitia James, Zephyr Teachout, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Leecia Eve.</p> <p>The four candidates are “all good friends of mine,” he said. “So we’ll see how that goes.”</p> <p>***<br />Watch&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38l05FB-MWM">the full interview</a>&nbsp;from Manhattan Neighborhood Network:</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/38l05FB-MWM" width="560" height="315" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/dinapoli_bronx_presser.jpg" alt="Tom DiNapoli Comptroller Bronx" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Comptroller DiNapoli (photo: @NYSComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>For New York’s fiscal picture, “Trump’s policies are as great a concern as the economic cycle,” according to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who spoke at length recently about the state’s finances and economy, which are precarious for a number of reasons.</p> <p>During a 30-minute interview with Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max for a special on Manhattan Neighborhood Network that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38l05FB-MWM" target="_blank" rel="noopener">aired Sunday</a>, DiNapoli discussed the state’s limited savings relative to its spending, its high indebtedness, and its weak preparedness for any future economic downturn, whether influenced by federal policy or a more expected cyclical recession.</p> <p>If the economy sours and tax revenues decrease, New York state government has few methods of recourse beyond cutting spending, DiNapoli said, because of the limited amount that has been socked away. If and when another recession hits, “we don’t have the cushion of reserves to draw on,” since the state maintains savings well below the statutorily-set minimum, the comptroller said. DiNapoli said that, while New York could be setting aside up to $5 billion in reserves, it only maintains around $2 billion, and that the state last made a deposit in its reserve account in 2015. That’s compared to a state budget of about $168 billion for the current fiscal year.</p> <p>DiNapoli pointed out that the state has decided to spend billions in settlements with financial institutions, as opposed to putting some or most of that money away in savings.</p> <p>Recession or not, “New York State will suffer” if the Republican Party keeps its majorities in both chambers of Congress, DiNapoli added, with a nod toward the federal tax reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in late 2017. Trump and Congressional Republicans could fully repeal the Affordable Care Act or further slash funding for social services, DiNapoli warned, both of which could hurt New York.</p> <p>Otherwise, DiNapoli mostly shied away from political statements; while he is a Democrat, the state comptroller is an ostensibly nonpartisan position, though political ideology certainly has some effect on policy-making and oversight work. It is one of the four statewide elected positions, along with governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, and it may be the least-known and least-understood. DiNapoli explained he essentially runs New York’s “Office of Accountability” — which audits state agencies, public authorities, and local governments, approves state contracts, comments on state fiscal practices, and manages the state’s pool of unclaimed funds, returning over $1.5 million a day to New Yorkers, among other tasks. The comptroller also manages the state’s massive public employee pension system.</p> <p>“It’s the best job in government,” he said.</p> <p>New York, DiNapoli said, is in better fiscal shape now than it was during the Great Recession, noting that the state has gained back the jobs and revenue lost during the financial crisis.</p> <p>But economic recovery in the state has been fractured, with most gains heavily concentrated in New York City and its surrounding area. DiNapoli described New York’s post-recession recovery era as “a tale of two economies,” with regions like the Southern Tier, Adirondacks, Mohawk Valley, and Central New York far less economically successful than New York City has been.</p> <p>Still, DiNapoli emphasized, New York is overall in strong economic shape, and he noted that, as opposed to recoveries from previous economic downturns, the state’s post-2008 bounceback was not led by Wall Street. Rather, a more diverse group of industries — technology, healthcare, and tourism, for instance — collectively resurrected the economy. To this day, the state’s financial industry is smaller than it was before the recession in terms of jobs.</p> <p>“This strong recovery has been stronger and longer than past recoveries,” he said, though, he added, it will end at a certain point. When that time comes, New York may be in trouble.</p> <p>Beyond maintaining a thin cushion of reserves, New York is one of the country’s most indebted states, DiNapoli said, and it’s only due to “gimmicks” that the state appears to be under its debt cap. So, when a crisis hits, the state may have no choice but to cut spending on social services. DiNapoli urged New Yorkers to be more conservative in their expectations of future revenue and spending, and he spoke of the political challenge of strengthening New York’s long-term financial security.</p> <p>As the “least partisan of offices,” in DiNapoli’s framing, the Office of the Comptroller is not as beholden to the political logic of short-term decision-making as the governor’s office or state Legislature may be. Crafting the state’s budget, though, is ultimately a political project, meaning initiatives that would bolster New York’s economic future but provide little immediate political gain, like setting aside reserve funds, are often neglected.</p> <p>DiNapoli expects the Democrats to take control of the state Senate after this fall’s elections, thus bringing unified Democratic rule to Albany in 2018, assuming the governorship and Assembly remain Democratic, which is likely, and for regional interests to dominate spending debates. When asked if New Yorkers should be worried about that possibility -- Republicans often argue that full Democratic control of state government would be fiscally disastrous -- DiNapoli said he does not distinguish between the spending habits of the two major parties — “Republicans are not shy about spending money,” he said — and therefore does not necessarily foresee an increase in spending under Democratic control. Many Democrats are calling for higher taxes on top earners, though, something that Republicans continue to sound the alarm about.</p> <p>DiNapoli urged voters to “evaluate candidates not just on their party labels, but on who they are.” A lifelong Democrat who grew up in a Republican household on Long Island, DiNapoli said he joined the Democratic Party for its “open and free-flowing” spirit, which both strengthens and hinders it. Though the response to Trump has made the party stronger, brought more young people and women into its fold, and encouraged “open and honest competition,” DiNapoli said, the Democrats “need to not beat each other up and let others win.”</p> <p>He pointed to the divide in the party exposed and deepened by the Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton presidential primary, a “wound reopened” by Clinton’s loss in the general election, as particularly concerning.</p> <p>The Democrats “often lose elections by fighting each other,” DiNapoli said. Significant intraparty fighting is occurring for Democrats right now in New York, as both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul are being challenged in the primary, by Cynthia Nixon and City Council Member Jumaane Williams, respectively, among other contentious legislative races. There is also a wide open primary for attorney general, with four strong candidates campaigning. DiNapoli, who is not facing a primary challenge, told Max he is endorsing Cuomo and Hochul for reelection, but declined to endorse any of the Democratic attorney general candidates — Letitia James, Zephyr Teachout, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Leecia Eve.</p> <p>The four candidates are “all good friends of mine,” he said. “So we’ll see how that goes.”</p> <p>***<br />Watch&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38l05FB-MWM">the full interview</a>&nbsp;from Manhattan Neighborhood Network:</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/38l05FB-MWM" width="560" height="315" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

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</p>
Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies 2018-06-24T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-24T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7764-pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/gov-cuomo-bill-clinton-electoral.jpg" alt="gov cuomo bill clinton electoral" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The problem of sexual harassment in New York state politics is systemic and plaguing young women beginning their careers, according to a group fighting to change the culture and the laws around the issue. And, they argue that recently adopted state measures to fight the scourge are insufficient, despite being touted by Governor Andrew Cuomo as “the best in the nation.”</p> <p>The seven women of The Sexual Harassment Working Group -- all of whom have been personally affected by sexual harassment while working for lawmakers in the New York State Legislature -- have consulted a handful of advocacy and legal groups, and called upon their own experiences and expertise, to put together a detailed report with recommendations for ways to better protect women working in government.</p> <p>“We wonder why there aren’t women in higher office, we wonder why women are so underrepesented in our legislature and in all levels of our government. And this is a big part of why: It does not feel safe to work in government if you’re a woman,” co-author Eliyanna Kaiser, a one-time chief of staff to former Assemblymember Micah Kellner, said during an event in Manhattan on June 19. Kaiser was not herself directly a victim of sexual harassment, but instead reported to Bill Collins in the Assembly Counsel's office, under former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, that Kellner had been sending inappropriate messages to one of his staffers, which led to initial inaction, attacks against Kaiser, and, eventually, Kellner’s ouster from the state Legislature.</p> <p>Also on the panel were working group members and co-authors Danielle Bennett, former administrative assistant to Kellner who reported his harassment to Kaiser; Leah Hebert, former chief of staff to the late, disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez; Tori Burhans Kelly, former legislative aide to Lopez; Rita Pasarell, former legislative counsel and deputy chief of staff to Lopez; Erica Vladimer, former education policy analyst and counsel for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC); and Elizabeth Crothers, former legislative aide in the New York State Assembly who publicly accused Assembly lawyer Michael Boxley of rape in 2003, two years after the alleged incident and when another victim of Boxley’s came forward. The discussion was moderated by political consultant and columnist Alexis Grenell, who has helped bring to light victims’ experiences as well as the insufficient responses from government officials.</p> <p>The stories of these women run together in a horror plot that involves countless obstacles to reporting, near-dismissal, and a reluctance to investigate from those in charge, as well as forcibly implemented nondisclosure agreements that hinder the complainant's chances of reemployment and their ability to warn others.</p> <p>“I agreed not to file a civil suit in exchange for [him to get] a HIV test,” Crothers said, adding the “loss of anonymity” after going public “follows you.”</p> <p>“I really didn’t think there was another way out aside from suicide,” said Hebert, who was one of the first women to complain about Lopez groping and harassing female staffers, of her experience.</p> <p>“These things that are happening are not the product of an individual harasser, they’re not mistakes,” Pasarell, another complainant against Lopez, added. “It’s massive, it’s systemic, and whenever I hear a new person coming out I say, ‘hey remember us, remember this happened to us in 2012?’”</p> <p>It’s a cycle that exploits women and protects men who behave abhorrently and, as Grenell pointed out, it’s a reality yet unchanged by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2018/04/02/does-new-yorks-new-sexual-harassment-laws-go-far-enough/478703002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">claims</a> that New York has the “strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation” following the recent budget, wherein the anti-harassment legislation was passed. Grenell compared the governor’s statement to the “mission accomplished sign” former President George W. Bush stood in front of during 2003 remarks about the war in Iraq, only two months after the U.S. first invaded.</p> <p>The Working Group is calling for Cuomo to hold public hearings to listen to victims of sexual harassment -- as its members demanded before the policies were decided by all-male leadership with little apparent regard for the opinions of victims. The group’s <a href="https://www.harassmentfreealbany.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Harassment-Free Albany</a> website states: “New York State has not held a state hearing on sexual harassment since Governor Mario Cuomo [Andrew Cuomo’s father] created a Sexual Harassment Task Force in 1992.”</p> <p>The reporting system has no transparency for complainants, limited uniformity, and an obvious lack of objectivity, the panel urges. For example, when Vladimer, who this January publicly accused now-Deputy Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein of kissing her forcibly and against her will outside a bar in 2015, was asked where her case is at now, she said she has no idea.</p> <p>“Your guess is as good as mine,” Vladimer told event attendees on Tuesday. “[It’s with] the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics [JCOPE], which under some very vague executive law somehow has the authority to investigate sexual harassment claims. There are no experts on this commission and the commissioners who vote to decide whether or not there is wrongdoing are all appointed by elected officials.” They are also <a href="https://www.jcope.ny.gov/commissioners" target="_blank" rel="noopener">almost all men</a>, with one woman in 14 commissioners.</p> <p>“I don’t know where my investigation is and I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve talked about is that there is no transparency and I know, and have been told, I don’t have a right to know where my investigation’s going,” Vladimer added.</p> <p>When Vladimer went public, Klein immediately denied the allegations, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate given no formal complaint had been lodged with its internal staff. Klein himself asked JCOPE to investigate, but other than Klein indicating an investigation had commenced, there is little information to go by.</p> <p>In the lead-up to the new state budget, Cuomo had called for sweeping anti-sexual harassment policies, including greater resources for and <a href="https://www.wivb.com/news/local-news/governor-cuomo-delivers-his-state-of-the-state-address/1083202760" target="_blank" rel="noopener">transparency</a> in JCOPE investigations. While Cuomo pushed through some measures, those JCOPE recommendations were not among what was passed into law.</p> <p>The same Klein accused of sexually harassing Vladimer was one of the three other elected men, and no elected women, who assisted Cuomo in deciding the sexual harassment legislation this March, ahead of the annual budget. According to the <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=S07507&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Committee&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Floor&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;LFIN=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a>, there are five measures designed to address sexual harassment in state politics -- as the governor’s office puts it, to “further build upon his 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York.”</p> <p>In a press release announcing highlights of the new budget in March, Cuomo said, "We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long.”</p> <p>Under the new legislation, all employers working with the state, including vendors and contractors, must implement a written policy addressing sexual harassment prevention and provide prevention training to all employees. This is an extension of a previously-existing law to include contracted workers, and means that employers may now be held liable for the sexual harassment of non-employees if the employer knew, or should have known, of the harassment and failed to take action. It does not, however, address the ambiguity around employees of elected officials.</p> <p>The Sexual Harassment Working Group is recommending the definition of “employee” be changed to clearly include employees of elected and appointed officials, and that the New York State Human Rights Law should stipulate elected officials are also considered “employers.”</p> <p>“Our recommendation is to specify employees as everybody -- essentially someone for hire -- this is how the labor law defines it and we just want every worker to have the same protection, including staff of elected officials,” Pasarell told Tuesday night’s event.</p> <p>In the new legislation, New York employers are prohibited from requiring mandatory arbitration of claims of workplace sexual harassment, except where inconsistent with federal law, and this will come into effect in July.</p> <p>Any officers and employees of the state or any public entity who is subject to a final judgement of personal liability in cases of sexual harassment will have to reimburse the state for the award given to the complainant, however the Sexual Harassment Working Group points out this is only applicable for cases determined by a judge, not necessarily to those settled out of court.</p> <p>Cuomo’s legislation also states no employer has the authority to include or agree to include in any settlement a nondisclosure agreement, unless the condition of confidentiality is the complainant’s preference. And, notably, a model sexual harassment guidance document and a sexual harassment prevention policy is to be created with the Division of Human Right by October -- meaning a key portion of the new policy is not yet written.</p> <p>“This year, Governor Cuomo signed the strongest anti-sexual harassment policy in the country,” Dani Lever, press secretary for Cuomo, told Gotham Gazette in a statement. “It closed gaping loopholes that entrapped women in toxic workplaces, extended protections to contracted workers, and strengthened rules that prevent companies from shirking their responsibility to root out bad actors—instead of sweeping problems under-the-rug.”</p> <p>On the surface, all measures included in the<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/press/2018/pr-enactfy19.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> enacted budget</a> appear to go a long way towards exactly what the governor is promising but, according to the panel of women who’ve experienced sexual harassment in state politics first-hand, there are some areas of ambiguity that impede the path to reporting and justice for potential victims.</p> <p>First, the budget hasn’t defined “sexual harassment” and the way the issue is currently treated under state law leaves much room for interpretation. The Sexual Harassment Working Group recommends adding “sex and gender” to the list of classes protected from discrimination in the New York State Constitution, to offer another level of protection for all New Yorkers, including victims. And the authors suggest the current standard for behavior to qualify as sexual harassment in state law -- that it must be “severe or pervasive” -- be changed to mirror the recent changes to New York City law, where the standard for discrimination and harassment reads simply that the person is treated “less well.”</p> <p>“When you’re talking about standards in law, the ‘litigative itch,’ as they call it, is all in these terms,” Kaiser said. “People are always going to bicker about the actual event that happened. We’d prefer that bickering to be asking, ‘didn’t he treat her less well?’ Rather than, ‘was it severe and pervasive?’”</p> <p>The working group is also calling for an independent body to oversee all discrimination harassment policy enforcement. At the moment, JCOPE members are appointed by state elected officials. Of the 14 members, three are appointed by the Temporary President of the Senate, three are appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Assembly, and six are appointed by the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor.</p> <p>Many of the stories from the women in The Sexual Harassment Working Group involve some level of disbelief from those charged with investigating their reports of sexual harassment. In Crothers’ case, it wasn’t only disbelief, it was outright protection of her alleged attacker.</p> <p>“Before it came out in the press and when I met with the speaker [Sheldon Silver], I didn’t feel he didn’t believe me, he just said ‘well I won’t let him go out to bars anymore and my first priority is protecting the institution,’” Crothers said at the panel event. Silver resigned as speaker in 2015 after being arrested on federal corruption charges, and long after being accused of facilitating former Assemblymember Lopez’s harassment of eight women who were on his staff. The panelists believe this culture of cover-up and protection will continue unless there is an independent body appointed to investigate, and determine, reports of sexual misconduct in Albany.</p> <p>It’s the Lopez example that best shows the need for further restrictions around the use of nondisclosure agreements, beyond what is outlined in the new legislation. Two of the women in the working group, who were on the panel, ultimately signed nondisclosure agreements after accusing the former Assembly member of sexual harassment and groping. They said they didn’t want a nondisclosure agreement -- it wasn’t implemented to protect their privacy -- but it was offered to them as a ‘take it or leave it’ measure.</p> <p>“We wanted an investigation, we asked multiple times for an investigation,” Hebert said. Hebert’s name went public, despite her having signed a nondisclosure agreement, when reports from other victims were published by the media ahead of Lopez’s resignation in 2013. Instead of an investigation, Hebert said she, along with Pasarell, were made to sign nondisclosure agreements and were told Lopez would go through sexual harassment prevention training.</p> <p>“The NDA, it wasn’t just that...we couldn’t speak to anyone,” Hebert said. “It was, at first, $10,000 in liquidated damages if we broke it for every occurence, and it would happen with a mediator behind closed doors so no one would know they were enforcing the agreement. And it also contained a provision that we could never apply to the Assembly again.” This last measure effectively limiting their opportunities to work in state government, and the fine making it impossible for the complainants to explain their circumstances to future employers, file for unemployment benefits, or warn others or the Human Rights Division of Lopez’s behavior.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>They pushed back on their exclusion from the Assembly and the response was, “we could never apply to Lopez’s office again, which was fine, but they increased our liquidated damages cost to $20,000,” Hebert said.</p> <p>Pasarell, another of Lopez’s victims, said the anti-sexual harassment legislation in the budget regarding nondisclosure agreements -- that they can only be used in cases where the complainant consents -- can too easily be twisted to benefit the harasser.</p> <p>“The way they phrased the new law is for the complainant to have a nondisclosure agreement, it’s got to be the complainant’s preference. In our case we saw repeatedly how the Assembly portrayed it as if it was our preference when it absolutely was not,” she said. “The nondisclosure agreement came to us very late in the game and it was ‘take it or leave it.’”</p> <p>Women reporting sexual harassment will be better assisted, The Sexual Harassment Working Group argues, if the Legislature provides greater protection against victim coercion into signing nondisclosure agreements. The group also recommends the law allow for individual liability, so harassers can be targeted without taking the Legislature or State to arbitration or court. And, in cases where complainants do want a nondisclosure agreement for confidentiality reasons, there should be a “Sunshine in Litigation” law to prevent serial harassers (who’ve offended at least once prior) from re-offending. “Limited information would be shared but a pattern of harassment would be outed,” Pasarell said.</p> <p>The way to change the culture of sexual harassment and exploitation is through changing the law, The Sexual Harassment Working Group maintains, and the way to do that is through consulting with victims, advocacy groups, and others, including lawmakers -- a process much more extensive than how Cuomo and legislative leaders, all men, went about it.</p> <p>In response to The Sexual Harassment Working Group’s report, Cuomo’s team said it will review the recommendations but gave no indication of whether or not they will consider holding or pushing for a public hearing on the issue.</p> <p>“No woman should ever be violated, let alone in the workplace—period. And that’s why Governor Cuomo has championed measures that hold employers accountable for ensuring a hospitable workplace,” Lever, Cuomo’s press secretary, told Gotham Gazette. “The ‘Me Too’ movement has caused an awakening in our society, and while we’ve taken positive concrete steps in New York, we need to continue to see progress in our state and across the country. We look forward to reviewing these recommendations and continuing this important work.”</p> <p>

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Lopez allegedly harassed eight women on 33 counts, not 33 women; that two, not three, of the women mentioned signed NDAs; and that Kaiser reported Kellner's behavior to the Assembly counsel's office, not Speaker Silver directly.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/gov-cuomo-bill-clinton-electoral.jpg" alt="gov cuomo bill clinton electoral" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The problem of sexual harassment in New York state politics is systemic and plaguing young women beginning their careers, according to a group fighting to change the culture and the laws around the issue. And, they argue that recently adopted state measures to fight the scourge are insufficient, despite being touted by Governor Andrew Cuomo as “the best in the nation.”</p> <p>The seven women of The Sexual Harassment Working Group -- all of whom have been personally affected by sexual harassment while working for lawmakers in the New York State Legislature -- have consulted a handful of advocacy and legal groups, and called upon their own experiences and expertise, to put together a detailed report with recommendations for ways to better protect women working in government.</p> <p>“We wonder why there aren’t women in higher office, we wonder why women are so underrepesented in our legislature and in all levels of our government. And this is a big part of why: It does not feel safe to work in government if you’re a woman,” co-author Eliyanna Kaiser, a one-time chief of staff to former Assemblymember Micah Kellner, said during an event in Manhattan on June 19. Kaiser was not herself directly a victim of sexual harassment, but instead reported to Bill Collins in the Assembly Counsel's office, under former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, that Kellner had been sending inappropriate messages to one of his staffers, which led to initial inaction, attacks against Kaiser, and, eventually, Kellner’s ouster from the state Legislature.</p> <p>Also on the panel were working group members and co-authors Danielle Bennett, former administrative assistant to Kellner who reported his harassment to Kaiser; Leah Hebert, former chief of staff to the late, disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez; Tori Burhans Kelly, former legislative aide to Lopez; Rita Pasarell, former legislative counsel and deputy chief of staff to Lopez; Erica Vladimer, former education policy analyst and counsel for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC); and Elizabeth Crothers, former legislative aide in the New York State Assembly who publicly accused Assembly lawyer Michael Boxley of rape in 2003, two years after the alleged incident and when another victim of Boxley’s came forward. The discussion was moderated by political consultant and columnist Alexis Grenell, who has helped bring to light victims’ experiences as well as the insufficient responses from government officials.</p> <p>The stories of these women run together in a horror plot that involves countless obstacles to reporting, near-dismissal, and a reluctance to investigate from those in charge, as well as forcibly implemented nondisclosure agreements that hinder the complainant's chances of reemployment and their ability to warn others.</p> <p>“I agreed not to file a civil suit in exchange for [him to get] a HIV test,” Crothers said, adding the “loss of anonymity” after going public “follows you.”</p> <p>“I really didn’t think there was another way out aside from suicide,” said Hebert, who was one of the first women to complain about Lopez groping and harassing female staffers, of her experience.</p> <p>“These things that are happening are not the product of an individual harasser, they’re not mistakes,” Pasarell, another complainant against Lopez, added. “It’s massive, it’s systemic, and whenever I hear a new person coming out I say, ‘hey remember us, remember this happened to us in 2012?’”</p> <p>It’s a cycle that exploits women and protects men who behave abhorrently and, as Grenell pointed out, it’s a reality yet unchanged by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2018/04/02/does-new-yorks-new-sexual-harassment-laws-go-far-enough/478703002/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">claims</a> that New York has the “strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation” following the recent budget, wherein the anti-harassment legislation was passed. Grenell compared the governor’s statement to the “mission accomplished sign” former President George W. Bush stood in front of during 2003 remarks about the war in Iraq, only two months after the U.S. first invaded.</p> <p>The Working Group is calling for Cuomo to hold public hearings to listen to victims of sexual harassment -- as its members demanded before the policies were decided by all-male leadership with little apparent regard for the opinions of victims. The group’s <a href="https://www.harassmentfreealbany.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Harassment-Free Albany</a> website states: “New York State has not held a state hearing on sexual harassment since Governor Mario Cuomo [Andrew Cuomo’s father] created a Sexual Harassment Task Force in 1992.”</p> <p>The reporting system has no transparency for complainants, limited uniformity, and an obvious lack of objectivity, the panel urges. For example, when Vladimer, who this January publicly accused now-Deputy Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein of kissing her forcibly and against her will outside a bar in 2015, was asked where her case is at now, she said she has no idea.</p> <p>“Your guess is as good as mine,” Vladimer told event attendees on Tuesday. “[It’s with] the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics [JCOPE], which under some very vague executive law somehow has the authority to investigate sexual harassment claims. There are no experts on this commission and the commissioners who vote to decide whether or not there is wrongdoing are all appointed by elected officials.” They are also <a href="https://www.jcope.ny.gov/commissioners" target="_blank" rel="noopener">almost all men</a>, with one woman in 14 commissioners.</p> <p>“I don’t know where my investigation is and I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve talked about is that there is no transparency and I know, and have been told, I don’t have a right to know where my investigation’s going,” Vladimer added.</p> <p>When Vladimer went public, Klein immediately denied the allegations, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate given no formal complaint had been lodged with its internal staff. Klein himself asked JCOPE to investigate, but other than Klein indicating an investigation had commenced, there is little information to go by.</p> <p>In the lead-up to the new state budget, Cuomo had called for sweeping anti-sexual harassment policies, including greater resources for and <a href="https://www.wivb.com/news/local-news/governor-cuomo-delivers-his-state-of-the-state-address/1083202760" target="_blank" rel="noopener">transparency</a> in JCOPE investigations. While Cuomo pushed through some measures, those JCOPE recommendations were not among what was passed into law.</p> <p>The same Klein accused of sexually harassing Vladimer was one of the three other elected men, and no elected women, who assisted Cuomo in deciding the sexual harassment legislation this March, ahead of the annual budget. According to the <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=S07507&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Committee&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Floor&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;LFIN=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a>, there are five measures designed to address sexual harassment in state politics -- as the governor’s office puts it, to “further build upon his 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York.”</p> <p>In a press release announcing highlights of the new budget in March, Cuomo said, "We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long.”</p> <p>Under the new legislation, all employers working with the state, including vendors and contractors, must implement a written policy addressing sexual harassment prevention and provide prevention training to all employees. This is an extension of a previously-existing law to include contracted workers, and means that employers may now be held liable for the sexual harassment of non-employees if the employer knew, or should have known, of the harassment and failed to take action. It does not, however, address the ambiguity around employees of elected officials.</p> <p>The Sexual Harassment Working Group is recommending the definition of “employee” be changed to clearly include employees of elected and appointed officials, and that the New York State Human Rights Law should stipulate elected officials are also considered “employers.”</p> <p>“Our recommendation is to specify employees as everybody -- essentially someone for hire -- this is how the labor law defines it and we just want every worker to have the same protection, including staff of elected officials,” Pasarell told Tuesday night’s event.</p> <p>In the new legislation, New York employers are prohibited from requiring mandatory arbitration of claims of workplace sexual harassment, except where inconsistent with federal law, and this will come into effect in July.</p> <p>Any officers and employees of the state or any public entity who is subject to a final judgement of personal liability in cases of sexual harassment will have to reimburse the state for the award given to the complainant, however the Sexual Harassment Working Group points out this is only applicable for cases determined by a judge, not necessarily to those settled out of court.</p> <p>Cuomo’s legislation also states no employer has the authority to include or agree to include in any settlement a nondisclosure agreement, unless the condition of confidentiality is the complainant’s preference. And, notably, a model sexual harassment guidance document and a sexual harassment prevention policy is to be created with the Division of Human Right by October -- meaning a key portion of the new policy is not yet written.</p> <p>“This year, Governor Cuomo signed the strongest anti-sexual harassment policy in the country,” Dani Lever, press secretary for Cuomo, told Gotham Gazette in a statement. “It closed gaping loopholes that entrapped women in toxic workplaces, extended protections to contracted workers, and strengthened rules that prevent companies from shirking their responsibility to root out bad actors—instead of sweeping problems under-the-rug.”</p> <p>On the surface, all measures included in the<a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/press/2018/pr-enactfy19.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> enacted budget</a> appear to go a long way towards exactly what the governor is promising but, according to the panel of women who’ve experienced sexual harassment in state politics first-hand, there are some areas of ambiguity that impede the path to reporting and justice for potential victims.</p> <p>First, the budget hasn’t defined “sexual harassment” and the way the issue is currently treated under state law leaves much room for interpretation. The Sexual Harassment Working Group recommends adding “sex and gender” to the list of classes protected from discrimination in the New York State Constitution, to offer another level of protection for all New Yorkers, including victims. And the authors suggest the current standard for behavior to qualify as sexual harassment in state law -- that it must be “severe or pervasive” -- be changed to mirror the recent changes to New York City law, where the standard for discrimination and harassment reads simply that the person is treated “less well.”</p> <p>“When you’re talking about standards in law, the ‘litigative itch,’ as they call it, is all in these terms,” Kaiser said. “People are always going to bicker about the actual event that happened. We’d prefer that bickering to be asking, ‘didn’t he treat her less well?’ Rather than, ‘was it severe and pervasive?’”</p> <p>The working group is also calling for an independent body to oversee all discrimination harassment policy enforcement. At the moment, JCOPE members are appointed by state elected officials. Of the 14 members, three are appointed by the Temporary President of the Senate, three are appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Assembly, and six are appointed by the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor.</p> <p>Many of the stories from the women in The Sexual Harassment Working Group involve some level of disbelief from those charged with investigating their reports of sexual harassment. In Crothers’ case, it wasn’t only disbelief, it was outright protection of her alleged attacker.</p> <p>“Before it came out in the press and when I met with the speaker [Sheldon Silver], I didn’t feel he didn’t believe me, he just said ‘well I won’t let him go out to bars anymore and my first priority is protecting the institution,’” Crothers said at the panel event. Silver resigned as speaker in 2015 after being arrested on federal corruption charges, and long after being accused of facilitating former Assemblymember Lopez’s harassment of eight women who were on his staff. The panelists believe this culture of cover-up and protection will continue unless there is an independent body appointed to investigate, and determine, reports of sexual misconduct in Albany.</p> <p>It’s the Lopez example that best shows the need for further restrictions around the use of nondisclosure agreements, beyond what is outlined in the new legislation. Two of the women in the working group, who were on the panel, ultimately signed nondisclosure agreements after accusing the former Assembly member of sexual harassment and groping. They said they didn’t want a nondisclosure agreement -- it wasn’t implemented to protect their privacy -- but it was offered to them as a ‘take it or leave it’ measure.</p> <p>“We wanted an investigation, we asked multiple times for an investigation,” Hebert said. Hebert’s name went public, despite her having signed a nondisclosure agreement, when reports from other victims were published by the media ahead of Lopez’s resignation in 2013. Instead of an investigation, Hebert said she, along with Pasarell, were made to sign nondisclosure agreements and were told Lopez would go through sexual harassment prevention training.</p> <p>“The NDA, it wasn’t just that...we couldn’t speak to anyone,” Hebert said. “It was, at first, $10,000 in liquidated damages if we broke it for every occurence, and it would happen with a mediator behind closed doors so no one would know they were enforcing the agreement. And it also contained a provision that we could never apply to the Assembly again.” This last measure effectively limiting their opportunities to work in state government, and the fine making it impossible for the complainants to explain their circumstances to future employers, file for unemployment benefits, or warn others or the Human Rights Division of Lopez’s behavior.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>They pushed back on their exclusion from the Assembly and the response was, “we could never apply to Lopez’s office again, which was fine, but they increased our liquidated damages cost to $20,000,” Hebert said.</p> <p>Pasarell, another of Lopez’s victims, said the anti-sexual harassment legislation in the budget regarding nondisclosure agreements -- that they can only be used in cases where the complainant consents -- can too easily be twisted to benefit the harasser.</p> <p>“The way they phrased the new law is for the complainant to have a nondisclosure agreement, it’s got to be the complainant’s preference. In our case we saw repeatedly how the Assembly portrayed it as if it was our preference when it absolutely was not,” she said. “The nondisclosure agreement came to us very late in the game and it was ‘take it or leave it.’”</p> <p>Women reporting sexual harassment will be better assisted, The Sexual Harassment Working Group argues, if the Legislature provides greater protection against victim coercion into signing nondisclosure agreements. The group also recommends the law allow for individual liability, so harassers can be targeted without taking the Legislature or State to arbitration or court. And, in cases where complainants do want a nondisclosure agreement for confidentiality reasons, there should be a “Sunshine in Litigation” law to prevent serial harassers (who’ve offended at least once prior) from re-offending. “Limited information would be shared but a pattern of harassment would be outed,” Pasarell said.</p> <p>The way to change the culture of sexual harassment and exploitation is through changing the law, The Sexual Harassment Working Group maintains, and the way to do that is through consulting with victims, advocacy groups, and others, including lawmakers -- a process much more extensive than how Cuomo and legislative leaders, all men, went about it.</p> <p>In response to The Sexual Harassment Working Group’s report, Cuomo’s team said it will review the recommendations but gave no indication of whether or not they will consider holding or pushing for a public hearing on the issue.</p> <p>“No woman should ever be violated, let alone in the workplace—period. And that’s why Governor Cuomo has championed measures that hold employers accountable for ensuring a hospitable workplace,” Lever, Cuomo’s press secretary, told Gotham Gazette. “The ‘Me Too’ movement has caused an awakening in our society, and while we’ve taken positive concrete steps in New York, we need to continue to see progress in our state and across the country. We look forward to reviewing these recommendations and continuing this important work.”</p> <p>

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Lopez allegedly harassed eight women on 33 counts, not 33 women; that two, not three, of the women mentioned signed NDAs; and that Kaiser reported Kellner's behavior to the Assembly counsel's office, not Speaker Silver directly.</p>
Little Appetite in Albany to Address State Budget Flaws Identified by Comptroller 2018-06-03T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-03T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7709-little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/comptroller-tom-finger-lakes-economic.jpg" alt="comptroller tom finger lakes economic" width="600" height="428" /></p> <p>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (photo via the Comptroller's office)</p> <hr /> <p>In March, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature once again passed a budget in the middle of the night with little public review. Keeping form with past years, elected members of the Assembly and Senate voted through major budget and policy decisions that they did not know the details of, while there was also no time for feedback from outside watchdogs. The State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, did release a budget <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2018/enacted-budget-report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> a few weeks later excoriating not only the process as secretive and unaccountable, but also the budget itself as spending billions of public dollars in an unaccountable way.</p> <p>A few weeks after that, the State Senate passed a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7666-furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener">package</a> of reform bills aimed, at least in part, at making the spending of public monies more transparent. The package of legislation has stalled in the Assembly, and the governor is largely unsupportive of the measures, which would add oversight and insight into how state economic development funds are spent, among other changes largely aimed at reining in the governor’s power.</p> <p>DiNapoli’s annual budget analysis, released in April, gave the budget high marks for its <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-budget/new-york-moves-to-offset-federal-tax-changes-in-168-billion-budget-deal-idUSKBN1H7054" target="_blank" rel="noopener">augmentations</a> to the state tax system in response to federal tax reform, with the state attempting to blunt the impact of a new federal cap on how much of their local and state taxes taxpayers can deduct from their federal taxes. Through budget legislation, the state created a new voluntary payroll tax that employers can opt into and state-funded charitable organizations that taxpayers can contribute to in lieu of paying taxes. Despite generalized praise for the attempted workarounds, DiNapoli did not say unequivocally that the measures would be good for New Yorkers, and it is still too early to tell how successful they will be.</p> <p>“The extent of any federal, state, or local tax savings these new mechanisms may generate for New Yorkers is unclear,” the comptroller said in a statement.</p> <p>At the same time, DiNapoli sharply criticized the extensive lump sum appropriations in the budget, where funds are earmarked to agencies and organizations without a specifically delineated purpose, allowing the money to be spent throughout the year in unaccountable ways. The comptroller’s office has, <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2015/2015-16_enacted_budget.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">year</a> <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2016/2016_17_enacted_budget_report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">after</a> <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2017/2017-18-enacted-budget-report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">year</a>, criticized the state budget for excessive usage of these funds, as have non-governmental watchdogs like Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, and Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>This year, $475 million of lump sum funds were appropriated in the budget for the “State and Municipal Facilities,” or SAM, program. SAM is ostensibly a fund for local capital projects statewide. In an <a href="https://www.wqxr.org/story/may-2-2018-comptroller-tom-dinapoli/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appearance</a> on the Capitol Pressroom radio program, however, DiNapoli described SAM as a new way of saying “member items,” itself a way of saying pork barrel spending on localized projects often disbursed for political reasons.</p> <p>When Susan Arbetter, the host of the program, described SAM as a “slush fund” tapped into by legislators for anything from art projects to golf tournaments in their districts, DiNapoli said that she had described SAM “harshly but properly.” To illustrate the lack of accountability with SAM, DiNapoli noted in the report that, despite the authorization of over $2 billion in SAM funds since the fund’s inception in 2014, only about 20 percent of the total has actually been spent.</p> <p>The comptroller also criticized the lack of transparency in procurement, a perennially thorny issue in New York politics.</p> <p>“The Budget builds on previous years’ actions to bypass statutory provisions that are intended to promote oversight and integrity in State procurement, including eliminating competitive bidding and independent review of contracts in certain cases,” he said in the report.</p> <p>The state’s problem-plagued procurement process has come under heightened criticism this year, with the conviction of former Cuomo aide and friend Joe Percoco in a bribery scandal involving the governor’s economic development projects. Percoco was convicted of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from contractors in return for a bid-rigging scheme ensuring they received lucrative contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.</p> <p>Another trial involving larger Cuomo economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion, and alleged abuses of the procurement process is set to start later this month. The centerpiece of the trial will be former SUNY Polytechnic Institute head Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered over the course of several years, and is alleged to have been part of bid-rigging on contracts that did not have the type of review and oversight such deals require, according to DiNapoli and others.</p> <p>The state Senate’s reform package includes a publicly searchable “database of deals,” listing economic development awards, project statuses, and outcomes. The measure was included in the one-house budgets of both the Assembly and the Senate but died in closed-door negotiations; the governor was not in support of it. The Senate’s passage of the measure post-budget puts responsibility on the Assembly to pass it and send it to the governor’s desk for approval or veto.</p> <p>Senate Republicans who hold the majority passed the bills on May 9. Most were either unanimously or near-unanimously with bipartisan support, save for <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s5912/amendment/c" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S5912C</a>, concerning prevention of “regulatory steamrolling,” and <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s7781" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S7781</a>, which prevents interim department heads from serving without Senate confirmation for more than 90 days during the legislative session and 30 days outside the session. Assembly Democrats who lead that chamber appear less likely to cross the incumbent Democratic governor at this time.</p> <p>Also passed by the Senate were measures restoring budgetary oversight powers to the comptroller’s office, known as the Procurement Integrity Act. The legislation was <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/dec16/121316.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed</a> by Comptroller DiNapoli himself in 2016. Since 2011, Cuomo’s first year in office, the comptroller’s power of contract pre-clearance in several key areas, such as SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated nonprofits, was eliminated; DiNapoli’s budget report estimated that $31 billion of contracts had been approved without review by the comptroller’s office “for the largest areas where oversight has been eliminated” since April 2011.</p> <p>The Senate also passed a bill creating a nonpartisan Independent Budget Office to review revenues and spending. Whereas the Office of the Comptroller conducts audits after-the-fact, an IBO would provide analysis before a piece of legislation becomes law. Further, the comptroller is a partisan elected official (DiNapoli is a Democrat) while an IBO would be nonpartisan.</p> <p>Another bill passed in the Senate banned executive appointees from donating to the campaigns of the executive who appointed them. This was clearly directed at Cuomo; a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/24/nyregion/cuomo-fund-raising-ethics-appointees.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times story</a> from February revealed that, despite banning the practice in a 2011 executive order, the governor had raised almost $900,000 in donations from his executive appointees, apparently after interpreting the order loosely.</p> <p>With just a few weeks left in session, the Assembly has not signaled an intent to pass any of the bills. A spokesperson for the Assembly majority did not respond to a request for comment from Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The governor’s office, when asked about the reform package, said that the Senate Republicans were not serious about ethics reform, noting their opposition to Cuomo-supported measures such as a ban on outside income for legislators, closing the LLC loophole, and a statewide public campaign finance system.</p> <p>"We proposed many items in the Sen. Dean Skelos Corruption Reform Act, so it's funny that his crony, Sen. Flanagan, only proposed them when he is facing political oblivion,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens, referencing former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, currently awaiting retrial for public corruption, and current Majority Leader John Flanagan. The governor’s office did not signal support for the Senate-passed measures.</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/graphics/2018/comptroller-tom-finger-lakes-economic.jpg" alt="comptroller tom finger lakes economic" width="600" height="428" /></p> <p>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (photo via the Comptroller's office)</p> <hr /> <p>In March, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature once again passed a budget in the middle of the night with little public review. Keeping form with past years, elected members of the Assembly and Senate voted through major budget and policy decisions that they did not know the details of, while there was also no time for feedback from outside watchdogs. The State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, did release a budget <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2018/enacted-budget-report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> a few weeks later excoriating not only the process as secretive and unaccountable, but also the budget itself as spending billions of public dollars in an unaccountable way.</p> <p>A few weeks after that, the State Senate passed a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7666-furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener">package</a> of reform bills aimed, at least in part, at making the spending of public monies more transparent. The package of legislation has stalled in the Assembly, and the governor is largely unsupportive of the measures, which would add oversight and insight into how state economic development funds are spent, among other changes largely aimed at reining in the governor’s power.</p> <p>DiNapoli’s annual budget analysis, released in April, gave the budget high marks for its <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-budget/new-york-moves-to-offset-federal-tax-changes-in-168-billion-budget-deal-idUSKBN1H7054" target="_blank" rel="noopener">augmentations</a> to the state tax system in response to federal tax reform, with the state attempting to blunt the impact of a new federal cap on how much of their local and state taxes taxpayers can deduct from their federal taxes. Through budget legislation, the state created a new voluntary payroll tax that employers can opt into and state-funded charitable organizations that taxpayers can contribute to in lieu of paying taxes. Despite generalized praise for the attempted workarounds, DiNapoli did not say unequivocally that the measures would be good for New Yorkers, and it is still too early to tell how successful they will be.</p> <p>“The extent of any federal, state, or local tax savings these new mechanisms may generate for New Yorkers is unclear,” the comptroller said in a statement.</p> <p>At the same time, DiNapoli sharply criticized the extensive lump sum appropriations in the budget, where funds are earmarked to agencies and organizations without a specifically delineated purpose, allowing the money to be spent throughout the year in unaccountable ways. The comptroller’s office has, <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2015/2015-16_enacted_budget.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">year</a> <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2016/2016_17_enacted_budget_report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">after</a> <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2017/2017-18-enacted-budget-report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">year</a>, criticized the state budget for excessive usage of these funds, as have non-governmental watchdogs like Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, and Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>This year, $475 million of lump sum funds were appropriated in the budget for the “State and Municipal Facilities,” or SAM, program. SAM is ostensibly a fund for local capital projects statewide. In an <a href="https://www.wqxr.org/story/may-2-2018-comptroller-tom-dinapoli/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appearance</a> on the Capitol Pressroom radio program, however, DiNapoli described SAM as a new way of saying “member items,” itself a way of saying pork barrel spending on localized projects often disbursed for political reasons.</p> <p>When Susan Arbetter, the host of the program, described SAM as a “slush fund” tapped into by legislators for anything from art projects to golf tournaments in their districts, DiNapoli said that she had described SAM “harshly but properly.” To illustrate the lack of accountability with SAM, DiNapoli noted in the report that, despite the authorization of over $2 billion in SAM funds since the fund’s inception in 2014, only about 20 percent of the total has actually been spent.</p> <p>The comptroller also criticized the lack of transparency in procurement, a perennially thorny issue in New York politics.</p> <p>“The Budget builds on previous years’ actions to bypass statutory provisions that are intended to promote oversight and integrity in State procurement, including eliminating competitive bidding and independent review of contracts in certain cases,” he said in the report.</p> <p>The state’s problem-plagued procurement process has come under heightened criticism this year, with the conviction of former Cuomo aide and friend Joe Percoco in a bribery scandal involving the governor’s economic development projects. Percoco was convicted of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from contractors in return for a bid-rigging scheme ensuring they received lucrative contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.</p> <p>Another trial involving larger Cuomo economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion, and alleged abuses of the procurement process is set to start later this month. The centerpiece of the trial will be former SUNY Polytechnic Institute head Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered over the course of several years, and is alleged to have been part of bid-rigging on contracts that did not have the type of review and oversight such deals require, according to DiNapoli and others.</p> <p>The state Senate’s reform package includes a publicly searchable “database of deals,” listing economic development awards, project statuses, and outcomes. The measure was included in the one-house budgets of both the Assembly and the Senate but died in closed-door negotiations; the governor was not in support of it. The Senate’s passage of the measure post-budget puts responsibility on the Assembly to pass it and send it to the governor’s desk for approval or veto.</p> <p>Senate Republicans who hold the majority passed the bills on May 9. Most were either unanimously or near-unanimously with bipartisan support, save for <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s5912/amendment/c" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S5912C</a>, concerning prevention of “regulatory steamrolling,” and <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s7781" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S7781</a>, which prevents interim department heads from serving without Senate confirmation for more than 90 days during the legislative session and 30 days outside the session. Assembly Democrats who lead that chamber appear less likely to cross the incumbent Democratic governor at this time.</p> <p>Also passed by the Senate were measures restoring budgetary oversight powers to the comptroller’s office, known as the Procurement Integrity Act. The legislation was <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/dec16/121316.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed</a> by Comptroller DiNapoli himself in 2016. Since 2011, Cuomo’s first year in office, the comptroller’s power of contract pre-clearance in several key areas, such as SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated nonprofits, was eliminated; DiNapoli’s budget report estimated that $31 billion of contracts had been approved without review by the comptroller’s office “for the largest areas where oversight has been eliminated” since April 2011.</p> <p>The Senate also passed a bill creating a nonpartisan Independent Budget Office to review revenues and spending. Whereas the Office of the Comptroller conducts audits after-the-fact, an IBO would provide analysis before a piece of legislation becomes law. Further, the comptroller is a partisan elected official (DiNapoli is a Democrat) while an IBO would be nonpartisan.</p> <p>Another bill passed in the Senate banned executive appointees from donating to the campaigns of the executive who appointed them. This was clearly directed at Cuomo; a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/24/nyregion/cuomo-fund-raising-ethics-appointees.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times story</a> from February revealed that, despite banning the practice in a 2011 executive order, the governor had raised almost $900,000 in donations from his executive appointees, apparently after interpreting the order loosely.</p> <p>With just a few weeks left in session, the Assembly has not signaled an intent to pass any of the bills. A spokesperson for the Assembly majority did not respond to a request for comment from Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The governor’s office, when asked about the reform package, said that the Senate Republicans were not serious about ethics reform, noting their opposition to Cuomo-supported measures such as a ban on outside income for legislators, closing the LLC loophole, and a statewide public campaign finance system.</p> <p>"We proposed many items in the Sen. Dean Skelos Corruption Reform Act, so it's funny that his crony, Sen. Flanagan, only proposed them when he is facing political oblivion,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens, referencing former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, currently awaiting retrial for public corruption, and current Majority Leader John Flanagan. The governor’s office did not signal support for the Senate-passed measures.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, 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/city/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>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</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, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
State Budget Does Help Mass Transit, But MTA Capital Plan Uncertainty Rising 2018-04-26T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7642-state-budget-did-help-mass-transit-but-mta-capital-plan-uncertainty-rising Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41277901271_bfa156547c_z.jpg" alt="subway train repairs" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The MTA received two significant infusions of new money in the state budget effective April 1. The first is the full $836 million, to be provided to the MTA by December 31, to fund phase one of the Subway Action Plan developed last July by Chair Joseph Lhota and MTA management. The second is through a new tax, starting January 1, on for-hire vehicle trips by taxis, Ubers, Lyfts, and others for trips in Manhattan south of 96th street. The tax revenue will put an estimated $400 million a year into the MTA budget to provide regular, ongoing support for the increases in maintenance related to the Subway Action Plan.</p> <p>The new money is very welcome for the beleaguered transit system, but major policy and funding questions like the MTA’s long-term capital construction program and whether a congestion pricing program will become integral to future sources of funds remain unanswered.</p> <p>The $836 million to be delivered in 2018 is a combination of about $500 million in operating funds to cover the expense of several thousand new maintenance positions in subway car overhauls, replacing track and signals, deploying emergency personnel, and other staffing, with the rest investments in related physical assets. Half the money for the 2018 infusion was initially put into the proposed executive budget submitted by Governor Cuomo to the Legislature from state funds.&nbsp;The State Legislature agreed to that and also to compel the City of New York to come up with the other half of the funds, $418 million, despite Mayor de Blasio’s objections to the city being required to provide the money when proposed last year after Governor Cuomo declared a transit emergency. The ongoing deterioration of subway service that led to the emergency declaration impelled the Legislature to agree that both the State and the City must provide additional support to the MTA.</p> <p>Two other proposals in the budget by the governor to force New York City to pay even more money to the MTA were rejected by the Legislature, with the Assembly specifically denying the approvals in both its one-house budget and later in its summary of the enacted budget. These proposals were viewed as far more onerous than the Subway Action Plan mandate. One required the city to pay the full cost of the New York City Transit Capital Plan, which is supposed to be $17 billion over the five years of the current 2015-19 MTA plan. Right now the city’s scheduled contribution is $2.5 billion.</p> <p>The second proposal would give the MTA the authority to determine how much property tax revenue in New York City it could take from “value capture.” This budget bill would allow the MTA to decide how much property tax value is added due to transit improvements it makes in certain zones around the city, and then direct the incremental property tax revenue to itself without the city having a right to approve it, or even have a say in how much money is involved. The Citizens Budget Commission called this proposal “confiscatory.“ Although rejected, versions of these proposals are likely to resurface in the future as the Cuomo administration tries to find ways to shift financial responsibility from the state to the city to fund the MTA.</p> <p>The State Assembly deserves thanks from the public for the $400 million for-hire vehicle trip surcharge for mass transit. Governor Cuomo never put legislation to create a congestion pricing plan into his proposed budget, despite endorsing the concept last summer and creating the Fix NYC Advisory Panel, which offered a congestion pricing framework in a report that was released at the time of the budget. However, in early March the State Assembly, in its one-house budget, proposed the surcharge to fund the recurring maintenance program. A similar surcharge had been a lesser part of the Fix NYC report, which called for a three-year, three-phase program, the main element of which is a charge to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street for most vehicles, designed to yield up to $1 billion a year. But Governor Cuomo put none of it into his budget plan.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo had the good sense to rapidly endorse the Assembly’s trip surcharge, and it was approved by the Senate after the tax was limited solely to Manhattan, with no new charges in the outer boroughs or the suburbs. But there is no other element of a congestion pricing set-up. There is no funding for any infrastructure to electronically record entries into the Manhattan business district, which is phase two of the Fix NYC plan. Existing technology in the taxi and for-hire vehicle industry will pinpoint when those vehicles traverse Manhattan south of 96th Street.</p> <p>Congestion pricing remains in limbo, even as the MTA’s long-term capital construction budget may unravel. In March of this year Standard &amp; Poor downgraded the MTA’s bond rating one notch after an MTA report showed the agency would have a $400 million operating deficit in 2020 and a $600 million operating deficit by 2021, even after two fare and toll hikes. The primary cause of the deficit was reported to be a drop in real estate transaction revenues like the mortgage recording tax, which in part are dedicated to mass transit.</p> <p>The $32 billion 2015-19 MTA Capital Plan, to which the MTA is now committing significant funds as it finally wraps up the prior plan, includes $11 billion from the MTA itself, primarily from money it will borrow. The forecasted deficits, however, are very likely to constrain the ability of the agency to actually borrow that much money. Not only that, but state government’s share of the 2015-19 Capital Plan, $8.5 billion, included $7 billion for which there was only an I.O.U. with no stream of revenue to back it up. Shortfalls in the 2015-19 Plan could materialize soon, just as discussions about the next five-year capital plan are moving forward.</p> <p>The MTA has to propose its 2020-2024 Capital Plan in October 2019. The recent five-year plans have cost about $30 billion each - but if the current plan begins to unravel the 2020 plan will be in trouble. A fall 2017 State Comptroller report expressed concern that the 2020 plan might have shortfalls (meaning lack of sources of funding to pay for projects) similar to the $15 billion shortfalls that plagued decision-makers for both the 2010 and 2015 plans before funding schemes were patched together.</p> <p>The public and the State Legislature need critical information from the MTA very soon to determine the agency’s ability to sustain a meaningful capital program. In 2007 the Legislature made the MTA accelerate submission of its capital plan at that time, earlier than the law had provided, and it could do so again, scheduling a submission for early 2019, rather than the end of the year, to get a better handle on what the problems really are.</p> <p>Congestion pricing involves rational policy proposals to deter vehicles from entering Manhattan to reduce pollution and congestion, and provide a long-term funding stream for the MTA. But this is the second time in ten years a push for congestion pricing has not been successful in the State Legislature. If congestion pricing won’t fly there is no shortage of possibilities for taxes to fund the mass transit system. There are payroll taxes, personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, sales taxes, millionaires’ taxes, mansion taxes, you name it. The issue is the political will. A consensus on funding this most vital of services remains frustratingly elusive, along with the leadership to forge that consensus.</p> <p>***<br />Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JimBrennanNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JimBrennanNY</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41277901271_bfa156547c_z.jpg" alt="subway train repairs" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The MTA received two significant infusions of new money in the state budget effective April 1. The first is the full $836 million, to be provided to the MTA by December 31, to fund phase one of the Subway Action Plan developed last July by Chair Joseph Lhota and MTA management. The second is through a new tax, starting January 1, on for-hire vehicle trips by taxis, Ubers, Lyfts, and others for trips in Manhattan south of 96th street. The tax revenue will put an estimated $400 million a year into the MTA budget to provide regular, ongoing support for the increases in maintenance related to the Subway Action Plan.</p> <p>The new money is very welcome for the beleaguered transit system, but major policy and funding questions like the MTA’s long-term capital construction program and whether a congestion pricing program will become integral to future sources of funds remain unanswered.</p> <p>The $836 million to be delivered in 2018 is a combination of about $500 million in operating funds to cover the expense of several thousand new maintenance positions in subway car overhauls, replacing track and signals, deploying emergency personnel, and other staffing, with the rest investments in related physical assets. Half the money for the 2018 infusion was initially put into the proposed executive budget submitted by Governor Cuomo to the Legislature from state funds.&nbsp;The State Legislature agreed to that and also to compel the City of New York to come up with the other half of the funds, $418 million, despite Mayor de Blasio’s objections to the city being required to provide the money when proposed last year after Governor Cuomo declared a transit emergency. The ongoing deterioration of subway service that led to the emergency declaration impelled the Legislature to agree that both the State and the City must provide additional support to the MTA.</p> <p>Two other proposals in the budget by the governor to force New York City to pay even more money to the MTA were rejected by the Legislature, with the Assembly specifically denying the approvals in both its one-house budget and later in its summary of the enacted budget. These proposals were viewed as far more onerous than the Subway Action Plan mandate. One required the city to pay the full cost of the New York City Transit Capital Plan, which is supposed to be $17 billion over the five years of the current 2015-19 MTA plan. Right now the city’s scheduled contribution is $2.5 billion.</p> <p>The second proposal would give the MTA the authority to determine how much property tax revenue in New York City it could take from “value capture.” This budget bill would allow the MTA to decide how much property tax value is added due to transit improvements it makes in certain zones around the city, and then direct the incremental property tax revenue to itself without the city having a right to approve it, or even have a say in how much money is involved. The Citizens Budget Commission called this proposal “confiscatory.“ Although rejected, versions of these proposals are likely to resurface in the future as the Cuomo administration tries to find ways to shift financial responsibility from the state to the city to fund the MTA.</p> <p>The State Assembly deserves thanks from the public for the $400 million for-hire vehicle trip surcharge for mass transit. Governor Cuomo never put legislation to create a congestion pricing plan into his proposed budget, despite endorsing the concept last summer and creating the Fix NYC Advisory Panel, which offered a congestion pricing framework in a report that was released at the time of the budget. However, in early March the State Assembly, in its one-house budget, proposed the surcharge to fund the recurring maintenance program. A similar surcharge had been a lesser part of the Fix NYC report, which called for a three-year, three-phase program, the main element of which is a charge to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street for most vehicles, designed to yield up to $1 billion a year. But Governor Cuomo put none of it into his budget plan.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo had the good sense to rapidly endorse the Assembly’s trip surcharge, and it was approved by the Senate after the tax was limited solely to Manhattan, with no new charges in the outer boroughs or the suburbs. But there is no other element of a congestion pricing set-up. There is no funding for any infrastructure to electronically record entries into the Manhattan business district, which is phase two of the Fix NYC plan. Existing technology in the taxi and for-hire vehicle industry will pinpoint when those vehicles traverse Manhattan south of 96th Street.</p> <p>Congestion pricing remains in limbo, even as the MTA’s long-term capital construction budget may unravel. In March of this year Standard &amp; Poor downgraded the MTA’s bond rating one notch after an MTA report showed the agency would have a $400 million operating deficit in 2020 and a $600 million operating deficit by 2021, even after two fare and toll hikes. The primary cause of the deficit was reported to be a drop in real estate transaction revenues like the mortgage recording tax, which in part are dedicated to mass transit.</p> <p>The $32 billion 2015-19 MTA Capital Plan, to which the MTA is now committing significant funds as it finally wraps up the prior plan, includes $11 billion from the MTA itself, primarily from money it will borrow. The forecasted deficits, however, are very likely to constrain the ability of the agency to actually borrow that much money. Not only that, but state government’s share of the 2015-19 Capital Plan, $8.5 billion, included $7 billion for which there was only an I.O.U. with no stream of revenue to back it up. Shortfalls in the 2015-19 Plan could materialize soon, just as discussions about the next five-year capital plan are moving forward.</p> <p>The MTA has to propose its 2020-2024 Capital Plan in October 2019. The recent five-year plans have cost about $30 billion each - but if the current plan begins to unravel the 2020 plan will be in trouble. A fall 2017 State Comptroller report expressed concern that the 2020 plan might have shortfalls (meaning lack of sources of funding to pay for projects) similar to the $15 billion shortfalls that plagued decision-makers for both the 2010 and 2015 plans before funding schemes were patched together.</p> <p>The public and the State Legislature need critical information from the MTA very soon to determine the agency’s ability to sustain a meaningful capital program. In 2007 the Legislature made the MTA accelerate submission of its capital plan at that time, earlier than the law had provided, and it could do so again, scheduling a submission for early 2019, rather than the end of the year, to get a better handle on what the problems really are.</p> <p>Congestion pricing involves rational policy proposals to deter vehicles from entering Manhattan to reduce pollution and congestion, and provide a long-term funding stream for the MTA. But this is the second time in ten years a push for congestion pricing has not been successful in the State Legislature. If congestion pricing won’t fly there is no shortage of possibilities for taxes to fund the mass transit system. There are payroll taxes, personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, sales taxes, millionaires’ taxes, mansion taxes, you name it. The issue is the political will. A consensus on funding this most vital of services remains frustratingly elusive, along with the leadership to forge that consensus.</p> <p>***<br />Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JimBrennanNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JimBrennanNY</a>.</p> <p>

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