Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/509 Wed, 20 Jun 2018 15:04:18 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Little Appetite in Albany to Address State Budget Flaws Identified by Comptroller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7709:little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7709:little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller comptroller tom finger lakes economic

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (photo via the Comptroller's office)


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 report 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.

A few weeks after that, the State Senate passed a package 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.

DiNapoli’s annual budget analysis, released in April, gave the budget high marks for its augmentations 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.

“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.

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, year after year, criticized the state budget for excessive usage of these funds, as have non-governmental watchdogs like Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, and Citizens Budget Commission.

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 appearance 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.

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.

The comptroller also criticized the lack of transparency in procurement, a perennially thorny issue in New York politics.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

Senate Republicans who hold the majority passed the bills on May 9. Most were either unanimously or near-unanimously with bipartisan support, save for S5912C, concerning prevention of “regulatory steamrolling,” and S7781, 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.

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 proposed 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.

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.

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 New York Times story 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.

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.

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.

"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.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Little Appetite in Albany to Address State Budget Flaws Identified by Comptroller Sun, 03 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Presents $89 Billion Executive Budget Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7641:de-blasio-presents-89-billion-executive-budget-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7641:de-blasio-presents-89-billion-executive-budget-plan de Blasio budget presentation

Mayor de Blasio presents a budget (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

“This is a downpayment on a more fair future for New Yorkers,” he said at one point.

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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).

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.

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.

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.”

“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.

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 official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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 reported by the New York Times. “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.

The monitor should soon be chosen by a consensus of de Blasio, Johnson, and a NYCHA tennt leader, as dictated in the Cuomo order.

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.

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.

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. 

"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.

"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."

Similarly, watchdog organization Citizens Budget Commission took issue with the mayor's budget plan, with a statement saying that 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.

“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.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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De Blasio Presents $89 Billion Executive Budget Plan Thu, 26 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Budget Does Help Mass Transit, But MTA Capital Plan Uncertainty Rising http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7642:state-budget-did-help-mass-transit-but-mta-capital-plan-uncertainty-rising http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7642:state-budget-did-help-mass-transit-but-mta-capital-plan-uncertainty-rising subway train repairs

(photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)


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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Congestion pricing remains in limbo, even as the MTA’s long-term capital construction budget may unravel. In March of this year Standard & 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

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State Budget Does Help Mass Transit, But MTA Capital Plan Uncertainty Rising Thu, 26 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
After Forcing City to Fund Subway Plan, Cuomo Forecasts Next MTA Budget Battle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7607:after-forcing-city-to-fund-subway-plan-cuomo-forecasts-next-mta-budget-battle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7607:after-forcing-city-to-fund-subway-plan-cuomo-forecasts-next-mta-budget-battle govcuomobreakfast

(Don Pollard/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


Following completion of the fiscal year 2019 state budget late last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio was forced into a decision whereby the city will pay half the $836 million MTA Subway Action Plan. De Blasio had for months refused to match the state’s $418 million pledge, put forth immediately by Governor Andrew Cuomo upon MTA Chair Joe Lhota’s release of the plan.

Now, the mayor says, the ball is even more clearly in Cuomo’s court to get the subways running reliably. But just a week after the budget passed, Cuomo said that the Subway Action Plan could move ahead given the city money and that it was time to also start at the long-term plans to improve the subways.

With a modernization plan due soon from the new head of the MTA’s New York City Transit division and another five-year MTA capital plan looming, all signs point to the governor asking the city to yet again allocate additional funds toward the state-controlled MTA. Any funds put forth from city coffers are in addition to the significant portion of MTA revenue that comes from city residents who pay fares and tolls.

But just how much will Cuomo try to get the city to pay? After de Blasio increased the city’s contribution to the current MTA capital plan to record levels last time around, how many billions will the governor ask of the city for the full-scale modernization plan being readied by Andy Byford of NYC Transit?

In an interview on NY1 on April 2, de Blasio insisted the governor must now work with the money he has. “I was willing to put in the money,” he said of the Subway Action Plan funds, which he either had to put up or the state would have taken from city funding. “But let’s be clear: That’s one-time only. Now, the governor’s got everything that he’s asked for. Great. Take responsibility. Fix the subways. There’s no more excuses. There’s no more delays. Just go do it.”

This came before the governor appeared on April 5 at an event hosted by the Association for a Better New York (ABNY). After detailing highlights of the new state budget for the crowd of business and political elite, including the city funding for the Action Plan, Cuomo said that while there are various ways to raise the funds needed for a long-term MTA plan -- such as congestion pricing -- simply asking the city and state to directly allocate funds is the fastest and easiest way of doing so.

“We have to put in a new system, new signals and new cars and make up for the 50, 60 years that we have ignored this system. Where does the money come from? You can either raise fares and tolls and expand congestion pricing -- but that could take three years, if you expedite it,” he said. “Or government is going to have to ante up and put more money in the pot, which is the simplest and cleanest option.”  

Cuomo was looking ahead to the next MTA capital plan, which will include tens of billions of dollars over 2020 through 2024, and be adopted in 2019. Notably, the presentation slide displayed behind him read “NYC must step up,” implying the governor plans to request the city pays additional funds on top of its $2.5 billion committed contribution to the current capital plan, for 2015-2019, which also includes $8.6 billion from the state, much of which comes from the city, and other MTA revenue.

In addition, the flush city has more money to spare than the state, making it a more ideal source of funds than Albany, the governor and Lhota, a Cuomo appointee, have argued, despite the reality of where most MTA funding already comes from. And, they say, the city technically owns the subways.

“I know people don’t like it when I say this, but New York City does own the subway system. They lease it to us and we operate it,” Lhota said at the ABNY event, giving a presentation after Cuomo’s remarks. “The reality is it’s a commitment, they owe it, and they should be paying their fare share when it comes to the capital program.”  

Cuomo also ascribed blame to the city for the MTA’s lack of progress given de Blasio’s initial refusal to fund the emergency subway investment. “The state pledged 50 percent of the funding as soon it was announced by Chairman Lhota last year. The city refused to fund half the plan, we lost eight months before the plan could become fully operational, which was a terrible loss and waste of time,” he said.

Following the ABNY event, Lhota told reporters that if the MTA had had all of the $836 million pledged right away, it could have paid for more workers and repairs, performing its triage to the buckling system more quickly.

Last week’s back and forth is the latest episode in an ongoing dispute between the mayor and the governor over MTA funding. For the governor, if de Blasio would like to see improvements to the beleaguered MTA, the city needs to pay its fare share, which means more than it currently does. Its unwillingness to do so has thwarted progress on improving the subway, Cuomo maintains, and could stand in the way of long-term fixes.

For the mayor, the governor controls the MTA and the city already pays more than it should, and Cuomo is likely to only squander additional funds on initiatives that do not improve subway service. He doesn’t want the governor wasting city money on frills like WiFi and shiny new stations without investing in the subway’s outdated signal systems, for example. De Blasio wants a dedicated MTA funding stream through an added tax on top earners--the millionaires tax-- a call Cuomo has resisted, and has been open to some form of congestion pricing to produce revenue, though the governor only pushed through a first phase in the recently-adopted budget.

“The City of New York committed a record $2.5 billion to the last MTA capital plan, and just last week pledged to help fund a state effort to fix subways the state runs,” said de Blasio spokesperson Eric Phillips in a statement. “Instead of constantly asking New Yorkers for more money, the state and MTA should learn to do their jobs within their budget and finally seek a sustainable revenue source so riders aren’t continually victimized by their blame game.”

And regarding Cuomo’s argument that progress in recent months has been stalled by the city’s reticence to oblige Cuomo’s request for city money, Phillips said the funds would have “gone into the same hole of mismanagement that caused the subway crisis.”

“The Mayor’s advocacy ensured that riders' money couldn’t be diverted and would actually go toward a real plan for their subways rather than station facelifts and light shows,” he continued, of an apparent budget provision clarifying where the money must go. “We wish the Governor were even half as obsessed with fixing his subways as he is with Mayor de Blasio.”

In the debate over funding the Subway Action Plan, de Blasio repeatedly pointed to $456 million he said the state had diverted from MTA funds over the last several years. He said the state should put that money back into the MTA to fully fund the rescue plan.

An MTA spokesperson argued that the city’s criticism misrepresents the facts. “Of the $456M cited by the City, $235M went to pay debt service on MTA bonds, $169M was allocated for direct Capital Aid to the MTA (which freed up MTA operating resources), and $30M went to the MTA in additional operating aid. The final $22M was savings to the MTA by eliminating capital projects dictated by the legislature but paid for anyway in MTA State funding,” said Jon Weinstein, the MTA spokesperson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

In response, Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokesperson for the mayor, said in a statement prior to the adoption of the state budget, “The State can try fudging the numbers all they want,” but to achieve “true progress,” the investment “must coincide with the Governor putting the $456 million the State has previously diverted toward upgrades that get trains moving on time.”

“And he can support a tax on millionaires rather than send his MTA bill to working class riders,” she added, echoing de Blasio’s repeated calls for a millionaire’s tax to fund the subway, a proposal that neither Cuomo nor the Republican-led state Senate has supported, though the Democrat-led Assembly is in favor of it.

While the dispute over the “diverted” funds gets into especially complicated territory of budget buckets and funding streams, there is a clear difference of opinion over whether paying off debt is a wise use of those MTA funds given the immediacy and severity of subway woes.

“Paying off debt with any extra money is certainly unobjectionable, but practically speaking, the MTA has such capital needs, and the federal government’s contribution is so uncertain, that I don’t think that will be a realistic option anytime soon,” Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said in an email on Friday.

Regional Planning Association (RPA) senior fellow Julia Vitullo-Martin said the MTA paying off its debts is a good use of its money. “If you borrow money you have to pay it back, and the MTA has borrowed big: $38 billion. It isn’t really a question of paying off debt versus making repairs. The MTA can pay back now or pay back later,” she said in an email. “But there are good reasons not to defer debt repayment, which has its own set of high costs. And even though investors basically know the MTA will repay the bonds, the combination of huge debt and huge ongoing operating deficits has been making Wall Street uneasy.”

“One result,” she explained, “has been the downgrade in bond ratings.”

On the conflict between the governor and mayor overall, Gelinas casted doubt on the idea the emergency plan was in fact what Cuomo portrayed it to be. “This is not so much a temporary emergency plan, but an open-ended effort for the MTA to do what it should have been doing all along: properly maintain the subways,” Gelinas said. “If it does not have adequate resources to do that, then the state and the city need to work together on a rational cost-control and revenue plan.”

The argument that New York City residents already provide a large portion of the MTA budget has been a favorite of transit experts and local officials as a way of refuting Cuomo’s insistence that the city should pay up. In an August 2017 Gotham Gazette op-ed, for example, former Assemblymember Jim Brennan argued the city already pays the lion’s share of the MTA capital plan, and the mayor should make that better known.

“Even when the State finally comes up with the money, it will likely come from the MTA region, either through some form of congestion pricing or a diversion of some current tax receipts from the region,” he wrote, while also outlining how the next MTA capital plan will need a major influx of funds. “If the Mayor wants the public to understand why the City won’t contribute further funds to the MTA, he needs to clearly explain that the City’s residents and businesses already cover the costs.” 

Richard Barone, RPA’s vice president for transportation, said Cuomo and de Blasio should find common ground wherein the city believes resources are used in a way that meets its interests. “The city is in better fiscal health. The city should probably try to bring some more [funding],” he said. “The state needs to understand what the city’s priorities are as well. And there needs to be some compromise there. It’s been a power struggle and neither side is willing to give.”

Barone cited the state’s emergency action plan as an area where the state would have been wise to seek the city’s consultation and cooperation rather than the MTA crafting it on its own.  

“Do I think the mayor should be willing to spend more on something that’s critical to the functioning of the city? Yes,” he said. “Do I think the state needs to learn the city’s priorities more and give it a seat at the table when it comes to determining the MTA’s priorities? Totally. There needs to be a better dialogue between the two. Right now that’s not the case, unfortunately.”

But according to Gelinas, it is understandable that de Blasio is instinctually reticent to comply with Cuomo’s calls for the city to pay more money to fund his initiatives. “These were deficiencies in the MTA just doing its job,” Gelinas said in an interview on Friday. “There was no exogenous disaster to cause this to happen. This is just the MTA missing obvious things -- that ridership was going up, and they were not able to handle a record number of riders because they were not invested in the system well enough. So I don’t know why this is the city’s job to fix.”

The governor not only appoints the MTA chair, but also a plurality of the agency’s board members, while a handful are mayoral appointees. The recent de Blasio-Cuomo dispute also comes on the heels of reports in The New York Times detailing the sky-high costs for MTA projects as well as rampant waste and corruption at the agency.  

However, since “the city is a creature of the state,” resisting bad spending practices in Albany would prove a difficult task, Gelinas said.

Still, she said, the MTA would be wise to improve its spending practices before asking others for more money. “The MTA needs to look at its costs and what it spends its money on before it starts hitting anybody up for more revenue,” Gelinas said, echoing her calls in a recent City & State op-ed to reduce the high construction costs in the city. “But when it does need more revenue, it should be on a rational, permanent basis, not just, ‘It’s an emergency, we need money. Let’s ask the city for more money. And let’s ask them for more money later.’”

“It’s like If someone is extorting you,” Gelinas explained. “You pay once and they’re going to come back and extort you again.”

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After Forcing City to Fund Subway Plan, Cuomo Forecasts Next MTA Budget Battle Wed, 11 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? $168.3 Billion, with Dave Friedfel http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7586:what-s-the-data-point-168-3-billion-with-dave-friedfel http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7586:what-s-the-data-point-168-3-billion-with-dave-friedfel whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 36 -- $168.3 billion, with Dave Friedfel [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

ggcbc dave friedfel277On this episode we break down the recently-passed state budget for the fiscal year that began April 1. CBC's Dave Friedfel joins our hosts Ben and Maria to discuss the key elements of the new $168.3 billion state budget, and also what did NOT make it in.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What's The [Data] Point? $168.3 Billion, with Dave Friedfel Wed, 04 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Turns Budget Failures Into Justification for Democratic Unity http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7591:cuomo-turns-budget-failures-into-justification-for-democratic-unity http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7591:cuomo-turns-budget-failures-into-justification-for-democratic-unity Cuomo state budget

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


When the new state budget for fiscal year 2019 passed early Saturday morning in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo had successfully implemented several of his top policy priorities on issues like workplace sexual harassment, taxes, gun control, and public housing in New York City. But many of the policies the governor outlined during his January State of the State and executive budget presentations, and indicated he intended to see included in the adopted budget, were left out.

During a press conference on Wednesday in Manhattan, Cuomo announced a plan to unify Democratic factions in the state Senate and to win a majority in the chamber where he said his progressive policies have died. The Democratic governor, who is seeking a third term this year, acknowledged he was unable to sign into law many of the policies he favors. “We finished the budget. We did a lot of good things in the budget, but there are also things that we didn’t pass that we need to pass,” Cuomo said. “The Child Victims Act, more gun safety, bail reform, the DREAM Act, banning outside income, campaign finance reform, early voting.”

He ascribed blame for omission of these policies, which were among a longer list of Cuomo priorities that have not passed this year, on the Republican-led Senate. “These are all core, essential progressive principles that were not passed in the budget and which we will not pass until we have a Democratic Senate,” Cuomo said, echoing comments from the night before, made at a fundraiser for a Democratic Senate candidate running in a special election for a key empty seat in Westchester.

Cuomo criticized Senate Republicans for thwarting progress on key issues in stronger terms on Tuesday night at the event, which was in Harlem. “All the progress we want to make, [Republicans] are 100 percent against it," Cuomo said Tuesday night, according to lohud.com. "We just finished a budget, negotiating with them. They have no appetite whatsoever for any of the things we hold dear."

Along with the measures Cuomo listed on Wednesday, criminal justice reforms like ending cash bail for many lower-level offenses were among the top priorities of the governor and progressive advocates that did not make it into the budget.

Last weekend, the State Democratic Party, which Cuomo runs, expressed “disappointment with the progressive measures that were not enacted in this year’s budget” after its passage. “The fact that additional gun safety measures, early voting, speedy trial, bail and discovery reform, the codification of Roe v. Wade, the Contraceptive Care Act, stronger campaign finance reforms, the closure of the LLC loophole, the ban on outside income for legislators, the Child’s Victim Act, and the Dream Act, among other measures that failed, are all lost opportunities for progress in New York,” according to a statement from Executive Director Geoff Berman reacting to the budget. “These are measures the Governor and Democrats pushed for.”

But while Cuomo and Democrats in Albany, New York City, and elsewhere cast blame on their Republican counterparts for certain legislation being eliminated from the budget proposals, it’s not clear what exactly the governor and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie made the focal points of budget negotiations, and what they weren’t pushing, given the opaque nature of the process. Requests for comment from the governor’s office on why some of his priorities failed to be included in the finalized budget were unanswered, though Cuomo himself contended they were blocked by the Senate GOP.

Still, Cuomo was able to see several of his top priorities proceed, while a number of key policies Cuomo said he would pursue in the budget were left out.

As Cuomo indicated Wednesday, the Child Victims Act was among those high-profile proposals in his executive budget that did not pass the Senate. The bill would make reporting of child sex abuse easier by extending the statute of limitations and, most controversially, create a temporary, one-time “look-back” window for victims to bring claims.

On voting reform, Cuomo vowed to enact early voting, allowing people to cast their ballots for about a week prior to election day, and to implement same-day registration, permitting New Yorkers to register to vote on election day. Both were withheld from the budget despite the fact that Cuomo had for the first time included funding for early voting in his budget plan.

On campaign finance reform, Cuomo again this year said he wanted to close the LLC loophole, which allows limited liability companies to donate to campaigns under the same provisions to which individuals, providing virtually unlimited opportunities for entities to donate cash. “We should increase trust by closing the LLC loophole and open up the electoral process with public financing, but not our current public financing system that has public financing but private loopholes,” Cuomo said during his State of the State address. “I mean a true public financing system in which the exception does not swallow the rule. That’s what we need to do to regain the trust of the citizens in this state and across this nation.” No campaign finance measures passed in the budget, though the governor did win a new law related to transparency in purchasing of election ads on social media.

On other government ethics reform, the budget did not ban outside income for state legislators as the governor had planned. “That’s the reform that I’ve been pushing and I’m going to continue to push,” he said in the aftermath of the conviction of his former top aide, Joseph Percoco, though Percoco’s case had nothing to do with legislators’ outside income and much more to do with blurred lines between Cuomo’s government and campaign offices and LLC loophole. Cuomo has also supported adding more funding for a new JCOPE unit, a body tasked with investigating sexual harassment claims among other things. The new funding was not included in the budget, though the governor did implement new laws to prevent and punish sexual harassment in government and the private sector.

Additionally, despite Cuomo’s January pledge to end cash bail for many alleged offenses as well as to enact speedy trial and discovery reform, the enacted budget does not fulfill these goals. “At his state of the state address this year, Governor Cuomo told me personally he would ensure passage of bail reform, speedy trial reform, and discovery reform,” said Akeem Browder, a criminal justice activist and Kalief Browder’s brother, in a statement. “I am disappointed that this budget includes no such reforms. Without including important criminal justice reforms in the state budget, it is poor families in every region of this state that will continue to suffer.”

While presenting his budget in January, Cuomo called for passage of the DREAM Act, a measure to help reduce the cost of college for undocumented immigrants or their children by permitting their access to state financial aid. “This year I once again called on the Legislature to finally pass the Dream Act and ensure all of our students have access to an affordable college education, regardless of their citizenship status,” Cuomo said in February. The DREAM Act, too, was excluded from the budget. As was another top stated Cuomo priority: codifying the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion protection decision into New York state law.

Cuomo also did not win the value capture proposal he had outlined which would have allowed the MTA access to increased New York City property tax revenue in certain declared zones. Nor did Cuomo see passage of a larger congestion pricing plan, instead settling for what he’s calling a first step: a surcharge on taxi and app-based rides in the Manhattan business district south of 96th Street.

If Cuomo is successful in his promised efforts at Democratic unity and winning seats for Democrats in the April special elections and November general elections, and he himself wins reelection, he may have the opportunity to see virtually all of his professed progressive goals passed in 2019.

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Cuomo Turns Budget Failures Into Justification for Democratic Unity Wed, 04 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key Takeaways: How the State Budget Impacts New York City http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7587:key-takeaways-how-the-state-budget-impacts-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7587:key-takeaways-how-the-state-budget-impacts-new-york-city Cuomo

(photo: The Governor's Office)


Early Saturday morning, the New York State Legislature finalized a new $168 billion budget ahead of the April 1 start to the 2019 fiscal year. The process to agree on the budget heavily involved four men -- Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein -- in the usual largely closed-door process.

When a deal was reached, the various parties sought to claim victories, including, for the Senate GOP, about what was not in the budget. The list of stated priorities for Cuomo, Heastie, and Mayor Bill de Blasio that were not included is indeed fairly long, and includes criminal justice, election, and campaign finance reforms; additional taxes and more speed cameras around city schools; and much more. 

But, along with the basics of a spending plan that funds state government and sends aid to localities, chiefly for education and Medicaid, there was quite a bit that did make it into the budget deal.

Cuomo is touting the budget’s inclusion of added funding for New York City public housing (NYCHA), anti-sexual harassment legislation, and a new state tax code that aims to blunt the impact of the new federal tax code. The governor, who is seeking a third term this year, is also boasting about measures to remove guns from those convicted of domestic violence, what he calls a first step toward a fuller congestion pricing plan for New York City, and more.

“The budget hit the priorities that we had set out,” Cuomo said Friday night in Albany after the budget passed. “When we started we said, number one, we have to defend against that federal tax increase, number two invest in education, three fight sexual harassment, four protect our democratic process, safeguard the environment, and grow the economy.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, for his part, called the new state budget a “mixed bag” for the city. Though de Blasio was forced into sending more than $400 million to the MTA for the Subway Action Plan, he commended the governor for heeding his call to allocate more resources to the ailing subway system. 

“When it comes to the subways, Mayor de Blasio has always demanded two things: significant movement by the state toward a real plan, and a dedicated lockbox so city riders' money goes toward fixing city subways,” said de Blasio spokesperson Eric Phillips in a statement to Gotham Gazette on Monday. “This budget appears to respond to the Mayor’s demands on behalf of the city’s straphangers. There are no excuses left for the Governor to hide behind. He must do his job and fix the subways.”

It was a sentiment de Blasio presented during a NY1 appearance Monday night. There are a number of provisions in the budget that de Blasio disagrees with, including an impending independent monitor to oversee the spending of the new NYCHA funds. The mayor also said he’s disappointed about measures that did not make it into the budget, like the additional speed cameras that he says would save lives.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson were pleased that the city would pay for half of the Subway Action Plan. “For months and months since, we’ve continuously released alarming reports that have spotlighted the delays underground, the economic ramifications of slowdowns, and the crisis in our transportation systems. Each time, we’ve continued to call for the full funding of the emergency plan. It has always been the right thing to do,” Stringer said in a press release on Friday. “Today, it appears action is finally happening. We’re glad to see the City taking this step forward.”

“I applaud @NYCMayor Bill de Blasio for this decision,” Johnson tweeted on Saturday of the move to agree to pay the 418 million toward mending the subway. “As I've said for months, the subways are in crisis and we must work together towards a solution.”

The MTA Action Plan funding the city will put forth is one of a number of key takeaways from the state budget for New York City.

More Transportation
While the budget included a surcharge on for-hire vehicles, such as taxis and Ubers, traveling below 96th Street in Manhattan, there is no comprehensive congestion pricing plan. After reversing course on congestion pricing last summer, Governor Cuomo formed the Fix NYC Advisory Panel, which recommended a comprehensive congestion pricing plan with three phases over three years; Cuomo never officially endorsed the plan. 

The governor faced headwinds in both the Assembly and Senate, and the budget includes only the surcharge on for-hire vehicles, aimed at reducing traffic in Manhattan and producing an estimated $400-plus million in annual revenue for the MTA. In addition, the budget includes funding for over 50 new bus lane enforcement cameras.

NYCHA
The budget includes a new $250 million investment in the troubled New York City Housing Authority. Governor Cuomo in March vowed not to sign a budget that didn’t include additional funding for NYCHA as he assailed de Blasio and NYCHA leadership for its management and the crises at public housing, notably those related to lead paint and heat, as well as mold and general disrepair. The new money will be added to previously allocated state funding that hasn’t been spent, totaling $550 million. 

The money comes with a catch, though: spending will be overseen by an outside private contractor chosen by the mayor, the City Council, and NYCHA tenant leadership.

“In the situation of NYCHA, it’s so bad that New York State has stepped in,” Cuomo said. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for NYCHA in an executive order on Monday.

“When I go, cameras come,” he said in his state Capitol Red Room announcement of a budget deal on Friday night, around 9 p.m., “and I wanted New Yorkers to see how deplorable these conditions were.”

The new state investments and oversight come as the federal government has also added checks on NYCHA operations, with more possibly coming soon as the result of an ongoing federal investigation.

Some have connected Cuomo’s recent interest in NYCHA -- he’s made more visits in the last month than in his prior seven years as governor combined -- to both an opportunity to vilify his rival de Blasio and the primary challenge he’s now facing from Cynthia Nixon, who also recently visited NYCHA, as the guest of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Nixon said there should be a $1 billion state investment.

The Assembly’s one-house budget had included $275 million in additional funding for NYCHA, while the Senate’s had included no additional funding.

The state budget also gives NYCHA design-build authority for critical repairs, allowing for a streamlined procurement and construction process and should help speed timelines for things like boiler replacements.

Design-Build
Speaking of design-build, the budget allows the City of New York to use it in three areas: NYCHA, Rikers Island replacement jails, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. 

Design-build allows both the design and construction of a capital project to be consolidated into one contract for one firm, shortening the project timeline, decreasing costs, and increasing efficiency. This stands in contrast to the currently allowed procurement process of design-bid-build, which requires separate bids for the design and construction aspects of a capital project.

The city has asked for design-build authority for all of its capital projects, or for a longer list than the three, but has long been met with heavy resistance from the state Legislature and a seemingly limited push by Cuomo, who had omitted design-build for the city from his January budget proposal despite continually touting its impact on state projects. The state has used design-build for several of its recent high profile capital projects, such as the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Kosciuszko Bridge.

Design-build authority should allow the city to speed its ten-year plan for closing Rikers Island jails completely, and will allow it to make long-planned, critical infrastructure repairs to the BQE. On the latter, city DOT Commissioner and MTA Board member Polly Trottenberg has estimated savings of $113 million and a construction timeline shortened by two years.

Penn Station
The governor’s transit zone value capture proposal to fund the MTA, which faced major criticism from city elected officials as a raid on city property tax revenue, did not make it into the final budget. But a somewhat related and also controversial measure did make it into the budget: the state has more authority around Penn Station, though not nearly as much as Cuomo had sought in a last-minute proposal, according to de Blasio. The mayor said Monday night on NY1 that what was passed was nothing like what Cuomo had floated that would have given the state authority over a wide swath of land -- reaction from city officials had been swift and harsh. 

In the budget announcement Friday night, Cuomo framed the issue as a matter of safety, acknowledging, though, that the final language dealt more with Penn Station itself than the surrounding area.

“This is not just a transportation issue this is a public safety issue,” Cuomo said. “Current Penn Station is dangerous especially in this age of terrorism.” The administration claimed that Penn’s poor infrastructure and layout, and heavy congestion, was an attractive target for a terrorist attack, and that the state needed to utilize eminent domain in order to reduce security threats.

Education
The state’s public schools will see an increase of $1 billion in school aid in the new budget. This is above the governor’s originally proposed $769 million increase and the Senate’s proposed $717 million increase, but below the Assembly’s proposed $1.5 billion increase. Out of the $1 billion increase, New York City will receive $334 million, bringing the state’s total funding for New York City schools to $10.54 billion, including $7.76 billion in Foundation Aid. 

Cuomo also won a significant new oversight power over the city’s schools. The budget requires certain school districts, such as New York City, to report spending of state funds on a per-school basis. Cuomo has argued that the issue with schools funding is one that can be fixed with better management, not more money.

“How much did the high performing schools in this borough get? How much does a student in the chronically failing school get? We’ve never had that conversation,” he said on The Brian Lehrer Show in late March. “And you can’t even find the information. And I said, in this budget, in January, ‘that’s the relevant conversation.’ It’s not how much money do you spend, we spend more than anybody else.”

Cuomo originally proposed a more far-reaching program that would require the state to approve budgets for large school districts.

De Blasio doesn’t buy Cuomo’s argument, and has said there is more information about school spending already available than Cuomo recognizes. In his own appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio criticized the governor for continuing to fail to fulfill the terms of a decade-old court ruling mandating more equitable funding for schools statewide.

“Of course it’s about the money,” de Blasio said. “The governor often likes to put out these ideas without having the facts behind them. There’s a huge amount of information that is publicly available on how much we spend on each school.”

Total education spending by the state in the enacted budget is $26.7 billion.

Beyond school aid, it also includes a $50 million increase in funding for community schools and a $15 million increase for pre-kindergarten, as well as investments in the No Student Goes Hungry program, after-school programs, and an $81 million increase in charter school funding. An expansion of the state’s school breakfast program will allow the city, which already has a “Breakfast After The Bell” program in elementary schools, to expand to middle schools and high schools, according to a statement from Hunger Free America.

Criminal Justice
Cuomo’s criminal justice reform package is entirely absent from the enacted budget, a blow to New York City leaders and advocates who have been among the loudest voices calling for things like bail reform and tying them to closing the jails on Rikers.

Cuomo had proposed a eliminating money bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors, but despite support from the Assembly the Senate would not allow the measure through.

The same goes for Cuomo’s proposed reform of the state’s maligned discovery process, which would have required timely sharing of potentially exculpatory information by prosecutors with the defense but had been criticized by advocates for giving prosecutors a virtually unlimited right to redact information; the proposed speedy trial reform, which would have expedited the court process in order to avoid long pretrial detention; and the proposal to add strict limitations on asset seizure by police and new programs to support re-entry into society by ex-convicts.

The budget cuts the state’s $41 million funding of the Close to Home program, which places incarcerated juveniles in rehabilitation facilities in or close to the city in order to keep them close to their families and maintain continuity and help them advance and transition. As noted by Chronicles of Social Change, the cut comes just as New York’s juvenile detention facilities are preparing for an influx of new detainees, since the recently passed Raise the Age legislation will place 16- and 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system rather than the adult criminal justice system.

Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner David Hansell referred to the cuts as “troubling,” according to New York Nonprofit Media. Other proposed cuts to child welfare services at ACS that were in Cuomo’s executive budget did not come to fruition.

The Child Victims Act, which would significantly lengthen the statute of limitations on prosecuting childhood sexual abuse and would create a year-long “lookback period” to re-open “time-barred” cases, also failed to make it into the budget. Despite the governor’s heavy support for the bill and the backing of celebrities, victims, and advocates, the CVA was once again killed by Senate Republicans, with the backing of the Catholic Church. Senate Majority Leader Flanagan said on The Capitol Pressroom radio program on Tuesday that his conference is open to continuing discussions about a change in the law.

The highest profile criminal justice item to make it into the budget is a ban on sex between police officers and individuals in police custody. This was spurred by the alleged sexual assault of Anna Chambers, who said she was raped by two NYPD officers while in their custody. The defendants, Richard Hall and Eddie Martins, who each quit the force days before a scheduled internal trial, claimed in their defense that the sex was consensual. The new state law makes it illegal regardless of any notion of consent.

Health Care
According to Cuomo, the budget includes $18.9 billion in state Medicaid spending. Much of the state’s Medicaid program is funded by the federal government; the total cost of the state’s Medicaid program is in excess of $70 billion.

The budget includes $1.1 billion in funding for Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital, a federal program that disperses funds to hospitals that serve a large number of patients who are either uninsured or on Medicaid. Last year, New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation received $360 million in DSH funds withheld by the state in the midst of proposed federal cuts to the program. The state, facing a $4 billion deficit, suggested the city tap into its own reserves to finance the ailing city hospital network.

As the budget wrapped up, the Cuomo administration and the Legislature negotiated a deal that would enable the government to capture $2 billion from the sale of health care provider Fidelis to Centene Corporation. Fidelis, which is operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, is a Medicaid provider; the government argued that, since the business was built on selling government health insurance plans, the state is entitled to a substantial portion of the sale. As such, the state will be able to capture some 53% of the $3.75 billion sale price, key to helping the state close the budget deficit it was facing.

Taxes
New York State and New York City are notoriously high-tax jurisdictions and the recently-passed federal tax bill compounds the phenomenon, city and state officials have said, especially for upper middle-class and high-income earners. Cuomo made it a top priority to ensure New Yorkers face as little addition tax burden as possible by “protecting taxpayers against federal tax changes.”

On this front, the budget includes attempted workarounds to help New Yorkers avoid bearing the burden of the reduction of SALT, or state and local tax deductions from federal taxes. The budget decouples state and local taxes from the federal code, will allow employers to pay an optional payroll tax to help employees reduce their income taxes, and creates new charitable giving entities where New Yorkers can give to offset their taxes and receive a corresponding tax credit from the state. It is unclear how well these measures will work, given that employers have to opt in on the payroll measure and the IRS will have to weigh in on the charitable deductions.

"New York will also become the first state to implement new measures to shield families from the devastating federal tax law's elimination of full state and local deductibility — an economic arrow aimed at the heart of this state's economy,” the governor said in a press release. Cuomo has said his top priority is repeal of the new federal tax code, or at least of the SALT cap, now at $10,000, which would likely require Democrats to take control of Congress and the White House.

Anti-Harassment Legislation
As the country struggles with how best to confront rampant sexual harassment in workplaces, New York state lawmakers pledged to enact legislation aimed at preventing and punishing sexual harassment in public and private work environments. “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,” Cuomo said in a press release.

To that end, the new legislation requires sexual harassers to repay taxpayer funds when they are found liable (not in other settlements, however, according to The New York Times). In addition, a new measure will prevent sexual harassers from sweeping allegations under the rug by ensuring that nondisclosure agreements are only reached at the victim’s request. “[N]ondisclosure agreements can only be used when the condition of confidentiality is the explicit preference of the victim,” Cuomo said of the budget’s new legislation.

Other measures on this front include mandating all state contractors “submit an affirmation” that they have sexual harassment policies in place and that their employees are made aware of them via training. The budget also mandates the Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights will form sexual harassment policies to be used by public and private employers.  

However, there has been a great deal of criticism of the process by which the new measures were reached, with the only female legislative leader -- Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins -- left out of the negotiations. The policies have also been criticized by advocates and former state government aides, some of whom experienced harassment, for not empowering victims enough, not simplifying the process to report claims, and not protecting people who face other types of workplace harassment. "These laws will not adequately protect workers, leaving them to navigate an opaque process and in danger of retaliation,” the group of former staffers stated following the budget’s passage.

The bill has also been criticized for not addressing or reforming in any way the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, tasked with investigating sexual harassment allegations. Cuomo had sought to add funding for a new JCOPE unit, but that was not part of the budget deal.

Also Missing
The DREAM Act, which would allow for state college assistance to be provided to undocumented New Yorkers, was again included in the Assembly’s and Cuomo’s budget proposals, but did not make it through the Senate. Members of the IDC attempted a maneuver to attach it to a budget bill but it was defeated.

The DREAM Act is one of several other progressive wish-list items again left out of the budget, blocked by the Senate, including measures like codifying Roe v. Wade abortion protections into state law.

Despite calls among government reformers and some reform-minded legislators, a number of government ethics, campaign finance, and election reforms were again left out of the state budget. Specifically, the budget does not institute early voting, keeping New York in the minority of states, nor does it implement same-day voter registration or several other election reform measures. There is no new ban on outside income for legislators or implementation of term limits; nor is there any change in the state’s exceptionally high individual campaign donation limits or the notorious LLC loophole, which essentially negates even those high donation thresholds. There is also no new limits on donations from those with or seeking state business.

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by Ben Brachfeld and Sam Raskin

Note: this article has been corrected to remove mention that there is language in the budget allowing the state to take money related to the city's Health + Hospitals insurance provider, Metroplus.

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Key Takeaways: How the State Budget Impacts New York City Tue, 03 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New York Justice Delayed Is New York Justice Denied http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7588:new-york-justice-delayed-is-new-york-justice-denied http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7588:new-york-justice-delayed-is-new-york-justice-denied govandrewcuomo cjustice

Gov. Cuomo at church (Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


It has been nearly three years since Kalief Browder tragically ended his own life after being caged, abused, and tortured on Rikers Island. Elected officials promised us that his story would be a turning point and that New York would fundamentally transform a criminal justice system designed to criminalize low-income black and brown New Yorkers and then place a bounty, through the money bail system, on our freedom. With another new state budget now passed in Albany, it is clear state leaders are not going to make good on those promises and New York will continue to keep people locked in cages because they are too poor to pay bail.

I cannot imagine what Kalief must have felt while trapped in a cage, spending much of his time in solitary confinement, facing abuse from the guards and other incarcerated youth -- only there because he could not afford bail. As a young black person, growing up in Brooklyn, I can relate to how Kalief must have felt that night; his future was permanently disrupted. I have been out in my neighborhood, just enjoying myself, or hanging out with friends, only to have the NYPD initiate an interaction that reminds black youth we cannot afford to be care-free when the criminal justice system surveils, restricts, and criminalizes our very existence.

That is why I organize with youth across Brooklyn and New York City to end racist and biased policies and practices throughout the criminal justice system. It is why last week, I traveled three hours to Albany to join civil rights organizations, public defenders, community organizations, and NFL player DeMario Davis (formerly of the New York Jets), to demand New York legislators pass bail reform that will completely eliminate wealth-based detention, significantly reduce the number of New Yorkers caged before their trial, reduce racial disparities, end profiteering in pre-trial services, and does not increase the likelihood that people will be detected, detained or deported by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech he made promises to reshape New York’s bail and pre-trial detention that will “will transform our criminal justice system by removing critical barriers, reaffirming our beliefs in fairness, opportunity and dignity, and continue our historic progress toward a more equal society for all." He did not follow through by passing reforms that would have made positive change.

And, unfortunately, when I studied his proposals, it became clear some parts could actually bring reform in the wrong direction. If passed, the governor’s proposal would increase the number of New Yorkers who are detained before trial without the possibility of release, give prosecutors the power to hold New Yorkers before trial, expand the use of electronic monitoring and house arrests, and pass the costs of pre-trial services on to people awaiting their trial. It isn’t progress if we extend mass incarceration into our homes and communities through ankle bracelets and house arrests and then charge poor people for the cost of their release before trial.

A recent report from the New York Civil Liberties Union found that black New Yorkers are twice as likely as white New Yorkers to spend at least one night in custody on bail, and more than 90,000 New Yorkers spent a day or longer in custody on bail between 2010 and 2014. Kalief Browder was arrested in 2010. Eight years after his arrest and three years after his death, the turning point we were all promised seems farther and farther away.

With Governor Cuomo now celebrating the new budget and the state Legislature on vacation; and as we hit the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should all remind our elected officials that justice delayed is justice denied.

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Nicshel Samedi is Youth Leader, Make The Road New York. On Twitter @MaketheRoadNY.

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

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New York Justice Delayed Is New York Justice Denied Tue, 03 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Budget Includes Unprecedented $175 Million to Invest in Skills - Now What? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7589:state-budget-includes-unprecedented-175-million-to-invest-in-skills-now-what http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7589:state-budget-includes-unprecedented-175-million-to-invest-in-skills-now-what Cuomo broadband jobs

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


New research released last month by JobsFirstNYC and the Community Service Society found that more than 136,000 young adults 18-24 years old in New York City are not working and not enrolled in school. And despite increased enrollment, equity gaps in college completion have widened in New York City. Meanwhile, all of the employment gains for members of this age group over the last five years has been in low-wage, part-time work. But New York City’s young adults are not the only group facing barriers to enter and succeed in an increasingly more skilled labor market, as more than 40 percent of residents across the state only have a high school diploma or less in a time when employers are crying out for more trained workers.

Recognizing the urgent need to invest in human capital, Governor Cuomo put forward a promising vision that will put the state on a path to realizing the full potential of all New Yorkers and the Legislature worked with him to include it in a final budget deal (read Governor Cuomo’s Workforce Investment Plan is a Promising Start for overview of the governor’s original proposal). This is a victory for New Yorkers. The governor and the state Legislature should be applauded.

Included in the final New York State budget for the fiscal year that began April 1 is an unprecedented $175 million for workforce development, which will flow through a Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process likely to begin as early as this spring. The final deal is not all that different from what Governor Cuomo proposed back in January and gives a great deal of autonomy to him to design and manage the CFA process and decide how best to allocate resources regionally. Because of the flexibility the executive chamber has, it’s safe to assume that the resources will be connected in some way to (and potentially managed out of) Empire State Development and the Regional Economic Development Councils, as was outlined in the governor’s original proposal. Wherever the CFA process ends up, the $175 million must be regionally-targeted, support multi-year strategies, and be available on a rolling basis.

The only real mandate by the Legislature included in the final budget deal is to work with the State Workforce Investment Board and the agencies that currently administer workforce development programs (New York Department of Labor, SUNY, CUNY, etc.). The legislation states: “Services and expenses for workforce development shall be administered in consultation with the state workforce investment board and state agencies responsible for administration of workforce development programs.”

In addition to establishing a CFA process to allocate the $175 million across the state, the governor also put forward three other workforce development proposals that were not part of adopted budget legislation. This includes establishing a New York State Office of Workforce Development, building a state-of-the-art data analytics infrastructure modeled after Monroe Community College’s, and creating a one-stop-shop online platform for job-seekers and employers. The good news for these initiatives is that the governor has the administrative authority to do them without the need to pass legislation.

The Legislature’s mandate to work with all the agencies that currently provide workforce development and training programs as well as to work in consultation with the state’s Workforce Investment Board to coordinate the CFA process should be treated as the first task of the soon-to-be-created New York State Office of Workforce Development. With $175 million of workforce development resources secured, this new office has a unique opportunity to create a responsive, 21st century workforce unleashing the full economic power of the state.

To realize this vision, Governor Cuomo must also charge the Office of Workforce Development to create a more integrated workforce development system that ensures there is dedicated state-funded revenue stream year-to-year and braids together existing funding streams for programs (TANF, SNAP E&T, WIOA, etc.) with similar goals, as well as establishes a shared framework for measuring outcomes. Additionally, this office must work across government to align the education, human services, economic, and workforce development systems. In doing so, the state will need to invest in demand-driven innovative ideas and partnerships to create a structurally adaptable and responsive workforce development system. Finally, this newly created office must make shared outcomes, accountability, and transparency the ‘new normal.’

Fortunately, Governor Cuomo and the soon-to-be named Director of the Office of Workforce Development does not need to do this alone. The Invest In Skills NY initiative—a diverse statewide coalition of employers, training providers, intermediaries, higher education institutions, professional and trade associations, young adult groups, and many others who make-up the workforce development system are ready to work to bring New York State’s labor force into the 21st century.

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Kevin Stump is vice president of Policy, Communications, and In-School Practice at JobsFirstNYC and co-chair of the Invest In Skills NY Campaign. On Twitter @KevinStump and @JobsFirstNYC; #InvestInSkillsNY.

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State Budget Includes Unprecedented $175 Million to Invest in Skills - Now What? Tue, 03 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio's Post-Budget Priorities in Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7585:de-blasio-s-post-budget-priorities-in-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7585:de-blasio-s-post-budget-priorities-in-albany de Blasio speed cameras

De Blasio at a rally for speed cameras (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


The Legislature’s passage of a $168.3 billion state budget over the weekend came with a few rewards for New York City, but also setbacks for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who saw several of his priorities either approved with caveats or ignored in final negotiations between legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Now, with three months remaining in the legislative session in Albany, de Blasio will have a number of agenda items that he is likely to pursue.

The mayor has had an extensive agenda that he was hoping to see approved by the Legislature and Cuomo, including increased funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the New York City Housing Authority, and schools. He was also hoping for more funds for affordable and supportive housing development, expansion of a speed camera program around city schools, repeal of a state law precluding the disclosure of police officer disciplinary records, passage of design-build authority for New York City to use in major construction projects, and a slew of voting and electoral reforms as part of his “Democracy NYC” agenda.

But de Blasio has few allies in Albany, save for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx. Over the years, the mayor has repeatedly clashed with Cuomo, though both are Democrats, and the two administrations exchanged open barbs in the lead up to the budget’s passage over everything from the MTA to NYCHA to education funding.

De Blasio has also been unpopular with Republicans who control the state Senate after he attempted to orchestrate a Democratic takeover of the chamber in 2014. The mayor does have somewhat cordial ties with members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a breakaway group of eight Senators who prop up the GOP’s hold on the chamber, but has been unable to leverage those relationships to get a number of priorities passed or funded. Recently, he has repeatedly called on the group to rejoin the mainline Democratic conference, a move that may be in the offing post-budget.

The state budget presented what the mayor called a “mixed bag” for the city, in his weekly appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Monday night. An increase in school aid was approved, but with expanded oversight over how New York City schools utilizes it. Through the state budget, the city is being forced to bear more costs for subway repairs, and additional NYCHA funding is conditional upon an independent outside monitor for the ailing city agency. A relatively small stream of long-term funding for the MTA also passed, through a fee on for-hire vehicle and taxi rides in a designated quadrant of Manhattan, rather than through a tax on the highest-income New Yorkers as de Blasio had hoped. Design-build was approved for select repair work: at NYCHA, to build jail space to replace that of Rikers Island, and for a large project on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

That leaves a few key items on the table.

De Blasio’s administration has touted the success of a speed camera program in helping reduce traffic fatalities around city schools under the Vision Zero initiative. The mayor has been fighting for the program to be extended to 750 school zones, up from 140 currently, and requires the state legislature’s approval to do so. As with last year, the state Senate refused to pass the measure, leaving it unresolved when the budget passed.

On NY1, de Blasio predicted that speed cameras would be one of the more contentious issues he will put his weight behind in the remaining legislative session. “[T]here’s gonna be a fight in that session,” the mayor told host Josh Robin. “Look I would’ve loved to have seen the speed cameras in the budget. I think that would’ve been the right thing to do because it’s urgent, it’s a matter of safety. We just lost two children in the horrible tragedy in Park Slope, we lost another child before that earlier in the year. I don’t know how many kids, how many kids have to die before the legislators in Albany can say ‘Hey, OK, of course we want cameras to stop speeding around schools.’”

The mayor urged legislators, particularly the state Senate, to “put the politics aside, think about human life and protecting people. I think this should be a huge fight in the legislative session.”

The mayor also promised last year that he would pursue greater transparency for the city’s police force, in particular by calling for the repeal of Section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which currently forbids the personnel records of police officers from being made public, according to de Blasio and city officials. It was de Blasio’s administration that chose to reinterpret the law to hide disciplinary records -- claiming that successive administrations had misread and violated the statute for decades by releasing records -- the mayor nonetheless has said it is among his top priorities.

Under his democracy initiative, de Blasio pledged to pursue common-sense reforms to the state’s archaic election and voting laws. The proposals were in line with the Cuomo’s own “Democracy Agenda,” including proposals such as campaign finance reforms, early voting, no-excuse absentee ballots, electronic poll books, among other measures. But Republicans in the Senate have been averse to most, if not all, of those reforms, which advocates have long said would increase voter participation and engagement across the state. (De Blasio promised a similar push for reforms last year but did little to follow through.) With none of the reforms having passed, de Blasio promised Monday that he would take them up again.

The state budget also moved the needle on the administration’s plan to close the troubled Rikers Island jail complex by authorizing the city to use design-build, a streamlined procurement process, to build or expand borough-based jails. But de Blasio was also pushing for accompanying criminal justice reforms -- such as eliminating cash bail and implementing speedy trial reform -- which he says are essential to reducing the city’s jail population to below 5,000, which he says is a requisite for the overall effort to close Rikers. Those reforms were left out in the state budget, but not forgotten by de Blasio.

“I think there’ll be other big fights in the legislative session. Electoral reform, which I’m going to fight for very hard, 50-a reform and criminal justice reform, speedy trial, bail reform, there’s so many pieces that we wanna win in the legislative session,” de Blasio said on NY1. “I think a lot’ll be on the table but speed cameras would be I think the thing with most intense feeling because it’s about saving the lives of our children.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio's Post-Budget Priorities in Albany Mon, 02 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000