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Citizens Union


Student Voter Registration Push Targets New York's Turnout Crisis


Council members and advocates rally for SVRD at City Hall (all photos: Cici Chen)

Only 11 percent of young New Yorkers voted in the last citywide elections. City residents between 18- and 30-years-old have the lowest voter turnout of any age or socioeconomic group. They are also least likely to be registered to vote. The Department of Education sends out 80,000 voter registration forms with diplomas each year, but there is no mechanism to monitor resulting registration numbers thereafter.

In response to these discouraging numbers, New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal; several of her colleagues; NYC Votes, the voter outreach arm of the city's Campaign Finance Board; good government groups; and others have organized the city's first Student Voter Registration Day (SVRD) to be held at 25 schools across the five boroughs tomorrow, Friday, March 20.

The pilot program is being launched Friday to commemorate Democracy Day, when 18-year-olds gained the right to vote on March 23, 1971. Students 17- and 18-years-old will be encouraged to register in their classrooms. "What we're going to do is not only register these kids to vote, but we're going to help them understand the value of voting and so hopefully they'll actually go out and vote," said Council Member Rosenthal at a kickoff rally on the steps of City Hall Thursday.

The program will focus on civic engagement and youth involvement in politics. "Our challenge here is helping young people to connect the act of voting to their lives beyond the school walls," said Chyann Sapp, Youth Voter Coordinator for the Campaign Finance Board. NYC Votes and its Voter Assistance Advisory Committee have partnered with the Board of Elections, the Department of Education, the United Federation of Teachers, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, civic engagement groups, and others to formulate a curriculum that will show young people "how their votes can affect issues like the price of college, student loans, affordable housing and finding a job," said Sapp.

The program is aimed at youth on the verge of becoming eligible voters, which is important in retaining them in the voting process throughout their lives, according to Board of Elections executive director Michael Ryan. "The inception of the voting process is registration," Ryan said, stressing that registration must be modernized to allow young people access to the voting system in a way that they feel comfortable with it.


BOE head Michael Ryan

An early adopter on the campaign was Brooklyn Council Member Robert Cornegy, who emphasized the importance of the history of protests for voting rights. "Elections are incredibly powerful mechanisms for change, perhaps the most powerful tools we have in a representative democracy," he said. "That's why people risked their lives in Selma," Cornegy said, referring to Civil Rights Movement protests in the South, recently commemorated at fifty years.

Council Member Mark Levine also spoke to history, and said that there is a need to change the current culture around voting in the city and the country. "The generation that came of age long after the Civil Rights Movement has taken this right for granted, this hard-fought right that many people marched for and some even died for. And if we're gonna change the culture, that has to start with young people and young leaders," he said.

Student Voter Registration Day will not only focus on eligible voters. Recognizing the large immigrant population in the city, it will also involve education about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and connecting young immigrant voters with their local representatives. "We need to not forget them," said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

[Related: Solving Our Voter Turnout Crisis]

The initiative also has the support of many good government groups including Common Cause, New York Public Interest Research Group, and Citizens Union.

"Public education was founded mainly to do three things: to teach people how to read, write, and to be active citizens," said Drew Lombardi from Generation Citizen, a civic education non-profit that works in city schools. Lombardi lamented that civic education has become a "secondary part" of school.

Citizens Union's Peggy Farber hopes that SRVD would become a permanent civics education program across city schools: "By registering students, educating them about the importance of becoming active citizens, and helping them understand how to use their political voice, this program establishes healthy civic habits that will last a lifetime."

photos from Thursday's rally (Cici Chen)

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

8 Government Ops Agencies to Face Council Questions

ben kallos

CM Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)

As preliminary budget hearings at the City Council approach the end of their third week, the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet Thursday to evaluate the expense plan for a host of city agencies.

Members of the committee, chaired by Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, will meet representatives of eight city agencies to question them about performances and budgetary needs. The hearing will also look at the city's 59 community boards.

"The Council Member's aim will be to ensure all tax dollars get spent wisely," and that "the operations of the agencies that Governmental Operations has oversight over are open, transparent and work seamlessly for the people," an aide to Kallos said by email.

The hearing, which continues the Council's evaluation of Mayor Bill de Blasio's initial Fiscal Year 2016 spending plan, will look at the nuts and bolts of government function, including how the City runs the voting process, and much more. It will open with testimony from an executive of the Financial Information Services Agency (FISA), the body running the Payroll Management System, which processes over nine million payments and $28 billion worth of payroll annually.

During last year's preliminary budget hearing, FISA's First Deputy Director, Rose Ellen Myers, said the budget allotted to her agency for Fiscal Year 2015 was sufficient to allow it to maintain its current levels of service.

According to the preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2016, FISA will be one of the three agencies under the supervision of the Governmental Operations Committee that will not face budget reductions. The other two are the Tax Commission and the Office of Administrative Trials & Hearings (OATH). These numbers are based on the preliminary fiscal 2016 outline from the mayor versus the adjusted 2015 expense budget.

As outlined in de Blasio's expense plan, which he announced in early February, other agencies supervised by the Committee on Governmental Operations will have to deal with budgetary cuts.

The Law Department will see its budget diminished by nearly $9 million. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which manages some of the city's real estate properties and provides logistic support to city employees, will be provided $44 million less this coming fiscal year, set to begin July 1.

The New York City's Board of Elections will see a drop of over $29 million, which could have to do with the BOE's limited electioneering responsibilities in November of 2015. But, performance of and funding at the BOE are significant issues. During the preliminary budget hearing last year, BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan began his testimony by denouncing a "chronic and sustained budgetary underfunding" that has impacted the office in the last several years.

"This consistent underfunding has placed the Board in financial jeopardy and has negatively impacted the Board's ability to effectively and efficiently conduct elections," Ryan said on that occasion, adding that the agency needed more funds "in order to fulfill its constitutional and statutory mission successfully."

During that same hearing, however, Council Member David Greenfield, a Brooklyn Democrat on the government operations committee, downplayed a "conspiracy to go after the Board of Elections" and ultimately asked Ryan to do more with less.

Called to testify at a hearing of the committee on March 3, Ryan and other representatives from the Board of Election said the agency is working on new software to allow online tracking of absentee ballots and communication with voters about the status of their ballot applications.

The price tag for such reform, however, is still unknown. It is possible the agency will request more funds in order to implement it, and to be sufficiently equipped leading up to coming elections.

At the hearing on Thursday, members of the committee will likely ask Ryan about the need for additional funds, introducing the possibility that more money could be earmarked to sustain the Board of Elections' efforts to expand and defend voters' participation. The Council will give its response to de Blasio's preliminary budget in April, requesting that he include more funding for certain agencies and initiatives in his Executive Budget.

While urging the City Council for more funding, however, representatives of the BOE are expected to be aggressively probed by the committee members on a number of issues. One of these is the capacity of the BOE to ensure its Electronic Voting System will work efficiently.

During the budget hearing in 2014, Greenfield pointed out the electronic machines voters use to cast their ballots have stalled in the past, creating problems at poll sites.

Another object of scrutiny will be the Board of Elections' hiring process. The city Department of Investigation has suggested the agency run a background check on every worker it hires during an election.

Ryan, however, said that while the agency does already perform a criminal background screening of its full-time employees, the same procedure would be difficult to implement in the case of the 36,000 poll workers who are hired temporarily. Ryan took over at the BOE not long before the 2013 city elections took place.

Kallos said long-standing issues at the Board of Elections will ultimately get fixed.

"There has been some forward movement and some stagnation," he told Gotham Gazette in an email. In response, he said, he will push forward the necessary reforms to eradicate "nepotism and patronage" from the agency.

by Marco Poggio, Gotham Gazette

Coastal Communities Risk Being Swept Away by Rising Insurance Costs

Samar Rockaway photo 1

Homes in the Rockaways (photo: Samar Khurshid)

New Yorkers were exposed to the harsh realities of climate change when Superstorm Sandy hit more than two years ago. Those living in coastal neighborhoods like Coney Island and the Rockaways are struggling to deal with the mounting impacts of climate change. But now it's not just the storms they fear, it's the rising cost of flood insurance that threatens to drown them.

Come next year, revised flood zone maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) go into effect, expanding the amount of land considered at high-risk of flooding. The new maps will include roughly 60,000 more buildings, according to an analysis by the City Comptroller's office. The city's high-risk flood zones will soon be home to 400,457 New Yorkers, an increase of 84% from the current 218,088.

The projected increase in flood insurance premiums is significant. For a typical home in the high-risk zones, insurance premiums could increase from around $1,000 in 2014 to nearly $14,500 by 2030.

Flood zones have expanded in every borough. The increase is particularly dramatic along the eastern and western edges of Staten Island, and in South Brooklyn and South Queens.

Looming affordability crisis
The central concern, shared by City and federal officials, community representatives and most importantly, residents, is the looming insurance affordability crisis. The future of low and middle-income communities in coastal areas throughout the city is now in question.

The effect of the projected insurance rate increases on homeowners will be "devastating," said Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Queens Community Board 14, which covers the Rockaways. "People are forced to make a decision to either raise their homes at an exorbitant price or paying a phenomenal amount of money for insurance," he said. While he believes the City is trying to help the locals stuck, he added, "The proof will be in the pudding."

Over one-third of homeowners in the City's high-risk zones have an annual household income of less than $75,000, reports the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, a non-profit working for affordable housing for New Yorkers.

The owners of multi-family buildings in the zones are also vulnerable. Two-thirds of tenants have a household annual income of less than $75,000.

"I'm really worried we're going to destroy the fabric of these communities," said City Council member Donovan Richards, a Democrat who represents the Rockaways. The Rockaways already have the third highest notice of foreclosure rate of any community in New York City's high-risk flood zones.

Calling housing foreclosures a "silent killer" of the community, Richards said, "It's a mixed community. As someone who lived there, in Ocean Village, paying $860 for a two-bedroom that overlooked the beach, I'm fighting to ensure that these people are protected. I want everyday people to be able to have a beautiful view without being billionaires," he said.

Rising waters, rising insurance
Homeowners in the city's greatly expanded high-risk zones will be required to purchase flood insurance (either through the National Flood Insurance Program administered by FEMA or through private insurance providers) if they meet certain federal criteria. For instance, if they have received FEMA assistance in the past, if they have a federally-backed mortgage, if they received a Small Business Administration Disaster Loan or if they are registered with the City's Build It Back Sandy-recovery program.

For those already on insurance plans, their rates are set to increase owing to legislative changes in the last three years.

Almost two-thirds of the owner-occupied housing units in the high-risk zones have mortgages, says the CNYCN. Homeowners with mortgages who refuse to purchase insurance are usually subject to force-placed insurance where their lender purchases a policy and passes the cost on to them. Those who cannot pay have little choice but to sell their homes.

Why are insurance rates going up? Federal legislation, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, has reduced government subsidies on insurance in order to make the NFIP financially viable.

"I've lived here a little over fifteen years but if the rates went up, I'd move out of state," said Rockaway Park homeowner Paul Fitzgerald, 56, a retired Fire Department Captain who lives in a single-family home with his wife. "The taxes are already killing me. I'd move to a Red state. Costs are going higher and higher here and it's very difficult to get by." Fitzgerald has heard rumors of the insurance rate premiums increasing, but so far he has no clarity on how much he may have to pay. He currently pays around $2,000 a year.

The Rockaways are home to many retirees like Fitzgerald and his wife. Living on a fixed income, they'd be among the hardest hit. According to the City, 22 percent of housing units on the Rockaway Peninsula are occupied by senior citizens, aged 65 and older. Almost forty percent of the peninsula's population receives some form of government "income support" such as cash assistance, Supplemental Security Income, or Medicaid.

There's a lot more to this story:
To read the rest of this article, visit New York Environment Report

by Samar Khurshid for Gotham Gazette and New York Environment Report



Stringer: New Yorkers Work A Lot - Maybe Too Much

stringer rally

Comptroller Stringer at a recent rally (photo: @scottmstringer)

New Yorkers work a lot. It's no secret, but just to make it crystal clear and have the data for the bragging - or weeping - rights, a new report shows the reality in stark detail.

A "first-of-its-kind" analysis of workplace trends by City Comptroller Scott Stringer shows that New Yorkers work longer hours than people in 29 other cities across the U.S. when factoring in time spent commuting. An analysis of data from the 1990 and 2000 census and the 2013 American Community Survey shows that the New York workweek averages out to a combined 49.1 hours of work and travel. Not only do people in the city spend more time at work than those in most other cities, but they spend more time commuting than people anywhere else, with an average of 6 hours and 18 minutes each week.

New York City's combined work-commute total puts it first, just ahead of San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Houston. Stringer's report says that while New Yorkers might "take some pride in our dedication, ambition, and toughness" from this standing, there are also clear disadvantages to such a reality.

Making the most time sacrifice, people in New York's finance sector have the longest workweeks, averaging 53 hours according to the comptroller's report.

Meanwhile, a long commute creates "a one-two punch" for those employed in lower-wage jobs, said Stringer in the press release announcing his office's findings. Low-wage laborers work longer hours for less pay and have to spend more of their time traveling to work and back home. On average, a security guard in the city spends more than eight hours per week commuting, the report says.

Meanwhile, those with higher-paying jobs can afford to live in areas better served by transit infrastructure and closer to the epicenter of New York City employment, Manhattan. "If New York City is going to symbolize the American dream, we can't be a nightmare when it comes to long work hours and commuting," Stringer stated.

Despite a significant wage advantage -- full-time workers in New York earn 16 percent more than their counterparts in other cities -- longer commutes mean that certain job groups actually earn less than they would in other cities. For instance, the effective wages for home health care professionals and nurses is 11 percent less than in other cities.

The report also looked at how commuting affected women with children and found that the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for this subgroup is 3 percentage lower in New York than the average of the 29 other cities included in the study.

"These findings are not just troubling – they should be a call to action," said Stringer in a statement emailed to Gotham Gazette. "We need flex time policies that allow women to stay in the workforce and give parents the opportunity to spend time with their families. We need to make targeted investments in our mass transit system-upgrading our signal system and repairing tracks-to get commuters to work on time."

Without making specific recommendations, the findings of the report touch on different policy areas from minimum wage to workplace rules, economic development to transportation infrastructure.

The crumbling state of New York's $1 trillion transportation infrastructure has been of concern to city officials and was the subject of multiple hearings in 2014. Stringer's report estimates that some of the pressure on the transit system could also be relieved by implementing flexible work arrangements, an issue that he also advocated for in June last year.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Newly Hot, Paid Family Leave Passes Assembly Again

cuomo opportunity agenda

Gov. Cuomo discussing his agenda (photo: @NYGovCuomo)

In further indication of the growing hunger in New York and across the nation for paid family leave, the State Assembly again passed the Paid Family Leave Act on Tuesday in Albany.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans introduced their one-house budget resolution last week and also put the spotlight on the issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo is quickly having to figure out a plan on - though the Senate's version is different from the Assembly's in terms of funding mechanisms. The governor recently said that the "appetite" did not exist in the Legislature for paid family leave, but in the face of a paid family leave proposal making its way into each house's budget, his office has since said Cuomo supports the policy and his administration is studying the issue.

Upon passing the legislation, which the Democratically-controlled Assembly has passed several times, Speaker Carl Heastie said, "New Yorkers should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and taking care of a sick family member or spending time with a new one."

As budget negotiations heat up before the April 1 deadline, paid family leave has taken many by surprise as a hot-button issue for these budget and legislative sessions. It now finds itself alongside an increase in the minimum wage, the DREAM Act, education reforms and funding, ethics reforms, and other keys to intense spending and policy talks.

The U.S. falls behind other nations in its lack of a federal paid family leave law. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for 12-weeks of job-protected leave for family and medical emergencies with continued health insurance coverage. It covers childbirth (maternity and paternity leave), caring for an adopted or foster child, caring for loved ones and personal illness. The catch: it does not mandate any pay.

New York has its own infrastructure for off-the-job disability in the form of Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI). All private employers are required to provide TDI. Through TDI, a deduction of 60 cents a week from an employee's paycheck covers between five and seven weeks for recovery from childbirth, and injuries and sickness. Only four other states provide TDI benefits -- California, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Hawaii.

But in recent years, besides Hawaii, the other three have modernized TDI to include a paid family leave plan. Hawaii is considering doing the same. "New York is really the next logical state to do it," said Nancy Rankin from the Community Service Society. "It would be an easy and affordable way to make it possible."

When the New York State Assembly passed the Paid Family Leave Act last year, the bill died in the Republican-controlled Senate. While Cuomo may be scrambling a bit to imagine his own policy specifics - he, like many lawmakers, is likely wary of the effects such a bill could have on businesses - the Senate included its family leave bill at the behest of the Independent Democratic Conference, which it caucuses with.

In an emailed statement, Heastie, who represents part of the Bronx, said, "No one should have to risk financial hardship or fear losing their job because they need to care for a sick family member. Assembly Democrats do not believe in penalizing the hardworking men and women of this state. We believe in giving them the support they need because when we invest in the health and safety of our families we invest in the future of New York. It is time to pass Paid Family Leave here in New York."

The Assembly proposal, according to a Tuesday press release, calls for expansion of TDI to ensure paid family leave, in part through employee contributions: "Under this measure, employers would be required to offer a paid family leave benefit and could have workers contribute up to 45 cents per week to the policy. This employee contribution would ensure up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, cover two-thirds of the worker's salary and guarantee job security during the absence."

The Senate's proposal came through the IDC, led by Senator Jeff Klein, also of the Bronx. The fundamental difference between the two proposals is that while the Assembly is pushing for expansion of the TDI, Klein's proposal calls for state funding of the benefit. It is projected to cost $125 million in the first year, with funding in subsequent years being bolstered by employee contributions. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' office refused comment citing ongoing budget negotiations. The governor has already rejected the plan for overly relying on state funds.

"It's hard to sustain a private sector benefit if it needs to be renewed each year by the state Legislature," said Donna Dolan, executive director of the New York Paid Family Leave Coalition. "You're calling for funding a private sector benefit from public funding."

The Coalition last week responded to the Governor's 'no appetite' comment with a letter signed by 56 women lawmakers and leaders. The letter stated, in part, "Paid family leave would ensure that no New Yorker has to choose between the health and economic stability of her family. It would mean that the major life moments we all share – the arrival of a new child, or a close relative needing care – do not have to mean debt or bankruptcy."

The expansion of New York's TDI cash benefit has been long in the offing, family leave extension or not. The current benefit level has been frozen since 1989 at $170 a week despite a mandate for it to be at least 50 percent of the average statewide weekly wage. (In 2013, the average weekly wage in New York was $1,200, which would mean a $600 benefit if there was no cap). In comparison, the benefits are $1,104 per week in California, $772 in Rhode Island and $604 in neighboring New Jersey. "To make it meaningful, we need to raise TDI," said CSS's Rankin.

It is unclear where any middle ground for the Senate and Assembly proposals might be. It is hard for anyone to argue with the underlying premise of paid family leave, but the devil is in the funding details - and concerns over impacts on businesses.

"It's good for families and it has been good for business in the states that passed it," said Dolan. She suggests bringing business representatives from New Jersey to give the Senate reports on paid family leave.

But business leaders don't necessarily agree. President and CEO of Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde said, "Every time there's a new requirement that takes people out of the workplace, that removes people off a job, that requires even a temporary replacement, you can't say there's no impact." She added, "It's important that the state Legislature and the City Council recognize that there's a cumulative impact of their actions on employers and on New York's attractiveness as a place to build a business."

As New York lawmakers struggle to find a solution to this long-standing demand, the movement for paid family leave is gaining momentum. In its annual survey, the Unheard Third, CSS found 84 percent approval for paid family leave last year, up from 76 percent in 2005. Even President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address this year and is attempting to pass the Healthy Families Act which would create a $2 billion fund to help states with paid family leave.

"It goes beyond policy to a basic value," said Rankin. "Why wouldn't we do this and why wouldn't we do it now?"

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Three Different Budgets with Two Weeks To Go


Assembly Speaker Heastie (photo: Karen DeWitt)

Legislative leaders from both houses appear set to test Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s promise that he will sacrifice an on-time budget to get a set of ethics reforms he laid out in February, not long after the arrest of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges.

Last week, the State Senate and State Assembly each passed its one-house budget, marking stark differences from the governor and from each other on a number of aspects of the spending plan for fiscal year 2016, which is set to begin April 1, the deadline for reaching a deal.

With renewed focus on corruption in the Legislature thanks to Silver’s indictment, Cuomo has taken hardline stances on both ethics and education in his budget, weaving major policy proposals into spending bills. Besides his ethics promise Cuomo insists he will only increase state education spending by $327 million if the Legislature does not accept his sweeping education reforms, which include a new teacher evaluation system and an increase of the charter school cap. If the Legislature agrees to the changes Cuomo has promised to up education spending by $1.1 billion. Cuomo's budget comes in at over $140 billion in total.

The Legislature is faced with either approving the bills or risking the late budget. Legislative leaders and some good government groups see the move as a stretch of gubernatorial power. And while there was some discussion that the Legislature might sue Cuomo over including policy in the budget they appear to have written off the idea and moved to negotiations.

Many legislators are skeptical that Cuomo will really push things that far - after all, he has rarely missed an opportunity to tout that he is four for four in passing on-time budgets, something predecessors struggled to accomplish. With negotiations puttering along and the end-of-the-month deadline rapidly approaching, a number of legislators expect Cuomo will do what he is known to do: cut a deal - and with it avoid the public backlash a late budget would bring. Curiously, legislators have begun suggesting they could have a budget deal early, setting March 26 as a goal.

As is the annual tradition, each house countered Cuomo’s budget with its own proposal. Both the Democratically-controlled Assembly and the Republican-controlled Senate put forth one-house budgets that delink policy and spending.

The Democratic Assembly Majority is pushing its favorite items in a different form than the governor has included - a minimum wage increase larger than Cuomo’s, a DREAM act resolution that isn’t tied to an education tax credit, and a seven- rather than three-year extension of mayoral control of schools. Making little mention of ethics reform and offering none of Cuomo’s education reforms, the Assembly budget increases education spending by $1.8 billion.

The Senate budget, meanwhile, backs the education tax credit but leaves out The DREAM Act, and it also omits a minimum wage increase and an extension of mayoral control of schools. The budget plan increases funding for charter schools and ups the cap. It also includes new requirements for disclosure of outside income by legislators and members of the executive branch.

Interestingly, each house has included semblance of paid family leave, which Cuomo recently said the Legislature had “no appetite” for, but the plans are drastically different and could lead nowhere. The plan in the Senate budget is there at the behest of the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC.

Both houses came together last week to begin the process of reconciling their budget proposals in conference committees. Negotiations with Cuomo continue behind closed doors.

A side-by-side look at key policy differences as outlined in the three different budget proposals: 

Budget Comparison


Gov. Cuomo

Assembly (Democratic Majority)

Senate (Republican Majority)


Yes, but tied to education tax credit



Edu tax credit




Minimum wage increase

Yes. Setting min wage for city at $11.50, and $10.50 for the rest of the state, effective at the end of 2016. No proposed cost-of-living index.

Yes. Allowing city and suburbs to index minimum wage separate from state.

Raise wage over the next 3 years to $12.60, and $15 in places where cost of living is higher -NYC, and Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties- (goal: 12/31/18).

Tipped workers would see an increase from $5 to $9 or $11.40, depending on location. By 12/31/19 the minimum wage would be indexed to inflation.


Mayoral control of city schools

3 year renewal

7 year renewal


Education funding

$327 million increase without his reforms. $1.1 billion increase with.

$1.8 billion not connected to Cuomo’s reforms.

$1.9 billion increase. Budget includes a number of Cuomo’s education priorities.

Charter school cap

Increase cap by 100, while removing regional barriers to expansion, and remove caps specific to particular chartering authorities.


Increase the per-pupil aid to $225 instead of $75, and increase cap by 100.

Ethics reforms

Wants lawmakers to submits receipts on travel reimbursements.


Supports new disclosure requirements for outside income, plans to modify Gov’s ethic proposals and education reform initiative.

Raise the Age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18




by David King, with Shannon Ho


Schneiderman Unveils Ethics Plan 'to Cure the Disease'

AG Schneiderman speaking Monday night (photo: Ben Max)

NEW YORK - Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Monday inserted himself squarely in the debate on ethics reforms by proposing a slate of measures that would tackle the culture of corruption in Albany.

"Corruption has been a feature of government in the Empire State for a long time," said Schneiderman at a forum hosted at New York Law School by good government group Citizens Union. Speaking to an auditorium of about 200 people and others watching a livestream, the attorney general criticized the history of ethical lapses in the state Legislature and proposed sweeping changes that go beyond the "marginal reforms" introduced over the last few years - and even beyond the plan recently outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Schneiderman's plan includes a ban on all outside employment for state legislators - a line that drew applause from the crowd upon delivery - and ending per diem payments, but significantly increasing annual salaries and indexing them to cost of living increases.

He also proposes a state constitutional amendment establishing four-year terms for lawmakers, saying that it would end the "non-stop re-election fundraising and campaigning" that he says happens with the current two-year terms. And, Schneiderman put forth a systemic, multi-pronged plan for campaign finance reform, saying generally, "We cannot discuss reform without addressing the stranglehold that political contributions have on our government."

At one point, the attorney general spoke directly to lawmakers, asking them "as colleagues in public service" to join him in reforming the system, reminding them that he and other reformers are going after that system, not them individually.

Among other eyebrow-raising proposals, Schneiderman reiterated his call for the empowerment of the office of Attorney General for enhanced jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute public corruption. Schneiderman pointed out that his previous request for such authority was denied by Governor Cuomo, who supported the step when he was Attorney General himself. This, along with much of Schneiderman's reform agenda, faces an acutely uphill battle toward realization.

Despite this call and his rocky history with the governor, Schneiderman did show support for Cuomo's tactic of attaching ethics reform to budget negotiations. Urging the Governor to hold out for even bolder reforms, he said, "A late budget would be a small price to pay."

Schneiderman recently dealt a serious blow to Cuomo on his controversial email deletion policy, effectively pausing the policy in his office and forcing the governor to consider alternatives. Cuomo has said that in the next couple of weeks he will call a summit to create a uniform email retention/deletion policy across state government entities.

Of Schneiderman's reform ideas, Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey called them "aggressive and full-throated proposals to end the corrosive culture of corruption in Albany that has put too many elected officials behind bars and taints the many good lawmakers who serve well the public interest."

Praising Citizens Union, which recently released its own ethics reform agenda, Schneiderman said that the organization "was a key part of the successful reform movement of the 1930s -- and it will be a critical part of the reform movement of the 21st Century that we must build if we are to enact the real, transformational change that New York needs."

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Notes: this article has been updated; and, Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 16

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will again be dominated by budget negotiations - especially in Albany, where a budget is due by the end of the month, which is rapidly approaching. In New York City, City Council hearings will continue on Mayor Bill de Blasio's preliminary fiscal year 2016 budget - once those hearings wrap up at the end of the month, the Council will craft its response to de Blasio, negotiations will continue, and the mayor will present his Executive Budget, leading to another round of council hearings. Key portions of the city budget are, of course, dependent upon the state budget, so much anticipation (and lobbying) surrounds negotiations in Albany, where Governor Andrew Cuomo is attempting to push through his spending plan, with major education and ethics reforms, despite significant disagreement from both Democrats (who control the State Assembly) and Republicans (who control the State Senate). Cuomo is also right in the middle on the minimum wage increase he's pushing and other issues.

While there will be a lot of action in Albany this week, this weekend is the annual Somos el Futuro Conference in Albany, at which there is always plenty of networking, negotiating, and more.

Speaking of budget negotiations, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (a former State Senator) launched a petition on Sunday to put additional pressure on the governor and other legislative leaders to include Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in budget negotiations. "Despite comprising over half of New York State's population, no woman has ever had a seat in statewide budget negotiations," it begins.

As for de Blasio, he made his case in Albany a few weeks ago and continues to lobby behind the scenes, while also praising the Assembly and its new Speaker, Carl Heastie of the Bronx, for its one-house budget outline. A key aspect of state funding for de Blasio is that for his universal pre-kindergarten program. On Sunday de Blasio held an event to kick off enrollment for pre-K for the 2015-2016 school year - enrollment officially opens on Monday. The City is hoping to expand pre-K enrollment from year one's 53,000-plus to all 73,000-or-so four-year-olds in the city. Monday is the start of pre-K enrollment and the end of the application period to be on one of the city's Community Education Councils. CECs are the local representative bodies that help inform education policy decision making and have been highlighted during the "Mayoral Control Forums" held by Public Advocate Letitia James in recent weeks.

James held a rally at City Hall on Sunday to call on the State to fully fund city schools in line with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and to criticize Gov. Cuomo's education reform policies. She starts her week with one event on her public schedule: a Howard University alumni affair.

Along with James, environmental activists and others, Comptroller Scott Stringer begins his week at a City Hall press conference to voice opposition to the Port Ambrose liquefied natural gas export facility.

The mayor starts his week with a busy Monday: he'll "host a breakfast for City Council Leadership in Manhattan...meet with Congressman Jerry Nadler and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez in City Hall," host an afternoon press conference with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to make an announcement; and, at 11 p.m. "appear on Tavis Smiley" on PBS, according to his public schedule.

On Thursday evening, the mayor is expected to speak at a fundraiser in Manhattan to support City Council Member Vincent Gentile's congressional campaign. By the way, if you want to register to vote in that special election or the other one (Assembly District 43) happening May 5, you have until April 10 to register.

On Monday evening, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will speak at a Citizens Union event on solving Albany's corruption probably. He is expected to unveil new plans to expand his role in doing so and new proposals pushing state lawmakers further in ethics reforms. Details below.

As always, there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of. See our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday in Albany, National Organization for Women NYC will rally to end human trafficking: “For the last three years NOW-NYC has been fighting for the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA). Consensus is growing that the problem of trafficking can be tackled by legislators ensuring survivors-especially children-get help not punishment. TVPJA does that and more, and its passage would make New York a national leader in the fight against human trafficking.” [Related: read Manhattan DA Cy Vance's recent op-ed on the need to strengthen New York's sex trafficking laws]

On Monday afternoon, Assembly Speaker Heastie will hold a "news conference announcing comprehensive legislation to combat human trafficking. He will be joined by members of the Assembly Majority and advocates," according to his public schedule.

Both the State Senate and the State Assembly are in session in Albany on Monday afternoon.

Monday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Civil Rights for its preliminary budget hearing and a meeting of the Committee on Oversight and Investigations for its preliminary budget hearing.

On Monday morning, "New York Law School hosts "A Bold Step for New York's Children: A Symposium on Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility" featuring Jeremy Creelan, Soffiyah Elijah, Jacqueline Greene, Sheriff Allen Riley, Joel Copperman, Richard Aborn, Laurie Parise and others," according to City & State NY. [Related: read our report on Governor Cuomo's much-praised effort to "Raise the Age"]

Also according to City & State NY, on Monday at 11:30 a.m. "State Sen. IDC Leader Jeff Klein, state Sens. Diane Savino and Adriano Espaillat, New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres and others gather for a rally calling for funding in state budget to repair and upgrade NYCHA developments, Million Dollar Staircase, State Capitol, Albany."

The City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is holding a TB Day of Action on Monday, in which Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and others are participating to raise awareness.

Monday at 5:30 p.m., New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Brad Lander will host a “Celebration of Bangladesh Independence,” at the Council Chambers inside City Hall. Other Council Members in attendance will include Rafael Espinal Jr., Rory Lancman, Daniel Dromm, I. Daneek Miller, Annabel Palma, Mark Weprin, Jimmy Van Bramer, among others.

On Monday evening, BP Brewer will attend the opening of the new Hunter College faculty/laboratory research space at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Also Monday evening, NYCHA will host its Manhattan town hall meeting at Johnson Houses CC, in East Harlem.

Monday evening, good government group Citizens Union will host “Can New Yorkers Fix Albany’s Corruption Problem?” - its first Civic Conversation of the year, featuring Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and an esteemed panel. “Join Citizens Union for our first Civic Conversation of the year. This educational forum will bring expert panelists and the public together to discuss why there is a crime wave of corruption in Albany and what can be done to fight back and change the capitol's ethics.” After Schneiderman delivers remarks, panelists will include Richard Briffault, Professor of Legislation at Columbia Law School, Chair of NYC Conflicts of Interest Board and Former Moreland Commissioner; Richard Brodsky, Senior Fellow at Demos, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Policy at NYU Wagner Graduate School, and Former NYS Assemblymember for the 92nd District; Jennifer Rodgers, Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The panel will be moderated by Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union.

Tuesday morning, “Join Crain’s and New York real estate's most impressive players to explore the next stage in the city’s development. Chairman of the NYC Planning Commission Carl Weisbrod will unveil the de Blasio administration’s latest zoning policies and urban-planning initiatives. A panel of experts will assess City Hall’s ambitious efforts to create and maintain 200,000 units of affordable housing. The conference will conclude with the sharpest minds in the business debating how best to reform a broken tax system that must pay for it all.”

Also Tuesday morning, the Young Women’s Christian Association of New York will host a discussion on Leadership and Generosity: A Call to Action: “We will look at ‘Young Women Leaders’ featuring Aissata M.B. Camara, Elizabeth Plank, Carmen Perez, Maria Naggaga, Yuh-Line Niou, and Candace Simpson.”

Tuesday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Juvenile Justice, jointly with the Committee on General Welfare and the Committee on Women’s Issues for a preliminary budget hearing.

Tuesday at noon, The Brennan Center for Justice will present Democracy's Problems and Prospects: A Book Talk with Douglas E. Schoen: “America’s democracy is floundering, Congress is hopelessly gridlocked, and millions remain without gainful employment. Despite all this, longtime political strategist and polling expert Douglas E. Schoen remains optimistic.”

Tuesday evening, CUNY Institute for Education Policy (CIEP) will host a one-on-one conversation with the President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), Michael Mulgrew: “This unscripted conversation will cover a wide range of pressing issues facing New York State's teachers and their students.” Mulgrew will be speaking with CIEP Director David Steiner, who is also Dean of the Hunter College School of Education and former State Commissioner of Education.

[Explore the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette for something you may have missed]

Wednesday morning in Albany, Capital New York will host “Medical Marijuana: Is N.Y. Doing it Right?”, an in-depth conversation on the topic of New York’s medical marijuana law "covering regulation, accessibility, barriers to entry into the local market, program costs and more.” Featured speakers will include the incoming Counsel to the Governor of New York, Alphonso David; Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried; State Senator Diane Savino; and others.

On Wednesday, City Council Member Andy King and the Riverbay Corporation will host the "2015 Veterans Job and Resource Fair" in Co-op City in the Bronx. "Employers as well as non-profit resource organizations and city agencies will be present, including JP Morgan Chase & Co., which, with other founding corporations, launched the 100,000 Jobs Mission in 2011 with the goal of hiring 100,000 military veterans by 2020."

Wednesday afternoon, the Graduate Center at CUNY will host another public lecture in the Immigration Seminar Series: “Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families.” Among the speakers will be Joanna Dreby, Associate Professor of Sociology at University at Albany, SUNY.

Wednesday evening, “Albany Capital Pro Trivia Night!...Albany Bureau Chief Jimmy Vielkind tees up questions on all things policy, politics and media."

Also Wednesday evening, Beta NYC is hosting a Civic Hacknight in Queens with Coalition 4 Queens.

Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at MoMA PS1, New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will host a Cultural Town Hall event featuring special remarks from the Cultural Affairs Commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl.

Also in Queens Wednesday evening, BP Katz is hosting a "parent advisory board meeting on common core" that will include reps from the city DOE.

All day Thursday, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development will host its Annual Community Development Conference. The morning keynote speaker will be Thomas J. Curry, Federal Comptroller of the Currency. The afternoon keynote speaker will be Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker of New York City Council.

Thursday morning, Manhattan BP Brewer hosts a meeting of the Manhattan Borough Board.

Thursday at City Hall, there will be a Student Voter Registration Day press conference held by elected officials, advocacy groups, and school representatives.

Also Thursday morning, Queens BP Melinda Katz will hold a land use meeting at Queens Borough Hall.

Thursday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Governmental Operations for its preliminary budget oversight hearing; a meeting of the Committee on Veterans to consider a resolution "calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign S.752, the Veterans' Education Through SUNY Credits Act"; and a meeting of the Committee on Education to consider multiple resolutions, including one "calling upon the New York State Legislature to reject any attempt to raise the cap on the number of charter schools," one "calling upon the Department of Education to amend its Parent's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities to include information about opting out of high-stakes testing and distribute this document at the beginning of every school year, to every family, in every grade," and one "calling upon the New York State Legislature to eliminate the Governor's receivership proposal in the executive budget for New York City." 

Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to speak at a fundraiser for the Democratic candidate in the special election to fill the vacant 11th Congressional District seat, Brooklyn City Council Member Vincent Gentile. Democratic activist Bill Samuels and Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos will host the event at Mr. Samuels’ Manhattan home.

Also Thursday evening, the Department of Transportation and the MTA are hosting a town hall to unveil plans around the Utica Avenue B46 SBS Project, according to Riders Alliance, which is encouraging its members to attend and make their voices heard.

Thursday evening, at 6:30 p.m., Housing Preservation and Development will host a Owner Outreach and Education Forum with Council Members Inez Barron and Rafael Espinal and Cypress Hills Development Corporation in East New York, Brooklyn.

Also Thursday at 6:30 p.m., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host East Side Coastal Resiliency Project's Community Engagement Session: “Following on HUD's Rebuild by Design competition, New York City is working to reduce the risk of extreme weather and climate change, as well as improve quality of life. This project focuses on neighborhoods near the East River between Montgomery and 23rd Streets.”

Thursday at 7 p.m., the NYC Young Republican Club will host its monthly meetup at the Women's National Republican Club.

[Explore the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette for something you may have missed]

Friday and the weekend
All day Friday, Common Cause NY, Citizens Union, the New York City Council, and other partners will host Student Voter Registration Day “to increase youth voter registration and excite young people about being involved in the democratic process. Through interactive discussion SVRD encourages youth to see how issues at the polls affect their everyday lives.”

Friday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, jointly with the Subcommittee on Libraries, for a preliminary budget hearing.

Friday morning, Amnesty International USA will have its weekend-long 2015 Human Rights Conference and Annual General Meetings, in Brooklyn: “The 2015 Annual General Meeting will bring over a thousand human rights activists from around the world together to engage in networking opportunities, human rights actions, inspiring plenaries, outstanding key notes, and hands-on workshops." Speakers will include Harry Belafonte, Ann Burroughs, Rosa Alicia Clemente, Nusrat Durrani, Steven Hawkins, Thomas Jagow-Schultz, Benjamin Jealous, Linda Sarsour, Ciara Taylor, Vincent Warren, Jesse Williams, and Jie-Song Zhang.

Friday afternoon, Assembly Member Rebecca A. Seawright will host a Women’s History Month celebration, at which the Assembly Member is also set to give out Women of Distinction Awards to recognize “remarkable women and their efforts to improve our community.”

On Friday at 5:30 p.m., to commemorate women's history month, Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Jumaane Williams "will host the second annual Shirley Chisholm Women of Distinction Celebration & Award Ceremony" at Brooklyn Public Library-Central Branch. "This event will honor seven extraordinary women from New York City who are making tremendous strides in their fields by using their skills and expertise to strengthen our communities. Two young community leaders will also be honored during the event and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will serve as the event's keynote speaker."

Friday evening in Albany, City & State NY will host a Somos Albany Kickoff Cocktail Reception. The event will feature New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and New York State Assemblyman & Somos el Futuro Chair Marcos Crespo.

Saturday morning, The Office of Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, together with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will host "Tuberculosis Awareness Walk and Rally." 

Also Saturday morning, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) will host a CUNY Citizenship Application Assistance Event in Brooklyn.

On Sunday afternoon, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez will give his State of the District speech at George Washington Educational Campus.

[Explore the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette for something you may have missed]

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Rati Mukhuradze, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max

Theme of James' Mayoral Control Forums: More Local Say

james edu event

PA James at Friday's event (photo: Sara Valenzuela)

With a Wednesday evening event in Manhattan, Public Advocate Letitia James concluded her five-borough "Our School, Our Voices" series of community forums on the future of mayoral control of the city's schools.

Speaking before a gathering of around 60 people at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, James raised the issue of increasing local control over school governance through more community engagement and parental involvement. "Mayoral control has functioned as a business model," James said, largely referring to its implementation under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who won the right to control the city's system through state law in 2002.

Mayoral control over the city's schools was established to address a chaotic and corrupt school governance system. It was extended by the State in 2009 and is set to expire in June of this year. State legislators will soon decide on extending the system, perhaps as part of ongoing budget negotiations that are set to conclude by April 1. Education policy is proving, as usual, to be among the most contentious areas of debate.

Mayor Bill de Blasio went to Albany in late February and asked lawmakers to make mayoral control permanent. Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a three-year renewal, while the Democratically-controlled State Assembly has put forth a seven-year extension. The Republican-controlled State Senate has not taken a definitive position, but Sen. Jon Flanagan, who heads the Senate education committee, has said he's still waiting to see if Mayor de Blasio deserves to keep the power. There is mounting pressure on de Blasio to show that he can turn around the city's most struggling schools.

"In all likelihood, based upon my experience working with the New York State Legislature, it looks like mayoral control will continue. The question is, in what form," James told Gotham Gazette after Wednesday's forum. She believes that extending the degree of local control is still possible. "I believe that, yes, we could somehow expand the opportunities for parental engagement, parental involvement, and sharing governance on the Panel for Education Policy as well as strengthening Community Education Councils beyond just advisory."

Wednesday's forum, like the others James has hosted, included a panel, along with other guest speakers, and audience input. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal addressed the forum on issues of technology in education and increased transparency of Department of Education data, respectively.

While differing on the extent to which Mayor de Blasio - or any Mayor - should have power over city schools, panelists agreed on the central tenet that education should be removed from the sphere of politics as much as possible. Some even advocated for what seems to be the impossible task of ending mayoral control.

Sam Anderson, member of the Independent Commission on Public Education (iCOPE), which sees education through a human rights lens, said, "Mayoral control by definition is dictatorial." Its structure, he said, does not allow for the involvement of parents, students, and educators in the decision-making process, and that it should be done away with.

Most panel members, however, seemed to understand that mayoral control is a reality, however harsh it appears to some. Teresa Arboleda, a public advocate appointee to the Citywide Council on English Language Learners said, "I would love to see mayoral control go, but considering all the obstacles, we have to be real." She insisted that it be separated from the budget debate and that a big step in diluting the Mayor's power would be in establishing fixed terms for the PEP members. Currently, the Mayor appoints 8 of the 13 members, with the rest being chosen by the Borough Presidents.

Anne Looser, a high school special education teacher and a member of Teachers Unite, focused on the strengthening of School Leadership Teams as a means of "local control and site-based governance." Noah Gotbaum, a parent member of a Community Education Council, said if mayoral control does continue, it should be along the governor's proposal of three more years while the City explores alternatives.

James explained that in her belief and from what she hears from New Yorkers, people need to have a say and be heard at the community, neighborhood, and school levels. "We must demand that the infrastructure now in place under mayoral control is supported and respected," she said. "The School Leadership Team, Community Education Council, the PTA, and all the educational councils, which I have appointees on, must have an important role helping shape educational policy and priorities in their district and maximizing opportunities for community input."

Calls for attention to this issue may be heard at the state level, though it is unclear how much even Mayor de Blasio is listening. James capped her campaign with a Friday policy breakfast at CUNY Law School with renowned education policy expert Diane Ravitch as keynote speaker. (On Sunday afternoon, James will host an "Our Schools, Our Voices" rally at City Hall park, calling on the State to meet its funding obligations based on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling.)

Then, on March 28, according to Gotbaum, students, teachers, and parents will come together in Manhattan to "fight Governor Cuomo's destructive agenda" by rallying outside the governor's office.

James is optimistic about the momentum the movement is gathering. "I think [these forums] are very effective because I really believe that there's power in people," she said.

"Our hope really rests in the Assembly and I hope the Assembly members are listening to basically the calls of their constituents," she added. "They're petitioning their government. They want change. They believe that concentrated power just does not work and [it's] in the interests of not only the students but the parents, and in furtherance of government - or I should say, in furtherance of democracy."

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Conflicts of Interest Board Reiterates Request for Independent Budgeting

ferreras budget hearing

CM Ferreras and Speaker Mark-Viverito at a 2014 budget hearing (photo: William Alatriste)

At a hearing of the City Council Standards and Ethics Committee held at City Hall Thursday, representatives of the city's Conflicts of Interest Board reiterated a long-standing request for an independent budget.

In his testimony, Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) Deputy Executive Director Wayne Hawley said, "For almost two decades the board has sought an independent budget." The fact that the Board is charged with overseeing the same officials who decide their annual budget, he said, is "in and of itself a seeming conflict of interest."

"This conflict should be corrected through a charter amendment that removes the board's budget from the discretion of the public servants who are subject to the board's jurisdiction," he added, referring to the Mayor and members of the City Council.

Thursday's preliminary budget hearing involved oversight of the Board's performance over the last year and discussion of its budget going forward. But, for all intents and purposes, things remain the same. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio's initial fiscal year 2016 budget plan, the Board's funding is largely unchanged, with a few minor increases, and the main focus of testimony was the years-old request for a budget independent of the Mayor and the City Council.

The Board's pleas have not fallen on deaf ears. Council member Alan Maisel, chair of the Standards and Ethics Committee, agreed that the Board should be completely independent. "From a practical sense, political sense, democratic sense, they shouldn't have to go hat in hand to get their funds," Maisel told Gotham Gazette. "They should get a fixed budget. It should be basically automatic."

The proposed charter amendment is similar to the budgetary provision for the Independent Budget Office, which receives 10 percent of the budget of the Office of Management and Budget. However, the Board's proposal would set its budget according to the City's total expenses for the year - specifically, it would be not less than four thousandths of one percent (0.00004) of the city budget. It would also require detailed public accounting of the Board's expenditures. Going by the City's Fiscal Year 2015 adopted expense budget of $75 billion, this formula would yield a COIB budget of $3 million. In actuality, it was allocated $2.1 million.

The Board submitted an identical proposal to the Mayor and Council Speaker in 2009, with the exception that the budget request was set at 0.00007 of the total. It was reduced in conjunction with dropping a proposal for investigative authority for the Board.

Hawley believes the Board's pleas are being heard. "The last careful discussion of this was during the last charter reform." he told Gotham Gazette. "I think they listened, there are competing interests and the Board understands the competing interests as a matter of, probably, good government."

The counter-argument to budget independence, he conceded, is that it takes away freedom from democratically-elected officials charged with making budgets to allocate money as they see fit.

The Board's budget requests have only marginally increased and their staff size has been stable, but their responsibilities and workload have jumped over the years. Despite Hawley acknowledging to the Committee that losing even one person from the 22-member staff could make a significant difference, the Board did not request any additional funds for staffing.

"We think our staff is about the right size," Hawley said. "There's always the temptation to ask for more, but we're mindful of the fact that one more staffer for us arguably means one fewer teacher or one fewer firefighter or one fewer sanitation worker, and we're mindful of that."

[Related: read our preview of this hearing for more background on the function of the COIB]

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

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