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Citizens Union

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The final debate for the Democratic candidates for mayor last night was used primarily as a means to attack Bill de Blasio, who has become the front runner in the polls. He was hit on issues like his support for a tax hike on the rich to pay for prekindergarten classes - which his opponents point out needs Albany's approval. De Blasio was attacked for supporting expansion of term limits when he was running for Speaker. His late support for a living wage bill was another source of contention, as was his acceptance of earmarks. The candidates did, however, elaborate on their stances towards union contract negotiations a bit. De Blasio said the city couldn't afford to give the unions all the retroactive raises they want, while most of them said they wouldn't raise taxes to pay the workers. The NY Times published a useful fact checking piece for their claims throughout the debate here.

Other Stories We're Following

Bloomberg Sues Council Over NYPD Profiling Law (Daily News)

What Can The Next Mayor Do About Affordable Housing? (Capital)

City’s Unionized Workers Are Mostly Minorities, Study Shows (NY Times)

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Gov. Cuomo yesterday vowed to keep pushing his legislative agenda in face of "scandal mania." He's been using the recent wave of "quote, unquote scandals" to push ethics reform, but still wants movement on his other priorities, such as women’s equality, the creation of a local government panel, and casino gaming. He also blamed the press for letting scandals become all-consuming. Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos is using the investigations as a reason to oppose public financing, saying it will put public money into the hands of untrustworthy people. Cuomo yesterday revealed a proposal for one of his priorities, reforming the Long Island Power Authority, calling for a three year rate freeze and a takeover by Public Service Electric & Gas Co. of New Jersey.

Other Stories We're Following

City Board Of Elections Warns Of Mayoral Election Disaster (Daily News)

Advocacy Group Opposed To Flushing Meadows Soccer Arena (Capital)

Bloomberg Defends Queens Soccer Stadium (NY Post)

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Superstorm Sandy caused 11 billion gallons of partially or untreated sewage - the equivalent of Central Park stacked 41 feet high - to leak into rivers, lakes, and waterways, according to this report by Climate Central. New York City reported six sewage spills larger than 100,000,000 gallons, and 28 larger than 1 million gallons. New York authorities estimate it will cost nearly $2 billion to repair flood damaged sewage treatment facilities. Sewage overflow is common in the city, although not on this scale, and climate change will only make things worse, the group warns:

"Climate change is making sewage treatment plants more vulnerable to major failures and overflows due to rising seas, more intense coastal storms, and increasingly heavy precipitation events."

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A delay in its bidding process has left the state's Office of Medicaid Inspector General without private investigators who do the foot work rooting out fraud and abuse. Without them, the state is failing to recover tens of millions of dollars. The investigators are usually retired detectives. Also, the office has weakened its in-house enforcement, leaving many cases without a primary investigator or supervisor assigned. Meanwhile, the federal government is asking the state to return a $27.4 million reimbursement to Washington. An audit found an "extremely high" incidence of billing errors for services for Medicaid recipients who were in a state rehabilitation program.

Other Stories We're Following

In Reversal, Liu Opposes Inspector General For NYPD (Wall Street Journal)

Tax Rebate Details Emerge (Albany Times Union)

Offstage, A Proudly Brash Quinn Isn’t Afraid To Let Her Fury Fly (NY Times)

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Last year, debt at the state's public authorities reached $244 billion, rising from $215 billion the year before, according to a report by the state comptroller. That includes $58 billion worth of bonds issued on behalf of state government. Spending jumped from $44 billion to $56 billion during the same period. The 1,169 state and local authorities range from the MTA to the Rensselaer County Water and Sewer Authority. The public typically has no vote on their indebtedness.


Other Stories We're Following

Government Lends To Rebuild In Flood Zones (WNYC)

Victim Of Illegal Stop-And-Frisk Gets $14,000 Settlement (Daily News)

City Elections Board Opts For Scanners in Primary, Runoff (WNYC)

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The city missed out on $40 million in federal Race to the Top funds for failing to provide budget, timeline and personnel information. The city scored 186 out of a possible 210 points on its application. A number of points were lost simply for incomplete answers. Meanwhile, federal negotiations over the fiscal cliff could lead to $164 million in cuts to federal aid for programs for special-education and lower-income students in the state. In other related news, schools in New York's poor districts still lack basic resourcessix years after a landmark court ruling required the state to increase spending on public education.

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On Friday, President Obama asked Congress for $60.4 billion in Sandy aid for New York, New Jersey and other states. Nearly $48 billion of it would go to relief, while the rest would be used for mitigation of future storms. To further help recovery efforts, two U.S. senators have also proposed billions in tax breaks, a plan modeled after a Katrina bill. Meanwhile, a relief fund set up by Gov. Cuomo has been criticized for the political nature of the board that oversees the money it raises. Many members were involved in fundraising for the governor's election campaign. In related news, a number of the area's non-Sandy related charities have seen a drop in donations since the storm hit.

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In many pockets throughout the city, the effects of Sandy are still being felt. It could be weeks before damaged hospitals reopen, but Mayor Bloomberg $500 million emergency plan for those hospitals and also public schools. Out of the city's 1,750 schools, 37 remain shuttered. Public housing residents who still have no power will receive a rent credit for their time without services, but not until January. Rockaway is still a demolition zone and mold is becoming a large concern. The city is launching "one-stop restoration centers" that will provide recovery services and disaster relief. The extra money Gov. Cuomo requested from the federal government is far from definite.

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The M.T.A. revealed its four fare hike proposals today. Two would increase the base fare to $2.50 from $2.25 while raising the cost of unlimited MetroCards. The others wouldn't alter the base fare but would increase unlimiteds substantially. Chairman Joseph Lhota said he prefers a hybrid of the proposals. He also ruled out eliminating the bonus for pay-per-ride cards, which makes two of the proposals unlikely to pass. Costs for commuter trains, as well as bridge and tunnel crossings, will also rise. The MTA is looking for another $450 million a year from users. Fares and tolls are expected to rise again in 2015. They vote on the proposals in December.

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This report by the Citizens Budget Commission proposes a new way to fund the M.T.A. called "25-50-25". It recommends that auto user fees cover all drivers' facilities, plus 25 percent of mass transit services. Then mass transit user fees would cover another 50 percent of the operating costs of those services. And state and local tax subsidies would cover the final 25 percent of transit operating costs plus “catch-up” capital investments needed to bring the system to a state of good repair.

The 25-50-25 policy would mean that mass transit riders would pay higher – but still reasonable – fares. The cost of a single ride ticket would increase to at least $2.75 by 2016 but in constant dollars a subway ride would cost at most three cents more than it did in 1996. Motorists would face increased costs for the use of their vehicles, in the range of $167 to $293 more annually, but the charges would be consistent with those in other global metropolises and related to the benefits drivers derive from a well-functioning transportation system.

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State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the M.T.A.'s finances have improved after years of crises thanks to increased ridership, higher tax collection, and cost-cutting measures. But he noted that fare hikes outpace inflation and financing sources for future projects remain unclear. The legal challenge to the payroll tax was also raised as a significant hurdle. Meanwhile, the state budget has generally stabilized from the recent past, when it lurched from multi-billion dollar crisis to crisis, he said.

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The state's new property tax cap succeeded in its first year in holding average property tax growth to 2 percent – 40 percent less than the previous ten-year average, according to this report by Gov. Cuomo's office. Out of 3,077 local governments and school districts proposing a levy in the past year, the study found that 84 percent reported a levy within the capped amount.

Other highlights of the report include:
· 642 of 678 or 95 percent of school districts stayed within the cap.
· 1,944 of 2,399 or 81 percent of local governments that reported a proposed levy stayed within the cap.

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State agencies are in compliance with an executive order that vehicle purchases be alternative fuel vehicles, but guidelines about when to use which type of fuel are lax, according to this audit by the state comptroller.

Starting in 2005, 50 percent of all new light-duty vehicle purchases were required to be alternative fuel, increasing to 100 percent in 2010. Between January 1, 2006 and June 6, 2011, the authority purchased 731 light-duty vehicles, including 594 alternative fuel vehicles. The authority was not in compliance with the Order in 2006, but was compliant from 2007 through 2011. The authority has not developed any policy or given guidance to its employees on when to use alternative fuel E-85 in its vehicles. As a result, fuel selection is driven by employee choice rather than authority direction. For the three divisions tested, authority employees at locations with E-85 pumps used E-85 between 30 percent and 60 percent of the time.

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If New York were to reduce it's body mass index by 5 percent by 2030, it could save $40 billion in health care costs, according to <a href="http://healthyamericans.org/newsroom/releases/?releaseid=273" target="_blank">this report</a> by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. But if the state continues on its current trajectory, it  could have an adult obesity rate of 51 percent by that time.