Gotham Gazette Wed, 24 Feb 2021 20:25:23 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) To Avoid More Cuomo 'Supplanting,' De Blasio Pushes for Direct Aid to New York City in Next Federal Package Cuomo de Blasio presser

Mayor de Blasio & Governor Cuomo (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

With so much on the line, Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing leaders in Washington, D.C. to allocate direct aid to New York City in the next big federal stimulus package, currently being negotiated among President Joe Biden and members of Congress. At the same time, de Blasio is calling on the State Legislature to help him stop Governor Andrew Cuomo from continuing to syphon off hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid coming through Albany.

Both de Blasio and Cuomo have said billions of federal dollars will be essential to the region's economic recovery and necessary to prevent city and state budget cuts. With $350 billion in the stimulus plan proposed by Biden going to state and local governments, New York City and State officials are waiting to see what the final package looks like, including the formula for how the proposed funds will be distributed and whether aid for the city will flow directly rather than through the state. After federal aid from the CARES Act, passed in March 2020, and other sources was used to supplant, rather than supplement, over $700 million in state aid to the New York City school district last year, the mayor is leery of aid going through the state.

"The federal government recognized the challenges our schools faced and gave the state funding for schools," de Blasio told legislators during his annual state budget testimony last Thursday.

The city is facing a $10.5 billion revenue shortfall across fiscal years 2020 to 2022, de Blasio said last month when he unveiled his $92.3 billion preliminary budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins this July 1. That budget is more than $4 billion larger than the current budget, which was cut to account for major drops in revenue, a situation that was improved by federal aid and higher-than-anticipated tax revenue. The last stimulus package, passed in December, included a total of $54 million for New York overall. But there are still major concerns about what tax receipts, especially property taxes, will look like next fiscal year and beyond.

"Last year, the state supplanted over $700 million in education aid. And now, the State is proposing to supplant again – taking almost $800 million in funds away from our students," he said, adding that Cuomo’s new Executive Budget plan proposes pushing another $279 million in additional charter school costs on New York City in fiscal years 2021 and 2022.

The latest federal projections came in a letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to New York's Democratic delegation Thursday, outlining roughly $12.7 billion in direct aid to New York State and another $10.6 billion to local governments. New York City is on track to receive $5.62 billion directly under the House proposal, which passed the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by New York City Rep. Carolyn Maloney, last week and is subject to change as the package moves through Congress and onto the president's desk. Cuomo has said if New York State does not receive $15 billion in the next federal package, programs will come onto the chopping block, but his claims of the state facing that large of a two-year deficit have been debunked, in part given the major federal aid that has already flowed to New York.

In total, the House bill includes over $70 billion to New York with $23.3 billion going directly to state and local governments, according to a statement from Maloney's office.

With stimulus aid coming to states and localities "some goes to the state for the state to dole out, some of it goes directly to cities for cities to use for their own want, if you will," explained Bill Neidhardt, de Blasio's press secretary, in an interview with Gotham Gazette last week.

"That is what we're calling for in this upcoming stimulus. We think there should be direct aid to cities," he said. "We've been pushing leadership in the Senate and I'm pretty sure they hear us," he added, in apparent reference to new U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of Brooklyn.

Neidhardt said the city was seeking "significant" direct federal aid but that there was not an exact figure attached to the request. 

In a January 20 interview on the Max & Murphy podcast, Neidhardt discussed the HEROES Act, which passed in the Democratic majority in the House last May but died in the then-Republican-controlled Senate, as an example of what the city was hoping for. That bill included over $1 trillion in state and local aid, including direct aid to New York City, according to Neidhart.

"The HEROES Act, which was passed by the House months ago, had a really good formula that directly gave to cities because they know federal aid going direct to cities can implement that money quicker, more equitably, and more justly," he said.

But the state could reduce their allocation to the city whether or not federal aid flows through the state, according to Ana Champeny, Director of City Studies at Citizens Budget Commission, the fiscal watchdog.

"Even if the education aid had come straight to the city [the state] could have done the same thing," Champeny said in an interview. "The direct doesn't necessarily mean that you're not going to have a reduction in state aid."

Aid to New York City in Cuomo's Executive Budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins April 1 of this year, is expected to top $19.7 billion -- a nearly $1.7 billion increase over the previous year, according to the budget briefing book from the state Division of the Budget. Most of that increase -- over $1.4 billion -- is from a bump in education aid.

The portion being contributed to New York in that budget plan from state dollars is virtually flat -- an increase of $53 million, according to Champeny. The remaining increase comes from a jump in federal school aid from $721 million in the current fiscal year to $2.15 billion projected in the next, which totals just over $1.4 billion, Champeny says.

Total school aid to New York City in the Executive Budget -- which is now the subject of legislative hearings and negotiations before an adopted budget is due April 1 -- is over $13 billion in fiscal year 2022, according to state budget officials. The Division of the Budget accounts for another $2.4 billion in aid to New York City from the state covering growth in the city's Medicaid costs, a state initiative dating back to 2015.

Overall, state aid as a percentage of total city revenue has shrunk over the last ten years but a bigger proportion of city revenue last year came from non-city sources than in previous years.

After four federal stimulus packages in the first half of 2020, the New York City budget got a boost of $5.3 billion, according to an analysis from the Independent Budget Office last May.

Last month, the United States Conference of Mayors sent a letter to Congress urging federal help to local governments with signatures from de Blasio and about 400 other mayors across the country.

"The lack of adequate support has resulted in budget cuts, service reductions, and job losses," the letter read, in part. "Providing direct, flexible aid to cities is the most efficient and immediate way to help families and their communities who have been suffering for far too long."

Complicated budget maneuvering can make it difficult to track exactly how much state aid is supplanted using federal aid but efforts have been made to prevent it in previous stimulus packages. The CARES Act, for example, included a stipulation that costs had to have been incurred since the pandemic in order to be covered and could not include spending previously budgeted for.

"The devil is in the details and it depends on how the federal legislation is written," Champeny told Gotham Gazette. For money flowing through the state, "that can have more of an impact on the extent to which the state has or does not have flexibility in making decisions and the extent to which the state can use it instead of state funding rather than in addition to it."

Doling out money to cities and localities with varying governmental structures can be a cumbersome task for federal lawmakers and giving on a state basis to be disbursed locally can be a matter of expediency. But a municipality as big as New York City can coordinate with Washington as well as many state governments, budget experts say.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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To Avoid More Cuomo 'Supplanting,' De Blasio Pushes for Direct Aid to New York City in Next Federal Package Wed, 17 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
At-Risk Communities Need a Covid Hero to Protect Critical Federal Resources gov cuomo vaccine

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

Governor Cuomo has worked hard to cultivate a national reputation as the Emmy Award-winning hero of his own covid reality show – so why is he stripping federal resources from hospitals, clinics, and health centers on the front lines of the crisis? 

Last year, the Cuomo Administration included a provision in the state budget that would cost safety net providers an estimated $154 million in federal resources the first year and $1.5 billion over five years. This Albany accounting gimmick, set to take effect on April 1, would “carve out” the state’s Medicaid pharmacy benefit. The problem is that this “carve out” results in the state rejecting federal resources provided by the 340B drug discount program. This program makes it possible for health care providers to serve New York’s most vulnerable communities.

Fortunately, there’s a legislative fix that will buy time for a long-term solution. A bill sponsored by Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (A. 1671) would delay implementation of this “carve out” for three years, giving us time to work with the Governor, Legislature, and fellow stakeholders to ensure that the state doesn’t give up federal resources for vulnerable New Yorkers just to fill a budget shortfall. 

As pharmacists in organizations that receive federal support under the Ryan White Care Act, we are on the frontlines in caring for patients with HIV/AIDS and vaccinating thousands of New Yorkers every week against COVID-19. To understand how devastating these cuts are, you have to understand the communities we serve. Half of all Americans living with HIV/AIDS receive medical care from a Ryan White clinic. Our patients are 70% Black or Hispanic, a majority are LGBTQ, 61% live at or below the poverty line, and 62% are experiencing homelessness or need housing assistance.

Our patients have been hit hardest by the pandemic and there remains great mistrust in the health care system from historical wrongs perpetrated against communities of color. Just last week, the Governor traveled to a public housing residence in Brooklyn to call attention to this crisis within a crisis – with Black and Latino Americans 2.8 times more likely than whites to die from COVID-19.   

We work every day to build trust with our patients in these hardest hit communities, and now we’re the ones working to build trust in the vaccine. We are the ones responsible for getting that vaccine into arms – twice – so why would the Governor divert critical funding from that effort?

While the Governor often speaks about vulnerable communities, his own budget is attacking a proven and effective weapon against covid – the 340B drug discount program. The resources 340B brings to safety net providers allows us to engage these most at-risk communities. It provides resources for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and outreach staff. It supports vaccine clinics where we manage check-in, patient flow, post-vaccine observation, and data transmission to the state. And it allows us to provide transportation to bring patients to the vaccine or the vaccine to patients. 

Community health centers reeling from the pandemic have already had to deal with the state withholding funds. Now, on top of that, the state is removing what for many is our largest resource – the discount from the federal 340B drug pricing program. Undermining this resource will make it impossible for health centers to reach the communities that Albany and Washington so desperately want and need us to reach.

New York State’s most vulnerable communities need more than an Emmy-award winning TV show. We need a real covid hero.

Mark Malahosky is Vice President of Pharmacy Services for Trillium Health. Dr. Patrick Hildenbrandt is Chief Pharmacy Officer at Evergreen Health Services.

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At-Risk Communities Need a Covid Hero to Protect Critical Federal Resources Wed, 17 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Warns of Cuomo Budget Moves, Outlines Albany Agenda in Final State Legislative Hearing 1 budget hearing governments

Mayor de Blasio testifying remotely (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded to state legislators on Thursday to protect New York City from hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts and cost shifts in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget for the next fiscal year, warning that the damage could be worse if federal stimulus aid is not delivered on time.  

In his annual, and final, appearance before the state Legislature to testify about the governor’s budget plan and the city’s state agenda for the year, the mayor painted a dire portrait of the fiscal wreckage left by the coronavirus pandemic and cautioned against any further fiscal impositions on the city by the state. Those concerns included both the potential cuts and cost shifts, as well as the governor’s “supplantation” of hundreds of millions of dollars more in federal funds, and also several Cuomo policy proposals.

De Blasio noted that the city has lost an estimated $10.5 billion in tax revenue over fiscal years 2020, 2021, and 2022 and has spent as much as $6.1 billion on covid-related expenses, of which he said about $685 million will not be reimbursed by the federal government. 

According to de Blasio, Cuomo’s budget -- which is now the subject of legislative examination and negotiation before a deal is due by April 1 -- would cut or shift about $310 million for the city in upcoming fiscal year 2022 (about the same amount being cut or shifted in the current fiscal year, he said), while also supplanting about $800 million in federal funding for education for the city (after supplanting about $700 million in federal education funding in the current fiscal year). And Cuomo’s Executive Budget is also predicated on the state receiving about $6 billion in additional federal relief funds, without which localities could lose much more state aid.

“Regardless of what happens in Washington, calling on working New Yorkers to forgo essential services is wrong,” de Blasio said, pushing the Legislature to increase taxes on the wealthy as a way of filling budget gaps -- something he’s done in each of his eight years as mayor to no avail, though this year’s budget challenges make it the most likely yet. 

The mayor pointed to specific cuts or cost shifts that would strain the city’s already struggling finances. They include $279 million in charter school spending that the city would have to bear between the 2021-22 fiscal years. Another $473 million cut to Health + Hospitals over the two fiscal years could mean “closing 19 H+H clinics, which treat 140,000 patients a year and losing 900 doctors and nurses, resulting in longer wait times for patients,” the mayor claimed. He also criticized cuts to public health infrastructure spending, substance abuse and domestic violence services, youth foster care and senior programs. “We can’t let our most vulnerable be victims of austerity,” he said. 

Last year, when there was significant uncertainty about how the city’s revenue would be affected by the pandemic, the mayor went to the Legislature with a request to allow the city to  borrow funds for operational expenses. Without the ability to borrow, he had warned then that the city would have to resort to firing as many as 22,000 municipal workers. This year, however, he neither made the request nor did he predict the need for mass layoffs short of a “nightmare scenario” where the state does not receive federal stimulus. “We're going to be putting all options on the table if that were to happen. But today I am not asking you specifically for borrowing authority. I'm hoping we can find much better solutions,” he said.

The Cuomo administration disputed de Blasio's testimony. “Let’s be clear: In the midst of a global pandemic and the worst economic downturn in generations, funding in the Executive Budget for New York City goes up $1.3 billion, including a 13% increase for schools – significantly higher than the statewide average," said Freeman Klopott, a spokesperson for the state Division of Budget. "Washington right now is debating a $350 billion package for state and local governments and it must include $15 billion for New York State to close our deficit that was caused entirely by the global pandemic the federal government failed to stop. Raising taxes is best done at the federal level so as not to pit one state against another and right now we all need to keep our focus on Washington to ensure the critical resources it is poised to deliver to the state and the City are fair.”

Funding for New York City schools in the governor's budget is up nearly $1.5 billion year over year, a 13% increase, according to Klopott, who also said that on Health + Hospitals funding, de Blasio is looking at specific streams of funding but not the bigger picture, where overall Medicaid funding supporting H+H is increasing $786 million in the current fiscal year and $772 million next.

Besides the fiscal impact, de Blasio also opposed several proposals in the budget that would affect the city’s control over land use and zoning. Though he has backed the principle behind a proposal to allow conversions of vacant commercial properties into affordable housing, he said the language of the governor’s proposal does not make any guarantees that housing built will be affordable.

“I think it is an idea that has merit,” he said, but noted that it would allow the state to circumvent the local Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).  “What I'm worried about is the state overriding ULURP, cutting out communities, making sweetheart deals with the real estate industry,” he said. “Because if you look at the proposal, it leaves several ways out for the real estate industry to not create affordable housing.”

He also opposed another proposal that would allow the Javits Convention Center Operating Corporation the ability to override local building codes and another that allows the MTA to override the authority of the city Department of Transportation.

According to Klopott of the Cuomo administration, the governor is quickly seeking to adjust to new dynamics created by the pandemic and wants to speed development to allow for the conversion of so many commercial vacancies into needed affordable and supportive housing. On Javits, Klopott said the Executive Budget offers legislation enabling the convention center to issue permits in accordance with New York City building codes.

De Blasio also defended the city’s landmark legislation to cut building emissions, which Cuomo’s budget plan would weaken. And he criticized the threat from the state of withholding funds for law enforcement if the city does not put a police reform plan in place as required by an executive order that the governor signed last year. “These things are moving,” he said, promising that his administration is working with the City Council on a package of reforms while also reiterating specific police accountability proposals from his recent State of the City speech. He did, however, raise concerns that the reform process could be slowed down if the NYPD were to fall under an external monitor, a step that State Attorney General Letitia James is seeking through a federal lawsuit against the department last month.

De Blasio argued for more tenant protections, for legalizing marijuana, and reforms at the Board of Elections through a professionalization bill sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan and Assemblymember Nily Rozic of Queens, both Democrats. 

He also asked legislators to quickly approve legislation that would help the city build back jobs and support small businesses. His agenda included a community hiring bill that would require contractors and businesses to hire low-income New Yorkers and other workers from high-poverty communities, a Small Business Recovery Tax Credit to give $50 million in rent relief to 17,000 small businesses, and a rebate for owners of 1-to-3 family homes.

Though the mayor did call for increasing taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, he raised some concerns about a sweeping package of bills that would accomplish that goal at the state level. The package of six bills, called the Invest in Our New York Act, has been backed by a coalition of progressive advocacy groups and has several prominent legislative sponsors. But among those bills is one that would establish a stock transfer tax, which critics say would push Wall Street firms to conduct business elsewhere. “I agree that if you don't do it on a national basis, you do create the potential for pitting state against state or locality against locality for where those businesses will be and where those transactions will be,” de Blasio said when asked about the Stock Transfer Tax. 

Legislators at the hearing gave the mayor plenty of space to air his grievances with Cuomo and the state. He repeatedly critiqued the state’s haphazard vaccine program rollout even as legislators pressed him to open more vaccine sites in their districts. De Blasio said he agreed with a number of lawmakers who are pushing the two legislative majorities to repeal the governor's sweeping emergency powers granted early in the covid outbreak.

“We've been stymied by lack of supply,” he noted, while also pointing to a lack of direction from state authorities. “There's lots of specific rules the state adds on and changes all the time. It's just gumming up the works...The incessant desire to micromanage every step, we saw what that led to.” Under questioning from Assemblymember Ed Braunstein, he pledged to soon open a vaccination site in underserved parts of northwestern Queens.

The mayor made several other promises for which legislators are likely to hold him to account. He said he would not raise property tax rates. “We need to give them that rebate, because those are often lower income, middle income homeowners who really don't deserve that hit,” he said. 

He said that a property tax reform commission he created, which issued its first report in January last year after long delays and was then shelved amid the pandemic, would soon resume borough-wide hearings as it continues its work. “We will get you those dates in the coming days,” he promised Brooklyn State Senator Andrew Gounardes. “Because we've talked about it internally. We've got to restart this engine. We're absolutely committed to a final report soon.” 

He also promised Braunstein that next week the city would announce a new plan to hold this year’s Gifted & Talented testing for students, and that would be followed by a new system in the months ahead. “Between now and September, we're going to announce an entirely new approach for the future because I think we can reach many more kids,” de Blasio said.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with response from the Cuomo administration.

De Blasio Warns of Cuomo Budget Moves, Outlines Albany Agenda in Final State Legislative Hearing Thu, 11 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Biden Plan Gives New York State a Two-Year Reprieve from a Damaged Budget vice pres governor

Joe Biden and Andrew Cuomo (photo: governor's office)

President Biden’s stimulus package is proceeding down the legislative path in Congress. This is great news for New York residents and for New York governments’ beleaguered budgets. The $1.9 trillion plan includes $350 billion for State and Local Governments, Tribes, and Territories.

The monies will likely be apportioned in a manner similar to the earlier stimulus package, meaning that New York State, at 6% of the nation’s population, would get close to $21 billion to shore up the budgets of the state government, the city government, and the rest of New York’s municipalities. New York residents would, of course, be getting the direct checks and increased unemployment aid that are outlined through September 2021. The income cutoff levels for the direct checks are still being negotiated and, of course, the final package could still be modified.

A respite of this magnitude could not be more welcome. The city and state governments will effectively get a two-year grace period for their economies to recover from the COVID-19 recession, with budgets heavily sustained by federal aid until the 2023-2024 budget year begins in April 2023. The dimensions of the new federal aid are extraordinary, but there’s no doubt New York will hit a fiscal cliff when the federal money runs out.

How the Biden Plan Will Help New York
The plan working its way through Congress far exceeds Governor Cuomo’s initial expectations about federal aid in the coming state budget, due for adoption by April 1. Governor Cuomo’s 2021-2022 Executive Budget, submitted to the Legislature on January 19, anticipated a baseline of $3 billion from the new stimulus plan for each the coming fiscal year and the 2022-2023 fiscal year, or $6 billion over two years. The table below presents that assumption. Note that the federal receipts are new anticipated funds, not reflecting the already substantial infusions of federal aid provided in 2020 or 2021 thus far:



The table below is from the submitted Executive Budget showing how a federal funds infusion of $15 billion could offset widespread budget cuts and tax increases in New York over the next two years:


New York’s potential aid in the Biden plan, at an estimated $14 billion, is close enough to the governor’s estimate above to hold New York State’s budget harmless from spending cuts and tax increases for two years. That does not count the additional aid of $7 billion that could be passed through to local governments, assuming New York got a full $21 billion share of the $350 billion aid package for State and Local Governments. The table above does not factor in Enhanced Federal Medicaid reimbursement of an additional $2 billion for New York State approved by the Biden administration after the Executive Budget was released, or funds from Biden’s COVID-19 assistance plan for schools.

A Fiscal Cliff in Spring 2023?
The governor’s budget plan uses federal aid as a substitute to replace state spending. As a result, if no underlying adjustments were made to state revenues and expenditures that were temporarily being replaced, significant deficits would likely reappear in the 2023-24 state budget, even assuming the economy is finally recovering.

The governor’s budget forecast a $6 billion deficit for New York State in fiscal year 2024, which starts April 1, 2023. That forecast assumed the Legislature would enact his proposed tax increase on very wealthy New Yorkers, bringing in $2 billion a year, budget cuts of $3.5 billion in 2021-22, and addressing, in a manner not specified, a 2022-23 deficit of about $3 billion. Failing to enact the spending and revenue adjustments in the new budget due by this April 1 would add to the 2023-24 deficit forecast of $6 billion, adding $5.5 billion to that deficit for a resulting $11.5 billion that year with the extraordinary federal aid in the Biden plan exhausted.

In fact, no one knows what the course of the economy will be over the next two years, along with the state and the city budget deficits. The recovery will be driven by the success of the COVID-19 vaccine and its distribution. New York State coped with a similar size deficit, about $10 billion, in 2011 when the two years of aid from the Obama stimulus package expired, with painful budget cuts. Fortunately, the national and state economies became robust at that time. Once again, New York must restore the health of its economy, and that means the health of the New York City economy, which over the past ten years has been 70-80% of the state’s job growth.

A New York City Comeback?
New York City will have to come back from what may be its most damaging decline since the fiscal crisis of the ‘70s, or even the Great Depression. Tourism and hospitality, the arts, entertainment, culture, international investment, all the prime elements of a premier international city in a global economy, have all been devastated. New York City lost 12% of its employment between December 2019 and December 2020 and nearly 60% of the state’s job losses were concentrated in the city. 

The city recovery has lagged the state and nation since the country’s covid lockdown. In fact, the City has only recovered 361,000 of the 944,000 jobs it lost between February and April 2020, or 38%, while the rest of the state outside the city has recovered 52% of its job losses, according to the New York State Department of Labor (my calculations of its data). The January 2021 jobs report just released by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the nation as a whole has recovered about 12.5 out of the 22.4 million jobs lost since February 2020, or 56%. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s latest weekly report shows the city economy’s employment growth has stalled since October 2020 (and jobs actually declined in December). It’s not clear that a healthy recovery can really begin until a massive number of New Yorkers has received the vaccine, possibly not until late summer or early fall.

Are New York’s leaders up to the challenge? Can a governor known for his competence but unwillingness to work with others come to grips with a State Legislature with far more progressives in both houses? Can a new New York City mayor halt the state’s discriminatory treatment of the city and actually engage with the governor? Can a consensus about how to solve New York’s problems really be achieved in this divisive era? One thing: the leaders are all Democrats. Can they hold together and chart a path that will keep New York successful?

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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Biden Plan Gives New York State a Two-Year Reprieve from a Damaged Budget Wed, 10 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Albany Agendas, Strategies for Accomplishing Them stateofstateadd gov legis

The Governor & Legislative leaders (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)

Eight of the top Democratic mayoral candidates appeared at a virtual forum on Monday to outline their legislative and budget priorities at the state level, and their strategies for achieving those goals. To varying degrees, they laid out tactics for partnering with, even opposing, Governor Andrew Cuomo and corralling the state Legislature to their side. But there were clear differences among the candidates, informed by their own background and experiences, and some seemed to take the candidate privilege of overestimating the heft they would have as the next mayor of New York City. 

Monday’s forum was hosted by Empire State Indivisible, a progressive advocacy group, and moderated by Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max. Empire State Indivisible is part of a coalition that has been urging the passage of the Invest in Our New York Act, a package of six bills to raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, corporations, and Wall Street activity to fill the state’s massive revenue shortfall, prevent cuts to public services and local aid, and provide additional revenue to achieve progressive priorities. Among many other topics, the candidates were asked to weigh in on that proposal.

The forum featured two 90-minute panels with four candidates each. The first panel included City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, and former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia. On the second panel were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former city veterans services commissioner Loree Sutton, and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales. Ray McGuire’s campaign did not respond to invitations to the forum and Andrew Yang had been set to participate until he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and experiencing symptoms.

A great deal of what happens in New York City is determined by state law and state government, where power resides on a host of issues from tax policy to education aid and much more. A mayor’s ability to navigate the intricacies of Albany can make or break their overall agenda and have major impacts on the lives of New Yorkers.

New York’s governor and New York City’s mayor have historically had a frosty relationship even when they hail from the same party. That holds particularly true for third-term Governor Cuomo and two-term Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom are Democrats. Over the last seven years, the two have feuded over matters existential and inconsequential to New Yorkers, though most of the slings and arrows tend to fly from the governor’s hands. Cuomo has sought to dominate and undermine de Blasio while showing frustration with the mayor’s often stumbling efforts to manage city government and forge strong intergovernmental relationships -- de Blasio has also struggled to work well with the State Legislature.

With Cuomo expected to run for a fourth term in 2022 and de Blasio term-limited this year, the next mayor of New York City, almost certainly a Democrat because of the party’s heavy enrollment advantage, should have a clear idea of what awaits them in Albany. De Blasio’s dreams often died at the steps of the Capitol, where for years Republicans and moderate Democrats in the State Senate and Cuomo, a Democrat who often takes moderate stances, invariably stood in the way. Cuomo has also repeatedly sought to offload costs onto the city during the state budget process.

There are now allies in both houses of the Democratically-controlled state Legislature that have been friendlier to the city and the mayor. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie represents a district in the Bronx and has a keen interest in ensuring that New York City is protected, and he has been de Blasio’s long-standing top ally among the leaders in Albany. The new-as-of-2019 State Senate Democratic majority includes a number of New York City-based legislators with significant influence and a city-focused agenda.

Even with legislative supermajorities in both houses, Cuomo’s power has far from waned, and it is not always easy for the mayor of New York City to advance priorities in state government. Nevertheless, there is broad agreement that the next mayor has much room to improve upon the approach taken by the current one, making the importance of Monday night’s discussion paramount. 

Articulating an agenda
Most candidates offered specifics about their agenda in Albany while some offered generalities and buzzwords. 

Garcia presented a six-point agenda that included immediate investment in the city’s recovery, expanding healthcare access, passing elements of NYCHA’s “Blueprint for Change” proposal, investing in mass transportation, education, and combating climate change. She said she would push for expanding Medicaid eligibility and greater mental health services, restoring 24/7 subway service, funding for the MTA’s Fast Forward plan, among other items.

“[W]e need to create a strong foundation for the long term so that New Yorkers have the essentials – quality health care, affordable housing, a world class transportation system, a thriving economy, and an education system we can really be proud of,” she said. 

Menchaca said his Albany agenda was three-pronged: “political,” climate change, and equity in the city’s recovery. “I think we have to understand that the political dynamics are shifting,” he said. “The City of New York helped create a supermajority in the Senate. I think we need to continue to support our state legislators to keep that super majority. That's going to continue to shift the way that the governor works.” 

Besides pushing for more climate action at the state level, he said he would advocate for an equitable recovery by through taxes on the wealthy, ‘cancelling rent’ and ensuring that essential workers, particularly undocumented immigrants, receive direct emergency aid. He specifically spoke of a bill sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos that would create an excluded worker fund for those purposes.   

“Our recovery will run through Albany, and we've got to fundamentally reset the Albany relationship,” said Stringer, who cited his own Albany experiences as an Assemblymember for 13 years. “New Yorkers cannot afford to have a mayor walk flat-footed in the capital, especially not now,” he added, in a clear shot at Mayor de Blasio. 

Stringer said he would enlist the help of a slew of progressive legislators, including Ramos, who have backed him to create the largest childcare program across the country, to repeal the 421-a tax credit for building affordable housing, and to raise taxes on the rich. 

Wiley was the only candidate who released a detailed Albany agenda in the hours before the forum, announcing her support for the Invest in Our New York Act along with a large slate of other bills related to housing, worker and tenant protections, education, jobs and small businesses, criminal justice reform, electoral reforms, and climate change policies. 

At the forum, Wiley honed in on issues of affordability, specifically housing, child care, and health care. “Those things were already deeply broken, and deeply broken before covid, for communities of color in particular and for the middle class. And so to solve them, yes, we need to have a partnership with Albany,” she said. 

Adams’ focus was somewhat narrower than the other candidates as he repeatedly said it is essential to push state government to adequately fund education in New York City. He pointed to the State Court of Appeals’ 2006 decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, which has become something of a quagmire. Advocates say the state should provide billions more in foundation aid to struggling schools to live up to the ruling, while Governor Cuomo has largely rejected that argument while attempting to change the formula for foundation aid.

“It is imperative that we get our fair share, and we are not,” Adams said. He said he would establish greater coordination between city and state agencies, which currently “operate in silos,” push for greater city representation on the MTA board with a new member for each borough, and pursue for a real-time monitoring system for affordable housing stock. He also said he wants to see reform at the State Liquor Authority so that it stops targeting Black-owned businesses and changes to how private health insurance is taxed.

Donovan has his own six-point agenda that covers building affordable and supportive housing and tackling homelessness, creating jobs by restructuring tax programs, fair funding for education, a public option for health care that includes undocumented immigrants, investing funds in the MTA in exchange for more seats on the board, and his “equity bonds” proposal to give every child $1,000 when they’re born and $2,000 every year after.

“I think I'm a unique candidate in this race given that I've worked at all levels of government to lead through crisis,” he said. “No one else in this race has that deep experience in working not only with the state, but with the federal government and with the local government as well.”

Morales offered few specific policy ideas but outlined some of her planned tactics for dealing with Albany. “My agenda for Albany aligns with my agenda for New York City. It's centered on the interest of everyday New Yorkers,” she said. “Everything that we do and everything that we need is connected to Albany. Our schools, our housing, our health care, our transportation. Everything needs Albany approval.”

She did say she would work with Assemblymember Richard Gottfried to pursue passage of the New York Health Act, which would establish a single-payer health-care system in the state, along with increased taxes on the wealthy to pay for it. “I think that there is increasing political will towards doing both of these things,” she said. 

Sutton stressed the need to ensure New York’s economic recovery, preventing an exodus of residents, bringing back tourism, repairing the fiscal hole, reopening businesses, and keeping the streets and subways safe. She is among the more centrist candidates and has repeatedly raised concerns about New York’s business friendliness, issued warnings about going too far with new taxes, and pointed to issues with public safety. 

But, while Sutton spoke mostly of what was at stake, she did not offer any concrete solutions or specific policies when asked for her Albany agenda. “[I]f we cannot work together, the city and Albany with our electeds, with the myriad private sector leaders, our philanthropy leaders, our state and federal partners, and treat them truly as respected partners, bringing together community input and community needs, the rest of what we're talking about, it really won't matter, because New York City will not come back,” she said. 

When asked for something specific, she later said her first priority in Albany would be to sit down with Assemblymember Gottfried to discuss his proposal and to explore measures to improve public health infrastructure, linking public health with public safety, both cornerstones of her platform. She also said she would work to create a coalition with the governor and state lawmakers around the state’s recovery while trying to “disrupt” the way state and local governments work. “Let's figure out what are the things that we need to permanently change. Let's look to improvise, let's have a sort of a skunkworks,” she said. 

Approach to Albany
Along with proposing a firm agenda, any successful mayor will have to use their political capital and skills to move the levers of power in Albany. Between the governor and the two legislative chambers, that task is easier said than done and the candidates offered different approaches. They also sought to define how they would specifically deal with Governor Cuomo, who is known for his heavy-handedness and zero-sum approach to power. 

Garcia said she has a track record of bringing people together on “really thorny issues” over the course of her 14-year career. “[Y]ou have to find those key stakeholders, particularly within the Legislature who are going to be advocates for your program,” she said. Mayor de Blasio’s agenda, she pointed out, was often haphazard and created last-minute, leading it to flounder in Albany. She recalled being enlisted in the administration to make last-minute calls for the extension of mayoral control of city schools. “So my approach is we need to be collaborative, but really also clear and long-term in our thinking,” she said. 

Menchaca emphasized the shifting political balance in Albany, and seemed to set his focus on progressives in the state Legislature asserting their power against the governor. But he also stressed the need for the mayor and City Council to present a united front in Albany along with state legislators and congressional representatives, something he said has been lacking under de Blasio. “I think that can really send a message to the governor. And I think his tone is going to change. It's already changing,” he said, though he did not explain what he was referring to. 

Notably, Menchaca endorsed Cuomo’s primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, in 2018, which would likely come back to haunt him if he should win the mayoral primary given the governor is known for his exacting grudges. Asked about what he would say to the governor if he wins, he said, “I'm gonna say both looking forward to working with you and watch out,” (which were the two options offered to him by the moderator). 

Having been members of the State Legislature in the past, both Stringer and Adams fell back on their personal Albany connections and experience. 

Stringer noted that, as comptroller, he already has an agenda that he takes to the capital every year and he pointed out his close working relationship with the younger crop of progressives elected to the Legislature in recent years. He repeatedly mentioned his contributions to helping some of them defeat members of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference, which partnered with Senate Republicans, along with the efforts of the host group, Empire State Indivisible.

“But I also have a relationship with this governor and we respect each other,” Stringer added. “And we will work to build the bridge between our progressive legislators in the Assembly, in the Senate, with the governor, because we have one thing in common: the future New York City.” 

He had harsh words for the mayor. “I think time and time again, the mayor's lunch money was stolen even before he walked into the state Capitol,” he said. “He was constantly with a limited Albany agenda because he did not do the groundwork to create a specific legislative agenda and rally people around it.”

Wiley said she would prioritize partnerships with the leaders of the Legislature and create a “shared agenda” with rank-and-file legislators. But she stressed the greater importance of building groundswell support for policies among communities that are affected. “[I]t's fundamentally about partnering with the people who are impacted, who have a voice and should have a voice in Albany, and we should be facilitating that voice,” she said. 

She particularly went out of her way to distance herself from her old boss. “First of all, I have a very different personality from the current mayor,” she said, underscoring that she would not undermine senior leadership in her mayoralty like de Blasio has done. 

Of all the candidates, she seemed most willing to let the governor take center stage. “You have to have a relationship with the governor, you have to have a back channel with the governor,” she said. “You have to recognize there are times when you're going to get what you want done because you'll let the governor take credit. But that's not every time and it's not the only way to work.”

Morales presented the most critical approach, decrying the preferred tactics of politicians. “We've been getting our asses kicked, and it didn't start with Cuomo and it's not going to end with him,” she said. “I don't want to work within this broken system that has repeatedly and consistently failed our people. What we have seen work is exposure and escalation,” she said of how to get the political best of Cuomo. 

She said she would marshal everyday New Yorkers, rather than lobbyists, to advocate for her agenda. “My agenda and more importantly, my approach will not be driven by inside baseball machinations that have gotten us nowhere. I'm not going to focus on bragging about my network or making backroom deals or holding private meetings at the Fort Orange club,” she said. “I'm an organizer on issues, it's what I do best. So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to bring the fight to Albany if I have to.” But she did concede that her approach would also be “relational” and that, as an organizer, she shares common interests with elected representatives.

Adams took a middle-of-the-road approach, speaking of the need to “mobilize people” as well as forging alliances with legislators, visiting their districts and inviting them across the city. “But have well thought out plans with some clear results in mind that they can look at and see as we move our target forward,” he said. 

Adams noted that passing legislation through Albany would require aligning the interests of legislators from diverse parts of the state, particularly in the state Senate where moderate Democrats tend to be wary of progressive legislation. 

He also insisted he would never feud with the governor. “Leadership is not only substantive, it’s symbolic,”he said. “I am not going to have public disputes with the governor. We'll have our disagreements behind closed doors, but we will have a united front.”

Though Donovan has experience working with elected officials on policy, he said his approach would also start with the people. “A wise person once told me politics is felt need, and unless you feel the need, unless it is organized and relentless, you are not going to get things done to build those coalitions,” he said. He also took a shot at the mayor for always planning during crises rather than having comprehensive plans ready proactively. “If you believe that you can plan in crisis and get things done, you will fail. You need to have those plans ready before the crisis hits,” he said. 

Donovan noted in particular that he has worked with the governor in the past. “When Sandy hit, and President Obama asked me to lead the recovery efforts, I worked very effectively with Andrew, to get stuff done,” he said of Governor Cuomo. “We didn't agree on everything. But we were able to work out those differences, and get the biggest, most important things we needed to get done, done.”

Sutton didn’t shy away from criticizing de Blasio’s relationship with Cuomo, which she witnessed firsthand in the mayor’s administration and described as “a dysfunctional relationship that was grounded in disrespect and disdain even for each other.” “That just has no place in our public life and New Yorkers in the city and the state paid a huge price for it,” she said. 

Invest in Our New York Act
The forum was an opportunity for Empire State Indivisible to gauge the candidates’ support for the Invest in Our New York Act, which could raise as much as $50 billion in revenue for the state at a time when it faces a roughly $60 billion shortfall over four years, according to the coalition pushing the package of six bills. 

There were varied opinions among the candidates on the tax package, though they all agreed on the need for a more progressive tax system. 

Wiley, Morales, and Menchaca all unequivocally expressed support for it in full. Stringer hedged during the forum, but a spokesperson later clarified that he is in full support.

Adams would not commit to supporting the heir’s tax or the billionaires tax, and raised concern about the legality of the corporate tax bill. Instead, he discussed finding ways to cut city agency spending and find savings through attrition. 

Donovan too did not support the full slate of bills. But he, like Adams, focused on the federal government instead. “Fundamentally, the place we need a far more progressive system is in Washington, so that we're not disadvantaged in New York City or New York State compared to other places around the country,” he said. 

Sutton took issue with the Invest in Our New York campaign, saying its rhetoric demonizes the rich rather than including them in the city’s recovery. “I think that New York City doesn't work without all of us working together in an inclusive, respectful process,” she said. Though she said she supports parts of the package, she did not make clear which ones. 

Garcia hedged in her response. “I absolutely think that revenue is going to be essential. I also think growing our economy is going to be essential to get through this fiscal crisis,” she said without directly saying whether she supports the package. She also raised a warning about the exodus of rich New Yorkers during the pandemic, citing a large drop in residential trash pickup from Manhattan. 

Various Other Issues of State Policy
The candidates varied on several other issues as well. 

Stringer, Donovan, and Adams warned against the city taking over control of the subways or a large chunk of what is now the MTA. “That would be a recipe for disaster,” Donovan said, noting that it is part of a regional system. Stringer said, “I've done the numbers, and maybe in a utopian society, we could control the MTA but we can’t. The debt service would crush the city.” 

Garcia and Morales, similarly, said municipal control of parts of the MTA would be ideal but not without the revenue to support it. Sutton was among several candidates, including Donovan, Adams, and Stringer, calling for greater city representation on the MTA board. Adams’ push for five new borough-based appointees would also mean the city would have a plurality and significantly more authority on the board. Donovan said his goal would be for city and state appointees to have equal footing on the board and a clearer power-sharing agreement, with the city contributing more capital funds to the agency through several mechanisms including congestion pricing and value capture funds. 

Menchaca was the only one to unreservedly call for city control of the MTA

Nearly all the candidates supported repealing the Urstadt Law, which gives the state control over rent regulation and prevents the city from establishing its own rent rules. Donovan, however, had concerns about it. “I think there are real issues about the city taking over Urstadt given the rent control and rent stabilization powers that exist outside of the city,’ he said. “I am certainly open to more control. I don't think you would be able legally to give the city full control on it.” 

When asked about the law, Sutton instead said that recent rent regulations passed by the state Legislature went too far, particularly in the burdens they placed on small landlords. 

Most of the candidates extolled the virtues of mayoral control of city schools, with several saying it should be permanent. Only Adams suggested that the regular expiration and renewal of mayoral control was necessary. “I believe we should every two years, go back and see it for review. You should earn the right to have that level of power,” he said. And Morales was again the only candidate who expressed an interest in doing away with the current model of mayoral control of schools and establishing a new, more community-focused model.

Only three members of the second panel were asked whether they would support repeal of the 1971 Hecht-Calandra Act, which created the Specialized High School Admissions Test as the sole entrance criteria for the city’s three most selective high schools (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech) that has become a subject of intense controversy in recent years. They were also pressed on whether the city should have the authority to control the cap on charter schools rather than the state. Stringer, who was on the first panel, volunteered his support for repealing Hecht-Calandra to give the city the power to determine admissions to all the specialized high schools.

Donovan and Morales both said they support repeal and said the city should have control of the charter school cap.

“I believe the state should make that determination,” said Adams, who also called for creating five more specialized high schools in the city. “I'm not running for state office. I'm running for city office. They need to decide and debate that and give them the opportunity to come to a conclusion.” Asked if he thought the mayor’s voice was important in the debate, he said, “No, I don't.” Similarly, on the charter school cap, he said, “I believe that should be a state decision. They should make the determination.”

The candidates were also somewhat split on the bail reforms approved by the state Legislature in 2019 that were subsequently partially rolled back in 2020 after significant opposition from law enforcement officials, Republicans, and some Democrats.  

Both Menchaca and Morales said they were disappointed that the law was watered down. Adams and Garcia seemed satisfied with where the law stands now. And Donovan and Stringer said they would have to wait to see how the law is currently working -- though a Stringer spokesperson again clarified after the forum that the comptroller still opposes the rollbacks and would prefer the original reforms passed in 2019 to be the law.

Watch the full forum here.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Albany Agendas, Strategies for Accomplishing Them Tue, 09 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
WATCH: Democratic Mayoral Candidates Outline Their Albany Agendas 4x4mashup edit

 l-r (top): Kathryn Garcia, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, Carlos Menchaca; bottom: Shaun Donovan, Dianne Morales, Loree Sutton, Eric Adams

Eight leading Democratic mayoral candidates appeared in two sessions at the "Albany Agenda" forum hosted by Empire State Indivisible and moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max. The candidates — Kathryn Garcia, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, Carlos Menchaca, Shaun Donovan, Eric Adams, Dianne Morales, and Loree Sutton — discussed their state policy agendas and how they would navigate the processes, politics, and personalities of Albany to accomplish their goals. They also weighed in on issues from tax policy to mayoral control of city schools, MTA governance, and more. Watch:

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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WATCH: Democratic Mayoral Candidates Outline Their Albany Agendas Tue, 09 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Jumps Into Police Reform Action Amid De Blasio Delay in Meeting Cuomo Mandate de Blasio NYPD officials briefing dais

Mayor de Blasio & NYPD officials (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

When Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in June mandating that localities set blueprints for broad police reform or risk losing state funding, he tasked mayors and other municipal leaders to engage the public and local legislatures in a collaborative reform process. Now, in response to delays and limited communication from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the New York City Council has signaled that it will move ahead with its own police reform agenda to meet Cuomo’s April 1 deadline.

After seven months, eight public "listening sessions" held in October by the NYPD, and countless criticisms of how the mayor has led the police department, de Blasio has announced several notable policing-related changes but has not yet presented the full "police reform and reinvention" plan in line with the governor's order, blowing past the suggested timing in state guidelines, and raising questions about the mayor's ability to get the required City Council approval by April.

As the City Council is asserting itself with a newly-announced legislative package, representatives of the mayor say the administration will produce a plan in February, garner public feedback, and present a final version to the Council "on or before April 1," leaving little room for lawmakers to consider any proposal before approving it.

The reform plans are intended to "help rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve" through a process "based on fact-finding and meaningful community input," Cuomo said when he signed the order on June 12, two weeks into nationwide demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The order requires localities to convene police leadership and other stakeholders to develop a plan to reform policing writ large -- vaguely enumerating everything from use of force and deployment policy to "restorative justice practices," with few specific requirements.

Once approved by local legislatures, the state Director of the Budget, Robert Mujica, will have the authority to confirm whether the adopted plans comply with the governor's order. If he deems they don't, Mujica can withhold state and federal funding to local police forces.

In New York City, where "defund the police" became a rallying call amongst demonstrators last spring and summer, that jeopardizes some or all of the $30.9 million in state funding for the NYPD in this year's preliminary city budget on top of federal money, according to the city's Independent Budget Office (IBO). It's unclear how much of that can legally be withheld, according to an IBO analyst, or how much of the $168.6 million in federal funds budgeted for the NYPD comes through the state and how much goes directly to New York City.

As the de Blasio administration has yet to present a full police reform plan, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other Council members are accusing the mayor of blowing off the state's timetable and faltering on commitments made last summer to enact change within the ranks of the NYPD. 

"The Council will not pass anything that does not offer a concrete plan for reform that comes from a truly collaborative process," said Jennifer Fermino, communications director for Johnson, in a January 22 email to Gotham Gazette.

A week later, the Council moved ahead without de Blasio. On Friday, Johnson announced the planned introduction of 11 pieces of legislation for changes mayors have long resisted. The push includes removing NYPD school safety agents from schools by June 2022 and making the police commissioner a Council-confirmed position. It also has a resolution that calls on the state to change the law so that the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), not the police commissioner, will have final say on many officer disciplinary matters.

“This legislative package will be just one of the steps the City Council is taking toward reforming policing,” Johnson said in a statement Friday. “It is critical that we redefine public safety and reduce the NYPD’s footprint." Hearings on the legislation will occur in February, the announcement said.

The pressure from the Council and Cuomo's executive order, which requires the city to solicit public feedback on any proposed plan before submitting it for ratification, is adding to an already sizable list of promised police and racial justice reforms de Blasio has committed himself to in his final year in office. The mayor has repeatedly said many of those reforms are works-in-progress the city has been shaping for months or years.

"We're making systemic changes as we have throughout," de Blasio said last month on WNYC radio of the NYPD and his seven-year tenure. The statement came shortly after announcing the adoption of new police disciplinary standards, a policy induced by City Council legislation last year.

The mayor has said he and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea support recommendations made by the city Department of Investigation and Law Department following two separate City Hall-initiated investigations into the NYPD's handling of demonstrators last summer. A new lawsuit from Attorney General Letitia James against de Blasio and the NYPD is adding to the demands to change police-protester relations. In response, de Blasio frequently cites previous moves, like reducing the reliance on stop-and-frisk policing and expansion of neighborhood policing, as examples in an ongoing effort to improve police-community relations.

"To me, this has just been a continuum and it has to deepen. I expect a number of reforms this year in New York City," de Blasio said in an appearance on NY1 Monday evening.

But the delays and lack of transparency from de Blasio around meeting the state order did not bode well for reform directed from within his administration, according to representatives of the City Council.

"The NYPD is in charge of this reform effort,” said Fermino, Johnson's spokesperson, in the January 22 email. “But we’ve seen no real desire from department leadership to change. This is not a good sign."

"To say we're disappointed is an understatement," Fermino said, in a response that followed a January oversight hearing on the de Blasio administration effort to meet Cuomo’s order. "It's been seven months, and still we've seen nothing. We don't even know what issue areas they're focusing on. At the hearing, we heard again that the City has made no real attempt to collaborate with advocates and community groups."

Lagging Behind State's Timeline
After the NYPD listening sessions in October, de Blasio announced the second phase of community engagement under a team overseen by First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, which would ultimately be responsible for coming up with the final plan. The team included senior officials from the NYPD and City Council, along with Jennifer Jones Austin of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Wes Moore of Robin Hood, and Arva Rice of the New York Urban League, who had joined the process two weeks earlier.

As part of his State of the City agenda released on Thursday, de Blasio said local police precinct councils would be able to give formal feedback to the police commissioner before the selection of precinct commanders -- a proposal that appears to have been inspired in part by the team's work last fall and a push by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain and de Blasio ally currently running for mayor.

The State of the City agenda for the months ahead also includes measures to strengthen the CCRB by giving the oversight body the authority to initiate investigations at its own discretion, as opposed to relying on a formal complaint, and consolidating other oversight entities, like Commission to Combat Police Corruption and the NYPD Office of the Inspector General, under the CCRB umbrella.

The city held over 45 meetings with a litany of community leaders, clergy, advocates, and police officers between November and January, according to Fuleihan's office. State guidance says that engagement work should have been completed by November. It is unclear what, if any, work on the executive order was done between its June signing and the October listening sessions.

Like de Blasio's own sweeping announcements for potentially transformational initiatives, Cuomo's deadline set a relatively narrow window to achieve such a lofty task. But the lack of progress and transparency offered by the Mayor's Office has rankled City Council leadership.

“The administration’s lag in deliverables to date demonstrates the fact that there are problems in meeting the Executive Order," said Queens City Council Member Adrienne Adams, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Safety, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

"The only way to view the lack of information received thus far is that this mandate has not been taken seriously enough,” she wrote.

At the oversight hearing held January 11 by the public safety committee, representatives of the First Deputy Mayor's Office, the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, the Law Department, and the NYPD struggled under withering questioning to provide specifics about what would be in the final proposal.

"We believe that the collaborative so far, the plan we have in place for engagement, for engaging as many stakeholders as possible, accepting all recommendations, and publishing a plan in the coming weeks for public comment before bringing it to Council for ratification on or before April 1, reflects what we've read in the executive order and the guidance," said Chelsea Davis, chief strategy officer in the office of First Deputy Mayor.

A spokesperson for de Blasio confirmed to Gotham Gazette that a draft is due in February for public comment and would be ready on or before the April 1 deadline, which is also the date a new state budget is due.

But state guidance issued August 17 says the police reform plans should be drafted in November and December and released for public comment from January to March. The guidance calls for public education around the proposals and that "the public comment is addressed in a meaningful way in your final plan."

Pursuant to Cuomo's executive order, New York City must submit the final plan after City Council ratification to the state Division of the Budget by April 1, or jeopardize future state and federal funds at the discretion of State Budget Director Mujica, meaning the governor.

"Build in sufficient notice and time for this to occur before the April 1, 2021 deadline," the August guidance says.

Tall Order
It's unclear how well any plan developed in a half-year's time -- and near the end of a two-term mayoral tenure of regularly unfulfilled police reform promises -- will be able to meet the transformative demands of Black Lives Matter demonstrators, whose cause Cuomo, now in his third term, sought to further through his executive order.

The Cuomo order says the collaborative "shall consider evidence-based policing strategies, including but not limited to, use of force policies, procedural justice; any studies addressing systemic racial bias or racial justice in policing; implicit bias awareness training; de-escalation training and practices; law enforcement assisted diversion programs; restorative justice practices; community-based outreach and conflict resolution; problem-oriented policing; hot spots policing; focused deterrence; crime prevention through environmental design; violence prevention and reduction interventions..." It suggests modelling existing policies and standards created by the New York State Municipal Police Training Council and the state Law Enforcement Accreditation Program, both under the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Cuomo was clear he was pushing localities to bring stakeholders together to make their own plans collaboratively and that there was no one-size-fits-all plan for the entire state.

"The relationship is frayed," he said on August 17 when he released the guidance for municipalities, referring to police and community. "The relationship is based on trust and respect and the relationship is ruptured. But divorce is not an option here."

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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City Council Jumps Into Police Reform Action Amid De Blasio Delay in Meeting Cuomo Mandate Mon, 01 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
'Asking for Fairness from Washington,' Cuomo Presents Budget Vision with $15 Billion from Feds 2 cuomo presents outline

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

When Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his executive budget on Tuesday, a $193-billion roadmap for the next fiscal year, beginning April 1, he presented a forked road towards the state's economic recovery with Washington lawmakers essentially behind the wheel.

Under the "worst-case scenario" outlined by the New York State Division of the Budget, the state would get just $6 billion to fill a $15 billion hole covering the rest of this fiscal year and next, out of a $350 billion aid package to state and local governments backed by the incoming Biden administration. This is the circumstance under which the new Fiscal Year 2022 budget has been cautiously written, viewed by budget officials as a relatively certain floor, which will entail cutting school aid, Medicaid, and broad cuts to localities as well as revenue-raising measures.

Cuomo said he may move to increase income taxes on the wealthiest earners and that he would supplement the remaining gap by borrowing billions. The governor is under significant pressure from state legislators and activists to increase a variety of taxes but the Legislature has yet to make an aggressive move in that direction and Cuomo has resisted, saying he does not want to drive higher earners out of the state.

The best-case scenario Cuomo outlined Tuesday sees New York receiving $15 billion -- the entire projected two-year gap -- and Cuomo says he will sue the federal government if the state doesn't get it. Cuomo called this route the "fair funding scenario" and said it was a matter of justice for New York serving as the battered vanguard in the fight with COVID-19.

"This budget is really the economic reconciliation of the covid crisis," Cuomo said during a Tuesday presentation. No single scenario is a panacea, and the governor is looking to legalize adult-use marijuana and mobile sports betting with an eye toward leveraging the new industries for tax revenue in the next few years.

On Sunday, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand said the "rescue plan" recently announced by president-elect Joe Biden included $50 billion in overall aid to New York State, much of it in the form of unemployment benefits and direct aid to families and small businesses. It is unclear how much of that stimulus would go into the state's operating fund.

In any scenario, the executive budget envisions a combination of federal aid, spending reductions, and new or expanded revenue streams to close the gap. Cuomo is also calling on Congress to repeal the so-called SALT cap, which was passed by Republicans in 2017 and has increased taxes for New Yorkers (more than any other state by the governor's calculations) by limiting their ability to deduct high state and local taxes from their federal taxes. The governor’s assessment of the SALT cap impact on New York has been in dispute since before the law passed, given the new tax code had many other elements, some of which offset that new cap.

With or without the higher tier of federal aid, the plan outlines the state's current position in choppy financial waters, and continues an unusual budgeting process that gives the governor expanded wait-and-see powers to alter future finances, which began with uncertainty around federal aid in the current year's budget. If less federal funding comes or if a stimulus package isn't passed by Congress before April 1, the state will have to "reopen the budget and [make] additional cuts," according to budget director Robert Mujica, at a press briefing Tuesday.

The state has been withholding close to $3 billion in aid to localities, under emergency powers granted to Cuomo by the State Legislature last spring, with the ability to make them permanent reductions.

The pandemic crushed the state economy last year. Sporadic stimulus aid, tentative recovery in some sectors, and ongoing strength in others have left New York in better shape than officials initially expected. But projected budget gaps over the next three fiscal years, while smaller than previous mid-year estimates, remain high.

New York State is forecasting a two-year revenue loss of $19 billion compared to pre-pandemic projections, and a new four-year budget gap of $39 billion. A bulk of the drop is from lost tax revenue from shuttered businesses and unemployment, though the impact of the latter has been mitigated to some extent by the state's higher-income earners remaining relatively job secure, while low-wage workers have borne the brunt. Tax receipts are still $2.5 billion below the same time last year, according to the Office of the State Comptroller.

The adjusted forecasts in the executive budget, which envisions $6 billion in federal aid, project gaps of $10.5 billion in fiscal year 2023 (which begins April 1, 2022), $10.8 billion in FY 2024, and $12.3 billion in FY 2025. Even with the full $15 billion in desired federal aid, New York State could face severe gaps in the so-called "outyears," though a lot will depend on both potential additional federal aid and the recovery from the covid crisis.

Cuomo’s executive budget plan is virtually the same size as the current Fiscal Year 2021 budget, and it will now become the basis of legislative hearings and negotiations with the two Democratic majorities, as well as continued pleas to federal officials.

Largely related to the demands of the coronavirus pandemic on daily life and public health, the proposed budget increases spending on school aid and Medicaid grew, while executive agency spending remained flat in the plan, and spending in other areas dropped across the board.

School aid spending in the new executive budget is up roughly 7% to close to $31.7 billion from the current fiscal year. Medicaid spending, buoyed by ongoing, but temporary, emergency reimbursements from the federal government, is up 4.7% to $24.2 billion in Cuomo's new plan.

Other spending the governor outlined includes money for recently announced projects, like $306 billion for infrastructure statewide and $29 billion invested into the green economy; $20 billion to create or preserve 100,000 units of affordable housing; $1.3 billion in rent relief; and $128 million for homeless services. The state is also set to spend to cap broadband internet at $15 per month for low-income New Yorkers, $150 million on food programs, and $10 million on legal fees for undocumented immigrants.

As part of the pandemic recovery, Cuomo has proposed $130 million in tax breaks for small businesses, restaurants, and performing arts venues damaged by the economic shutdown. Another $40 million will go into an "Infectious Disease Resiliency Commercialization Fund," for research and development in "life sciences, biotechnology and biodefense."

In order to close the $15 billion two-year gap, the Cuomo administration is relying on the anticipated minimum of $3 billion in federal aid (one half of the two-year, $6-billion "worst case scenario"); $1.5 billion in federal Medicaid reimbursements; $2.5 billion in unearmarked Coronavirus Relief Funds, which is another federal stimulus stream created under the CARES Act last March; and $2 billion in tax revenue (including improved forecasted revenue and an income tax hike for the highest earners). The remaining gap would be closed by reducing school funding by $1.5 billion, health-care spending by $1.8 billion, and $2.7 billion in other spending reductions. The executive budget authorizes the state to issue up to $8 billion in borrowing.

Much or all that could be avoided if the state secured the federal government's full $15 billion in before the budget is enacted in April, Cuomo said Tuesday.

"While that would be beneficial in the short run, it still would leave the State with significant future gaps," said Andrew Rein, Citizens Budget Commission president, in a statement. "No matter the level of federal aid, the State should be pursuing structural spending reforms to ensure that its finances are stable coming out of the recession.”

Withholding Aid to Localities
In the face of an $8.2 billion revenue shortfall this fiscal year, the state was able to reduce spending by freezing new contracts, hiring, and state employee pay raises, and withholding local aid payments to the tune of 20%, or $2.9 billion in December -- part of the governor's expanded budget powers. Most of that aid the state plans to pay in the last quarter of the current fiscal year (January through March) thanks to improved revenue projections due to new federal coronavirus relief and Medicaid reimbursements. The 20% withholding was initially temporary with the possibility for the governor to make all or parts of it permanent if the state didn't fill the budget gap. By the end of the fiscal year, if the state receives the $6 billion in federal funding, the withheld state aid will amount to roughly 5%, according to the executive budget.

After some sectors of the economy rallied late last year, the momentum is beginning to level off. The state Division of the Budget estimates that GDP will reach pre-pandemic levels by the second half of 2021, but employment will likely lag behind previous highwater marks for years, not reaching peak levels until the first quarter of 2023.

Compared to revenue projections from February 2020, just before the state-mandated closure of in-person business and the economic contraction that ensued, the state is currently facing a $10.2 billion tax revenue drop in the current fiscal year (FY21) and an $8.8 billion drop next fiscal year -- a total of $19 billion in lost receipts over two years, according to state budget director Robert Mujica.

If the state receives the lower level of projected federal aid, Cuomo said the state will pursue an income tax increase on millionaires from a rate of 8.82% to a 10.8% tax rate, tracking proposals made in the State Legislature, which he said would raise roughly $1.5 billion. If the full $15 billion on the state's federal wishlist comes through, Cuomo said he would avoid the tax hike.

"We have a responsibility to ensure our recovery and that this recovery is not balanced on the backs of the hard hit New Yorkers," said State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement Tuesday. "The wealthy have gotten wealthier during this crisis even as the Middle Class has shrunk and millions of New Yorkers have struggled to make ends meet. We must be ready to act as a state to advance efforts to raise revenues, including having the hyper-wealthy share this burden."

The Cuomo administration believes legalizing mobile sports betting -- more of a question of what form it will take, rather than whether it will happen, Cuomo said Tuesday -- will earn the state $500 million annually, once it is fully operational, which officials expect will take a few years.

Legalizing adult-use marijuana, which Cuomo has championed in previous State of the State agendas, would garner the state $350 million in tax revenue. But like sports betting will take three to four years to mature as an industry, and $100 million of that money has already been promised to be reinvested in the Black and Latino communities hurt by the War on Drugs.

Questions remain about long term changes to the economy, like how the growth of "telework" will impact the job market and real estate industry in the near and moderate future.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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'Asking for Fairness from Washington,' Cuomo Presents Budget Vision with $15 Billion from Feds Tue, 19 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Why Didn't New York's Hardest Hit Communities Receive Covid Vaccine Priority? police academy a

The covid vaccine (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic devastated Black, Latino, and immigrant communities across New York City at disproportionate levels last spring and since. Some lawmakers are now asking why the same populations were not included in vaccine priority plans crafted by the state and city.

At a January 12 City Council oversight hearing on the de Blasio administration's roll-out of the first batches of the covid vaccine, members of the Council’s committees on hospitals and health asked the city's top health department officials why the city wasn't doing more to inoculate underserved and hardest hit Black, Latino and Asian communities.

"We know that communities of color experienced the highest death rate during the onset of COVID-19," said Council Member Adrienne Adams, a Queens Democrat, in her questioning of administration officials. "Why are they not prioritized? Why are we doomed to repeat the same number of deaths in communities of color with no access to the vaccine that may save their lives?"

Adams' district includes Richmond Hill, which contains zip codes with the highest covid positivity rates in the city. In that section of Queens, a predominantly Latino and South Asian neighborhood, the seven-day average positivity rate was 16.3% as of Wednesday, nearly double the citywide rate of 8.4%. Adams was talking about the availability of the vaccine to her constituents -- a question of state-designated eligibility as much as it is city-designed access -- and the dearth of data collected on inoculating members of communities of color, a fatal repetition of the carnage wrought in the spring and throughout the pandemic.

The groups most deeply impacted by the outbreak -- in terms of loss of life, infection, and the loss of livelihood due to the accompanying economic crisis -- live in the city's predominantly Black, Latino, and immigrant neighborhoods. Neighborhoods like Elmhurst, in Queens, and Mott Haven, in the Bronx, saw their hospitals reach capacity and on the verge of collapse last spring. Even before the first wave broke over New York City, epidemiologists worldwide were discussing the heightened risk to seniors and people with comorbidities, the latter group also disproportionately represented in the city's historically neglected neighborhoods.

Rather than slicing the population by the categories most likely to contract, spread, or die from the disease, the New York State Department of Health has followed a different arithmetic, one that factors in the preservation of what have come to be defined as essential workers and the services they provide.

The state's vaccine distribution plan -- created under the close control of Governor Andrew Cuomo based on federal guidance and in consultation with local health departments, including New York City's -- has been to prioritize potential recipients by their occupation in the health-care sector (with the exception of nursing home residents, who’ve also been prioritized by federal decree), beginning with hospital employees and paramedics with patient contact, and expanding to other types of doctors and medical staff. On Monday, after the urging of Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local leaders, Cuomo opened vaccination to people over 75 and other types of essential employees, like police, firefighters, transit workers and teachers.

"Here's where we are," said Dr. Torian Easterling, first deputy commissioner and chief equity officer at the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, at the City Council hearing Tuesday. "We do have to keep in mind that we're following the federal and state guidelines as it relates to eligibility criteria."

"Certainly equity and ethical principles being taken into consideration, thinking about the categories that have borne the brunt and we want to save lives, but also those categories where we want to continue to preserve functions," he said.

When asked for clarity or elaboration on this point by Gotham Gazette, a department spokesperson only reiterated that the state set the eligibility criteria, not the city.

With a trickling supply of the vaccine scheduled by the federal government, Cuomo has repeatedly expressed concern over hospital staffing levels as the number of cases and hospitalizations have risen in recent months, echoing some of the most dire alarms raised during the state's first brush with inundated ERs and ICUs last spring.

Even after bowing to pressure from de Blasio and others to widen vaccine eligibility last week, those alarms have only heightened with the presence of a new more contagious covid strain connected to the United Kingdom, and more strains likely to be detected before enough of the population is vaccinated.

"The biggest capacity element in the hospital system is we're losing staff," the governor said on a call with members of the press Tuesday, after opening vaccinations up to people 65 and older in accordance with new CDC guidance. "We're losing staff because the staff is getting sick from covid. That's why continued prioritization of the hospital staff is key and in the webinar we said hospitals must continue to prioritize hospital staff."

Physicians and nurses in New York are less racially diverse than the population of the state, according to research released in 2017 by the Center for Health Workforce Studies. A report published by City Comptroller Scott Stringer last March showed that 54% of frontline workers in the city's health-care sector were Black or Latino, compared with 62% working in public transit. (Across industries, white employees made up roughly between a fifth and a quarter of the frontline personnel, according to the report.) The emphasis on preserving doctors over bus drivers further exposes the gruesome calculus of expendability in a pandemic crisis, with the training of health-care workers equating them to least expendable, while the transit workers getting some of them to their shifts, typically equipped with less PPE, are more expendable.

“New York State has followed the priority categories as outlined by ACIP & CDC,” wrote a state Department of Health spokesperson in an email to Gotham Gazette, referring to the federal Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

That guidance, which is national and not specifically tailored to New York, suggests that the right distribution of the vaccine within the broad category of health-care personnel (HPC) would mitigate inequities. "Vaccination of HCP across all occupations and work settings addresses the disproportionate representation of racial and ethnic minority groups in low-wage HCP," reads a supplement to the federal recommendations.

"Effort will need to be applied throughout the vaccination program to ensure equitable access," the document states.

It notes that health-care personnel in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes, are at risk of transmitting the virus to medically vulnerable patients, but does not cite any study or evidence related to hospital facilities or staff.

Fewer than 1 in every 300 confirmed COVID-19 deaths nationwide has been of a health-care professional, according to CDC data.

The vaccine roll-out has been plagued by infighting between Cuomo and de Blasio, often leaving the public in the dark about what may come next. Both have been reluctant to share data at various points since the state of emergency began last March, which now extends to vaccination rates by race and ethnicity.

City Council Member I. Daneek Miller and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is running for mayor this year, plan to introduce a resolution to the City Council calling on the city and state to improve "coordination in distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccines, prioritizing vaccinations for essential workers - especially home health care, food delivery, supermarket, and transit workers – immigrants, and other high-risk populations in our hardest-hit communities of color," according to a statement from the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, of which Miller and Adrienne Adams are co-chairs.

The resolution, which has not yet been introduced, will also call for a real-time vaccine tracking system with demographic data, according to the statement, which Council Member Adams presented at Tuesday's oversight hearing.

The statement reads: "One of the most painful lessons drawn from this crisis was that a failure to provide timely reporting of racial demographic data at the onset of the pandemic resulted in a disproportionate number of dead Black and Brown New Yorkers that otherwise could have resulted in more aggressive mitigation measures employed in these communities."

The mayor has been criticized for not having taken better advantage of the months before the vaccine arrived to prepare vaccination sites in lower income communities and communities of color. "Let me be clear, we have been building out sites constantly and we're building out the hours of sites," de Blasio told reporters Wednesday when asked why there were no city-run vaccination hubs in Inwood and Washington Heights, neighborhoods with some of the highest positivity rates in Manhattan. Figures like City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area, have called for more.

On Friday, Cuomo announced the state would be setting up five vaccination sites on NYCHA campuses for public housing residents, predominantly people of color. An official press release does not say when they will become operational.

The city, through de Blasio’s Racial Equity and Inclusion Task Force, has made efforts to "tailor our resources" using data to target testing and outreach, said Dr. Easterling, of the city Health Department, at the City Council oversight hearing, "and certainly we're thinking about this as the vaccine distribution plan rolls out."

"We know that Black and Latino communities bore the brunt of this COVID-19 pandemic and the data was very clear during wave one," Easterling said in response to the BLA Caucus statement and Adams' question. "And, as you laid out, we continue to see cases go up and we continue to see disproportionate impact even today."

"Now that we have more data, [we are] looking at not only COVID-19 data but also being able to really understand some of the inequity that really contributed to high exposure, thinking about overcrowding, overcrowding in housing, multi-generational homes. Also thinking about being a frontline worker, and really being able to map those neighborhoods," he said.

The city was limited by the plan outlined by Cuomo and state health officials, which takes into consideration the city's essential operations, highest among them the hospital and health-care systems. But the mayor made no public push for any changes to vaccine categorization and availability based on the most medically-vulnerable communities other than his call for the state to allow those over 75 to become eligible sooner.

A spokesperson for DOHMH said the health department doesn't track positivity or mortality rates by occupation or eligibility criteria, indicating it is not collected by the state nor a significant factor in the vaccine distribution scheme. A spokesperson for the state Department of Health did not say whether the officials are tracking infection and mortality rates within eligibility groups and did not provide data to justify the breakdown of eligibility categories, though it is consistent with CDC guidance.

On January 12, the state opened vaccination to people living and working in shelters and to grocery store employees. De Blasio has since called for eligibility to include delivery workers, and bodega and deli staff.

In an initial roll-out plan released in October, before the first vaccines received federal approval, the state was concerned with addressing the highest risk groups and most essential workforce, with an eye toward geographically targeting eligible recipients in the hardest hit areas.

"In anticipation of limited numbers of vaccine initially available coupled with current knowledge of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, public health concerns, and the need to maintain essential services, one of New York’s prioritization strategies for vaccine distribution is designed to ensure early vaccination of the most vulnerable New Yorkers as well as essential frontline workers, with distribution potentially directed to these populations who reside or work within communities with highest prevalence of COVID-19," reads the report, prepared by the New York State Department of Health.

Much of that seems to have been shelved as the state has adhered closely to CDC guidance.

As the vaccine roll-out has come closer to utilizing the supply -- and, as de Blasio and Cuomo warn, will soon exhaust it -- the number of new daily covid cases and hospitalizations has continued to rise. For the last few days new hospital admissions in New York City have come close to 300 per day, and new reported daily cases have topped 5,000. In the second week of January, close to 60 people in New York City have died from covid per day.

At the January 12 oversight hearing, city Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said the city was working to reach lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color through "trusted messengers," such as faith leaders and local representatives. As for the grief of loss, especially in New York's Black and Latino communities, "we have to ensure that we turn that into our motivation to better serve people today as well as going forward," he said.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Why Didn't New York's Hardest Hit Communities Receive Covid Vaccine Priority? Sat, 16 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Concludes 2021 State of the State Speeches Invoking ‘New Deal’ with Infrastructure Plan gov state address

Gov. Cuomo delivering his fourth 2021 State of the State (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)

In his fourth and final 2021 State of the State speech, Governor Andrew Cuomo committed New York to an ambitious infrastructure program worth hundreds of billions of dollars that he said will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and put the state on the path to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Announcing infrastructure projects spanning the state, Cuomo cited the New Deal under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which helped revive the nation’s economy out of the Great Depression. Though there were several big ticket items in his presentation, he mostly touted projects that are either near completion or that were already put into motion long before the pandemic. 

COVID-19 has devastated the state’s economy, driving unemployment to record levels, leading to hundreds of shuttered businesses, and obliterating tax revenue. The state has an unresolved budget deficit, which was last estimated in October to be about $15 billion, though that figure has not been revised after the second round of federal stimulus dollars flowed to New York in December. The governor is expected to unveil his Executive Budget for next fiscal year, which begins April 1, in the coming weeks, and is also expected to more clearly lay out his plans for the rest of this fiscal year. A great deal will depend on what else comes out of Washington, D.C., where Cuomo has sought a major bailout and President-elect Joe Biden is proposing another massive package that includes state and local government aid.

“The New Deal was born in New York State during Roosevelt's governorship because its bold, daring, innovative spirit has always been our New York ethos,” Cuomo said as he unveiled his infrastructure plan, possibly the largest part of the governor’s State of the State agenda, which he has presented over the last four days during speeches from the state Capitol. He’s previously announced a mass rapid testing program to control the pandemic; broad job creation and economic development plans, revival of the arts and culture industrya transition to a green economy; and affordable internet legislation, among other things. 

“History teaches us that when the private economy is lagging, the public sector can spur activity, that when unemployment is high, the public sector can create jobs, and when interest rates are low, the public sector should invest,” Cuomo said Thursday. 

Over the years, Cuomo has repeatedly boasted of the state’s infrastructure program and investing billions where the federal government has failed to meet needs and spur growth. He cited the program’s continued success even during the pandemic, noting that several projects were accelerated and inaugurated including new terminals at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, the new Exchange Street train station in Buffalo, the 750-mile Empire State trail, and others. And he expressed confidence that the new Democrat-led Congress and Biden will be a more favorable partner in building infrastructure than prior administrations. “I believe that New York's capacity and federal resources can be a potent combination to do even more, and now is the exact time to do it,” he said. 

Cuomo outlined projects he said reflect $306 billion of investment in infrastructure, including several new projects in New York City aimed at improving capacity and access to mass transit systems, while also touting the recent opening of the $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall in Manhattan. He announced a 140-acre Manhattan Midtown West development project with a total of $51 billion in planned investment, saying it will create 196,000 jobs. It will include renovating Penn Station and expanding it with eight new tracks at a new terminal, which would help accommodate additional capacity once the Gateway Tunnel project is completed, he said. Funding for the cross-Hudson Gateway Tunnel has been held up for years under the Trump administration and Cuomo expects it will be expedited under Biden. 

The redevelopment will stretch from Broadway east of Penn Station all the way to the Hudson River in the west, which includes the ongoing expansion of the Javits Center. He said the state would provide 14 sites for new retail, commercial, and residential development, including for 1,400 units of affordable housing, proposed plans to expand the High Line both east and northwards. The state will also renovate the Port Authority Bus complex, he said. 

Cuomo reiterated the state’s continued investments in the MTA’s $51 billion capital program to upgrade signals, purchase new trains and buses, and make subway stations accessible to all. Though he was not specific, he said parts of the plan would be accelerated, and he promised that the 2nd Avenue Subway would be extended from 96th Street to 125th Street, though that plan has been in the works for years and has stalled without federal aid.

The governor also unveiled infrastructure investments across the rest of the state, including some ongoing projects that will be completed this year and in coming years. They include completion of the  $2.6 billion Long Island Railroad track expansion in 2022; new access ramps for Hunts Point Market in the Bronx; completion of the Belmont Arena, home to the New York Islanders, in time for the 2021-22 season; the expansion of the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester as part of ROC the Riverway project by the end of the year; a new park in Buffalo which is shovel-ready and awaiting federal approval; completion of the Albany Skyway elevated park this year; completion of the Binghamton University Decker School of Nursing this year; the new Utica Hospital in the Mohawk Valley, a project that has broken ground and will be finished in 2023; completion of the Newburgh Beacon Bridge in 2022, nine months ahead of schedule; and a new Legoland theme park in Orange County that will open this year; among other projects. 

“That's not just the largest infrastructure plan in New York history. It's the largest, most ambitious plan of any state in the nation,” he said.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Concludes 2021 State of the State Speeches Invoking ‘New Deal’ with Infrastructure Plan Thu, 14 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000