Gotham Gazette Thu, 22 Apr 2021 22:18:51 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Cuomo Launches 2021 State of the State Agenda with Focus on Covid Recovery, Future of New York Economy gov cuomo outlines

Governor Cuomo delivers his annual State of the State speech (photo: Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke like an army general rallying his troops as he delivered his first in a series of 2021 State of the State speeches on Monday, from the War Room of the state Capitol building in a virtual address necessitated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Befitting its setting, Cuomo’s speech was rife with metaphors of a state at war as he outlined a vision for a “post-covid reconstruction” of a “suffering” New York. 

“Today I'm called on to answer what is in most years a straightforward question but at this time is anything but,” he began. “What is the state of our state? Well, in some ways, it is like the state of the nation, and indeed the state of the world. We are hurt, we are frustrated, we are in mourning, we are anxious.”

Repeatedly stressing the need for more federal aid to New York and expressing optimism about a Biden presidency with a Democratic Congress, Cuomo presented an overarching seven-point plan that entails beating the pandemic, vaccinating New Yorkers to achieve herd immunity, filling the state’s large budget hole, planning an economic revival, promoting a transition to green energy, preparing for a post-covid society, and addressing the historic social, economic, and racial inequities laid bare by the coronavirus. The speech was the first of four that Cuomo will give this week, with each focused on a different theme. 

“All of these plans must move forward simultaneously,” Cuomo said. “It will be hard. It will be the greatest test for government since we mobilized to fight World War II. It will be the greatest opportunity for advancement since post-World War II.”

Cuomo reiterated several specific proposals that he had previewed over the last week, re-upped some from previous years, and presented a number of new plans. Chiefly, he emphasized the need to improve the state’s health care system. “We must realize that it is time for an entirely new way of thinking of our public health system. Our nation's public health system was just not prepared for this,” he said, without accepting any responsibility for the state health system’s own failures. 

He urged the Legislature to pass the Medical Supplies Act that would incentivize companies to manufacture supplies in New York, and said that the state would give them priority when purchasing supplies. “Our nurses and doctors were heroic but our country couldn't provide them with enough masks and gowns. It was like sending soldiers into battle without bullets,” he said. 

He also proposed a series of legislation to expand telehealth services, including requiring Medicaid reimbursements for telehealth services by removing location requirements, interstate licensing reciprocity for Northeast states, eliminating in-person evaluation requirements for mental health and substance use disorder services, requiring that all commercial insurers provide telehealth programs, requiring insurers to create virtual emergency department platforms, and new programs for telehealth awareness and training.

The proposals were recommended by the governor’s Reimagine New York Commission, which he created last year to focus on the state’s digital divide, access to health care, and jobs in an increasingly digital economy. 

Recognizing the herculean effort that will be required to vaccinate the state’s 19 million-plus residents, Cuomo announced a massive expansion of distribution with thousands of sites across the state. He will also launch a New York State Public Health Corps, partnering with Cornell University and Northwell Health to hire and train 1,000 fellows who will work for a year to coordinate the state’s vaccination program. He also announced a free online training program, aiming to certify 100,000 volunteers statewide so that they can assist in future public health emergencies. 

One of the most significant obstacles the state faces in the short term is what Cuomo says is a $15 billion budget deficit for the current fiscal year caused by the coronavirus. In his speech, Cuomo placed the blame squarely on the federal government, railing against both its inaction during the pandemic and its policies that he says have forced New Yorkers to pay more taxes, specifically the cap on deducting state and local taxes (SALT) from federal taxes, which he said cost residents $30 billion over three years though that number has long been in dispute.

“New Yorkers were called on to flatten the curve created by federal failure. New Yorkers cannot now be asked to pay the financial bill for federal incompetence,” he said, while repeating his monthslong calls for a federal aid package that directly fills the state’s tax revenue hole created by the shutdown of economic activity due to covid.

Cuomo said that if the federal government needs funds to send to New York it should raise taxes on the wealthy, an argument meant in part to undercut the growing push for New York state tax increases, which Cuomo has opposed, arguing without evidence that such tax increases would cause significant flight among the rich to other states.

The most recent covid aid package passed by Congress did include many billions of dollars for New York, including a second round of bailout funds for the beleaguered Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). And even if it did not directly earmark money to plug the state government’s budget hole, much of the funding appears likely to have that effect, by replacing state aid to localities, though the governor has yet to acknowledge that. Cuomo’s executive budget for next fiscal year, which begins April 1, is expected in the coming weeks.

The governor did on Monday outline several measures to raise revenue including legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults and allowing state-sponsored mobile sports betting.

He also expressed confidence that the Biden administration and Democratic Congress will repair damage done under President Donald Trump. “We expect SALT to be removed from our wounds fully and quickly and we expect to be compensated for our economic loss. We expect basic fairness from Washington,” he said. Cuomo has had a long-standing close relationship with Biden and New York’s senior U.S. senator, Chuck Schumer, is expected to be the new Senate Majority Leader, both of which many expect to help New York’s fortunes immensely.

Cuomo is known for proposing splashy infrastructure investments at his State of the State speeches and on Monday, he promised to launch “the most aggressive construction and transportation development program in the United States of America.” He announced that the state will enter into a public-private partnership with Brookfield Property Group to extend the High Line on the west side of Manhattan from 10th Avenue and 30th Street to the recently-opened Moynihan Train Hall one avenue over.

Preparing for a post-covid economy, he said the state would invest in making broadband more affordable and that he intends to make New York the “green energy capital of the world” by building new renewable energy infrastructure, expanding manufacturing capacity, and training thousands of workers for the green economy. Details were limited -- the governor typically puts out a policy booklet then actual legislation with much more information than is in his speech and those are expected at some point -- and the state’s broadband effort, much like New York City’s, is well behind previously announced promises.

Though he only mentioned it in passing in his speech, the governor earlier unveiled a set of election reforms including extending early voting hours, allowing voters to request an absentee ballot 45 days before an election rather than 30 days, and mandating that absentee ballots are processed as they are received and are counted starting on Election Day, as opposed to the current weeklong wait. The Legislature appears ready to move on those reforms.

Cuomo has also promised to urge the Legislature to pass a second resolution to allow no-excuse absentee ballots, following a resolution that was approved last year. The proposal would amend the state constitution and would have to be approved through a ballot referendum in the general election this year. The governor had in essence created such a system under emergency powers during the covid crisis, allowing for massively expanded absentee balloting.

Though he proposed no new ideas, Cuomo did speak of police reform and public safety, noting that municipalities have only weeks left to submit plans to reform policing that he mandated by executive order after the Black Lives Matter protests last year. But he also linked the issue with the state’s recovery, taking a shot at New York City, which saw shootings dramatically increase last year. “There can be no economic revival without effective public safety,” he said. “This is especially true for our cities. If the attractions of a city are reduced and crime is increased, urban decline is inevitable.”

In sweeping nonspecific terms, Cuomo offered other fixes as well. He pledged rent, eviction, and mortgage relief for renters, homeowners, and small businesses. He noted the struggles of undocumented New Yorkers, who have not received covid aid, and their families, saying “The Federal government should provide these undocumented New Yorkers with hardship funding, and if they won't do it they should at least allow New York to do it."

The governor didn’t mention several proposals that his office released over the last week -- he often doesn’t list every plank of his policy agenda, and he has three more speeches this week to go. He has proposed reforms to the Department of Health's Office of Professional Medical Conduct, which oversees state-licensed physicians, and intends to introduce bills mandating stronger discipline for misconduct and to reform the investigation and hearing process. Other bills would create new renewal requirements for state licenses and provide the public with information on state-licensed professionals and ongoing investigations. Cuomo also proposed legislation that would give nurses in the state priority admission to CUNY and SUNY programs.

Another State of the State proposal would ban utility companies from disconnecting services during a state of emergency. The bill would cover companies that provide electric, gas, water, telecommunications, cable, and internet services.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Launches 2021 State of the State Agenda with Focus on Covid Recovery, Future of New York Economy Mon, 11 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Tax Issues at Center of State Elections, Albany Year to Come Cuomo taxes

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)

When the dust settles on the 2018 elections, whoever is governing the state will be faced with problems like what to do about NYCHA and the MTA, and how New York should respond to climate change, among many others. Another pressing issue that has been an area of focus in many campaigns around the state, from the governor’s race through those for the state Senate, is taxes, and what the next governor and Legislature will or won’t do about them in a number of ways, including the ongoing question of how New York must adjust to the new federal tax code.

Though proposals and arguments have often been hazy, the issue of taxes has been among the most discussed this election season and will be a topic of significant debate when the new state government starts doing business in January. The contours of those discussions and the actual proposals put forward will vary greatly depending on the outcomes of the governor’s race and which party controls the state Senate (the Assembly is home to an overwhelming Democratic majority).

Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, has pitched his candidacy largely based on a plan that he says will lead to a 30 percent reduction in property taxes for New Yorkers over five years, but the party’s state Senate conference, hoping to cling to a one-seat majority during a promising year for the opposition, has mostly stuck to arguing that Democrats will increase taxes to previously unseen levels if given full control of state government.

For their part, Democrats have been quieter on taxes, with Governor Andrew Cuomo promising to extend the state’s property tax cap and keep state spending to two percent annual increases, even as some members of his party’s Senate slate push for things like state-run single-payer healthcare and a polluter’s tax -- neither of which Cuomo supports. Running for a third term, Cuomo has said little else about taxes, despite the fact that his attempts to thwart the impact of the federal tax reform have thus far not panned out, the state’s current millionaires tax is set to expire next year, the state is facing upcoming budget gaps, and the state-run MTA is in need of tens of billions of dollars to get the New York City subway system functioning properly.

Molinaro has made broad tax reform one of the centerpieces of his campaign, along with restoring trust in government and generally being a governor who isn’t followed by corruption investigations. His tax plan proposes reductions across the board, from the end of the millionaires tax to an expansion of the earned income tax credit to childless workers and noncustodial parents and the indexing the state’s income tax brackets, standard deduction and dependent exemptions to inflation (a move that Molinaro says prevents a filer’s tax bracket increasing due to inflation without any real change in their earning power).

Molinaro wants to limit annual state spending increases to three percent, but wants that cap codified into state law, unlike Cuomo’s two percent cap, which is self-imposed and the governor, despite his claims to the contrary, has not completely kept to.

The Dutchess county executive’s plan has “a lot of good elements in it and establishes some very worthy and desirable goals,” according to E.J. McMahon, the founder and research director of the conservative Empire Center of New York, although McMahon said he didn’t think the math behind the plan added up to the promised 30 percent reduction in property taxes. Asked repeatedly throughout the campaign, Molinaro has not laid out exactly how he would get there, only promising in broad terms to modernize state government, find efficiencies, and more effectively deliver services.

On the Democratic side, clarity also doesn’t come easy. Cuomo’s priorities on socially liberal but fiscally moderate governance can be seen most clearly in something like his Long Island Senate Democratic Agenda, but even that plan lacks specifics and has seemingly competing priorities. On the one hand, the agenda lays out a promise to keep the two percent property tax cap and the two percent spending cap going, while also promising “historic tax cuts.” On the other hand, there are promises to include Long Island in increased infrastructure, education, and economic development funding.

Cuomo has resisted calls for a New York City-based addition to the millionaires tax, recently pitting his philosophy against Mayor Bill de Blasio in sarcastic terms, saying, “'[W]ell, ideally we would like to have a millionaires tax.' Yes, I wish I could be an elected official who lived in the ideal,” at a gathering of the Association for A Better New York, a business group. He also explicitly cast himself as a different kind of politician than legislators and local politicians “who like to spend” at a speech in front of the Business Council of New York, boasting that he has overseen lower year-over-year state spending increases than previous governors including Republicans and his father.

Part of the lack of clarity on the Democratic side has to do with the uncertainty of where the party will be after the general election. A newly won Senate majority may rely on seats outside New York City, which would require a collaboration of city, suburban, and upstate interests that don’t always align perfectly. And even as Democrats in swing districts run on platforms that include single-payer healthcare in New York, they are pledging not to increase the taxes that would fund it, and many are seeking to represent high-tax Long Island and north-of-the-city areas very sensitive to any additional tax increases and another election right around the corner in 2020, when all the seats in the Legislature will again be on the ballot.

“I think out of the gate you're gonna see a Senate Democratic Conference that's gonna correct some of the wrongs, the missed opportunities by the Senate Republicans like voting reform and gun control, women's health,” Democratic state Senate spokesperson Mike Murphy told Gotham Gazette, suggesting the party would focus on progressive social issues at the beginning of the 2019 session if in the majority. And even as the New York Health Act that would establish state single-payer health care emerged as a hot issue for New York City progressives, among other Democrats, they will have the state’s expiring laws around rent control to deal with next year, and candidates outside of the city, like the Hudson Valley’s Pete Harckham, want much of a full two-year term to work out how a single-payer program would look, or to craft a universal health insurance program compromise with Cuomo.

On the issues of the new federal limitations on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, which dramatically affects high-tax states like New York, the state has joined with other Democratic states to sue the federal government over the $10,000 cap that was included in federal tax reform efforts, in part on the grounds that they were targeted after not voting for Donald Trump for president. At the same time, the IRS has blocked efforts by New York and other states to get around the deduction cap by limiting the federal tax credit taxpayers would get by “donating” their property tax payments to charitable organizations designed to accept the taxes.

Cuomo has been otherwise quiet about how he would solve the issue of the SALT deduction problem, which is likely to most acutely hurt high earners as well as suburban middle and upper middle class property owners, though he has said one goal is for Democrats to recapture control of the federal government and repeal the deduction cap.

The governor has been silent on the question of whether the millionaires tax will be allowed to sunset next year as it's currently designed to -- it has been extended multiple times under Cuomo, in partnership with a split Legislature, and there is a significant question around how the state would make up for the revenue if it is not extended. On the other hand, it affects many individuals and families that will be paying higher taxes given the new SALT cap, and Cuomo and others have expressed concern about high-income individuals leaving the state. Cuomo’s campaign did not provide an answer to multiple Gotham Gazette inquiries about the governor’s stance on the millionaires tax.

Molinaro has said he would let the millionaires tax expire.

His plan on the SALT deduction cap is to get rid of New York’s “tax benefit recapture” policy, a practice that charges the highest marginal tax rate for taxpayers above a certain income band, for New Yorkers making between $107,650 and $323,200, thus addressing some of the lost deductions for those earners.

Tax shifts rather than cuts or increases are the most common kinds of plans on the table from both parties. On the Democratic side, Long Island’s John Brooks, running for reelection in a swing district, has offered up a plan that he says would allow areas like Long Island to get out from under high property tax bills related to education spending by capping the amount of school funding coming from property taxes at 50 percent, with any budget needs above 50 percent picked up by the state.

“What Brooks is saying is we need to lower your taxes by finding someone else to pay them. But if you're in Long Island, there is no ‘someone else,’ it's you, you have the higher average incomes,” McMahon said in reaction to the proposal.

For Republicans, requiring the state government to pick up Medicaid costs from local governments is something that Molinaro and state Senate Republicans are running on (to the delight of local editorial boards). It would cost $7 to $8 billion, and require either new or higher taxes or a reduction in the actual delivered services according to a Citizens Budget Commission study on the shift (Cuomo has mocked it as an unserious proposal). But the state Senate conference has also endorsed the idea of exempting seniors from paying property taxes, arguing that since they don’t make use of the schools, they shouldn’t pay to keep them running. It’s a proposition McMahon has panned before and he compared it unfavorably to Brooks’ plan as irresponsible and unfeasible. “How is that fair to a working couple with three or four kids living paycheck to paycheck, and the retired couple next door get to pay no property tax? Are you kidding?”

by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette

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Tax Issues at Center of State Elections, Albany Year to Come Sun, 04 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? $9.5 Billion, with Andrew Rein whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 34 -- $9.5 billion with Andrew Rein [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp rein

$9.5 billion is the new Citizens Budget Commission estimate of the extra taxes New Yorkers will pay due to the cap on the state and local tax deduction, known as the SALT cap, enacted in the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The number comes from a new CBC report that looks at the federal tax reform -- which has serious implications for New Yorkers -- and what the city and state should do about it.

Andrew Rein led the writing of the report, which was influenced by a distinguished group convened by CBC right after the federal law was passed in December. Rein has had an amazing career in government, working in high-level positions at the city Department of Education and Department of Health, at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and for some major health and healthcare organization.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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What's The [Data] Point? $9.5 Billion, with Andrew Rein Sun, 18 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What’s The [DATA] Point? $67 billion whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 19 -- $67 billion, with Jay Kriegel of Related Companies and Americans Against Double Taxation [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp 19

$67 billion is the amount of state and local taxes paid that New York State residents deduct from their federal tax returns each year, under a deduction, SALT for short, that has been part of the federal tax code since it began in 1913, but is again being targeted by Republicans in Washington, D.C.

The push to end or drastically limit SALT is part of a larger effort by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to overhaul the tax code, including a major corporate tax cut and the removal or reduction of other popular deductions, like for medical expense and student loan payments.

New York elected and civic leaders -- including this episode's guest, Jay Kriegel, are vehemently opposed to the effort to reduce SALT. Kriegel explains what's at stake and what he is doing to prevent what many believe would be a catastrophe for New Yorkers, and residents of other states as well.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guest Jay Kriegel (@NoDoubleTax). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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What’s The [DATA] Point? $67 billion Thu, 09 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000