Gotham Gazette Fri, 26 Feb 2021 07:41:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) The Governor’s Budget Threat to New York’s Most Vulnerable indoor dining can

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

New York State is at a crossroads when it comes to caring for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD). Government officials have a choice to continue divesting from the system leading to irreparable harm for our most vulnerable citizens or they can right the ship by maintaining the investment in the organizations providing support to the majority of individuals in the state with I/DD.

One such group of organizations is Care Coordinated Organization/Health Homes – entities created by the state in 2018 to provide critical and essential services to people with I/DD. Now, less than three years later, these essential organizations are facing another 23% cut in Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget plan, which, if enacted, would total almost 40% cut over a period of just over a year. If this cut moves forward, it would result in the dismantling of care coordination and advocacy for 110,000 people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. 

Many New Yorkers with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities need help accessing basic human needs – food, housing, medicine, employment, community resources, and transportation. We partner with these individuals and their families to help them through life’s challenges.

Many people with I/DD have incredibly complex medical, behavioral, and social needs that require high-quality, specialized care. This is where Care Coordinated Organization/Health Homes come in and play a key role. We provide support ranging from navigating and coordinating medical and behavioral health services, and long-term care services.

Cutting Care Coordinated Organization/Health Homes funding will lead to increased and preventable hospitalizations, institutionalization, and homelessness. It is unconscionable to implement a cut to services to a population that face up to five times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 due to their comorbidities and chronic health conditions.

The fact is, the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities is not keeping the promise that Governor Cuomo made a decade ago when he promised “care management for all.” Not only did it take seven years for the Care Coordinated Organization program to be developed, now the state is preparing a knock-out blow by obliterating our funding. The dissonance in the state’s messaging versus its actions from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities’ hidden funding reduction action is especially dangerous at the height of an unprecedented pandemic.

As Care Coordinated Organization/Health Homes for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities we are more than just care coordinators. We’re advocates. Oftentimes, we are the literal lifeline. Many New Yorkers with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities do not have family to care for them or are unable to advocate for themselves. Because of this, they're more likely to have their rights violated; lose access to benefits such as Medicaid and lose access to services and supports to meet their needs. They should not be left to navigate the complicated Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, public benefit, and health-care system bureaucracies on their own.

So, what can be done? We are not asking for additional funding, but begging the state to not gut the care coordination system that was promised long ago and so many now rely on. We are asking that Governor Cuomo correct this wrong by using a portion of the additional $2 billion in enhanced Federal Medicaid funding already committed to New York State by President Biden after the governor’s executive budget was released.

New York simply cannot ignore the vulnerable human beings in our care. Whether New York State tears up their safety net or not; they exist, they love, they hurt, and they need care and support now more than ever. We call on New York State to restore the funding and not to move forward with the proposed cuts to ensure the Care Coordinated Organization/Health Homes model of care is intact in order to deliver the critical care coordination and advocacy services that New Yorkers with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities deserve and have come to depend on.

Jim Moran is the CEO of Care Design New York.

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The Governor’s Budget Threat to New York’s Most Vulnerable Wed, 24 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
New York’s Next Shot to Strengthen Our Democracy may participates electoral

The State Senate chamber (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photo Office)

American democracy is suffering a crisis of confidence. In too many states, the very mechanics of elections has become a partisan and polarizing issue, with deeply damaging results. This year New York has the chance to model a path forward, with a bipartisan commitment to strengthening democracy and providing the best possible systems for our citizens to be heard. 

As appointees to the state’s new Public Campaign Finance Board, that commitment is our pledge. In 2020, the state enacted a new small donor public financing program, to amplify the voices of more New Yorkers in the political process. We were appointed to oversee this program by opposing party leaders in the Legislature. By choosing us, they knew they were choosing problem-solvers bent on working together. Whether longtime supporters of the policy or thoughtful critics, now that public financing is the law, our duty is to prepare the program for a successful launch in November 2022.

We know our fellow officials and staff at the New York State Board of Elections are ready to work together toward that launch, even with hardly a chance to catch their breath after the challenge of holding elections in a pandemic. We are grateful that Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget for next fiscal year includes the necessary start-up funds for the public financing program and we urge our elected leaders to maintain that commitment through the adopted budget. 

This voluntary program will enable candidates for legislative or statewide office to try to qualify for public matching funds for small donations (under $250). Contributions by New York residents to statewide candidates will be matched $6-to-$1. Legislative candidates can be matched for donations from residents of their districts — the smaller the donation, the higher the match. 

Getting this program off the ground requires an extensive administrative coordination, from hiring staff to procuring office space to working with vendors who can help build and test the relevant technology. As these resources get into place, staff will also be writing the rules and regulations that will govern the program. 

Of utmost priority for us as commissioners is creating transparent public financing that’s worthy of the public’s trust. This means having clear guidelines that explain when a candidate is allowed to receive matching funds, and what happens when anyone violates the rules. And it’s also essential that the system is user-friendly so that candidates find it straightforward to take part, with the rules and regulations enforced equitably among all who participate. Doing both means the public is assured that their dollars are secure and new candidates inspired to run and veteran public servants alike can be confident they are treated fairly. We will reach out to experts who have successfully done this before, learning from them as the Public Campaign Finance Board moves forward in New York.  

There is no time to waste: New York is required to launch small donor public financing by November 2022, so that candidates running in state elections in 2024 are able to fundraise under the new program. Connecticut’s simpler public financing program took two years to build. But if the program receives the necessary start-up funding this year, we are determined to work together and with our colleagues to make this program a success – and make New York an example for other states looking to bolster their democracies.   

Ekow N. Yankah and Brian M. Kolb are members of New York state’s new Public Campaign Finance Board.

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New York’s Next Shot to Strengthen Our Democracy Tue, 23 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
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

Read more by this writer.

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
Legislators and CUNY Chancellor Discuss University Funding, Recovery Plans Amid Massive Covid Disruption 3 quad cutting rib

Queens College (photo: CUNY)

At the State Legislature’s recent budget hearing on higher education, held virtually on February 4, City University of New York (CUNY) Chancellor Félix Matos Rodriguez discussed his asks for CUNY funding and answered questions about the university’s spending, programs, and operational plans.

The hearing was the sixth in a series of 13 on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fiscal year 2021-2022 executive budget plan being held by the State Senate and Assembly, chaired by Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, and Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair Helene Weinstein, a Brooklyn Democrat.

Stakeholders from both CUNY and the State University of New York were present, including Matos Rodriguez, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Matt Sapienza, and members of advocacy groups and student governments from both university systems.

Each chancellor had 10 minutes to speak about their school system and what they’ve done with current funding levels, including coronavirus responses.

Afterward, various state senators and Assembly members questioned each chancellor, both times starting with Assemblymember and Committee on Higher Education Chair Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, and then alternating between senators and Assembly members.

“On behalf of the entire CUNY community, I want to thank [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo, the state Senate and the state Assembly for your past and sustained support, which has enabled CUNY to deliver strong results for our half-a-million students and citizens of New York,” Matos Rodriguez said in the opening remarks of his presentation. “2020 was a year that both demanded and inspired great fortitude and resourcefulness from our students and faculty, staff and leaders.”

According to the CUNY staff and faculty union, state funding covers about 60% of CUNY’s operating budget for its senior colleges and their entire capital budget, while student tuition provides about 40%. The New York City government contributes more toward the community colleges, though the state provides about a third of their operating budgets. And the state also “helps students through the Tuition Assistance Program, subsidized loans, and specialized scholarship and grant programs,” as well as “the Education Opportunity, SEEK and College Discovery programs which benefit many low-income minority students at CUNY.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Matos Rodriguez explained, the university’s spending looked different than in past years. 

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, allowed CUNY to set up the Chancellor’s Emergency Fund, which in part provided a $600 grant to more than 10,000 students in financial need as a direct result of the pandemic.

CARES Act funding was also to be used for institutional expenses that came as a result of the pandemic, such as to facilitate online learning.

“The coronavirus was largely a remote concern when the year began, but it soon gained a foothold in New York that forced CUNY to all but shut down its 25 campuses on March 12 and quickly pivot to distance education,” Matos Rodriguez said. “When classes resumed after a week-long academic recess, 95% of the university’s 50,000 course sections had transitioned to online instruction. We quickly realized that thousands of students lacked the tools to participate in distance learning and, with the support of the governor, we purchased 33,000 laptops and tablets and made sure they were safely distributed to students in need, as well as provided 4,000 personal hotspots for those students who required enhanced wifi capability.”

The chancellor also said that 16 faculty members, 22 staff members, four students and “countless” CUNY alumni died from COVID-19.

Matos Rodriguez went on to talk about some of the more positive things that happened during the past school year. He said that 56,527 degrees were earned by students, the second highest total number of degrees given out in a single year in CUNY history — and just under the record high total, which came from the previous school year.

CUNY increased the number of mental health counselors across its campuses and began a new partnership with the New York Jobs CEO Council, which works with CEOs of large New York companies to create a direct path for employment for CUNY graduates.

He also mentioned that within the past year CUNY Central has appointed nine new college presidents — including someone to replace Matos Rodriguez himself at Queens College when he became the chancellor — who come from diverse backgrounds and identities.

This new cohort includes the first two Asian-American campus presidents ever at CUNY, along with three female presidents and three African-American presidents.

“Since I was appointed chancellor a year-and-a-half ago, we have continued to assemble a cabinet and college presidents of unprecedented expertise and diversity, who reflect the city we live in and the students that we serve,” he said. 

As for the 2021-2022 budget, the chancellor went on to say that the focus will be on handling the pandemic and its impacts, including students’ mental health, in addition to expanding the nursing program and the CUNY Corps internship program, and increasing the number of racially diverse full-time faculty across all campuses.

He then went on to address what he feels the university needs in the 2021-2022 budget, though he did not mention any specific dollar figures, only general requests for additional funding.

“Looking ahead to life after covid, we will double our efforts to help students succeed, graduate on time and find sustainable career paths,” Matos Rodriguez said.

The budget request also is asking for increased capital funding for the informational technology systems that have been keeping the university running during the pandemic. Funding for capital construction on the various campuses is hopefully coming from the federal government, Matos Rodriguez added.

Moving into the Q&A, Assemblymember Glick asked about, among other things, enrollment and retention rates at CUNY.

After the covid outbreak in New York, CUNY enrollment for the fall 2020 semester reportedly followed national trends and decreased by 3.7% from the previous year, including by 800 students who the chancellor said had graduated from New York City Department of Education public schools in June 2020 and were at one point enrolled with CUNY but never arrived.

Matos Rodriguez said that Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost José Luis Cruz has been working with the Department of Education to identify who these missing 800 students are and why they never showed up in their CUNY classes at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Brooklyn Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, a two-time CUNY graduate and a newly-elected Democrat, asked the chancellor about the 2% pay increase that was promised in the recently re-negotiated staff contract, which has not been included in the 2021-2022 budget.

“This was a very, very difficult fiscal year and this was a year also in which we’re dealing with a lot of unprecedented changes coming our way,” Matos Rodriguez said in response. “So, we had to take a number of decisions to protect the overall university, and to do that members of the senior management took a five-day furlough. We created a Vacancy Review Board to provide good use of our hires and personnel in a way that was consistent with the fiscal times that we’re facing.”

CUNY had signed the staff and faculty contract at the beginning of Matos Rodriguez’s tenure as chancellor, but the school decided that the salary increase had to be delayed due to the extenuating circumstances caused by the pandemic, though Matos Rodriguez said he hopes to reinstate the raise as soon as things become more stable.

Senator Diane Savino, a Brooklyn and Staten Island Democrat, brought up the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, which has grown in enrollment — up by 12% during the pandemic, according to Svaino — but not enough in campus size over the past few years. The school’s library has also been closed for five years.

CUNY has increased the school’s space by 12%, Matos Rodriguez said, and the university is in talks with landlords to see where more physical space for students to learn can be added, but this is not the only plan.

“Many of the courses provided, for example, by the School of Labor Studies, occur in the evening,” he explained. “We have some campuses that most of the classes happen during the day and are nearby, and we’re trying to see if we can more effectively use the space. Long term, we’re also thinking about where the school could be housed. There’s a couple of other possibilities in the Manhattan area that we’re looking at, and that might be a possibility to meet other needs and maybe also create some shared space; for example, if they’re with another combined CUNY facility, things like the library can be a joint facility that would be better for the students there and everyone around.”

Other questions asked to Matos Rodriguez by legislators were, among other things, on the topics of faculty to student ratios, free tuition at the community colleges, student food stamp (SNAP) enrollment, and the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).

On the subject of student to faculty ratios, which Glick asked about, Matos Rodriguez said, systemwide, the ratio is currently 22-to-1. He said that the ratio has been consistently between 21 and 22 students for each professor for the past five years, but this statistic is not broken up by part-time and full-time faculty.

Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright, another Manhattan Democrat, asked what it would cost to implement free tuition at the community colleges, considering how many students at those schools are eligible for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), the Pell grant, and other financial aid programs.

Matos Rodriguez said that he and his team had some estimates that he could send to the legislators, but no definite numbers to share at the moment, before adding that there needs to be more clarity on the meaning of this question.

“The one thing I want to say about this question, too, is that folks need to define what ‘free’ means,” he said. “Is it first dollar? Last dollar? There’s a lot of nuances as to how free college and free community college can be done and I think it’s important that as we go into this debate, even those of us who are supportive of things like this, that we get into the nuances, because that can mean — what we want is the most affordable quality community college and four-year college experience.”

Senator Krueger asked the chancellor about SNAP and whether CUNY has an internal or systematic way of notifying students who may be eligible for the program.

He responded that, since the governor announced an expansion of the SNAP program, CUNY has referred 7,000 students. The university’s CUNYfirst online student portal already had been identifying potentially eligible students, letting them know they may be eligible and connecting them to the city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) before the governor’s announcement.

Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, a Queens Democrat and chair of the State Senate Higher Education Committee, inquired about the ASAP program, the funding for which was cut by about $2.5 million.

“ASAP is very important to us,” Matos Rodriguez responded. “It’s a national model now. Seven states replicate the work that we’ve been doing at ASAP. The Kennedy School gave us an award on innovation last year because of the results that ASAP has provided.”

“We hope that we can get that funding back at the state level,” he continued. “The ASAP program has also been targeted for cuts at the city level, but we’ve been trying to have conversations to restore those. Because they target one of our most successful programs, it has an impact on enrollment. A lot of the students are attracted for the benefits that the ASAP program provides and the effectiveness of ASAP, so we lose enrollment. So, it’s a cut that cuts a program and cuts our enrollment base. It hits us twice, and then it hits us a third time when that student that is going to finish at a faster rate than others does not transfer to a four-year school.”

Legislators and CUNY Chancellor Discuss University Funding, Recovery Plans Amid Massive Covid Disruption Fri, 12 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

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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.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Biden Plan Gives New York State a Two-Year Reprieve from a Damaged Budget Wed, 10 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
New Federal Aid Can’t Diminish New York State’s Responsibility to Our Children second round comm

Gov. Cuomo visits a school (photo: governor's office)

Thanks to the election of the Biden-Harris ticket and a newly Democratic U.S. Congress, New York can expect much more favorable treatment in any new federal pandemic relief program than it would have received from the Trump administration or Republican Congress.

But however much New York gets from the federal government in the coming months, it won’t be enough for our public school children if the state uses that federal aid to replace rather than add to the state’s own funding of our public schools.

The $1.1 billion in federal stimulus money already received went to local school districts. But at the same time New York state officials used the new money as an opportunity to lower the state’s own school funding.  

In general, federal funds are supposed to be used to supplement rather than to supplant or replace local contributions, but unfortunately, the current pandemic relief plan leaves the states some flexibility to reduce their own investments in education.  

New York’s budget problems are real, with tax revenues declining in many areas because of the damage the coronavirus epidemic has done to our economy.  The state’s most recent estimates predict a total deficit of more than $60 billion for the next four years.

The good news — at least for the moment — is that according to both the state and city fiscal officials, tax revenues have come in somewhat above the most pessimistic projections, and new federal funds can certainly help close remaining budget gaps.

But when our schools fully re-open, we won’t be getting back to the pre-covid world.

The “new normal” will include hundreds of thousands of students who have lost weeks of valuable learning time, despite the heroic efforts by teachers, both in classrooms and online.  That deficit must be made up.

Most importantly, our schools will also need significant new investments in mental health services to help children manage the emotional damage caused by the sickness and deaths of loved ones, along with the prolonged isolation that affected so many families.

Schools are far from the only areas that will need new funding to deal with the long-term effects of the pandemic. Too many New Yorkers will continue to struggle with unemployment, homelessness, and food scarcity.

The state’s budget process will have to balance these needs with available federal help and the strength of the New York economic recovery, which could take years. Additional revenue ideas now on the table range from levies on the legalized sale of marijuana and on-line gambling to increased taxes on the wealthy.

There will also be other possibilities, which the Legislature can weigh.

But whatever strategies the state develops to deal with the budget challenges posed by the pandemic, our children will have to meet the challenges of a post-covid society. They won’t be able to do so if the schools never see their fair share of new funds.

Michael Mulgrew is the president of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter @UFT.

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New Federal Aid Can’t Diminish New York State’s Responsibility to Our Children Sat, 06 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
What's The [DATA] Point? $7.4 Billion, Examining the Governor's Executive Budget whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 101 -- $7.4 Billion, with EJ McMahon  [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

$7.4 billion is how much New York State personal income tax was paid in 2018 by residents of other states. This revenue stream may be threatened if a lawsuit over taxation of out-of-state telecommuting residents prevails. Today's guest, the Empire Center’s E.J. McMahon, explains why this lawsuit is so important, and also discussed a variety of elements of Governor Cuomo's new Executive Budget. And, in her final episode as co-host, Maria Doulis offers a brief analysis of Mayor de Blasio's new Preliminary Budget.

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!

What's The [DATA] Point? · Episode 101: $7.4 billion, with E.J. McMahon

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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What's The [DATA] Point? $7.4 Billion, Examining the Governor's Executive Budget Wed, 03 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Liz Krueger on New York’s Finances Gotham Gazette:

Senator Liz Krueger (photo: NY Senate)

January 20, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Liz Krueger on New York’s Finances

State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Senate's finance committee, joined the show to discuss the state's fiscal picture, the governor's new executive budget plan, aid from Washginton, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

Max & Murphy · Episode 270: State Senator Liz Krueger On New York’s Finances

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Liz Krueger on New York’s Finances Wed, 20 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000