Have a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!
Ways and Means Staff Tracking Revenue Reports
Since my last report to you in October, I have met with members of my Ways and Means Committee staff to discuss the Committee's October Monthly Revenue Report. As you may recall, every Spring budget officials rely on projections of what the economy will be doing throughout the coming year and use those projections to help construct the budget we must pass by April 1, which is the first day of our State Fiscal Year.
The numbers, which as of September mark the halfway point of the Fiscal year, were decidedly mixed. Personal income tax payments were three percent below projections and business taxes were down 10 percent from where we believed they would be when we passed the budget six months earlier. Other taxes also failed to meet our projections. However, consumption and user taxes were up by 1.6 percent and the State received more than nine percent more money from the Federal government than we anticipated, meaning that overall revenues were down by $163 million compared to the numbers we anticipated, which is a manageable figure.
Fuel Tax Receipts Rise
Interestingly, one of the strongest numbers we are seeing in terms of consumption and use taxes is the surcharge that is paid for fuel. Motorists paid in an additional $11 million in fuel taxes to the State, an increase of 4.2 percent more than was anticipated during the Spring of 2016. It may be the case that fewer motorists are crossing over into New Jersey, where gas is usually cheaper, to fuel up their cars. If this proves to be the case, then this trend will probably increase in light of the fact that New Jersey's transit fund is broke and lawmakers in that state increased fuel taxes in order to fix their roads and bridges, which could keep more of New Yorkers' money within our own State where we can put that money to work in order to meet our own transportation needs.
New York City Expenditures Set to Decrease
My staff and I also recently reviewed a report detailing the City's finances as reflected by the budget for the 2017 Fiscal Year. According to this report, Mayor de Blasio is taking a conservative approach by lowering expenditures and increasing reserve funds to prepare for the possibility of financial instability in the future. At the same time, it is assumed that City tax revenues will increase by $8 billion, to just over $90 billion, over the next four years.
Balanced City Budget Foreseen
Overall, City budget officials anticipate total revenues of $82.1 billion, a decrease of nearly $250 million, balanced by nearly flat spending across all categories. A surplus of nearly $4 billion is anticipated in the 2017 Fiscal year, which will be used to prepay expenses in Fiscal Year 2018.
Focusing on Homelessness in New York City
While we have all been reading many alarming newspaper reports on the homelessness problem in recent years, policymakers have also been given access to numerous scholarly reports that outline the problem in much greater detail than may be found in a tabloid-style newspaper.A recent report published by Coalition for the Homeless, a Manhattan-based not for profit organization formed in 1981 shows that this is what the problem looks like: homelessness is at its' highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In August 2016 New York City shelters held 61,464 homeless people including 15,501 families with 23,929 children. During 2015, more than 100,000 people including 42,000 children cycled through the shelter system and most of these people were from a few particularly low-income neighborhoods. Nearly 60 percent of homeless shelter residents are African-American and between 30 and 40 percent are Latino.
Problem One: A Lack of Affordable Housing
The primary problem behind these dismal figures is a lack of affordable housing, according to the Coalition's report. Surveys of homeless New Yorkers have identified the problems that led to their lack of housing as eviction, severe overcrowding, domestic violence, loss of employment and hazardous housing conditions. These facts prove that investing in affordable housing, and investing that money wisely and efficiently, must remain a top priority as we move forward.
Deals Pending on State Housing Plans
In recent weeks news has broken that deals have been reached on two important housing-related programs. The first is a proposal to bring back the expired 421-a program, which gives builders a tax credit for including affordable housing in their buildings, until the program was allowed to expire months ago during a dispute over what construction employees should be paid. Details of this proposal to revive 421-a are forthcoming, and we should all reserve judgment until we are sure this new deal effectively uses public money to encourage affordable housing to be built.
The second program involves a proposal by Governor Cuomo to invest $2 billion in the construction or preservation of affordable and supportive housing, which I explained in reports made to you earlier in the year. As you may recall, the Governor and legislative leaders were not able to reach agreement on some details of the plan by the time our Legislative Session ended in late June, so we agreed to temporarily settle for a Memorandum of Understanding that the funds would be spent on housing. This bought us time to finalize our negotiations on the finished plan.
Governor Cuomo recently ordered a top lieutenant to sign off on the deal, and suggested he might order the Legislature back to Albany before the end of 2016 to vote on the plan. However, Speaker Heastie and others have said that it may be better to wait until we return to Albany in January to make any necessary changes to the plan rather than rush through it and create a program that does not best serve the needs of struggling New York families and seniors.
I will continue to keep you up to date on these important subjects, and I hope that you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.
Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony to Open Boys and Girls Club of Harlem
Earlier today, I was delighted to attend the grand opening of the new, state of the art Boys and Girls Club of Harlem which is located in the former PS 186. This beautiful and respectfully restored building is the product of many years of hard work by staff and administrators of the Boys and Girls Club and will also include 79 units of affordable housing. It was a pleasure to support this important project and an honor to be invited to this event on such a beautiful day.
As you may know, this is one of several ongoing projects in our community that will serve and improve the lives of our youth that I have been involved with and am happy to support.
New Madison Square Boys and Girls Club to Open in 2018
I was also pleased to meet with administrators of the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club about their plan to open a new facility at 155th Street and Bradhurst Avenue which is expected to serve 5,000 children per year. Their new space will include academic support services, character, citizenship and health programs as well as athletic and entertainment facilities.
This planned 45,000-square-foot facility will include age-appropriate educational spaces, a teen center, performing arts center, a regulation-size basketball court and other amenities designed to attract and serve young people and keep them on a positive path toward education and success.
Preparing to Open the New HCCI Community Day Care
Earlier this year, my staff and I were approached by representatives of Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement to talk about their plan to refurbish part of 260 West 153rd Street and convert the space into a day care center that will serve the Bradhurst area of Central Harlem.
Assemblyman Farrell and HCCI President Malcolm Punter discuss early childhood education.
State Support for Community Improvement Programs
After listening to their proposal and carefully reviewing details of their plan, I agreed to put funding into the budget to help them. We recently joined HCCI staff for a walk-through of the new facility, which had just been completed and must now be outfitted so it can be opened to serve our community, possibly as soon as the end of 2016. It is an exciting new program, and I am happy to support HCCI's effort.
HCCI Child Care Center Will Serve Up To 100 Children
Their plan originally took shape more than 15 years ago but stalled, which is an unfortunately common problem for not-for-profit community benefit organizations like HCCI, especially in the case of expensive projects like this one. The larger project is called The Canon Frederick Boyd Williams Early Childhood Training Academy, and the child care center will cover 10,000 square feet and serve children aged two to five years old. The program provider, Tender Tots, has run a successful pre-Kindergarten program elsewhere for the last two years.
Support for Working Families in Need of Quality Care
While I have often written about the importance of early education for students' long-term academic success, not enough has been said about the importance of affordable child care to working families. As we all know, quality child care can be very expensive and hard to come by. Families, especially single-parent households, often struggle to balance the needs of work and child care. While it can be a positive thing to give families job training and the opportunity to work and improve the quality of their lives, this can become impossible and even dangerous if child care is not available. That is why I agreed to support all three of these important projects.
Community Leaders Attend Tour of Columbia's New Campus
Earlier this month, I was pleased to attend a tour of the first of several planned buildings that are part of Columbia University's new Manhattanville Campus on 125th Street. This pre-dedication tour and reception of the Jerome L. Greene Science Center was by invitation only to members of the community who, over the past 10 years, had worked to make sure that our community had a voice in this important project. The official opening is scheduled for Monday, October 24.
Assemblyman Farrell, Sophia Farrell, Assembly Member Keith Wright and Columbia President Lee Bollinger discuss progress on the new Manhattanville Campus.
Governor Cuomo Orders Release of $2 Billion for Affordable Housing
Assembly, Senate Reviewing Details of Preservation and Renewal Plan
As you may recall from a previous report, the budget for State Fiscal Year 2016-2017 includes funds that are effectively a down payment on a $2 billion, five-year plan to create and preserve more than 100,000 units of affordable housing. Though all sides agreed it was necessary to spend the money on these vitally important programs, we were not able to reach agreement on precisely how these funds should be spent before our Session ended in late June.
Governor Cuomo has ordered the director of his Division of Budget to sign a memorandum outlining how the money is to be spent. Speaker Heastie and I, along with our staff, are reviewing details of the Governor's plan and will discuss the matter with our colleagues.
Assembly Priorities: Protect the Most Vulnerable New Yorkers
As you would expect, our Majority Conference has discussed this important program at great length and in detail. Our priorities are simple: too many people both in New York City and Upstate must spend too much of their income on housing costs, especially seniors living on a fixed income.
The Assembly Majority Conference's view is that this $2 billion investment in the future of our housing stock must be spent to perform much-needed capital repairs to public housing; revitalize Mitchell-Lama housing; expand affordable housing for seniors and vulnerable people; and to pay for related programs that will support these primary goals.
$1.4 Billion for New Affordable Housing, $565 Million for Preservation
The basic details of the Governor's plan are as follows: $1.4 billion to create new affordable housing including significant investments in housing for seniors, the middle class and supportive housing for the disabled, victims of abuse, and those living with chronic illnesses like HIV and AIDS; $565 million for preservation of existing affordable housing including $100 million for State-approved NYCHA capital improvements in addition to an existing $100 million commitment to NYCHA; $54 million to provide opportunities for first-time and continuing homeowners and efforts to stabilize communities hit by the foreclosure crisis; and $10 million for neighborhood revitalization programs across the State.
Legislature Reviewing Details of Governor Cuomo's Housing Plan
While these are all important and worthy goals, the Legislature must carefully review the details of the Governor's proposal to be sure that the proposal meets the needs of our communities before we approve the finished plan. If it does not, we will continue to fight for what is right.
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Farrell addresses questions relating to changes in the Gap Elimination in the Assembly Budget Proposal. E.203