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Assemblyman
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
Assembly District 71
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Chair, Ways and Means Committee
…and this month in Albany
March 19, 2015

Assemblyman Farrell Reports to Community Board 9

Assembly Passes Budget Resolution for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016
$150.7 Billion Budget Plan Increases Funding for Education, Housing

On Thursday, March 12 I as chair of the Ways and Means Committee I led the debate and helped to pass the Assembly's "one-house" budget resolution for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016. This vote was a major step toward passing an on-time budget, which by law must occur before April 1.

Our $150.7 billion budget plan increases spending by 5.39 percent over State Fiscal Year 2014-2015 and includes $7.8 billion in Federal funding for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the ongoing recovery from Superstorm Sandy. Our budget also significantly increases funding for education, affordable housing, health care and other priorities over and above the funding levels proposed by Governor Cuomo in the Executive Budget he released earlier this year.

Adoption of the Assembly's budget resolution was necessary in order to set clear priorities and enter the conference committee process with the Senate in order to reconcile differences in our one-house budgets and present the Governor with a unified Legislative budget for his approval.

Assembly Budget Plan Increases School Aid by $1.8 Billion

Among the highlights of the Assembly's budget resolution is a $1.8 billion increase to education funding, which is primarily a $1 billion increase to Foundation Aid and a $456 million restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment program. The Gap Elimination Adjustment program began during the financial crisis of 2008 when the State found itself critically short of revenue in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown that began the recent recession.

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The Assembly's budget resolution also includes enacting the Higher Education Road to Success program, an additional $100 million in funding for SUNY and CUNY, adding 3,000 new child care slots to programs for college students who have children in need of care, and raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 which is a much needed reform of the juvenile justice system. The Assembly also voted to invest in affordable housing, while also adopting a "circuit-breaker" property tax relief plan, a tax credit for renters in addition to raising the minimum wage.

I noted, during the debate on the Assembly floor that afternoon, that in the past when minimum wage increases were considered, opponents of higher wages always argued that jobs would be lost if low-income workers' wages were increased. However, as it happened, that did not occur and if it had there would be no jobs left in New York, which is clearly not the case. My colleagues in the Assembly Majority Conference and I believe that, especially in New York City where the cost of living is high, workers should be able to make ends meet on the wages paid by a full-time job. We intend to continue to fight for this critical quality of life issue. The Assembly's budget plan also includes $33 million for critical maintenance of New York City streets, a significant increase from the $7 million budgeted for New York City in 2014-2015 when Upstate roads needed much more significant repair and more funding.

Budget Conference Committee Process Has Begun

After the budget resolution debate, which took only two hours to conclude, Speaker Heastie and myself joined Senate leaders in the first meeting of the General Conference Committee (also known as the Mothership Committee). During this meeting, members of the Assembly and Senate were assigned to subcommittees who considered components of the budget and were charged with reconciling the different ways the Assembly and Senate dealt with these budget components. These meetings are ongoing but are expected to conclude in the coming days.

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Speaker Heastie, Assemblyman Farrell and members of the Assembly leadership took part in a General Conference Committee meeting in Albany on March 12, 2015. Pictured are (from left) Speaker Carl E. Heastie, Assemblyman Farrell, Majority Leader Joseph D. Morelle, and Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry.

As noted above, when the conference committee process is complete, the Assembly and Senate should have a unified budget to vote upon and pass. While this process is ongoing, legislative leaders will continue to meet with Governor Cuomo to negotiate and come to agreement on details of the final budget. When an overall deal is reached and the conference committees have done their work, each house will vote upon a uniform bill which, when it has been passed, will be delivered to the Governor for his signature. This will complete the budget process. Please look to my Web site at assembly.state.ny.us for all the latest news on the budget as well as other goings-on in Albany as well as here at home in the District.


Yours truly,
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.



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March 12, 2015
Assembly Passes Budget Resolution for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016
$150.7 Billion Budget Plan Increases Funding for Education, Housing

On Thursday, March 12 I led the debate and helped pass the Assembly's "one-house" budget resolution for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016. This vote was a major step toward passing an on-time budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016, which by law must occur before April 1.

Our $150.7 billion budget plan increases spending by 5.39 percent over State Fiscal Year 2014-2015 and includes $7.8 billion in Federal funding for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the ongoing recovery from Superstorm Sandy. Our budget also significantly increases funding for education, affordable housing, health care and other priorities over and above the funding levels proposed by Governor Cuomo in the Executive Budget he released earlier this year.

Adoption of the Assembly's budget resolution was necessary in order to set clear priorities and enter the conference committee process with the Senate in order to reconcile differences in our one-house budgets and present the Governor with a unified Legislative budget for his approval.

Assembly Budget Plan Increases School Aid by $1.8 Billion

Among the highlights of the Assembly's budget resolution is a $1.8 billion increase to education funding, which is primarily a $1 billion increase to Foundation Aid and a $456 million restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment program. The Gap Elimination Adjustment program began during the financial crisis of 2008 when the State found itself critically short of revenue in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown that began the recent recession.

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The Assembly's budget resolution also includes enacting the Higher Education Road to Success program, an additional $100 million in funding for SUNY and CUNY, adding 3,000 new child care slots to programs for college students who have children in need of care, and raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 which is a much needed reform of the juvenile justice system. The Assembly also voted to invest in affordable housing, while also adopting a "circuit-breaker" property tax relief plan, a tax credit for renters in addition to raising the minimum wage.

Assembly Supports Raising the Wage to Help Working New Yorkers

I noted, during the debate on the Assembly floor that afternoon, that in the past when minimum wage increases were considered, opponents of higher wages always argued that jobs would be lost if low-income workers' wages were increased. However, as it happened, that did not occur and if it had there would be no jobs left in New York, which is clearly not the case. My colleagues in the Assembly Majority Conference and I believe that, especially in New York City where the cost of living is high, workers should be able to make ends meet on the wages paid by a full-time job. We intend to continue to fight for this critical quality of life issue.

The Assembly's budget plan also includes $33 million for critical maintenance of New York City streets, a significant increase from the $7 million budgeted for New York City in 2014-2015 when Upstate roads needed much more significant repair and more funding.

Budget Conference Committee Process Begins

After the budget resolution debate, which took only two hours to conclude, Speaker Heastie and myself joined Senate leaders in the first meeting of the General Conference Committee (also known as the Mothership Committee). During this meeting, members of the Assembly and Senate were assigned to subcommittees who considered components of the budget and were charged with reconciling the different ways the Assembly and Senate dealt with these budget components. These meetings are ongoing but are expected to conclude in the coming days.

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Speaker Heastie, Assemblyman Farrell and members of the Assembly leadership took part in a General Conference Committee meeting in Albany on March 12, 2015.

As noted above, when the conference committee process is complete, the Assembly and Senate should have a unified budget to vote upon and pass. While this process is ongoing, legislative leaders will continue to meet with Governor Cuomo to negotiate and come to agreement on details of the final budget. When an overall deal is reached and the conference committees have done their work, each house will vote upon a uniform bill which, when it has been passed, will be delivered to the Governor for his signature. This will complete the budget process.



February 27, 2015
Workforce Issues Discussed During Hearing on 2015-2016 Executive Budget
Final Hearing of 13 Required by State Constitution

Issues affecting the State workforce were discussed during a Joint Legislative Budget Hearing held Friday, February 27 by the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees to hear testimony on Workforce Development components of Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016. The hearing, which was held in Albany, was the final hearing of a cycle of 13 required by the State Constitution as part of the budget process.

Jerry Boone, Commissioner of the State Department of Civil Service, was the first to testify, noting ongoing work to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of his agency and local civil service jurisdictions across the State. Over the previous year, the Civil Service Department administered 4,500 examinations and tested 140,000 candidates for State and local government jobs, Commissioner Boone said.

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Civil Service Commissioner Boone testifies on the Executive Budget, February 27 2015.

According to the Commissioner, new this year were examinations for the job title of Director of Facilities, to be used by all local school districts. This new approach was required by law that directed the Civil Service Department, rather than local governments, to hold these exams.

Civil Service Outreach to Underrepresented Communities

Also during the past year, over 70 outreach efforts were made to ethnic minorities who are underrepresented in the State workforce as well as organizations representing these people, such as the Association of Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislators' Caucus Conference, the Commissioner testified.

The Commissioner testified that the Department has also focused on employment for veterans, and launched two new recruitment programs within the last year. One of these programs facilitates selection of candidates with disabilities including veterans, while the other connects veterans with temporary employment opportunities in State government, the Commissioner said.

Health Plan Changes Led to $343 Million Savings, Commissioner Testifies

Turning to Empire Plan health benefits administered by the Civil Service Department, Commissioner Boone said that since a new self-financing program began in January 2014 $343 million in savings for State and local governments has been achieved and premium growth has slowed.

Michael Volforte, Interim Director for the Governor's Office of Employee Relations, testified about a series of recent agreements with collective bargaining units; negotiations have been completed with 97 percent of the State workforce, and work is proceeding to prepare successor agreements for two contracts that expire this year and others next year, he said.

Union Representatives Say Recovering Economy, Austerity Clash

Susan M. Kent, President of the 54,000-member State Public Employees Federation, testified that the forecast 6 percent increase in tax revenue growth during the coming year is at odds with what she called the Governor's "self-imposed austerity program" that holds departments to tight budgets, making it difficult for these departments to meet their responsibilities.

Thanking the Legislature for last year's $18.6 million budget restoration for SUNY hospitals, Kent testified that keeping public hospitals public is critical to the communities served by these facilities and the health care providers who train there. She also opposed private-equity investment in the State's health system, as was proposed under a pilot program in the budget.

Barbara Zaron, President of the Organization of Management-Confidential Employees, and her Executive Director Joseph B. Sano, testified that these employees should not have to wait years for statutory salary increases they were promised but never given. These lower-than-expected salaries affect retiring employees' pension calculations for the rest of their lives, Zaron said.



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February 27, 2015
Officials Testify on Mental Health Components of Executive Budget
Hearing was 12th of 13 required by State Constitution

State mental health officials and advocates testified in Albany on Friday, February 27 regarding mental health components of Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016. The hearing was the twelfth of thirteen hearings on components of the Executive Budget, and was required by the State Constitution as part of the process of passing a budget.

Dr. Ann Marie T. Sullivan, Commissioner of the State Office of Mental Health, was the first to testify. Dr. Sullivan said that we are in a time of transformation in our health care system that presents challenges to disease prevention, providing quality care, services for the chronically ill and achieving cost savings.

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Office of Mental Health Commissioner Sullivan testifies on the 2015-2016 Executive Budget.

These circumstances will require a move from providing services via hospitals to a system under which more services are provided via points of delivery located in the community, she said. The proposed budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 recognizes and supports those needs, she said.

Medicaid Reforms Improving Care and Cutting Costs, Commissioner Testifies

Ongoing efforts to redesign the Medicaid system are aimed at providing better care for people suffering from mental illness by pursuing prevention strategies and maximizing wellness while containing costs, Dr. Sullivan testified. The Executive Budget contains $115 million for behavioral health services intended to allow each individual to reach their potential, she said.

Further, the budget plan continues efforts to reform and transform the State's mental health hospital system, she said. The State's Psychiatric Center inpatient capacity includes 24 facilities containing 4,000 budgeted beds, Dr. Sullivan said, exceeding the national average. This approach is costly, and has prevented investment in community services, she added.

Transition to Community-Based Services Allows Savings, Reinvestment

Innovative and effective community-based services can prevent avoidable admissions and readmissions, Dr. Sullivan said, and savings can be used to enable these people to lead more productive lives. Last year, reinvestment in new services led to an increased use of supportive housing, respite care and mobile treatment, Dr. Sullivan testified.

Quality housing is an essential part of quality care, Dr. Sullivan testified, and the Executive Budget includes $10 million to expand rental stipends by an average $750 in high-cost areas. Other investments include $20 million for people coming out of adult nursing homes and other facilities and 2 percent raises for direct care and support workers, she said.

OPWDD Investing in Innovative Care, Pursuing Reforms

Helene DeSanto, Deputy Commissioner for Service Delivery of the State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, testified that the Executive Budget continues ongoing reforms to OPWDD's service delivery systems and will allow the agency to continue accomplishments made during the last four years. During 2014, she said, 521 people transitioned out of developmental centers into community-based skilled nursing facilities. There are now about 500 people living in these developmental centers, she said, down from a high of 27,000 people.

The Executive Budget seeks to invest $120 million in new residential and day services for certified and non-certified residential facilities, day programs, employment and other needs, she said. To continue these reform experts, a panel of experts has been assembled to examine OPWDD's managed care services and achieve lasting change, DeSantos said.



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February 26, 2015
Court and Law Enforcement Officials Testify on 2015-2016 Executive Budget
Public Protection Hearing Was 11th of 13 Required by Constitution

Officials representing State courts, law enforcement agencies and related departments offered their testimony on Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 during a hearing in Albany on Thursday, February 26. The hearing was the eleventh in a series of 13 required by the State Constitution as part of the process of passing a budget. Reports from the officials offering testimony included statistics that New York is the safest of the large states.

Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti, who was the first to speak, testified on the Governor's plans for the Judiciary's budget and thanked the Legislature for increasing the Judiciary's budget this year which allowed court officials to extend the close of business from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. and maintain staffing levels and set the courts on the road to recovery.

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Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti and Assemblyman Farrell discuss budget priorities.

This year, she said, a major obstacle will be increasing costs including contractually-required raises for non-judicial employees, costs related to newly-established Family Court judgeships and increases to other contracted costs including security contracts with law enforcement agencies in some areas. This led Judge Prudenti to ask for another, $1.85 billion budget increase.

Similar requests for additional funding are commonly heard during these budget hearings, but not always agreed to by the Legislature.

Cost-cutting efforts noted during Judge Prudenti's testimony included an increased reliance on the Internet for many filings, restricted travel expenses, increased automation and more efficient management of court records.

Andrew Feeney, Deputy Commissioner for Special Programs for the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, testified that the Governor has earmarked $40 million for counterterrorism activities including a review of prevention and preparedness efforts and an increased security presence of State Police and National Guard at certain locations.

Mike Green, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, testified that the State's prison population has steadily declined since 1999 and incidents of major crimes have also fallen significantly, and pointed to FBI statistics that describe New York as the safest among the large states.

Anthony J. Annucci, Acting Commissioner for the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, testified that the prison population has fallen below 53,000 inmates in 54 facilities (a statistical low not seen since 1990) plus about 36,000 parolees. The budget for 2014-2015 closed three medium-security and one minimum-security facilities, he said; in the last four years 13 prisons have closed and 55,000 unneeded prison beds have been eliminated.

Joseph A. D'Amico, Superintendent of the State Police, testified that 87 percent of his agency's budget supports personnel services, mostly salaries and benefits for his staff.



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February 25, 2015
Mayor de Blasio Requests State Infrastructure Investment
Affordable Housing, Education Named as Priorities

Appearing before a Joint Legislative Budget Hearing convened by the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees, Mayor Bill de Blasio asked that a portion of the State's $5.4 billion budget surplus be invested in roads, bridges, education and other infrastructure needs.

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Assemblyman Farrell welcomes Mayor de Blasio to Albany.

The hearing, which was the tenth in a series of thirteen required by the State Constitution as part of the process of passing a budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016, was held in Albany and focused on Local Government components of Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget.

Mayor: Budget Should Build on Past Success

The Mayor, who was the first to testify, opened by saying that he hopes this year's budget opens a path to build on the accomplishments of his first year in office. While progress has been made, he said, the median income has been stagnant since the 1990s, food stamp use has doubled since 2002, and these problems can only be changed through a strong, sustained partnership with State government in Albany.

Mayor de Blasio said he remains concerned about funding for housing, transportation, and other needs, pointing to the Federal Highway Trust Fund which is set to become insolvent by May 31, jeopardizing $2 billion New York City transportation funding, and the State's contribution to the City's budget.

This year, the Mayor said, City officials are looking to the State to meet critical needs - 46 percent of the City's population is at or near the poverty line and these people need help, as do schools and students. Of New York City students, 140,000 are learning the English language and 171,000 live with disabilities, the Mayor testified.

Make Mayoral Control Permanent, Fund Universal Pre-K

Mayor de Blasio asked the Legislature to make mayoral control of City schools permanent, to accept the Board of Regents' recommendation that $370 million be provided to pay for the City's universal pre-Kindergarten program, and to increase education funding to allow the City to provide "a sound basic education" to all students.

The City's infrastructure is aging and in desperate need of improvements, which endangers the local and State economies, Mayor de Blasio said. Considering that the State now holds a budget surplus, which is largely derived from settlements paid by Wall Street banks accused of wrongdoing, the Mayor said he would like to see funds budgeted to meet these needs.

Rent-Burdened Tenants Must Be a Priority, de Blasio Says

Turning to the subject of affordable housing, the Mayor said that as of 2012 almost 55 percent of tenants were considered rent-burdened, meaning that they paid more than 30 percent of their household income as rent and many are considered severely burdened, spending at least half of their household income on rent.

Mayor de Blasio said his administration has a bold plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade, but State government must renew and strengthen the rent laws or else risk thousands of tenants being priced out of their homes. Albany must also end vacancy decontrol, protect tenants from landlord harassment, invest $300 million in health and safety improvements at New York City Housing Authority's 178,000 apartments and address the record-high homeless population, Mayor de Blasio said.

Infrastructure Needs Severely Underfunded, Mayor Says

Infrastructure needs are underfunded by $1.5 billion over 10 years and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, whose capital plan includes a $15 billion deficit, is at a point of crisis with an aging system and growing ridership that often exceeds capacity, the Mayor said.

Mayor de Blasio also asked the Legislature to raise the minimum wage, calling the current wage of $9 per hour inadequate and asking for an increase to $13 per hour by 2016. The wage should be indexed to inflation, the Mayor said, causing it to automatically increase to $16 per hour by 2019.

Responding to a question from Assemblyman Farrell, Mayor de Blasio said efforts are ongoing to educate pedestrians against stepping into traffic while waiting for a chance to cross the street; however, he confessed to being unsure that it will be possible to change this problem in the short term.

Comptroller Stringer: Expect Gradual Economic Growth

Comptroller Scott Stringer, who was the next City official to speak, testified that the "boom days" of the 1990s are likely not coming back, projecting years of slow gradual growth on Wall Street. The Comptroller, in a nod to the Executive Budget, said it will be critical to increase the State's broadband Internet capacity. Addressing this infrastructure need will allow students to train for entry-level technology jobs, which in turn will allow the State to attract technology companies, but care must be taken to provide affordable housing for these workers.

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Comptroller Scott Stringer testifies in Albany February 25, 2015.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who testified later in the day, largely echoed Mayor de Blasio's testimony but also offered support to Governor Cuomo's budget priorities.



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…and this month in Albany
February 24, 2015

Assemblyman Farrell Reports to Community Board 12

Joint Legislative Budget Hearings Continue in Albany

Tomorrow morning, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee will convene a Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Local Government components of Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016. As you may know, this hearing is the tenth of 13 hearings required by the State Constitution as part of the budget process.

In most years, the Mayor of New York is granted the honor of being the first to testify during these hearings. This year, however, because of severe weather Mayor de Blasio rightfully made the decision to remain in New York City to deal with the storm rather than travel to Albany to appear before our Committees. Therefore, this hearing was rescheduled for Wednesday, February 25. Hearings on Public Protection, Mental Hygiene and Workforce Development will be held later this week, rounding out the cycle of hearings. Details of earlier hearings are below.

Assembly and Senate Leaders Preparing Revenue Forecast

Another key component of our budget for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 is expected to be completed Thursday, when I and other legislative leaders and representatives of the Governor's Division of Budget are scheduled to meet in the State Capitol to come to agreement on a revenue forecast for the coming year. As you may know, deciding on how much we will be able to spend in order to balance the budget is a key part of finishing the overall spending plan. With a three-way agreement on revenue in hand, we should be able to move forward and settle other budget details. By law, we are required to pass a budget before the fiscal year begins April 1.

SUNY Chancellor: New Funding for New Growth Initiatives

SUNY Chancellor Nancy M. Zimpher testified February 10 that the Executive Budget includes $55 million in new capital funds to pay for projects that spur economic growth while strengthening academic programs; includes capital funding for 60 projects at 30 Community Colleges; maintains student aid at 2014-2015 levels; and funds completion of the School of Pharmacy at Binghamton.

However, declining base aid funding at most SUNY schools led college officials to ask the Legislature for an additional $250 per student in State aid; to triple maintenance funding for SUNY buildings to $600 million annually until 2020; add funding to support Community Colleges whose host communities cannot offer extra financial support; more funding for campus safety officers; and more aid for SUNY's struggling teaching hospitals, Zimpher testified.

SUNY's Goal: Graduating 150,000 New Yorkers Every Year

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SUNY Chancellor Zimpher testifies in Albany February 10.

Additional funding would allow SUNY to reach its' goal of graduating 150,000 students each year, an increase from the current 93,000 annual graduates, Zimpher said. She closed her remarks with statistics showing the challenges facing New York students and educators: Of every 100 ninth-graders in the State, only 73 will graduate from high school. Of those 73 graduates, 51 will go directly to college, but only 37 will return for their sophomore year. And of those 37 who do return, only 23 will complete their degree on time or close to on-time.

CUNY Enrollment Over 500,000, an All-Time High

CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken testified that the City University system now offers 2,100 degree-granting programs; 70 at the doctoral level, 660 at the master's level, 700 at the baccalaureate level, 260 associate degrees and nearly 400 graduate and undergraduate certificate courses. In these courses, CUNY's student body of 274,000 is enrolled, an all-time high, Milliken testified, adding that CUNY serves an additional 260,000 adult and continuing students. Nearly 60 percent of New York City high school graduates who enrolled in college did so at CUNY, he said, and the vast majority of graduates remain in New York City. This year, 48,000 graduated.

According to Milliken, while the Governor's budget plan provides a relatively stable budget he outlined several areas of possible improvement, first naming an increase to the proposed zero-increase in State aid per student. Milliken said this is currently $2,497 per full-time student, less than the $2,675 the State provided per full-time student in Fiscal Year 2009. The Executive Budget also reduces child care funding at CUNY facilities by $544,000, Milliken said, noting that twenty percent of CUNY's community college undergraduates support children.

Black Male Institute Encourages Student Retention

On a more positive note, Milliken pointed to the Black Male Initiative, which was instituted by CUNY based on a model established by Medgar Evers College to address education, retention, graduation and the underrepresentation of young men of color in higher education. In the decade since its' founding, Milliken said, this program has amassed an impressive record of mentoring, outreach, placement and other activities that are intended to maximize success among these men.

NYSUT Criticizes Executive Budget

New York State United Teachers Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta roundly criticized the Executive Budget. He said students are paying an ever-greater share of higher education costs while the State has paid a smaller share since the financial crisis of 2007-2008. This year, the State has a $5.4 billion surplus to draw upon in order to reverse that trend, Pallotta said.

However, Pallotta said, the Executive Budget has threatened to move in the opposite direction, including a provision that would withhold 10 percent of State aid if SUNY and CUNY colleges do not submit and obtain State approval of a performance-enhancement plan by December 31.

State Housing Plans Detailed During Legislative Budget Hearing

Settlement funds paid to the State by Wall Street bank JP Morgan Chase will be used to fund the Neighborhood Preservation Companies program, which was started by Assemblyman Farrell years ago, Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner Darryl C. Towns testified February 5.

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Commissioner Towns and DHCR Executive Director Ted Houghton testify in Albany.

Commissioner Towns began with a review of the work his agency has accomplished to create and preserve housing Statewide during 2014. During the last year, DHCR set an agency record by financing the creation or preservation of 9,363 units of affordable housing including homeownership opportunities for over 1,000 New York families.

Loans and capital from DHCR leveraged private investment to create more than $6 billion in economic activity and many construction jobs, the Commissioner said, and the agency continues to oversee and enforce the rent laws that cover about 900,000 rent stabilized units. Since 2012, DHCR brought more than 37,000 units back into the rent regulation system and recovered more than $1 million on behalf of tenants who were wrongly overcharged rent, he said.

With the 2015-2016 budget, DHCR seeks to build on those accomplishments, Commissioner Towns testified.

The budget provides $486 million to expand affordable and supportive housing and enhance community development programs throughout the State, he said. Of the $439.5 million from the JP Morgan Chase settlement, $257 million is programmed for affordable housing and community development, Commissioner Towns said. Also programmed are $20 million for DHCR's "Access to Home" program to benefit veterans, an additional $20 million investment in the Rural and Neighborhood Preservation Companies, plus efforts to modernize the New York City Housing Authority and the Office of Rent Administration.

MTA Chair: Increased State Investment Needed to Build Capacity

Thomas F. Prendergast, Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, began his January 29 testimony on Transportation components of the budget by noting a $141 million State aid increase in the Executive Budget and reviewed MTA's efforts to downsize its' office space and convert unneeded space to cash in order to boost the Authority's bottom line. These savings, along with other cost-cutting moves, have improved MTA operations, Prendergast said.

Ridership continues to break records, Prendergast said - prior to October 2013 MTA had never recorded six million daily subway riders, but in 2014 that figure was exceeded five times in September, seven times in October and nine times in December. More than 83 million trips are taken on Metro-North each year, Prendergast testified, and the trend toward heavy ridership shows no signs of abating in the foreseeable future. Recent studies have shown that the MTA's service area is expected to serve an additional two million people by 2040.

This means MTA resources are stretched almost to their limits, he said; a minor delay on one train at rush hour can create a ripple effect that touches the rest of the system leading to overcrowded platforms and ever-increasing delays for every train that follows. Funding to expand MTA's system will be crucial, Prendergast said, noting that a Capital Program was recently rejected because it did not adequately account for funding that will be required to meet this growing demand. Prendergast closed his testimony with a note of appreciation for the Legislature's longstanding support for MTA operations in the past, and best wishes for a positive outcome for the MTA's Capital Program for 2015 and future years.

Farina: Strong Enrollment in NYC's Pre-Kindergarten Program

Carmen Farina, Chancellor of New York City's Department of Education, began her February 3 testimony on Elementary and Secondary Education components of the budget by thanking the Legislature for including $300 million in the current year's budget to pay for the new Pre-K program in the City in which 53,000 students are currently enrolled. This strong enrollment has the City well-positioned to meet this year's goal of offering universal Pre-K, Farina said.

Her testimony also included the results of enhanced programming for 90,000 middle school students, ongoing efforts to support 45 new community schools and support for continued mayoral control of City schools which she believes will continue to improve public education in New York City. Testifying later, representatives of the United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers took a hard line against proposed education reforms and other components of the Executive Budget. The union leaders recommended against making the 2 percent property tax cap permanent while poorer school districts struggle to muster the financial resources to provide for every student. Similar criticisms were echoed by dozens of other education advocates, whose lengthy testimony brought the hearing to a close after nine hours.


Yours truly,
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.



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February 12, 2015
Legislators Consider Budget Testimony, Discuss Stronger Rent Laws

In the coming weeks, my colleagues in the Legislature and I will take a brief break from the ongoing Joint Legislative Budget Hearings (which are required as part of the budget process by the State Constitution, and which I co-chair as Chair of the Ways and Means Committee). During the interim, my colleagues and I will discuss the testimony we have heard from advocates and other members of the public. Budget hearings, which you have read about on this page for the last month, resume February 25. By law, we are required to pass a budget by April 1.

During the interim, we will also discuss critical issues which we must deal with later in the Legislative Session, including renewal and strengthening of the Rent Laws. As you may know, the Rent Laws protect nearly 1,000,000 New York City families, but these laws will "sunset" (Albany-speak for "expire") in June 2015.

Over the years, my colleagues in the Assembly's Majority Conference including Speaker Heastie have fought to make sure that tenants are, and continue to be, protected from bad landlords who will use any loophole in the law to damage tenants' rights. With the rent laws set to expire in June, my colleagues and I plan to fight harder than ever in order to assure that New York City tenants are protected to the greatest degree possible.

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February 10, 2015
SUNY and CUNY Plans Discussed During Legislative Budget Hearing
Hearing Was Ninth of Thirteen Required by State Constitution

Leaders of the State University and City Universities of New York joined higher-education officials from around the State and representatives of a teachers' union to deliver testimony before the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees during a February 10 public hearing on higher education components of the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016.

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SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall, who observed budget testimony, and Assemblyman Farrell discuss higher education funding in the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016.

SUNY Chancellor: New Funding for New Growth Initiatives

SUNY Chancellor Nancy M. Zimpher testified that the Executive Budget includes $55 million in new capital funds to pay for projects that spur economic growth while strengthening academic programs; includes capital funding for 60 projects at 30 Community Colleges; maintains student aid at 2014-2015 levels; and funds completion of the School of Pharmacy at Binghamton.

However, declining base aid funding at most SUNY schools led college officials to ask the Legislature for an additional $250 per student in State aid; to triple maintenance funding for SUNY buildings to $600 million annually until 2020; add funding to support Community Colleges whose host communities cannot offer extra financial support; more funding for campus safety officers; and more aid for SUNY's struggling teaching hospitals, Zimpher testified.

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SUNY Chancellor Zimpher asks the Legislature for additional State funding.

SUNY's Goal: Graduating 150,000 New Yorkers Every Year

Additional funding would allow SUNY to reach its' goal of graduating 150,000 students each year, an increase from the current 93,000 annual graduates, Zimpher said. She closed her remarks with statistics showing the challenges facing New York students and educators: Of every 100 ninth-graders in the State, only 73 will graduate from high school. Of those 73 graduates, 51 will go directly to college, but only 37 will return for their sophomore year. And of those 37 who do return, only 23 will complete their degree on time or close to on-time.

CUNY Enrollment Over 500,000, an All-Time High

CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken followed, testifying that the City University system now offers 2,100 degree-granting programs; 70 at the doctoral level, 660 at the master's level, 700 at the baccalaureate level, 260 associate degrees and nearly 400 graduate and undergraduate certificate courses.

In these courses, CUNY's student body of 274,000 is enrolled, an all-time high, Milliken testified, adding that CUNY serves an additional 260,000 adult and continuing students. Nearly 60 percent of New York City high school graduates who enrolled in college did so at CUNY, he said, and the vast majority of graduates remain in New York City. This year, 48,000 graduated.

According to Milliken, while the Governor's budget plan provides a relatively stable budget he outlined several areas of possible improvement, first naming an increase to the proposed zero-increase in State aid per student. Milliken said this is currently $2,497 per full-time student, less than the $2,675 the State provided per full-time student in Fiscal Year 2009.

The Executive Budget also reduces child care funding at CUNY facilities by $544,000, Milliken said, noting that twenty percent of CUNY's community college undergraduates support children.

Black Male Institute Encourages Student retention

On a more positive note, he pointed to the Black Male Initiative, which was instituted by CUNY based on a model established by Medgar Evers College to address education, retention, graduation and the underrepresentation of young men of color in higher education. In the decade since its' founding, Milliken said, this program has amassed an impressive record of mentoring, outreach, placement and other activities that are intended to maximize success among these men.

NYSUT Criticizes Executive Budget

New York State United Teachers Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta roundly criticized the Executive Budget. According to Pallotta, students are paying an ever-greater share of higher education costs while the State has paid a smaller share since the financial crisis of 2007-2008 decimated State revenues. This year, the State has a $5.4 billion surplus to draw upon in order to reverse that trend, Pallotta said.

However, Pallotta said, the Executive Budget has threatened to move in the opposite direction, including a provision that would withhold 10 percent of State aid if SUNY and CUNY colleges do not submit and obtain State approval of a performance-enhancement plan by December 31.



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February 9, 2015
Governor's Tax Reform Proposals Discussed During Budget Hearing
Taxes Hearing was Seventh of Thirteen Legally-Required Hearings

Tax proposals in the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 were discussed during a February 9 Joint Legislative Budget Hearing, which was the seventh of 13 Constitutionally-required hearings before the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees.

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Taxation and Finance Executive Deputy Commissioner Nonie Manion testifies in Albany..

Tax Reforms Seek a More Affordable New York State

Nonie Manion, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Taxation and Finance, was the first to testify. Beginning her testimony with a review of changes to tax policy that have been effected during recent years, Manion said that the 2 percent real property tax cap that is now in place has made New York State a more affordable place to live after past growth in tax rates that were an average of 5.3 percent and as much as 7.7 percent year to year.

Taxation and Finance is finalizing the distribution of $200 million in tax credits to 2.5 million homeowners, and the Executive Budget recommends another $1.7 billion in tax relief to New Yorkers through the creation of a new Real Property Tax Credit, she said, adding that 1.3 million taxpayers will see an average benefit of $950 when the program is fully phased in.

Some Tax Reform Specifics Remain Unclear

In response to a question from Assemblyman Farrell, Manion said the Department estimates millions in tax savings for New Yorkers but she could not specifically cite exact figures. In response to a second question from Farrell, Manion said that the property tax credits would mainly benefit low- and middle-income taxpayers. She again declined to provide specific tax information, saying that the Department will not know the answers until people file their taxes.

Continuing her testimony, Manion said the Executive Budget seeks to make New York State more attractive to business by reducing the corporate income tax rate to 2.5 percent for small companies and offering new tax incentives to the craft brewing and agricultural industries.

New Efforts to Encourage Tax Scofflaws to Pay

The Executive Budget also continues and expands a program intended to encourage tax scofflaws to make good on their debts by lowering the threshold for suspending driving privileges to $5,000, Manion said. This program originally suspended the driver's licenses of New Yorkers who owed more than $10,000 in unpaid taxes.



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February 9, 2015
State Economic Development Efforts Discussed During Budget Hearing
Forum was Eighth of Thirteen Hearings on Executive Budget for 2015-2016

State economic development officials testified before members of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees in Albany February 9 on economic development components of the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016. The hearing was the eighth in a series of 13 hearings on components of the budget, which by law must be held as part of the process of passing a budget before April 1.

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ESDC's Kenneth Adams testifies on economic development efforts in the Executive Budget.

Kenneth Adams, President, CEO and Commissioner of Empire State Development was the first official to testify on what is called Governor Cuomo's Opportunity Agenda. As part of the budget, Adams said, a new round of competitive Regional Economic Development Council grants have been announced.

These grants include $150 million in new capital funding and $70 million in State tax credits, he said. Since the Regional Councils were established several years ago, Adams testified, the State has awarded more than $2.9 billion in economic and community development funding that has resulted in the creation or retention of 150,000 jobs in New York State.

Executive Budget Offers New Opportunities to MWBE Companies

Significant time during his testimony was devoted to the State's efforts to encourage firms owned by women and/or minorities to pursue State contracts. Adams said it was recently announced that a new record of 25 percent of State contracts have been awarded to these firms, and the Governor in his Executive Budget has proposed expanding that participation to 30 percent, the highest of any state.

Adams: Budget Offers Support to NY-Based Businesses

The Governor's START-UP NY program encourages businesses to take advantage of research and development, academic programming and job training initiatives on the State's college campuses, Adams said. To date, 73 businesses have chosen to participate in START-UP NY, he said, representing commitments to create more than 2,400 new jobs and invest $104 million in local communities.

New Funding Offered to Developing Businesses

Under the State's Innovation Venture Capital Fund, Adams said, three investment firms operating Upstate have been chosen to receive seed funds to encourage new business growth; this year, the Governor has proposed doubling funding for this program to $100 million.

Increased Investment in New Markets Overseas

The Executive Budget also invests substantially in tourism-promotion efforts, promotion of State-based businesses overseas, and the expansion of broadband Internet access into communities which do not presently have access to this service, according to Adams' testimony.



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February 5, 2015
State Housing Plans Detailed During Legislative Budget Hearing
Housing Hearing was Seventh of Thirteen Required by State Constitution

Settlement funds paid to the State by Wall Street bank JP Morgan Chase will be used to fund the Neighborhood Preservation Companies program, which was started by Assemblyman Farrell years ago, Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner Darryl C. Towns testified February 5.

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Commissioner Towns and DHCR Executive Director Ted Houghton testify on the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016.

The Commissioner's testimony began Thursday's hearing, which was the seventh of a series of 13 hearings required by law as part of the process of passing a budget. By law, the budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 must be passed by April 1.

Commissioner Towns began with a review of the work his agency has accomplished to create and preserve housing Statewide during 2014. During the last year, DHCR set an agency record by financing the creation or preservation of 9,363 units of affordable housing including homeownership opportunities for over 1,000 New York families.

Loans and capital from DHCR leveraged private investment to create more than $6 billion in economic activity and many construction jobs, the Commissioner said, and the agency continues to oversee and enforce the rent laws that cover about 900,000 rent stabilized units. Since 2012, DHCR brought more than 37,000 units back into the rent regulation system and recovered more than $1 million on behalf of tenants who were wrongly overcharged rent, he said.

With the 2015-2016 budget, DHCR seeks to build on those accomplishments, Commissioner Towns testified. The budget provides $486 million to expand affordable and supportive housing and enhance community development programs throughout the State, he said.

Of the $439.5 million from the JP Morgan Chase settlement, $257 million is programmed for affordable housing and community development, Commissioner Towns said. Also programmed are $20 million for DHCR's "Access to Home" program to benefit veterans, an additional $20 million investment in the Rural and Neighborhood Preservation Companies, plus efforts to modernize the New York City Housing Authority and the Office of Rent Administration.



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February 4, 2015
Human Services Issues Discussed During Hearing on Executive Budget
Hearing Was Fifth of 13 Mandated by State Constitution

The fifth on a series of 13 hearings on the Executive Budget, which are required by law in preparation to pass a budget by April 1, was held in Albany on February 4. Commissioners and advocates who serve New Yorkers with disabilities offered testimony during the hearing on Human Services components of the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016.

"Raise the Age" Supported by Department of Children and Family Services

New York State is one of only two states whose age of criminal responsibility, the age at which youth are treated as adults by the criminal justice system, is 16 and in 2013 more than 33,000 16- and 17-year-olds in New York had their cases handled in criminal court where they were less likely to receive the services they needed, testified Roberto Velez, Acting Commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services.

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Roberto Velez, Acting Commissioner of the State Office of Children and Family Services, testifies in Albany on February 4, 2015.

Velez testified that the Governor's reform agenda includes raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to remove 16- and 17-year-olds from the adult criminal justice system so that they may receive appropriate rehabilitative services and no longer be housed with the adult criminal population. The Executive Budget sets aside $25 million to plan, create and expand these services, he said.

Anti-Poverty Opportunity Agenda Featured in Discussion of Executive Budget

Sharon Devine, who has been Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for little more than a week, testified on efforts in the Executive Budget to address homelessness and economic security for low-income working families.

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Sharon Devine, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, testifies on efforts to reduce hunger, homelessness and economic insecurity.

The Executive Budget commits $183 million of a settlement windfall from Wall Street banks to a multi-year effort to support 5,000 new supportive housing units and New York City rental assistance programs, she said. This budget item also commits $27 million to continue the 30 percent cap for New York City public assistance recipients living with HIV/AIDS, Devine said.

Reducing hunger is another key OTDA priority featured in the Executive Budget, Devine said. The spending plan commits $4.5 million to bolster the State's emergency food system. Overall, she said, during 2014 over three million New Yorkers received more than $5 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Devine testified.

Leveraging Funds to Serve New York Seniors

The $242 million provided by the Federal government New York State Office for the Aging has been used to leverage over $200 million from counties, local municipalities and voluntary contributions, Office for the Aging Director Corina Crossdale testified. These funds will provide services including caregiver support services, social adult day services, meals, repair or modifications to seniors' homes, house cleaning and errand services, counseling and legal aid, she said.

Employment Market Strong, Labor Commissioner Testifies

As of today, there are more jobs available in New York State than ever before, Acting Commissioner Mario J. Musolino testified: during the last five years, the public sector has added more than 535,000 jobs, bringing the total to more than 7.6 million with employment growth in 41 of the last 48 months including 22 consecutive months of private sector job growth, he said.

In December alone, more than 30,000 private sector jobs were added, Musolino testified, calling this the biggest monthly gain in two years and double the national average. The statewide unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8 percent, the lowest since September 2008, he added.



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February 3, 2015
Education Advocates Criticize 2015-2016 Executive Budget
Eighth of 13 Legally Required Hearings on Budget Issues

Education reform and funding plans included in the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 were strongly criticized by leaders of the teachers' unions during a February 2 Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on elementary and secondary education components of the budget. The hearing also included updates on Statewide school reform efforts and on the progress of the new Pre-Kindergarten program in New York City.

New Pathways to Graduation Discussed

Acting Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin of the State Education Department was the first to speak. Berlin updated members of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees on an education reform approved by the Board of Regents in January that provides students with new pathways to graduation, including Career and Technical Education, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the Arts, Biliteracy and the Humanities.

Alternative School Plan Could Ease Path to Graduation

These new options will permit students to take four Regents' exam sand a rigorous pathways assessment, which will count as credit against the fifth Regents' examination that is now required for graduation, Berlin said, describing plans by the Executive to offer new State funding to achieve these reforms.

The Executive Budget also plans to build upon the 2014-2015 Budget by allocating an additional $250 million for Pre-K programming, with the goal of universal State-wide Pre-K, she said. Other new funding will support programming for students who are not native English speakers, funding for teacher professional development and other needs.

Farina: Strong Enrollment in NYC's Pre-Kindergarten Program

Carmen Farina, Chancellor of New York City's Department of Education, began by thanking the Legislature for including $300 million in the current year's budget to pay for the new Pre-K program in the City in which 53,000 students are currently enrolled. This strong enrollment has the City well-positioned to meet this year's goal of offering universal Pre-K, Farina said.

Her testimony also included the results of enhanced programming for 90,000 middle school students, ongoing efforts to support 45 new community schools and support for continued mayoral control of City schools which she believes will continue to improve public education in New York City.

Teachers' Unions Pan School Reforms in Executive Budget

According to the union leaders, the lack of specific school aid figures in the Executive Budget is and will prove problematic for local school districts which traditionally rely on State aid figures in calculating their budgets, which go to voters before the State budget passes on April 1.

The union leaders also strongly opposed tying any prospective State aid increase to a package of reforms outlined by the Governor in his January 21 budget address. However, the unions support parents having the opportunity to withdraw their children from standardized testing, and oppose the current 2 percent property tax cap which they described as creating hardships especially for poorer districts. The UFT and NYSUT leaders also criticized plans to increase funding for charter schools which they described as "awash in public cash."

NYSUT Study Criticizes Charter School Cash Reserves

By law, public schools are allowed to retain only 4 percent of their budgets in fund balance as a reserve or rainy-day fund, but according to a report released by NYSUT this week (and held up as evidence of unfairness by the teachers' unions), charters across New York State are holding $282.3 million in taxpayer money in reserve and are sitting on $392.1 million in other assets, which traditional public schools would be barred from doing.

The union leaders recommended against making the 2 percent property tax cap permanent while poorer school districts struggle to muster the financial resources to provide for every student. Similar criticisms were echoed by dozens of other education advocates, whose lengthy testimony brought the hearing to a close after more than nine hours.



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February 2, 2015
State Health Officials Testify on Public Health Efforts
Affordable Care Act Implementation, Overpayment Recovery Efforts Discussed

State efforts to provide high-quality, affordable health care to New Yorkers were discussed at length February 2 during a Joint Legislative Budget Committee hearing on Health/Medicaid components of the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2015. This hearing was the third in a series of 13 Constitutionally-required hearings on the budget plan.

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Health Department officials Sally Dreslin, MS, RN (at right) and Jason Helgerson testify before the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees February 2, 2015.

Sally Dreslin, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Health, was the first speaker and testified about efforts to reform health care delivery and payment systems in order to achieve better health care for individuals, improved health for all State residents and lower costs. Part of this effort is a Federally-funded goal of reducing avoidable hospital use by 25 percent.

Commissioner Describes Medicaid Reform Efforts as Historic

State funds are also being directed toward reform efforts, Dreslin said, noting a $1.4 billion investment included in the Executive Budget for capital improvements both upstate and in the New York City area. Medicaid Redesign Team efforts are also ongoing, she said, describing these reforms as "the most comprehensive Medicaid reforms our State has ever seen."

The MRT reform efforts include a transition to managed-care plans from Medicare in pursuit of improved quality of care, better coordination of benefits and improved patient outcomes, Dreslin said. More plans are being added to address the needs of people with mental-health and substance abuse issues, she said.

New Affordable Health Care Option for Low-Income New Yorkers

Also underway is the implementation of the Basic Health Plan, which was authorized under the Federal Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). This new option has been designed to make adequate health coverage more affordable for low-income New Yorkers who do not have access to employer-sponsored coverage but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, she said.

Dreslin added that the Executive Budget also reinforces the State's commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by connecting HIV-positive New Yorkers with health care, keeping people diagnosed with HIV in health care so that they remain healthy, and providing preventative treatment to high-risk individuals so they stay HIV-negative.

These programs will be paid for by implementing new efficiencies that are expected to save the State more than $54 million this year, Dreslin said.

Medicaid Inspector Estimates $6.3 Billion Saved 2011-2014

Tom Meyer, Acting Medicaid Inspector General, also testified on cost saving efforts; the State has received tens of millions of dollars in reimbursements from health providers who have been mistakenly overpaid by the State, he said. During the last three years, OMIG's efforts have saved taxpayers more than $6.3 billion, Meyer said.

Other efforts detailed during Meyer's testimony included policing adult day care and managed long term care centers; investigating and inspecting social adult day cares and other facilities; and referring problems to the appropriate government and law enforcement agencies, he said.

OMIG also educates care providers about Medicaid compliance, having established 23 protocols and State programs like this oversight and recovery effort have been copied on the Federal level in the Affordable Care Act, he said.



Video Clips:

March 12, 2015
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Farrell addresses questions relating to changes in the Gap Elimination in the Assembly Budget Proposal. E.203
 
 




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