The 2011 Legislative Session marked a milestone in recent history with the passage of the first on-time budget since 1983. It may not have been a perfect budget, but it was a very realistic one.
The final 2011-12 budget reduced overall state spending by more than 2 percent from the previous year and dealt with a $10 billion gap between anticipated expenditures and anticipated revenues without increasing taxes and without any new borrowing. Tough choices were made to include difficult, but necessary, cuts to the two largest cost centers in the state budget – education and Medicaid. I have long maintained that the fiscal reality is that we cannot tax and spend our way out of these difficult times, nor can we continue to fund each and every program at the same level as in previous years. This budget was a long-needed step on the road to fiscal responsibility and government reform.
In addition to the spending cuts, we also began the process of reforming the way governments and agencies do business in New York by implementing a 2 percent tax cap, starting the process of mandate relief, and enacting NYSUNY2020.
As you review this report, you will find more information on each of these major transformative steps that will set New York on the course to fiscal stability and a more responsible and responsive state government.
I hope this information is helpful to you, and as always, I welcome your thoughts on these or any other issues.Sincerely,
This year’s legislative session in Albany saw Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature come together and take a number of steps designed to rein in government spending and set us on course to cutting back on outdated, unfunded state mandates.
Hardworking homeowners and job-providing businesses across the state pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and we in the State Legislature have heard loud and clear that New Yorkers wanted relief. In a recessionary economy with many struggling to find work and make ends meet, we needed to step back and reevaluate how government conducts business, and then make the necessary changes to help get New York on the right track. For years, I have advocated for state government to spend within its means and hold the line on taxes. I was elated this past session when I was joined by our new Governor and my Assembly and Senate colleagues in adopting a property tax cap and a number of mandate relief measures that can begin to provide savings for taxpayers.
The two percent property tax cap, which takes effect for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, requires school districts and local government entities, including towns, cities, villages, counties, fire districts and all special districts, to limit any increases in real property tax levies to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Local governments and school districts have the ability to override and exceed the cap to address extenuating circumstances by a vote of 60 percent or more of a municipality’s governing body, or, for a school district, by a 60 percent vote of the electorate. There are other limited exceptions to the tax cap. For instance, should a local government or school district have an increase in its property tax base, then the tax levy may be adjusted. Also, if a local government or school district was under the tax cap limit in the previous year, up to 1.5 percent of the previous year’s below-the-cap levy could be carried over to the following year.
By adopting the tax cap, we hope to bring New York State more in line with the rest of the nation’s property taxes. We recognize that in order to successfully enact the cap, mandate relief is necessary for our local government and school district entities. By eliminating state mandates that at one time may have been well-meaning, but have since become outdated, we would be able to free up local governments to more efficiently and effectively serve taxpayers by cutting unnecessary expenses. To help reduce cost expenses on local government operations by more than $120 million, we passed an initial mandate relief package recommended by the Governor’s Mandate Relief Redesign Team. As examples, the state will now allow the New York State Department of Transportation and local municipalities to enter into joint highway agreements. Statutory salary requirements have been removed for municipal chiefs of police. Municipalities will be allowed to recoup police training costs when officers leave one local government to serve another within three years of their hire date. School districts can more closely align bus services with actual ridership, and can enter into regional transportation service arrangements with BOCES. Also, smaller school districts will be allowed to share superintendents.
Evaluating the effectiveness of current state mandates on local government entities and school districts will be an ongoing process, and I look forward to seeing many more mandate relief actions taken in the near future.
This session I sponsored a law that establishes the Innovate NY Fund to bolster high-tech companies and enhances the ability of small businesses in New York State to access loans through the State’s existing Capital Access Program. The federal Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 has allowed New York to be eligible for approximately $55.4 million in funding to help increase credit availability for small businesses with no state matching funds required. Pursuant to my legislation, the State will use these funds to reinvigorate the existing Capital Access Program and create the new Innovate NY Fund. The Innovate NY Fund will provide funding to both regional and local economic development organizations, technology-based development entities, research universities and investment funds to make much needed seed-stage investments in newly born New York high-tech companies to help transform research into products made here in New York. It requires the Empire State Development Corp. to ensure adequate geographic distribution of these funds so that new startups competing for financial assistance have a competitive chance at obtaining the funding.
This summer the Governor issued an executive order creating 10 Regional Economic Development Councils to compete for roughly $200 million in existing state funding. Each council has been tasked with designing locally-developed strategic plans to increase job creation and economic growth. The top four plans are set to receive $40 million each - $25 million in capital funding through the Empire State Development Corp. and $15 million in Excelsior Tax Credits. The other six plans will split the remaining $40 million. In addition, the councils can also apply for another $800 million in funding from state agencies for initiatives ranging from road construction to energy-efficiency grants.
The Western New York Regional Council, led by University at Buffalo president Satish Tripathi and developer Howard Zemsky, has developed a plan that puts an emphasis on improved worker training, better coordination between local schools and job-training programs, and collaboration involving the business community and the region’s 21 colleges. The plan also places a high priority on entrepreneurship to foster the development of new commercial products borne out of research done at local universities and the region’s life sciences industry and on taking advantage of our unique and strategic border location.
Over the last 10 years, the number of overdose and prescription-drug related deaths have tripled. Prescription painkillers like hydrocodone, oxyContin, vicodin and methadone kill more than 15,000 people in the United States each year: that’s about 40 people a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Western New York has a higher rate of prescription drug abuse than any other region in New York State, but the reality is that it’s a national epidemic.
Doctors rely on patients to be honest about their symptoms. Information can be found on the Internet that details step by step what symptoms a person might describe to obtain certain prescription medications, which can then be sold on the street for $25 or more per pill. A lack of communication between doctors and pharmacists often acts as an entree for “doctor shopping” and obtaining multiple prescriptions from multiple pharmacies.
Prescription drugs are prescribed for legitimate reasons and serve to control severe pain, anxiety or depression. In the wrong hands, however, they can lead to addiction and serve as gateway drugs to more serious and deadly drugs like heroin and crack cocaine.
A major factor in the prescription drug epidemic is that these drugs can be easily accessible and misused. Teenagers have reported that prescription pills are easier to obtain than alcohol or marijuana, and there’s a misconception that they are less addictive than street drugs.
Another problem is that a person who has been injured and may need painkillers can become chemically dependent on these drugs. However, not every person who takes prescription drugs for pain or anxiety will become chemically dependent. Preexisting factors may make one person more prone to addiction than another – for instance, prior abuse, genetics and/or age.
Unfortunately, more and more people are being affected directly and indirectly by prescription drug addiction. A tragic example has been brought to light by Avi and Julie Israel, of North Buffalo, who lost their son Michael in June because of a prescription drug addiction. Michael was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 13 and became chemically dependent on prescription pain killers and anxiety medications. He sought help for his addiction, but after his first unsuccessful stay in rehabilitation, Michael called his social worker for more in-patient drug abuse treatment. When there was no available place for him to check into, Michael took his own life. Avi and Julie are now on a rightful mission to honor their son’s memory, and they are seeking more training for medical doctors and a better tracking system for prescribed medications.
New York State does have an existing online database, the Practitioner Notification Program, in which doctors can input the medications they prescribe to their patients. However, the system is far from perfect. For instance, pharmacists do not have access to the database information, even though they fill the prescriptions. It also appears that some physicians are unaware of the Program’s existence, and those who do know about the Program find obtaining access to the database cumbersome. Once a Health Commerce Account is established only the physician, not his or her staff, has access to and can input the information. Physicians have found that the website is difficult to navigate and hard to search for the patient information that is needed. Information currently available on the database is also limited to a short timeframe and is often not timely, as pharmacists do not have to report that a prescription has been filled for up to 45 days.
I have asked the Department of Health to undertake a careful and comprehensive review of the Practitioner Notification Program. A careful balance must be maintained while implementing programs to prevent and reduce controlled substance abuse, because such programs should not create inhibitive restrictions for patients who truly need the medications.
The University at Buffalo’s UB2020 vision has been a major focus of the Western New York Legislative Delegation for the last several years. While the original broad concept and goals of UB 2020 were specific only to UB, our adoption this year of the NYSUNY2020 initiative will achieve the main goals of UB2020 and is expected to advance UB as a national academic leader and help grow the Western New York economy for decades to come.
NYSUNY2020 will help SUNY’s major research campuses, including the University at Buffalo, become leading catalysts for regionally-focused economic development, while simultaneously maintaining affordable tuition and improving academic quality for students. Under the plan, a $140 million NYSUNY2020 Challenge Grant Program has been established. The four SUNY university centers – Buffalo, Albany, Binghamton and Stony Brook – will compete for funds to implement campus economic development plans. The new law also enacts a rational tuition plan that allows each SUNY campus to raise tuition by $300 per year for five years, replacing an era of sudden tuition spikes with a system that is predictable and enables students and parents to plan for college expenses. The law maintains affordability by establishing tuition credits, which will require SUNY to apply a credit against the tuition charged to a student. The amount of the applicable tuition credit will be based on the level of a student's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) award. Access to new capital funds and knowable tuition increases through the enactment of NYSUNY2020 now enables the fundamentals of the University at Buffalo’s UB2020 vision to come to fruition.
The University at Buffalo recently submitted its next phase of UB2020 to the state for review. It partners the University with the Kaleida Health System to construct a new state of the art medical school on the downtown Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The price tag of this phase of the UB2020 project will be an estimated $375 million. The construction of a new state of the art medical school in the midst of the existing array of health care and research facilities in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus will further increase the productive synergies so vital to advancing our region. The increase in population density alone at the Downtown UB Campus is also expected to catalyze retail and housing development, business incubators and research parks nearby.
A new state law goes into effect July 1, 2012 that will better protect student athletes from the long-term effects of concussions. The Concussion Management and Awareness Act establishes statewide safeguards to better protect against brain injuries sustained during physical education class, sports practice and on the playing field.
This past October, I convened a panel discussion at Cardinal O’Hara High School in the Town of Tonawanda to detail the new law and outline the effects of concussions and what signs and symptoms to look for should an athlete suffer a head injury. Dr. John Leddy of the University at Buffalo’s Concussion Clinic and Mark Kelso, a former Buffalo Bills player who sustained multiple concussions during his professional career, discussed the separate work they have done in regard to concussions. Concussion symptoms include headache, dizziness, ringing in the ears, and sensitivity to light or noise, upset stomach or vomiting and any personality change.
Dr. Leddy, who has seen and treated numerous concussions on the sidelines, determined more than a decade ago that no athlete with a concussion should be allowed to return to play without seeing a doctor. This idea was radical at the time, but studies he conducted, as well as other national research, show that concussions can have long-term negative effects that can alter the memory and induce early onset dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a progressive degenerative disease. It was recently revealed that the late Buffalo Bills legendary running back Cookie Gilchrist and the late Rick Martin, a member of the famed Buffalo Sabres “French Connection,” both suffered from CTE. It’s because of the results of research studies that professional sports organizations and New York State have taken important steps to better protect athletes.
Mr. Kelso, who took to wearing a special protective foam cap over his helmet during his professional football career, recalled sustaining a concussion during football practice in the 1980s and yet begging the doctor to give him clearance to play in the game. It was when the doctor told him that he’d give him clearance, but warned him that he could die if he got hit in the head again, that the severity of a concussion finally sank in. He urged student athletes to be honest about their injuries and to take concussions seriously. Mr. Kelso has been collaborating with the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee and a manufacturing company to develop a new helmet with a softer outside shell.
Under the new law, the days will be over when a student athlete is quickly evaluated on the field and then put back in the same game. If a head injury is suspected, the athlete will be immediately removed from the game and will not be eligible to return to competition or practice for at least 24 hours and until he or she has been assessed by a doctor. Other provisions of the act will authorize the school or school district to establish a concussion management team consisting of coaches, teachers and other school personnel who will be trained in the symptoms of mild traumatic brain injuries. They will also be responsible for implementing the new regulations. The State Education and Health Departments and school districts will also be required to post the new policy and symptoms of brain injuries on their web sites and include the same information on parental consent forms.