It has long been my conviction that New York State must live within its means without placing added tax burdens on our residents and businesses. Consistent with that philosophy, we succeeded last year in adopting a 2011-2012 State Budget that neither raised taxes nor borrowed and made necessary cuts to achieve a balanced budget, and it was done on time. We also enacted a property tax cap and began the process of reforming the way the state conducts business. We made great progress in last year’s legislative session.
Unfortunately, during last December’s special session, our progress took an unfortunate detour. With the adoption of a “tax reform” package which generates $1.9 billion annually in added revenues, the state digressed from what should be its proper trajectory and ended the year on an inauspicious note. (As you may know, I opposed this revenue-generating package.) Hopefully, it represented only an aberration and not a new direction for the state.
Meanwhile, the new Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE) has been tasked with identifying inefficiencies in state government agencies. The Commission has until the end of this month to propose a plan that would eliminate obsolete programs and merge agency responsibilities aimed at saving money through more efficient operation.
We also recognize that by expecting local municipalities and school districts to adhere to the new 2 percent property tax cap the state must do its part to reduce the number of unfunded mandates that impact the cost of operating local governments. The Governor’s Mandate Relief Redesign Team has been charged with reviewing and advancing proposals to reduce the statutory and regulatory burden on local governments and school districts. I look forward to receiving more of its findings this legislative session.
Another primary focus of the Legislature and Governor, rightly so, is economic development. The Governor’s proposed executive budget places a high emphasis on identifying resources for public-private partnerships that would generate private sector investment and jobs.
I hope you will find this report to be helpful to you, your family and friends. As always, I welcome your thoughts in regard to these or any other matters.
On January 17th, Governor Cuomo presented his $132.5 billion Executive Budget proposal for the upcoming 2012-2013 state fiscal year, which begins April 1. The budget proposal contained a range of proposals to increase efficiency in state government, further control state spending, enhance infrastructure investment, and provide mandate relief for local municipalities.
In assessing his proposed budget, I am mindful that we should not be trying to tax and spend our way out of this economic downturn. Instead, we must make the difficult but necessary decisions to cut expenditures – an often painful but necessary exercise. Last year my colleagues agreed, and we worked in a bipartisan manner to begin the process of spending within our means, without placing added tax burdens or borrowing on our residents and businesses. We also enacted a 2 percent property tax cap and began the process of identifying inefficiencies in state government and merging agency responsibilities.
In preparing for his 2012-2013 budget proposal, the Governor had faced a gap of more than $3.9 billion between anticipated revenues and projected expenditures. He closed this gap through the tax reform package enacted in December generating $1.9 billion in unanticipated revenue, and through some $2 billion in cuts in projected expenditures contained in his proposed budget.
Overall, the State Operating Fund would increase by 1.9 percent while All Government Funds, including federal aid, would decrease by 0.2 percent. State agencies are also expected to be capped at the 2011-2012 fiscal year levels, saving the state $1.3 billion in otherwise projected spending hikes.
Medicaid and education make up 25 percent and 22 percent, respectively, of the State Operating Funds budget. Governor Cuomo’s overall budget proposal would increase spending by 4 percent in both education state aid and Medicaid spending as he projected during last year’s budget process.
Central to mandate relief, the Governor has proposed a Medicaid reform strategy aimed at reducing the burden on county governments by gradually taking over the payments on the growth in Medicaid costs to counties. Beginning this fiscal year, county governments would be responsible for 3 percent of the growth in Medicaid costs; next fiscal year 2 percent; in 2014-2015, 1 percent; and in 2015-2016 and thereafter the counties would be held harmless against any increase in Medicaid costs.
Several initiatives put forth in the Governor’s proposed budget focus on infrastructure investment that is geared at leveraging public assets while generating private investment. He has also included mergers and consolidations aimed at reducing redundancy in state operations for cost savings.
As the budget adoption process continues through the month of March, I am committed to enacting a fiscally responsible and timely budget that continues our efforts to put New York State on the right path.
Every year, more than 1,500 people receive kidneys, livers, and hearts that have been donated for transplantation. However, with nearly 10,000 New Yorkers and over 110,000 people nationwide still on the waiting list, the need for organ donations far exceeds the supply. Every 13 minutes another person is added to the list and an average of 19 people die each day waiting. A single organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people by donating their heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and intestines. One tissue donor can improve the lives of more than 50 people by donating eyes, bone, soft tissue, heart valves, veins, and skin. Unfortunately, just 17 percent of New Yorkers ages 18 and older are on the donor registry, as compared to a national average of 42 percent. False assumptions about age, race, religion, or health conditions may deter people from registering as donors, but medical advances in recent years have rapidly increased the viability of organs from donors, as well as improved the expectation of how long organ transplants will last.
By enrolling in the Donate Life Registry, you are giving legal authorization for the recovery of your organs, tissues, and eyes for the purposes of transplantation and research at the time of your death. For more information, call the New York State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry at 1-866-NYDONOR (1-866-693-6667) or visit www.health.ny.gov/donatelife.Organ Donation – The New York Alliance for Donation is a statewide consortium of organ and tissue recovery organizations in New York State, including Upstate New York Transplant Services (UNYTS), organ procurement organizations and all eye and tissue banks in the state. Pictured from left to right are Ellen Hollander, past Executive Director of the Alliance, Martha Anderson, Executive Vice President of Donor Services, Mark Simon, President and CEO of UNYTS, Assemblyman Schimminger, and Noël Mick, of the Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration.
New York State’s DNA database has already led to 2,700 convictions, including 189 homicides, 591 sexual assaults, 320 robberies, 1,344 burglaries, and 27 exonerations of innocent parties since its inception in 1996.
Current law only permits DNA to be collected from 48 percent of offenders convicted of a crime, including anyone found guilty of certain felonies or one of 36 specified misdemeanors. DNA can be key to exonerating the innocent and convicting the guilty. But because the law limits DNA submission into the database to more serious crimes, the state is not utilizing the database to its fullest potential.
Included in the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal is a provision that would expand the DNA database to include DNA samples to be collected from anyone convicted of all remaining Penal Law misdemeanors and any felony under other state laws, such as felony driving while intoxicated, aggravated animal cruelty, and prescription drug offenses.
Data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services shows that offenders linked to crimes through the DNA Databank had an average of three prior convictions for non-DNA-eligible offenses before being convicted of more serious, DNA-eligible crimes. Statistics show that 27 percent of individuals convicted of unauthorized use of a vehicle are subsequently arrested for violent felony offenses and 21 percent of individuals convicted of three or more misdemeanors are also subsequently arrested for violent felony offenses.
The New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center now has the capacity to process 10,000 DNA samples from convicted offenders each month; this proposal will bring the monthly total to less than 7,000 samples and it is not foreseen that any backlog will be created. The process of collecting a DNA sample is done by swabbing the inside of the offender’s cheek, therefore it is not invasive. The profile is only used to match convicted offenders to evidence found at a crime scene.
By expanding the collections in the databank, we can ensure that more crimes will be prevented. Fingerprints are presently taken after all arrests. By adding DNA sampling of all offenders convicted of Penal Law misdemeanors and felonies, New York State would unquestionably solve more crimes, save lives and better avoid wrongful convictions.
A strong presentation from the Western New York Regional Council, led by developer Howard Zemsky and University at Buffalo President Satish Tripathi, helped secure more than $100.3 million in grants for 96 projects in our region, the largest award for any region in the state. The winning projects announced late last year included $5.1 million for Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s Genomics and Health Consortium, $4 million for the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Medicine, $2 million for Niagara County Community College’s Culinary Institute, and $500,000 for upgrades at the Hauptman Woodward Medical Research Institute.
Two Town of Tonawanda businesses were also designated to receive Excelsior tax credits for expansion projects. FMC Corp. was awarded $1 million in credits to expand its Tonawanda plant to facilitate its persulfate manufacturing process, and Hebeler Corp., a supplier of modular process systems, received $1.25 million to expand production of gas fuel tanks for medium and heavy duty trucks. Other beneficiaries with facilities in the Town are ENrG Inc., which will receive $601,500 to extend its pilot scale to low volume manufacturing project, and Goodyear Dunlop Tires and Ronco Communications and Electronics, which will receive $88,900 and $49,875, respectively, to improve technology and training programs.
Other projects that received funding include streetscape and infrastructure projects totaling $6 million as part of a “smart growth” strategy to make improvements in central business districts across the region. Buffalo Niagara International Airport will also receive $6.8 million to expand parking by 1,000 spaces, and Niagara Falls International Airport will benefit from $970,000 to complete its master plan.
It is because of the hard work and dedication of the members of the WNY Regional Council, which is comprised of local leaders and stakeholders from business, academia, local government, and non-governmental organizations, that Governor Cuomo has taken a keen interest in developing Buffalo and the surrounding suburbs and counties. During the chief executive’s State of the State address presented in January, Governor Cuomo pledged an additional $1 billion commitment to the Western New York region. This announcement promises an investment over and above the $100.3 million just recently allocated. Although this new multiyear economic development program is still in the conceptual stage, the $1 billion pledge certainly affirms the Governor’s commitment to the Western New York region.
Governor Cuomo has also announced a second round of funding through the Regional Council process. The Regional Councils are currently developing their plans to compete for an additional $200 million for economic development projects. Funding applications to the Regional Councils will again be made using Consolidated Funding Applications (CFAs), a single application for multiple sources of state funding. The CFA process is designed to streamline and expedite the state’s grant application process.
Last year, Americans turned in more than 498-tons of unwanted or expired medications during three separate National Prescription Drug Take Back events organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
In an effort to continue the safe disposal of unwanted or expired medications, the DEA has scheduled another National Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 28 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Kenmore Mercy Hospital on Elmwood Avenue in Kenmore and at DeGraff Memorial Hospital on Tremont Street in North Tonawanda. For more information, visit www.justice.gov/dea or call my office at 873-2540. For questions about medications, call 858-6800.
Tax time is just around the corner with this year’s filing deadline of April 17. Whether you prepare your own tax return on paper or electronically or go to a paid preparer, it is important to be aware of tax-saving exclusions and credits that could lower your tax burden.
Retirees should be mindful that while the federal government taxes Social Security benefits, New York State does not. In addition, individuals who were 59 ½ or older as of January 1, 2011 can exclude up to $20,000 of qualified pension and annuity income from state taxation. If an individual turns 59 ½ during the tax year, the exclusion is prorated. The pension exclusion is a “subtraction” that can be found on Line 29 of the IT-201 form.
Nursing home care is expensive and individuals whose loved ones reside in a long-term care facility may be eligible for a Nursing Home Assessment Credit (IT-258). This credit is available to individuals who directly paid the nursing home assessment. Also, taxpayers who carry long-term care insurance are eligible for a credit equal to 20 percent of the premiums paid during the tax year (IT-249).
Several credits are available to provide tax relief to lower and moderate income working families, thereby providing cash-strapped families with financial assistance to help cover living expenses. Households that qualify for certain federal credits may also qualify for state credits – the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and the Child Care Credit – are also eligible for companion credits at the state level. Although each of the state credits is based on a percentage of one’s federal credit, taxpayers must apply for each refundable state credit on their state tax return. Workers who qualify for the state EITC can receive the credit by completing the IT-215 form. The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (IT-216) is available to working individuals who pay for child and dependent care while they work. In addition the Empire State Child Care credit can be claimed on form IT-213.
Of course, there are other specialized credits that pertain to historic homes, green buildings, and solar equipment purchases. But there are also two other state credits that impact a larger number of families. The College Tuition Credit (IT-272) is available to help with undergraduate college tuition expenses for filers and their dependents. The credit is up to $400 for each eligible student. And, individuals who were active volunteer firefighters and/or ambulance workers for the entire 2011 tax year are entitled to the Volunteer Firefighting and Ambulance Workers’ Credit (IT-245) of $200.