E-Mail Newsletter – April 1, 2014

The New York State Legislature approved the 2014-2015 state budget late Monday, the fourth on-time budget in a row to start the new fiscal year. Again, the budget is a series of compromises and serious trade-offs, where progress has been made on a number of fronts though I would have preferred more re-investment into our communities. The spending plan totals $138 billion and continues the state’s fiscal discipline by holding spending growth to less than two percent for the fourth consecutive year. Highlights of some of the budget are below. Please do not hesitate to call or email if there are questions on the hundreds of budget items not mentioned below.

Local property tax freeze. This year’s budget provides property tax relief for homeowners via a two-year property tax credit provided a local government and school district stay within (or "freeze") the two percent property tax cap. To benefit for a second year, schools and localities would have to propose a detailed cost-cutting plan. This measure will save homeowners some costs over the next three years though the bulk of the savings will be in high housing cost areas downstate and are projected to save taxpayers over $1.5 billion over the next three years. Also, the increase the Assembly requested for local government through Aid to Municipalities (AIM) funding did not prevail in the three-way agreement though it would have provided needed direct assistance for localities.

Helping manufacturers grow jobs. In an effort to attract more businesses to the state and create more local jobs, the budget provides tax incentives to manufacturers looking to set up shop here in New York. One such incentive eliminates the income tax on manufacturers, saving businesses $193 million starting in 2014-15, creating jobs and revitalizing the economy.

The budget further relieves manufacturers by offering a tax credit equal to 20 percent of their property tax cost. Businesses that were worried about locating or expanding in New York will no longer face the same burdensome property taxes that discouraged those before them. This will save manufacturing businesses another $100 million each year starting in 2015-16.

Historic investment in education. The 2014-15 state budget increases school aid by $1.1 billion, or 5.4 percent, which is $551 million over the Governor’s proposal. Included with this increase is $251 million in additional funding for Foundation Aid and $602 million in restorations to the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), helping to reduce the negative financial impact on schools from cuts five years ago. I am pleased (and relieved!) that each of the schools districts I represent did better than average, which should go a long way toward restoring the funding lost in GEA five years ago.

Also included are:

+ $40 million for pre-K programs outside of New York City;

+ $16 million in additional support for Non-Public Services in CAP (the Comprehensive Attendance Program);

+ $14.2 million in restored support for Teacher Resource Centers; and

+ an additional $5 million in support for Libraries.

Reforming Common Core standards. The 2014-15 state budget incorporates recent legislation passed only in the Assembly that helps fix the seriously flawed implementation of Common Core standards and takes a step toward reducing "high stakes" testing in the classroom. It protects students from unfair consequences based on test results, ends the data sharing contract with inBloom and helps secure sensitive student data.

Making college affordable. The 2014-15 state budget helps grow our higher education system by providing $10.4 billion for SUNY. To help students afford the rising cost of college, the budget increases funding for TAP (the Tuition Assistance Program) for the first time in 14 years. The maximum TAP award for eligible students will be increased by $165 for a maximum award of $5,165 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student.

This year’s state budget provides an additional $20.2 million for community colleges, increasing base aid to SUNY and CUNY community colleges by $75 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student, bringing the total to $2,497 per FTE. This is the third consecutive budget increase in community college funding and provides relief to some of the cost burdens on local and county governments.

One disappointment is the budget’s failure to address a statewide problem with community college chargeback costs. The community college is able to recoup part of the student tuition from each county where the students reside. I will continue to work to address local inequity on this issue.

The budget also provides $102 million in funding for college opportunity programs, an increase of $4.2 million over the executive proposal. The funding restores cuts and provides a 3 percent increase for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK) program and the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP).

18-a Utility Surcharge. In last year’s budget, the Assembly fought to phase out the 18-a utility surcharge imposed on energy bills. This year’s budget accelerates the phase-out, lowering the surcharge rates by $200 million annually for both residential and commercial customers and $600 million over the next three years.

Expanding the NY Works program. The state will expand the NY Works program to encourage businesses to hire unemployed, disadvantaged youth, ages 16 to 24, by connecting it to community colleges. Tying the occupational training component of the NY Youth Works Program to the Job Linkage Program will help encourage more employers to hire inner-city youth.

Improving transportation and job opportunities. The budget includes $438.1 million for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) and dedicates an additional $40 million in funding to help local governments repair local roads and bridges impacted by the harsh winter.

Strengthening New York’s child care system. The 2014-15 state budget provides funding to increase access to quality, affordable child care. The provisions include:

+ $34 million for more than 4,500 additional subsidized child care slots; and

+ disregarding the earned income of teenagers under 18 in the household for the purpose of determining a family’s child care subsidy eligibility.

COLA increase for caregivers of the elderly and disabled. The state budget includes $13 million to support two percent salary increases for direct care workers, including those caring for the disabled at nonprofits licensed by the state. These low wage caregivers assist the most vulnerable New Yorkers and this pay increase will help ensure a well-qualified and adequately staffed human services workforce.

Public campaign financing. This year’s budget establishes a pilot program for public campaign financing in the 2014 state Comptroller race. The program’s centerpiece is a six-to-one match of contributions up to $175, funded by the surplus money in the state’s Abandoned Property Fund. In addition, the program will cap campaign contributions at $6,000 per person for candidates participating in the public finance system.

In addition, a new enforcement unit will be created within the state Board of Elections that will have independent authority to investigate violations of the Election Law via a Chief Enforcement Counsel. The budget legislation also strengthens disclosure requirements for independent expenditures for communications which refer to, and advocate for or against, a clearly identified candidate and are communicated to a general public audience.

Restoring public trust in public service. The enacted 2014-15 state budget includes provisions to increase transparency by toughening anti-bribery laws and creating four new crimes of corrupting government. These new crimes may be used to prosecute public servants and persons acting in concert with them for schemes to defraud or schemes to steal from the state or other governmental entity.

Investing in vital healthcare programs. The final budget agreement continues to ensure proper health care is available for our most vulnerable populations. The final budget rejects the governor’s recommendation to eliminate allowing spousal refusal, restoring $10 million. The practice of spousal refusal protects healthy spouses from being required to spend their life savings to care for ill spouses in need of long-term care.

In recognition of the need for health care research, the budget plan also provides $7 million in support for the Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund. Additionally, the budget provides $4.1 million for the expansion of eligibility for the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program by increasing the income limit for the deductible plan from $35,000 to $75,000 for those who are single and $50,000 to $100,000 for those who are married.

Early intervention services. The budget also provides $3.9 million to support the payment for early intervention services, which are critical in helping infants and toddlers with developmental delays that can be remedied early on with appropriate care.

Environment Protection Fund. The budget continues a commitment to protecting New York’s environment for future generations by increasing funding to the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) by $9 million – for a total of $162 million. In addition, the budget plan also provides $92.5 million to support capital investments in our state parks.

Making roadways safer for drivers. The budget agreement continues New York’s efforts to crack down on those who text while driving by implementing stricter penalties on young and new drivers convicted of the offense. Upon first conviction, the driver will have their license suspended for 120 days, and upon a second conviction, their license will be revoked for a full year.

Improving transit. Upstate transit systems will be provided a total of $178.7 million, an increase of $5.1 million, plus a commitment for additional aid that will track the growth of the Upstate sales tax.

Protecting and improving the criminal justice system. The budget includes funding to direct the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice to make recommendations on increasing the age of juvenile jurisdiction in the state’s criminal justice system. Currently, New York is one of only two states in the nation that prosecutes 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

Supporting the state’s agricultural industry. The budget provides $8.45 million in increased funding to a variety of agriculture programs.

Here are highlights from the 109th:

Summer Youth Employment Program. The City of Albany’s Program for Learning, Initiative, and Gaining Headway Together (LIGHT) Summer Youth Employment Program will run from Monday, July 7 through Thursday, August 7, 2014. Eligible participants must be between the ages of 14 and 18 and a City of Albany resident. For more information, please visit the City of Albany’s website

Trustee positions up for election on Albany Public Library board. The Albany Public Library currently has two trustee positions up for election on May 20. Both trustee positions are for a full, five-year term each starting on July 1, 2014. For more information, please visit the Albany Public Library’s website.

Public access television. Did you know Albany has a public access channel? ChannelAlbany broadcasts from Channel 18 (or 116.3), presenting content made from residents and organizations within the City of Albany. The studio is located in the basement of the Albany Public Library’s main branch and is open to the public. For more information, you can e-mail channelalbany@gmail.com or visit channelalbany.tv.

Events in and around the 109th:

+ The Affordable Housing Partnership will be conducting a series of workshops on home buying, financial education, credit usage, and property management over the course of the next few weeks. You can register for these workshops by visiting the AHP website here.

Job Opportunities: I’ve set up a page on my Assembly website for job announcements and listings that we’ll update periodically. If you know of any job listings, send my office a note.

Capital District Assembly Update: Tune in every Tuesday at 5 p.m. on Channel 17 (for Time Warner Cable subscribers) for the next episode of Capital District Assembly Update, co-hosted by Assemblymember McDonald and me. You can also previous episodes and clips on my Assembly website.