New State Budget Enacted
This year's state budget has mixed results. Historic investment in education - especially moving to universal pre-kindergarten - and important accomplishments in healthcare were the highlights of this budget, along with needed reforms to Common Core. But the down side included a pitifully watered-down campaign finance reform, rejection of the DREAM Act, a $30 million "raid" on the MTA, and unprecedented charter school provisions.
The Health Budget contains funding for essential programs and services, including:
$1.2 billion for capital investment for healthcare facilities, including primary care.
The Basic Health Program - New health coverage - state and federally funded - for several hundred thousand New Yorkers with household income up to 200% of the federal poverty level through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which could result in net savings to NYS of $300 million each year or more.
Allowing the organ donor registry to be run by a non-profit organization (as is the case in most states) to improve organ donation rates.
Allowing oral consent (instead of written) for HIV testing, which will make it easier to get more people tested.
Public funding for continued development and operation of NY's statewide and regional electronic health records system and all payers claims database. Public funding will help make sure the system is publicly accountable.
Requiring hospitals and nursing homes to have policies for safe patient handling.
Criminal background checks for workers in adult homes
Reforms of "out-of-network" charges and practices by health insurance companies.
Rejected the Governor's proposal to allow large for-profit corporations to own hospitals in NY.
The 2014-2015 state budget for school aid includes $551 million more than the Governor originally proposed and allocates more than $8.6 billion to New York City schools, which includes $300 million per year for two years to fund universal, full-day pre-K in New York City -- a major victory. Yet this is still less than what Mayor de Blasio was seeking, and doesn't guarantee funding beyond two years.
I strongly supported the Mayor's fight to fund pre-K and after-school programs through a small tax hike on people earning over $500,000. A $2 billion education bond act (requiring voter approval in November) will help fund new classroom space for pre-k, replacing trailers used for classrooms, high-tech safety improvements, and infrastructure improvements to establish high speed broadband in schools and upgrades in classroom technology.
The budget also helps fix the flawed implementation of Common Core by protecting students from unfair consequences based on test results, eliminating unnecessary testing, limiting the amount of classroom time used for test preparation, and ensuring the security of sensitive student data.
However, the budget legislation also over-rides the ability of the City and Mayor de Blasio to deal with charter schools. It limits the City's ability to protect public schools from having to give up space to "co-location" of charter schools, and it requires the City to subsidize their use of space, whether in a public school building or not. This was driven by the Governor and the State Senate Republican-Independent Democratic Majority Coalition.
This year's state budget increases funding for Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) Awards by $25.7 million (the first increase in 14 years) and funding for Community College Base Aid and Opportunity Programs by $20.2 million and $4.2 million respectively; provides $10.4 billion for SUNY and $4.3 billion for CUNY; includes $8 million for a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) scholarship program; restores $1.7 million to CUNY's Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), to increase graduation rates; and increases capital spending at SUNY and CUNY schools by $272.9 million for a total of $1.3 billion.
Families will receive a $350 per child tax rebate. The budget also offers tax relief for New York City residents by providing $85 million in tax credits for homeowners, condominium and co-op owners and tenants by implementing a "circuit breaker" plan for two years. The tax credit will be based on the percentage of income a person spends on rent.
The 2014-2015 state budget provides funding for vital programs in our State, including:
Repealed a law that prohibited the City from using state funds to subsidize housing for the homeless.
$1.5 million for CUNY child care centers.
$34 million for more than 4,500 additional subsidized child care slots.
$26.2 million for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
$1.6 million for the Displaced Homemakers program to provide counseling and job training.
$870,000 for the Disability Advocacy program, which provides legal representation to those whose disability benefits have been denied or discontinued.
$1 million for homeless housing initiatives.
$13 million for a 2% cost-of-living adjustment for caregivers of the elderly and disabled.
$38 million to expand community mental health services.
$13.8 million for programs that help at-risk youth.
$5 million for the Community Services for the Elderly (CSE) program.
$9 million to support the rent cap of people living with HIV/AIDS in New York City who receive public assistance at 30% of income
$3 million for the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth program, an increase of $1.4 million
In an effort to attract more businesses to the state and create more local jobs, the budget provides tax incentives to manufacturing businesses looking to set up shop in New York.
The budget also offers support for small businesses and minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) by increasing funds to provide loans for businesses that do not quality for traditional bank loans; and providing $1 million for an investment fund that gives financial support for early-stage MWBEs.
The budget expands the NY Youth Works Program, which encourages business to hire unemployed, disadvantaged youth, ages 16 to 24, by connecting the program to community colleges.
Income eligibility for the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) was raised from $29,000 to $50,000. But this only applies to SCRIE. It does not apply to the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program - a major mistake.
The budget provides funding for programs that support communities and keep quality housing affordable, including:
$2.2 million in additional funding for the Neighborhood Preservation Program (NFP) and the Rural Preservation Program (RPP).
$742,000 to restore the NYCHA Tenant Watch Program.
$46.7 million for the Low Income Housing Trust Fund, an increase of 11.5 million.
$32 million to repair Mitchell-Lama developments that have fallen into disrepair, a $14.4 million increase.
The budget increases 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, including continuing development of the Hudson River Park.
The Governor proposed to take $40 million that helps pay for MTA services and use it instead to pay down MTA debt service. Unfortunately, the Legislature only kept $10 million from being taken.
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. The budget also provides $12.2 million in support for Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) programs.
Unfinished Business on Campaign Finance
The most needed government reform is public financing of election campaigns in our state. A public matching fund system for small donations (similar to New York City's system) would be a major step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the budget only provides for a meager pilot program of public financing for candidates running for state comptroller, and only for this year's election.
Many good government advocates, the New York Times editorial page and I are disappointed with the lack of reform in the budget.
Expanding the Number of School Zones with Speed Cameras
I strongly favor allowing New York City to install as many traffic enforcement cameras (whether for red lights or speeding) as it wants. As New York City becomes more densely populated, the threat of speeding, including careless drivers in school zones, continues to put our children at risk.
Last year, New York City initiated a pilot program whereby speed-sensitive cameras were installed in 20 school speed zones. Recently, Assembly Member Silver introduced legislation (A.9206), which I am co-sponsoring, that would allow the City to increase the number of camera-eligible school speed zones to 140. The high-tech cameras will help keep our streets safer and prevent traffic-related deaths and injuries in our most vulnerable areas. Furthermore, in expanding the pilot program, the bill will yield New York-specific information on speed-camera performance, which will help law enforcement determine the most effective ways to protect our residents.
Assembly Passes Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business Act
New York is home to more than 900,000 veterans, 72 percent of whom have served during periods of conflict including 88,000 who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are fortunate, as a nation, to have such brave men and women in our armed forces who are willing to risk their lives to protect our freedoms. It is tragic, however, that so many of them, upon returning home, experience great difficulty finding work.
In March, the Assembly and Senate passed bill A.9135/S.6865, which would develop a comprehensive plan and operational guidelines to promote service-disabled, veteran-owned business enterprises. For example, it would grant those businesses a preference in bidding for government contracts, similar to the provisions for minority- and women-owned businesses. The bill will now be delivered to the Governor for his signature.
Oversized Planned Construction on West 16 Street
The French Evangelical Church at 126-128 West 16th Street, in order to become more financially stable and make repairs on its building, sold its neighboring building at 124 West 16th Street to the Einhorn Development Group for $4 million. The Church then sold the air rights available over the church, which would allow the developer to build and 11-story building on the 124 site in place of the current building.
This building would be drastically out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood and its mass - in the middle of the block - will undermine the character of the neighborhood, while depriving many of the surrounding residents of vital light and air.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, Councilmember Corey Johnson and I wrote to the developers asking them to reconsider and alter their plans and to work with the local community to arrive at a plan that is more contextual to the neighborhood.
Give Communities a Voice in the Casino Siting Process
Gambling casinos are allowed (under restrictions) by the state constitutional amendment that was approved by the voters last November. This month, the state's Resort Gaming Facility Location Board is scheduled to begin taking applications for four new casinos. While many believe casinos can boost local economies, they can also damage, both economically and socially, their host community and surrounding area. Given the enormous impact that a casino has on a community, it is wrong to deny a municipality the right to use local zoning or similar tools to protect itself.
My upstate colleague Assembly Member Didi Barrett and I have introduced legislation (A. 8774) that would give local communities a say in whether or not casinos can be built there. It would require that the building first pass municipal approval. Additionally, any approved casino would have to adhere to local land use and zoning laws and that construction complies with the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP)
The Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) provides New York City youth 14 to 24 with paid summer employment for up to six weeks in July and August. Participants work in a variety of entry-level jobs including: government agencies, hospitals, summer camps, non-profits, small businesses, law firms, museums, sports enterprises, and retail stores.
The deadline to submit applications is April 25, 2014. Go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/dycd/html/jobs/syep.shtml to learn more about SYEP.
Recycle Your Electronic Waste
You can bring all kinds of computers, monitors, printers, peripherals and more to recycle at the Lower East Side Ecology Center electronic recycling events from 10 am to 4pm, rain or shine at these locations:
- Sat., April 5: Sixth Ave. b/t Bleecker & Houston
- Sun., April 13: Amsterdam Ave. b/t W. 74th & W. 75th Sts.
- Sat., April 26: Tekserve, 119 West 23rd St.
- Sat., May 3: W. 43rd St. b/t Ninth & Tenth Aves.
- Sat., May 17: SW Corner of E. 33 St. & Second Ave.
Please visit www.lesecologycenter.org or call 212-477-4022 for more information and a complete list of what you can recycle.
Donate Blood and Help Save a Life
The American Red Cross is encouraging New Yorkers to donate blood to help rebuild blood and platelet supplies. Due to recent winter storms and freezing temperatures, hundreds of Red Cross blood drives have been cancelled, which put blood supplies at local hospitals at risk. Currently, only about five percent of eligible donors in the U.S. give blood.
Donating blood is safe and simple. The entire process takes about an hour, but the actual donation usually takes less than 16 minutes. The most in-demand blood types are O positive, O negative, A negative, and B negative -- but all blood types are needed. People who are at least 17 years of age (16 with parental consent), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in good health may be eligible to donate blood.
And you get to lie down and relax, and then you get juice and cookies!
If you are eligible, please make an appointment to donate, visit: www.redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.
214 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001
Albany, NY 12248