New State Budget: Lots of "Half a Loaf Better than None"After extended negotiations that went on much longer than they needed to, the Governor, the Assembly and the Senate finally passed a new State budget on the April 9-10 weekend. Like any large negotiated package among people with different (and sometimes conflicting) goals, it is a mixed bag. The budget legislation included many good features, but almost all were "half a loaf" – better than none, but not as much as should have been done.
Not-Quite-Free Tuition at SUNY and CUNYGovernor Cuomo says his new plan is a first-in-the-nation free tuition plan for students at SUNY and CUNY colleges, but there are serious limits. Less than 5% of SUNY or CUNY students will bene-fit. Students must be from a family earning $100,000 annually or less in adjusted gross income (going up to $110,000 in fall 2018 and $125,000 in fall 2019). Many working families will not qualify. Students must be enrolled full-time (30 credits a year), which excludes many who must work to sup-port themselves or their families. Students who receive a Pell grant (usually used to pay for books and fees) to pay for tuition before the plan will help pay for tuition. I cosponsor a bill to correct these flaws, but the Governor and the Senate would not agree to that. And SUNY and CUNY tuition will actually increase for students not covered by the new plan! The program applies only to students who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or have official refugee status. Unfortunately, the DREAM Act that was passed by the Assembly – which would have removed financial obstacles to obtaining State financial aid for many immigrant students and which would have eliminated barriers for immigrants seeking to start a college tuition savings account – was not even considered by the State Senate majority.
More School Aid, but not EnoughThe budget includes a higher-than-inflation in-crease of $1 billion in State aid to education, for a total of $25.7 billion, a 4.1% increase over last year's budget. However, if the State was obeying a decade-old Court of Appeals ruling on its obligation to fund quality education, we would have increase school aid by over $4 billion. Drinking Water Infrastructure A $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure pro-gram will fund efforts to upgrade drinking and waste water treatment infrastructure across New York. Governor Cuomo's original proposal excluded any aid for New York City, but the Assembly succeeded in providing $200 million for the City. The budget also enacts legislation to require more testing of public drinking water systems for chemical contaminants, with minimum standards being set by the State Health Department, prompt notification to the public, and remediation efforts. This comes from scandals involving upstate Hoosick Falls and Newburgh, and hearings held by the Assembly Health Committee (which I chair) and Environmental Conservation Committee, and our Senate counterparts.
"Millionaires' Tax" Continued but Not RaisedThe so-called "millionaires' tax," which had been due to expire at the end of this year, establishes a New York State income tax rate of 8.82% for single filers earning more than $1 million annually and for married couples earning more than $2.1 million annually. The budget extends the tax for two years. It will raise about $3.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2017-2018, and will affect about 45,000 taxpayers, about half of whom reside outside NY State but pay NY taxes on their in-state earnings. The new State budget also keeps a scheduled cut for people with annual incomes between $40,000 and $300,000. Those earning between $40,000 and $150,000 annually will see their State tax rate decline to 6.45% from 6.85%, while the rate for those earning between $150,000 and $300,000 will drop to 6.65% from 6.85 percent. The Assembly wanted to add an additional higher-rate bracket for income above $5 million a year, to help fund increased aid to education and other needs. The State Senate refused to agree. The Assembly also supported Mayor de Blasio's plan for a "mansion tax," an additional 2.5% marginal tax to have been paid by buyers of homes in NY City valued at $2 million or more, the revenue from which would have directly funded rental subsidies for up to 25,000 city seniors. However, the Governor and State Senate would not agree.
Affordable and Supportive Housing, but More 421-aThe budget includes $2.5 billion for a 5-year statewide housing program, including $1 billion for 6,000 units of supportive housing. It also revives the 421-a tax abatement, which grants tax breaks for new construction that includes affordable housing, with a provision that construction workers must be paid the prevailing wage on construction projects with units of 300 or more in parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. However, I believe the tax benefit to developers was made too generous (at the City's expense). Also, the pro-gram now sunsets in 2022, rather than in 2019 when the rent laws sunset. It would have been very important to tenants that the Assembly be able to hold up the renewal of 421-a if the Senate had tried to block renewal of the rent laws.
"Raise the Age" for Many CrimesNew York and North Carolina have been the only two states that impose adult criminal sentences on teenagers as young as 16; all the other states start adult criminal jurisdiction at age eighteen. Thanks to the Assembly's persistence, the budget includes legislation to remove juveniles charged with most misdemeanors and felonies from adult courts and prisons to Family Court and juvenile facilities. This is not an across-the-board raising of the age, but it will protect thousands of young people from being locked up with adult criminals and enable more of them to receive the help they need. Support for Home Health Care It has been becoming increasingly difficult for Medicaid patients needing long-term care – especially home care for extended hours – to get the care they need. In many areas, there is a shortage of home care aides because low reimbursement rates make recruitment and retention of workers difficult. State payment rates to managed care plans discourage the plans from serving high-need patients properly. The methodology for assessing patients need does not adequately account for cognitive deficiency and other factors. The newly-enacted State budget legislation includes several important actions intended to begin to turn around this situation.
No Clean-Up of "Economic Development" ProjectsThere have been several scandals involving State-funded economic development projects, including criminal charges against high-ranking officials and lobbyists with close ties to Governor Cuomo. The Assembly worked to enact safeguards for such projects, including giving the State Comptroller more oversight and requiring members of the panels that approve the projects to file financial disclosure forms. However, Governor Cuomo refused to agree to these reforms.
Hundreds Rally in Albany for New York's Universal Health Care Bill, Demand State Senate VoteOn April 4, about 750 patients, nurses, doctors, and business owners rallied in Albany to demand action on the New York Health Act, my bill to create a universal, "Improved Medicare for All" single-payer health care system for New Yorkers. The Assembly is poised to vote on the bill (A4738/S4840) again in a few weeks, after passing it in 2015 and 2016 by a two to-one margin. Thirty State Senators are now co-sponsors of the New York Health Act - just two short of a majority. A special Senate election in May in Manhattan is expected to bring the count to 31. This surge in support makes a state single-payer plan truly achievable in New York.
Speaking at the RALLY FOR UNIVERSAL COVERAGE
The New York Health Act would eliminate private insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, restricted provider networks and out-of-network charges. It would provide comprehensive health coverage for all New Yorkers, regardless of income, health, employment or immigration status, with full choice of doctors and other providers. The program would be publicly funded through a broad-based tax based on ability to pay. As the Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration attack health care, New York can protect and improve health care through a single-payer 'improved Medicare for all' universal health care system that covers all New Yorkers.
MTA Postpones Park Avenue Construction in Murray Hill, Proceeds with EIS Process & HearingLast year, the MTA announced that it intends to build an emergency ventilation plant (EVP) for the 4/5/6 subway lines below the street bed of Park Avenue between the E. 33rd Street and Grand Central Stations. The MTA said construction would take place in the northbound lanes of Park Avenue, either between E. 36th and E. 38th Streets or between E. 37th and E. 39th Streets. Murray Hill has been plagued by traffic and noise from various construction projects, in particular, the massive East Side Access project, for many years. Many community residents question whether the EVP, and the inevitable disruption to the neighborhood's quality of life that its construction would cause, are truly necessary, and if the EVP couldn't be built in a way that causes less traffic and less noise and air pollution. I have urged the MTA to consult closely with neighborhood residents and Community Board 6 before and during any possible construction. The MTA argues that the EVP is necessary for passenger safety. The nine-block stretch between the 33rd Street and Grand Central subway stations is the longest unventilated section of any subway line in Manhattan, one of the longest unventilated segments of the entire subway system, and on what is still – even after the opening of the Second Avenue Subway – the most crowded subway line in the nation. Earlier this year, the MTA announced that it is removing the EVP from its current 5-year capital plan, citing budgetary constraints. The EVP will now be included in the MTA's 2020-2024 capital plan, and the agency is continuing the public environmental review process. The MTA held a public hearing on The Final Scoping Document, issued in February, on April 5, and is accepting public comment until the close of business on Friday, April 28. It is available for viewing by the public at the following locations in Manhattan:
- Epiphany Library, 228 E. 23rd Street
- Mid-Manhattan Library, 455 Fifth Avenue
- Grand Central Branch Library, 135 E. 46th St.
- Kip's Bay Library, 446 Third Avenue
- Community Board 5, 450 7th Ave., #2109
- Community Board 6, 866 U.N. Plaza, #308
Thursday, April 6: Mount Sinai Health System Hosts Public Forum on Transformation of Beth Israel HospitalMount Sinai Beth Israel is holding a public forum on the proposed transformation of Beth Israel Hospital and the establishment of Mount Sinai's new Downtown Network on Thurs., April 6 from 6:30PM to 8:30PM at Mount Sinai Downtown Union Square, 10 Union Square East (between 14th and 15th Streets) in the second floor conference room. Over the next three to four years, the Mount Sinai Health System is proposing to replace the Beth Israel Hospital building at First Avenue at 16th Street with a new hospital nearby at Second Avenue and 14th Street, and expand its Downtown Network of health care facilities. Mount Sinai anticipates that there will be approximately 220 inpatient beds at the new hospital, as well as a state-of-the-art emergency room, while behavioral and mental health services will be maintained at existing Beth Israel facilities near First Ave and 15th Street. For more background and regular updates, see: http://www.mountsinaihealth.org/locations/downtown. The forum on Thursday, which I and other local elected officials encouraged Mount Sinai to host, is free and open to the public. It is the latest in a series of efforts to keep New Yorkers informed about the current plan, to receive input from the community, and to answer questions. I look forward to continuing to work with Mount Sinai and all the affected stakeholders to ensure there is as little disruption as possible and that the health care needs of lower Manhattan communities are met. We all continue to have questions, and we appreciate that Mount Sinai has been open to our concerns throughout the course of this transformation. As an elected official representing thousands of New Yorkers who will be affected by these developments, I will continue to advocate for medical and health care services at the MSBI campus and to work to ensure that the health care needs of New Yorkers in lower Manhattan will be met.
My District Office Is Moving!My Assembly District Office will soon be moving, just two blocks from its current location. Beginning May 1, my District Office will be located at 214 West 29th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in Suite 1002 on the 10th floor. The phone number for the District Office will remain the same: (212) 807-7900.
Assembly Passes GENDA Legislation to Protect Transgender New Yorkers from DiscriminationIn March, the Assembly passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA, A. 3358) to protect the rights of transgender individuals in New York State. I am the Assembly sponsor of GENDA, which has now passed the Assembly for the tenth year in a row. Current New York State law protects persons from discrimination based on sex, creed, nationality, disability, military status, marital status, and sexual orientation. GENDA expands New York State's protected classes to include gender identity and expression; classifies offenses motivated by gender identity or expression as hate crimes; and prohibits housing, education and employment dis-crimination based on gender identity and expression. While many cities and counties in New York have enacted protections for the transgender community in local jurisdictions, protection for transgender and gender nonconforming people is inconsistent statewide. GENDA needs to be enacted into law so that all transgender and gen-der nonconforming persons in New York have equal and uniform protections. This is particularly critical in light of the murders of eight transgender women in the U.S. since the beginning of 2017, and after the Trump administration announced that it was revoking federal guidelines intended to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming students. Last month, I attended a rally and vigil at Jackie Robinson Park in Upper Manhattan to raise awareness about the epidemic of violence against the transgender community.
People's Climate Mobilization March on Washington on April 29This month, the People's Climate Movement is an organizing a nationwide series of actions to highlight the need to protect our climate, health, and communities. On Saturday, April 29, these will culminate in the March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice in Washington, DC, when thousands of citizens will demonstrate for a clean energy, air, and water. To learn more or to sign up, please go to https://newyork.peoplesclimate.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free Tax Preparation AssistanceFree Tax Preparation Assistance is available through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA provides IRS-certified volunteers to help individuals and families with annual incomes of $54,000 or less, people with disabilities, the elderly, and those with limited English skills. For those 60 years of age and older, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program can also help, at no cost to you. To find the nearest VITA or TCE site, call 800-906-9887 or visit http://irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers. Community Tax Aid (CTA), an independent, non-profit, all-volunteer organization, provides free tax preparation assistance to individual New York City residents with an annual income of $25,000 or less, and to families in New York City with a total household annual income of $55,000 or less (provided no more than $3,400 of income is from interest, dividends, and capital gains). In Chelsea, CTA's volunteer accountants, lawyers, and students offer free assistance at the Hudson Guild's Fulton Center at 119 Ninth Ave. be-tween 17th and 18th Streets on April 6 and 13. You must call (212) 924-6710 to make an appointment for CTA assistance at Hudson Guild. In Hell's Kitchen, CTA will offer assistance at Housing Conservation Coordinators at 777 Tenth Avenue at 53rd Street on April 12. You must call (212) 541-5996 to make an appointment for CTA assistance at Housing Conservation Coordinators. For residents of Fountain House only, CTA provides tax preparation assistance on Monday evenings. Fountain House residents must call (212) 799-9400 for an appointment for CTA tax preparation assistance at Fountain House, 425 W. 47th St. between Ninth and Tenth Aves.
Financial Planning Day at Science, Business & Industry LibraryOn Friday, April 28 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, the New York Public Library is hosting its Spring Financial Planning Day at the Science, Industry & Business Library (SIBL), located at 188 Madison Ave at 34th Street. The daylong event is free and open to the public, with seating available on a first come, first seated basis. The program will offer 12 workshops on a broad array of financial and life planning issues:
- free financial, Medicare and/or credit crisis counseling;
- the opportunity to ask questions of various government representatives;
- the opportunity to learn how to use SIBL's financial databases.
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