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May 6th, 2013
By Rob Abruzzese and Mary Frost
State University of New York’s (SUNY) search for an entity to take over Long Island College Hospital (LICH) may be designed to fail, warned LICH supporters Thursday night at the Cobble Hill Association’s community forum to discuss the future of the 150-year-old hospital.
The nearly bankrupt (SUNY) issued a public Request for Information (RFI) on Wednesday to signal its intent to find another operators to take over LICH.
But the RFI has “more holes than Swiss cheese,” said Jerry Armer, the 76 Precinct Community Council President and long-time community activist. “And the holes are designed for a developer to use this land as something else.”
The RFI calls for an operator who could provide health care services either “on the [LICH] campus or in the community around” the hospital, leaving open the possibility that some or all of the valuable Brownstone Brooklyn real estate could be sold.
The RFI also demands that interested parties submit, by May 22, a complex proposal providing details about clinical service areas, governance and ownership models, utilization projections, legal structures, regulatory timelines and approvals, and financial plans including capital needs and sources of funding. SUNY will answer questions from interested parties only until May 15.
SUNY Downstate needs these projections in order to put together its own Sustainability Plan by June 1. However, no contract will be awarded based on responses to the RFI, SUNY says.
“At the end of January when news first leaked out that they wanted to close LICH it seemed like a pipe dream that we would get this far,” said Dr. Toomas Sorra, president of Concerned Physicians for LICH. “We won two lawsuits, but the fight is not over and our lawyers are still out there because there are issues around this RFI business where SUNY Downstate thought that by withdrawing the closure plan they would get us, and our attorneys, to shut up. That’s not going to happen.”
Jane McGroarty, the immediate past president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, called for SUNY to withdraw the RFI. Jeff Strabone from the Cobble Hill Association warned that the RFI would allow services at LICH to be severely restricted — or that it could just be a backdoor plan to bring in a for-profit hospital, something previously not allowed in New York State.
SUNY’s plan to close LICH altogether was scuttled last month after months of protests, political and legal activism and media coverage. SUNY Downstate Medical Center acquired LICH two years ago from Continuum Health Partners.
LICH supporters and local representatives fear that SUNY is once again trying to keep them out of the loop. After a meeting called earlier on Thursday with SUNY officials, Assemblywoman Joan Millman said representatives were surprised when SUNY refused to discuss LICH with them.
“Today we had a meeting with SUNY that was with Carl McCall, who is the head of SUNY’s board of trustees, Nancy Zimmer, and Dr. John Williams, who has now taken over SUNY Downstate,” Millman told the Cobble Hill Association Thursday night. “Basically what we were told was that because of the restraining order we could not discuss LICH. I came there all prepared to talk about our concerns with LICH.”
On Friday, Assemblywoman Joan Millman told the Brooklyn Eagle, “The suspicion is that the RFI is a way for SUNY to say, ‘We tried to entice someone to take over LICH, but got no response.’
“I don’t know how anyone could respond in such a short window of time, with no financial information,” she said. “You couldn’t do all that.”
Millman also pointed out that the RFI read more like a real estate prospectus than a hospital offering. “They not only list the buildings but the square feet. It’s real estate talk. Even when they talk about the core properties, they don’t say how many operating rooms there are, just square feet.”
On Thursday, representatives from the Concerned Physicians for LICH, the New York State Nurses Association, SEIU/Local 1199, and other community groups demanded to be included in the LICH process.
“One, we want a full service hospital,” Dr. Sorra told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Two, we and the other stakeholders want a seat at the table when plans are being discussed.”
“The most important thing is community involvement,” said Matthew Bethel, policy director for state senator Daniel Squadron. “We put together a letter with all of the elected officials here, and my boss, which calls for a group that involves federal, state, and city elected officials, representatives from SUNY, from LICH itself, from community boards, and from community organizations to have all of those voices at the table to discuss what will happen next.”
Some elected officials did warn that some sacrifices might have to be made — all the more reason the community needs to be involved, they said.
“Part of what may have to happen is a somewhat smaller footprint to the hospital. That’s partly from a healthcare economics point of view,” said Councilman Brad Lander. “I think we have to find out, in the right scenario, how we can have a positive version of that going forward.
The New York State Nurses Association and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East announced a press conference that will address their demand that community members and other stakeholders have a voice in the LICH sustainability plan. The press conference will take place Monday, May 6, at 10 a.m. at LICH, 336 Hicks Street, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
Women’s Equality Agenda, Spearheaded by BALCONY Executive Board Member Cynthia DiBartolo, Tops Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ‘Priorities’
May 6th, 2013
Letter to New York Daily News from Governor Andrew Cuomo
We have accomplished much in this legislative session: a third balanced budget on time, business and middle class tax cuts, an extensive economic development program, teacher evaluations, gun control — and the list goes on.
But now is not the time to rest on our accomplishments. There is more to do for our state — and several more weeks in this legislative session.
Here are my top priorities:
The Women’s Equality Act. This is a 10-point plan to address the many lingering inequalities that women still face in our state and in our society, and it’s essential. Today, men are 32 times more likely than women to become a CEO or member of a corporate board. Meanwhile, women are five times more likely to be victims of sexual harassment or domestic violence as well as twice as likely to be victims of housing or lending discrimination.
New York State should lead the way in forging a comprehensive equality agenda. We need to pass pay equity, which would require that women get paid at the same level as men who hold the same qualifications they do. We need to create freedom from housing and employment discrimination and stronger domestic violence protections for women. Lastly, we need to provide women with the same freedom of reproductive choice rights that have been set at the federal level under Roe. v. Wade.
All of these measures, which are part of a single, vital piece of legislation, should be passed this year.
Clean up Albany. Recently, several state legislators were charged with official corruption. While there will always be bad actors, we must seize on this moment to bring real and lasting reform to our system. I have proposed a comprehensive program, beginning with establishing a new class of public corruption crimes so that local prosecutors across our state can more easily bring cases against elected officials and others who violate the public trust.
We would also impose tougher jail sentences on individuals who misuse public funds, and permanently bar those convicted of public corruption offenses from ever holding public office or working in government again in any capacity. The reform package also includes public campaign financing and independent enforcement of the Board of Elections. The time for these reforms is now.
Local government restructuring. In my State of the State address, I proposed a task force to restructure local governments that are in fiscal distress. For good reason: Many local governments are unwilling or unable to make the changes necessary to rectify their virtual insolvency. Localities have had increased spending as their population has been decreasing; at the same, many face growing retirement costs and decreasing property values.
We have talked about consolidations, mergers, shared services and reductions in force, but little has been done. Upstate governments have seen decades of decline.
In addition, the law regulating binding arbitration expires this year. Binding arbitration creates a serious fiscal strain for many local governments, because it often forces them to agree to contract deals that are more favorable to unions, creating mandated costs they cannot afford for years to come. We should not renew that law without a real solution for local governments in distress.
Intelligent, nonpolitical casino development in destination resorts can stimulate regional growth. We passed the referendum to create legalized gaming in the state in the last elected legislature, and we need to pass it again in this session and send it to the voters.
LIPA. Superstorm Sandy taught us many lessons, but at the top of the list is the need to replace the Long Island Power Authority with a far more efficient agency. LIPA has been dysfunctional for years, and hopefully the public outrage at the outages during Hurricane Sandy will generate the political will to finally phase out this wasteful and incompetent entity and replace it with a streamlined utility that has privatized operations and is subject to state oversight from the Public Service Commission.
In addition, we’re working around the clock on ideas to generate economic activity and job creation upstate.
I have been accused of being overly ambitious in setting the legislative agenda. I plead guilty. However, our legislative success thus far shows our capacity for achievement. The stressful economic times we face and the years of Albany dysfunction have created many challenges for us to meet.
We must aim high and work hard. The people of our state deserve nothing less.
April 24th, 2013
By Casey Seiler
The state chapter of the National Organization for Women brought its troops to Albany on Tuesday to press for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda, 10 initiatives first outlined in early January that still haven’t evolved into legislative language.
The lack of concrete details presented a challenge for the advocates, who would like nothing better than to secure commitments from enough Republican lawmakers in the Senate to help bring the measure to the floor despite the concerns of GOP Conference Leader Dean Skelos.
“This is a first step,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW’s New York City chapter.
A coalition of some 750 groups and businesses are pushing for the agenda, which includes economic fairness provisions, stronger laws to fight human trafficking, Ossorio said. In addition, legislation similar to the Reproductive Health Act that supporters say will codify and modernize abortion rights protections is supported.
Opponents call it an “abortion expansion” measure, and Skelos hasn’t yet committed to bring it to the floor.
The briefing material handed out to advocates gave a sense of where NOW’s leaders expected the pushback to come from: In the three pages of likely questions, one was devoted to process (“When will we see the bill? … Will it be more than one bill?”), another to reproductive rights matters, the last on the economic issues addressed by the agenda.
“Each of these (agenda) points have been lingering in the Legislature for years,” said Zenaida Mendez, president of NOW’s state operation.
Which begs the question: If these measures have been percolating for years and it’s been more than three months since Cuomo laid out his agenda in the State of the State address, why hasn’t the governor produced bill language?
“Well, the only thing I can tell you … that’s how the governor operates,” Mendez said, to general laughter. She also mentioned the coalition formed to back the effort: “We’re more than him, let’s put it that way.”
“We’re waiting for the governor to give us direction,” said Sen. Diane Savino, who seemed slightly less patient. ” … You can’t vote on ideas — you vote on legislation.”
Savino, a member of the Senate’s ruling Majority Coalition, committed to pushing ahead with the existing versions of the bills that Cuomo will likely draw on to create his eventual package. Though several pro-life groups have expressed disdain for Cuomo’s decision to yoke the rest of the agenda items to the more controversial reproduction rights provisions, Sen. Liz Krueger expressed the hope of the vast majority in the room was for an omnibus bill. “You need that full package,” she said.
Just after the press conference wrapped up, Cuomo suggested in a radio interview that many lawmakers who say they’re waiting for bill language are attempting to duck the tough issues.
“You’re either pro-choice, or you’re not pro-choice,” he told WCNY’s Susan Arbetter. ” … There should be a vote on choice. The women in this state have a right to know. … The devil’s in the details? Maybe. Maybe you don’t want to answer my question.”
April 22nd, 2013
By Jimmy Vielkind
The state is hiring a Rochester-area firm to help develop a recruitment strategy as its workforce grows smaller and grayer, and unions say more needs to be done to deal with a coming glut of retirements.
The Cuomo administration is finalizing a contract with Datrose, a Webster-based data entry, document scanning and personnel firm, according to a memorandum provided by a state official.
The April 17 memo says Datrose will “design a professional development and knowledge transfer program for state employees so that they can learn their search techniques” and “provide expert advice and support to the State to design and implement a comprehensive recruitment strategy for the State.”
It comes as the latest workforce management report — a 108-page survey published annually by the Department of Civil Service — found the number of state employees had declined to 152,832 as of January 2012. That’s a slight decrease from 2011, but Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said the headcount of employees has stabilized. A hiring freeze requires the state’s Division of Budget to approve new hires, but Azzopardi said positions are being filled.
The average age of a state employee rose to 48 and the average age of the 5,702 people hired in 2011 is 39. The report says 18 percent of the workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next five years and 25,658 are expected to retire by 2017. In 2011, just over 5,600 employees turned in their papers.
“The loss of these experienced employees and the limited numbers of new hires to New York State government should prompt agencies to reassess their knowledge management systems and take proactive steps to ensure they will be able to effectively carry out their missions,” the report says.
Administration officials pointed to the Datrose contract as well as new programs to hire management trainees. In October of last year, the governor announced he was rebranding and expanding the state’s appointments office at the Office of General Services.
But unions representing state workers said they were “concerned” and “alarmed” by their aging members, and said little has been done to prepare for retirements.
“You know what the state’s succession planning is? Taking a flyer and hanging it up by the water coolers announcing somebody is leaving. That’s the state’s succession planning,” said Joe Sano, executive director of the Organization of Management Confidential Employees.
He said “salary compression” as a result of the decision to hold back step increases for non-unionized managers has made it difficult to recruit new managers from the ranks of regular employees, complicating matters.
Are there concrete plans? Spokespeople at the Office of General Service, Division of State Police as well as the departments of Health, Environmental Conservation, Taxation and Finance and Transportation did not respond to inquiries last week. Tom Mailey, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, said knowledge transfer happens on a “continuous cycle” as new corrections and parole officers are hired. Promotions often occur from within their ranks, he said.
Azzopardi said Cuomo was committed to building a “21st Century government.”
“Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we’ve merged agencies, centralized services and used technology to make a more efficient and less costly state government,” he said. “These actions are coupled with an unprecedented effort to recruit talent that transformed the appointments process and launched new initiatives to attract the best and brightest to government service.”
April 17th, 2013
By Tom Precious
A couple of arrests of legislators, a couple of ideas for cleaning up Albany.
So it went Tuesday, as Assembly Democrats unveiled a package of changes to the state’s campaign finance laws, including taxpayer-funded campaigns and a new panel of appointees of the governor and Democratic and GOP lawmakers to better enforce violations of fundraising and expenditures by candidates.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo offered up his own ideas, minus actual legislation, including ending a 66-year-old law that lets local party leaders give ballot lines to candidates not enrolled in their parties.
Cuomo also wants better enforcement of campaign finance laws, but his idea is to appoint a new office headed by someone he would select.
After the most recent round of arrests of two downstate lawmakers allegedly involved in two different scandals, there has been no shortage of ideas from politicians about how to put the state’s political process through the laundry.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was first up Tuesday. After proposing taxpayer-funded elections back in 1986, Silver tried again Tuesday with a plan he said will cost, at most, $40 million a year; it is a level called low-balling by detractors.
“It’s money well spent,’’ Silver said of the plan that calls for candidates in statewide and state legislative offices to get $6 in taxpayer funding for every $1 they raise, with the total amount varying by office.
The idea would affect just the state comptroller’s race in 2014 – Silver’s friend and current state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, has not been a major fundraiser compared with other statewide candidates.
It would then be eligible for state legislative candidates in 2016 and other statewide candidates in 2018.
That means someone challenging Cuomo, who has at least $20 million in the bank, will not be eligible for the public money in next year’s gubernatorial race.
The Assembly plan also calls for more public disclosure about spending by outside groups advocating for a candidate or cause.
Cuomo said ending the ability of local party bosses to endorse a candidate from another party for their ballot line would end a “pay to run’’ system in which candidates give donations to the parties in return for those endorsements. “It’s almost like the line goes to the highest bidder,’’ he said.
Cuomo also wants to bypass the “toothless tiger’’ that is, he said, the state Board of Elections. Thanks to the way Democrats and Republicans created the agency, it has never been known for its aggressive enforcement of election laws.
He said a new office should be created with the powers of subpoena and to call grand juries to investigate civil and criminal violations. He called the office “independent,’’ but its director, in charge of all hiring, would be appointed by the governor.
April 15th, 2013
By Nick Powell
In January, New York City will inaugurate a new mayor. Michael Bloomberg will be working on his tan in Bermuda, marginal candidates will have faded into obscurity and one man or woman will be sitting in City Hall with a lengthy list of municipal unions ready to negotiate pay raises and long overdue collective bargaining contracts.
In these early months of the campaign season, when mayoral candidates are short on substance and long on platitudes, the daunting labor situation has become a hot topic in mayoral forums and debates. There is little consensus among the candidates, even along party lines, on how to deal with expired municipal contracts.
Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, has called on the unions to make concessions on pensions and health care costs. His Democratic rival, Comptroller John Liu, has touted pension reform as key to keeping the city fiscally solvent. Former comptroller Bill Thompson has mostly blamed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn—herself a Democratic candidate—and Mayor Bloomberg for the inaction on contracts.
Meanwhile, Republican candidate Joe Lhota has hinted at a hard-line stance in future union negotiations. In a recent interview Lhota said he understands the importance of unions in “elevating people into the middle class,” but that “I also won’t provide an unfair contract to the people of the city of New York in any way, shape or form [by] over-negotiating.”
Unfortunately for the unions, there likely won’t be enough money in the city budget to grant generous contracts. None of the major unions representing city employees has a current contract—some have been without one since 2008—and the mayor’s preliminary budget sets aside very little money for wage increases for city workers. Most notably, increases promised to public school teachers and administrators in bargaining sessions from 2008 to 2010 have not been delivered, heightening tensions between the United Federation of Teachers and the Bloomberg administration that climaxed with the recent impasse over teacher evaluations.
“The focus of the next mayor coming is going to be on teachers, the teachers’ union and schools,” said Ed Ott, a labor consultant.
Part of the problem is that around the time some labor contracts were settled in 2008, the Wall Street collapse threw New York City’s fiscal situation into a tailspin. New York City keeps a labor reserve account that in 2008 totaled roughly $1 billion, but it has since been depleted and now contains only $107 million.
Over the last five years, funds were transferred from the reserve to the general fund to help close the budget deficit. Bloomberg has set aside money in the budget for each fiscal year through 2017 to replenish the account back to its 2008 level, while adding the caveat that the money will not be used to settle past contracts. Of course, that could change with a new mayor in office.
Even accounting for those changes to the reserve fund, the cost of settling the unions’ contracts will be astronomically high. The cost to settle teacher and school administrator contracts alone will come out to an estimated $2.4 billion, and an additional $3.1 billion will be needed to settle other municipal contracts, according to a report by James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute using data from the city comptroller’s office. The mayor’s preliminary budget includes funding for wage increases of 1.25 percent, which is significantly lower than inflation and likely will not satisfy unions which have been waiting years for wage increases.
The resolution of the current cold war surrounding the municipal contracts hinges on the approach of the next administration. Labor insiders say that the lines of dialogue with the various candidates have been open but hardly substantive in terms of how they would negotiate. Some feel that a new mayor will want to prioritize sitting down with larger unions such as UFT and the police and firefighters’ unions, in order to set a pattern for negotiations as well as to mend fences with kingmakers who can alter a mayor’s chances for re-election.
“Obviously a Democratic mayor is not going to want to make the same mistake that Dinkins made in his ’89 term, which was to not figure out a way to settle the teachers’ contract,” said one union operative with ties to city workers. “Then the teachers sat out in ’93, and it probably cost him the election. Any of the Democrats are going to be committed to try to figure something out.”
Ott believes that regardless of whether the next mayor is a Republican or Democrat, he or she is not “going to walk in the door and give away the store.” He predicted that the new mayor would take a pragmatic approach and continue discussions while waiting for the city’s economy to continue to recover.
“When you go into a crisis and you demand that the workers sacrifice, everybody gets that, and if there’s no money, there’s no money,” Ott said. “But when there is a turnaround in the economy and the revenues start coming in, I think even Lhota is gonna feel the pressure to be fair. The people in the city, not just the city workers, are going to kind of expect it.”
Labor will also be expected to concede on several issues to reach a compromise in collective bargaining. Parrott suggested that the unions should commit to improving the quality of services and collaborate with the city on reducing poverty.
The cost of health insurance for municipal employees is another huge factor in ballooning the city’s budget deficit. Health care costs are expected to grow by almost 40 percent by 2016 and will amount to $1.5 billion of the $1.9 billion budget deficit projected for that year, according to a report by Maria Doulis of the Citizens Budget Commission. Mayor Bloomberg has called for reforming this system, and the onus falls on the Municipal Labor Committee to negotiate those changes. Harry Nespoli, who chairs the MLC and is president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, said discussions have been virtually stagnant and that he is willing to wait until a new mayor is elected before moving forward.
“It’s very difficult to do because the cost of living in New York City continues to go up,” Nespoli said. “All we are is the middle class, and we’d like to stay middle class. What we’re hoping for is that the new mayor, whoever he or she is, will come in and say, ‘You know what, let’s sit down and try to make this work.’ If we do that, we can reach an agreement, but we don’t have that at the other side of the table right now.”
April 11th, 2013
By Glenn Blain
A Queens state Senator has introduced a bill to repeal a controversial tax credit given to businesses that employ teenage minimum-wage workers.
Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat, said the credit encourages businesses, including national chains like Walmart, to shed older workers. He believes it also discourages employers from raising wages above the state minimum. “This tax credit is a really bad idea,” Peralta told the Daily News. “It just sends the wrong message.”
The tax credit was included in the 2013-14 budget as a way to compensate businesses for increases in the state’s minimum wage. The minimum wage rises are set to begin later this year and gradually lift the basement from $7.25 to $9 by 2016. Under the arrangement, businesses that keep or hire workers between the ages of 16 and 19 at minimum wage would get credits covering much of the cost of the wage increase.
During budget deliberations last month, the tax credit was added to the formula as a concession to Republicans. Cuomo administration officials estimate the credit will cost up to $66 million a year when fully implemented.
Labor leaders and even some conservative groups have blasted the credit as a taxpayer-funded giveaway to corporate interests.
“This tax credit is bad policy and bad for New Yorkers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, leader of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which supports Peralta’s bill.
But state Senate Republicans scoffed at Peralta’s bill and argued the credit is necded to insulate businesses from the wage hike .
“Every member has the right to introduce any legislation they wish, but that doesn’t mean we have to take it seriously,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif.
“This provision was part of a budget compromise that will protect businesses and keep young workers from losing their jobs,” Reif added. “We are surprised Senator Peralta opposes this provision considering the high unemployment rate among young New Yorkers, particularly minorities.”
April 10th, 2013
By Jeanne Sahadi
Obama’s budget blueprint offers changes to Medicare and Social Security. It also includes tax increases that would primarily hit high-income households and corporations.
The plan calls for greater spending on infrastructure, early childhood education and nondefense research.
Those investments would be paid for by other measures so that they don’t add to deficits, Obama said.
The president’s budget is late this year, coming after the Senate and House have each passed separate and very different 2014 budget frameworks.
While it’s not expected to fly on Capitol Hill, Obama’s budget nonetheless sets an important marker for continuing debt talks with lawmakers.
Boost infrastructure spending: The president’s budget calls for a $50 billion investment to, among other things, repair highways, bridges, transit systems and airports. He would also create a National Infrastructure Bank to bring together public and private capital for important projects.
Change how inflation is measured: Obama has already gotten blasted from the left for supporting a switch to “chained CPI,” which is a new way to measure inflation that would reduce projected federal spending by slowing the growth in federal benefits that are annually adjusted for cost of living. Those include Social Security benefits.
His budget, however, calls for ways to compensate for the change for low-income veterans, recipients of Supplemental Security Income and the oldest Social Security beneficiaries, a senior administration official said.
Chained CPI would also raise more revenue, since many parts of the tax code are adjusted for inflation every year — including income tax brackets, the standard deduction and contribution limits to 401(k)s.
Cap value of itemized deductions: As he has proposed before, the president wants to limit the value of itemized deductions and exclusions for high-income households.
Normally a taxpayer multiplies her top tax rate by the amount of a deduction to calculate the taxes saved. But Obama would cap that rate at 28%, which is below the top two income tax rates. So someone in the 39.6% bracket today would save $39.60 on a $100 deduction. Under Obama’s proposal, she would save $28.
Enact a Buffett Rule: Last year, Obama proposed the “Buffett Rule” as a guiding principle for tax reform.
The idea: to make sure that people earning more than $1 million paid their “fair share” of federal tax — which he defined as a minimum of 30%.
This year, he includes a more concrete version similar to one proposed in a bill last year by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, according to a senior official.
That Senate legislation would impose a minimum 30% effective federal tax rate on those with adjusted gross incomes above $1 million, although it phases in for those making between $1 million and $2 million.
Taxpayers would still get a break for charitable deductions when calculating what they would owe under the Buffett Rule.
Impose new limit on tax-deferred retirement accounts: Among his new tax measures, Obama would set a limit on the tax-advantaged portion of an individual’s savings across IRAs and other tax-preferred retirement accounts.
The account balance threshold would be based on what could finance an annuity of $205,000 a year in retirement. In 2013, that would be $3 million, the administration estimates.
At that threshold, the proposal would affect far less than 1% of IRA and 401(k) account holders, according to estimates from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Depending on how the threshold is adjusted in future years, however, that percentage could rise significantly.
Raise tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products: To fund expanded access to pre-K education, an idea raised in the State of the Union address, Obama is proposing a new federal tax on cigarette and other tobacco products.
It won’t be the first time. In 2009, he signed into law a federal tax increase on cigarettes to help pay for an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health care for 8 million children.
Raise tax rate on investment fund manager income: Managers of private equity, venture capital and hedge funds are taxed 20% on the portion of their compensation known as carried interest, essentially paying the long-term capital gain rate. Obama wants carried interest to be treated as ordinary income, a proposal he’s made repeatedly. The result: fund managers could pay a rate as high as 39.6%, or more than 2.5 times the rate they pay now.
Reduce deficits by $1.8 trillion: Obama’s debt reduction proposal comes straight from an offer he made to House Speaker John Boehner last year during their fiscal cliff negotiations.
The proposal would replace the automatic budget cuts that went into effect last month.
Close to $600 billion of the $1.8 trillion would come from new revenue — specifically the cap on itemized deductions and the Buffett Rule.
The other $1.2 trillion would come from spending cuts: $200 billion from defense and nondefense programs on the discretionary side of the budget. Another $400 billion from Medicare and other federal health programs in ways that largely affect hospitals and drug companies. And $600 billion in cuts affecting non-health spending on things like agricultural subsidies and unemployment insurance.
The administration has made clear the president’s deficit-reduction proposals are not a starting point for upcoming discussions. “I’ve already met Republicans more than halfway,” Obama said Wednesday morning.
House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday morning gave the president credit for including “some incremental entitlement reforms … . But I would hope that he would not hold hostage these modest reforms for his demand for bigger tax hikes. Why don’t we do what we can agree to do?”
Even if Republicans eventually agree to a revenue component, it is unlikely the president’s proposals would be adopted wholesale. But if they were, his budget would bring total deficit reduction during his tenure to $4.3 trillion.
April 10th, 2013
By Steven Greenhouse
The National Labor Relations Board said on Monday that it planned to file a complaint charging Cablevision with making illegal threats and offering improper inducements to its employees in the Bronx to discourage them from voting to unionize.
As part of the complaint, the labor board’s regional office for Manhattan and the Bronx is accusing Cablevision’s chief executive, James L. Dolan, of illegally telling the Bronx workers that they would be excluded from training and job opportunities if they voted to unionize. The board also said that Cablevision had improperly offered raises and improved benefits to its workers in the Bronx and elsewhere to deter them from joining a union.
Karen Fernbach, director of the labor board’s regional office, said those moves improperly influenced an election last June in which Cablevision’s installation workers in the Bronx voted overwhelmingly — 121 to 43 — against joining the Communications Workers of America.
The union has been battling Cablevision for more than two years as it seeks to organize cable workers in the New York metropolitan area. In January 2012, Cablevision workers in Brooklyn voted 180 to 86 to form a union, despite the company’s vigorous anti-union campaign, becoming the first of the company’s workers to organize in what is largely a union-free industry.
Ms. Fernbach said the N.L.R.B. would ask a judge to order Cablevision to desist from engaging in any future illegal activities should the communications workers seek another unionization vote in the Bronx. She said the board had given Cablevision time to enter settlement talks with the board and perhaps head off the filing of the complaint.
The labor board is issuing the complaint after the Communications Workers of America asked it to file charges against Cablevision.
Cablevision officials stressed on Monday that the complaint did not constitute a finding of wrongdoing. In a statement, Cablevision said that the “allegations are not accurate” and that the union’s assertions “are part of their ongoing campaign to damage Cablevision’s reputation.”
“Now,” the company said, “this matter will proceed to an administrative law judge and we look forward to an impartial hearing so that the facts can be fully understood.”
Ms. Fernbach said that as a remedy the labor board would ask a judge to order Mr. Dolan to read aloud, probably on video, a statement acknowledging that Cablevision had acted illegally and promising not to engage in such activities again.
Employers often criticize the labor board when it asserts that offering better wages and benefits is an improper effort to sway workers to vote against establishing a union. Employers say they are simply trying to do what workers want.
But Ms. Fernbach, citing numerous court decisions, said, “Employers’ beneficent conduct may have a coercive impact on employee free choice” on whether to vote to join a union.
The communications workers have asked the labor board’s regional office in Brooklyn to charge Cablevision with illegally firing 22 union members in Brooklyn in January when they were trying to speak with a company vice president. The company said they have since been brought back to work.
April 8th, 2013
By Mary Frost
Roughly 500 supporters chanting “Health care, not condos!” joined nurses, doctors and elected leaders in Red Hook for a march to Long Island College Hospital (LICH), to keep the Cobble Hill institution open.
While the hospital serves a swath of Brooklyn from Red Hook to Williamsburg, Red Hook residents say their lives depend on LICH; the neighborhood is designated a “Health Professional Shortage Area” by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
“Long Island College Hospital is vital to Brooklyn – especially for medically-underserved neighborhoods like Red Hook, where LICH is the closest primary and acute care facility,” Jill Furillo, RN and Executive Director of the New York State Nurses Association, said in a statement.
“Common sense needs to prevail. This hospital is direly needed in South Brooklyn, Downtown Brooklyn, and especially areas like Red Hook, where people are still recovering from and have yet to see the long-term health impacts of Hurricane Sandy,” said LICH nurse and NYSNA member Linda O’Neill.
“LICH remains open — and our fight continues. There’s no question: closing LICH makes no sense,” said state Senator Daniel Squadron. “Now DOH [Department of Health] can and must ensure that the needs of our community and all of Brooklyn are met.”
The SUNY board of trustees voted on March 19 to close LICH, a SUNY Downstate affiliate. SUNY said the move was necessary to save financially troubled SUNY Downstate in East Flatbush.
Downstate’s head, Dr. John Williams, said at that time, “We are losing money — $12 million a month between the two hospitals.”
LICH supporters say that Downstate means to sell LICH’s valuable brownstone real estate to keep itself afloat – regardless of the health consequences.
A restraining order issued by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes, however, bars the New York State Department of Health from shutting LICH down until a hearing on May 2.
The rally was sponsored by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the New York State Nurses Association. New York Communities for Change’s Political Director Amelia Adams emceed. Other community participants included the Red Hook Initiative, the Cobble Hill Association, Carroll Gardens Association, and the National Action Network.
Elected leaders came out to show their support, including State Assembly Members Joan Millman, James Brennan and Felix Ortiz, State Senators Eric Adams and Daniel Squadron, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, City Council Members Sara Gonzalez, Mathieu Eugene, Letitia James, Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, and former City Council Member Sal Albanese.