January 10th, 2014
Gov. Andrew Cuomo should raise the age at which juveniles are tried for crimes as adults, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and state Working Families Party Director Bill Lipton write in The Huffington Post: http://huff.to/1eF7VZf
December 11th, 2013
By Thomas Kaplan
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday embraced a package of proposals to reduce the effects of property, estate and business taxes, setting the stage for a battle over revenue collection that is expected to dominate the New York State legislative session that begins next month.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has said that cutting taxes will be his top priority next year — when he and all state lawmakers will be up for re-election — and his comments on Tuesday were an early preview of how he might seek to accomplish that.
But the contours of a debate also immediately emerged, with questions about the proposals from some of the governor’s allies. A leading business official who has championed Mr. Cuomo’s agenda questioned whether the new plan was fair to New York City taxpayers; labor unions said provisions unfairly favored the rich; and the powerful speaker of the State Assembly said the government’s priority should be providing money for public education.
Mr. Cuomo has tried to grapple with the state’s high tax burden several times since he took office in 2011; that year, he persuaded the Legislature to limit annual increases in property taxes, and then called lawmakers back to Albany to cut taxes for middle-class earners while creating a new tax bracket for high-income earners. Earlier this year, he won approval of a $350 family tax rebate; the first checks will be sent to homeowners shortly before the fall 2014 election.
Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday traveled to Old Westbury, in highly taxed Nassau County, to unveil and praise a set of tax-cutting recommendations from a commission led by former Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, and former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, a Democrat.
“People are still struggling,” Mr. Cuomo told reporters, “and to the extent we can cut taxes and help them and their households, that’s exactly what government should be doing.”
The most striking of the recommendations are two meant to mitigate the effect of high property taxes.
The commission suggested a so-called property tax circuit-breaker — a tax credit for households in which property taxes exceed a certain portion of family income. The proposal drew praise from liberals, who said it would provide help to households that needed it most, but drew criticism from business groups, which said it amounted to shifting the tax burden, not reducing it.
More unusual was a proposal for the state to create a program that would effectively wipe out any increases in local property taxes for two years for homeowners outside of New York City. The state would provide a tax rebate equal to the amount by which the individual homeowner’s tax bill increased.
Only homeowners in localities that stay under the state’s annual cap on property tax increases would be eligible for the rebate. The rebate would not apply to New York City homeowners, because the state’s property tax cap does not apply to the city.
The commission proposed raising the exemption from the state’s estate tax to $5.25 million, from $1 million, and lowering the estate tax rate. Several other proposals would reduce taxes paid by businesses; one would trim the corporate franchise tax, and another would change the way banks are taxed.
Many of the recommendations are controversial, and legislators, whose approval is needed for tax law changes, are divided. The panel said its recommendations would cost $2 billion annually, including $1 billion that would go to property tax relief for homeowners.
Mr. Cuomo’s aides said that by limiting spending in next year’s budget, the state would have a surplus that could be used for tax cuts.
State Senator Dean G. Skelos of Long Island, the leader of the Senate Republicans, who have advocated tax cuts, said, “The plan must go further.” Republicans control the Senate in coalition with a small group of breakaway Democrats.
But the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, suggested a reluctance to set tax-cutting as a priority, saying it was “important that we have the resources necessary to fund vital programs,” like public schools. And, hinting at concern about whether the tax package would be unfair to New York City residents, he said that any tax package “should be premised on a principle of fairness to all New Yorkers — city residents, suburbanites and rural residents alike.”
Kathryn S. Wylde, a past supporter of the governor’s agenda who is the president of the Partnership for New York City, a leading business group, also questioned whether the city would get its “fair share” under the proposals.
“New York City is the primary source of surplus state revenues,” Ms. Wylde said, “but New York City residents do not directly benefit from the commission’s proposed use of $1 billion of this surplus for property tax reductions for suburban and upstate New Yorkers.”
The commission’s estate tax recommendation, which would raise New York’s estate tax exemption to match the federal exemption, also immediately drew opposition, as well as praise.
Dean Norton, the president of the New York Farm Bureau, welcomed the proposal, which he said would serve to “preserve a lot of our farms in the future as we pass them on to the next generation.”
“It doesn’t take very long for a farmer on Long Island to get to the million dollars,” he said of the current threshold, “and then they have to sell off parcels in order to pay the estate tax.”
But labor unions and liberal advocacy groups were upset.
Ron Deutsch, the executive director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, a liberal advocacy group, said, “We can ill afford tax giveaways to the Wall Street banks and the wealthiest families in this state when so many are struggling.” He added, “So few have so much in our state — and so many have so little — that you can’t possibly justify these recommendations.”
Mario Cilento, the president of the New York State A.F.L.-C.I.O., described the commission as a “missed opportunity,” saying its recommendations were “out of touch” and favored corporations and wealthy individuals.
Mr. Cuomo appointed the Pataki-McCall commission in October. It was his second panel set up to review taxes in New York; the other, led by the investment banker Peter J. Solomon and Mr. McCall, was formed to recommend ways to simplify the state’s tax code and make it fairer.
The Solomon-McCall commission, which released its report last month, suggested modernizing the sales tax, in part by taxing digital products like e-books and Netflix subscriptions. The commission also questioned the effectiveness of multiple business tax incentives, including one for film and television production that Mr. Cuomo has promoted.
Click here for the Tax Relief Commission Final Report: Final Report
November 20th, 2013
Advocates for a progressive tax policy held a midday news conference at the Capitol to offer their own give-point plan ahead of the anticipated release of a report from the second of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax-reform advisory committees. The first released their recommendations last week; the second panel, chaired by former Comptroller Carl McCall and former Gov. George Pataki, is expected to make their suggestions on changes to the property tax structure next month.
On hand were Ron Deutsch of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, Frank Mauro of the Fiscal Policy Institute, Karen Scharff of Citizen Action and Mike Kink of the Strong Economy for All Coalition.
The advocates at the Tuesday event want to see higher income tax rates for those in the top brackets, reversing what they say is decades of tweaks to the system that have only served to widen the income inequality gap in the state; the closing of corporate loopholes to end a similar situation among businesses; greater accountability in the granting of state tax credits to aid development and job creation; and changes to the property tax system that would ease the burden on localities and alleviate the pressure on homeowners whose income can’t keep up with their tax bills.
Few of these suggestions are new, which begged the question (or at least it did for me) of what the groups were planning in the way of new strategies to press their case in 2014 — a year in which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers are not likely to be in a revenue-raising mood.
The answers, as you can see in the video below, were Bill de Blasio, grassroots campaign, and the premise of the question is flawed.
Courtesy Kyle Hughes of NYSNYS.com, here’s video of the Q&A: VIDEO
For the complete article, click here: TAX
November 19th, 2013
Ailing federal website may have initially hurt state exchange program, officials say
By Claire Hughes
Confusion over the malfunctioning federal Obamacare website likely hurt early enrollment on the state-run online health insurance markets, according to representatives from four of the state health exchanges, including New York’s.
With a barrage of media reports about the troubled federal site, HealthCare.gov, many consumers don’t realize health exchanges in states that launched their own websites are functioning better, state officials said Monday during a teleconference hosted by Families USA, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocate. Thirty-six states that didn’t establish their own online markets are relying on the federal website, which has suffered from ongoing technical problems.
The four states represented on the teleconference — New York, Connecticut, California and Oregon — were touted as places where the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has had a smoother rollout.
In New York, as of Nov. 12, 48,162 have enrolled in health insurance plans through NY State of Health — 24,509 of them in private insurance plans, and the rest in Medicaid. The state estimates that 1.1 million individuals and small business employees will enroll in health insurance through NY State of Health over 39 months, and another 513,000 will enroll in Medicaid.
In the private market, that would break down to 28,000 enrollees a month, about 3,500 more than enrolled in the first six weeks after the program’s launch. But state officials expected a slightly slower enrollment at the beginning, said Danielle Holihan, deputy director of NY State of Health.
The state plans a marketing push, including a new radio campaign, in anticipation of the Dec. 15 deadline for people to enroll in plans with coverage beginning Jan. 1.
New York officials have not made a decision about how to handle the estimated 100,000 insurance plans that were canceled because they did not cover all the benefits mandated under the new law, Holihan said. After public outcry over the cancellations, President Barack Obama announced last week that the plans could be issued for another year. But state regulators must also weigh in.
Of the four states represented on the call, only the Connecticut official would break down the enrollment numbers by age. About 23 percent of Connecticut’s 14,000 enrollees are younger than 35, said Kevin Counihan, chief executive officer of Access Health CT.
Young, healthy enrollees are considered critical to the success of Obamacare, which seeks to expand health care access to all Americans. Insurance plans will not be able to cover the costs of enrollees if only older, sicker people sign up.
November 5th, 2013
Report from Northeast Business Group on Health highlights problems employers face in finding solutions and identifies program elements necessary for future success
NEW YORK, November 4, 2013 – Cost and prevalence make obesity one of the top health challenges for employers and they need help figuring out how to implement programs that work, says a report released today by Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH). The report, “Weight Control and the Workplace,” cites as key findings the need for individually-customized instead of generic programs, and the importance of including employees in designing and rolling out such programs. Findings are based on a collaborative examination of obesity’s toll on the workplace by 15 executives from large employers and health plans, facilitated by NEBGH.
“Overweight employees cost employers more than $73 billion each year and put themselves at risk for diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other chronic illnesses,” said Laurel Pickering, President and CEO of NEBGH, an independent coalition of large national employers and other organizations working to improve healthcare value and reduce cost. “Employers, health plans and healthcare providers need to come up with coordinated, compelling approaches that engage employees in managing their weight in order to stem skyrocketing healthcare costs and improve public health.”
A majority of employers identified “employees’ poor health habits” as one of their top three challenges to maintaining affordable health coverage, and are trying strategies ranging from offering healthier cafeteria options and on-site exercise programs to comprehensive wellness programs. But they are running into trouble when it comes to dealing with obesity and weight management.
“One of the challenges employers face in engaging people in weight control efforts is the stigma attached to being overweight or obese,” said Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, Executive Director of the Solutions Center, NEBGH’s platform for researching approaches to healthcare issues of critical importance to employers. “Official recognition of obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association could increase physician engagement in identifying overweight and obese individuals for intervention, as well as help reduce the stigma and pave the way for increased participation in employer-sponsored efforts.”
The NEBGH report details current behavioral, pharmacological, surgical and provider-focused weight control intervention strategies, and identifies models that have demonstrated effectiveness as well as issues employers face in implementing various initiatives.
The report also highlights what roundtable participants identified as key elements of a successful weight control program:
Financial support for the NEBGH report and its related activities was provided by Vivus, Inc.
Copies of the report, “Weight Control and the Workplace” can be downloaded at http://www.nebgh.org/resources/NEBGH_SC_WeightControlFINAL10%2031%2013.pdf
For more information, contact Laurel Pickering at 212-252-7440 x224 or email at laurel@NEBGH.org
October 29th, 2013
Getting It Shipshape Again
Restoring the River Café and the Water Club
by Gina Bellafante, NY Times
Last year on the evening of Oct. 29, Michael O’Keeffe — Buzzy to virtually everyone who knows him on two continents — had devised a plan for how he would proceed. High tide was scheduled to arrive at Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn, the site of one of Mr. O’Keeffe’s businesses, the River Café, around 9 p.m. He would stabilize the barge that housed the restaurant, deal with whatever potential repercussions he could, and then get in his car and travel up Third Avenue to 30th Street in Manhattan, where another one of his enterprises, the Water Club, also sat on the East River’s edge. High tide was set to arrive there at 9:56 p.m.
Read the entire story: RiverCafe
October 15th, 2013
By Maia Davis
The UFT Delegate Assembly on Oct. 9 overwhelmingly approved a pair of resolutions calling for an end to New York City’s overemphasis on testing and a moratorium on attaching high-stakes consequences to the state’s new Common Core tests.
The resolution on the moratorium says that the state should continue administering the new Common Core tests each spring. But it calls for a delay in using the test results to make high-stakes decisions about students, teachers or schools.
UFT Assistant Secretary LeRoy Barr, in introducing the resolution, noted that the UFT supports the Common Core Learning Standards but that its implementation in New York City has been rife with problems.
“We are asking for a moratorium, a pause, to get this right,” Barr said. “Our children deserve better, and we must demand that they have it.”
Delegate Michele Ferraro from PS 204 in Brooklyn said she favors the resolution as a means to give teachers and schools time to make the transition to the new standards.
“I’m in a school with fabulous, wonderful teachers,” said Ferraro. “But if I’m in a great place and things are this chaotic and confusing [in the transition to the Common Core], then I can just imagine what it is like in a school that is not such a great place.”
Mulgrew said that the continuing and severe delays in getting curriculum materials to schools and the unevenness in how well-prepared schools are for the new standards is ultimately unfair to not only teachers but also their students.
“You can’t tell me kids are getting the same level of education when this teacher received all the materials and this teacher did not,” Mulgrew said. “We cannot move forward with making decisions based on these tests until we have assurance that all teachers have the resources they need.”
Mulgrew said the UFT is not against the tests, but how the DOE is using them. “It’s not just about our members,” he said. “It’s about the kids.”
While Some Improvement Crept in during 2012, NYC’s Family Incomes and Poverty Status are Still Much Worse than before the Recession
October 15th, 2013
The latest data from the Census Bureau for 2012 show that while NYC median family incomes and poverty stabilized last year, we are still a very long way from undoing the deterioration caused by the 2008-09 recession. Most NYC families have been battered by the recession and the historically weak recovery. Adjusted for inflation, median family incomes dipped slightly in 2012 (but not significantly) and are $3,800 or 6.5% below the 2008 level. Nationally, inflation-adjusted median family incomes dropped by $5,000 or 7.5% from 2008 to 2012.
This income erosion among NYC residents results partly from a 2.8% drop in real median wage earnings, which fell by $1,000 from $35,000 in 2008 to $34,000 in 2012. This drop, in turn, stems from a disproportionate increase in part-time employment. Median wage earnings for both men and women working full-time, year-round, have risen by about 3% in inflation-adjusted terms over the past four years. On the other hand, the percent of the working age population that is employed was 56.8% in 2012, considerably below the 58.7% from 2008.
NYC’s poverty rate climbed from 18.2% in 2008 to 21.2% in 2012, an increase of 3.0 percentage points, more than for the nation as a whole. The U.S. poverty rate went from 13.2% to 15.9% over this period. Although there was a slight uptick in NYC’s poverty rate in 2012 compared to 2011, it was not a statistically significant change.
The poverty rate among New York City’s children has risen faster than the overall increase. In 2008, 26.5% of the city’s children were growing up in poverty households. By 2012, that number had risen to 31.4%.
The number of city residents living in “deep poverty,” considered to be half the official poverty threshold, increased from 2008 to 2012 even faster than the city’s overall poverty increase.
Since the start of the recession, 243,000 more city residents have fallen into poverty, bringing the total to 1.7 million out of a population of 8.2 million. For 2012, the federal poverty threshold for a 3-person family was $18,284.
In 2012, 410,000 workers, or one out of every 10, were paid wages that kept them in poverty. These 410,000 constitute the “working poor”, i.e., those who work either part-time or full-time but whose earnings are too low to lift their family incomes above the poverty line.
Reflecting the widespread hardships induced by the recession and slow recovery, the share of the city’s population receiving food stamps jumped from 14.9% in 2008 to 21% in 2012.
The city desperately needs the sort of recovery that shares the fruits of economic growth with all workers, rather than continuing to be heavily concentrated in the hands of a small elite. According to the latest Census Bureau data for 2012, there has been no significant lessening of New York City’s extreme inequality since 2007.
Taking sides in state casino debate: Business and labor interests team up with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on gaming amendment.
October 7th, 2013
By Chris Bragg
With a month to go before New York voters decide whether to legalize up to seven full-scale casinos statewide, a once-quiet battle has finally been joined. It pits deep-pocketed businesses against a lawyer who has taken the fight to the courts.
Business and labor interests (including hotel-worker unions) have lined up with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to push the amendment, which would initially situate four casinos in upstate New York, a key part of the governor’s plan to create jobs there. Three more could be built after seven years, and casino insiders are betting that one will be in New York City.
A coalition spearheaded by the Business Council of New York State has launched a political action committee called New York Jobs Now that can spend unlimited funds to promote the initiative. A poll conducted by the group showed that 51% of voters support the amendment as written, while 35% oppose it.
Jeffrey Gural, owner of Vernon Downs racino in central New York and Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier, has separately created super PACs to spend money in support of the measure. He hopes for a full-scale casino at Tioga Downs. And Nevele Investors, a group that wants to build a full-scale casino in Ulster County, is putting at least $100,000 toward passage of the amendment.
Some proponents have even floated the notion of spending up to $20 million in support of the measure, but that may not be necessary because little resistance has emerged. Opposition from Native American gambling interests has largely been neutralized by noncompete agreements struck earlier this year, and casinos from nearby states don’t seem particularly concerned. One logical opponent, Foxwoods in Connecticut, is eyeing a New York casino.
Last week, Brooklyn attorney Eric Snyder stepped into the breach. He filed a lawsuit to stop the state from holding the Nov. 5 vote. Mr. Snyder, who says he is working independently of any interests, has taken up the cause of good-government groups and other opponents, such as the socially conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. He argues that the amendment’s rosy language is unlawfully biased.
A recent Siena poll found that support for the amendment was far higher when voters were read that language, which says the measure is for the “purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes.” More -neutral-sounding language proposed by the state attorney general’s office was changed by the state Board of Elections after consultation with Mr. Cuomo’s office.
A hearing will be held Oct. 11 in Albany.
October 4th, 2013
By Tom Precious
ALBANY – A new pro-casino group is asking business, labor and casino interests to help raise as much as $5 million to fund a campaign to persuade voters to approve up to seven new casinos in next month’s statewide referendum, individuals close to the group say.
Word of the infusion of cash to campaign for the casino expansion comes as the head of the state AFL-CIO told The Buffalo News on Thursday that the 2 million-member union is planning a full-scale effort leading up to Election Day to get the constitutional amendment proposal approved.
Mario Cilento, president of the umbrella union organization of hundreds of local unions across the state, said the union will unleash a politically potent get-out-the-vote effort that will include phone-banking operations, workplace fliers, mailings and volunteers at poll sites for the Nov. 5 vote.
“What we bring as a statewide labor organization is get-out-the-vote efforts,” Cilento said, adding that unions are supportive of a casino plan he says will create 17,000 temporary construction jobs and 7,000 permanent jobs.
On Tuesday, Cilento’s name surfaced as one of the members of a new group, NY Jobs Now, formed to campaign for the casino plan. The group is being ostensibly run out of the Albany offices of the Business Council of New York State. Three weeks ago, a political action committee by the same name, NY Jobs Now, filed an organizational statement with the state Elections Board.
The board’s key members, a gathering of union and business interests, are all allies of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is author of the casino expansion plan.
The group has been mum about its specific plans, but individuals close to the organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said its publicly named members have been asked to contribute $2 million to $2.5 million to help fund an advertising campaign and get-out-the-vote efforts leading up to the referendum. Casino developers, including those based from New York to Las Vegas to Malaysia, have been asked to donate at least another $2 million to the group, according to sources.
It isn’t known how much the various casino companies might spend on their own efforts; that information will not be made public until well after the vote. Last month, in a private meeting of casino developers, executives talked of as much as $20 million possibly being needed if private polling suggested the casino plan was in trouble. But individuals involved in the talks said few expected it would end up costing anywhere near that level to run a pro-casino campaign.
In the past 30 days, at least five new political action committees have been created to help push the measure, according to reports filed with the state Elections Board. None has disclosed any spending yet to the elections agency. The groups include the NY Jobs Now group, as well as casino interests hoping to develop gambling facilities from the Catskills to the Southern Tier near Binghamton.
Anti-casino groups, meanwhile, say they expect to spend little trying to defeat the proposal. If the measure fails, the Cuomo administration said it will still move ahead to let casino operators open four facilities featuring just video lottery terminals, which are devices that look, sound and play like slot machines.
The industry push comes as the Cuomo administration has been slowly rolling out a campaign for the governor’s casino plan. The administration Wednesday released its estimates for how $430 million in annual casino revenues would be spread around the state for school and local government funding.
Depending on how pollsters ask the question, recent polls have shown the referendum’s chances as being close or with a healthy lead.
The new group’s members also include Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown; the mayor was not immediately available for comment Thursday. Buffalo, and all of Western New York, is prohibited from any new casino development if the referendum passes, because of the deal Cuomo struck earlier this year with the Seneca Nation of Indians to preserve the tribe’s existing gambling exclusivity rights in the region.