Last week was a critical week, as the final budget for the 2019–2020 fiscal year was passed. This week’s Albany Update will focus on the details of the final budget, in an effort to make the overwhelming budget process more transparent and the contents more accessible. This doesn’t include all of the budget items, but gets to many of the highlights of each of the 9 budget bills we voted on.

You can always email me directly at gounardes@nysenate.gov if you have any other questions, ideas, or want more information about what’s happening in Albany or the district.

Some Thoughts on the State Budget

Now that we’ve finished passing the state budget, I’ve had some time to process and collect my thoughts on the experience. I’ll be writing up a longer essay and sharing it at a later point, but this is the TL:DR version of my thoughts:

First, I’M PROUD of the work that went into this budget. Under the leadership of Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins, the State Senate produced a budget with a host of significant achievements: (1) $1+ billion increase in education funding; (2) dedicated revenue streams for the MTA to pay for $25 billion in upgrades combined with far-reaching accountability reforms; (3) funding early voting so that long lines no longer keep people away from the polls; (4) codifying the Affordable Care Act and the New York Health Exchange into law; (5) dedicating $100 million to fighting opioid addiction; (6) criminal justice reform by ending cash bail for nonviolent offenses, reforming our discovery laws, and protecting the constitutional right to a speedy trial; and much, much more.

BUT, this budget process was eye-opening in many ways. Unlike Congress, the Legislature IS NOT a co-equal branch of government as it relates to the budget. The State Constitution allows the Governor to control the budget process. Thanks to a 2004 Court of Appeals ruling, Silver v. Pataki, this power has grown inordinately. As a result, the Legislature is limited in how much it can change the terms of the Governor’s budget. This has really profound consequences, and is the source of some frustration for those of us who went to Albany hoping to change the system for the better:

FOR EXAMPLE, I’m frustrated that we could not pass a pied-a-terre tax so that people who buy $100 million homes pay their fair share.

FOR EXAMPLE, I’m frustrated that despite a significant increase in education funding ($1+ billion!), we could not fully fund the state’s obligation under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

FOR EXAMPLE, I’m frustrated that despite everyone saying they supported public financing of campaigns to help end the era of big pocket donors trying to control the state, we instead voted to create a commission to further study and evaluate the issue.

FOR EXAMPLE, I’m frustrated that despite the well-documented issues of under-investing in CUNY and the people who teach there, we could not fund an increase in CUNY assistance.

FOR EXAMPLE, I’m frustrated that despite passing a property tax cap for the rest of the state, NYC homeowners still don’t have the property tax relief that they deserve.

So where do we go from here? I’m proud of the hard work that went into this budget, but I also know we have a lot more work to do. We went to Albany to change the status quo, and even if we didn’t do it all in one shot, we took notes, wisened up, and are ready to continue pushing forward starting now.

State Budget

Here are some of the highlights of each budget bill we passed last week:

Transportation, Economic Development, and Environmental Conservation (S 1508-C)

— bans the use of single-use plastic bags and allows local counties to charge up to 5 cents for the use of paper bags, as long as 60% of the fee is for environmental purposes (with exceptions, like wrapped deli meat, restaurant takeout bags and plastic garbage bags)

— allows the Department of Financial Services to license and regulate student loan servicers

— extends the binding arbitration authority by the Public Employment Relations Board for disputes between the MTA and labor unions

— extends the authorization for red light camera traffic enforcement programs up through 2024 in Albany, Mount Vernon, Nassau County, New Rochelle, New York City, White Plains, Suffolk County, and Yonkers

Public Protection and General Government (S1505-C)

— protects the privacy of public sector union workers by prohibiting disclosure of personal contact information

— extends the service-disability veteran owned business development program to 2024

— expands applicability of the state’s rape shield law to cases of sex trafficking

— rejects the increase in the biennial registration fee for attorneys

— requires mortgage lenders to issue a 90-day pre-settlement notice before foreclosing on a home mortgage

Education, Labor, and Family Assistance (S1506-C)

— authorizes $27 million to fund the Jose Peralta NYS DREAM Act

— establishes an arts capital grants fund

— authorizes compliance with Child Care Development Block Grant health and safety requirements

— repeals the requirement that domestic violence victims must apply for public assistance as a condition of being placed in a DV shelter

— enacts the “Lawful Source of Income Non-Discrimination Act” which makes housing discrimination against someone based on their legal income illegal

— prohibits current and former public employees from seeking to retroactively claw back their agency fees paid to their union before the Janus decision

Health and Mental Hygiene (S1507-C)

— restores the Governor’s proposed $550 million healthcare cuts

— restores the Governor’s proposed $122 million nursing care cuts and ensures that all nursing facilities are paid fairly and appropriately for all in their care

— increases state funding caps for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) to $300,000

— codifies the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on pre-existing conditions exclusions and the state’s health insurance marketplace

— mandates large group insurance policies to cover in-vitro fertilization

— lowers the criteria for “elevated lead levels” from 10 micrograms per deciliter to 5mcg

— authorizes spending at least $100 million on opioid addiction treatment

— prohibits insurance companies from requiring prior authorization for in-patient substance abuse treatment for at least 28 days

— modifies the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program to update the fiscal intermediary process while ensuring that no consumer experiences any interruption of service

— grants a cost of living adjustment pay increase to direct care workers and clinical staff for employees in the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health, and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services

— requires the Department of Health to study appropriate staffing ratios of nurses in hospitals and nursing homes

Revenue (S1509-C) (this bill has almost all of the “big ticket” budget items you’ve been reading about in the papers)

— extend the millionaire’s tax through 2024; which applies only to people earning more than $1.077 million annually, which is less than 1% of the state’s population

— imposes an excise tax on opioid manufacturers, the revenues of which are dedicated to fighting opioid addiction

— imposes an excise tax on the retail sale of vaping products, to deter people from using vaping products

— significantly ends the era of cash bail in NY; bail is effectively abolished for all misdemeanors & non-violent felonies, & for violent felonies, bail is still permitted but judges must consider a defendant’s ability to pay; this will result in no cash bail for 80–85% of cases

— enacts speedy trial reform by requiring courts to conduct inquiries into the reasons of delay caused by the prosecution

— reforms the discovery process in criminal proceedings by requiring prosecutors to disclose evidence like witness information within 15 days of arraignment, and requires prosecutors to disclose information prior to a defendant’s plea; if any information is withheld, the court can exclude it from evidence

— extends the authority of the Mayor to oversee the NYC Department of Education for three years, and includes reforms to increase parent engagement and strengthen the roles of Community Education Councils

— creates a framework to fund the MTA’s capital program and alleviate street congestion in the central business district of Manhattan through a tolling system, with the following general framework guidelines:

— — — a study on MTA agency consolidation

— — — an independent forensic audit of the MTA to be completed by January 2020 which will be publicly available

— — — MTA procurement reform and allowing the MTA to debar any contractor who exceeds 10% of the project cost

— — — require the MTA to provide weekly updates on travel times, elevator/escalator service operations, and other performance metrics

— — — require the publication of a 20-year capital needs assessment in addition to the 5–year capital projects plan

— creates two additional revenue streams for the MTA lockbox which will raise ~$500-$600 million per year, equaling ~ $7 billion in capital upgrades: (1) a mansion real estate transfer tax for homes sold for more than $2 million; (2) internet sales tax collected within NYC

— creates a commission to study & enact a plan for publicly financed elections for state & legislative offices, with a report due no later than 12/1/19, including the rate of public match, program eligibility, limits on how funds may be used, enforcement over the program, and more

State Operations Budget (S1500-D)

— $494.3 million for the Office of Children and Family Services

— $2.8 billion for CUNY, including restoring $4.68 million for the SEEK program

— $610.9 million for the State Department of Education

— $459.7 million for the Department of Environmental Conservation

— $81.6 million for the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services

— $180.2 million for the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, including $5.5 million for the Tenant Protection Unit, an increase of $1 million from last year

— $595.7 million for the State Department of Labor

— $2.24 billion for the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities

— $9.7 billion for SUNY, including restoring $6 million for Educational Opportunity Centers

— $8.7 million for the Division of Veterans’ Affairs

Aid to Localities Budget Bill (S1503-D) (This bill funds local programs across the state)

— $257.7 million to help support local senior services across the state

— $49.5 million to help support local agricultural programs and initiatives across the state

— $574 million to help support local substance abuse services across the state

— $3.2 billion to help support local family and children services across the state

— $1.6 billion for CUNY, including restoring $2.5 million for the ASAP program

— $191.4 million to help support local criminal justice services across the state, including $4.3 million for legal service assistance

— $89.6 million to support local economic development services, including $800,000 for the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce

— $36.35 billion for public education, an increase of $1 billion from last year, including a $618 million increase in Foundation Aid over last year’s allocation. For NYC schools, this means a total increase of $373 million, a 3.4% increase from last year

— $10 million for the Board of Elections to help implement early voting across the state

— $43.6 billion for public health services across the state

— $104.8 million to support local housing services through the Department of Housing and Community Renewal

— $1.58 billion to support mental initiatives, including a full restoration and expansion of the Dwyer program to prevent veteran suicides

— $2.48 billion to support services for people with developmental disabilities, including an allocation of $150,000 for the Special Olympics

— $969.9 million for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for operational expenses

— $10.9 million to support local veterans services

Capital Projects Budget Bill (S-1504-D)

— $389 million for CUNY capital projects

— $14.7 million for e-poll books

— $1.48 billion for MTA capital projects

— $926 million for SUNY capital projects

Legislature and Judiciary Budget Bill (S7501-A)

— appropriates $2.3 billion to fund the judiciary branch

— appropriates $215 million to fund the legislative branch

Thanks for reading! As always, you can email me directly at gounardes@nysenate.gov or call my office at 718–238–6044.

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NYS Senator, District 22.

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Senator Andrew Gounardes

Senator Andrew Gounardes

NYS Senator, District 22.

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