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Assemblyman
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
Assembly District 71
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Chair, Ways and Means Committee
…and this month in Albany
February 24, 2015

Assemblyman Farrell Reports to Community Board 12

Joint Legislative Budget Hearings Continue in Albany

Tomorrow morning, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee will convene a Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Local Government components of Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016. As you may know, this hearing is the tenth of 13 hearings required by the State Constitution as part of the budget process.

In most years, the Mayor of New York is granted the honor of being the first to testify during these hearings. This year, however, because of severe weather Mayor de Blasio rightfully made the decision to remain in New York City to deal with the storm rather than travel to Albany to appear before our Committees. Therefore, this hearing was rescheduled for Wednesday, February 25. Hearings on Public Protection, Mental Hygiene and Workforce Development will be held later this week, rounding out the cycle of hearings. Details of earlier hearings are below.

Assembly and Senate Leaders Preparing Revenue Forecast

Another key component of our budget for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 is expected to be completed Thursday, when I and other legislative leaders and representatives of the Governor's Division of Budget are scheduled to meet in the State Capitol to come to agreement on a revenue forecast for the coming year. As you may know, deciding on how much we will be able to spend in order to balance the budget is a key part of finishing the overall spending plan. With a three-way agreement on revenue in hand, we should be able to move forward and settle other budget details. By law, we are required to pass a budget before the fiscal year begins April 1.

SUNY Chancellor: New Funding for New Growth Initiatives

SUNY Chancellor Nancy M. Zimpher testified February 10 that the Executive Budget includes $55 million in new capital funds to pay for projects that spur economic growth while strengthening academic programs; includes capital funding for 60 projects at 30 Community Colleges; maintains student aid at 2014-2015 levels; and funds completion of the School of Pharmacy at Binghamton.

However, declining base aid funding at most SUNY schools led college officials to ask the Legislature for an additional $250 per student in State aid; to triple maintenance funding for SUNY buildings to $600 million annually until 2020; add funding to support Community Colleges whose host communities cannot offer extra financial support; more funding for campus safety officers; and more aid for SUNY's struggling teaching hospitals, Zimpher testified.

SUNY's Goal: Graduating 150,000 New Yorkers Every Year

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SUNY Chancellor Zimpher testifies in Albany February 10.

Additional funding would allow SUNY to reach its' goal of graduating 150,000 students each year, an increase from the current 93,000 annual graduates, Zimpher said. She closed her remarks with statistics showing the challenges facing New York students and educators: Of every 100 ninth-graders in the State, only 73 will graduate from high school. Of those 73 graduates, 51 will go directly to college, but only 37 will return for their sophomore year. And of those 37 who do return, only 23 will complete their degree on time or close to on-time.

CUNY Enrollment Over 500,000, an All-Time High

CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken testified that the City University system now offers 2,100 degree-granting programs; 70 at the doctoral level, 660 at the master's level, 700 at the baccalaureate level, 260 associate degrees and nearly 400 graduate and undergraduate certificate courses. In these courses, CUNY's student body of 274,000 is enrolled, an all-time high, Milliken testified, adding that CUNY serves an additional 260,000 adult and continuing students. Nearly 60 percent of New York City high school graduates who enrolled in college did so at CUNY, he said, and the vast majority of graduates remain in New York City. This year, 48,000 graduated.

According to Milliken, while the Governor's budget plan provides a relatively stable budget he outlined several areas of possible improvement, first naming an increase to the proposed zero-increase in State aid per student. Milliken said this is currently $2,497 per full-time student, less than the $2,675 the State provided per full-time student in Fiscal Year 2009. The Executive Budget also reduces child care funding at CUNY facilities by $544,000, Milliken said, noting that twenty percent of CUNY's community college undergraduates support children.

Black Male Institute Encourages Student Retention

On a more positive note, Milliken pointed to the Black Male Initiative, which was instituted by CUNY based on a model established by Medgar Evers College to address education, retention, graduation and the underrepresentation of young men of color in higher education. In the decade since its' founding, Milliken said, this program has amassed an impressive record of mentoring, outreach, placement and other activities that are intended to maximize success among these men.

NYSUT Criticizes Executive Budget

New York State United Teachers Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta roundly criticized the Executive Budget. He said students are paying an ever-greater share of higher education costs while the State has paid a smaller share since the financial crisis of 2007-2008. This year, the State has a $5.4 billion surplus to draw upon in order to reverse that trend, Pallotta said.

However, Pallotta said, the Executive Budget has threatened to move in the opposite direction, including a provision that would withhold 10 percent of State aid if SUNY and CUNY colleges do not submit and obtain State approval of a performance-enhancement plan by December 31.

State Housing Plans Detailed During Legislative Budget Hearing

Settlement funds paid to the State by Wall Street bank JP Morgan Chase will be used to fund the Neighborhood Preservation Companies program, which was started by Assemblyman Farrell years ago, Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner Darryl C. Towns testified February 5.

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Commissioner Towns and DHCR Executive Director Ted Houghton testify in Albany.

Commissioner Towns began with a review of the work his agency has accomplished to create and preserve housing Statewide during 2014. During the last year, DHCR set an agency record by financing the creation or preservation of 9,363 units of affordable housing including homeownership opportunities for over 1,000 New York families.

Loans and capital from DHCR leveraged private investment to create more than $6 billion in economic activity and many construction jobs, the Commissioner said, and the agency continues to oversee and enforce the rent laws that cover about 900,000 rent stabilized units. Since 2012, DHCR brought more than 37,000 units back into the rent regulation system and recovered more than $1 million on behalf of tenants who were wrongly overcharged rent, he said.

With the 2015-2016 budget, DHCR seeks to build on those accomplishments, Commissioner Towns testified.

The budget provides $486 million to expand affordable and supportive housing and enhance community development programs throughout the State, he said. Of the $439.5 million from the JP Morgan Chase settlement, $257 million is programmed for affordable housing and community development, Commissioner Towns said. Also programmed are $20 million for DHCR's "Access to Home" program to benefit veterans, an additional $20 million investment in the Rural and Neighborhood Preservation Companies, plus efforts to modernize the New York City Housing Authority and the Office of Rent Administration.

MTA Chair: Increased State Investment Needed to Build Capacity

Thomas F. Prendergast, Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, began his January 29 testimony on Transportation components of the budget by noting a $141 million State aid increase in the Executive Budget and reviewed MTA's efforts to downsize its' office space and convert unneeded space to cash in order to boost the Authority's bottom line. These savings, along with other cost-cutting moves, have improved MTA operations, Prendergast said.

Ridership continues to break records, Prendergast said - prior to October 2013 MTA had never recorded six million daily subway riders, but in 2014 that figure was exceeded five times in September, seven times in October and nine times in December. More than 83 million trips are taken on Metro-North each year, Prendergast testified, and the trend toward heavy ridership shows no signs of abating in the foreseeable future. Recent studies have shown that the MTA's service area is expected to serve an additional two million people by 2040.

This means MTA resources are stretched almost to their limits, he said; a minor delay on one train at rush hour can create a ripple effect that touches the rest of the system leading to overcrowded platforms and ever-increasing delays for every train that follows. Funding to expand MTA's system will be crucial, Prendergast said, noting that a Capital Program was recently rejected because it did not adequately account for funding that will be required to meet this growing demand. Prendergast closed his testimony with a note of appreciation for the Legislature's longstanding support for MTA operations in the past, and best wishes for a positive outcome for the MTA's Capital Program for 2015 and future years.

Farina: Strong Enrollment in NYC's Pre-Kindergarten Program

Carmen Farina, Chancellor of New York City's Department of Education, began her February 3 testimony on Elementary and Secondary Education components of the budget by thanking the Legislature for including $300 million in the current year's budget to pay for the new Pre-K program in the City in which 53,000 students are currently enrolled. This strong enrollment has the City well-positioned to meet this year's goal of offering universal Pre-K, Farina said.

Her testimony also included the results of enhanced programming for 90,000 middle school students, ongoing efforts to support 45 new community schools and support for continued mayoral control of City schools which she believes will continue to improve public education in New York City. Testifying later, representatives of the United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers took a hard line against proposed education reforms and other components of the Executive Budget. The union leaders recommended against making the 2 percent property tax cap permanent while poorer school districts struggle to muster the financial resources to provide for every student. Similar criticisms were echoed by dozens of other education advocates, whose lengthy testimony brought the hearing to a close after nine hours.


Yours truly,
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.



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February 12, 2015
Legislators Consider Budget Testimony, Discuss Stronger Rent Laws

In the coming weeks, my colleagues in the Legislature and I will take a brief break from the ongoing Joint Legislative Budget Hearings (which are required as part of the budget process by the State Constitution, and which I co-chair as Chair of the Ways and Means Committee). During the interim, my colleagues and I will discuss the testimony we have heard from advocates and other members of the public. Budget hearings, which you have read about on this page for the last month, resume February 25. By law, we are required to pass a budget by April 1.

During the interim, we will also discuss critical issues which we must deal with later in the Legislative Session, including renewal and strengthening of the Rent Laws. As you may know, the Rent Laws protect nearly 1,000,000 New York City families, but these laws will "sunset" (Albany-speak for "expire") in June 2015.

Over the years, my colleagues in the Assembly's Majority Conference including Speaker Heastie have fought to make sure that tenants are, and continue to be, protected from bad landlords who will use any loophole in the law to damage tenants' rights. With the rent laws set to expire in June, my colleagues and I plan to fight harder than ever in order to assure that New York City tenants are protected to the greatest degree possible.

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February 10, 2015
SUNY and CUNY Plans Discussed During Legislative Budget Hearing
Hearing Was Ninth of Thirteen Required by State Constitution

Leaders of the State University and City Universities of New York joined higher-education officials from around the State and representatives of a teachers' union to deliver testimony before the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees during a February 10 public hearing on higher education components of the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016.

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SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall, who observed budget testimony, and Assemblyman Farrell discuss higher education funding in the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016.

SUNY Chancellor: New Funding for New Growth Initiatives

SUNY Chancellor Nancy M. Zimpher testified that the Executive Budget includes $55 million in new capital funds to pay for projects that spur economic growth while strengthening academic programs; includes capital funding for 60 projects at 30 Community Colleges; maintains student aid at 2014-2015 levels; and funds completion of the School of Pharmacy at Binghamton.

However, declining base aid funding at most SUNY schools led college officials to ask the Legislature for an additional $250 per student in State aid; to triple maintenance funding for SUNY buildings to $600 million annually until 2020; add funding to support Community Colleges whose host communities cannot offer extra financial support; more funding for campus safety officers; and more aid for SUNY's struggling teaching hospitals, Zimpher testified.

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SUNY Chancellor Zimpher asks the Legislature for additional State funding.

SUNY's Goal: Graduating 150,000 New Yorkers Every Year

Additional funding would allow SUNY to reach its' goal of graduating 150,000 students each year, an increase from the current 93,000 annual graduates, Zimpher said. She closed her remarks with statistics showing the challenges facing New York students and educators: Of every 100 ninth-graders in the State, only 73 will graduate from high school. Of those 73 graduates, 51 will go directly to college, but only 37 will return for their sophomore year. And of those 37 who do return, only 23 will complete their degree on time or close to on-time.

CUNY Enrollment Over 500,000, an All-Time High

CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken followed, testifying that the City University system now offers 2,100 degree-granting programs; 70 at the doctoral level, 660 at the master's level, 700 at the baccalaureate level, 260 associate degrees and nearly 400 graduate and undergraduate certificate courses.

In these courses, CUNY's student body of 274,000 is enrolled, an all-time high, Milliken testified, adding that CUNY serves an additional 260,000 adult and continuing students. Nearly 60 percent of New York City high school graduates who enrolled in college did so at CUNY, he said, and the vast majority of graduates remain in New York City. This year, 48,000 graduated.

According to Milliken, while the Governor's budget plan provides a relatively stable budget he outlined several areas of possible improvement, first naming an increase to the proposed zero-increase in State aid per student. Milliken said this is currently $2,497 per full-time student, less than the $2,675 the State provided per full-time student in Fiscal Year 2009.

The Executive Budget also reduces child care funding at CUNY facilities by $544,000, Milliken said, noting that twenty percent of CUNY's community college undergraduates support children.

Black Male Institute Encourages Student retention

On a more positive note, he pointed to the Black Male Initiative, which was instituted by CUNY based on a model established by Medgar Evers College to address education, retention, graduation and the underrepresentation of young men of color in higher education. In the decade since its' founding, Milliken said, this program has amassed an impressive record of mentoring, outreach, placement and other activities that are intended to maximize success among these men.

NYSUT Criticizes Executive Budget

New York State United Teachers Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta roundly criticized the Executive Budget. According to Pallotta, students are paying an ever-greater share of higher education costs while the State has paid a smaller share since the financial crisis of 2007-2008 decimated State revenues. This year, the State has a $5.4 billion surplus to draw upon in order to reverse that trend, Pallotta said.

However, Pallotta said, the Executive Budget has threatened to move in the opposite direction, including a provision that would withhold 10 percent of State aid if SUNY and CUNY colleges do not submit and obtain State approval of a performance-enhancement plan by December 31.



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February 9, 2015
Governor's Tax Reform Proposals Discussed During Budget Hearing
Taxes Hearing was Seventh of Thirteen Legally-Required Hearings

Tax proposals in the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 were discussed during a February 9 Joint Legislative Budget Hearing, which was the seventh of 13 Constitutionally-required hearings before the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees.

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Taxation and Finance Executive Deputy Commissioner Nonie Manion testifies in Albany..

Tax Reforms Seek a More Affordable New York State

Nonie Manion, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Taxation and Finance, was the first to testify. Beginning her testimony with a review of changes to tax policy that have been effected during recent years, Manion said that the 2 percent real property tax cap that is now in place has made New York State a more affordable place to live after past growth in tax rates that were an average of 5.3 percent and as much as 7.7 percent year to year.

Taxation and Finance is finalizing the distribution of $200 million in tax credits to 2.5 million homeowners, and the Executive Budget recommends another $1.7 billion in tax relief to New Yorkers through the creation of a new Real Property Tax Credit, she said, adding that 1.3 million taxpayers will see an average benefit of $950 when the program is fully phased in.

Some Tax Reform Specifics Remain Unclear

In response to a question from Assemblyman Farrell, Manion said the Department estimates millions in tax savings for New Yorkers but she could not specifically cite exact figures. In response to a second question from Farrell, Manion said that the property tax credits would mainly benefit low- and middle-income taxpayers. She again declined to provide specific tax information, saying that the Department will not know the answers until people file their taxes.

Continuing her testimony, Manion said the Executive Budget seeks to make New York State more attractive to business by reducing the corporate income tax rate to 2.5 percent for small companies and offering new tax incentives to the craft brewing and agricultural industries.

New Efforts to Encourage Tax Scofflaws to Pay

The Executive Budget also continues and expands a program intended to encourage tax scofflaws to make good on their debts by lowering the threshold for suspending driving privileges to $5,000, Manion said. This program originally suspended the driver's licenses of New Yorkers who owed more than $10,000 in unpaid taxes.



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February 9, 2015
State Economic Development Efforts Discussed During Budget Hearing
Forum was Eighth of Thirteen Hearings on Executive Budget for 2015-2016

State economic development officials testified before members of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees in Albany February 9 on economic development components of the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016. The hearing was the eighth in a series of 13 hearings on components of the budget, which by law must be held as part of the process of passing a budget before April 1.

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ESDC's Kenneth Adams testifies on economic development efforts in the Executive Budget.

Kenneth Adams, President, CEO and Commissioner of Empire State Development was the first official to testify on what is called Governor Cuomo's Opportunity Agenda. As part of the budget, Adams said, a new round of competitive Regional Economic Development Council grants have been announced.

These grants include $150 million in new capital funding and $70 million in State tax credits, he said. Since the Regional Councils were established several years ago, Adams testified, the State has awarded more than $2.9 billion in economic and community development funding that has resulted in the creation or retention of 150,000 jobs in New York State.

Executive Budget Offers New Opportunities to MWBE Companies

Significant time during his testimony was devoted to the State's efforts to encourage firms owned by women and/or minorities to pursue State contracts. Adams said it was recently announced that a new record of 25 percent of State contracts have been awarded to these firms, and the Governor in his Executive Budget has proposed expanding that participation to 30 percent, the highest of any state.

Adams: Budget Offers Support to NY-Based Businesses

The Governor's START-UP NY program encourages businesses to take advantage of research and development, academic programming and job training initiatives on the State's college campuses, Adams said. To date, 73 businesses have chosen to participate in START-UP NY, he said, representing commitments to create more than 2,400 new jobs and invest $104 million in local communities.

New Funding Offered to Developing Businesses

Under the State's Innovation Venture Capital Fund, Adams said, three investment firms operating Upstate have been chosen to receive seed funds to encourage new business growth; this year, the Governor has proposed doubling funding for this program to $100 million.

Increased Investment in New Markets Overseas

The Executive Budget also invests substantially in tourism-promotion efforts, promotion of State-based businesses overseas, and the expansion of broadband Internet access into communities which do not presently have access to this service, according to Adams' testimony.



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February 5, 2015
State Housing Plans Detailed During Legislative Budget Hearing
Housing Hearing was Seventh of Thirteen Required by State Constitution

Settlement funds paid to the State by Wall Street bank JP Morgan Chase will be used to fund the Neighborhood Preservation Companies program, which was started by Assemblyman Farrell years ago, Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner Darryl C. Towns testified February 5.

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Commissioner Towns and DHCR Executive Director Ted Houghton testify on the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016.

The Commissioner's testimony began Thursday's hearing, which was the seventh of a series of 13 hearings required by law as part of the process of passing a budget. By law, the budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 must be passed by April 1.

Commissioner Towns began with a review of the work his agency has accomplished to create and preserve housing Statewide during 2014. During the last year, DHCR set an agency record by financing the creation or preservation of 9,363 units of affordable housing including homeownership opportunities for over 1,000 New York families.

Loans and capital from DHCR leveraged private investment to create more than $6 billion in economic activity and many construction jobs, the Commissioner said, and the agency continues to oversee and enforce the rent laws that cover about 900,000 rent stabilized units. Since 2012, DHCR brought more than 37,000 units back into the rent regulation system and recovered more than $1 million on behalf of tenants who were wrongly overcharged rent, he said.

With the 2015-2016 budget, DHCR seeks to build on those accomplishments, Commissioner Towns testified. The budget provides $486 million to expand affordable and supportive housing and enhance community development programs throughout the State, he said.

Of the $439.5 million from the JP Morgan Chase settlement, $257 million is programmed for affordable housing and community development, Commissioner Towns said. Also programmed are $20 million for DHCR's "Access to Home" program to benefit veterans, an additional $20 million investment in the Rural and Neighborhood Preservation Companies, plus efforts to modernize the New York City Housing Authority and the Office of Rent Administration.



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February 4, 2015
Human Services Issues Discussed During Hearing on Executive Budget
Hearing Was Fifth of 13 Mandated by State Constitution

The fifth on a series of 13 hearings on the Executive Budget, which are required by law in preparation to pass a budget by April 1, was held in Albany on February 4. Commissioners and advocates who serve New Yorkers with disabilities offered testimony during the hearing on Human Services components of the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016.

"Raise the Age" Supported by Department of Children and Family Services

New York State is one of only two states whose age of criminal responsibility, the age at which youth are treated as adults by the criminal justice system, is 16 and in 2013 more than 33,000 16- and 17-year-olds in New York had their cases handled in criminal court where they were less likely to receive the services they needed, testified Roberto Velez, Acting Commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services.

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Roberto Velez, Acting Commissioner of the State Office of Children and Family Services, testifies in Albany on February 4, 2015.

Velez testified that the Governor's reform agenda includes raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to remove 16- and 17-year-olds from the adult criminal justice system so that they may receive appropriate rehabilitative services and no longer be housed with the adult criminal population. The Executive Budget sets aside $25 million to plan, create and expand these services, he said.

Anti-Poverty Opportunity Agenda Featured in Discussion of Executive Budget

Sharon Devine, who has been Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for little more than a week, testified on efforts in the Executive Budget to address homelessness and economic security for low-income working families.

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Sharon Devine, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, testifies on efforts to reduce hunger, homelessness and economic insecurity.

The Executive Budget commits $183 million of a settlement windfall from Wall Street banks to a multi-year effort to support 5,000 new supportive housing units and New York City rental assistance programs, she said. This budget item also commits $27 million to continue the 30 percent cap for New York City public assistance recipients living with HIV/AIDS, Devine said.

Reducing hunger is another key OTDA priority featured in the Executive Budget, Devine said. The spending plan commits $4.5 million to bolster the State's emergency food system. Overall, she said, during 2014 over three million New Yorkers received more than $5 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Devine testified.

Leveraging Funds to Serve New York Seniors

The $242 million provided by the Federal government New York State Office for the Aging has been used to leverage over $200 million from counties, local municipalities and voluntary contributions, Office for the Aging Director Corina Crossdale testified. These funds will provide services including caregiver support services, social adult day services, meals, repair or modifications to seniors' homes, house cleaning and errand services, counseling and legal aid, she said.

Employment Market Strong, Labor Commissioner Testifies

As of today, there are more jobs available in New York State than ever before, Acting Commissioner Mario J. Musolino testified: during the last five years, the public sector has added more than 535,000 jobs, bringing the total to more than 7.6 million with employment growth in 41 of the last 48 months including 22 consecutive months of private sector job growth, he said.

In December alone, more than 30,000 private sector jobs were added, Musolino testified, calling this the biggest monthly gain in two years and double the national average. The statewide unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8 percent, the lowest since September 2008, he added.



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February 3, 2015
Education Advocates Criticize 2015-2016 Executive Budget
Eighth of 13 Legally Required Hearings on Budget Issues

Education reform and funding plans included in the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 were strongly criticized by leaders of the teachers' unions during a February 2 Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on elementary and secondary education components of the budget. The hearing also included updates on Statewide school reform efforts and on the progress of the new Pre-Kindergarten program in New York City.

New Pathways to Graduation Discussed

Acting Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin of the State Education Department was the first to speak. Berlin updated members of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees on an education reform approved by the Board of Regents in January that provides students with new pathways to graduation, including Career and Technical Education, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the Arts, Biliteracy and the Humanities.

Alternative School Plan Could Ease Path to Graduation

These new options will permit students to take four Regents' exam sand a rigorous pathways assessment, which will count as credit against the fifth Regents' examination that is now required for graduation, Berlin said, describing plans by the Executive to offer new State funding to achieve these reforms.

The Executive Budget also plans to build upon the 2014-2015 Budget by allocating an additional $250 million for Pre-K programming, with the goal of universal State-wide Pre-K, she said. Other new funding will support programming for students who are not native English speakers, funding for teacher professional development and other needs.

Farina: Strong Enrollment in NYC's Pre-Kindergarten Program

Carmen Farina, Chancellor of New York City's Department of Education, began by thanking the Legislature for including $300 million in the current year's budget to pay for the new Pre-K program in the City in which 53,000 students are currently enrolled. This strong enrollment has the City well-positioned to meet this year's goal of offering universal Pre-K, Farina said.

Her testimony also included the results of enhanced programming for 90,000 middle school students, ongoing efforts to support 45 new community schools and support for continued mayoral control of City schools which she believes will continue to improve public education in New York City.

Teachers' Unions Pan School Reforms in Executive Budget

According to the union leaders, the lack of specific school aid figures in the Executive Budget is and will prove problematic for local school districts which traditionally rely on State aid figures in calculating their budgets, which go to voters before the State budget passes on April 1.

The union leaders also strongly opposed tying any prospective State aid increase to a package of reforms outlined by the Governor in his January 21 budget address. However, the unions support parents having the opportunity to withdraw their children from standardized testing, and oppose the current 2 percent property tax cap which they described as creating hardships especially for poorer districts. The UFT and NYSUT leaders also criticized plans to increase funding for charter schools which they described as "awash in public cash."

NYSUT Study Criticizes Charter School Cash Reserves

By law, public schools are allowed to retain only 4 percent of their budgets in fund balance as a reserve or rainy-day fund, but according to a report released by NYSUT this week (and held up as evidence of unfairness by the teachers' unions), charters across New York State are holding $282.3 million in taxpayer money in reserve and are sitting on $392.1 million in other assets, which traditional public schools would be barred from doing.

The union leaders recommended against making the 2 percent property tax cap permanent while poorer school districts struggle to muster the financial resources to provide for every student. Similar criticisms were echoed by dozens of other education advocates, whose lengthy testimony brought the hearing to a close after more than nine hours.



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February 2, 2015
State Health Officials Testify on Public Health Efforts
Affordable Care Act Implementation, Overpayment Recovery Efforts Discussed

State efforts to provide high-quality, affordable health care to New Yorkers were discussed at length February 2 during a Joint Legislative Budget Committee hearing on Health/Medicaid components of the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2015. This hearing was the third in a series of 13 Constitutionally-required hearings on the budget plan.

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Health Department officials Sally Dreslin, MS, RN (at right) and Jason Helgerson testify before the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees February 2, 2015.

Sally Dreslin, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Health, was the first speaker and testified about efforts to reform health care delivery and payment systems in order to achieve better health care for individuals, improved health for all State residents and lower costs. Part of this effort is a Federally-funded goal of reducing avoidable hospital use by 25 percent.

Commissioner Describes Medicaid Reform Efforts as Historic

State funds are also being directed toward reform efforts, Dreslin said, noting a $1.4 billion investment included in the Executive Budget for capital improvements both upstate and in the New York City area. Medicaid Redesign Team efforts are also ongoing, she said, describing these reforms as "the most comprehensive Medicaid reforms our State has ever seen."

The MRT reform efforts include a transition to managed-care plans from Medicare in pursuit of improved quality of care, better coordination of benefits and improved patient outcomes, Dreslin said. More plans are being added to address the needs of people with mental-health and substance abuse issues, she said.

New Affordable Health Care Option for Low-Income New Yorkers

Also underway is the implementation of the Basic Health Plan, which was authorized under the Federal Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). This new option has been designed to make adequate health coverage more affordable for low-income New Yorkers who do not have access to employer-sponsored coverage but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, she said.

Dreslin added that the Executive Budget also reinforces the State's commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by connecting HIV-positive New Yorkers with health care, keeping people diagnosed with HIV in health care so that they remain healthy, and providing preventative treatment to high-risk individuals so they stay HIV-negative.

These programs will be paid for by implementing new efficiencies that are expected to save the State more than $54 million this year, Dreslin said.

Medicaid Inspector Estimates $6.3 Billion Saved 2011-2014

Tom Meyer, Acting Medicaid Inspector General, also testified on cost saving efforts; the State has received tens of millions of dollars in reimbursements from health providers who have been mistakenly overpaid by the State, he said. During the last three years, OMIG's efforts have saved taxpayers more than $6.3 billion, Meyer said.

Other efforts detailed during Meyer's testimony included policing adult day care and managed long term care centers; investigating and inspecting social adult day cares and other facilities; and referring problems to the appropriate government and law enforcement agencies, he said.

OMIG also educates care providers about Medicaid compliance, having established 23 protocols and State programs like this oversight and recovery effort have been copied on the Federal level in the Affordable Care Act, he said.



January 29, 2015
Transportation Issues Discussed During Legislative Budget Hearing
Thruway Director Pressed for Details of Tappan Zee Financing Plan

Details of the State's plan to finance the ongoing reconstruction of the Tappan Zee Bridge are not immediately available because elements of the plan continue to change, the acting director of the State Thruway Authority testified before members of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees on Thursday, January 29.

Robert Megna, who was formerly head of the Governor's Division of Budget before accepting a new assignment to run the Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation, was the first speaker to appear during the hearing, which was the second of 13 Constitutionally-required hearings on elements of the Executive Budget released by Governor Cuomo earlier in the month.

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Assemblyman Farrell and Acting Thruway Authority Director Megna discuss transportation funding.

Executive Budget Allocates Funding for Capital Improvements and Toll Stability

According to Megna, some of the State's current $5.4 billion budget surplus will be used to construct the new Tappan Zee Bridge while other funds will be used to pay for capital investments throughout the system while avoiding a Thruway toll increase during 2015. While he put the total investment in the Thruway Stabilization Program at $1.3 billion, other specific figures were not available according to Megna.

Turning to progress on the bridge, Megna testified that 77 percent of the piles that make up the foundation have been driven, and the first vertical pier columns were erected in September 2014.

Commissioner: DOT Planning Repair or Replacement of 100 Bridges

Speaking later, Joan M. McDonald, Commissioner of the State Department of Transportation testified that under the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016, the State's transportation network would benefit from more than $3.5 billion in capital funding intended to make the system more resilient while creating jobs.

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State DOT Commissioner McDonald testifies on upcoming road and bridge work.

During the upcoming fiscal year, $150 million of a planned five-year funding cycle of $750 million would be rushed to repair or replace more than 100 bridges, and $438 million would be provided for local highway and bridge projects, Commissioner McDonald testified. Further, $39.7 million would be provided for the local matching share of Federally-funded projects, and more than $4.9 billion for the operation of local transit systems, she said.

DMV Commissioner: Customer Service Improvements Ongoing

J. David Sampson, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Motor Vehicles, testified about DMV's efforts to make its' operations more customer-friendly. During the last two years, DMV has been involved in an agency-wide initiative to improve customer service that includes the use of new technologies, upgraded equipment and the use of best practices, he said.

These include a revamped Web site which now receives more than 28 million site visits per year and 5.5 million transactions, 25 self-serve kiosks in the 19 State-run DMV offices that allow customers to bypass waiting in line to speak with a DMV clerk, and a new on-line reservation system to reduce customers' wait times in the DMV lobby, Sampson testified.

MTA Chair: Increased State Investment Needed to Build Capacity

Thomas F. Prendergast, Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, began his testimony by noting a $141 million State aid increase in the Executive Budget and reviewed MTA's efforts to downsize its' office space and convert unneeded space to cash in order to boost the Authority's bottom line. These savings, along with other cost-cutting moves, have improved MTA operations, Prendergast said.

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MTA Chairman Prendergast testifies on future capital improvements.

Ridership continues to break records, Prendergast said - prior to October 2013 MTA had never recorded six million daily subway riders, but in 2014 that figure was exceeded five times in September, seven times in October and nine times in December. More than 83 million trips are taken on Metro-North each year, Prendergast testified, and the trend toward heavy ridership shows no signs of abating in the foreseeable future. Recent studies have shown that the MTA's service area is expected to serve an additional two million people by 2040.

System Serves 9 Million Riders Daily, Numbers Continue to Grow

This means MTA resources are stretched almost to their limits, he said; a minor delay on one train at rush hour can create a ripple effect that touches the rest of the system leading to overcrowded platforms and ever-increasing delays for every train that follows.

Funding to expand MTA's system will be crucial, Prendergast said, noting that a Capital Program was recently rejected because it did not adequately account for funding that will be required to meet this growing demand.

Prendergast closed his testimony with a note of appreciation for the Legislature's longstanding support for MTA operations in the past, and best wishes for a positive outcome for the MTA's Capital Program for 2015 and future years.



(Back to Top)
January 28, 2015
Environmental Issues Discussed During Legislative Budget Hearing
Martens: Much Has Been Accomplished, But More Must Be Done

The testimony of Joe Martens, Commissioner of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, began with a review of what has been accomplished during Governor Cuomo's first four years in office: improved response to extreme weather; better access to lands managed by DEC; implementing programs to protect public health and the environment and more.

Commissioner Martens was among the agency commissioners who testified in Albany before members of the Assembly and Senate Wednesday, January 28 during a hearing on environmental conservation components of the Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016, which the Governor delivered on January 21. By law, in the coming weeks the Legislature must hold hearings on individual components of the budget. These hearings, which touch upon the issues of education, government, public protection and related topics, will be summarized on this page.

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DEC Commissioner Martens testifies before the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees on Wednesday, January 28.

Through the NY Works program, the State has invested $180 million in environmental capital projects including the restoration of aging dams, improved fish hatcheries, plugging abandoned oil and gas wells, completing municipal brownfield remediation projects, funding water quality improvement projects and other priority projects, Commissioner Martens said.

Recalling his service under former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, Commissioner Martens described plans to create a Catskill Interpretive Center, on which ground was broken in Summer 2014. And earlier that day, the Commissioner said, DEC had adopted the nation's most stringent rules for the transportation of liquid natural gas.

Budget Would Support and Expand Tourism, Commissioner Testifies
DEC's proposed budget for 2015-2016 totals $469.9 million, including $40 million for NY Works, plus funding for increased staff and expanded staff training, the Commissioner said. Budget plans this year call for an expansion of the Governor's Open for Fishing and Hunting initiative which the Commissioner said has made New York State a hunting and fishing destination and boosted tourism in the process.

The Executive Budget also proposes a new Habitat Conservation and Access Account, which will set aside revenue from stamps and lifetime license sales to protect and restore wildlife habitats, Martens said. Also, for the third year in a row, the Executive Budget proposes an increase to the Environmental Protection Fund ($172 million).

Finally, the Commissioner testified, the Executive Budget proposes increases to regulatory fees paid by industry, some of which have not increased since 2009.

Commissioner Harvey: 180 NY Parks and Historic Sites a Point of Pride
Commissioner Rose Harvey of the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation testified that New Yorkers take great pride in the 180 parks and 35 historic sites her department is charged with overseeing. The Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 increases capital funding to continue modernizing and revitalizing park infrastructure, maintains level funding for park operations, and increases the Environmental Protection Fund (as noted above).

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State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey testifies in Albany.

In 2014, State parks attracted 62 million visitors, a three percent increase over 2013, Commissioner Harvey said. Sales of the New York State Adventure License, which includes park access, have been brisk, she said, with 17,000 three-year passes sold during one recent weekend. In the last year, the State Historic Preservation Office advanced over 100 listings to the State and National Registers of Historic Places, Commissioner Harvey said.

Public and Private Funds to be Invested in State Parkland
The Executive Budget seeks to invest public funds and leverage the investment of private funds for a total of $900 million by 2020, including $110 million during State Fiscal Year 2015-2016, Commissioner Harvey said. These funds will be invested in capital improvements and other necessities that will help create safe, welcoming and modern facilities, she testified.

Also included in the Executive Budget are plans to create a robust volunteer program that will benefit public parks, she said, describing plans to invest $1 million to establish the Excelsior Conservation Corps, a concept she called similar to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps.

Agriculture Commissioner: State Farmers Setting Sales Records
Richard A. Ball, Commissioner of the State Department of Agriculture and Markets, testified that in 2013 New York State farmers set a sales record of $5.68 billion in cash receipts. The Executive Budget seeks to build upon this growing success by investing $1.1 million in the Taste NY program, aggressively promoting online purchasing and a greater number of stores, vending machines and events to promote sales and consumption of goods made in New York State.

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Assemblyman Farrell questions Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey.

Another noteworthy component of the Executive Budget is a planned $50 million investment in the Syracuse-area New York State Fair, which has not seen a major overhaul for more than a century, Commissioner Ball said. This investment will transform the facility to a year-round space for events which could promote growth in the Onondaga Lakefront area, he testified.

The Executive Budget also seeks to reduce the problem of "food deserts" in urban areas by investing $350,000 for the continuation of the FreshConnect Farmers' Market program, $250,000 for the Farm to School program, and $40,000 to evaluate and test varieties of hops in Geneva to assist the State's growing craft beer industry, Commissioner Ball testified.

A previously scheduled hearing, on local and general government components of the budget, was delayed due to inclement weather and has been rescheduled for February 25. The local government hearing, which will feature Mayor de Blasio, is usually the first hearing in the cycle.



(Back to Top)
…and this month in Albany
January 15, 2015

Assemblyman Farrell Reports to Community Board 9

Paying Tribute to the Late Governor Mario Cuomo

Last week, we buried the great former Governor Mario Cuomo, who passed on the afternoon of January 1 shortly after his son, our current Governor, was sworn in for his second term. Some of you may know that my relationship with the Cuomo family goes back many years, including the 1982 campaign that first elected him to the highest office in our State, and the news, while not unexpected, was painful. You may not know, however, the extent to which Gov. Mario Cuomo was personally responsible for improving the quality of life in our community and our State.

In the late 1960s, the City came up with a plan to move Manhattan's sewage treatment plant from the West 60s to Northern Manhattan. To entice the Northern Manhattan community to agree to this change, we were promised that a public park would be placed on top of this plant to provide the community a benefit to offset the downside of placing a sewage treatment plant here. Then, in 1975, Governor Carey famously remarked that "the days of wine and roses are over," and the plan to build the park fell away. The idea remained dead until 1983 when, in one of his first official actions, Gov. Mario Cuomo committed $129 million in his first budget to build the park and made sure that it happened. Our community, and the people from all over our City who visit our community to use Riverbank State Park, are in his debt. In case you do not know, in my opinion the amenities at Riverbank are second to no other park in our City, and include wonderful indoor and outdoor swimming facilities, soccer and football fields, a newly improved ice skating rink and much more. Riverbank was one of many, many wonderful things he did for the people of this State and our community. He was a good friend to me and to all New Yorkers, and will be sorely missed. I was proud to stand up and cast my vote for a resolution honoring the life of Mario M. Cuomo on Tuesday, January 13.

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Assemblyman Farrell, Mario Cuomo and Andrew M. Cuomo during the 1982 Gubernatorial campaign.

Farrell and Assembly Colleagues Take Oath of Office for New Term

On January 7, my colleagues in the Assembly's Majority Conference gathered in Albany to take our oath of office on the floor of the Assembly chamber in the Capitol, as we are required by the State Constitution to do at the beginning of every term. It was nice to greet and welcome the new Assembly Members, of which there are an unusually high number this year, as a number of my colleagues have moved on to other things or chose to retire. We had been scheduled to hear Governor Cuomo deliver his fifth State of the State speech that afternoon, but the event was postponed because services were held for the late Governor Mario Cuomo on January 6. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo will deliver his State of the State speech and outline his Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016 on Wednesday, January 21. This will begin the process of debating and passing the budget, which we must complete by April 1. In the coming days, I will announce the schedule of public hearings on the Executive Budget which will begin, as is our tradition, with the testimony of the Mayor of New York, the Honorable Bill de Blasio.

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Farrell and Wright Working to Improve NY's Rent Laws

As I reported to you during the 2014 Legislative Session, last year I introduced a number of bills intended to strengthen the Rent Laws and give tenants more power to fight back against bad landlords, and also supported similar bills introduced by my colleagues in the Assembly's Majority Conference. Some of these bills did not pass the Senate, but we are not done fighting to get our bills passed and onto the Governor's desk where they can be signed into law.

You may know that the State's Rent Laws, which provide financial stability for millions of hardworking residents of New York City, are due to sunset (expire) in June of 2015. Along with our efforts to extend these basic protections years into the future by again passing the Rent Laws, my Assembly colleagues and I are working on new legislation to protect tenants. I will report to you further in the coming months on our efforts to protect New York City tenants.

In closing, I urge you to join the many New Yorkers who have signed up for Obamacare under the Affordable Care Act. The deadline to enroll is February 15, 2015. Current enrollees will also have the option of changing their plan until February 15, 2015. Finally, I am wishing you and yours a happy and healthy New Year.


Yours truly,
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.



(Back to Top)
…and this month in Albany
January 7, 2015

Assemblyman Farrell Reports to Community Board 10

Paying Tribute to the Late Governor Mario Cuomo

Yesterday, we buried the great former Governor Mario Cuomo who passed on the afternoon of January 1 shortly after his son, our current Governor, was sworn in for his second term. Some of you may know that my relationship with the Cuomo family goes back many years, including the 1982 campaign that first elected him to the highest office in our State, and the news, while not unexpected, was painful. You may not know, however, the extent to which Gov. Mario Cuomo was personally responsible for improving the quality of life in our community and our State.

In the late 1960s, the City came up with a plan to move Manhattan's sewage treatment plant from the West 60s to Northern Manhattan. To entice the Northern Manhattan community to agree to this change, we were promised that a public park would be placed on top of this plant to provide the community a benefit to offset the downside of having a sewage treatment plant here. Then, in 1975, Governor Carey famously remarked that "the days of wine and roses are over," and the plan to build the park fell away. The idea remained dead until 1983 when, in one of his first official actions, Gov. Mario Cuomo committed $129 million in his first budget to build the park and made sure that it happened. Our community, and the people from all over our City who visit our community to use Riverbank State Park, are in his debt. Riverbank was one of many, many wonderful things he did for the people of this State and our community. He was a good friend to me and to all New Yorkers, and will be sorely missed.

photo
Assemblyman Farrell, Mario Cuomo and Andrew M. Cuomo talk during the Gubernatorial 1982 campaign.

Farrell and Assembly Colleagues Take Oath of Office for New Term

Earlier today, my colleagues in the Assembly's Majority Conference gathered in Albany to take our oath of office on the floor of the Assembly chamber in the Capitol, as we are required to do at the beginning of every term by the State Constitution. It was nice to greet and welcome the new Assembly Members, of which there are an unusually high number this year, as a number of my colleagues have moved on to other things or chose to retire. We had been scheduled to hear Governor Cuomo deliver his fifth State of the State speech this afternoon, but the event has been postponed until January 21 because of the passing of former Governor Mario Cuomo. We must wait a bit longer to hear the sitting Governor outline his budget plans for State Fiscal Year 2015-2016, but I will report these details to you as soon as they have been received and interpreted by my Ways and Means Committee staff.

photo

Farrell and Wright Working to Improve NY's Rent Laws

As I reported to you during the 2014 Legislative Session, last year I introduced a number of bills intended to strengthen the Rent Laws and give tenants more power to fight back against bad landlords, and also supported similar bills introduced by my colleagues in the Assembly's Majority Conference. Some of these bills did not pass the Senate, but we are not done fighting to get our bills passed and onto the Governor's desk where they can be signed into law.

You may know that the State's Rent Laws, which provide financial stability for millions of hardworking residents of New York City, are due to sunset (expire) in June of 2015. Along with our efforts to extend these basic protections years into the future by again passing the Rent Laws, my Assembly colleagues and I are working on new legislation to protect tenants.

I will report to you further in the coming months on our efforts to protect New York City tenants.

In closing, I am wishing you and yours a happy and healthy New Year. To help guarantee your and your families' health in the New Year, I urge you to join the many New Yorkers who have signed up for Obamacare under the Affordable Care Act. The deadline to enroll is February 15, 2015. Current enrollees will also have the option of changing their plan until February 15, 2015.


Yours truly,
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.



Video Clips:

March 25, 2014
Assemblyman Farrell rises to speak out against legislation which would allow New York to award its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote. A.4422-A




Photo Slide Show:



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