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05/02/08 Affairs and Appointments

05/02/08 Affairs and Appointments

Updated Financial Plan and Economic Forecast: Current Fiscal Year in Balance, but $5 billion budget gap looms for 2009-2010

The New York State Division of the Budget today released its Enacted Budget Financial Plan, which contains updated information on revenues, spending, debt, the economy, and other fiscal indicators. The report shows that although the 2008-09 budget is in balance, a $5 billion budget gap is projected for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

“While this year’s budget is balanced, we face some very significant challenges ahead to get our fiscal house in order,” said Governor David Paterson. “With a $5 billion deficit looming next year, we must immediately begin taking steps to rein in government spending.”

The report notes that last month’s state budget agreement approved a 4.5% increase in State Operating Funds (totaling $80.5 billion).  All Funds spending, which includes Federal funds and long-term capital spending, will total $121.6 billion in 2008-2009 (an increase of 4.8%).

A key section of the Enacted Budget concerned “out-year gaps”:

  • “Based on current forecasts, the Enacted Budget is projected to result in out-year budget gaps of $5.0 billion for 2009-2010, $7.7 billion for 2010-2011, and $8.8 billion for 2011-2012.”

Governor Paterson’s remarks on the Enacted Budget noted that, in January 2009, he will submit a balanced budget that closes the entire 2009-2010 deficit.  The tools to close this budget gap will include “savings actions” (e.g. health care reforms), “revenue actions” (e.g. closing tax loopholes), “non-recurring resources” (e.g. selling the rights to operate a new state-owned Video Lottery Terminal facility at Aqueduct Racetrack), and “labor reserves” (special funds previously set aside to cover salary rises for public employees).

Encouragingly, Governor Paterson’s press release proposes to close the $5 billion 2009-2010 budget gap without drawing on any of the State’s $1.2 billion “rainy day” reserves.

Read the 2008-2009 Enacted Budget

Read Governor Patterson’s press release on the Enacted Budget, which includes an attachment reviewing the Financial Plan and the General Fund Budget Plan

No More Shall we Live under the Tyranny of English Law! – Governor Paterson Signs Legislation Shielding New Yorkers from Foreign Libel Judgments

Governor David A. Paterson this week signed legislation that affords New Yorkers greater protection against libel judgments in countries whose laws are inconsistent with the freedom of speech granted by the United States Constitution.  American authors have long been vulnerable to libel suits brought in foreign countries, notably England, where libel damages are much easier to obtain in the United States.  An American author can currently be sued in a country where she may have only sold a few books.

Such was the case of Rachel Ehrenfeld, a New York-based author of a book about the financing of terrorism.  An individual discussed in Ehrenfeld’s book was able to sue her for libel in England, even though only 23 copies of the book had been sold in that nation.

The statute Paterson signed combats such “forum shopping” in two ways. First, it bars New York courts from enforcing a foreign libel judgment unless the country where it was decided grants the same or better protection as US standards for freedom of speech. Second, it expands an individual’s ability to have a court declare a foreign libel judgment invalid in New York. Without this statute, an author could be forced to live indefinitely under the pall of a libel judgment, deterring publishers from disseminating that author’s work.

Paterson announced his signing of the law with a call for Congress to enact such free-speech protections at the federal level.

Read Governor Paterson’s press release on the speech-protection statute.

Mayor Bloomberg Presents $59.1 Billion FY 2009 Executive Budget – Spending Nearly Flat, Budget Gaps Loom

Amid a cooling national economy and troubles on Wall Street, Mayor Bloomberg announced his Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 Executive Budget and updated four-year financial plan for New York City. 

In a press conference at City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg was keen to point out that, like his FY 2008 Budget, the $59.1 billion FY 2009 Budget was in balance.  Budget allocations for FY 2009, however, reflected how the recent plight of Wall Street and declining real estate sales taxes will shrink City revenues (Wall Street firms recorded $11 billion in losses for 2007 – compared with $21 billion in profits for 2006 – and have planned thousands of layoffs). 

In a concession to Wall Street’s woes and a weakening national economy, the FY 2009 Budget expects City funded spending to grow by only 0.1 percent.  Mayor Bloomberg seeks to achieve savings of $1.3 billion, or 6.4% of City expenses, through the Agency program.  The Mayor was careful to point out, however, that the Department of Education will escape the trend of stagnant agency budgets from FY 2008 to FY 2009; DOE’s budget will actually see an increase of more than $200 million in this Fiscal Year.

Beyond constraining spending, the FY 2009 Budget also accommodates declining revenues by pushing back the completion dates for City-funded capital program commitments from four years to five years (thus reducing the City-funded portion of the capital commitment program by 20% annually FY 2009-2012).  Projects that had been planned to be completed in 2012 will now be completed in 2013.

Overall, the FY 2009 Executive Budget contained both unexpectedly bright and unexpectedly gloomy news.  On the bright side, City tax revenues are currently running higher than expected (suggesting the full impact of Wall Street’s downturn on City finances may come with some lag).  This will enable the City to extend its $400 property tax rebate for homeowners and 7% property tax reduction into FY 2009.

On the gloomy side, the Budget projects a deficit of $1.3 billion for FY 2010; this deficit is project to grow to $4.6 billion in FY 2011 and $4.5 billion in FY 2012.  The budget lists the 7% property tax reduction as one casualty of such future deficits (it is not projected to extend beyond 2010); if such billion-dollar gaps actually materialize, however, it presumably would not be the only one.

Read the Mayor’s Executive Budget press release

See Executive Budget slides here and a full collection of Budget documents

Read Crain’s New York Business.com coverage of the FY 2009 Executive Budget

City Council Approves 125th Street Rezoning, Mayor Bloomberg Applauds

The City Council this week voted to approve an extensive rezoning plan for the 125th Street Corridor in Harlem.  Drafted over four years by the Department of City Planning in consultation with Harlem stakeholders, the plan is intended to stimulate new mixed-use development while preserving the scale of the corridor’s commercial and historic brownstone areas.  Supporters expect the rezoning to produce more than one million square feet of office space and 7,000 new jobs.

One result of the 125th Street rezoning will be Vornado Realty’s construction of a major new office tower that is to be the home of studios and offices for Major League Baseball’s new cable television network.  Other key aspects of the zoning legislation include:

  • Height limits for the first time along the corridor
  • Special regulations that limit the amount of street frontage that may be occupied by banks and by office and residential lobbies; these regulations are intended to promote retail diversity along the corridor
  • The required inclusion of arts and entertainment uses for developments exceeded a certain size, and an arts bonus to induce development of more than 90,000 square feet of new non-profit visual arts and performance space

Read the Council’s press release on the 125th Street Rezoning

Read remarks by Mayor Bloomberg, Council Member Inez Dickens, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Robert Jackson, and City Planning Commisioner Amanda M. Burden.

Competitive Cable: Verizon to Offer Service to Every NYC Household

For as long as many can remember, New York City has had two cable providers.  Time Warner serves Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens, and parts of Brooklyn; Cablevision serves customers in the Bronx and those parts of Brooklyn not served by Time Warner.

No longer; the City Tuesday announced with Verizon Communications Inc. to provide New Yorkers with cable TV service. Verizon’s entry would mark the first time Time Warner and Cablevision have faced direct competition, as well as the first time a single provider will be able to provide TV to more than 3 million households in the city (Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert C. Lieber described the agreement as creating “the signle largest cable TV franchise in the history of New York City”).

Under the proposed 12-year contract – which awaits approval from the City’s
Franchise and Concession Review Committee and the New York State Public Service Commission for final approval – Verizon would have enough of its fiber optic cable to reach 100% of NYC homes by 2014.  Under the franchise agreement, Staten Island residents would be the first to receive TV service (and in principle Verizon agreed not to favor wealthier neighborhoods in its rollout of service).

Other notable features of the agreement:

  • In addition to providing funds to the city’s public access channels and paying the city a cable franchise fee of 5% of annual gross revenue from its TV service, Verizon will provide a $10 million grant to NYC TV and a $4 million grant to expand public access to technology
  • 25 pages of customer service protections, many of which reflect provisions of Comptroller William Thompson’s proposed Cable Consumers Bill of Rights

Read the Mayoral press release, including comments from Deputy Mayor Lieber, DoITT Commissioner Cosgrove, and Verizon officers

Read Crain’s New York Business.com coverage of the agreement

DOT Lays Out Sustainable Vision In New Strategic Plan, “Sustainable Streets”: Plan sets DOT goals for safety, mobility and sustainability

New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan this week charted a greener future for City transportation policy with the release of the agency’s strategic plan, “Sustainable Streets,” laying out goals for transforming the City’s streetscape into boulevards and world-class public spaces, and targeting improvements in bus mobility, safety, and bicycling while reducing the transportation network’s impact on the environment.

Key goals in the 68-page “Sustainable Streets” document include:

  • Cut city traffic fatalities by 50% from 2007 levels
  • Establish bus rapid transit lines to improve bus speeds citywide
  • Double bicycle commuting by 2015
  • Initiate citywide parking policies to help reduce cruising for parking and congestion
  • Adopt complete-street design templates for reconstruction projects
  • Improve street surfaces through better management of street cuts and underground infrastructure work
  • Increase energy efficiency in DOT street lighting and office operations

Read the DOT press release here.

NYC Air Quality: No Reason to Brag; Traffic Fumes a Cause

New Yorkers love to chide Angelinos about the smog that envelops Los Angeles.  The put-down is just: this week the American Lung Association’s (ALA) “State of the Air: 2008” report ranked Los Angeles air as the most polluted of any city in the country (once again – though, in L.A.’s defense, rating L.A. relative to other cities tells us nothing about what has happened to the absolute quality of the city’s air over the past year).

As it turns out, however, New Yorkers have nothing to boast about.  New York City’s air is the eight-most most polluted by ozone of any city in the country (according to Environmental Protection Agency data as interpreted by ALA).  Statewide, nearly half of all residents live in areas where the air quality fails to meet minimum standards (seven of New York State’s 33 counties received failing grades for air quality).

ALA gave the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens failing grades for particle pollution, whereas Staten Island failed for Ozone pollution (evidently Brooklyn residents enjoy the city’s cleanest air).  Among the reasons ALA cites for New York City’s air-quality problems: power plant pollution, emissions from home heating fuels, and traffic fumes.

The last point is likely to grate particularly hard on Mayor Bloomberg, who cited the health burdens of vehicle particulate emissions – namely asthma – as a major rationale for imposing congestion pricing.

Read Crain’s New York Business.com coverage of the ALA report.

Go here for the New York section of ALA’s “State of the Air: 2008”

“Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability” Made Sustainable; Grammar a Problem

It was always a bit curious that the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability – created within the Mayor’s Office of Operations as part of PlaNYC 2030 – was not a formal Mayoral office, and thus not really “long-term.”

No more.  James F. Gennaro, Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee, is sponsoring legislation to formally establish the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability.  The proposed legislation will officially recognize and establish the priorities of this Mayoral office (which include planning for sustainability and undertaking education and public awareness programs).

With the vote, the Council will take a major step toward institutionalizing responsible municipal planning.  Now, if only they could be equally sensitive to public grammar.  The title of the office ought to include “Long-Term” rather than “Long Term.”  This is because, when used as an adjective (as in “long-term planning”), long-term should be hyphenated; when used as a noun (Mayor Bloomberg is planning for the long term), it is unhyphenated.

Green Yards Zoning: Don’t Pave all that Lawn!

Lack of sufficient on-street parking is a problem in many ways, including this: it causes many Brooklyn and Queens residents to pave over their lawns, and the result rise in impervious surface area diverts yet more rainwater into the City’s overburdened sewer system.  Responding to this hazard, the City Council will vote on a zoning resolution amendment that would prohibit property owners from completely paving their front yards.  Though not affecting existing homes with concrete yards, the amendment would require homeowners to keep 20 to 50 percent of their front yards covered with greenery.

Land Use Committee Chair Melinda Katz is to hold a vote on the amendment soon.

Read the Council’s “Green Yards Zoning” press release.

Paul Tonko resigns as NYSERDA President

Paul Tonko has resigned as president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to run for Congress in New York’s 21st Congressional District.  Until the NYSERDA board names a successor, Vice President Robert Callender will serve as President and CEO.

Joshua Toas resigns as CEO of the State Liquor Authority

Joshua Toas has resigned as CEO of the State Liquor Authority.

New York City Council for Week of May 5

Immigration Kendall Stewart, Chair
Monday, May 5, 10:00 AM
Hearing Room – 250 Broadway, 16th Floor
Details: Oversight – Delays in the Naturalization Application Process and its Impact on New Yorkers

Public Safety Peter F. Vallone, Jr., Chair
Monday, May 5, 10:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Int 317 – By Council Members Vallone Jr., Fidler, Gentile, James, Martinez, Nelson, Sanders Jr., Vacca and Weprin – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring the New York City Police Department to make crime statistics at each housing development operated by the New York City Housing Authority available through its web site, as well as to make other crime information at such housing developments available to the Council. Proposed Int 492-A – By Council Members Yassky, Brewer, Fidler, James, Koppell, Liu, Nelson, Recchia Jr., Sanders Jr., Stewart, Martinez, Mark-Viverito and Gerson – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring the police department to submit to the council reports of crime involving illegally obtained firearms. Proposed Int 516-A – By Council Members Vallone Jr., Felder, Fidler, Foster, Gennaro, Gentile, James, Koppell, Liu, Mark-Viverito, Mealy, Monserrate, Nelson, Sanders Jr., Vann, Weprin, Gerson, Martinez and The Public Advocate (Ms. Gotbaum) – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring the police department to submit reports concerning the discharge of firearms to the council. Proposed Int 528-A – By Council Members James, Foster, Gerson, Martinez and Mealy – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring the police department to submit reports to the city council concerning towed vehicles.

Finance; Environmental Protection David I. Weprin, James F. Gennaro, Chairs
Monday, May 5, 11:00 AM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Oversight – Examining DEP’s proposed water and sewer rate increase of 14.5% for fiscal year 2009

Veterans Hiram Monserrate, Chair
Monday, May 5, 1:00 PM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Proposed Res 1170-A – By The Speaker (Council Member Quinn) and Council Members Seabrook, Mendez, Monserrate, Avella, Brewer, Foster, Jackson, James, Koppell, Nelson, Palma, Weprin, Gerson, Liu, Gonzalez and Dickens – Resolution calling on the President, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense to rescind the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy and allow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons to serve openly in the military.

Zoning & Franchises Tony Avella, Chair
Tuesday, May 6, 9:30 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: See Land Use Calendar Available Thursday, May 1, 2008, Room 5 City Hall

Lower Manhattan Redevelopment * Deferred Alan J. Gerson, Chair
Tuesday, May 6, 10:00 AM
Hearing Room – 250 Broadway, 16th Floor

Task Force on Infrastructure Letitia James, Daniel R. Garodnick, Chair
Tuesday, May 6, 10:00 AM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Oversight – Coastal Flooding and the Lessons of New Orleans: How Will New York’s Infrastructure Stand Up to a Major Weather Event?

Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses * Deferred Jessica S. Lappin, Chair
Tuesday, May 6, 11:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall

Planning, Dispositions & Concessions Daniel R. Garodnick, Chair
Tuesday, May 6, 1:00 PM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: See Land Use Calendar Available Thursday, May 1, 2008, Room 5 City Hall

Housing & Buildings Erik Martin Dilan, Chair
Tuesday, May 6, 1:00 PM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Int 511 – By Council Members James, Fidler, Gentile, Mendez, Nelson, Palma, Vacca, Gerson and Oddo – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to providing notice to the state concerning disciplinary proceedings against certain professionals. Proposed Int 547-A – By Council Members Dilan, Brewer, James, Koppell, Martinez, Nelson, Seabrook, Sears, White Jr., Sanders Jr., Gerson, Baez and Oddo (by request of the Mayor) – A Local Law – To amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to issuance of a certificate of completion for individuals working on supported scaffolds and design requirements for supported scaffolds. Int 688 – By Council Members Mark-Viverito, de Blasio, Brewer, Fidler, James, Martinez, Nelson, Sanders Jr., Weprin and Gerson – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the registration of general contractors. Int 697 – By Council Members Avella, Fidler, Gentile, Gerson, James, Mark-Viverito, Mealy, Mendez, Stewart and White Jr. – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to denying permits to developers who have repeatedly been found to violate the city’s building codes and zoning laws. Int 718 – By Council Members Oddo, Fidler and Stewart – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring all professionals who participate in the professional certification program at the department of buildings to carry professional liability insurance. Int 753 – By Council Member Dilan – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to training building inspectors. Int 754 – By Council Member Dilan – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York in relation to requiring the department of buildings to report the number of fatalities and accidents at construction sites. Int 758 – By Council Member Gonzalez – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to creating and disseminating a best practices at construction sites within the city of New York manual. Int 759 – By Council Member James – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to creating a construction industry whistleblower hotline within the New York City department of buildings. Int 760 – By Council Member Lappin – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the appointment of an independent monitor with respect to construction sites. Int 761 – By Council Member Martinez – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York, in relation to the posting of signs at construction sites. Int 763 – By Council Member Palma – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York in relation to classifying housekeeping violations as immediately hazardous.

Parks & Recreation Helen D. Foster, Chair
Wednesday, May 7, 10:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Int 699 – By Council Members Foster, Fidler, Gentile, Gerson, James, Koppell, Liu, Mark-Viverito, Martinez, Mendez, Monserrate, Sanders Jr., Seabrook and White Jr. – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York in relation to requiring the mayor to provide an annual report of funding and/or goods and services by non-governmental entities to New York City parks.

Consumer Affairs Leroy G. Comrie, Jr., Chair
Wednesday, May 7, 10:00 AM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Proposed Int 633-A – By Council Members McMahon, Fidler, James, Nelson, Palma, Recchia Jr. and Oddo – A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to licensing and regulating bridal shops and wedding photographers.

Governmental Operations Simcha Felder, Chair
Wednesday, May 7, 1:00 PM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Int 755 – By Council Member Felder (by request of the Mayor) – A Local Law to amend the New York city charter in relation to the qualifications of the commissioner of buildings.

Land Use Melinda R. Katz, Chair
Thursday, May 8, 10:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: All items reported out of the subcommittees AND SUCH OTHER BUSINESS AS MAY BE NECESSARY

Education; Sanitation & Solid Waste Management * Deferred Michael E. McMahon, Robert Jackson, Chairs
Thursday, May 8, 11:00 AM
Council Chambers – City Hall

General Welfare Bill de Blasio, Chair
Thursday, May 8, 1:00 PM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Oversight – Examining DHS’ Strategies and Progress toward Meeting the Goal of Reducing Homelessness by 2/3 by 2009

Transportation John C. Liu, Chair
Friday, May 9, 10:00 AM
Committee Room – City Hall
Details: Int 741 – By Council Members Felder, Brewer, Fidler, Gentile, James, Koppell, Mark-Viverito, Martinez, Mealy, Palma, Weprin and Gerson – A Local Law to amend the New York city charter, in relation to accepting Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Access-A-Ride identification cards and reduced-fare MetroCards with additional official proof of address of New York City residency for the purpose of proving the identity and residency of applicants for New York City Disability Parking Permits.

Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Alan J. Gerson, Chair
Friday, May 9, 10:30 AM
Council Chambers – City Hall
Details: Oversight – Update on Building of New World Trade Center