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6/27/08 Affairs and Appointments

6/27/08 Affairs and Appointments

New York City

New York State

Public Hearings


Notable Sayings of the Week

It’s bittersweet, it’s sad, and it’s happy.

Majority leader Joe Bruno, commenting on his decision not to seek re-election after 32 years in the New York State Senate.

I didn’t see it coming.  The senator certainly is a piece of Albany. An era ends with Joe Bruno leaving.

Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, reacting to Senate majority leader Joe Bruno’s announcement that he will not seek re-election this November.

Should riders be concerned?  Absolutely. Am I concerned? Absolutely.

MTA Chairman Eliot G. Sander, responding to questions about a grim financial outlook for the Authority that may force delays in subway station renovations, cutbacks in service, and further fare increases.

While we don’t agree with everything, this was a remarkable session for the City in Albany.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, assessing the end of session in the State Legislature.

Appointments

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, New York State’s highest ranking Republican announced this week that he not seek re-election in November, thus brining a close to a 32-year career in the Senate.

Following Senator Bruno’s announcement, the State Senate moved to elect Dean Skelos as the new Majority Leader and Thomas Libous as the new Deputy Majority Leader.  Skelos has represented a Long Island district in the Senate for over two decades, most recently as Deputy Majority Leader.  Libous, a Senator representing Binghamton, is serving his tenth term and chairs the Transportation Committee.

Paul E. Francis has resigned as Director of State Operations.  Mr. Francis served as the Director of the Division of the Budget for the first year of the Spitzer Administration after serving as the Policy Director for former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s campaign and Transition Office. He has been the Director of State Operations since January 1, 2008.  Read Governor Paterson’s announcement of Mr. Francis’s resignation here.

The Board of Trustees of Dia Art Foundation this week announced the appointment of Philippe Vergne as Dia’s new director. Mr. Vergne, currently deputy director and chief curator at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, assumes his post on September 15, 2008. He succeeds Jeffrey Weiss who left Dia in March of this year to resume his curatorial and scholarly career.

Al Butzel has resigned as executive director of Friends of Hudson River Park Trust to resume practicing law; A.J. Pietrantone will be the new executive director.

Special Section: Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Quinn Reach Agreement on Budget for Fiscal Year 2009

On Thursday night, Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn shook hands on a $59.3 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2009; this agreed-upon framework now must be adopted by a full vote of the City Council, to take place on Sunday.

Compared to the Mayor’s proposed Executive Budget, the budget to be voted on Sunday includes a net increase in spending of $235 million.  While the Council’s overall budget restorations totaled $412 million, $177 million came from increased revenue savings (cuts) or increase revenue (new fees and other revenues).  The Council’s overall expenditures of $412 million comprised 0.7% of New York City’s budget, while the net spending increases of $235 million comprised 0.4%.

By far the biggest beneficiary of the Council’s additions was the Department of Education ($129 million), with the New York City Housing Authority being the second biggest beneficiary ($18 million).

As a result of the new education funds, the FY 2009 Budget guarantees that individual schools will receive the full funding proposed before the reductions in spending announced in January.  According to the joint press release from the Mayor and Council, this money will be used partly to focus on middle school reform and an initiative supporting English Language Learners.

Reflecting the tough fiscal climate, the FY 2009 Budget brought reductions in funds available for Council use.  According to Speaker Quinn, funding for member items will be reduced by 8-10% from its FY 2008 value of $50 million.  Council funding for citywide initiatives is being reduced 39 percent from last year; from $302 million to $185.6 million.

Accounting for the Council’s net addition of $235 million in net spending restorations, the FY 2009 budget still exhibits relatively flat growth in City spending: 1.6%, lower than the projected 2.7% annual inflation rate.

When Mayor Bloomberg presented his $59.1 billion FY 2009 Executive Budget on May 1, he emphasized that the Executive Budget was in balance despite a weakening New York City economy.  This balance was achieved by keeping the overall spending level nearly flat from the previous year (proposing spending growth of only 0.1%).  The Mayor explained this fiscal restraint as both a necessary concession to a weakening City economy and prudent preparation for yawning budget gaps in the future (the Mayor’s budget projects a deficit of $1.3 billion in FY 2010, $4.6 billion in FY 2011 and $4.5 billion in FY 2012).

Throughout the Mayor’s negotiations with the City Council over the past two months, many Council Members have objected that the Mayor’s emphasis on restraining spending led his Executive Budget to under-fund vital policy areas, particularly education.  The situation was made more acute by a May arbitration ruling that ordered the City to pay an unexpectedly high award; this added fiscal liability moved the Mayor to consider adding new revenue-raising measures for FY 2009, specifically an increase in property taxes (the Executive Budget proposed maintaining a $400 property tax rebate and seven percent reduction in the property tax rate that was instituted for FY 2006).

The Council’s agenda for FY 2009, however, focused on restoring cuts to education and other critical areas while also preserving the property tax rate cut.  On Thursday night, the Mayor and Speaker agreed to a budget framework that maintains the Mayor’s overall goal of fiscal restraint while accommodating the Council’s demand for specific funding restorations.

Spending restraint notwithstanding, the Mayor’s office still projects a budget deficit of $2.5 billion in FY 2010 (though the Mayor’s numbers are disputed by the IBO, which forecasts essentially no budget shortfall for FY 2010 due to $1.2 in new revenue).  Assuming the Mayor’s forecast is correct, a difficult picture could become gloomier due to a number of causes: if future arbitration rulings for uniformed City employees resemble the May outcome, causing higher than expected municipal wage growth; if a deep or prolonged local recession causes tax revenues to dip below projections; or if the Mayor and City Council choose to keep all or part of the 2006 property tax rate cut in place for 2010 or beyond (which would cost the City as much as $1.3 billion annually).

These matters will all play out over the coming months.  The immediate next step is a vote in the Council this Sunday to formally adopt the framework that was agreed to Thursday night.

For the joint press release on the FY 2009 Budget, read here; read the Council’s press release here.

Read here for A&A discussion of the FY 2009 Executive Budget and here for A&A coverage of analyses from the Independent Budget Office.

Special Section: Wrap-up in Albany

Governor Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg Praise “Productive Legislative Session”

With the end of the legislative session in Albany, both Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg offered upbeat assessments of what had been accomplished.  Both leaders, however, balanced their praise with emphasis on what remains to be done.  Governor Paterson, especially, warned that the State’s fiscal position remains precarious, with an estimated budget gap of $21 billion over the next four years.  He also vowed to continue pressing for approval of his plan to cap local property taxes.

Hanging over all of this, of course, is Senate Majority Leader Bruno’s announcement that he will not seek re-election.  One can be sure that, as in past years, any legislation emerging from Albany this session probably could not have done so without Senator Bruno’s support.  Whatever priorities the State Legislature tackles in coming sessions, Senator Bruno’s presence as a fixture in the Executive Chamber will be no more.

Below is Governor Paterson’s list of highlights from this year’s Legislative session:

  • Homeowner Protection: Legislation to address the foreclosure crisis which has affected tens of thousands of homeowners throughout the state. The legislation will ensure that loans are granted based on an applicants’ ability to repay, that mortgage brokers adhere to certain duties of care and that loans comply with strict underwriting standards.
  • Health: Among the agreements reached were the extension of healthcare benefits for 9/11 rescue workers, improved patient safety through better monitoring of doctors, ending mandatory overtime for nurses, and the expansion of care-at-home programs.
  • Environment: Agreements with the Legislature reforming the state’s brownfields program, legislation to boost the construction of green buildings and the “net metering” bill, which encourages clean renewable energy. The state’s net-metering laws were expanded to allow for greater renewable energy investment and job creation.
  • Economic Development/Job Creation: The Governor partnered with the Legislature to preserve 1,500 jobs at New York City Off-Track Betting and create 2,000 new jobs at a proposed gaming resort at Monticello Raceway in the Catskills.
  • Protecting Children: A series of bills to ban teachers who are convicted of sex crimes from being in the classroom, to strengthen the laws against mistreatment in residential child care facilities, and to remove recalled toys from store shelves.
  • Public Safety: Among them, laws helping to ensure that violent felons are appropriately supervised after their release from prison, enhancing the effectiveness of background checks conducted on persons purchasing firearms, improved safeguards against identity theft, and making it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain orders of protection.
  • Labor: In the aftermath of the default of several self-insured workers compensation groups, legislation took steps to protect employees by strengthening regulations for workers compensation self-insurance.

Mayor Bloomberg’s highlights from this legislative session included:

  • Gansevoort – A11773 Rules (Sweeney) / S8723 Rules
    The legislation authorizes the construction of a marine transfer station for recyclable materials on the Gansevoort Peninsula on Manhattan’s West side.
  • OTB – A11635 Pretlow / S8549 Larkin
    The legislation allows for the creation of a new State entity to take over operations of Off-Track Betting in New York City and for OTB to continue providing funding to the City.
  • PlaNYC Bills:
    • Block the Box – A10071 Kavanagh / S6811 Lanza
      The legislation changes the classification of obstruction of an intersection from a moving violation to a parking violation allowing all levels of Traffic Enforcement Agents the ability to issue the ticket. It also raises the fine from $90 to $115.
    • Green Roof Tax Abatement – A11226 R. Diaz / S7553 Lanza
      The legislation provides a four-year NYC property tax abatement for green roof construction.
    • Solar Energy – A11202 Farrell / S8145 Padavan
      The legislation provides a four-year NYC property tax abatement for installation of solar panels.
    • Net Metering – A11582- Gordon / S8481 Sen. Maziarz
      The legislation allows residents with wind generating systems to provide energy back into the utility grid and get a credit against their own usage.
  • ICIP  Reform – A11586 Rules / S6366A Padavan
    The legislation reforms the former Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program (ICIP) program and recreates as the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP) program.  This bill will transform ICIP from an inefficient drain on the City’s budget to a program that creates significant new economic activity at the lowest possible cost, saving City taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
  •  Gun Background Checks– A11758 Lentol / S8706 Skelos  (Governor’s Program Bill)
    The bill mandates that State mental health records be supplied to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to determine ineligible gun purchasers.
  • ACS Access to the Criminal History Database – A4425A Mayersohn / S2978A Robach
    The bill provides child protective service units access to the State’s criminal history database.
  • Expanded Access to Family Court – A11707 Weinstein / S8665 Winner
    The bill expands access to Family Court to those in intimate relationships for the purposes of orders of protection.
  • Pharmacists as Immunizers – A2140D Paulin / S8673 Fuschillo
    The bill allows pharmacists to immunize adults for flu and pneumonia.
  • Subprime Mortgage –  A10817A  Towns / S8143A Farley (Governor’s Program Bill)
    The legislation requires lenders and mortgage loan services to give borrowers with high-cost home loans or higher-priced home loans notice before foreclosure proceedings are commenced.  It establishes the crime of residential mortgage fraud.
  • Public Benefit Income Exemptions – A8527A Weinstein /S6203B Volker
    The legislation protects people receiving public benefits (social security, veterans benefits, etc.) from having those funds frozen by third party creditors when they seek to enforce debt judgments.
  • Criminal Impersonation – A1831A Gianaris / S3079A Fuschillo
    The bill closes a loophole in the Penal Law by expanding the definition of criminal impersonation in the first degree from only police officers to include federal law enforcement officers.
  • BIC Peace Officer Status – A10540 Brennan / S7608 Maltese
    The bill gives full peace officer status to members of the City’s Business Integrity Commission.
  • Expedited Partner Therapy – A8730C Schimel / S6210A Hannon
    The bill authorizes a doctor who diagnosis Chlamydia in a patient to provide antibiotic drugs to the patient’s partner.
  • Wicks Law Reform – S5807C / A9807C
    The legislation raises the thresholds for triggering Wicks Law mandates, dating back to 1961, which require State and local governments to issue multiple construction contracts for most public works projects, will be increased from $50,000 to $3 million in New York City.
  • Cigarette Tax Increase by $1.25 –  A9807C / S6807C
  • Canine Waste – A373 Pheffer / S3437 Padavan
    The legislation increases the maximum penalty on non-compliance of canine waste removal to $250.

Read Mayor Bloomberg’s press release on Albany’s end of session here; read Governor Paterson’s press release here.

MTA Cuts of $2.7 billion Delay Large Projects Until 2010; Possible Fare Hike for Second Time this Year

From William Neuman of the New York Times:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority released a cascade of grim financial assessments on Monday that mean delays in subway station renovations and other major improvements, as well as possible cutbacks in service and increases in fares and tolls.

In a series of public meetings of authority board committees, officials said the authority would be forced to cut projects valued at $2.7 billion from its 2005-9 capital spending program, largely because of soaring costs on construction projects already under way.

The projects being cut include 19 subway station renovations and important projects for the modernization of subway signals and repair facilities. The authority’s chief executive, Elliot G. Sander, said those projects were expected to be included in the authority’s next five-year spending plan, which begins in 2010. But he acknowledged that the authority did not yet know how it would find the financing for that plan.

Continue reading New York Times’ coverage of MTA finances here.

Design Plans for the High Line

From Sewell Chan of the New York Times:

City officials and the Friends of the High Line presented the final design on Wednesday for the first phase of the High Line, the $170 million park that is under construction on the West Side of Manhattan and has been called one of New York City’s most distinctive public projects in generations.

The park — modeled loosely on the Promenade Plantée in Paris — is being built on a 1.45-mile elevated freight rail structure that stretches 22 blocks, from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, near the Hudson River. The rail structure, built to support two fully loaded freight trains, was built from 1929 to 1934 when the West Side was a freight-transportation hub, but has been unused for decades. The tracks are 30 to 60 feet wide and 18 to 30 feet above the ground.

Ground was broken in April 2006. Over the past two years, work crews have been constructing the first, $85 million segment of the 6.7-acre park, which is estimated to cost $170 million, through federal, city and private money.

Continue reading New York Times coverage of the High Line here; see a slideshow of the Highline design plans here.

Urban Assembly New York Harbor School Providing Unique Education for Bushwick Students

From Sara Rimer in the New York Times:

She had rowed a boat, in the East River. She had learned to swim. She had eaten an oyster; it was gross, yes, but it was a challenge, and she had met that challenge. And now, in a final rite of passage, she was at the helm of the Lettie G. Howard, the historic 125-foot schooner that is her school’s classroom-on-the-Hudson.

Yes, she, Jennifer Mendez, 15, the girl from Brooklyn who used to be afraid of the water and everything related to it — fish, boats, bugs — was steering the Lettie up the river, along the Upper West Side. The captain of the ship, Denise Meagher, was standing by. But with her hand on the wheel, Jennifer felt as if she were the captain, responsible for the ship and everyone on it — the crew, her ninth-grade classmates and their science teachers, Roy Arrezo and Ann Fraioli.

A little later, Jennifer would write in her class journal, “I feel as if I can do anything.” Even, she confided, make the honor roll.

The mission of Jennifer’s school, Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, is to raise academic achievement by connecting students with the harbor that surrounds the city. The school’s founders say that by learning about the vast estuary — its history, its fish, its ecology — and by developing the skills to navigate it, students can gain the kind of confidence that Jennifer displays.

“I feel so privileged to learn about the water,” Jennifer wrote in her journal. “The Hudson River is like an ancestor of our past, and if we listen to it, it just might tell tales.”

Continue reading here the New York Times profile of the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School.

Mayor Bloomberg And Public Art Fund Launch The New York City Waterfalls Public Art Project

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, First Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris, Public Art Fund President Susan K. Freedman, and artist Olafur Eliasson today launched The New York City Waterfalls, a major work of public art that will be on display through October 13. The exhibition of four man-made waterfalls of monumental scale are on view on the shores of the New York waterfront: one on the Brooklyn anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge; one on the Brooklyn Piers, between Piers 4 and 5 near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade; one in Lower Manhattan at Pier 35 north of the Manhattan Bridge; and one on the north shore of Governors Island.

The Waterfalls, which have been designed to protect water quality and aquatic life, will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, except Tuesdays and Thursdays, when they will run from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Waterfalls will be lit after sunset. The Mayor, Deputy Mayor Harris and Ms. Freedman were joined by Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin, NYC & Company CEO George Fertitta, Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Public Art Fund Director Rochelle Steiner, and Tishman Construction Corporation Chairman and CEO Daniel Tishman.

Continue reading the Mayor’s press release on The New York City Waterfalls here.

Supreme Court Rejects Property Owner’s Challenge to Eminent Domain Action on the Atlantic Yards

From Peter Kiefer of the New York Sun:

The decision is the latest in a string of legal victories for the developer, Bruce Ratner, who has faced legal challenges by tenants, property owners, and preservationists.

The petition asked the court to consider the appropriate constitutional limits on the government’s use of eminent domain.

The 11-property owner and tenants who served as plaintiffs issued a release yesterday morning pledging to take the case to state court.

Continue reading Mr. Kiefer’s article here.

NYC Officials Promise Congress Stricter Crane Rules

From the Associated Press, via Crain’s New York Business:

New York City officials told Congress on Tuesday they are tightening requirements on tower construction cranes after a spate of recent accidents there, as well as others in Las Vegas and Miami.

Robert LiMandri, the city’s acting Buildings Commissioner, testified before a House Education and Labor Committee hearing examining whether there are insufficient safeguards in place for cranes used at high-rise construction sites.

Mr. LiMandri says the city will impose tougher maintenance and inspection requirements at sites with tower cranes, including documenting a history of maintenance and major repairs to critical crane parts.

“I’m deeply troubled” by the string of recent fatalities, Mr. LiMandri said, but he added, “It is simply impossible for our inspectors to be at every site at all times.”
He said the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration needs more manpower to help keep construction sites safe, and urged lawmakers to provide extra money for more federal inspectors.

Crane safety is getting extra scrutiny following an alarming number of crane-related deaths in recent months. In New York City, two crane accidents since March have killed nine people — a greater number than the total deaths from cranes over the past decade.

Nationwide, on average, four construction workers are killed every day in the United States in construction site accidents.

“There’s no question that construction is an inherently dangerous job,” said committee chairman George Miller, D-Calif. “The question is whether more can be done to prevent accidents and make the industry safer.”

Assistant Secretary Edwin Foulke of OSHA said the overall safety record is good and getting better.

“If you look at fatality rates in both general industry and construction, they have been continually going down… I think our efforts are working,” Mr. Foulke told the committee.

Many states have no count of their cranes, nor do they mandate training for workers who run the equipment, or for officials who certify crane operators. Even the federal government acknowledged last month that updated standards would prevent some crane accidents.

New York City has only four inspectors on the payroll to inspect more than 200 cranes, 26 of them large tower cranes. About four inspections are conducted each day, a routine that industry veterans say won’t detect real problems such as the rebuilt crane part blamed for one of the New York crane collapses.

Continue reading the article of Congressional hearings on crane safety here.

Home Depots in NYC Launch Recycling Program for Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Read the Mayor’s press release here.

After a 32-year career in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno Will not Seek Re-election

From Danny Hakim in the New York Times:

Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader and New York State’s highest-ranking Republican, said Monday evening that he would not seek re-election in November, after a 32-year career in the Senate.

His announcement startled people in the Capitol, many of whom have come to view Mr. Bruno, a former Army regimental boxing champion who still spars for the cameras, as almost indestructible at the age of 79.

The news came three months after Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned following reports that he had been a client of a prostitution ring. Mr. Bruno and Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, were bitter adversaries, and their personal and political battles had defined Albany through much of last year.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, said Monday night after Mr. Bruno telephoned him with the news. He added: “The senator certainly is a piece of Albany. An era ends with Joe Bruno leaving.”

Continue reading Mr. Hakim’s article on Senator Bruno here; read additional coverage from the Times’ City Room blog here.

G.O.P. Select Senator Skelos as New Majority Leader

From Jeremy W. Peters in the New York Times:

The Republican-led state Senate moved on Tuesday to install Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island senator for more than two decades, as its new majority leader.

Mr. Skelos, who will replace Joseph L. Bruno, the powerful majority leader who said on Monday that he would not seek re-election, is expected to be elected by his colleagues in a closed-door conference later in the day.

The selection of Mr. Skelos was confirmed by Thomas Libous, a Republican senator from Binghamton who was widely seen as the Long Island senator’s rival for the job.
“Senator Skelos has my full support,” Mr. Libous said. “Our goal is to finish out the session and come back in the Senate majority.”

Continue reading Mr. Peters’ article here.

Schedule of Public Hearings in the New York City Council Week of June 30

No hearings are currently scheduled