Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced details of a final agreement on a number of major priorities for the end of the 2015-16 legislative session.
Strengthening and Extending Rent Laws in New York City and Other Metropolitan Areas
The New York metropolitan region’s rent laws will be extended for four years, and will be made retroactive to June 15, 2015. Further, additional reforms will be made to strengthen these laws, including:
- Increasing and indexing the high rent threshold to the applicable rent guidelines board (rent guidelines boards apply different rents to different geographic areas). This will make it more difficult for units to be removed from rent regulation because it will allow for the high rent watermark to float based on the rent guidelines board increases.
- Vacancy decontrol limits will be increased to $2,700, and annual increases thereafter will be indexed to the Rent Guidelines Board.
- Increasing civil harassment penalties. These provisions increase monetary penalties imposed on landlords who harass tenants by approximately $1,000, to $3,000 for each offense and up to $11,000 for each offense where the owner harassed a tenant to obtain a vacancy.
- Extends the Major Capital Improvement amortization period from 84 months to 108 for buildings over 35 units and 84 months to 96 for buildings under 35 units. The legislation limits the amount of rent that landlords can charge tenants in order to receive reimbursement for necessary improvements or installations.
- Limits the vacancy bonus provided to landlords on tenants who receive preferential rent as a way to stop the “churn” on these units.
Extending the Property Tax Cap and Cutting Taxes for Homeowners
The legislation extends the property tax cap for an additional four years. Since its enactment in 2011, the real property tax cap has dramatically reduced the growth in local property taxes. Through the first three years of the Cap, the typical property taxpayer has saved more than $800, compared to if taxes had continued to grow at the previous growth rate. If the trend continues, by 2017, the typical taxpayer will have saved more than $2,100 in local property taxes as a result of the Cap.
Building on the success of the property tax cap, the legislation includes a new Property Tax Credit that will provide more than $3.1 billion over four years in direct relief to struggling New York taxpayers. The program is progressively structured so that taxpayers with lower incomes receive a higher benefit. In the first year, 2016, the program will be coupled with the existing Property Tax Freeze credit to provide a total average credit of $350. Beginning in 2017, the program will provide property tax relief based on a percentage of a homeowner’s STAR benefit, with lower incomes receiving a larger percentage. All homeowners with incomes below $275,000 who live in school districts that comply with the property tax cap will be eligible to receive the credit. This year, 98 percent of school districts complied with the cap. When the program is fully phased-in for benefits provided in 2019, it will provide $1.3 billion of property tax relief and an average credit of $530.
Additionally, this agreement creates a program that will help communities that face decreased property tax revenue as a result of the loss or reduction in tax payments from power plants and other facilities that close in their community. For New York City residents, the legislation extends by four years the $85 million, progressively structured “Circuit Breaker” tax relief program. Qualifying homeowners and renters with incomes below $200,000 are eligible to receive a refundable tax credit against the personal income tax when their property taxes or rent exceeds a certain percentage of their income.
Extending and Reforming 421-a
The legislation extends the 421-a program for six months, with a provision that allows representatives of labor and industry groups to reach a memorandum of understanding regarding wage protections for construction workers. If such an agreement is reached, the program will automatically be extended for four years.
Investing in Education
The legislation also includes major advancements in education policy and assistance for nonpublic schools in New York State. These include:
- Increased funding of $250 million to reimburse private schools for the costs of performing State-mandated services.
- The Parental Empowerment Act which requires additional disclosure of state exam questions and answers, the creation of a test content review committee by the State Education Department, and clarification of required components of the student growth model for teacher evaluations.
- A one-year extension of mayoral control of the New York City school system.
- An increase in the number of charter schools available to be issued in New York City to 50 and enhanced flexibility in teacher certification rules.
- $25 million to help resolve the acute financial challenges currently being faced by the Yonkers School District and $6 million to support programs to combat child poverty in the City of Rochester.
Finally, the legislation also amends current law to allow the sitting governor, or former governors, to officiate marriages in the State of New York. Previously, Governors could only solemnize marriages ceremonially, unless they were also ordained ministers.
Building on Progress
The Governor and legislative leaders also recently reached agreements on two other significant packages of legislation – the first ensuring that private colleges in the state establish a uniform and comprehensive set of policies to protect students from sexual violence, and the second giving the state the authority to crack down on bad actors in the nail salon industry, while also establishing a new licensing program to help workers acquire new skills. Last week, the Governor and legislative leaders also reached an agreement on a bill to codify comprehensive reforms to overhaul the port authority of New York and New Jersey.
These reforms also build on the earlier accomplishments secured during the first half of the legislative session, including:
- Landmark education reforms and a $1.3 billion increase in state education aid, bringing total state funding to $23.5 billion – the highest in New York’s history;
- New ethics laws to deter, detect and punish breaches of the public trust, including the nation’s strongest disclosure requirements for outside income;
- $5.4 billion investment in programs and initiatives to grow New York’s economy (such as the $1.5 billion Upstate Revitalization Initiative, a $1.3 billion investment in the New York State Thruway, and $500 million to establish the New NY Broadband Program and ensure statewide high-speed broadband access by the end of 2018); and
- An economic mobility agenda that includes investments in affordable housing, student loan relief, MWBE support, and homeless and hunger assistance programs.
Governor Cuomo announced $658 million to support access to healthy and nutritious food for some of New York’s most vulnerable residents. The funds will be awarded to 92 health and wellness providers that administer New York State’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and drive an expansion of services where the need is greatest. These 92 providers support approximately 400 WIC clinics across the state, reaching nearly 500,000 New Yorkers every month.
The WIC program provides resources to qualifying New Yorkers in need of nutrition assistance. The WIC program also helps to reduce obesity, health disparities and the risk for chronic disease among program participants by promoting positive health outcomes and breastfeeding. WIC currently provides services to approximately 110,000 income eligible pregnant, post-partum or breastfeeding women and approximately 360,000 infants and children up to five years of age each month. One goal of this new round of funding is to expand the reach of the program in underserved areas to provide services to 20,000 new participants. Ultimately, the aim is to serve at least 50 percent of the eligible population in each county.
This funding is administered over five years and is a combination of state and federal money. For a full list of grant awardees that will operate the state’s WIC clinics for the next five years, please click here.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced resurfacing projects totaling $75 million will be completed this year on approximately 428 lane miles of state highways across New York. Funding for these projects was accelerated into this construction season in order to repair widespread damage from deep frost over the winter.
These accelerated paving projects are in addition to more than $437 million in capital construction funds dedicated to paving an estimated 2,311 miles of state roads in the 2015-2016 State Fiscal Year.
Depending on the location, the New York State Department of Transportation’s resurfacing projects will include paving over sections of rough road, removing the worn top layer of pavement from all travel lanes and shoulders, repairing base concrete and/or asphalt and installing a new asphalt riding surface. Wherever practical, pavement that is removed will be recycled and reused, either at the same location or in future construction. Traffic signal vehicle detectors will be replaced and new pavement markings will be installed as needed.
Governor Cuomo announced major progress in signature revitalization projects at Verona Beach State Park and Green Lakes State Park. Made possible by a $13 million investment from the NY Parks 2020 initiative, the improvements include the completion of a new bathhouse and pavilions in time for the summer swim season at Verona Beach and ongoing campground upgrades and a renovation of the golf clubhouse at Green Lakes.
The work, which ranges from the construction of new facilities to much-needed upgrades to park infrastructure, underscores Governor Cuomo’s commitment to improving and expanding access to outdoor recreation. NY Parks 2020 is a multi-year commitment to leverage a broad range of private and public funding to invest approximately $900 million in State Parks from 2011 to 2020. The 2015-16 State Budget includes $110 million toward this initiative.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that maple syrup production in New York reached its highest level in 70 years, allowing the state to retain its standing as the second highest producer of fresh maple syrup in America. New York’s maple farmers persevered through a challenging winter to produce a modern record of more than 601,000 gallons of syrup from more than 2.3 million taps across the state during the 2015 season.
According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the amount of maple syrup produced in New York was up 10.1 percent from 2014 and 4.7 percent from the previous modern production record in 2013. New York State comfortably retained its distinction as the nation’s second-ranking producer of maple syrup, with an increased lead over third-ranked Maine by nearly 50,000 gallons. Vermont, at 1.39 million gallons of syrup, is the nation’s top producing state.
The number of jobs, businesses and people living in Washington Heights and Inwood have reached record levels, but low household incomes and a shortage of affordable housing are challenges, according to an economic snapshot released by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The report is part of a series by DiNapoli examining economic issues across the five boroughs.
DiNapoli’s report found population levels in Washington Heights and Inwood have grown to a record high of 218,500 as of 2013, the most recent year of available data. The area has a large immigrant population, with nearly half (48 percent) of the residents born outside of the United States. While immigrants have come from more than 55 countries, two thirds of the immigrants in this area are from the Dominican Republic. The majority of the residents (72 percent) identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic. As of 2013 there was a record number of private sector jobs (28,670), but the unemployment rate for area residents was 4 percentage points above the citywide rate. Since the end of the recession, the neighborhoods have added 1,950 private sector jobs.
The neighborhoods are home to 3,049 businesses, also a record number. While the majority of these businesses have fewer than five employees, there are several companies that employ more than 100 people, primarily those providing health care and business services. Healthcare, the area’s largest employment sector, accounts for 43 percent of private sector jobs (twice the citywide share). One of the largest employers is the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System, which operates three hospitals in the area. Another one third of the area’s private sector jobs are concentrated in retail stores, restaurants and private schools (such as colleges), which have grown rapidly since the recession. One out of every four businesses is a retail store, and the area is home to several schools operated by Columbia University, as well as Boricua College and Yeshiva University. Private sector jobs in the area pay an average salary of $54,640. But local residents, many of whom commute outside of the area for work as childcare providers, housekeepers, restaurant workers and health aides, earn an average salary of $34,260. Overall, more than one quarter of the families living in the area have household incomes below the federal poverty level.
Since 2002, apartment rents have grown twice as fast as inflation and much faster than household income, making affordable housing a major concern for the area. Although the median monthly rent is one third less than the rest of Manhattan ($1,025 compared to $1,560), 40 percent of area renters devote more than 30 percent of their household income to rent.
See An Economic Snapshot of Washington Heights and Inwood in English and Spanish or http://www.osc.state.ny.us/osdc/rpt2-2016.pdf
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the unsealing of a one-count indictment charging Richard L. Cook III, 57, a resident of Atlanta, Ga., with the crime of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony, in Albany County Court. Cook is charged with stealing over $200,000 in pension payments from the New York State and Local Employees Retirement System paid to his deceased mother, Yvonne Powell, a New York State pensioner who died in 2009.
According to the prosecution, Cook, who served as executor to his mother’s estate, failed to notify the Retirement System of Powell’s death. Instead, authorities allege, Cook routinely accessed the pension funds deposited into a joint account he had held with his mother and liquidated approximately $3,500 per month in pension benefits between March 2009 through December 2013. All told, the Attorney General’s and Comptroller’s Office allege that Cook stole over $200,000.00 in pension benefits over that time period.
The case is the latest joint investigation under the Operation Integrity partnership between the Attorney General and Comptroller, which has resulted in dozens of convictions and more than $ 11 million in restitution. In 2015 alone, the collaboration has resulted in a prison sentence for a Florida woman who stole $100,000 from the pension system and the indictments of two New Jersey residents for allegedly defrauding the system of over $100,000 each.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced agreements with four liquid nicotine companies whose products were being sold in New York in violation of a law requiring that this form of nicotine be sold in child-resistant packaging. Liquid nicotine, together with other chemical additives, is used in electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, to create the vapor that the user inhales. Liquid nicotine is highly toxic, and ingestion or even skin exposure to very small amounts can lead to serious illness and potentially coma and death, particularly for children. Two of the settlement agreements are with retailers Henley Vaporium and Beyond Vape, companies with retail outlets in New York City, including on St. Marks Place in Manhattan; while the two other companies sell their product to New Yorkers online or through local retailers.
As a result of the agreements, the companies will be required to remove from all their distributors and retail purchasers any liquid nicotine sold in packaging that does not meet child-resistant standards. They will also be barred in the future from selling any container not in child-resistant packaging. The retail stores must also train their staff on the requirements of the New York legislation, in particular that bottles containing liquid nicotine be sold in child-resistant packaging, and that any knowledge of bottles being sold without proper packaging be reported to the Attorney General’s Office. The agreements also require the companies to provide proof of testing of containers to demonstrate adherence to poison prevention packaging, to allow exchange of any bottles sold without appropriate protections, and to pay penalties to New York State.
Liquid nicotine is comprised of nicotine extracted from tobacco. It is used in electronic cigarettes, together with other chemical additives, to create a vapor inhaled by the user. Depending on the concentration of nicotine in the finished product, liquid nicotine can be highly toxic. Ingestion or skin exposure to even small amounts of liquid nicotine can lead to rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, confusion, seizures and possibly coma and death.
In 2014, an 18-month-old boy in Upstate New York died from ingesting liquid nicotine. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, more than 3,700 exposures to liquid nicotine were reported to poison control centers around the country in 2014 – a sharp increase from previous years. Half of those calls related to the poisoning of children under the age of five by this toxic product.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced significant reforms to the Assembly Member Travel Policy involving the reimbursement of members for travel expenses incurred in the performance of their official legislative duties.
The Assembly’s revised travel policy establishes new reimbursement requirements for travel that occurs when the regular session is not scheduled. Travel during this time will require the approval of the Speaker if a member wants to exceed the maximum number of allowed trips.
These new rules continue reimbursement rates established by federal regulations, $172 per full day per diem allowance for lodging, meals, and incidentals and $61 per partial day per diem for meals and incidentals, and limits off-session trips to 30 of which only 20 can be for the full per diem.
Reimbursement for transportation costs, including train and airline tickets, tolls, mileage and car rental costs that exceed the 30 trips permitted when the Assembly is not in regular session, must be approved by the Speaker.
Travel to Albany for regular, special or extraordinary session as well as to attend public hearings conducted by Assembly committees and taskforces will not require the Speaker’s authorization.
The new travel policies build on the reforms announced by Speaker Heastie last month when the Assembly established acceptable verification forms to document a member’s presence in Albany on the days he or she claim a per diem. Among the acceptable forms of verification are electronic systems recording a member’s vote in committee, session attendance and a swipe machine in the Assembly’s Legislative Office Building.
Other approved forms of verification are E-Z Pass documents, a member’s recorded presence at an Assembly public hearing or roundtable and dated receipts from hotels and restaurants in the Albany region.
Assembly Legislation Protects Affordable Housing
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Chair of the Committee on Aging Steven Cymbrowitz announced the passage of several measures to strengthen the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs that preserve affordable housing for senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
The package of bills includes a measure that would allow eligible surviving members of a household to apply for a transfer of the deceased head of household’s SCRIE or DRIE benefit. Current New York City policy allows only 60 days for transfer of SCRIE or DRIE benefits to an eligible surviving household member, a change from previous practice. This bill would codify the transfer period as six months from the head of the household’s death, or 90 days from the date of notice from the New York City Department of Finance – whichever is longer – giving grieving families more time to transfer benefits. Notice from the Department would also include instructions for benefit transfer to an eligible surviving household member and the necessary forms (A.7247-A, Simotas).
The legislative package also includes measures that would:
- require the appropriate rent control or administrative agency to send a notice of required renewal to each head of household who currently receives an exemption under the SCRIE program 30 days prior to the application renewal date (A.1087, Dinowitz);
- provide notification, at least once annually, to rent-regulated tenants regarding the SCRIE program and DRIE program , by requiring a landlord to provide information prepared by the administrative agency (A.2124-A, Rosenthal);
- make certain tax abatement forms more accessible to seniors and authorize certain entities to assist in the completion of tax abatement forms (A.5320, Cymbrowitz);
- require municipalities that offer SCRIE and DRIE to translate necessary documents into the six most common non-English languages spoken in the municipality, as well as provide interpretive services upon request, and offer assistive services upon request or demonstrated need due to partial or total deafness, blindness, speech impediment, or cognitive impairment (A.4179, Brook-Krasny); and
- allow a SCRIE or DRIE participant to get back to their previous frozen rent if they reapply after a non-recurring item of income makes them temporarily ineligible for SCRIE or DRIE for a year (A.8228, Cymbrowitz).
In addition, the legislation includes a measure that would prevent seniors and persons with disabilities from being dropped from SCRIE or DRIE due to recent changes in the administration of the program by the New York City Department of Finance. It would grandfather participants into the program as of January 1, 2015 at their current frozen rent, as well as individuals entering into the program on or before July 1, 2015, for as long as they are in the program. New applicants would remain subject to the 1/3 rent-to-income ratio requirement. The bill also creates a bridge for individuals whose rent increase exemption expired on or after December 31, 2013, and whose income made them ineligible to renew the benefit, but who were eligible under the increased income limit that took effect on July 1, 2014. This bridge would allow these individuals to regain their previous frozen rent amount as if they had not left SCRIE or DRIE, rather than the higher rent that was set under the new income limit (A.7914-A, Cymbrowitz).
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions James Brennan announced legislation that would enact the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015 (A8298, Brennan).
In August 2011, Governors Cuomo and Christie required the Port Authority to undergo a comprehensive audit of its finances and operations which asserted the Port Authority was a “dysfunctional organization suffering from a lack of consistent leadership.” In 2012, the Assembly began its effort to achieve meaningful reform at the Port Authority by passing the first comprehensive reform bill of the Port Authority. Then in 2013, the scandal around the closing of the traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge solidified the need for comprehensive reform at the Port Authority. In 2014, Cuomo and Christie created the bi-state Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority to further review and make recommendations on the future role and functionality of the Port Authority. Despite efforts from the Legislatures of New York and New Jersey to see a comprehensive reform bill which applied the Public Authorities Accountability Act of 2005 and the Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009 to the Port Authority signed into law, the Governors of New York and New Jersey vetoed that bill at the end of 2014.
However, with the numerous public scandals at the Port Authority, it is apparent that further action needs to be taken. The legislation codifies previous reforms into law and further addresses recommendations by the Special Panel.
Under this legislation, a Chief Executive Officer would be appointed to replace the separate management that was provided by the Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director. Board Chairperson and Vice Chairperson positions would rotate for a term of two years between the states, starting with Governor Cuomo appointing a Chairperson and Governor Christie appointing a Vice Chairperson. Commissioners would be required to sign a statement declaring their fiduciary obligation to exercise independent judgment and act in the best interest of the Port Authority, its mission, and the public. The bill would also prohibit a Commissioner from serving as the Port Authority’s Chief Executive Officer or as any other officer while serving as a Commissioner.
Other provisions included in the act would:
- appoint a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer who would enforce compliance with applicable laws and best practices, bolster the oversight of the Port Authority’s Inspector General, and establish a whistleblower access and assistance program;
- establish a clear recusal policy to prevent conflicts of interest and require Commissioners, officers, and certain employees to file financial disclosures and to maintain records regarding contact with lobbyists;
- require public notice of Port Authority meetings and that such meetings are open to the public; and
- adopt a Port Authority mission statement designed to meet the critical transportation infrastructure needs of the bi-state region’s residents, businesses, and visitors.
Additionally, the Port Authority would be required to conduct a needs assessment and public hearings before raising tolls and fares. Enhanced annual reports, financial audits, and publication of capital plan and advance debt issuance reports would likewise be required.
These measures would take effect upon the enactment of identical legislation by the state of New Jersey.
Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblyman Victor Pichardo announced the approval of legislation to ban smoking tobacco products where after-school programs are conducted in order to safeguard children from the health risks of second-hand smoke.
The bill (A.5917-A) prohibits the smoking of tobacco products within 100 feet of entrances, exits or outdoor space of any after-school program in the state. To communicate this ban on smoking and encourage compliance, the measure permits the posting of signs indicating the times of day when smoking is prohibited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked second-hand smoke to lower respiratory infections in school-aged children and to triggering such respiratory symptoms as coughing, wheezing and breathlessness. Medical researchers also believe that even brief exposures to second-hand smoke can damage human cells and lead to increased incidences of cancer among children.
A ban on smoking in the work place has been in effect since the enactment of the Clean Indoor Air Act in 2003. The act has significantly reduced the public’s exposure to second-hand smoke, which the American Cancer Society has classified as a known carcinogen.
The Assembly gave final passage to the bill, which will be delivered to the governor for his signature.
The New York State Senate passed an end-of-session measure that will bring $3.1 billion in new tax relief to property owners, extend the existing property tax cap to deliver additional savings and create new jobs, improve affordable housing statewide, and continue the Senate’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that every child has access to a quality education.
STAR-eligible homeowners throughout the state will be eligible for $3.1 billion in new property tax rebates over the next four years, starting in 2016. When the new rebate amounts are combined with the existing tax freeze check planned for next year, a total of $900 million in property tax relief checks will be sent – an average of approximately $350 per eligible homeowner statewide. In 2019-2020, this new tax relief will be fully phased in and a total of $1.3 billion will be issued to taxpayers.
The Senate also succeeded in extending the highly effective property tax cap that has already saved taxpayers $7.6 billion over the past four years. The cap had been set to expire in 2016-2017 but will now be extended to 2019-2020, bringing certainty to taxpayers and businesses.
To help give all children the opportunity to receive a quality education, the Senate passed legislation that includes $250 million in funding for non-public schools. This money will be provided over two years to reimburse the costs incurred by private schools for performing state mandated services and implementing the Comprehensive Attendance Program (CAP).
Significant parent-centric education reforms first championed by the Senate were also included to provide greater transparency and accountability, and ensure that the standardized tests are a learning tool. Measures include:
- Empowering both parents and teachers by directing the State Education Department (SED) to release test questions and the corresponding correct answers back to teachers in their respective classrooms by June 1st of each year. This will ensure greater accountability and transparency in testing, while also ensuring that tests are used as a real teaching tool, rather than simply a data collection device;
- Eliminating the “gag” order that had prevented teachers from discussing tests with their students;
- Helping students by enacting new measures to ensure that state exams in grades 3 through 8 are grade-appropriate and time-appropriate;
- Establishing a content review committee to review exam questions to ensure that they are aligned with the standards and are age and grade-level appropriate; and
- Protecting teachers by establishing in the education law a requirement that SED must consider student characteristics (such as English language learners, students with disabilities, students in poverty, and a student’s prior academic history) as factors in the calculation of a teacher’s student growth scores.
These reforms build upon the Senate Republicans’ success in increasing school aid by $1.4 billion – an increase of hundreds of millions of dollars above what the Executive Budget originally proposed – for a total of $23.5 billion. This funding increase also helps reduce the pressure to raise local taxes by giving school districts the resources they need to ensure children are college and career ready.
Due largely to the Senate Republican Conference, this year’s budget also reduces what remains of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) cuts by nearly 60 percent, restoring $603 million. The state has now done away with nearly 85 percent of the original GEA, and the Senate will continue to work towards its full elimination once and for all.
The bill passed is expected to be taken up by the Assembly and signed by the Governor.