News from STATE SENATOR
New York State Senate, 26 District
COMMUNITY BULLETIN – February 2007
Message from Liz . . .
On January 31st, Governor Spitzer presented his Executive Budget, which will now be
reviewed by the legislature in a series of hearings over the next several weeks. As I have just
begun to review the thousands of pages of the budget, I wanted to offer some preliminary
reactions and highlights from his address.
I was most impressed with the clarity of Governor Spitzer’s presentation regarding the
challenges we face. On a number of measures, New York State is clearly failing. In education,
we have the second highest per pupil expenditures in the country, yet the third lowest
graduation rate. Our healthcare system is extremely expensive – we have the highest rate of
per capita Medicaid spending in the country—yet we also have 2.6 million uninsured New
Yorkers and the highest death rate from chronic diseases in the country, and as has been
often reported, New York State has the highest combined state and local tax burden in the
nation. Given these failures in education and health care, not to mention many other areas,
we are clearly not getting the return on all those taxes that we should be.
Not surprisingly, reforming the funding of education and healthcare are the centerpieces of
Governor Spitzer’s proposal. From my perspective, his education proposals are the easiest to
like. The Governor substantially exceeds the requirements of last year's CFE court decision,
and proposes an additional $7 billion in school aid over the next four years, with $3.2 billion
allocated to New York City. However, recognizing that money alone does not equal results, the
Governor’s budget reallocates funding to target those most in need, and introduces a number
of accountability measures to ensure that new funding goes toward proven educational models
like prekindergarten and class size reduction initiatives. It also requires enhancements to
teacher quality, and implements improvements in math and science education. It eliminates
the complex school aid formula that has resulted in huge disparities in per pupil spending
from county to county, and replaces it with an easy to understand six factor formula of
determining state aid levels to local districts. The combination of the carrot of new money
with the stick of actual standards and state review of local district spending has the potential
to fundamentally alter the structure of our educational funding system for the better.
The Governor’s health care proposals involve more difficult decisions, because they involve
significant limitations on spending that will have negative impacts on important parts of our
healthcare delivery system. The need to address Medicaid costs is undeniable, given the huge
impact on both state and local budgets of Medicaid expenditures, but this must be done in a
way that protects the integrity of our healthcare delivery system. The governor proposes
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$1.29 billion in health care savings, including tying hospital Medicaid reimbursement rates to
Medicaid case mix, reducing the use of Medicaid funding for Graduate Medical Education,
reducing reimbursement rates for pharmacies, and tightening rules around preferred drug
lists (PDLs). At the same time, the governor proposes expanding Child Health Plus to insure
the 400,000 children in New York without insurance.
Besides these two huge issues, the Governor’s budget includes a number of other interesting
proposals. Here is a very selective list:
· An expansion of the STAR tax exemption targeted at middle class homeowners – this is
an attempt to address high property taxes throughout the State, but STAR does very
little for NYC home owners and nothing for renters – I am not a fan;
· Closing corporate loopholes by imposing combined reporting requirements and
eliminating specific tax exemptions that will save the state $449 million annually;
· Across the board nonpersonnel service cuts of 5% for most state agencies;
· Establishing a prison closing commission and a sentencing reform commission;
· Providing $50 million for a new program to create and preserve affordable housing and
tens of million more for expansion of supportive housing and community residences
through the department of mental health;
· A 4.6% increase in general operating support to both CUNY and SUNY;
· Creation of a Stem Cell and Innovations Fund Corporation to administer investments in
nanotechnology and stem cell research in New York State.
This is just a small taste of the many proposals offered by the Governor. Between now and
April 1st I look forward to working with the new administration and my legislative colleagues to
evaluate and hopefully even improve on these proposals. Governor Spitzer has outlined an
ambitious agenda, and will no doubt face significant challenges in moving parts of this agenda
through the legislature. That said, I am impressed by the clarity of his vision, and his
commitment to confronting the major issues facing New York State.
Section 8 Voucher List Reopens:
For the first time in 12 years, New York City has reopened the Section 8 Voucher list. 22,000
Section 8 vouchers will be available to very low income families seeking affordable housing in
New York City. Families with a voucher pay 30% of their income toward their fair market rent
as set by the federal government, and the New York City Housing Authority pays the rest
directly to the landlord. The 12,000 of these vouchers will be available this year, and 10,000
in 2008. Section 8 applications will be accepted for a threemonth period beginning February
12, 2007. Applications must be postmarked no later than May 14, 2007. You can request an
application at the Manhattan borough office at 55 W. 125th St., or online at
LEGAL BOUND Summer Junior High and High School Intern Program:
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is accepting applications for its Legal Bound Summer
Internship Program. Students between the ages of 14 and 17 (or 18 if still in high school) with
an interest in the law are encouraged to apply. Applicants should send a resume and an
essay explaining their interest in the law to Community Affairs Unit, New York County District
Attorneys Office, Attn: Ms. Carol Ragsdale, One Hogan Place, Room 824, New York NY 10013.
Applications must be postmarked no later than March 30, 2007. For further information, call
the District Attorney’s Office at (212) 3359082.
New York City’s Rechargeable Battery Law
Compared to singleuse batteries, rechargeable batteries reduce waste; however they contain
mercury, cadmium, lead, and other heavy metals that can be dangerous if not disposed of
properly. Mayor Bloomberg signed a law, effective December 1, 2006, making it illegal to
discard rechargeable batteries in the trash (or in residential recycling containers). Local Law
97 defines a “rechargeable battery” as: any rechargeable nickelcadmium, sealed lead, lithium
ion, nickel metal hybrid battery, or any other such dry cell battery capable of being recharged
weighing less than twentyfive pounds, or battery packs containing such batteries, but shall not
include a battery used as the principle electric power source for a vehicle, such as, but not
limited to, an automobile, boat, truck, tractor, golf cart or wheelchair. Or storage of electricity
generated by an alternative power source, such as solar or winddriven generators, or for
memory backup in an electric device (i.e. batteries from cell and cordless phones, digital
cameras, mp3 players, laptop computers, cordless power tools, electric razors, remote control
toys and battery charges, etc.)
All New York City stores that sell rechargeable batteries (or products containing rechargeable
batteries) must accept rechargeable batteries for recycling during normal business hours, no
purchase necessary. Up to ten batteries of the same size and shape can be brought to a store
for recycling at a time. For a list of locations, visit www.call2recycle.org or call (877)2
RECYCLE (8772732925). If a store refuses to accept your batteries, please call 311.
Blood Supply Shortage
Last month the New York Blood Center announced that their blood supply has reached a
critically low level following the holidays, and is urging all who can donate to do so to meet
demand. While there are safety restrictions in place which restrict who can give blood and
when, three in five people are eligible to donate at any given time. Only 5% of people who are
eligible to give blood actually donate. Blood donors can safely donate blood every 56 days. If
you would like to learn more about blood donation, or schedule an appointment, please visit
www.nybloodcenter.org or call 18009332566.
Affordable Housing Opportunities for Seniors in Manhattan:
Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty is now accepting applications for 23 studio and one
bedroom apartments now under construction on the Upper East Side for moderate income
individuals and couples. Rents for these units will be $782836 per month depending on unit
size. To be eligible, applicants must have incomes between $33,040 to $42,432, depending on
unit and family size. For singles, the applicant must be 62 years of age or older at the time of
the application. For couples, one applicant must be at least 62 and the coapplicant must be
at least 55 at the time of the application. Applications will be selected by lottery with
preference given to New York City residents. Applicants residing in Community Boards 8 will
receive priority for 50% of the units. In addition, visual/hearing impaired applicants will
receive priority for 2% of the units, applicants with mobility impairment will receive priority for
5% of the units, and applicants who are New York City municipal employees with receive
preference for 5% of the units. You may request an application by mail from Met
Council/92nd Street Senior Residence 80 Maiden Lane, 21st Floor, New York, NY 10038.
Please include a selfaddressed envelope with your application request. Applications must be
postmarked no later than March 12, 2007 and must be returned by regular mail to the PO Box
on the application, so you should request your application as soon as possible in order to
ensure you have time to fill it out and return it by the deadline. Only one application per
household will be accepted.
Tax Benefits for Families with Children:
Federal and New York state tax credits can put thousands of dollars in the pockets of working
families with children this coming taxfiling season. You may be eligible for one or more of the
· Federal Earned Income Credit worth up to $4,536;
· Federal Credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses worth up to $2,100; and
· Federal Child Tax Credit worth up to $1,000 per child.
In addition, New York also offers:
· New York Child and Dependent Care Credit worth up to $2,310;
· New York Earned Income Credit worth up to $1,361; and
· Empire State Child Credit worth up to $330 per child, new this year!
Even if you don’t owe income taxes you may be eligible for a refund check simply by claiming
these credits on your federal and state tax returns!
The federal Credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses is available to families at all income
levels to offset a percentage of qualifying child and dependent care expenses. For families with
income of $15,000 or less the credit is worth up to $2,100, though the amount that can be
claimed is limited by a family’s actual federal income tax liability. The maximum credit
available gradually decreases as income increases. Families with income above $43,000 can
receive up to $1,200. New York offers its own Child and Dependent Care Credit to families to
offset a percentage of the same qualifying child and dependent care expenses as the federal
credit. The maximum value of the New York credit is $2,310 and it is refundable–so even if a
family owes very little or no state income taxes, they will be able to benefit from the credit,
with some or all of the value of the state credit received as a tax refund.
In addition to the federal credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses and the New York
Child and Dependent Care Credit, there are two federal credits and two state credits that
families with children can claim, even if they do not have qualifying child care expenses. The
federal Earned Income Credit can be worth up to $4,536 for families with two or more
qualifying children and 2006 earnings of $36,348 or less (if single), or $38,348 or less
(together with a spouse, if married); or up to $2,747 for families with one qualifying child and
2006 earnings of $32,001 or less (if single), or $34,001 or less (together with a spouse, if
married). The federal Child Tax Credit can be worth up to $1,000 per child for families with
income below $94,000 (if single), or below $129,000 (together with a spouse, if married) for
one child; income limits are higher for families with more children. In addition, New York
offers a refundable Earned Income Credit calculated as a percentage of the federal Earned
Income Credit, which can be worth up to $1,361. And, this year for the first time, New York
offers a refundable Empire State Child Credit based on the federal Child Tax Credit, which can
be worth up to $330 per child.
For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service tollfree at (800) TAX1040 or (800)
8291040 and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance tollfree at (800) 225
5829. To find out where to get free income tax preparation assistance, New York City residents
can call 311. Community Tax Aid also provides free tax preparation for individuals with
incomes under 25,000, and families with incomes under 35,000. For times and locations,
visit http://communities.msn.com/ctanyc or call 2126133101.
Heat Season Rules:
The City Housing Maintenance Code and Multiple Dwelling Law requires building owners to
provide heat and hot water to all tenants. Building owners are required to provide hot water
365 days per year at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Between
October 1st and May 31st, a period designated as "Heat Season," building owners are also
required to provide tenants with heat under the following conditions:
· Between the hours of 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM, if the outside temperature falls below
55 degrees, the inside temperature is required to be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
· Between the hours of 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM, if the temperature outside falls below
40 degrees, the inside temperature is required to be at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tenants who are cold in their apartments should first attempt to notify the building owner,
managing agent or superintendent. If heat is not restored, the tenant should call the City's
Citizen Service Center at 311 (311 can be accessed outside of New York City by dialing (212)
NEW YORK. For the hearing impaired, the TTY number is (212) 5044115. The Center is open
24hours a day, sevendays a week.
Spotlight on Policy
Last month Governor Spitzer and the legislative leaders agreed to an important package of
ethics reform legislation, which represents a first step on this important issue. The reforms
include, among other measures, creating stronger ethics committees with oversight of the
executive and legislative branches.
I was particularly pleased that the package included a number of measures I have championed
in the Senate, including closure of the "revolving door" lobbying loophole, a ban on legislators
accepting honoraria, as well as a gift ban for legislators and their staff.
Ethics reform is key to an open and transparent State government. It is very important that
voters have faith in the system, and trust that we will hold ourselves to the highest standard.
Strengthening the ethics commission will ensure there is a watchdog with the political and
functional will to fulfill its mission.
Last year I proposed S6467 that would have closed the "revolving door" lobbying loophole that
allows legislative staffers to retire and immediately become powerful paid lobbyists. The
current law states that legislators must wait two years before lobbying the Legislature, but
until now their former staff members have been allowed to roam the Capitol halls, using
connections made during time as legislative employees, to advance their new employer's
agenda. People were able to leave the Capitol as a legislative staffer one day and return the
next as a lobbyist. Many companies certainly exploited the personal relationships that former
staffers developed through day to day interaction, for their own advantage.
In 2006 I also proposed S6704 that would ban paid honoraria that State employees and
legislators may currently accept.
I also joined my Senate Democratic colleagues in officering a Senate rules change in both 2005
and 2007 that would have banned legislators from receiving gifts from lobbyists. At the time,
Majority Leader Joe Bruno stated his support for such a ban, yet refused to allow the proposal
to advance in the Senate Rules Committee.
While I am glad that this important reform is included in the package, the gift ban is also
representative of why reform cannot succeed if done little by little. For instance, New York's
laws defining how legislators may spend campaign monies are among the most lax in the
nation. Therefore, a tit for tat arrangement circumvents the gift ban—I'll buy dinner, you
donate to my campaign fund.
Governor Spitzer has shown a willingness to challenge the status quo, and the voters are
clearly behind him. It will be tempting for some legislators to run to their constituents and say
"Look! Look! We're Reformers!" But the job is nowhere near done.
Among other legislation I have proposed is a bill that would bring clarity to how political
candidates can spend campaign monies prior to and while in elected office, as well as the
elimination of pensions for elected officials who have been convicted of a crime.
In the end, what we need is comprehensive reform that includes ethics, campaign finance,
budget and legislative rules measures, not just bits and pieces of each. This ethics package is
a good start—but only a start.