New State Budget Enacted
This year's state budget was again adopted on time and, for the most part, I am very pleased with the results. Despite a difficult economy, the State Legislature maintained and increased funding for health, elementary and secondary education (the first increase in three years), higher education, housing, and many other important programs.
As the economy slowly improves, state tax revenues have improved. And in December, the Legislature increased taxes on high-bracket taxpayers (and reduced taxes for low- and middle-income taxpayers). These two factors helped us enact a reasonable budget.
As chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I lead the Assembly's work on the health budget each year. We work to promote access to care for all New Yorkers. Funding for services was not cut. We were even able to restore some programs, such as the EPIC drug program for seniors and some services that were cut in 2011, and increase funding for some services.
A supportive housing grant program, which includes both brick and mortar and services, will be funded by re-investing Medicaid savings. Supportive housing significantly reduces Medicaid costs for high-need groups.
A summary of the many actions in the health portion of the budget can be found on my website: http://assembly.state.ny.us/ and the Assembly's budget website: http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/2012budget/ and click on the "Conference Committee Survey."
The Legislature increased education funding by $805 million, bringing the total to $20.3 billion.
The final budget also includes increased funding for libraries and adult literacy programs.
Total funding for Opportunity Programs is $31.5 million. An appropriation of $3.5 million will restore the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). Other Opportunity Programs to receive funding restorations include: the Liberty Partnerships Program; the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP); the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP).
The budget increased our commitment to CUNY, marking the first community college base aid increase in five years, including $9.1 million for CUNY community colleges, and $1.3 million for CUNY child-care centers.
The Assembly led the effort to increase the state's investment to increase quality, affordable housing. Funding for the Neighborhood and Rural Preservation Programs is not only restored but is increased by $2.2 million for a total investment of $14.2 million. $3 million is provided for homelessness prevention and supportive housing programs.
Sales Tax on Clothing
As of April 1, there is no state or New York City sales tax on clothing, footwear and related items sold for less than $110 each.
Support for Women & Minority Owned Business Increased
The budget allocates $1.6 million to help Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) compete for state contracts. In addition, support in the budget for the Minority- and Women-owned Business Development and Lending Program was increased by $365,000, for a total appropriation of $1 million.
Regional Economic Development Councils
The SFY 2012-2013 budget includes an investment of $220 million to support a second round of grants by the Regional Economic Development Councils, an initiative to jumpstart local economies across New York State. Of that $220 million, $150 million is new capital funding and the remaining $70 million comes from tax credits for the Excelsior Jobs Program.
New York Works Economic Development Fund
Also included in the budget is an appropriation of $75 million for the New York Works Economic Development Fund. This new initiative includes business development and job creation efforts to revitalize the State's economy. These efforts include capital grants to support employer projects to create or retain jobs, and infrastructure investments necessary to attract new businesses or to expand existing businesses.
Jobs Now Program
More than $16 million will fund the Jobs Now Program to attract major new businesses and permanent private-sector jobs to New York. The program also provides financial assistance to encourage significant business expansion.
The following were included in the budget:
- $35.6 million in total funding for the New York State Council on the Arts grants, an increase of $4 million;
- $9.8 million in total funding for tourism initiatives, an increase of $500,000;
Transportation and Infrastructure
The budget provides $4.5 billion for highway, road and bridge projects throughout the state, and $1.16 billion for New York Works, a major job creation and retention plan that will accelerate the beginning of many transportation projects across the state.
For the MTA Capital plan, the budget provides $770 million in increased funding for the plan's final three years and allows the MTA to obtain the full $13.1 billion needed for the agency's five-year capital plan to move forward on some of the largest transit construction projects in New York City's history, including the Second Avenue Subway and the extension of the No.7 train.
The Department of Transportation will be able to conduct an additional 5,000 to 7,000 bus inspections with the $1 million included in the budget to ensure the safe operation of travel buses on the state's roadways.
Proposed Chelsea Market Expansion
Jamestown Properties, the owner of Chelsea Market, has proposed zoning changes that would allow additional development of the property. This would involve adding the site (the full block between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, from West 15th to 16th Streets) to the Special West Chelsea District.
I oppose the project. The negatives strongly outweigh any gains the community might receive from this expansion.
The West Chelsea zoning district was created in 2005. At the time, Chelsea Market asked to be excluded from the zoning increase. The new owners want to be included. I believe the plan is too large. This plan would dramatically alter an important historic building, with little guarantee of long-term job creation.
Changes at the Chelsea Hotel
The sale of the Chelsea Hotel in 2011 has presented the tenants of the building with many issues. The new owners, the Chetrit Group, have begun a full interior renovation and have plans to add an additional story to the roof, pending approval of the Community Board and Landmarks Preservation Commission. It is unclear what Chetrit intents to use the additional story for at this time.
The Dept. of Buildings has begun to audit the permits for renovation that have been filed thus far. Many concerns have been raised by tenants, including: asbestos abatement, improperly capped gas pipes, mis-stating the Floor Area Ratio of the building, as well as changes in exits. Council Speaker Christine Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane, Borough President Scott Stringer, U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler and I will be shortly sending a letter to the Department of Buildings, urging that the DOB pay close attention to those issues as it audits.
Community Board 4 has convened a Chelsea Hotel Taskforce with tenants from the building, members of CB4's Housing, Health, and Human Services committee, a representative from the Chetrit Group, and local elected officials' representatives. The goal of this taskforce is to open a better line of communication between Chetrit and the tenants. As the building undergoes serious reconstruction, we must ensure that the safety of the residents is of utmost importance and that all work be carried out according to DOB standards.
High Line Park Design Concept of Final Phase
The High Line Park, the enormously successful elevated park running along Tenth Avenue on Manhattan's West Side, has been open for three years. The first and second phases have been open to the public and the Friends of the High Line is working to begin the final phase of the project, running from 30th Street west to Route 9A, and north to 34th Street, in the soon-to-be-developed Hudson Yards.
Community input is very important to projects like this, and Friends of the High Line has continually reached out to the Chelsea community. Last month, I sent a letter to the Friends of the High Line asking that products used in the third phase be from local, sustainable sources. My letter is available from my district office or website: www.assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Gottfried
St Vincent de Paul Church Should be Landmarked
Each of the areas I represent - Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen, Murray Hill, Flatiron, and parts of the Lincoln Center area and midtown - has many historic buildings that enrich the community and must be preserved.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) was created to ensure that New Yorkers are reminded of a time before glass and steel penetrated our skyline. Prior to the creation of the Commission in 1965, architectural treasures fell victim to the wrecking ball: Stamford White's original Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Station are two of the grandest, but many other, lesser-noted unique buildings were also lost in the fury of development. But historic preservation depends on a vocal community.
Last month, I wrote the LPC to request that the Commission evaluate and consider the designation of St. Vincent de Paul Church on West 23rd Street. It is a unique structure with a storied history. I had previously written to the Commissioner in 2010. My letter to the LPC is available from my district office or website: www.assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Gottfried
Linking Privately Owned Public Spaces in Midtown
In 1961, a zoning regulation was created to allow developers to build bigger buildings in high-density districts in exchange for creating additional public space. Many developers, especially in midtown Manhattan, built these "Privately Owned Public Spaces" (POPS), which are provided and maintained by the building owner. Recently, the Department of Transportation, in coordination with the West 54-55 Street Block Association, has responded to a proposal to link a string of POPS that runs from 51st to 57th Streets between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. DOT would like to add signage to draw attention to them, install a raised mid-block crosswalk to delineate safe crossing across the street, and add a stop sign at each mid-block. This will enable people to walk from 51st Street to 57th Street mid-block.
I believe this idea capitalizes on an underutilized thruway and will make the mid-block walk from 51st to 57th safer for pedestrians. I applaud the Block Association, Friends of Privately Owned Public Spaces, and DOT for their efforts and look forward to seeing this project come to fruition.
I have suggested a design competition to encourage interesting and visible signage.
To read the New York Times article about the proposal, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/nyregion/for-midtown-manhattan-pedestrians-an-avenue-alternative.html?ref=nyregion
NYU Langone Medical Center Redevelopment Taskforce
New York University's Langone Medical Center, located on First Avenue between 30th and 34th Streets is beginning a large redevelopment of its sprawling eastside campus. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2017. Partial closure of East 30th Street between First Avenue and the FDR service road, as well as lane closures on the FDR service road, will be required for the initial phase. The redevelopment will add a significant amount of green space to an otherwise outdated, concrete-dominated campus; update buildings; create a co-generation plant; and increase state-of-the-art medical facilities at the hospital.
Community Board 6 has convened a taskforce with members of NYU Langone Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital, the Dept. of Transportation, Dept. of Homeless Services, and local elected officials to ensure that any adverse construction issues are mitigated and expedient access to NYU Langone and Bellevue Hospital to the south, are maintained. The taskforce will be used as a means to open communication between NYU Langone and the community while construction is taking place. Jeffrey LeFrancois on my staff is representing me on this taskforce.
If you have concerns about the site, you should contact 311 or call Jeffrey in my community office at 212-807-7900.
Close the "Owner Occupancy" Loophole
New York's rent laws allow a landlord to evict most tenants on grounds that the landlord wants to use the apartment for "personal use." A landlord can evict as many tenants in a building as he or she wants based on this claim. It is a major loophole that has taken thousands of apartments away from tenants and rent protection.
One of many recent cases in our community is 221 West 16th Street, where five long-time families in the building were evicted and the remaining elderly tenants are under pressure to vacate. Another is at 354 West 20th Street, where a few remaining SRO tenants are under pressure to vacate. Very often, landlords never move into the units as they claim they will. Instead, they convert the vacant apartments into illegal hotels or simply sell the building for a tidy profit.
Whatever the landlord's intent, I believe the "personal use" eviction is wrong. The rent laws are meant to protect the right of a tenant to keep his or her home. People who have the money to buy a building have a lot more housing options than the tenants who are usually the targets of eviction. The law should be on the tenant's side.
There are bills in Albany to limit the "owner occupancy" loophole, including a bill to require a landlord to show a compelling, immediate need for the housing, and limit the landlord to taking only one unit for personal use. I am the author of a bill that would repeal "owner occupancy" entirely.
Outside of New York City, owners must relocate tenants who have lived in their home for more than 20 years, but this rule doesn't apply in New York City. It should.
If your landlord is creating problems for you, please do not hesitate to call my community office with questions at 212-807-7900, or e-mail us at GottfriedR@assembly.state.ny.us.
Call for Independent NYPD Oversight
Like many of my colleagues in the Assembly, I am concerned about the NYPD's covert surveillance of Muslim communities and appalled by the shooting of Ramarley Graham in the Bronx in February. I am also concerned about the disproportionate use of stop and frisks and complaints of police brutality in communities of color.
The City Department of Investigation is an independent and nonpartisan watchdog for City government charged with investigating fraud, corruption, and unethical activities at more than 45 mayoral agencies and over 300 other City agencies and entities, except for the NYPD. The NYPD's oversight is handled by its Internal Affairs Bureau, which reports to the police commissioner.
I think it is important for the NYPD to be held to at least the same standards of accountability as every other municipal agency in New York City. I am a co-sponsor of a bill (A09304/S6407-A) to expand the Department of Investigation's jurisdiction to include the NYPD.
NY Youth Works Program
Governor Cuomo signed the NY Youth Works Program into law in December of 2011 to encourage businesses to hire unemployed, disadvantaged youth. The program will support job training and employment for eligible youth ages 16-24 who live in New York City and other cities across the state. The Program can assist youth in finding a job or job training to prepare for a career.
Businesses who enlist in this program are eligible for a maximum $4,000 tax credit. The business must receive certification from the State Dept. of Labor and submit their application before June 1, 2012. Businesses can apply online for certification at: www.jobs.ny.gov/youthworks or call 518-457-0616 with any questions.
To apply for a NY Youth Works Program job, visit www.jobs.ny.gov/youthworks or call 518-457-6823 with any questions. Applications must be in before June 30, 2012; eligibility requirements vary.
It's Tax Time . . .
Every extra dollar makes a difference, and with tax time upon us, it's important to make sure that every New Yorker takes advantage of all the free and low-cost ways to file - and gets his or her maximum refund.
Earned Income Tax Credit - EITC
One credit that millions of Americans often fail to claim on their taxes is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a credit for working people who earn the least amount of money. This tax credit entitles you to get a check from the government even if your income is low enough that you do not have to file an income tax return. So if you are eligible for the EITC, be sure to file a tax return! You can get EITC from the federal, state and city governments.
EITC credits range from $464 to $5,751 depending on filing status and number of children. For the 2011 tax year, taxpayers generally qualify for the EITC if they have earnings up to:
- $43,998 ($49,078 married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children
- $40,964 ($46,044 married filing jointly) with two qualifying children
- $36,052 ($41,132 married filing jointly) with one qualifying child
- $13,660 ($18,740 married filing jointly) with no qualifying children
New York City Child Care Tax Credit
New York City's Child Care Tax Credit. is for people who earn less than $30,000 and pay child care expenses for children up to the age of four. They may qualify for a credit of up to $1,733 on the local (NYC) return.
Families with children should also take advantage of the federal Child Tax Credit and New York's Empire State Child Credit.
Free and Low-Cost Filing Options
It's never been easier to file your taxes-and to get your well-earned refund. It's important to file even if you earn very little.
This year, if you earned less than $57,000, you can file your tax return for free online at www.nyc.gov/html/ofe/html/policy_and_programs/onlinefreetaxprep.shtml. New York City has partnered with TurboTax and H&R Block to provide New Yorkers access to online tax-filing software.
Many people prefer not to file their taxes online, and there are many free options available for filing taxes in person with an experienced tax preparer. VITA sites will help prepare the taxes of New Yorkers earning less than $50,000 (with children) or $18,000 (without children). AARP sites have no income restrictions at all.
If you have any questions about how to take advantage of free and low-cost filing options, please feel free to call my community office at 212-807-7900.
214 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001
Albany, NY 12248