E-Mail Newsletter – April 10, 2015

The 2015-2016 enacted budget includes a host of increased funds and opportunities for residents, businesses, and schools in New York State. Agriculture, economic development, family and child assistance, and more have seen aid increases for this upcoming year.

As mentioned last week in my last newsletter regarding education funding from the budget, that despite some troubling aspects of the budget, there are a number of important, positive components, as highlighted by the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) and linked here. Some of these include: an unprecedented increase in education funding of $1.6 billion – a nearly 60 percent reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), an increase in Foundation Aid, $30 million increase in upstate funding for Pre-K, and $20 million in funding including for libraries, teacher centers, and bilingual education. This increase includes an additional $10 million in education funds into the 109th District, with each school district getting between seven to ten percent increased state aid.

Moreover, the work continues - the omnibus budget was not an easy vote and my work does not end with the vote. I am working with Assembly colleagues on the best options going forward to maximize flexibility in these policy changes for local schools and for teacher evaluations.

Below are some of the additional budget highlights:

Transit. One of the most significant successes in the budget includes hard fought increases to upstate transit systems, including the CDTA, while maintaining levels of current funding for the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs). Transit will receive:

+ $15 million increase in capital funding;

+ $10 million increase in operating aid, for a total of $188.6 million.

Environment. The budget provides for a $15 million increase in funding for the Environmental Protection Fund – for a total of $177 million, however, we were unsuccessful in strongly advocating that RGGI funds not be used to pay for this increase, and I will be writing more about this concern in future updates. On a much more positive front, a 10-year extension of the Brownfield Cleanup program was adopted, which helps redevelop previously contaminated properties. It also includes an increase to the financing authorization for the Superfund Program – which helps clean up contaminated properties – by $1 billion over a 10-year period. Further, in response to the increased volume of crude oil from North Dakota and other states being transported through New York State, the budget strengthens the Oil Spill Fund by increasing the amount of funding available to clean up spills and authorizes $2.1 million to be used for prevention and cleanup training.

The budget also provides $300,000 for a drug disposal program to help prevent toxic materials from polluting our water supply.

Wastewater and Sewer Fund. An unprecedented $200 million appropriation is provided for grants to municipalities for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. The funding, which will be provided over a three year period, will help municipalities undertake projects to benefit water quality. A thanks and shout out to Assemblymembers Steve Otis and John McDonald for their leadership in advocating for this fund.

Higher Education. The budget includes significant increases for higher education institutions within New York State, including:

+ Designation of another SUNY Center for Excellence at the University at Albany with a first year allocation of $250,000! I am proud to have sponsored this request for designation on behalf of UAlbany and this will be the 11th SUNY Center for Excellence in the state and only the second of its kind in the region! Further, this designation will be awarded to the new Atmospheric and Environmental Prediction and Innovation Center and will help in building the prestige of the program as well as enhancing their competitiveness for funding.

+ Educational Opportunity Program (EOP): $4.4 million increase for a total of $26.8 million;

+ Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge program (SEEK): $3.9 million increase for a total of $23.4 million;

+ Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP): $3.8 million increase for a total of $29.6 million;

+ Liberty Partnerships: $1.9 million increase for a total of $15.3 million;

+ Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP): $1.7 million increase for a total of $13.1 million;

+ Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP): $1.3 million increase for a total of $9.9 million; and

+ College Discovery: $187,000 increase for a total of $1.1 million.

The agreement supports SUNY programs as follows:

+ $8.5 million for ATTAIN work-training computer labs – a $500,000 increase from last year - which will assist in the funding of the new, local ATTAIN lab at the Capital South Campus Center ;

+ $18.6 million restoration for SUNY hospitals to help support New York’s world-class teaching hospitals;

+ $1.5 million increase to Educational Opportunity Centers, for a total of $53.5 million;

+ $1.5 million for the Graduate Achievement Placement program; and $600,000 for the SUNY Graduate Diversity Program, for a total of $6.6 million.

Libraries. The budget included increased funding for libraries. Although fully funded library aid would be calculated at $102.6 million per state education law, the budget took a big step in the right direction in moving toward fully funded state aid for libraries.

+ $5 million increase in library aid over the Executive budget, bringing total library aid in FY2015-16 to $91.6 million. This addresses a needed and overdue 6% increase in library funding over last year ($86.6 million); and

+ $14 million in library construction aid.

Childcare. The budget included funding for access to affordable child care, including the following:

+ $5 million to provide support for 600 child care slots;

+ $19.3 million for the Advantage Afterschool Program - with an increase of $1.5 million;

+ $9.3 million for Facilitated Enrollment to expand eligibility for child care assistance to working families with incomes up to 275 percent of the federal poverty level, allowing parents to stay employed while their children are cared for in safe environments;

+ $1.3 million increase for SUNY Child Care Centers, for a total of $2.3 million; and

+ $1 million for CUNY Child Care Centers, for a total of $1.8 million.

Family Programs. The budget restores $24 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) aid for every program eliminated in the governor’s original budget proposal. The agreement funds the following vital programs at:

+ $3 million for Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services to assist domestic violence victims not residing in shelters;

+ $1.6 million for the Displaced Homemakers Program to provide counseling and job training to homemakers to help them secure employment and become economically independent;

+ $1.6 million for Preventive Services to provide prevention, intervention and treatment services to keep families together and children safe;

+ $1.5 million for Career Pathways to provide training to low-income young adults to prepare them for jobs in high-growth sectors;

+ $1 million for the Emergency Needs for the Homeless program to address homelessness and offer essential services to those in need; and

+ $1 million for the Kinship Caregiver program to help caregivers access health, education, financial and legal services for children in their care.

Healthcare. The budget included the following funding increases for healthcare programs, including:

+ a $21.3 million restoration for 39 discrete health programs that would have had their funding cut by 15 percent and been restructured into five grant pools, including:

+ $6.8 million for public health workforce programs;

+ $5.5 million for maternal and child health programs;

+ $5.5 million for chronic disease prevention and control programs; and

+ $2.6 million for health outcomes and advocacy programs;

+ $4 million ($1 million more than the governor’s proposal) for the Nurse Family Partnership, a community health program that assists first-time and low-income mothers;

+ $3.3 million for the Enhancing the Quality of Adult Living (EQUAL) program to improve quality of care for residents of adult care facilities; an additional $1.5 million for the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program to encourage innovative research into the treatment and cure of paralysis and damage caused by spinal cord injury, for a total funding of $8.5 million;

+ a $1.2 million restoration to save the New York State physician profile website, which allows New Yorkers to search for licensed doctors that fit their needs, as well as learn more about their current doctor, including any malpractice or other claims against them;

+ $750,000 in additional support for family planning services;

+ $525,000 for the HIV/AIDS Community Service Program (CSP);

+ $525,000 for HIV/AIDS Multi-Service Agencies (MSA);

+ $500,000 for Community Health Advocates;

+ $400,000 for the Primary Care Development Corporation;

+ $200,000 for the National Lymphatic and Tissue Bank;

+ $50,000 for the New York State Breast Cancer Network; and

+ $39,000 for the New York State Coalition for School-Based Health Centers.

Ethics. A hard fought compromise on ethics was also included in this year’s budget, which requires public officials to disclose outside income they receive from non-government employment on their annual financial disclosure forms. Starting Dec. 31, 2015, if a public official earns more than $10,000 per year from non-government employment, they must disclose the names of any clients or customers from whom they receive more than $5,000. We will be required to describe the types of services provided to each client or customer, or to the firm from which they received payment. Sources of outside income covered by this requirement include law practices, real estate brokers and professions licensed by the Department of Education.

Public officials will also be required to report any referrals they receive from lobbyists, and officials who provide services related to matters before state agencies will be required to provide additional information regarding their clients and customers, as well as the compensation they receive.

In addition, all public officials in a state or municipal retirement system convicted of public corruption may be required to forfeit their pensions, regardless of when they entered the system. Currently, the law only applies to officials who entered the system in 2011 or after.

The state budget also reforms the system of per diems and travel reimbursements for legislators by increasing electronic verification of expenditures and requiring documents related to travel and per diem expenses be made available online. As a local resident, I do not receive per diems or travel reimbursements, so this provision is not applicable to me or my office.

Agriculture. The budget includes a $50 million plan to fund capital improvements to the state fairgrounds. Additionally, the budget includes $50 million to protect farmland in the Hudson Valley and develop agricultural initiatives in the Southern Tier.

The final state budget also funds the following programs:

+ $1.9 million for farm viability research, economic development and education projects to help farms become more profitable and sustainable;

+ $1 million for a Food Hub program to develop projects that will help connect upstate farm goods to urban and suburban food businesses;

+ $1 million for the Beginning Farmers NY Fund, providing grants for infrastructure to young farmers;

+ $1 million for the Taste NY program, promoting New York foods at visitor centers and tourist destinations;

+ $800,000 for the Farmnet program to help family farms transition to a new generation;

+ $700,000 for New York apple promotion and $500,000 for research to prevent apple diseases and develop new varieties;

+ $500,000 for the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program to provide coupons for low-income seniors to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets;

+ $500,000 for a revolving loan fund to help farmers purchase expensive drainage systems to use in farm fields;

+ $392,000 for high school students in the Future Farmers of America program;

+ $250,000 for a new Farm-to-School grant program that will help increase purchases of healthy, local foods for school meals;

+ $213,000 for maple syrup promotion and $125,000 for research to improve maple production efficiency; and

+ $200,000 for hop and barley research to help New York’s resurgent craft beer industry.

Criminal Justice. The budget invests in legal services that safeguard access to justice for at-risk populations. The agreement includes the following:

+ a total of $12.27 million to support various legislative restorations, including $1 million for the New York State Defenders Association;

+ $5.58 million in the Legal Services Assistance Fund, including $2.8 million for civil and criminal legal services grants and $1.2 million for Prisoners’ Legal Services;

+ $2.2 million for domestic violence-related civil and criminal legal services support; and

+ $600,000 to support immigrant legal services.

Veterans. The budget includes $350,000 for the Veterans Entrepreneurial Assistance Program.

Events and Highlights from the 109th:

New café on Lark Street. Congratulations to Emily Ayers and the Brakes Coffeehouse and Provisions on their grand opening at 227 Lark Street in Albany. The Brakes Coffeehouse and Provisions focuses on an organic, vegan, fair trade, and sustainable approach to coffee, salads, and sandwiches.

Commemoration of Irish independence. It was my honor to read the proclamation and join with other Irish Americans at the Irish American Heritage Museum to commemorate the first day of independence and sovereignty of the Irish Republic, celebrated annually the first Monday after Easter.

Alzheimer funding support. Great to see the outpouring of support from the Alzheimer Association for the $25 million in funds in this year’s budget, the single largest investment in caregiver support services by any state in the nation.

Federal funding for public transportation. I joined CDTA, Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy, Congressman Paul D. Tonko, and fellow transit supporters in urging Congress to provide additional aid to public transportation.

As the Legislature just approved additional funding for Upstate public transportation, I urge our congressional delegation to advocate and support for financial aid for public transportation. Each dollar spent investing in our public transit system translates to more good-paying jobs and increased environmental sustainability, while bolstering economic development throughout the region.

Job Opportunities: New York State has setup a new job portal entitled Jobs Express, where thousands of private and public sector jobs are listed. Visit jobs.ny.gov for more information on how to apply for these opportunities.

As always, for the latest news or for upcoming events, please visit my office online, on Facebook, on Twitter, or my Times Union blog. If you would like to reach my office, please feel free to send us a note.

Sincerely ---