Advocates Fret Workers Comp Changes

Advocates from the health and safety professions this week are pushing back against proposed changes to the state’s workers’ compensation regulations over concerns the reforms will tip too far out of balance for those injured on the job.

State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to the first workers compensation law changes in more than a decade earlier this year.

But advocates, some labor officials and Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate have become increasingly uneasy with the changes as their regulations are being considered.

Groups on Wednesday delivered post cards to workers compensation offices across the state to register concern.

“We’re delivering these petition cards to call on the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board to protect New York’s injured workers,” said Charlene Obernauer, the executive director of New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. “It’s that simple. These proposed guidelines have no basis in medical science and need to be unilaterally rejected. We’re sick of the attack on injured workers, and we’re here to say that injured New Yorkers deserve better than to have their benefits taken away.”

DiNapoli: Local Governments Losing Out On Water Revenue

Local governments in New York are losing out on revenue from water bills due to incorrect billing or inaccurate meters, an audit by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released on Thursday found.

The lost revenue was in part blamed also on broken or out of date underground pipes.

But in some instances, local governments have also dealt with inaccurate meters or improper billing. Taking corrective measures could boost revenues for some local governments by more than $400,000, auditors found.

“Water leaks, broken pipes and aging infrastructure are costing local governments millions of dollars annually,” said DiNapoli. “Across New York, my audits have revealed infrastructure problems, poor budget practices and a lack of long-term planning are straining municipal finances and increasing costs for taxpayers. If these problems aren’t addressed, the issues plaguing water systems will only get worse.”

The report reviewed audits of 161 local governments DiNapoli’s office had conducted and seven public water authority systems over the last 5-1/2 years.

DiNapoli: Schools Not Enforcing Anti-Bullying Law

New York schools have not implement key elements of an anti-bullying law, an audit released Friday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found.

“The Dignity for All Students Act was created to protect students but four years later, many schools remain unsure of what to do and make serious errors in reporting incidents of harassment and bullying,” DiNapoli said.

“All students deserve schools that support them and are safe and free from harassment and bullying. School districts must protect students’ rights and ensure thorough training for school staff. We appreciate that the State Education Department agrees with our recommendations and is taking steps to help school officials improve their ability to safeguard students.”

The requirements fall under Dignity For All Students Act, which was part of an effort to crack down on bullying with requirements for schools that include sharing contact information and making efforts toward training.

Many schools, however, are failing to do the necessary training and making errors when it comes to reporting.

The audit of a sample of 20 schools outside of New York City found some schools under reported or failed to report incidents, including cyberbullying, even though law enforcement had become involved.

In another case, a school failed to report bullying that had persisted before the victim’s attendance at a different school.

And 17 of the schools reported they had trouble interpreting or implementing aspects of the Dignity for All Students Act.

“No matter who you are, what you look like or where you come from, we all deserve full equality and the chance to succeed, especially within our public education system,” said Assemblyman Harry Bronson.

“We must do our best to teach students the importance of dignity and respect and to protect them from harassment and discrimination. I look forward to working with Comptroller DiNapoli and the State Education Department to help our schools meet DASA guidelines and reporting requirements.”

DiNapoli Says Con Con Could Cost $50M

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli estimated on Thursday a constitutional convention could cost the state at least $50 million — a figure he said was a “conservative” estimate.

Speaking with reporters at a news conference in his office, DiNapoli said the convention would have to spend money on pay for delegates and staff and their pension credits.

DiNapoli is opposed to holding one.

“Our conservative estimate based on ’67 number is $50 million,” he said, referencing the 1967 convention, the last time one was held to consider revising the state constitution. “I think it could be a lot higher than that. I’d rather see that money put to other issues. I’d rather see our attention focused on other issues.”

Voters next month will consider a constitutional convention referendum, placed on the ballot every 20 years. The referendum has been opposed by labor unions, environmental groups and other organizations who fear it could lead a stripping of key rights in the existing document.

It’s an argument DiNapoli said he’s sympathetic too.

“Normally I’m an optimist as you all know. But on this one I’m a pessimist,” he said. “I think it’s a very risky proposition to hold a constitutional convention.”

At the same time, he noted there are better means of revising the existing document now. He backs amendments also on the ballot next month that would create a land bank for development in the Adirondacks and an amendment that would strip the pensions of officials convicted of a felony/

“There’s a long list of things that are good in the constitution,” he said. “Could it be made better? Absolutely. But we should follow the current process.”

Report: $27B Needed In Repairs For Bridges

Locally maintained bridges needed more than $27 billion in repairs, a report released Tuesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office found.

The report focuses on bridges that are owned and operated by local governments, which account for 8,834 of the 17,462 bridges in the state. Most are owned by county governments.

The report raises questions over how local governments could afford to pay for the repairs, with many deemed to be structurally deficient.

“Local communities are facing a big price tag for maintaining and repairing bridges,” DiNapoli said.

“These structures are aging and the cost for repairs will likely only increase over time. Many local governments understand the importance of long-term planning for their infrastructure needs but they will need help. While the state has taken steps to make funds for repairs available, the assistance of the federal government has also been critical. Difficult decisions lie ahead, but these infrastructure needs must be addressed.”

Still, the overall percentage of structurally deficient local bridges has actually declined from 16.7 percent to 12.8 percent between 2002 and 2016. The percentage of state-operated bridges has been flat at around 9 percent, the report found.

New York City contains the highest proportion of functionally obsolete bridges, at nearly 76 percent.

The total cost of needed repairs to all highway bridges is estimated at $75.4 billion.

Local Bridges by the Numbers by Nick Reisman on Scribd

DiNapoli: State Give Back Gap To Feds Widens

The gap in money New York sends to the federal government versus what it gets back has widen in the last three years, a report released Tuesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found.

The report found the state receives 84 cents for every dollar it has sent in taxes to the federal government in 2016, a wider gap than three years previously.

“New York sent an estimated $40.9 billion more in tax payments to Washington in 2016 than it received back in federal spending,” DiNapoli said. “While the Empire State fares well in some areas, in total it receives significantly less per tax dollar than the vast majority of states. Federal decision makers should consider this imbalance as they debate proposed budget and policy changes that could significantly impact New York and other states.”

The report comes as the Republican-controlled Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration is considering a range of tax reform proposals that include ending the deduction of state and local taxes — a move that would hurt high tax states like New York. Other funding cuts to health care and other areas are seen as having a disproportionate impact on the state.

New York in 2013 generated $19.9 billion more in taxes to the federal government than it received back. Since then, the gap in taxes paid and spending that comes back has doubled to $40.9 billion last year. That is the largest of any state’s deficit, based largely on federal income tax collections from New York increasing during that time.

Neighboring New Jersey has the second largest deficit at $27.5 billion.

Federal Budget Fiscal Year 2016 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Audit Questions SED’s Response To Nurse Complaints

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office in an audit Friday questioned how the State Education Department responds to allegations against nurses’ professional conduct, saying there is room for improvement in the process.

The audit found SED is falling short when it comes to “priority 1” complaints that include serious allegations ranging from sexual misconduct, practicing under the influence of alcohol or physical abuse.

The investigations by SED are supposed to be completed within 42 days. However, the comptroller’s office found it takes 228 days on average to complete an investigation. One case has been open 866 as of February of this year.

“The State Education Department has clear policies and procedures for vetting potential nurses and monitoring and investigating those on the job, but my auditors found the department is not always meeting its own goals, which is potentially putting patients’ health and safety at risk,” DiNapoli said. “SED has taken steps to improve the process but more is needed to identify the few bad actors from the many responsible professionals who’ve chosen nursing as their career.”

The department licenses 54 professions, including nursing. SED receives about 6,000 complaints against licensed professionals a year.

Auditors recommended SED better track investigations, especially those in which serious allegations are made. At the same time, the department should re-evaluate how existing resources are used and find ways to streamline investigations.

SED responded to the audit, largely agreeing with the recommendations. The department also it has been “increasingly difficult” to conduct investigations because some facilities are unwilling to share documentation.

Investigators, too, have left the department and SED says they are working to replace them.

“The Department is committed to ensuring the public’s protection through the licensing and oversight of New York’s professionals,” said SED spokesman Jonathan Burman. “We take all allegations of misconduct and neglect of duty against licensed professionals extremely seriously. It’s also important to note that for the past two years the Department has sought legislation to modernize and enhance our authority over the licensed professions, including the authority to issue summary suspensions of individuals’ licenses where there is an imminent danger to the public’s health or safety. We will continue to work with the Legislature to get this important public protection bill enacted.”

DiNapoli: 27 Local Governments Under Fiscal Stress

More than two dozen municipal governments in the state are under fiscal stress, according to a report released Tuesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

“Although the number of local governments designated as fiscally stressed has declined noticeably, there are still too many communities struggling with chronic budget strain,” said DiNapoli. “Looking to the future, local officials should exercise fiscal caution through sensible spending decisions, realistic revenue projections and proper long-term planning.”

The fiscal stress designation was first created in 2013 as a way of offering an early warning to local governments facing budgetary problems.

The report this year found eight counties, eight cities and 11 towns are under fiscal stress — the lowest number since the reports have been issued.

The information is based on 2016 financial data.

Of the governments under significant fiscal stress, two counties are on the list: Broome and Monroe. Albany and Watervliet are among the cities with the highest designation of fiscal concern as well.

The full report can be found here.

DiNapoli: Employer Retirement Contribution Rates Will Decline

Contribution rates to the state and local retirement system for employers will decline in the 2018-19 fiscal year, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on Thursday announced.

The average contribution rate will decrease from 15.3 percent of payroll to 14.9 percent. For the police and fire retirement system, the contribution will fall from 24.4 percent to 23.5 percent.

“We’ve had strong recent investment returns that have helped keep rates stable,” DiNapoli said. “Stable rates are very important to our employers and provide the predictability they need to plan for their future budgets. Prudent management helps keep New York State’s pension fund one of the strongest and best funded in the country and allows our public workforce to retire with security.”

The overall rate of return for the state’s pension fund was 11.48 percent at the end of the state’s fiscal year, March 31.

Previously in the last fiscal year contribution rates for the employee retirement system decreased more modestly from 15.5 percent. For police and fire, the rates increased slightly in the last fiscal year by less than a percentage point.

DiNapoli: State Tax Collections Grew In July

Tax collections increased last month by $88.2 million, increasing the state’s revenue slightly above its initial projects, according to a report released on Tuesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

“July was the first month in this fiscal year that personal income tax collections outpaced those from last year, which is a positive development,” DiNapoli said. “Federal receipts have grown, but that may change depending upon developments in Washington.”

The year to year hike was due to federal receipts increasing by 7.9 percent or $3.1 billion and business tax receipts increasing by $245.9 million.

The general fund concluded July with $3.8 billion, or $3 billion lower than last year. Still, that’s $16.3 million lower than the estimate. The Division of Budget in the first four months of the state’s fiscal year transferred $380 million into a dedication infrastructure fund.

Spending rose primarily through Medicaid, due primarily to federal sources, and education, which increased by $855.3 million.