Senate GOP Finds $438 Million (Update)

The Senate Republicans released their revenue forecast for 2011-2012 today, and estimate the state will have $438 million more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo projected for the coming fiscal year.

After you subtract $23 million for the current fiscal year (a number that does not, for the record, fit with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s projection of an up to $1 billion hole in the current budget), that leaves a two-year General Fund surplus of $415 million.

UPDATE: The comptroller’s office reminds me that the $1 billion deficit was based on the November numbers. Since then, the governor has released updated numbers that addressed that hole via $405 million unclaimed revenue, (mostly via a spin-up in utility payments) and $589 million worth of lowered – and undefined – spending projections. DiNapoli’s budget report explains this in depth on P. 3.

The Senate majority’s numbers come from the “nationally recognized fiscal consultants” IHS Global Insight.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said he would like the found money to be used to either support the state’s reserve funds or to provide tax relief. It should not, he said, be spent willy-nilly. Here’s what Senate Finance Chairman John DeFrancisco has to say:

“I’m very pleased that we had the Consensus Forecasting Conference today and the Legislature is right on schedule in following the 2007 Budget Reform Act.”

“We should have the revenue forecast completed by tomorrow which will lead to joint Senate-Assembly public conference committee meetings in mid-March. This process bodes well for an orderly budget process and hopefully a timely budget.”

The Senate GOP said it plans to act within two weeks on its budget proposal that will be submitted to public budget conference committee negotiations with the Assembly and used during continued discussions with the governor.

2011 SFC Majority Revenue Forecast Report

Paterson Remembers Dr. Daines

Former Gov. David Paterson released the following statement about the late former state Health Commissioner Richard Daines, who died at the age of 60 over the weekend:

“I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the sudden death of Dr. Richard Daines. My heartfelt and sincerest condolences go out to his family and his former colleagues at the Department of Health.”

“Dr. Daines embodied what it means to be a public servant, and his passion for improving the health and well-being of all New Yorkers was evident to everyone he came in contact with. His determined advocacy for programs and policies that put health first – and popularity and poll numbers at a distant second – is his legacy, and one for which he can be proud.”

“There is an epidemic in this country and in New York; one that puts our children at disproportionately higher risk than adults. Childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease were unheard of just decades ago, but have now become a sad and accepted truth, particularly in poor and minority families.”

“But Dr. Daines did not accept this, and he fought against powerful special interests to change it. I am proud to have fought by his side, and I believe that the public dialogue we helped start is leading to meaningful change.”

Indy Dems’ Medicaid Reform Plan

The Senate Independent Democratic Conference is pushing for the state to begin taking action on a law that it maintains could save $61 million in Medicaid costs over four years.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Klein and signed into law last December by then-Gov. David Paterson, would essentially allow individuals to apply their life insurance policy to longterm care.

“Most people face the option of depleting their resources or not having any money in the first place and they immediately go on Medicaid,” said Klein.

“With this new law, we’ll forego the need to have to go on Medicaid right away.”

Klein estimates only 400 thousand New Yorkers have longterm care insurance while nine million purchase life insurance policies. He says this is the main reason is longterm care is significantly more expensive.

“It’s giving people a choice,” said Klein.

“If people choose to leave their money to their beneficiary from their life insurance policy they can do so.”

The idea is one of the 79 recommended in the Medicaid Redesign Team’s report, but the Indy conference is calling on the State Insurance Department to implement the new law so costs savings can be realized sooner rather than later.

The four-member IDC also issue yet another report today, which appears in full after the jump.

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DiNapoli: Mandate Relief Task Foce Must Heed Local Calls

Here’s state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli chatting with reporters after speaking at NYCOM’s annual winter legislative meeting in Albany earlier today, saying the Cuomo administration and its Mandate Relief Task Force needs to heed the call to couple a property tax cap with burden-lifting measures at the local level.

Unlike the Medicaid Relief Task Force, which held public hearings all over the state, the governor’s hand-picked Mandate Relief group (under the leadership of Paterson administration holdover Larry Schwartz) hasn’t met nearly as publicly or as often.

Its report due to be released tomorrow is being billed as a first step rather than a penultimate document.

Local officials have been increasingly worried since the governor first said early on this year that he didn’t see the need to formally couple his 2 percent property tax cap bill, which has already passed the GOP-controlled Senate, with any mandate relief legislation.

Two Degrees Of Separation

A reader notes two names of particular note in that letter from 42 local Democratic elected officials that essentially questions Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s progressive credentials given his health care and education cuts and refusal to continue to tax the rich.

There are Albany Common Councilman Anton Konev and Albany Council President Pro Tempore Richard Conti.

Konev works for Assemblyman Peter Rivera, who not so long ago fired a staffer, Guillermo Martinez, for daring to release a report outlining a pro-Hispanic agenda for the Governor-elect Cuomo without (according to Rivera anyway) first seeking prior approval from his boss.

At the time, Rivera was reportedly up for a job with the Cuomo administration. He never did get one, however, which might have had something to do with the fact that David Giffiths, his onetime law partner and campaign treasurer, was charged with perjury by the feds.

Griffiths also headed a now-dormant nonprofit to which Rivera steered $2.2 million worth of taxpayer funds.

Conti is the chief of staff to Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who chairs the chamber’s Health Committee and was one of three legislators and Medicaid redesign team members to abstain on last week’s surprise vote.

Gottfried was quite outspoken about his opposition to certain aspects of the MRT plan to curb the massive health care program for the poor.

He also said rather flatly during a CapTon interview that he didn’t believe the plan would cut $2.85 billion – or even the revised $2.3 billion, for that matter – in the current year, as the administration has insisted, and is among the Democratic state lawmakers who have championed extending the millionaire’s tax.

But the Manhattan Democrat changed his tune fairly quickly. Interesting that his top staffer has followed up on last week’s about-face with this.

Cuomo Pressured From The Left (Updated)

Forty-two local Democratic officials sent Gov. Andrew Cuomo a letter today questioning his “New Democrat” agenda and calling for him to end his opposition to extending the so-called millionaire’s tax.

The signers, led by NYC Councilman Robert Jackson (an original CFE lawsuit plaintiff who headed a protest against Cuomo’s education aid cuts last Saturday during caucus weekend), says some of the the governor’s budget policies are “neither balanced nor well conceived.”

The letter takes issue with Cuomo’s deep health care and education spending cuts while giving wealthy New Yorkers a “massive tax break” by allowing the temporary three-year PIT increase to expire on schedule at the end of this year.

“According to the Governor, this is what it means to be a ‘new Democrat,’” the local electeds wrote. “According to the Governor, this is the path to becoming ‘the most progressive state in the nation.’”

“If this is what it means to be a New Democrat, and if this is what it means to be progressive then something is very wrong.We cannot be silent on this matter – not when the Tea Party, the Conservative Party, Republicans and a group of wealthy Wall Street executives are cheering the Governor’s policies.”

“Of course, as we want the new Governor to succeed, we also recognize our duty and obligationto remember what our party has always stood for: fiscal responsibility, fairness, compassion and vision. We have a duty and a responsibility to speak now.”

There isn’t a single state lawmaker among the signatories of this letter.

There are a few Albany Common Council members, a number of NYC Council members, a smattering of upstate electeds including Joel Tyner, the little-known Dutchess County legislator who tried to petition his way into a primary challenge against the governor last fall and failed to gather enough legal signatures to get onto the ballot.

UPDATE: A reader notes eight of the 15 Albany Common Council members signed on to this letter, including the president, which is more than half. I understated that. Sorry.

(H/T Ben Smith, POLITICO).

PPM170_dearfellowdemocrats2282011(2)

Bloomberg On Daines

Mayor Bloomberg said the following earlier today about the sudden and untimely death of former state Health Commissioner Richard Daines:

“I just wanted to start out by saying I just got some news earlier, Richard Daines died over the weekend.”

“He was the state health commissioner. I don’t know whether he was appointed by Paterson or Spitzer – was it Paterson – but he was a really quality guy who I thought really had the public’s interest at heart, and had the intellect to really change this country.”

“And I was very sorry to hear it. I don’t know the circumstances of his death, but whatever it is- somebody thought he had a heart attack, I don’t know, on his farm upstate.”

Bloomberg and Daines were on the same page (eventually) when it came to the controversial soda tax, which the former health commissioner championed long after it was quite clear the measure had no prayer of moving in the Legislature.

Generally speaking, the two shared a belief that government had a responsibility to try to change the behavior of constituents – regardless of whether they were interested in having their habits altered – to try to improve their health and also reduce long-term expenditures on health care.

Superintendents: Cuomo Salary Cap Plan ‘A Distraction’

State Council of School Superintendents Executive Director Bill Reidy says the salary cap Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing for his members “would undermine the capacity of schools to adjust to the new economic realities he says they must face.”

sptcap

Here’s the salary cap structure Cuomo is proposing. It would not apply to districts where there are 1 million or more residents. In other words, everywhere but NYC.

“School systems need strong and resourceful leaders as superintendents now more than ever,” Reidy said.

“Strong leaders are needed to make difficult changes, for example, by renegotiating labor agreements, persuading residents to explore consolidation with another districts, finding other innovative ways to save money, and working with parents, staff, and board members to arrive at the best possible budgets for the students and taxpayers they serve.”

“As it is now, school districts have found it increasingly difficult to get candidates to take on the job of superintendent. A cap would make it much harder.”

“…The governor had to make hard choices in putting together his proposed state budget and we respect that. However, this proposal is a distraction from the difficulties his budget would now cause for schools and the students they serve.”

“The administration estimates the proposal would save school districts $15 million. The proposed cut in school aid is $1.5 billion, the largest ever recommended by a Governor. In fact, all central office spending by all districts does not match the size of the proposed cut in state aid to schools.”

“Superintendents must do what state officials do – put together budgets that balance needs against resources, in our case, balancing what students and what taxpayers can afford. In the weeks ahead we will continue to advocate for a state budget that helps our schools strike the best balance possible.”

A copy of the governor’s bill appears below. Click here if you’d like to read the accompanying bill memo. (Link added).

NYSCOSS just so happens to be holding its annual lobby day at the Capitol today. Reidy is scheduled to appear on CapTon, so we’ll get more from him at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. this evening.

GPB #5 – SUPERINTENDENT SALARY CAP – BILL

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Kirwan Returns To Albany

Eleven days after he won the last legislative race in the nation, Tom Kirwan is officially a member of the Assembly once again representing the 100th district in the Hudson Valley.

Kirwan Swearing-in

The 77-year-old Republican from Newburgh ousted the incumbent Frank Skartados who bested Kirwan two years ago.

The GOP win gives the Assembly minority conference just enough seats to quash the Democrats’ veto-proof majority.

Duffy Eagerly Awaits Mandate Relief Report

After addressing the NYCOM Winter Conference, the former Rochester Mayor and Lt. Governor told reporters he is eagerly awaiting the report from the Mandate Relief Team, which comes out tomorrow. Many mayors have expressed concerns that the state won’t do enough to tackle unfunded mandates, leaving them cash strapped if a property tax cap is put into place.

Duffy says the administration understands the mayors concerns. He repeatedly told reporters “the Governor gets it.” And encouraged everyone to wait for the report to come out before passing judgment.

“My sense is that it [the mandate relief report] should capture a good cross section that is facing cities, towns and villages,” Duffy said. “I mentioned a mandate I had as mayor of Rochester. 73 percent of the entire property tax levy was taken and redirected to schools. And city government had no say whatsoever in how that money could be spent. So, each one of those members probably has suggestions. I honestly have not seen the first draft of those ideas come out yet. I am looking forward to seeing that when it comes out.”

When pressed on whether or not the mandate relief team should specifically call for changes to the Triborough Amendment, which guarantees raises for some state workers at previous levels after their contract runs out, Duffy didn’t dismiss the idea. Though he suggested the approach was important.

“I think what New York State has to do is look at everything that currently exists in how we make the state stronger. Governor Cuomo’s strength is that he doesn’t come out, and throw on the gloves, and goes to war. He tries to bring the stakeholders together and get things done. We have a state out west that is in essence paralyzed right now. And we have a governor in New York that has brought people together.”

Duffy also weighed in on Last In, First out, saying he is for anything that improves the graduation rates for students, especially in the state’s Big 5 school districts.