In my twelve years as a member of the New York State Assembly, this has been the most challenging budget process anyone could imagine. New York State has depended too long on the revenues generated by FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) in New York City to create a balanced budget. Like so many individuals and families, we spent too much and saved too little. During the 1970s, the city faced hard financial times, but it was only the city, not the entire state nor the entire country. This year tough choices had to be made. We delayed payments to the NYC Department of Education as a result of the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, but were able to fund many programs and avert teacher lay-offs. Federal stimulus dollars enabled us to prevent many difficult financial choices, and we must remember these federal dollars will be gone in two years. We must take several measures at the same time: cut unnecessary spending, stretch our dollars by choosing the right investments, like education, and find new ways to energize the state’s economy. There is no quick fix and I fully expect we’ll be called back to Albany after the 2009 session ends in June to revisit the budget.
However, there are many positive elements in this year’s budget, including:
We still face some daunting challenges, such as the MTA shortfall and revisiting mayoral control of NYC public schools. Inside this newsletter, you can read more about two important hearings that I recently attended—one regarding the proposed fare increases and service cuts on our subways, buses and Access-A-Ride, and another examining the state of NYC public schools under mayoral control. I thank the many of my constituents that have taken the time to write me a letter or send me an email sharing your views. As always, I value your input on these issues and others, and I encourage all to continue this necessary dialogue.
We are planning our annual Senior Fair, which will be held at St. Francis College on Friday, June 26. We are looking for volunteers so if you are available to help on June 26, please contact my Brooklyn office at 718-246-4889. After a long and harsh winter compounded by a bleak economic picture, we are all looking forward to a (not too) warm summer.
Joan L. Millman
Member of Assembly
I am happy to report that an agreement has been reached to save the B75 and stop the other drastic service cuts proposed by the MTA. While there was a fare increase, the draconian cuts and burdensome fare increases were avoided. In addition, greater accountability and oversight of the MTA has been given to the State Comptroller and Legislature.
Earlier this year, I testified at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Brooklyn public hearing on proposed fare increases and service cuts. I asked both the hundreds of attendees as well as the MTA Board Members how many of them traveled to the hearing using public transportation. It came as no surprise how few MTA Board Members actually use public transportation, even though they were appointed to represent the riding public. The hearing was an opportunity for me to convey my constituents’ concerns and advocate for all those who depend on our subway, bus and Access-A-Ride services. In addition, I delivered petitions signed by hundreds of Brooklyn residents protesting service cuts to local bus routes.
On April 8th, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the Gowanus Canal to be nominated to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL). The National Priorities List was established in 1980 to provide a mechanism for the federal government to intervene to clean up the most contaminated sites in the United States— sites at which there were severe threats to health and habitation that were not being properly remediated by local authorities.
The canal was built in the 19th century to allow industrial access into Gowanus Bay. After its completion in the 1860s, the canal became a busy industrial waterway, acting as the home to heavy industries such as manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, tanneries, chemical plants, and oil refineries. It was also the repository of untreated industrial wastes, raw sewage and runoff.
Although most of the industrial activity along the canal has stopped, the sediment resting at the bottom of the canal is highly contaminated. Sampling has shown the sediments in the Gowanus Canal to contain a variety of pollutants, including pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and volatile organic contaminants (VOCs), and significant contamination associated with coal tar.
Beginning the day it was placed on the nomination list, there is a 90-day comment period for public input. For instructions on how to submit comments go to the EPA website at www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/pubcom.htm or contact Dennis Munhall, Region 2 NPL Coordinator at (212) 637-4343 or email@example.com. Once the site is placed on the NPL, the EPA will expand its investigations to further define the nature and extent of contamination, what action is needed and who the responsible parties are to pay for the clean-up. I encourage everyone to submit comments. For more information about the Superfund, visit the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/superfund/about.htm.
If designation of the canal as a Superfund Site will result in a speedy, coordinated and fully funded clean-up, then I wholeheartedly support it. Having worked for so long to get the canal and surrounding land cleaned up, I am both excited and anxious because there are many questions that need to be addressed. The EPA, to its credit, has already held one public meeting and plans to schedule additional meetings. My main concerns are the actual time and cost of cleaning the canal and surrounding land, the availability of federal funding, and the coordination of city, state, federal and even private clean-up efforts to comply with EPA’s strict standards.
Encouraging Recycling and Reuse on Campuses of Higher Learning
I am pleased to announce that a bill I introduced in the Assembly, The New York Higher Education Cares Act, has been signed into law by the governor. This law allows public and private college and university administrations to develop and implement programs to distribute consumer goods left behind by students to local not-for-profits. It will benefit community not-for-profits and reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill as students vacate their dorms for the summer and discard unwanted goods. Locally, New York University has been a leader in successfully reducing campus wide waste of unwanted items and nonperishable foods at the end of the school year. The program at NYU is estimated to collect nearly 25,000 pounds of unwanted consumer goods and nonperishable food to not-for-profit organizations serving the NYC area.
Fostering Minority and Women Owned Businesses
This March, two bills I introduced (A.4092 and A.4097) were included in a legislative package passed by the Assembly to aid small businesses in New York State. Both of these bills aim to bring transparency to the bidding process and provide assistance to minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBEs). According to federal census data, small businesses are the source of up to 80 percent of all new jobs in the U.S.
Extending Coverage for Treatment of Rare Diseases
Often, federally-approved medication for rare diseases is not the subject of clinical trials because so few individuals suffer from these diseases. Even though life-saving treatment for a rare disease may exist, a patient’s health insurer will choose not to cover the treatment, unless it has been the subject of a clinical trial. As we all know, paying out-of-pocket for prescription drugs is unaffordable for most New Yorkers. I have introduced and championed A.301, which would extend health insurance coverage for federally-approved medication that was not the subject of a clinical trial for that particular rare disease. Following passage of my bill, I was lucky to share a special moment on the Assembly floor with a young girl who is battling Giant Axonal Neuropathy, a rare disease.
Protecting Man’s Best Friend
Sadly, many thousands of animals in America suffer everyday from abuse and neglect. One common form of neglect is keeping household pets, especially dogs, in inappropriate outdoor conditions. New York winters can be harsh for dogs tethered and penned outdoors. I have introduced A.7545 to clarify existing law to specify what constitutes appropriate, proper shelter for dogs restrained outdoors and maximum and minimum temperature range for exposure.
This year’s New York State budget presented the Assembly with a huge challenge: the largest deficit in history. In crafting a budget that plugged this $17.7 billion hole, we also had to ensure that families were protected, education remained a priority and important services were fully funded. I know that when many families find themselves spending more money than they earn, they make tough choices and cut unnecessary spending. Like the state of New York, many families simply cannot operate with a budget deficit. In reaching an agreement on this year’s budget, I had to make many tough choices. Federal stimulus dollars allowed our state to plug several holes in our budget. As revenues continue to fall, it may be necessary to revisit the budget sometime during this year, perhaps during the summer. However, I am pleased to share several successes that came out of the 2009-2010 budget process.
Prioritizing Education and Higher Education Aid
With my background in the New York City public school system and as a newly-appointed member of the Assembly Education Committee, I fought hard to restore the proposed budget cuts to public school education and brought home an additional $1 billion for New York City public schools. I also made sure the budget invested in CUNY institutions. Overall, CUNY received $1.9 billion, an increase of $144.4 million from last year’s budget.
Additionally, I was concerned that the original budget proposal would have made several harmful changes to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), such as increasing the minimum number of credits from 12 to 15 for a college student to qualify for the grant. I am pleased to report these changes were not part of the final budget agreement. TAP benefits 370,000 full-time college students in New York.
Supporting New York City Families
During this mortgage crisis, it is important to keep New York families in their homes. The budget provides $25 million in foreclosure prevention, of which nearly half will be allocated to families residing in the City. In addition, the New York City Housing Authority will receive $3 million for operating costs and the Homeless Prevention Plan will receive $74 million.
The budget also reformed the state’s tax system so that the wealthiest New Yorkers pay their fair share. Under the new tax system, a family earning $40,000 a year will no longer be taxed at the same rate as a family earning $4 million per year.
Continuing Vital Health Care Programs
While Medicaid beneficiaries will continue getting coverage, this year’s budget will ensure New York City’s taxpayers do not pay a disproportionate amount. Thanks to important adjustments in the enacted budget, this will save city residents $137 million. In addition, the budget covers the total cost of the Family Health Plus Program, saving the City $315 million.
Seniors will be relieved to learn that the final budget preserves the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program. This program makes prescription drugs more affordable for seniors, saving up to 80 percent on generic drugs and 30 percent on brand name drugs.
Strengthening New York City’s Economy
Did you know that the film industry in New York City generates over $5 billion annually and provides jobs to 100,000 city residents? Thanks to the Film Tax Credit, the five boroughs are an attractive place to shoot movies, commercials, student films, and television shows. Originally this year’s budget proposal removed this valuable tax credit. My office received hundreds of calls, e-mails and letters from constituents in the entertainment industry concerned about the possible loss of this credit. Fortunately the final budget not only preserved the NYC Film Tax Credit, but increased it by $350 million.
Protecting the Environment
After years of attempting to expand New York State’s bottle deposit law, the Bigger Better Bottle Bill was incorporated into the budget. Specifically, the Bigger Better Bottle Bill increases the handling fee that retailers can keep to 3.5 cents, requires retailers with stores over 40,000 square feet to install reverse vending machines, requires bottlers and distributors to pay 80 percent of unclaimed deposits to the state and includes plastic water bottles. Funds received through this program will go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
Sustaining Our Prized Cultural Institutions
Another issue of great concern to the 52nd Assembly District was the possibility of budget cuts to New York City zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums. These institutions are host to over 12 million visitors annually and during hard economic times provide an affordable and enriching experience for many families. With the aquarium at Coney Island, the Prospect Park Zoo and the Botanic Garden, Brooklyn would have suffered from such a budget cut. Thanks to much advocating, full funding was restored for these special institutions.
Along with introducing and voting on legislation, much of the work of a state legislator in Albany happens in committee. In 2007, I was appointed the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Oversight, Investigation and Analysis. The Oversight Committee is responsible for monitoring state government operations. Since my appointment, here are some of the actions I have taken:
joined the Assembly Banks Committee Chair Darryl Towns in holding hearings on foreclosure rates, sub prime and nontraditional mortgages, and predatory lending;
held a joint hearing with Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried and Task Force on People with Disabilities Chair Michele Titus to examine the New York State Health Department’s processing of Medicaid claims for special equipment for people with disabilities;
contacted the Higher Education Services Corporation, in conjunction with the Higher Education Chair Deborah Glick, to investigate the Corporation’s preparations of student loans through the Federal Family Education Loan program.
This year, as Chair of the Oversight Committee, I have:
called on the Long Island Power Authority to release information about their use of taxpayer dollars for donations to charities;
contacted New York City Schools Chancellor Klein regarding procurement procedures;
met with State Senator Craig Johnson, new Chair of the Senator’s Oversight Committee, to plan future joint-hearings;
held two meetings of the full Assembly Oversight Committee to chart the committee’s agenda;
begun analyzing the various functions and appointments to New York State’s numerous boards, commissions, and public authorities.
I welcome your ideas about issues that the Oversight Committee might investigate. Specifically, I am looking for input on issues that have a statewide impact and fall under the jurisdiction of a state government agency. To share your thoughts, please contact my Albany office at (518)455-5426 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The YWCA Brooklyn’s mission is to provide affordable and low-income housing to New York City’s most vulnerable residents, to eliminate racial and gender disparities in health, and to provide leadership opportunities dedicated to helping women and girls achieve economic security and well-being. The 52nd Assembly District is the lucky home to one of only two YWCA facilities in the City. Located on the corner of Atlantic and Third Avenues, the YWCA has been a Brooklyn landmark for decades -- a home for women fleeing domestic abuse, the homeless, the working poor and those in need of a safe, affordable place to stay.
Founded in 1888, the YWCA Brooklyn opened the first nursing school in the country, was the first YWCA to racially integrate its programs and residence, and was a pioneer in the women’s movement. It established low-income housing, developed programming for victims of domestic abuse, opened a child development center, and began award-winning breast cancer screening and education programs. A not-for-profit nonsectarian organization, the YWCA of Brooklyn receives no financial support from its affiliation with the national YWCA.
In 2007, the YWCA embarked on an ambitious renovation of its 80-year-old building, and in 2009 completed a massive affordable housing project. The YWCA now proudly provides over 300 units of affordable, safe housing for low-income women making it the largest provider of housing in downtown Brooklyn.
As part of its renovation, the YWCA’s new Community Center will open in the summer and will be dedicated to social justice programs – the Center will house public meeting space, a conference room, affordable offices for other nonprofits, and a rooftop garden for community events. Conveniently located in downtown Brooklyn, the YWCA expects this new Center to become a hub for progressive programming and community services throughout the borough. Each year, the YWCA serves thousands of Brooklynites from the 52nd District with preventive health, housing and leadership programs.
I am spreading the word— the Brooklyn Public Library needs our help! Please join Support Our Shelves (SOS), an initiative to help each of the Brooklyn Public Library’s 58 local branches. SOS seeks to foster a closer connection between the community and their local library, encourage users to sign up for the new Access Brooklyn Library Card, and raise funding for their local branch. To find about more about SOS and free programming at your local branch, please visit www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org.
In tough economic times, even more people depend on public libraries as they search for employment, learn new job skills or look for affordable entertainment for the entire family. Every Brooklyn resident lives within a half mile of a Brooklyn Public Library branch, and at least one million Brooklyn residents have a library card. As a former librarian, I urge you to help your local branch by joining the SOS initiative.
The following library branches are located in the 52nd Assembly District:
The Park Slope Branch
431 6th Avenue
The Carroll Gardens Branch
396 Clinton Street
The Brooklyn Heights Branch
280 Cadman Plaza West
The Pacific Street Branch
25 4th Avenue
The Digital Television (DTV) Transition is approaching. On June 12, 2009, the transition will overhaul the nation’s television broadcasting system. The federal government has created a system to help households prepare for the shift from analog to digital broadcasting for the DTV transition. This process will supply a household with up to two $40 coupons for two separate digital conversion boxes.
Unlike the older analog system, digital broadcasting will upgrade your viewing experience and modernize our nation’s communications system. Digital broadcasting will also offer improved picture and sound quality. Moreover, the shift to digital will allow television stations to offer more channels and programming choices. In addition, nationwide digital broadcasting will offer tangible benefits to our local communities. For instance, the transition to digital broadcasting will free up valuable parts of the broadcast spectrum for use by police, firefighters and other emergency first responders.
However, the federally mandated transition will not affect everyone; some of you may already be prepared for the transition. If you currently receive cable or satellite service, you do not need additional equipment to watch television after the June 12th transition. Also, because all televisions manufactured after March 1, 2007 are required to contain a digital tuner, if you purchased a television since then, you too are prepared for the digital transition.
If you own a television that is more than ten years old or if you currently view television by using a rooftop antenna or “rabbit ears” on top of your television, then you are receiving an analog television signal. You will need a digital converter box. Remember, after June 12th, all television stations will stop transmitting analog television signals.
The federal government is offering coupons that consumers may use to purchase a digital converter box. You can receive up to two $40 coupons per household from the federal government to help you pay for two separate boxes. Still, keep in mind that these coupons will expire ninety days after mailing. To apply for a coupon, or for more information about the program, you may contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by telephone at 1-877-530-2634 or online at: www.dtv2009.gov. When you receive your coupon, a list of retailers that sell the converter box will be included. Also, if you already have received a coupon, but it expired, the program allows you to apply again.
The transition to digital television is a step towards modernizing our national broadcasting system. While the transition may require some of us to update our viewing equipment, which may be a hassle for some, it will improve our home entertainment experience and benefit our national communications system.