April 2008 Community Report

Dear Neighbor:

The following is a summary of some of my office's activities since my last community report:

Albany Update:

As I'm sure you know, on Wednesday, April 9, the New York State Legislature voted to pass an approximately $122 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2008-9. While the final budget fell short in some regards, and we still have work ahead of us given the weakening economy, there is much to applaud, particularly with respect to education, health care, housing and the environment.

The following are just some of the highlights of this year's budget:

  • School aid increases - Historic funding to support local schools statewide
    The budget includes a school aid package totaling $21.5 billion. That's a $1.7 billion (8.8%) increase over 2007-08 levels - the biggest increase ever. As a member of the "Keep the Promises" Coalition to protect New York City's public schools from approximately $700 million in budget cuts, I am proud that we kept our commitment under the Contract for Excellence (CFE) court rulings and related agreements.
  • New York City school funding - A victory on funding and on standards
    The budget includes an additional $644 million in funding for New York City schools, with $622 million to be delivered through the foundation formula subject to CFE standards. I and my Democratic colleagues fought hard for the extra funding and for strict standards to make sure money goes to improve schools and boost student achievement.
  • Universal Pre-Kindergarten - Investing in early childhood development
    The budget includes a $96.3 million increase in funding for pre-kindergarten programs, with support for ongoing programs, money for new expansion, and special support for districts facing education and revenue challenges.
  • Student aid and tuition - No SUNY or CUNY tuition increase, all aid restored
    The budget holds the line on tuition at the State University of New York and City University of New York, and proposed cuts to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), Liberty Partnerships, HEOP, STEP and C-STEP were fully restored. The budget also fully restores unrestricted assistance to independent colleges and universities statewide through BUNDY aid to the SFY 07-08 level.
  • Hospital Rates - Prioritizing primary care and prevention
    The budget includes an historic shift of resources towards primary care and preventive health. Legislators, hospitals and unions have agreed on over $300 million per year in new investments in primary and preventive care.
  • Child Health Plus - Coverage expansion with no premium increases
    The budget includes state funding to expand Child Health Plus to reach uninsured children in more working families. The Legislature also worked to ensure that premiums and co-pays stay at an absolute minimum, blocking increases proposed by the Executive that could limit access to needed care.
  • Pharmacies and Pharmaceuticals - Reducing drug prices, keeping local pharmacies strong
    A new EPIC discount card will be available for New Yorkers ages 50-64 and New Yorkers with disabilities who are eligible for SSI and SSD - but coverage could and should be broader, and I and my Senate Democratic colleagues will work towards that goal. Restorations in pharmacy reimbursement cuts will boost local and independent pharmacies that provide essential health services to their communities.
  • Historic investment in affordable housing - Strongest commitment in two decades
    The final budget includes more than $300 million in funds to address the severe shortage of affordable housing across New York State. We've recognized that housing policy and investments should be part of broader economic development policy, and we've made an historic commitment in new funding. These new funds represent the first significant increase in State capital investment in housing construction and preservation since 1985.
  • Environmental Protection Fund - A cleaner, greener New York State - and new green jobs
    The budget includes a $5 million increase for environmental projects, including land acquisition and farmland protection, solid waste management, inner-city parks and waterfront development. It also includes funding for new solar energy installation programs at community colleges around the state, boosting green jobs - a top priority for Senate Democrats.
  • Energy conservation and renewable energy - Keeping public programs strong
    The budget protects renewable energy programs at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), assuring continued investment in programs that save energy and save money for individuals and businesses.

Expressing Disappointment at the Demise of Congestion Pricing:

Like many of my constituents, I am disappointed that the State Legislature did not act on congestion pricing legislation in time for New York City to be eligible for aid from the U.S. Department of Transportation. I particularly regret that I and my Senate colleagues did not have an opportunity to vote on such a measure, as Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno did not include the congestion pricing bill (S7243) on the Senatefs agenda and did not bring it to the floor for a vote.

I have supported the concept of congestion pricing from the time Mayor Bloomberg proposed it; however, I had reservations about the details of the plan. Last July, at a Joint Hearing on Congestion Pricing hosted Manhattan Community Boards 4, 5 and 6, I expressed my support for the congestion pricing concept, as well as my concerns about certain aspects of its implementation, including accommodations that could be made for disabled commuters for whom accessible public transportation to and within Manhattan is extremely limited; what efforts would be made to deter increased traffic and parking in areas immediately outside the congestion pricing zone; and how to account for cars within the zone being moved to comply with alternate side of the street parking rules. I was also concerned that funds collected from congestion pricing be clearly earmarked specifically for mass transit improvements.

I was encouraged that these and many other matters of importance were addressed in the final version of S7243. While I still had outstanding concerns, including the elimination of the parking tax exemption for residents of the congestion pricing zone, on balance, I believe the benefits of the bill would have far outweighed the detriments, and had it come to the floor for a vote, I would have voted for it.

It is now incumbent upon me and my colleagues throughout City and State government to develop a new strategy for reducing traffic congestion in Manhattan.

Holding a Hearing on the Dignity for All Students Act:

On Tuesday, June 10, 2008, from noon to 3:00pm, I will be holding a public forum at the Legislative Office Building in Albany to discuss the need for passage of the Dignity for All Students Act (S.1571/A.3496). This bill, which I sponsor with Assemblymember Daniel OfDonnell, would serve to protect children in public schools throughout New York State from harassment, bullying and discrimination based on real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability. Such actions not only impede studentsf ability to learn, but also may lead to psychological scarring and increase the chance of violent incidents within our public schools.

It is the goal of this forum to gather testimony from interested persons regarding the problem of bias-harassment, intimidation and bullying in New York public schools and what should be done to practically address these problems. I wish to invite all constituents who have had experience with or have knowledge of this problem to testify, particularly those who have firsthand accounts of violent incidents occurring in our schools due to bullying and harassment. For further information or to sign up to testify, please contact my Counsel, Mark Furnish, at (518) 455-2451.

Supporting the Extension of Benefits to Auxiliary Police Officers' Families:

Like so many others in our community, I was dismayed by the United States Department of Justicefs (DOJ) denial of federal death benefits to the families of Auxiliary Police Officers Eugene Marshalik and Nicholas Pekearo, who were killed in the line of duty in the West Village last spring. Please see my letter to United States Attorney General Michael Mukasey urging DOJ to reconsider. I am gratified that on April 24, DOJ reversed its decision and found the slain officers' families eligible for $300,000 each in death benefits.

Responding to Tishman Speyer Properties' Selection as Developer of Hudson Rail Yards:

On March 26, I joined Governor David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Executive Director Lee Sander and other dignitaries at a press conference announcing the MTA's selection of Tishman Speyer Properties to develop the John D. Caemmerer Rail Yards, commonly referred to as the Hudson Rail Yards. This announcement of a designated developer for the site, which is six full blocks in size from Tenth to Twelfth Avenues and 30th to 33rd Streets, followed a lengthy bidding process involving five of New York City's largest developers. Please see my attached press release congratulating the MTA and highlighting several of the issues for which I will be advocating in further negotiations.

Applauding the Passage of the CB6 197-a Plan and ERRC Development Plan:

As you all know, the New York City Council approved the modified versions of both the Community Board 6 197-a Plan and the East River Realty Company (ERRC) land use applications for the Former Con Edison First Avenue Properties on Wednesday, March 26. I congratulate Community Board Six for the tremendous achievement of having its 197-a Plan receive unanimous approval from the Council Members. Your long fought for 197-a plan provides the entire eastern half of Community District 6 a much-needed, comprehensive planning framework that will strengthen the vitality of the community as well as the quality of life for present and future residents. I also applaud Council Member Garodnick for his work in negotiating with the East River Realty Company (ERRC) for important concessions in the ultimate Con Ed Properties applications. The final ERRC development plan certainly addresses many of the concerns of our community, including height and bulk of the seven buildings, public gardens and walkways, a public school and affordable housing.

St. Vincent's Hospital: Releasing Survey Results and Raising Concerns at LPC:

On March 31, I, along with Congressmember Jerrold Nadler and Community Board 2, released the results of our internet survey on the St. Vincent's Redevelopment proposal and on the following day, I submitted testimony (attached) at the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing, in which I referenced CB2's thoughtful resolution and emphasized a number of our shared concerns.

The unscientific online survey drew 1,559 responses, more than two-thirds of which came from the two zip codes that straddle the development site. I want to express my appreciation to all the community members who completed the survey and to Congressmember Nadler and CB2 for helping to generate such tremendous participation. The survey indicated that the hospital certainly has support and there were even respondents who indicated in open-ended comments that nothing should stand in the way of the current proposal. However, it is clear that many more respondents want me and other community representatives to advocate on their behalf for changes and concessions. Please see my press release announcing the survey results with a link to a complete summary.

Tenant's Rights Hearing:

On March 24, I had the pleasure of speaking at Community Board 2's Joint Committee Hearing of the Tenant's Rights Task Force, Chinatown Committee and Social Service Committee. I want to commend CB2 for recently forming the Tenantfs Rights Task Force and I hope this is the first of many discussions that lead to concrete recommendations that will protect tenants in this increasingly hostile housing market.

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