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January 27, 2014
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has agreed to a seven-year contract that will give MTA cops base pay increases totaling 18 percent, including a 7.5 percent retroactive boost effective immediately, the Daily News reports. Union members also scored a boost in their longevity pay, which will rise to a maximum of $9,800, in exchange for agreeing to curb overtime, stretch-out the schedule of annual pay hikes for newly hired officers and make new recruits pay 2 percent of their salaries toward health insurance.
The News said the deal’s generosity “stunned” other MTA unions–particularly the one representing Long Island Railroad employees, who reportedly are prepared to strike as soon as March 21, thanks to failed contract negotiations with the MTA.
January 23, 2014
New York’s imminent fall from third to fourth most populous state can be attributed mainly to its heavy loss of residents to the rest of the country—a trend persisting in this decade, according to Census Bureau data released today.
During the 12 months ending last July 1, the Census Bureau estimates, New York lost a net 104,470 residents to other states. In other words, 104,470 more people moved out of New York than moved into it. This was the largest net domestic migration loss sustained by any state — well ahead of the next biggest losers, Illinois (-67,313 residents) and California (-49,259).
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January 22, 2014
The seemingly slapdash nature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $2 billion education bond was reinforced during Tuesday’s budget address when the gambit got a makeover.
Unveiled by the governor two weeks ago during the State of the State address as an initiative to provide “the technology of tomorrow today,” the bond will be stretched further with an undetermined portion now repurposed for the construction of new prekindergarten classrooms. This latest twist appears to be driven by Cuomo’s push for full-day pre-k across the state, which (as he acknowledged) will cause an influx of students that some school districts can’t currently accommodate.
January 21, 2014
The last update to New York State’s financial plan, issued in early November, projected state operating funds budget gaps as far as the eye could see. Nothing new there: out-year projected shortfalls have been a feature of state budgets in New York since the current accounting system was enacted 30 years ago, and Governor Cuomo could accurately argue the gaps have gotten smaller on his watch.
But starting a few months ago, the governor began making a much bolder claim. The state, he said, would have a $2 billion budget surplus within the next budget window. He would accomplish this, he said, by holding spending growth to 2 percent a year.
In the broadest terms, the math of that promise added up. If you took the financial plan table from November, and allowed projected spending to grow by only 2 percent a year, and kept projected receipts the same, you’d have a surplus of better than $2 billion by the end of the period.
However, leading up to today’s budget presentation, the question was: how would he actually achieve this? With 40 percent of state operating funds expenditures tied up in school aid and Medicaid, and thus presumably off limits to reduction, and with the attrited-down state workforce now entering a contractual phase in which base pay raises are due after a three-year freeze, and with other hunks of spending in tough-to-reduce categories like pensions and debt service, where would the governor choose to find additional savings necessary to turn a projected 2017 budget gap of nearly $3 billion into a “surplus of $2 billion?
The answer: he hasn’t. Not really.
January 16, 2014
Rising debts and liabilities for pensions and retiree health care could soon translate into higher borrowing costs for at least nine New York local governments, including a half dozen of the largest counties and towns in the state. They’re facing possible bond rating downgrades as part of a nationwide review of local ratings by Moody’s Investors Service.
Moody’s announced yesterday that it was reviewing ratings for a total of 256 bond issuers nationwide based on a new methodology that puts a greater weight on pensions and debt and less on economic factors. The reviews, which could result in either no ratings change or “one or two notch movements” in either direction, will be completed within the next 90 to 180 days, the ratings agency said. Unfunded health insurance promises to retired public employees, estimated to total a quarter-trillion dollars in New York, will also be considered in the pension category when they “appear to be particularly large relative to budget and tax base and management has not demonstrated a willingness to address related costs,” according to the new Moody’s methodology.
January 15, 2014
Public subsidies of sports arenas, stadiums and ballparks “cannot be justified on the grounds of local economic development, income growth or job creation, those arguments most frequently used by subsidy advocates.” That’s the solid consensus view of economists, based on decades of evidence from scores of projects, as summarized in this 2008 paper. For a more recent take on the issue, see this April 2013 report presented to officials in Milwaukee, Wi., where the usual suspects are pushing for a new downtown arena.
All economic analyses aside, taxpayer-funded subsidies for sports facilities are just plain unfair, chiefly benefiting wealthy owners, sponsors and boosters of the teams that play in them, while diverting scarce resources from more basic public services and infrastructure needs.
But many politicians across the country remain suckers for the “if we build it, they will come” premise behind proposed sports developments, especially in struggling cities. Until yesterday, at least, New York State’s latest local sports facility subsidy scam had been taking shape in Syracuse, where Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney reportedly had Governor Cuomo’s pledge of state support for a partially county-funded $500 million arena that would serve mainly as a new showcase for the Orange of Syracuse University.
January 14, 2014
A new state Senate Majority report on burdensome state regulations provides more backup for the Empire Center’s recent call to reform New York’s environmental planning review process.
The 128-page report was issued Monday by a team of Republican and Independent Democratic Senators who held public hearings across the state at which business and community representatives were invited to identify regulatory obstacles to economic growth. The State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process was repeatedly identified as one of those obstacles, according to the Senate report.
That’s consistent with a recent Empire Center report, which said SEQR too easily “can be exploited to produce costly delays and uncertainty for the kind of job-creating projects New York desperately needs.” Our report, “Streamlining SEQR,” identified needed reforms including the adoption of more concrete deadlines and a defined “scoping” process to identify significant concerns with proposed developments.
January 13, 2014
A full year after the official start of construction on a replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge, Governor Cuomo still isn’t leveling with New Yorkers on how he will pay for the $4 billion project, Nicole Gelinas and I write in a New York Post op-ed today.
It’s obvious tolls will have to go up sooner or later, and the latest budget for the Cuomo-controlled Thruway Authority actually targets a nearly 50 percent systemwide toll hike over the next three years. But there’s still been no firm commitment to a long-term toll schedule, and as Cuomo gears up for his re-election campaign, some big unanswered questions are still hanging out there. For example, how soon will tolls go up, and will the added charges be divided between Tappan Zee commuters and drivers on the rest of the statewide Thruway system?
January 7, 2014
In his fourth annual State of the State message tomorrow, Governor Andrew Cuomo will (naturally) seek to highlight the most positive aspects of New York’s economic performance under his leadership. As the Governor put it during a press conference yesterday previewing his tax agenda:
[W]e’ve added 380,000 private sector jobs since 2010. New York is number two in jobs created since the recession … We have more jobs today than at any time in history of the state of New York. Unemployment in every region is down from where we started three years ago, so all the arrows are pointed in the right direction.”
All of these statements are accurate — as far as they go. However, on closer examination, the employment numbers for New York paint a more mixed picture. Based on the latest available data from the state Department of Labor and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- New York State has grown more slowly than the national average since Governor Cuomo took office, largely as a result of a modest slowdown in job growth relative to the U.S. average during the past 18 months.
- There continues to be a pronounced regional variation in economic performance. Thanks to strong growth downstate, especially in New York City, New York State ranks 21st out of 50 states in its rate of private job creation since November 2010. But if the 50 counties of upstate New York were a separate state, they would rank dead last during the same period.
December 30, 2013
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Newly released Census estimates show New York is still the nation’s third most populous state, barely ahead of Florida. However, if total population growth trends continue at the average rate of the past three years, Florida will overtake New York by mid-2014, the data indicate. As of July 1, New York’s estimated population was 19.65 million, and Florida’s was 19.55 million.
When the April 2010 census was taken, New York had 576,792 more residents than Florida. As of July 1, the gap had shrunk to 98,267, the new data suggest. Additional Census data on the components of change in state population estimates, including migration out of and into each state, are not scheduled for release until late January. Those numbers have previously shown that New York’s relative population decline over the past 50 years has been due primarily to an exceptionally large “net domestic migration” loss of residents to other states, including Florida.