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March 20, 2014

Hey, Assembly, what gives?

Tim Hoefer

Over at SeeThroughNY, our team works really hard to post fresh data quickly and accurately — when it’s available, that is.

Today, we updated legislative expenditures for the state Senate, but not for the Assembly, which hasn’t posted its data yet.

A week ago, the Assembly Majority assured us the data would be online in the “very near future.” The Senate made its data available back in late February. (more…)

March 18, 2014

Cuomo’s “too many local governments” fallacy

E.J. McMahon

Committed to an inflated number?

“Why are property taxes so high? Because we have 10,500 local governments,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday, repeating (yet again) his favorite mantra. Cuomo clearly wants to imply that he’s referring to 10,500 autonomous entities, falling over one another in a virtual orgy of bureaucratic excess.

“Every morning you wake up and you’re turning on 10,500 light switches, you’re starting 10,500 fleets of cars, you’re paying 10,500 insurance policies,” he has said.

But it’s just not true. Not even close.

By a commonly accepted national standard, New York doesn’t have 10,500 local governments–much less 10,500 local government light switches, auto fleets or insurance policies. The true number of local governments with any level of taxing authority is about one-third as large as the governor would have you believe.

Notwithstanding Cuomo’s claim, the data indicate that New York’s exceptionally high property taxes are not driven primarily by the number of local governments.


Filed under: Local governments, Uncategorized

March 12, 2014

Profits down but bonuses up on Wall Street

E.J. McMahon

Is Wall Street roaring back — as a revenue-generating force for New York’s insatiable state and city governments, that is?  You might get that impression from glancing at today’s press release from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, which headlines the finding that the average bonus for securities industry employees in New York “grew by 15 percent to $164,530 in 2013, which is the largest average bonus since the 2008 financial crisis, and the third highest on record.”

But as the release also makes clear, the spike in bonuses paid came during a year when the profits of securities firms actually dropped by 30 percent, to $16.7 billion from $23.9 billion. DiNapoli’s release calls last year’s profit total “still high by historical standards” — but that doesn’t adjust for inflation or market capitalization. (In straight nominal terms, 2013 profits don’t look far off the average for the late 1990s.)


Filed under: Economy, Wall Street

March 10, 2014

Move over Jimmy Fallon…

Dave Lombardo

As if $420 million in annual handouts to the film and television industries wasn’t enough, New York State legislators are now proposing to give millions to the music industry and Broadway.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, introduced legislation creating a music credit that would reimburse 20 percent of production expenses, including artists’ royalties, session fees, music videos and marketing, and would cost New York up to $60 million a year. Theater fans are getting some love from Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, and Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, who crafted a $5 million credit for 30 percent of a show’s production costs in an attempt to attract touring theater companies to upstate locations. 


March 6, 2014

NY trails again in new job creation data

E.J. McMahon

New York State added private jobs at a slower pace than the nation as a whole during the 12-month period ending in January, according to data released today by the state Labor Department.

Year-to-year private job growth map from the state Labor Department

Statewide private employment as of January was up 1.7 percent from a year earlier, compared to 2.1 percent nationally.

Thanks to yet another month of strong job growth in New York City, private employment in the downstate region grew at a faster-than-average 2.5 percent clip. However, the 52 counties categorized as “upstate” by the Labor Department (including Dutchess and Orange, although they are within the downstate Metropolitan Commuter District) created jobs at a much more sluggish pace of just 0.5 percent.

The map at right illustrates a familiar pattern of growth and non-growth by county, with the darkest shadings indicating little or no increase in private-sector employment. The key table from the Labor Department press release is at the end of this post.

The regional variance in job growth continues a multi-year trend.


Filed under: Economy, Employment, Uncategorized

Suffolk police are doing OK

Tim Hoefer

Despite the not-rosy fiscal status of the county, the Suffolk County Legislature approved the last outstanding contract for county police officers. (In January, Moody’s listed Suffolk County among the municipal bond issuers facing a credit rating downgrade.)

The newly minted contract with the Superior Officers Association will cost taxpayers $55.4 million through 2018. The three police union contracts negotiated by County Executive Steve Bellone since 2012 will come to $372 million — equivalent to about 18 percent of the county’s own-source revenues at the start of the contract period.


February 26, 2014

Speaking of tax breaks for millionaires …

E.J. McMahon

Photo via NY1

Photo via NY1

Gov. Cuomo today announced yet another enormous state tax subsidy for the entertainment industry — this time for Disney and Netflix to produce a live-action Internet TV series based on Marvel Comics superheroes in New York City.

The incentive will come out of New York’s $420 million-a-year Film and TV Production Credit program, which reimburses up to 30 percent of production costs in New York. It’s a sweet deal, as explained in an unpublished research study prepared for the governor’s Tax Reform and Fairness Commission last fall:

… Based on IRS industry-specific data, a 30 percent credit would equal about 55 percent of taxable income of a typical film production firm. In 2008 (the latest year for which detailed data are available), the credits received by 31 film production industry taxpayers exceeded the combined tax liability of the entire industry — all 1,600+ firms — in nine of the ten previous years. Because the credit exceeds tax liability many times over and is refundable, in effect it is a program of cash payments by the state to credit recipients. [emphasis added]


Filed under: Taxes, Uncategorized

February 21, 2014

Cuomo signs off on Long Beach deficit bonds

Dave Lombardo

Gov. Cuomo today signed a bill that further distances him from the longstanding state policy of tying strong oversight strings to deficit bonding requests from fiscally troubled local governments.

The bill in question allows the Long Island city of Long Beach to borrow up to $12 million to deal with its budget deficits — no strings attached.

Legislation allowing the city to borrow was vetoed late last year by Cuomo, who didn’t express any reservations about borrowing, but noted that the deadline for issuing bonds had come and gone. The state Legislature saw this problem coming, though, reintroduced the borrowing bill with a  new deadline and no strings attached.

Cuomo already has given a rubber stamp to $96 million of deficit bonding for Rockland County and on this second time around, without any technical errors to hide behind, he broke out the rubber stamp for Long Beach. The governor’s approval message is not yet available, so we don’t know his reasoning for going along with this plan.


Filed under: Local governments, Uncategorized

Cuomo steps up pro-union “PLA” push

E.J. McMahon

In an apparent concession to construction trade unions, one of Governor Cuomo’s 30-day budget bill amendments would effectively require use of project-labor agreements (PLAs) on “design-build” infrastructure contracts of more than $10 million. This raises the likelihood that savings made possible by the use of the design-build method will be undermined by the imposition of PLAs, which favor less efficient union labor.

The amendment also backtracks, in two notable ways, from Cuomo’s original 2014-15 budget proposal to extend the 2011 state Infrastructure Investment Act, which allows more use of “design build” method on public projects:

  • The initial budget bill would have made permanent the design-build provisions of the 2011 law, but the 30-day amendment merely extends it for three more years, through 2017.
  • While the original bill would have authorized the use of the design-build technique by all counties and larger municipalities, the amended bill erases this expansion to local governments.


Filed under: Infrastructure

February 19, 2014

Court chalks up one for taxpayers

E.J. McMahon

Anyone with a “permanent place of abode” in New York is required by law to pay income taxes to the state — and to New York City, as well, if the “abode” is there. But if you’re an out-of-state resident who sets up and maintains a rent-free home for your parents in New York, does that make you a New York resident, too?

The state Tax Tribunal said “yes” — and ordered  John Gaied, the owner of a Staten Island auto repair shop, to pay $253,062 in back taxes for a three-year period in which Gaied said his home was actually in New Jersey.

Yesterday, however, the Court of Appeals unanimously overturned that decision.


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