By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville
Jan. 9, 2019: Editor's note: This article comprises two of Mayor Marvin's columns, last week's, which is about the governor's legislative agenda for the new year (which MyhometownBronxville did not publish last week, as this is the first issue after the holidays), and this week's, which is about New York State bills that were signed and vetoed at the end of 2018. Both columns appear below.
Governor Cuomo's Legislative Agenda for the New Year
As the new year arrives so does our newly constituted New York State Legislature. January 1, 2019, featured a fully Democrat-controlled legislature for the first time in decades, including the entirety of Governor Cuomo's tenure.
As a direct consequence, the governor broke with tradition and laid out his legislative agenda in a wide-ranging speech before the New York City Bar Association in late December instead of waiting until the January state of the state address. The motivation was to enable the legislature to commence action on his top priorities immediately upon convening, with the goal of passing much of his agenda in the first hundred days. The following are the legislative goals you can expect to be discussed in the coming weeks and months:
Health care. Take action to codify the health insurance marketplace that the state created under the Affordable Care Act and maintain the ACA's protections for people with pre-existing conditions should they be overturned on the federal or judicial level. He also reiterated his desire for the legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act within the first 30 days of the session.
Taxes. Maintain the millionaire's tax (though not increase it) and make permanent the 2% property tax cap on local municipalities and continue to advocate for the repeal of the SALT tax with our neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut.
Gender Rights. Pass the Equal Rights Amendment to add sex as a protected class. (Nearly a century after it was proposed, New York State never passed the amendment to add it to our state constitution.) In addition, the governor would approve the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which provides protections for those who are transgender and add gender identity to the state's hate crime and human rights laws. He also vowed to put a legal end to conversion therapy in New York.
Gun Control. The governor's goals are directed at three specific measures: ban bump stocks, expand the wait period from three days to ten days for gun seekers who have been flagged by the national background check database, and institute a Red Flag Bill allowing family members or school officials to petition a judge to block ownership if the person is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Dream Act. Governor Cuomo advocates a state-level DREAM Act that would allow those in the country without documentation to qualify for New York State college tuition assistance.
Legalization of Marijuana. For much of his first two terms, the governor was opposed to allowing marijuana for recreational use, calling it a gateway drug as recently as last year. In a major policy change, he is now calling for legalization emulating our neighbors in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Canada.
Environment. The governor set a new goal for the electric sector to reach 100% renewable by 2040. He also advocated for bills to better regulate contaminants in drinking and groundwater.
Education. The governor is calling for a funding model for the state's schools using different formulas than the state education department and major education stakeholders have used in the past with the goal of poorer schools receiving a larger distribution on the local level.
Congestion Pricing in NYC. Vehicle traffic that enters Manhattan at certain times and in certain zones would receive an additional toll, with much of the revenue directed toward improving the NYC subway system.
Child Victims Act. For years, victims have pushed a measure that would extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes and open up a one-year window to revive previously timed-out claims. This year, Cuomo expressed optimism and support that the Child Victims Act would become law.
Ending Cash Bail. The governor's position is that by requiring defendants to put up money or bond to get out of jail while awaiting trial discriminates against lower-income defendants. To remedy this, he would give judges more authority to make their determinations based on the risk to society of release rather than a monetary calculation.
Voting Changes. The governor is in favor of automatic voter registration, early and mail-in voting, and aligning the state and federal primaries, which are currently held on different days. In a major departure, he even floated the idea of making Election Day a state holiday. He also went further than in his past campaign finance proposals and called for a blanket ban on campaign contributions from corporations.
With few exceptions, this wish list has been reiterated prior, but given the change of power in the state senate, the initiatives have become much more feasible.
New York State Bills that Were Signed and Vetoed at the End of 2018
Now that the new state legislative session has begun, there was a flurry of bill-signing, vetoing, or pocket vetoing at year's end.
The following is a final compilation of additions to New York State laws signed by the governor since my last column that could directly affect the village.
Brownfield Opportunity Area Reforms: The legislation streamlined the process significantly and even allows for existing plans developed outside of the BOA process to be retroactively qualified for funding.
Lemon Law for Emergency Vehicles: Communities are now allowed to work directly with manufacturers of emergency vehicles for timely repairs and even full vehicle replacement.
World Trade Center Claims: Individuals may file a workman's compensation claim until year 2022 if the claim is related to the WTC rescue effort.
Additional Tax Cap Compliance: Local governments will now have to certify to the state comptroller and commissioner of taxation and finance as to whether they stayed within the parameters of the tax cap formula on a yearly basis. If a law to override was passed and not needed, such local law now must be repealed.
Note: Though the tax cap was exceeded only once since its inception and by an amount less than $50,000, the village trustees have always unanimously passed prophylactic override legislation. The reasons are twofold: major capital projects are not exempt from the cap calculation and my colleagues and I believe in home rule or crafting a budget by those closest to the needs and issues at the municipal level and not in Albany.
SUNY Impact Aid: Certain cities and villages that are home to four-year SUNY schools received financial aid to offset the costs of providing increased public safety services. This type of legislation is the wave of the future, as every community now grapples with the cost of services to tax-exempt properties – be it increased police calls, lighting, ord road and sewer improvements adjacent to the properties.
In an effort to advance Governor Cuomo's continued theme of encouraging municipal consolidations, two major bills were signed to incentivize communities to combine with neighbors. As background, when the governor was state attorney general, his office submitted a bill allowing any citizen of New York State to start the process of the dissolution of a village, regardless of whether he or she lived in that village, by garnering the support of just 10% of the residents who voted in their last mayoral election. To put the governor's bill in context, a nonresident would need to find only eight Bronxville residents to force a village-wide referendum or vote on dissolution. The incredibly flawed bill was amended several times but the new bill that was passed has provisions that require communities to vote on their own dissolution before a consolidation plan and financial impact statement are produced. The Village of Seneca Falls went this route and is now mired in years of litigation as to cost sharing and long-term financial obligations with its merged town.
The personal preferences of residents to dissolve their communities combined with the supposed tax savings have never been validated. Based on a federal census of local governments per capita, there is also no correlation between the number of governmental layers and a person's relative tax burden.
Two of the most intensely governed states are New Hampshire and Oklahoma, yet they are two of the least taxed.
New York and New Jersey are near the bottom in governmental units yet near the top in tax burden. This is the direct result of New York's "trickle down" policy of making local governments shoulder tax burdens shifted from Albany.
The two bills signed to re-energize the consolidation theme include an annual bonus from the state equal to 15% of the newly combined local government's tax levy and a $25 million funding pool made available to local governments who agree to unite with neighboring entities.
Certiorari Funding: Due to the proliferation of outdated property assessment rolls statewide, legislation now further extends the ability of municipalities to finance judgments related to certiorari and small claims assessment awards. (The village has not needed to go this route.)
Justice Court: Legislation provides for more community service opportunities vs. fines and incarceration for the violation of local laws.
Environment: Per new law, smoking is prohibited within one hundred feet of an entrance or exit to all public libraries.
Finance: A state digital currency task force is being created to provide information on the potential effects of widespread implementation of digital currencies on financial markets in the state.
Vetoes: The governor uses his veto power quite sparingly but did veto three measures that would affect communities statewide. One bill would have exposed public entities to open-ended liability by allowing damages against the public owner for any construction contract delays, making public contracts more expensive even over and above the financial implications of the Wick's Law, which adds 15 to 20% more to public vs. private construction contracts.
The second piece of legislation would have provided police and firefighters with a presumption that if MRSA was ever contracted, it was done so in the line of duty unless it could have been refuted conclusively by the municipality.
Also vetoed was a bill authorizing up to 12 weeks of paid bereavement leave upon the death of certain family members.
In early February, I head to Albany with my fellow state mayors to meet collectively and lobby for legislation that would relieve any further burdens at the local government level. I shall keep you informed.
Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.