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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PR- 039-13
January 28, 2013

MAYOR BLOOMBERG TESTIFIES BEFORE ASSEMBLY WAYS AND MEANS AND STATE SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEES

Mayor: Legislature must act to keep schoolchildren from being unfairly harmed by the UFT's refusal to agree to a fair and effective evaluation process

The following is Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's testimony as delivered today in Albany:

“Well, good morning. Let me start by thanking Assemblyman Farrell and Senator DeFrancisco, the committee chairs holding this hearing; and the ranking minority members of the committees, Assemblyman Robert Oaks and Senator Liz Krueger; and all of the members of both the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee for this opportunity to testify today.   

“Seated with me this morning are Mark Page, the City’s Director of Management and Budget, and Joseph Garba, our Director of State Legislative Affairs.

“My testimony this morning will address the impact on New York City of the Governor’s Executive Budget for 2013/2014, and it will affirm our support for many of its goals – and also to urge the Legislature to correct its shortcomings, particularly in the area of education aid to New York City public schools.

“First, however, I did want to thank all of you and your colleagues in both houses of the Legislature for your swift approval of the New York Safe Act, the Governor’s historic gun safety reforms. These common-sense measures will make all New Yorkers – upstate and downstate, in urban and suburban and rural areas – safer from gun violence. And your passage of them, I think, sets an example of bipartisan cooperation that I hope Congress will follow as it takes up President Obama’s legislative proposals on firearms safety.

“If anybody thinks these measures do not keep our citizens safer, I just point out that New York City just had the lowest number of murders that we’ve ever had, and our suicide rate with guns is only ten percent of the national average in the country. So, making guns harder to get and restricting guns from going to  minors and to people with criminal records, substance abuse problems or mental problems really does have a real-world effect on keeping all of us safe.

“There is much in the Executive Budget that is commendable, including the Governor’s commitment to balance the budget without imposing new taxes.  The taxpayers of this state, as you know, all feel burdened by the tax base, and all having trouble with this economy so this is a good development. The budget also includes an ambitious plan to lead our recovery from the unprecedented damage produced by Hurricane Sandy.

“I can tell you we’re making great progress in New York City in getting people who were flooded out electricity, heat and hot water. We’ve done it in about 10,000 housing units already. We think we have another 7,000-odd left to go, but my hope is that by the end of February we will have mounted a public/private partnership where private contractors that we’ve hired are coming in and replacing the damaged heat, hot water and electricity facilities, and getting people back in their houses where they want to be.

“The other significant elements of the Executive Budget that are of concern is education; health and human services; mandate and other relief to hard-pressed local governments; and economic development throughout the state. And I’m going to touch briefly on all of these points. But first the most urgent issue before us, and that is education.

“The Legislature simply must act to keep New York City schoolchildren from being unfairly harmed by the UFT’s refusal to agree to a fair and effective evaluation process. That would, unfortunately, happen if the budget is not revised.

“As I’m sure most of you know, New York City stands to forfeit the additional $250 million in State education aid for the current fiscal year that was contingent on our negotiating a new teacher evaluation process with the United Federation of Teachers.

“That, as I predicted, proved to be impossible. There is no other state in this country that even tries to do this. And keep in mind, that Race to the Top requires you to come up with an evaluation process, but the process is whatever the states decide. No other state – let me repeat that – operates under the assumption that you can come up with an agreement with their local unions for an effective and fair evaluation process. It’s a process that just has not, will not and in fact cannot work.

“The procedural roadblocks and the sunset provisions that the UFT tried to insert into our negotiating process during the final hours before the January 17th negotiating deadline I think demonstrated that. They were designed to insure that there will never be a meaningful evaluation of competency and removal from the classroom of those few teachers who destroy the future of our most at-risk kids.

“Had we acceded to such shameless ploys, we would have created a process that was an unworkable sham – and a fraud on the public. A process in which it would be impossible for us to support all teachers in developing their skills, or removing the relatively few ineffective teachers from our classrooms.

“These last minute deal breakers from the union would have effectively undermined the intent of this Legislature, as expressed in the law that you passed back in 2010. And what you told your constituents you were going to do for our kids.

“Going along with the UFT’s demands would have broken faith with you – and with our schoolchildren who deserve far better from us.

“My message today is simple: Do not punish our schoolchildren for the obstructionism of the UFT. Our children don’t deserve it. They have done nothing wrong. They just need a quality education to survive in an ever more global and competitive world, and they can only get that with qualified teachers at the front of the room. 

“We cannot base school budgets on whether districts meet the demands of unions to not have an evaluation system that works.

“The UFT’s obstructionism has, unfortunately, now set in motion a chain of decisions by the State Education Department that, if not corrected, will have potentially calamitous effects on our city’s public schools.

“They could result in the loss of many hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal aid, Race to the Top monies, much of it meant to help high-needs, low-income students in our city. And most immediately, the budget the State Department of Ed is trying to push would eliminate some $724 million in State education aid to New York City schools over two years; that’s $250 million during the current budget year, the baseline for that in the next year, and another $227 million that is in the executive budget for the year 2014.

“It would be at a terrible direct cost to New York City’s schoolchildren – as we too well know, it is our most vulnerable children who will bear the brunt of the cuts.

“Let me put it in real terms to what the loss of the State aid translates into practical terms for our children. We’re right now in the middle of a school year – a time when cutting school personnel or programs is doubly tough and especially painful.

“Nevertheless, the State funds we’ve lost will force principals to start right now making just such substantial classroom cutbacks – because they won’t have the discretionary funds they currently rely on.

“Starting with my budget update tomorrow morning, they will have a net loss of nearly 700 teachers through attrition for the rest of this school year – that’s 700 fewer than we planned on having. Because for every four teachers we lose during the balance of this school year, principals will only be able to hire only one replacement.

“We’ll also have to sharply reduce the use of substitute teachers and teachers’ aides. And there will have to be substantial cutbacks in everything from offering students afterschool homework assistance and test preparation to providing professional development for teachers and other school staff.

“In the next school year, starting next September, the pain will be even greater. Once again, it will be felt where it hurts the most: in the classrooms.

“We can expect to lose more than 1,800 teachers through attrition next year – and that’s 1,800 fewer than we had planned on having. We will have to eliminate more than 700,000 hours of afterschool programs, including academic help to the students who need it most. And we’ll have some $67 million less for essential school supplies.

“The Executive Budget, because of the State Education Department’s outrageous pandering to the UFT, also would make perpetual the City’s loss of State education aid repeatedly for years into the future because of our refusal to accept a sham evaluation process. That would be true even if our administration and the UFT are able to resolve our differences and reach an evaluation process agreement before the next September 1st deadline proposed in this budget for us and other school districts across the state.

“This would be an enduring penalty imposed on the schoolchildren of New York City, and how anyone thinks that the other counties in the state that have come to one-year agreements when the laws that you pass require two years to evaluate a teacher, I just for the life of me do not understand. It is just a sham on the public saying they have a deal, when in fact they’ve done absolutely nothing to evaluate and to make sure that the best teachers that we can find are at the front of the classroom.

“What this means is that one labor union president, with one act of intransigence, supported by the State Education Department, would permanently undermine State funding for our schools because whatever is taken out now doesn’t get base lined, and so it compounds as you would go forward.

“I do, however, want to commend Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver for questioning the fairness of perpetuating this penalty in this fashion, and for indicating that the Assembly may not allow it.

“Some $194 million in other State and Federal funds awarded to the City are either already forfeited or are now at risk. That includes $76 million in school improvement grants; $64 million in Race to the Top funds; and teacher incentive funds of $54 million.

“In addition to that, in his January 18th letter to New York City’s Schools Chancellor, State Education Commissioner John King, Jr., threatened to withhold another $830 million in Federal education entitlement funds in the current fiscal year if we did not agree to the fraud that the UFT is trying to perpetrate on our children.

“These include $727 million in Title I funds, which are meant to help schools serving our most economically disadvantaged students. Another $103 million are Title II-a funds intended for the professional development of principals and teachers – again, primarily in the city’s lowest-income communities.

“The function of the State Education Department is to help schoolchildren – not to unjustly penalize them. Their outrageous threats calls into question their commitment to our children and their mission And the cumulative effects of withholding these Federal funds would be a staggering penalty indeed.

“Members of the Legislature: It is blatantly unfair to punish students by denying our schools aid – just as it is also wrong to withhold the Federal education aid to which they are entitled, and as it is wrong to prevent a fair and accurate and useful evaluation plan which would let us know which teachers are not helping our kids, get those that don’t the kind of remedial training they need, and if they can’t make the grade not have them in front of our kids. We’re counting on you to prevent these outcomes from happening.

“Before leaving the subject of education, let me also point out that once again this year, the Executive Budget proposes to limit the way public schools around the state can claim reimbursement for student transportation and other services. 

“The effect of that would be a $117 million reduction in State aid to New York City’s public schools in the current and next fiscal years. You’ve rejected this proposal in the past – thank you – and we urge you to do it again.

“Let me turn now to another area of high importance to our city: Reducing the mounting costs of providing special education for pre-kindergarten students. These costs are growing rapidly across the state – and even more steeply in New York City.

“We take our responsibilities to these students and their parents very seriously. And we applaud the measures proposed by the Governor that will help us ensure the quality of pre-k special education by authorizing us to select providers and set the rates at which they are paid.

“These measures, however, can and should be made even stronger – specifically, by also enabling the City to require that the experts who evaluate the students in these services aren’t professionally tied to the providers of those services. That kind of a conflict of interest is just an outrage and would never get us the kind of information we need to know which programs and which providers are making a difference, and which ones are not.

“When independent audits uncover overcharges for these services, we also need authority to recover those expenses without what is often a very protracted State approval process. That’s going to help us ensure the professional and fiscal integrity of these very important services.

“And to make them more efficient, we also ask that the City be allowed to contract independently with what are known as pre-k special education itinerant teachers on a fee-for-service basis.

“I also want to ask you to address two issues in the area of health services. The first arises from the State’s need to comply with the Federal Affordable Health Care Act. In line with that, the State is now starting to redistribute charity care dollars, as they’re called, to hospitals that actually serve the largest number of uninsured, under-insured, or Medicaid patients.

“New York City’s public hospitals are the largest single provider of such care in the entire state – and the budget should reflect that more clearly and accurately than it now does. I think this is a step in the right direction, thank you.

“Second, the budget also unwisely cuts $5 million in State funding to what are known as Article 6 public health programs in the city.

“Common sense tells us that preventive health care saves lives and also saves money. Yet the State would eliminate payments for primary and preventive clinical health services, cut funds for childhood immunizations and well-child check-ups, and reduce support for school-based health centers and for health services provided by community-based groups.

“This is a serious mistake, and I urge you to correct it.

“On the plus side of the ledger, the budget does make a number of positive contributions to helping the state’s local governments. In particular, our Administration welcomes the additional funding provided for operating the Staten Island Ferry and the once-privately operated bus companies now under the control of the MTA.

“We also support the Governor’s proposed extension of design-build reforms for all State agencies. Design-build saves taxpayers’ money and speeds up the process of design and construction. For those reasons, we ask you to extend it to all New York City agencies as well. If it’s good for the State, it’s good for the City, and there’s no reason why there should be a difference.

“And we urge that the State’s Mandate Relief Council take seriously its mission of relieving what are now burdensome reporting requirements for New York City and other localities by April 1st of next year. A good place to start would be by giving localities a clear role in this process.

“We also applaud the Governor’s proposal to cap labor arbitration awards imposed on financially distressed local governments at two percent of contract costs.

“That is a good idea as far as it goes – but it should go even farther. That’s because the effect of the current structure of collective bargaining is to allow recalcitrant unions to force localities into contracts they simply can’t afford without raising taxes. This makes an unelected arbiter more powerful than elected officials and that’s wrong and it should be changed.

“It is long overdue that the ability to pay should be taken into account in these decisions.  Just saying, ‘Well, the municipality has the ability to pay because they can always raise taxes defies an understanding of what the real world is and what our constituents need.’

“For those reasons, the proposed arbitration cap should cover all localities, including New York City, under all conditions. In fact, it would be blatantly unfair and an outrage if New York City is not included in this reform. 

“New York City residents pay our taxes and should be treated equally. When our taxpayers find out other taxpayers in the state are getting a better deal than they are, which you can be sure they will find out, probably repeatedly, you can expect an outcry you have never seen before. I would suggest you just ask New York City taxpayers, your constituents, if they feel distressed. We all know what they’re going to say with this economic climate.

“The argument that others need it more than we do is just fundamentally unfair, and also overlooks the contributions that we make to the State’s economy and budget. If the arbitration cap is a good idea for upstate communities, it’s an equally good idea for those of us downstate.

“Much of the budget focuses on the Governor’s economic development and job creation initiatives, and we support many of his proposals – but there is one with which we must disagree.

“It is a plan to require local industrial development agencies to get prior State approval before granting sales tax exemptions to economic development projects. This would seriously impede job creation at the local level – and we urge you not to approve it. If there’s anything that gets in the way of creating jobs right now, it’s certainly something we should not have in our state.

“That said, there is much in the Governor’s economic agenda that we do strongly agree with and support. Specifically, we urge the Legislature to enact an increase in the State minimum wage, to approve the Governor’s proposed reform of the workers’ compensation system, and to extend the State’s film production tax credits.

“Many elements in the Governor’s jobs agenda also mirror policies that New York City has proved successful at the local level. Take, for example, Next Generation NY. It will enable community colleges across the state to do something similar to what our Administration’s nationally recognized Workforce1 Job Centers have accomplished: Reinventing employment services so that job seekers learn the specific skills actually needed by private sector employers.

“I also enthusiastically applaud the Governor’s plans for a new, more aggressive and imaginative campaign to market upstate tourism. New York City’s own tourism marketing last year helped attract a record-setting 52 million visitors to the five boroughs, supporting a growing hospitality industry in our city which right now has something like 350,000 residents working in it making an average of over $50,000 a year, more than the average in the city. This is a great way to create jobs. Upstate has some wonderful people and natural resources, we’ve just got to get out and market it better.

“The Governor’s proposal to provide venture capital to fund innovation hot spots, as he calls them, has the potential to spur new jobs in high-tech industries, just as our Administration’s efforts are fueling high-tech job growth in the five boroughs. We also endorse the Governor’s $1 billion commitment to preserving and creating affordable housing statewide.

“Over the past decade, our Administration’s $8.5 billion affordable housing initiative, called the New Housing Marketplace, has put us on course to provide nearly 600,000 New Yorkers with the homes that they need at a rate that they can afford.

“We also applaud the proposed creation of a statewide volunteer corps and public education campaign on disaster preparedness. Our Administration has been a leader in both areas – and both were critical to our response to Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath that, I have no doubt, saved lives in our city.

“The Governor has also developed a far-reaching plan for New York State’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy and also Storms Irene and Lee.

“In New York City, our Administration has, in cooperation with local residents, begun working to develop Community Recovery and Rebuilding plans in the communities hit hardest by Sandy. We expect these plans to dovetail with the community development block grant funding included in the Governor’s budget.

“The City and State worked closely and well in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Sandy. I think it’s a great example of how the City and State can and should work better together in the future, and everybody benefited from that. And I wanted to thank the Governor for his and all of his staff’s help. We’re confident we can continue to cooperate in drawing down the maximum in discretionary Federal recovery funds for the city and state, and also in sharing any non-Federally-funded public costs of rebuilding.

“As the Governor has also pointed out, New Yorkers hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy need immediate help. For that reason, our Administration and the New York City Council ask the State Legislature to enable us to grant targeted property tax relief to homeowners who are experiencing the worst hurricane damage.

“Specifically, we ask your approval to grant these homeowners – and there will be fewer than 1,000 of them – tax rebates. These rebates will reflect the reduced value of buildings on the most seriously hurricane-damaged properties.

“In Staten Island and Queens, where more than 90 percent of the qualifying properties are located, the rebates would typically range from just between $600 to over $700. That’s going to have a very slight effect on the City’s budget, but the relief will be welcomed by homeowners who remain under enormous financial, and emotional, strains.

“And with that, let me just finish by saying thank you for all that you have done for us in the last year since the last time I was here. We don’t always remember to say thank you, but we should. You’ve done some wonderful things, and we do appreciate it, and hopefully we’ve done our part.

“On that note, I’ll be happy to take your questions.”







MEDIA CONTACT:


Marc La Vorgna / Lauren Passalacqua   (212) 788-2958



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