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2011-2012 New York State Budget

With the Governor’s signature on March 31st, the Legislature passed the first on-time state budget in years.  A number of City Bar committees provided comments on portions of the budget relevant to their practice areas.  Here are a few highlights:

  • The Corrections Committee supported the continued funding of Prisoners’ Legal Services (“PLS”), which provides civil legal services to select New York State prison inmates with meritorious causes.  PLS could not continue to operate without state support and the City Bar appreciates the Legislature’s inclusion of funding in the final budget which, while relatively low, will allow PLS to continue providing services.  The Committee also opposed the inclusion of language in the budget which would have made a teacher’s conviction for any “qualifying criminal offense in the past five years and since being appointed” a dispositive ground for lay-off priority.  In the Committee’s view, this proposal was at odds with the due-process rights afforded teachers under the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education and the public-policy aims of New York Correction Law Article 23-A.  This provision was not included in the final budget; however, stand-alone legislation proposing the same policy is still pending in the Legislature and the City Bar will continue to oppose its enactment.
  • The Committees on New York City Affairs and Land Use Planning and Zoning opposed a provision proposed in the Senate version of the budget which would have amended the New York State Transportation Law to remove the power and authority of New York City, and only New York City, to regulate advertising signs within its borders.  The Committees argued that the City should have the right to regulate billboards as part of its zoning authority, as recognized by the promulgation of the Standard Zoning Enabling Act in 1926, which established the standard for the delegation by states to cities of the power to adopt zoning regulations.  The provision was not included in the final budget.
  • The Committee on Legal Problems of the Aging commented on two provisions in the Governor’s proposed budget regarding Medicaid coverage.  The first provision, would expand Medicaid estate recovery to include recovery from the recipient of a decedent’s property by distribution or survival and expand the definition of “estate” for the purposes of recovery to include “any other property in which the individual has any legal title or interest at the time of death, including jointly held property, retained life estates, and interests in trusts, to the extent of such interests.”  While included in the final budget, the provision was amended so that it will require proposed regulations to implement, which the Committee plans to continue to follow and analyze.  The Committee also opposed a provision which would have eliminated spousal refusal rules for both institutional and home based Medicaid cases.  That provision was ultimately removed from the budget.
  • The Council on Children provided comments on Governor Cuomo’s proposals to reform the state juvenile justice system, an issue given particular attention in this year’s State of the State Address.  The Council supported the closing of underutilized facilities and the elimination of the 12-month waiting period to close those facilities.  The final budget included the closing of a number of facilities and decreased the 12-month waiting period to 60 days, however only for one year.  The Council also suggested that the budget reinvest savings into community-based alternative-to-detention and alternative-to-placement programs that produce better outcomes at considerably less cost.  Funding for detention was restored and the budget allows for counties to use this money for alternatives, should they choose, at a 32% local match to a 68% state match. 
  • The Council on Judicial Administration, the Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee urged the Legislature to enact the proposed Judiciary Budget in its entirety, including $25 million to fund civil legal services for the poor.  Association President Sam Seymour testified to this effect at the Joint Assembly and Senate budget hearings.  Ultimately, the Judiciary Budget was reduced by $170 million, including a reduction in civil legal services funding to $12.5 million.  While this $12.5 million will be of vital significance given the threats to other legal services funding sources, the halving of the $25 million request – which was designed as the first installment of a four-year effort to increase legal services funding by $100 million – legal services providers will feel the loss in their ability to provide essential services to low-income New Yorkers during these trying times.

 

April 15, 2011