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New York State budget

By Lisa Scott

At the end of March Gov. Cuomo (D) and the New York State Assembly and Senate agreed to a $168 billion budget that tried to please constituencies in an election year while ignoring reforms that are desperately needed. Budget negotiations were conducted behind closed doors among the governor and three top legislative leaders, out of sight of even other lawmakers. It was clear that the policy issues such as gun control or bail reform would not be addressed until (possibly) after the budget’s April 1 deadline, in favor of financial considerations. 

The governor had drafted initial budget proposals that touched on many progressive reforms, yet the negotiations showed that a Republican-led NYS Senate was able to fight hard against any new taxes and fees, and defer inclusion of social policies, while the NYS Assembly had pushed for a large spending increase in its initial budget proposal. The financial 900-lb gorilla in the room was the impact of the new federal tax plan whose cap on SALT (state and local tax deductions) would fall the hardest on New York’s middle class homeowners and taxpayers. The governor called the tax plan “an arrow aimed at the economic heart of the State of New York.” 

The budget also included $26.7 billion in school funding, which will prove useful to incumbent Senate and Assembly members as they campaign for re-election this November.

The League of Women Voters, along with other good government groups, has lobbied long and hard in two areas that were ignored in the final budget: election reform and campaign finance and ethics reforms. Although including the funding for reforms in the budget is the likeliest way to ensure their adoption, it is still possible for the NYS Senate and Assembly to pass bills on these reform areas stipulating their adoption and funding in the following fiscal year (if funding is actually needed). The NYS Senate and Assembly only meet until June 20, so the time for lobbying and constituent pressure is of the essence.  

Election law reforms advocated by the NYS League of Women Voters

Early voting

The league supports enacting early voting in New York State. Currently 37 states allow for some form of early voting. Early voting should be implemented in a manner that will allow equivalent access to the polls for all voters.

 Voter registration

The league supports Election Day registration, on the same day, as a proven method of increasing voter participation. The league also will support reducing the voter registration deadline to 10 days before an election. The league supports pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds.

Ballot design

The league supports improvements to ballot design that would make a clear delineation between offices with a bold vertical bar and a fine line between the candidates, a larger font with an absolute minimum size and fill-in circles in black instead of gray.

Automatic voter registration 

Currently 10 states and the District of Columbia have automatic voter registration (AVR). The league supports an opt-in AVR system that would not require voters to duplicate information. The league supports all state agencies participating in an AVR program.

No-excuse absentee

The league supports a constitutional amendment to allow for no-excuse absentee voting. Currently 27 states and the District of Columbia allow for no-excuse absentee voting.

Single June primary

The league supports legislation that would create a single combined congressional and state June primary date and would bring New York State into compliance with the Military Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. 

Electronic poll books

The league strongly supports replacing printed poll books with electronic poll books to eliminate time and resources spent producing paper poll books and updating voter information and to speed up processing voters at the polls on Election Day. 

Campaign finance and ethics reforms advocated by the NYS League of Women Voters

Ban ‘pay to play’

Strict “pay to play” restrictions on state vendors. The U.S. attorney’s charges that $800 million in state contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors to the governor underscores the need to strictly limit contributions from those seeking state contracts.

Close ‘LLC loophole’

Ban unlimited campaign contributions via limited liability companies. LLCs have been at the heart of some of Albany’s largest scandals. 

Strict limits on outside income

Real limits on the outside income for legislators and the executive branch. Moonlighting by top legislative leaders and top members of the executive branch has triggered indictments by federal prosecutors.

Create a database of deals

A “database of deals” will list all state economic development benefits, including grants, loans or tax abatements awarded to a particular business or organization. The database of deals will also include the cost to taxpayers of each job created, and create a uniform definition of what a “job” is across subsidy programs including full time, part time, permanent and contract jobs.

Many good government groups like the league continue to lobby our elected officials in Albany until the end of the session in late June. Please review the above list of reforms, choose one or two, and call or write your NY State senator, Assembly member and Cuomo to express your opinion and priorities. To find the legislators who represent you, enter your street address and ZIP code in the LWV of New York State website link: https://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/5950/c/8551/getLocal4.jsp.

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

The final budget left spousal refusal intact. Stock photo

By Nancy Burner, ESQ.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

On March 31, the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) finalized the budget for the 2019 fiscal year. In January, the governor’s office set forth a budget proposal. Using that as a jumping-off point, the Legislature and the executive started a negotiation process that resulted in the budget beginning the fiscal year on April 1, 2018.

Elder law attorneys across the state watch the budget proposal and negotiations closely to see what, if any, impact there will be on the Medicaid program. Many elderly and disabled individuals in the state rely on the Medicaid program to cover their costs of long-term care. The budget proposals often suggest changes to eligibility as well as to the methods by which care is provided.

One item that was in the governor’s original proposal, but eventually left out of the final budget, was the elimination of spousal refusal. Spousal refusal is the method by which a spouse in need of care can enroll in the Medicaid program while the healthy spouse can maintain assets in their own name to support their own needs. The final budget left spousal refusal intact. This is a tremendous benefit to the spouses of Medicaid recipients.

The budget did include a change in the way the Medicaid program will be administered to long-term nursing facility residents. Until the budget was enacted, long-term patients in a nursing facility were enrolled in a managed long-term care plan. These plans receive a flat rate from the state for each enrollee regardless of whether the enrollee is receiving a small amount of in-home care, round-the-clock care in the home or nursing facility services. 

The new rule is that a patient that has been in a nursing facility for three months will be disenrolled from the managed long-term care plan and their services will be paid directly to the facility from the Medicaid program. The stated purpose for this change is to eliminate any duplication of care coordination services. The concern from the governor’s office was that both the facility and the plan were providing this same service.

Another change to the Medicaid program will impact managed long-term care plan participants who want to switch plans. Prior to the new budget, there were no restrictions on such changes. The new budget states that a plan participant can change plans within the first 90 days after enrollment without cause. However, after the first 90 days, the participant can only change plans once in every 12-month period. Any additional changes after the first 90 days must be for cause. Good cause is listed to include, but is not limited to, issues relating to quality of care and access to providers.

The managed long-term care plans will also be affected by the budget provision that will limit the number of licensed home care agencies with whom a plan can have a contract. As stated above, each plan receives a set rate from the state for each enrollee. That plan then has to contract with an agency to provide the aide in the home for a Community Medicaid recipient. 

Until now, a plan was not limited on the number of agencies with which it could hold a contract. As of Oct. 1, 2018, a plan can only hold a contract with one agency for every 75 members it enrolls, and on Oct. 1, 2019, it will be one contract per 100 members.

These budget provisions adjust the ever-changing landscape of the long-term care Medicaid program. The direct impact of these changes on consumers is not yet known. The stated purpose of the managed long-term care program is to streamline the care provided to the aging and disabled population of New York state. Advocates in this area continue to work with the governor and Legislature to make Medicaid long-term care benefits available to all New York residents who require such assistance. Stay tuned.      

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

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