Tag Archives: Governor Andrew Cuomo

State Senate passes Queens Library reform bill


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

A bill to bring reform to the Queens Library has gotten the thumbs up from the state Senate and will now make its way to the governor’s office where it is expected to be signed into law, officials said.

The Senate voted Thursday on the bill which calls for a number of “best practice” reforms including creating an audit committee to oversee the Library’s accounting and financial reporting processes and its annual audits and establishing a labor relations committee to address labor issues.

“Once enacted, my bill will rein in the excesses revealed in recent reports and provide a long-term blueprint for an efficient, transparent and accountable library system of which every Queens resident can be proud,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who sponsored the bill.

The bill would also require executive staff of the Queens Library to file financial disclosure forms and be subject to limitations on any outside employment that could be a conflict of interest with their library responsibilities. The bill would also call for the Queens Library’s Board of Trustees to approve the hiring of key Queens Library staff.

“This bill has generated grave concerns and raised red flags with statewide and national groups. The American Library Association wrote that it would ‘threaten the ability for Queens Library to operate free of political influence, and will serve as a dangerous precedent for libraries and library boards around the nation,’” said Gabriel Taussig, chair of Queens Library’s Board of Trustees, who said he was not speaking on behalf of the rest of the board.

 

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Undercover operation busts eight Queens stores for selling alcohol to minors


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

LiquorBottlesHC0401_L_300_C_Y

An undercover investigation has caught eight Queens stores, mostly near high schools and colleges, for allegedly selling alcohol to minors.

The busted businesses, located in Astoria, Long Island City and Flushing, were part of an effort by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to fight underage drinking in the city, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who announced the results of the investigation Monday.

“The law is the law, and we will continue to do whatever it takes to crack down on underage drinking and hold accountable those who serve alcohol to minors,” Cuomo said. “Our message is simple: If you put children at risk by placing alcohol in their hands, you will face the consequences.”

From April 17 to May 1, the SLA used decoys to visit 74 liquor and grocery stores throughout the five boroughs, according to the governor.

The operation was conducted by the SLA’s newly formed part-time investigative unit, which was funded using a $147,000 grant from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the sting, uncover minors were allegedly able to buy alcohol at 32 of those businesses, including WooYong Corp., Astoria Vitality & Health Inc. and Green Leaf Deli & Mini Mart in Astoria; Cruz Mexican Products Inc. in Long Island City; and Parsons Convenience Store Inc., Parsons Wine & Liquor Inc., R & H Food Corp., Amy’s Deli, and P & M Convenience Store Inc., in Flushing.

Some of the stores are within walking distance of several high schools, as well as St. John’s University and Queens College.

Businesses can face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation if charged for selling alcohol to minors as well as fines, starting at $2,500 to $3,000, for a first time offense. Repeat offenders can potentially have their licenses suspended or revoked.

 

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Op-ed: Why we need Mayor de Blasio’s pre-k plan


| oped@queenscourier.com

COUNCILMEMBER DANIEL DROMM

As chair of the NYC Council Education Committee, it is a priority of mine to see Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten plan enacted. The only viable way to ensure that our children get this extra year of education is to create a tax on the city’s most wealthy residents to help fund it.

Before teaching fourth grade for 25 years, I directed a preschool in Harlem. I saw firsthand how an extra year of socializing and learning helped set up these young learners of all social and ethnic backgrounds for a more productive educational career. Study after study has shown that quality pre-k works.

Pre-kindergarten isn’t just for the children.  It also lends a helping hand to their parents, especially single parents. At the first Education Committee hearing that I chaired on February 12, I heard from parents about how pre-kindergarten combined with after school care allows them to work a full day. Without pre-k, working mothers and fathers have to scramble to find someone to care for their children and often times have to scrape the bottom of their bank accounts to pay for childcare.

I believe it is not too much to ask of those who are making $500,000 or more a year to fund the program with a small tax increase that equals the price of a cup of latte from Starbucks every day. I totally disagree with those who say these wealthy residents may leave the city. New York City is the greatest city in the world and everybody wants to be here. Wealthy residents won’t leave just for the price of a cup of coffee. A tax on the wealthy is the right path.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to fund a statewide program without a designated tax has its pitfalls. Former Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson walked 150 miles to Albany to shine light on the unequitable amount of education funding NYC receives and won a court judgment for city schools. A decade later, more than $4 billion of that money has never made it to our public schools. That’s why we need a dedicated tax – a lockbox – to fund this program.

Pre-kindergarten is a win-win plan for everyone. It gives all children a better start with a chance at a better future. It gives parents the support they deserve to further contribute to the city’s vibrant economy.  And, most importantly, it provides New Yorkers with a bright future.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm is chair of the NYC Council Education Committee. He was elected to the New York City Council in 2009 and represents District 25 (Jackson Heights & Elmhurst).

 

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Queens pols: DREAM Act is not dead


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Follow me @liamlaguerre

 

Maybe it was just a fantasy, but Queens politicians that support New York’s DREAM Act aren’t giving up the fight to make it a reality.

After receiving support from the State Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, on Monday, the State Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would have allocated $25 million in state funding for tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants attending college.

The legislation received just 30 of the necessary 32 votes to pass. Two Democratic senators opposed the measure, along with all Republican members.

Every Queens senator voted in favor of the measure, and now they are hoping to convince Cuomo to add the DREAM Act to the state budget, which is due April 1.

“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t pass. There are people in the state who don’t agree with it. That’s democracy,” said State Senator Tony Avella, who co-sponsored the measure. “There is no question that it’s disappointing, but we won’t give up the fight.”

Cuomo himself voiced disappointment that the Senate failed to pass the bill after the vote, and the same day he released a statement, vowing to fight for it– though it’s not clear if he will put it in the state budget.

“I will continue to work with supporters, stakeholders and members of the legislature to achieve this dream and build the support to pass this legislation and preserve New York’s legacy as a progressive leader,” Cuomo said.

If the DREAM Act had passed the final hurdle in the Senate vote, it would put New York among states such as California, New Mexico, Washington, and even Texas, which is known as a Republican state.

“I think it’s an embarrassment for New York State,” State Senator Malcolm Smith said. “We have always been a progressive state, especially for immigrants. We need to make it happen. I am optimistic that the bill could come up again before we end session in June. I will push for it to come up again.”

 

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Cuomo: Licenses of nearly 9,000 tax evaders suspended


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Thousands of New York tax delinquents have lost their driving privileges.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that 8,900 drivers had their licenses suspended for failing to pay taxes they owe to the state.

The crackdown is a result of legislation signed into law last year that encourages people who owe more than $10,000 in back taxes to settle up with the state tax department or face consequences.

“For many, this message is getting through and as a result thousands of people have come forward to do the right thing and find a way to pay their taxes. Those who haven’t are losing their drivers licenses,” Cuomo said.

Drivers have 60 days to arrange payment after the tax department mails them a suspension notice. If they fail to do so, the department sends a second letter, and drivers have 15 more days to respond before they face losing their license until the debt is paid or a payment plan is arranged.

More than 17,700 drivers were contacted starting in August 2013. In addition to the nearly 9,000 suspensions, 6,500 tax evaders have either paid in full or are marking payments toward their debt and 2,300 were determined ineligible for the suspension.

It also resulted in a nearly $56.4 million increase of state and local tax collections.

 

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Peter Vallone Jr. appointed to Cuomo administration


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

Updated 3:40 p.m.

Former Queens Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. is joining the Cuomo administration.

Vallone, who represented the 22nd District from 2002 to 2013, has been appointed as the special assistant assigned to the commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“Excited to join the team of my good friend @NYGovCuomo! Honored to be given the opportunity to work with him and serve the people of NYS,” Vallone tweeted Thursday, following the announcement.

Cuomo welcomed Vallone’s appointment, and several others he made the same day, saying the new appointees come with “dedication to public service, proven records of success, and years of experience in providing help and care to New Yorkers across the state.”

“I am confident that these new additions to our administration will continue to improve New York State,” he said.

In addition to serving as public safety committee chair during his three-terms on the council, Vallone was previously an assistant district attorney.

Last September, Vallone lost the Democratic primary for Queens borough president to Melinda Katz.

 

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Poll: NY voters strongly support legalization of medical marijuana


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of DEA/Department of Justice

After Governor Andrew Cuomo called for a program that would research the feasibility of medical marijuana in the state last month, a new poll shows New York voters strongly support the plan.

The results of a Quinnipiac University survey, released Monday, found that 88 percent of state voters back the legalization of medical marijuana.

In his January State of the State address, Cuomo said he would launch a pilot medical marijuana research program that allows up to 20 hospitals to provide medical marijuana to patients being treated for serious illnesses.

A majority of voters, 57 percent, also support legalizing a small amount of pot for personal use, according to the poll.

Though medical marijuana use received overwhelming backing from every group polled, its recreational use created a divide among both gender and generation groups.

Sixty-three percent of men support legalizing the drug for recreational purposes, versus 51 percent of women. Eight-three percent of voters 18 to 29 years old back the legalization, with 57 percent of voters 65 and older opposing it.

 

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NYC public schools will be open Thursday


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

File Photo

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has announced the Department of Education will keep all public schools open Thursday, as the Big Apple expects another round of snow.

All school field trips will be canceled Fariña said Wednesday night. Families with busing questions are asked to call 718-392-8855.

As always, parents should exercise their own judgment with regard to their children, the schools chancellor said in a statement. “Safety is a top priority for the department.”

Public schools have only closed once on Jan. 3, during the year’s first major snowstorm. They were kept open during the Jan. 22 storm which left the city with almost a foot of snow. Schools were also kept opened during a Feb. 5 storm that brought icy conditions.

The National Weather Service (NWS) forecasted 8 to 12 inches of heavy, wet snow through Friday morning. A Winter Storm Warning will be in effect from midnight tonight until 6 a.m. Friday.

Wednesday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed state agencies to prepare for the impending Nor’easter winter storm.

Snow will develop around 3 a.m., and continue throughout the day before tapering off about 24 hours later. During the day, with temperatures hovering around the mid-30s, there will be a mixture of snow, sleet and rain, according to the NWS.

 

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Katz rebrands Queens as center of the city in speech


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Follow me @liamlaguerre

 

Queens is the center of New York City, according to new Borough President Melinda Katz, and she wants people from the “outer-boroughs” to know that.

Katz gave a patriotic lecture on Tuesday, explaining her economic initiatives and rebranding Queens as the city’s prime tourist destination.

“Manhattan should be known for recommending Queens restaurants and shopping, and all the cultural events that we have to offer,” Katz said.

Katz vowed to restart predecessor Claire Shulman’s “War Room” to help solve overcrowding in school, and also voiced her support for universal pre-kindergarten.

“Space is needed, pre-k is needed,” she said. “We need to at least have our children start on equal footing and get the education they need.”

The Borough President pledged that her administration will help future small businesses owners to navigate the process of creating their companies, and she plans to use real estate development projects to spur job growth.

She wants to assist Long Island City become the next major tech hub so more entrepreneurs, especially those graduating from the forthcoming Cornell-Technion school, stay in Queens.

Katz additionally expressed her excitement for Governor Andrew Cuomo taking the lead to renovate the area airports.

“You come to the city of New York, we should have the top flight– excuse the pun– airports in the entire world,” she said.

Turning to the Rockaways, Katz voiced support for permanent ferry service and said she wants reconstruction on the boardwalk “done before 2017.”

She also reiterated in the speech that she will save the New York State Pavilion.

“The speech hit all the right notes,” said Rob MacKay of the Queens Economic Development Corporation. “I feel that Queens is ready to steal Brooklyn’s mojo.”

 

 

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Local leaders want Howard Beach protection project to expand, give full-perimeter storm protection


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Follow Maggie Hayes @magghayes

Local leaders want to see full-perimeter protection for low-lying Howard Beach.

The Spring Creek Hazard Mitigation Project, introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in November, is intended to protect the south Queens neighborhood. Designs from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) show mitigation along Spring Creek Park, from Cross Bay Boulevard to the Belt Parkway.

Although community members are in favor of the plan, they want the project’s scope to expand further.

“We’ve recognized our problems, and it’s great that we’re getting this,” said John Calcagnile, vice-chair of Community Board (CB) 10. “But I want to see a complete perimeter protection.”

Calcagnile and CB 10 Chair Betty Braton said they would like to see the project extend to Old Howard Beach, where a significant storm surge came through from Jamaica Bay during Sandy.

The $50 million project, from federal and local funding, will create higher inland contours, wetland, grassland buffers, dunes, low and high marshes, and tidal creeks, and restore over 150 acres of natural habitat.

The plan’s engineering and design is projected to be complete by Aug. 4, followed by an 18-month construction period.

 

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Pols push for St. John’s Hospital to be reimbursed for Sandy expenses


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the office of Assemblymember Goldfeder

Local pols want to keep the lone Rockaway hospital from flat lining.

Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder and State Sentator James Sanders sponsored a bill to bring $4.3 million to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital to reimburse them for expenses spent during and after Sandy.

“St. John’s is the only healthcare facility available to serve nearly 100,000 families on the Rockaway Peninsula,” Goldfeder said. “We must ensure that St. John’s has the tools necessary to protect its current services and expand in order to serve our community and keep our families healthy for many years to come.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo allocated $1.2 billion in his executive budget for healthcare facilities. Goldfeder requested a portion of that be reserved for St. John’s.

During the superstorm, the hospital worked on “caring for the many sick, elderly and homeless community members who entered our doors seeking shelter and medical assistance, and not the cost or how it would be recouped,” said Richard Brown, St. John’s CEO.

“These much-needed funds would help our recovery and aid us in upholding our mission of service to the people of the Rockaways,” he said.

 

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De Blasio releases report, gives testimony in Albany on pre-K plan


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo via Twitter/@NYCMayorsOffice

Mayor Bill de Blasio testified in Albany Monday on an interagency report he released the same day detailing plans to provide free full-day pre-kindergarten for every 4-year-old in the city by increasing taxes on the wealthy.

“The reality is that today, fewer than 27 percent of 4-year-olds in New York City have access to full-day pre-K,” the mayor said.

To authorize the tax hikes, he will need permission from Albany lawmakers.

Specifically, he is asking for an income tax surcharge, which would increase the current 3.9 percent rate to a 4.4 percent rate on those with annual incomes of a half-million dollars or more over the next five years.

It would also allow for the expansion of middle school extended learning programs, de Blasio said.

At an average cost of $10,239 per child, under the plan, 73,250 children would be eligible for full-day pre-kindergarten by the 2015-2016 school year, beginning with 53,604 in September 2014.

The total cost is estimated at $340 million annually, with $97 million dedicated to start-up infrastructure and costs required to upgrade program quality in the first year.

The plan will require approximately 2,000 new classrooms in public schools and community-based settings across the city, according to the Department of Education.

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a statewide plan for universal, full-day pre-kindergarten in his budget address last week, with an estimated cost of $1.5 billion over the next five years. The state would fully fund the program.

“That’s an idea we strongly endorse and we appreciate his leadership on this issue,” de Blasio said.

But he said the funding must be  “predictable and consistent,” and isolated from the state budget.

“Universal pre-K and after-school programs must have a dedicated funding stream, a locked box, shielded from what we all know is the inevitable give and take of the budgeting process,” the mayor said.

According to the report, proceeds from “the proposed personal income tax surcharge will be dedicated solely to the expansion and enhancement of New York City’s pre – kindergarten and after-school programs. The city will place these funds in a ‘lockbox.’”

Ready to Launch: New York City’s Implementation Plan for Free, High-Quality, Full-Day Universal Pre-Kinderg… by NYC Mayor’s Office

 

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Barbara Sheehan seeks clemency, sticking to self-defense argument


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYSPAC

Six months ago Barbara Sheehan began her five-year sentence after shooting and killing her husband. Today, she is seeking an exception to her prison stay, and wants to serve her time for weapons possession at home.

The 52-year-old Howard Beach resident fatally shot her husband, retired NYPD Sergeant Raymond Sheehan, 11 times with two different guns in February 2008. She said she suffered nearly two decades of abuse at her husband’s hands and he would have killed her had she not pulled the trigger.

“When you’re in a domestic violence situation, it’s not as black and white as it appears to be,” Sheehan told The Courier. “Just looking at his face, his eyes told me this was it. He was getting up and he was going to kill me.”

A prison support group created an online petition to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to grant Sheehan clemency. So far, about 2,000 people have signed and pledged their support.

Sheehan was acquitted of murder but charged with weapons possession for the second gun she used that day. She is currently serving her sentence at the Albion Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

The former school secretary was charged because when she shot with the second firearm, her husband no longer posed a threat. However, she said he didn’t die after shots from the first gun.

“He was still trying to come after me,” she said.

After starting her time last summer, she reached out to the New York State Prisoner Assistance Center (PAC) to address an “administrative issue” in the prison, said PAC Executive Director Mario Vredenburg. He then started to look into Sheehan’s case and is helping her apply for executive clemency.

If the order is granted, Sheehan will be able to serve the remainder of her sentence from home. The toughest part about prison, she said, is being far from her family and two children.

Vredenburg said prisoners can apply for clemency in exceptional circumstances, namely if something was legally wrong with the conviction. He said there was no criminal intent when Sheehan used the two guns, they were not her guns to begin with and Sheehan’s life was “in imminent danger.”

Additionally, Sheehan said the jury was “forbidden” to hear her psychiatrist’s testimony, who would have detailed her “state of mind” at the time of the shooting.

“I was not able to defend myself properly,” she said.

The PAC will file on Sheehan’s behalf with the governor’s office in March.

“We’re not asking for the governor to say it was legal for her to use that gun. We’re asking him to forgive her conviction,” Vredenburg said.

To see the petition and read more, click here.

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NY State minimum wage to increase to $8 per hour starting Dec. 31


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Changes are coming to the state unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation systems, and there will be an increase in minimum wage.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the passage of the state budget in March, 2013, which included raises in the minimum wage to $8 per hour from $7.25, effective Dec. 31.

Previously, New York lagged behind 19 other states in minimum wage levels. By the end of 2014, the minimum wage will increase to $8.75 and then $9, by the end of 2015.

“Thanks to the persistence of the Assembly majority, this budget ensures that tens of thousands of hardworking, minimum-wage-earning New Yorkers will be receiving much-deserved and badly needed raises in each of the next two years,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said.

Reforms coming to New York State unemployment insurance include enhancements to prevent fraud and aggressively require claimants to look for work, among other improvements. Also, there will be an increase in wage bases.

Currently, employers pay unemployment insurance contributions on each worker’s earnings up to a certain point called the wage base. The current wage base for 2013 is $8,500. The wage base will be adjusted on January 1 each year and increase to $13,000 by 2026.

After 2026, the wage base will be adjusted annually on January 1 to 16 percent of the state’s average annual wage.

The workers’ compensation system is under repair as well.

The system is under a business process re-engineering, focusing on improving the system’s processes, performance management and upgrading technology.

Right now over 30 states use a national electronic standard for worker’s compensation injury reporting. New York will join this growing trend of electronic injury reporting in 2014.

The state hopes that this move will reduce paper forms and duplicate filings, provide greatly expanded access to injury and payment data, simplify and speed up case processing, and allow the workers’ compensation board to better regulate the workers’ compensation system.

 

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$50 million to protect Howard Beach from storms


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

Howard Beach homes will now be protected, starting at the coast.

Spring Creek and Jamaica Bay will undergo a multi-million dollar resiliency project that Governor Andrew Cuomo said will better protect homes and businesses from destructive storms.

“Like several other communities located by the water, Howard Beach suffered incredible damage from storm surges during Sandy,” Cuomo said. “To strengthen Howard Beach against future flooding and storms, we are moving forward on a major project that improves the natural infrastructure along Spring Creek and the Jamaica Bay coast, with the approval of federal funding.”

About 3,000 homes were damaged during Sandy in the low-lying community.

Roughly $50 million will go towards engineering, designing and executing this project, which will cover 150 acres. Excavation, re-contouring and re-vegetation will be implemented by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to create a self-sustaining system of wave-dampening barriers intended to reduce storm damage.

“Addressing the flooding problem in Howard Beach is long overdue,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo. “A project like this cannot happen fast enough.”

Low and high level vegetated salt marshes, as well as dunes and elevated grasslands will be used to protect the community against future storm surges, similar to the floodwaters experienced during Sandy, and a rise in sea level.

About 765,000 cubic yards of material will be dug up across the site and reshaped into an elevated area, and 40,000 cubic yards of sand will be imported and spread across the site.

“I am most interested in the timeframe of this major project, since flood mitigation is a serious concern for my constituents, and the scope of this project is to ensure all parts of Howard Beach, inclusive of New and Old Howard, as well as Hamilton Beach,” Addabbo said.

Mitigation will be done along the eastern shore of Spring Creek on the north shore of Jamaica Bay. The site is bound by the Belt Parkway to the north and a series of roadways to the southeast, including 78th Street, 161st Avenue, 83rd Street, 165th Avenue and Cross Bay Boulevard. It comprises the western and southern perimeter of Howard Beach.

 

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