News from the Associated Press - March 31, 2014

Associated Press
March 31, 2014

Highlights of proposed $140B NY 2014-15 budget

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Here are some highlights of the proposed 2014-15 New York state budget negotiated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders:

— Total proposal: $138 billion, plus $5 billion in off-budget one-time federal aid.

— Total growth held under 2 percent.

— A $1.1 billion, or 5.3 percent, increase in education aid, with high-needs districts getting almost 70 percent of the hike.

— Allocations of $340 million for universal pre-K during each of the next two years, with $300 million for New York City and $40 million for the rest of the state.

— A $2 billion bond act pending approval by voters in November that would allow borrowing to fund classroom computers and technology as well as building pre-K classrooms.

— Changes in implementation of the Common Core curriculum learning standards in English and math that will keep test scores off the transcripts of students in third through eighth grades through 2018.

— Increased aid for charter schools, assurances they will have space to operate and making them eligible for pre-K funding.

— The budget does not include the Dream Act, which would have allowed children of people in the country illegally access to state higher education aid.

— A property tax credit as an incentive for municipalities to restrain spending growth and encourage shared services that could provide $1.5 billion to residents over the next three years.

— Business tax cuts, including a 20 percent property tax credit for manufacturers who own or lease property and cutting the income tax rate for manufacturers from 5.9 percent to zero.
— Funding to crack down on texting while driving by young drivers, who would have their licenses suspended for four months on conviction for a first offense and a year for a second.
— A pilot program for public campaign financing of statewide campaigns that will involve the comptroller's race, with matching public funds of $6 for each dollar of eligible contributions and limits of $4 million each for the primary and general election.
— Establishing a new independent enforcement officer at the state board of elections to investigate violations of campaign finance laws.


NY budget has $1.5B for pre-K over 5 years

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The state budget for the fiscal year that starts Tuesday contains an estimated 5 percent increase in state funding for public schools, including $340 million for universal pre-kindergarten.

The pre-K funding has $300 million for the New York City and $40 million for the rest of the state.

Cuomo administration officials say the budget calls for $1.5 billion for pre-K over five years while increasing support this year for charter schools.

The deal would authorize putting a $2 billion bond act before voters in November, borrowing that would fund classroom computers and technology as well as building pre-K classrooms.

Concerning the Common Core curriculum, new standards in English and math, the legislation would keep related test scores off the transcripts of students in third through eighth grades through 2018.


NY budget's tax relief for thrifty localities

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The budget plan established by the Cuomo administration and legislative leaders contains the governor's proposal for tax relief to homeowners in localities that stay within a 2 percent tax cap and take further steps to reduce costs.

The estimated $1.5 billion in homeowner tax relief is tied to counties and their towns, villages and cities putting a lid on spending the first year, then getting state approval on local plans to cut spending in the second year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says it's the most "transformative" piece of the budget for the fiscal year that starts Tuesday and was one of the most difficult to negotiate.

The Legislature is expected to vote Monday on the budget bills printed overnight Friday after agreements were reached between Senate and Assembly leaders and Cuomo.


Judge eases ruling on Pa. anti-fracking activist

A northeastern Pennsylvania judge has loosened restrictions on an anti-fracking activist who had been barred from stepping foot on more than 300 square miles of land owned or leased by a natural gas driller.

Vera Scroggins, 63, who is known for leading bus tours of the Marcellus Shale gas field and posting videos of drilling operations online, had argued the order prevented her from traveling to her favorite grocery store, eye doctor, hospital, restaurants and other places that leased land to Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.

The company has said it only wanted to keep her from its active work sites.

Susquehanna Judge Kenneth Seamans ruled Thursday that Scroggins must continue to stay away from a dozen properties owned by Cabot as well as from active drilling sites, producing gas wells and access roads. The judge's previous order barred Scroggins from any land owned or leased by Cabot - a region composing 40 percent of the county's land mass.

"This is a big step in the right direction," Scroggins, of Brackney, said Friday. "I am much better off today than I was yesterday in terms of where I can go."

Cabot had obtained the injunction last fall, saying Scroggins habitually trespassed on its land, putting herself and her guests in harm's way, distracting employees from their work and interfering with natural gas production.

The company said Friday it is satisfied with the modified order. A trial on Cabot's request for a permanent injunction is scheduled for May.

"The court's ruling not only protects Cabot and its employees, contractors and others but it keeps landowners from being exposed to liability that could arise from Scroggins' actions," the company said in a statement.

Scroggins' attorney still expressed concern about a buffer zone that requires her to stay 100 feet from Cabot's operations, saying it could hinder the activist's ability to see what the company is doing on the land.

"But overall, the injunction is narrowed hugely and that's a big win for Vera," said Scott Michelman, an attorney with Public Citizen, who represented Scroggins.


Pa. ethics laws could change after latest scandal

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — It's been a torrid 12-month stretch of scandals for all three branches of Pennsylvania's state government.

The latest transgressions were detailed this month by The Philadelphia Inquirer, which reported that a criminal investigation by the attorney general's office found four state lawmakers accepted money from a lobbyist. It has sparked outrage from their colleagues and calls for legislation to ban cash gifts to public officials.

For now, Pennsylvania's policy on gifts is viewed as among the nation's weakest, allowing Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and other lawmakers to accept anything, as long as no strings are attached.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates are calling for a complete ban on all gifts to state officials.

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