While efforts to get prescription drug relief for seniors remain stalled in Washington, a new program to help New York City seniors, created by City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, became part of the $39.6 billion 2001–2002 budget approved by the Council last week.
Vallone also defeated Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s plan for privatizing 24 failing city schools when he and the council axed Giuliani’s $80 million proposal from the budget.
The mayor and Vallone agreed, however, to put $2.1 million in the budget to help 27 city health clinics remain open. Fourteen of the 27 clinics, are operating in schools, and five in the Queens communities of Corona, Jackson Heights, Astoria and Jamaica.
Assemblymember Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) had lobbied with the mayor and Governor George Pataki to keep open the clinic in Long Island City H.S. Also strongly protesting the school clinic closing was Carol Gresser, former president of the Board of Education and a candidate for Queens borough president.
Gresser, of Douglaston, had joined with schools activists in a plea to the city Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs the clinics, to keep the facilities operating, citing a connection between health status and educational attainment.
Vallone also put a larger income tax cut in the budget than the mayor wanted and also won funding for a program that rewards students who graduate with a B average. Under the CUNY Merit Scholarship program, these students can get a 50 percent reduction in their CUNY tuition. Councilmember Helen Marshall (D–East Elmhurst), also a Queens borough president candidate, advocated strongly for this.
Summing up the budget, Vallone struck a familiar theme. "This is a budget for the hard-working men and women of our vibrant middle class," he declared. He also highlighted another of his priorities, education, saying, "This is a budget for our 1.1 million school children."
Vallone, a candidate for mayor, and Giuliani agreed to allocate $50 million more to operate the schools than the $11.5 billion the Board of Education received in the present year’s budget. Although Schools Chancellor Harold Levy complained that the amount in the new budget will not be enough, the mayor, Vallone, and other Councilmembers urged him to make cuts in some programs if necessary.
As for seniors, they benefitted as Vallone and the Council restored $11 million for senior programs which the mayor had not included in his budget proposal. Of this total, $5 million will go to start the program proposed by Vallone called PROMISE (Prescription Reimbursement of Moderate Income Senior Expenses).
Under the program, seniors in the state’s EPIC drug discount program will receive a partial reimbursement of the deductible they pay into EPIC.
In addition, funding is in the seniors’ budget for hearing screenings, senior English As A Second Language (ESL) classes and transportation and Handy/Man projects. Other funds will enhance programs providing social workers in senior centers.
Vallone also took the occasion of passage of the budget to point out that this is the 12th on-time budget since he became Speaker. This is in sharp contrast to the budget situation in Albany, where the 2002 budget is now 74 days late, a pattern set over the past decade.
A City Council release also pointed out that the budget, the fourth largest in the United States, not only seeks to address the needs of middle class and working class New Yorkers, but does so in a fiscally prudent and responsible manner.
Although the budget is complete and approved, there probably will be criticisms, such as those made by City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, also a mayoral candidate, that the budget will create future deficits. Almost certainly, this will be part of the continuing debate among Vallone and Hevesi and the other mayoral candidates—Democrats Public Advocate Mark Green, Advocate and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Republicans Michael Bloomberg and Herman Badillo, a deputy mayor.
FUNDS TO MONITOR VOTING: With larger than usual numbers of candidates seeking election this year, the mayor and the Council gave $1.7 million more to the city Board of Elections so that the primary and general elections will, hopefully, run smoothly and without any glitches. The additional funds would cover an information center to answer questions from the public on days the polls are open, hire more mechanics to make quick repairs to the aging voting machines and interpreters to handle the increasingly varied languages spoken by the public.
There’s also money in the budget to increase the $250-a-day basic wage for nearly 30,000 poll workers at the city’s voting sites, which are manned mostly by clubhouse members of both the major parties. This item will must be approved by the state legislature, but is expected to be passed.
MAYORAL NOTES: The most recent Quinnipiac College poll on the mayoral race shows no appreciable change. The numbers still have Green ahead, followed by Ferrer, Hevesi and Vallone, in that order.
Hevesi picked up another endorsement over the weekend, this one from the Hispanic police officers’ union.