The New York City Segway: A Hiccup in the Vehicle and Traffic Law

By Benjamin Fox, Albany Government Law Review

The Segway was introduced to the public in December of 2001.[1]  At that time its creators and members of the public believed it would be the new mode of travel for the twenty first century.[2]  Few were purchased, and current estimates suggest only 80,000 units have been sold worldwide.[3]  Considering these statistics, the laws regarding (and in effect limiting) use of the Segway in New York City seem bizarre and unnecessary.  For that reason, the statutory definition of “motor vehicle” should be amended to exclude all Segways from its reach.  In doing so, it is crucial to understand how the Segway fits into the Vehicle and Traffic Law (hereinafter VTL).  Continue reading “The New York City Segway: A Hiccup in the Vehicle and Traffic Law”

Pension Reform in New York Expected to Save $80 Billion Over 30 years

Pension reform is a hot topic all over the country.  State and local governments are realizing that during this fiscal crisis they cannot keep pace with the current contribution scheme that was enacted when the economy was strong.  For example, Cuomo stated that in New York in 2002 pension payments from local governments was $1.4 billion, this was increased  to $12.2 billion in 2012.  This increase of 650% has come at a time of fiscal stress causing local governments to increase their taxes and layoff public employees.  Further exacerbating the situation is the recently enacted property tax cap, which places a percentage limit to yearly increases on the tax levy that a local government may asses.  High pension contributions, and limits placed on local governments’ ability to collect property taxes has created an unsustainable framework.

To ease the pension pressure that local governments are facing and in an effort to cut government costs New York has just passed legislation reforming their pension system.  The bill would increase public employee contribution rates for new employees in a progressive manner:

$0-$45,000 will contribute 3%

$45,000 – 55,000 will contribute 3.5%

$55,000 – $75,000 will contribute 4.5%

$75,000 – 100,000 will contribute 5.75%

$100,000 + will contribute 6%

The bill also includes provisions that increase the age of retirement from 62 to 63, readjust the pension multiplier, creates vesting after 10 years of services, protects local governments from state pension sweetners, creates a voluntary and portable defined contribution option, completes adjustments for SUNY and CUNY TIAA-CREF Plans, and limits pension benefits for high paid employees that earn above the governors salary ($179,000).

Comments on the new bill can be found here.

Article discussing the bill can be found here.

Do State and Local Governments Benefit from Federal Health Insurance Reform?

It is no secret that the federal government has passed and has been reforming the health insurance scheme in the United States as part of an effort to have more Americans covered.  Aside from benefitting those without health insurance the impacts of reform can be seen on the state and local government level as well.  State and Local governments spend billions of dollars on health insurance for their public employees, as well as, provide coverage for those not insured.  Furthermore, this group of public employees and state and local governments pay a “hidden tax” represented by higher premiums  to allow for the coverage of those who cannot afford it.

In 2009 the White House produced a report that analyzes the impact that health insurance reform on the federal level, which has been enacted since, would have on state and local governments.  The analysis includes 16 states that represent a general overview of the nation.  The analysis includes what the individual states spend on care for the uninsured, what the estimated costs of the state from Medicaid expansions would be, and what the bottom line will be.

The White House Report can be found here.

Race To The Top For Education Aid: New York Taking a Different Approach to Teacher Evaluations

Governor Cuomo has taken New York in a new direction with the evaluation of teachers in an effort to raise the bar in New York schools.  A deal was struck between Gov. Cuomo, teachers unions, and John B. King Jr. (state Education Commissioner) in February that rearranges how teachers in New York will have their performance evaluated.  It is critical in a down economy to take advantage of the millions of dollars in aid that is at stake in the federal race to the top education funding scheme.  Some states are learning that there are many different issues with using teacher evaluations as one mechanism to increase student standardized test score.

However, the deal in New York would allow 60% of teacher evaluations to be based on classroom observation and other standards not related to standardized testing, making student performance worth 40% of a teachers grade.  This is a deviation from heavy reliance on classroom visits and peer-reviewed classrooms.  Of that 40%, 20 % can be from analyzing student progress on state tests.  Another 20% can be from three options: 1) state standardized tests, 2) third-party assessments, and 3) tests approved by the state Education Department, which can be locally created.

In addition, if a teacher scores 64% or lower on their evaluations they are deemed “ineffective” and may face dismissal.  A score of 65%-74%  would classify a teacher as “developing” and require improvements.  A score of 75%-90% proves a teacher is “effective” and anything higher would be “highly effective” and deserving of a merit increase or perk.

How a school decides to structure the evaluation system and reward perks for successful teachers is up to the local authority.  Furthermore, the local school districts has the ability to set up an appeals process for teachers.  For the elements they have control over, a local school district must reach a plan within one year.  This plan must be approved by the state education commissioner.  If no plan is set in place within a year Gov. Cuomo announced that he will deny a scheduled 4% increase in state aid from that school district.

An article from the Wall Street Journal discussing the agreement can be found here.