Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weekly Address: Securing Our Fiscal Future

President Obama emphasizes the importance of compromise and shared sacrifice so that we can overcome our fiscal challenges and get our economy on a stronger footing going forward.

President Obama Meets with the Dali Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

Statement from the Press Secretary on the President's Meeting with His Holiness the XIV Dali Lama

The President met this morning at the White House with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. The President reiterated his strong support for the preservation of the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions of Tibet and the Tibetan people throughout the world. He underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China. The President commended the Dalai Lama’s commitment to nonviolence and dialogue with China and his pursuit of the “Middle Way” approach. Reiterating the U.S. policy that Tibet is a part of the People’s Republic of China and the United States does not support independence for Tibet, the President stressed that he encourages direct dialogue to resolve long-standing differences and that a dialogue that produces results would be positive for China and Tibetans. The President stressed the importance he attaches to building a U.S.-China cooperative partnership. The Dalai Lama stated that he is not seeking independence for Tibet and hopes that dialogue between his representatives and the Chinese government can soon resume.

Photo source: Wikipedia
Author: Luca Galuzzi

Mexico Pot Plantation Busted: Biggest Ever?

Authorities discovered a crop spanning more than 300 acres, and estimated to draw more than $150 million in sales.

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By Jennifer Meckles

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U.S. DOD Loses 24,000 Files to Hackers

The Pentagon believes another foreign intelligence agency could be behind the hack.

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By Anthony Martinez

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World News: U.S. Recognizes Libyan Opposition As Legitimate Government

The U.S. now recognizes Benghazi-based Transitional National Council as legitimate Libyan government.

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By Alejandra Quintela

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PEF, Cuomo Reach Tentative Agreement

Contract Terms Avert PEF Layoffs

Governor Cuomo announced that his administration has reached a five-year labor agreement with the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF). PEF is one of the largest local white-collar unions in the United States and is New York's second-largest state-employee union. PEF represents 54,000 state employees.

The agreement mirrors an agreement reached last month with the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) and includes a freeze on base wages for 3 years and a redesign of the employee health care contribution and benefit system, saving $75 million this fiscal year, $92 million next fiscal year, and almost $400 million over the contract term. If adopted by the state's other collective bargaining units, the agreement will reduce workforce costs by over $1.5 billion over the course of the agreement, averting PEF layoffs due to the state’s fiscal crisis. “

"This agreement reflects the financial reality of the times. I am pleased that we could avoid these layoffs, protect the workforce and the taxpayer," Governor Cuomo said.

"This was a difficult agreement to reach, but with our members' jobs in peril and the state’s fiscal hardship we've stepped up and made the necessary sacrifices," said PEF President Ken Brynien.

"The agreement will preserve our members jobs and careers while bringing long term fiscal stability to the state. We are confident this is the best agreement that could be negotiated in the current environment."

As a result of this agreement, Director of State Operation Howard Glaser directed agencies to rescind the 20-day layoff notices that were sent out to members.

Base Wages: Under the five year agreement, there will be no general salary increase in Fiscal Year 2011-12; 2012-13; 2013-14. Employees will receive a 2 percent increase in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

2011-12: 0%
2012-13: 0%
2013-14: 0%
2014-15: 2%
2015-16: 2%

Savings: The 2011 wage agreement is $2.5 billion less costly to the state than the 2007 agreement, if adopted through the state workforce.

Health Care System Redesign: The agreement includes a series of reforms in the employee health care system which will save $54 million annually and $248 million over the contract term, for PEF alone.

Health Care Contributions: The agreement includes substantial changes to employee health care contributions bringing public employee benefits more in line with the private sector. The contribution for health care benefits have not changed in 30 years, while the cost of the state's health care program has increased 100 percent in the past decade. The agreement reflects a two percent increase in contributions for Grade 9 employees and below, and a six percent increase for Grade 10 employees and above. (Under the agreement, for example, the state will pay 69 percent of family coverage for a Grade 10 employee and above, and the employee will pay 31 percent. The prior split was 75 percent state/25 percent employee. For individual coverage, a Grade 10 employee and above will pay 16 percent and the state share will be 84 percent. The prior split was 10 percent employee/90 percent state).

Savings: The PEF agreement results in $42 million in annual savings from this provision, and $193 million over the contract term.

Health Care Opt Out: For the first time, the state is offering an opt-out option. Health care premiums cost $16,600 for family coverage and $7300 for individual coverage. Employees electing to opt out of the health insurance program must provide proof of alternative coverage and will receive $1000 or $3000 for the cessation of individual or family coverage, respectively. This will save the state thousands of dollars for each employee who opts out.

Savings: The opt-out will save $5.8 million annually and $25 million over the contract term for PEF alone.

Health Benefit Redesign: The health benefit plan system of co-pays, deductibles, and programs has been redesigned to encourage healthy choices and control costs of pharmaceutical products. For example, for the first time the plan will cover the use of nurse practitioners and "minute clinics" and encourage employees to use these services when appropriate instead of hospital emergency rooms.

Savings: The PEF savings for this provision are $8.6 million annually and $37 million over the contract term.

Deficit Reduction Leave: Under the agreement, employees will take a five day unpaid deficit reduction leave during fiscal year 2011-12 and four days unpaid leave during fiscal year 2012-13. The value of the days taken not worked will be deducted from employee pay over the remaining pay periods equally during the fiscal year in which they are taken. Employees will be repaid the value of the 4 days from 2012-13 in equal installments starting at the end of the contract term.

Savings: The furloughs will yield $360 million in savings if adopted by all bargaining units. Performance advances, longevity and retention payments: Performance advances and longevity payments will continue to be in effect. Current employees who remain active through 2013 will earn a onetime retention payment of $775 in 2013 and $225 in 2014 in recognition of working without a wage increase for three years.

Layoff Protection: PEF employees will receive broad layoff protection for fiscal year 2011-12 and 2012-13 arising from the $450 million budget gap. Workforce reductions due to management decisions to close or restructure facilities authorized by legislation, SAGE recommendations or material or unanticipated changes in the State's fiscal circumstances are not covered by this limitation.

The tentative agreement must be ratified by PEF rank and file members.

Negotiations for the State were led by a special team appointed by the Governor comprising Todd R. Snyder, Senior Managing Director of Rothschild Inc. and Co-Head of Rothschild's Restructuring and Reorganization group; and Joseph M. Bress, former head of the Governor's Office of Employee Relations and former Vice President of Labor Relations at Amtrak, under the direction of Howard Glaser, Director of State Operations.

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Hookahs, Shisha, and Water Pipe Sales to Minors Banned

An Egyptian hookah, or shisha.
Cuomo Signs New Legislation to Protect Youngsters

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a new law that prohibits the sale of shisha and certain types of smoking paraphernalia to minors. Under this law, businesses offering these products for sale may only sell to individuals who are at least eighteen years of age with proper identification.

"Smoking has caused serious health repercussions for users of all ages and underage smokers are especially vulnerable to these dangers," Governor Cuomo said.

"This bill will make it more difficult for minors to purchase smoking products and it protects their health in the long run. I thank Senator Golden and Assemblyman Brook-Krasny for their work in securing passage of this legislation."

Smoking tobacco and using related products poses harmful health risks to the public. In addition to emphasizing the severity of using these products, this law would help control and limit the sale of hookah products and other smoking paraphernalia to minors who are particularly susceptible to the negative health effects of using these products. This law will take effect on January 1, 2012.

"It is a fact that smoking can seriously damage one's body and health. By widening the ban on certain smoking products, this new law will help prevent minors from purchasing these items and keep them from caving into the pressure to smoke, protecting them today and in the future. As hookah bars become more popular amongst teenagers, parents have raised significant concerns and I believe this legislation properly addresses those apprehensions. I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this bill and together, we will continue building a healthy, strong New York," said
Senator Martin Golden.

Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny said, "I commend Governor Cuomo for signing this bill into law today and protecting the health of our children and communities. No matter if you are smoking tobacco, shisha or herbal cigarettes, this habit is extremely hazardous to the health of all smokers. We have made great strides in educating young people about the dangers of cigarettes. However, in our community, hookah and water pipes are a dangerous and unfortunately available alternative means for smoking tobacco and this bill will help block access for minors to these products and keep the health of more New Yorkers safe."

Photo source: Wkipedia
Author: Kelisi
Permission: Public Domain

"Bath Salt" Now Banned in New York

Cuomo Signs Bill Banning Other Harmful Substances Used as Recreational Drugs

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed a law to ban certain substances dangerously marketed as "bath salts" from sale, manufacturing, possession, and distribution in New York state.

"Deceptively labeled as 'bath salts' these dangerous products have become an alternative to methamphetamine use with disastrous results," Governor Cuomo said.

"They are a growing danger to public health and today's signing to ban these products is a critical step towards ridding New York of these harmful drugs. I applaud Senator Griffo and Assemblyman Braunstein for working to pass this much-needed legislation."

This legislation addresses products labeled as 'bath salts' being sold online and in small convenience stores and other retail outlets across the state. The compounds often contain a number of synthetic chemicals that function as a legal alternative to hallucinogenic drugs. Use of these products has resulted in violent reactions, often leading to hospitalizations and sometimes death.

This law adds the synthetic drugs – methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV, and Methoxymethcathinone, also known as Medphedrone, to the Schedule I list of controlled substances, banning the use, sale, distribution and manufacturing of products that contain at least one of these compounds.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer said, "Governor Cuomo is doing the right thing in stopping the sale and distribution of fake bath salts which are extremely hazardous to consumers who purchase them for illegal drug use. As I have said before, these dangerous substances have been abused and have caused serious health problems and sometimes death. This new law will go far in protecting the health of New Yorkers and our communities, and I'm going to keep pushing to ban these substances across the country. I am proud to stand with a Governor Cuomo, a fellow advocate for drug-free communities across this state, as he signs this bill that will make New York safer."

"I thank Governor Cuomo for signing my bill to take the type of state-level action that is needed to protect New Yorkers from dangerous and mislabeled products known as 'bath salts.' By signing this bill, Governor Cuomo has proven that our state government is serious about fighting drugs right here at home. This new law exposes the disguise and danger of these products and rightly bans them. The Governor's action in signing it shows that state government is responding to challenges and taking the necessary actions to protect the people of New York," said State Senator Joseph A. Griffo.

State Assemblyman Edward C. Braunstein noted, "Deceptive labeling and marketing of these bath salts has led to incredibly dangerous consequences in New York and the rest of the country. With this new law, the state has recognized and responded to these sinister products by establishing these bath salts as controlled substances. We must continue to combat the dangers of drugs in our state and do what we can to help foster a drug-free New York. I thank Governor Cuomo for his signature on this bill and appreciate his commitment to drug abuse prevention."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cuomo Announces New Cigarette Tax Enforcement Effort

Department of Taxation, State Police and ATF Yielding Immediate Results

Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy, Director of State Operations Howard Glaser, and New York State Department of Taxation and Finance Commissioner Thomas H. Mattox to update New Yorkers on the Administration's efforts to enforce the state's cigarette tax.

As a result of efforts by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, State Police, and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, in the past three weeks the state has:
conducted 357 retail inspections, increased cigarette tax stamps 14 percent from May to June, seized 19,744 cartons of cigarettes, seized 24,882 cigars, and seized 33.75 pounds of tobacco.

The estimated tax value of property seized is approximately $1.2 million. If the cigarettes were sold in New York City, approximately $289,000 in additional taxes would have been evaded. New York collects approximately $1.7 billion in total cigarette and tobacco taxes and the new enforcement efforts are expected to raise an additional $27 million in tax revenue.

"It has been our consistent position that cigarettes should be taxed under the law and the courts have repeatedly agreed," Governor Cuomo said.

"The law is the law and we will enforce it. Everyone must pay their fair share, and that includes those who sell cigarettes."

Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy said, "It is clear the state has both a right and an obligation to collect taxes on cigarettes wherever they are sold in New York. Collecting these taxes levels the playing field for businesses and ensures everybody pays their fair share. This effort is another example of Governor Cuomo's ability to resolve some of the state's most contentious and longstanding issues and deliver results for the people."

"The Taxation and Finance Department and the State Police moved swiftly and effectively to mount this enforcement action as soon as it became clear that these taxes could and should be collected. We have seen early increases in the sale of cigarette stamps, we believe, as a result of the enforcement effort. We intend to enforce the law to its fullest, and we expect to see collections continue to increase," said Howard Glaser, Director of State Operations.

Department of Taxation and Finance Commissioner Thomas Mattox also commented on the joint effort.

"The results of these enforcement efforts send a strong message that all New Yorkers will pay their fair share of taxes. I commend the tax enforcement units for their swift and direct action to ensure that New York receives every penny in tax revenue that it is owed. In difficult fiscal times, these enforcement actions will result in millions of dollars in state revenue which will benefit all New Yorkers."

The Department of Taxation and Finance and the Division of State Police today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure continued close coordination between the State Police and Tax Department investigators in enforcing cigarette tax statutes and seizing cigarettes being brought to market without taxes paid.

The Department of Taxation and Finance's enforcement initiative includes:
Inspecting stamping agent facilities to verify inventories and insure compliance with state law; gathering information as to who is delivering and picking up untaxed cigarettes; inspecting stamping agents' delivery vehicles to insure that they are only transporting stamped product; stopping certain vehicles when there is probable cause to believe that they are being used to transport untaxed product in violation of state law; and working to develop information on the movement of large shipments of untaxed product.

For more information visit:

West Wing Week: 7/14/11 or "Our Heroes Are All Around Us"

This week, The President conducted meetings with bipartisan congressional leaders, awarded the medal of honor, and repeatedly spoke to the country about the ongoing debt discussions at the White House.

Murdochs, Brooks to Face Parliament

Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks will face Parliament for questioning in relation to the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

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By Jennifer Meckles

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Arab League Backs Palestinian Bid for Statehood

With the date for a possible bid to the UN for statehood recognition approaching, Palestine gained a key supporter Thursday-- the Arab League.

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By Megan Noe

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Will Spotify Catch on in the U.S.?

Spotify, Europe's groundbreaking music service, launches in America. Will it be able to compete in an already-crowded market?

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By Danny Matteson
Anchor Christina Hartman

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Studies: Daily Pill Helps Prevent HIV

Two studies show taking an antiretroviral every day can help prevent uninfected people from contracting HIV from their partners.

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By Jing Zhao

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World Bids Farewell to 'The Boy Who Lived'

As the final movie hits theaters, the media reflect on a decade of JK Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series.

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By Tracy Pfieffer

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

White House Briefs

Open for Questions: Disability Policy

Members of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Office of Public Engagement and Office of Presidential Personnel answer your questions on disability policy including employment, education, health care, transportation, housing, and other disability related areas.

Report: 25,000 Airport Security Breaches Since 2001

Since November 2001, U.S. airports have experienced more than 25,000 security breaches.

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By Kylie McGivern
Anchor Christina Hartman

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Multiple Bombs Rock Mumbai in Apparent Terrorist Attack

Three simultaneous blasts rocked Mumbai, killing at least 13 people and injuring more than 80 others.

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By Emoke Bebiak
Anchor Christina Hartman

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Halle Berry's Stalker Arrested

Richard Franco was charged with felony stalking Wednesday after he was caught at Halle Berry’s home.

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By Kylie McGivern
Anchor Jim Flink

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Obama Sets Fundrasing Record, Stirs 2012 Speculation

Record setting fundraising efforts by the Obama campaign stir talk of the president’s reelection chances.

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By Allie Spillyards

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Newsy Now: News Round-Up

Obama Walks Out of Debt Talks; Romney Won't Sign Marriage Vow, Bomber Hits Karzai Ceremony; U.S. Women's Team to FIFA Finals; Glee Loses Cast Members.

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By Erik Shute
Anchor Jim Flink

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