Monday, January 31, 2011

Schenectady seeks other cities in lobbying of state lawmakers on tax issue

The city plans on sending letters to other New York cities to gage interest in sponsoring state legislation allowing nonprofits to be taxed.

City Council President Gary McCarthy acknowledged Tuesday the uphill battle in even suggesting such an endeavor, but said it would be a good way to get discussion going about the financial burdens municipalities face as costs skyrocket and large nonprofits, like hospitals and colleges, pay no property taxes.

McCarthy noted at the council's committee meeting Tuesday night that Ellis Medicine did contribute $40,000 in October as the city faced a large budget deficit, but "Union College has been more or less dragged to the plate," to get the private institution to pay a fee in lieu of taxes, he said. The college announced last week it is giving $40,000 based on what Ellis already gave. The combined $80,000 will keep two city pools open.

"There are multi-million dollar enterprises in this city that are far bigger than some for-profit corporations," he said.

City Council members directed the law office to draft a letter to be sent to all cities and some large villages asking if there would be support to lobby state lawmakers to draft legislation that would require a property tax on nonprofits. Council members said any measure would likely mean nonprofits would only pay a portion of what residential and commercial property owners pay.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton said he supports the efforts, but has gotten staunch resistance before from the Conference of Mayors because of lobbying done by nonprofits.

Councilwoman Denise Brucker said she wants to see if churches can be accountable for a payment as some buildings are rented out with a benefit to the faith organization -- such as the Albany Catholic Diocese renting former schools to the city school district.

Stratton tried to assess a curb fee on nonprofits for the 2011 budget, but canned the idea after it was found the fee wouldn't make the $1.4 million he wanted. He sent letters to some 145 nonprofits asking the fee be voluntary; the city got about $16,000 back.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Google Finds It Hard to Reinvent Philanthropy

The NY Times featured a recent article on Google and their philanthropy efforts and predictions that they were going to change the game:

JUST before Google first sold its shares to the public in 2004, Larry Page, one of its founders, excited the nonprofit world with a bold commitment to philanthropy.

He vowed to dedicate about 1 percent of Google’s profits, 1 percent of its equity and a significant amount of its employees’ time to the effort, which became known as, or simply DotOrg. “We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems,” Mr. Page wrote in a letter to potential investors.

Although Google intended to tackle major problems like climate change, global poverty and the spread of pandemic diseases, it declared that DotOrg would not be “conventional” — a four-letter word in Google-speak. For starters, the organization would operate in part as a business, thus freeing itself from various constraints placed on nonprofit groups.

Google hired Larry Brilliant, a public health expert and Silicon Valley entrepreneur with no experience running a major philanthropy, to lead DotOrg, which was set up as a business unit within the company. It then poached prominent experts in development, energy and public health from prestigious institutions like the Aga Khan Foundation, Goldman Sachs and the International Water Management Institute.

“ can play the entire keyboard,” Dr. Brilliant said in an interview with The New York Times shortly after his appointment. “It can start companies, build industries, pay consultants, lobby, give money to individuals and make a profit.”

Nearly five years later, however, the hyperbole looks more like hubris. DotOrg has narrowed to just one octave on the piano: engineering-related projects that often are the outgrowth of existing Google products. Dr. Brilliant was sidelined in early 2009 after his loose management style created much disenchantment in DotOrg’s ranks.

The company’s top executives rarely mention DotOrg, which is now run by Megan Smith, a business development executive who devotes only part of her time to the organization.

Although Google gives tens of millions of dollars to charity each year and says the overall company is meeting its 1 percent giving goal, DotOrg itself is no longer making grants to nonprofit groups or financing new companies. Instead, it focuses on projects like using Google Earth to track environmental changes and monitoring Web searches to detect flu outbreaks. Most of the experts it initially hired have left, and Google, a company obsessed with numbers and metrics, struggles to measure DotOrg’s accomplishments.

Google says it has changed its approach to philanthropy, but not its scope or ambition. Ms. Smith readily acknowledges that the organization has yet to prove itself, but she says it has already had a positive impact in various areas, such as public health and the environment.

“We are a start-up,” Ms. Smith said in a recent interview. “The aspirational goals in the founding of DotOrg are long term. Our hope is to get to that point where we could have the impact that our founders hoped.”

In the philanthropy world, many people have a more skeptical view of Google’s experiment.

“I think there were from the beginning two competing ideas about what DotOrg would be,” said Joshua Cohen, a professor of law, politics and philosophy at Stanford who, after DotOrg was formed, was hired to create seminars to educate Googlers on issues bedeviling developing countries. “The first was a Googley idea that DotOrg would completely reinvent philanthropy and, in doing so, reinvent the world and address a hugely important set of problems with solutions only Google with its immense intellectual talent and resources could find.”

The second idea, Professor Cohen said, was more modest: “that DotOrg could make some headway, maybe a little, maybe a lot, in addressing these really big problems by doing what Google as a company is really good at doing, which is to say, aggregating information.”

“The second idea,” he continued, “won out.”

NOTHING illustrates DotOrg’s approach better than Google Flu Trends, an innovative tool that uses data collected from searches about flu symptoms to predict the location of flu outbreaks. In April 2009, Dr. Brilliant said it epitomized the power of Google’s vaunted engineering prowess to make the world a better place, and he predicted that it would save untold numbers of lives.

Public health officials say the tool is undoubtedly useful.

But “on an individual basis, does Flu Trends save lives? No,” said Ashley LaMonte-Fowlkes, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which helped Google test and develop it.

Instead, she described it as “a really nice adjunct” to other tools that the agency uses to understand the spread of flu. One major shortcoming of Flu Trends is that in poor regions of the developing world, where devastating pandemics are most likely to start, computers are not widely available, so Google has little data to feed into the tool. Even in the United States, during the swine flu outbreak of 2009, Flu Trends had difficulty detecting the relatively small number of H1N1 infections.

Some veterans of DotOrg say Flu Trends is an example of how Google’s engineering-centric approach frustrated and limited them.

Read more here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Don’t get burned. File the 501(h) election!

With much of America gripped by below-freezing weather this winter, it’s nice to imagine being on a sunny beach, with white sand all around, gentle island breezes playing in your hair, and nothing for miles but a cloudless blue sky.

Did you bring your sunscreen?

Reality check – whether freezing or on a beach – you still want to protect your nonprofit from getting burned.

Filing the 501(h) election protects nonprofits from being burned.
By filing one simple form, IRS Form 5768, a charitable nonprofit can protect itself from penalties for engaging in "too much" lobbying. (Charitable nonprofits can lobby; read why lobbying is legal.) A charitable nonprofit can only spend an insubstantial amount of its activities on lobbying. But there is a hazy ill-defined line between what "activities" are considered "substantial" and which are "insubstantial." Here’s where the sunscreen comes in. By filing IRS Form 5768 (also referred to as "taking the 501(h) election") instead of being judged by the uncertain “substantial part” test that evaluates undefined "activities" -- your nonprofit will have the added protection of being evaluated with a more specific test called the “expenditure” test that offers a bright line based on how much money the nonprofit spends on its lobbying activities. If you don’t take the 501(h) election, it’s li! ke guessing how long to stay in the sun before you’ll get a sun burn.

Read all about the advantages of taking the 501(h) election on the National Council’s website. (Note: Private foundations, churches, and integrated auxiliaries of churches are not permitted to file the 501(h) election.)

It’s so simple and effective that some nonprofit practitioners have called it the "cheapest and best insurance on the planet." Indeed, we wonder why more nonprofits don’t use this easy process. Once a nonprofit files the 501(h) election by completing Form 5768, it simply reports annually how much money it spent during the year on lobbying activities on Form 990, Schedule C. As long as the nonprofit’s expenditures are within the acceptable (and generous limits) established by law, the nonprofit is protected. However, if it does not file Form 5768, not only is the reporting to the IRS more detailed, but the IRS will decide, based on uncertain criteria, whether the charitable nonprofit’s lobbying activities are “substantial” or not. Because the IRS has never defined how much is “too much,” the results of this analysis are uncertain. Why not file the! 501(h) election and be sure?

Start off the New Year by protecting your nonprofit with the 501(h) election – it’s easier than putting on sunscreen. (You only have to do it once!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Study Reports Up to Half in US Impacted by Pre-existing Conditions for Health Insurance Coverage reported on a study that as many 129 million Americans at risk of being rejected for insurance coverage or having to pay more.

As many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have medical problems putting them at risk of being rejected by insurance companies or having to pay more for coverage, according to a U.S. government study reported by the Washington Post on Tuesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to release the study on Tuesday, the Post said, the same day the House of Representatives is expected to begin considering a Republican bill to repeal President Barack Obama's healthcare overall.

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..The report is part of the Obama administration's effort to convince the public of the advantages of the law, which contains insurance protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

"Americans living with pre-existing conditions are being freed from discrimination in order to get the health coverage they need," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement to be released Tuesday, the Post reported.

The study found that one-fifth to one-half of non-elderly people in the United States have conditions that trigger rejection or higher prices in the individual insurance market, the Post said. They range from cancer to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, asthma and high blood pressure.

A Republican House aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because the report was not yet public, told the Post: "When a new analysis is released on the eve of a vote in Congress, it's hard to view it as anything but politics and public relations."

The repeal vote would fulfil a campaign promise of Republicans who won control of the House in November elections. But the measure will likely die in the Senate, where Democrats held on to their majority.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New York Board of Regents Form 16-Member Committee to Investigate Deaccessioning reported the following:

This past fall, you might remember, was a bit rocky for the museum industry in New York. First, the state’s plans to pass a bill making selling pieces or collections of art in order to pay for anything but more art, particularly by government-funded museums, would be illegal, failed to pass through the senate. This was likely due to pressure put against its passing by the big, New York City-based museums who publicly stated on a number of occasions their distaste for regulation and promised they could police themselves just fine. If you were in support of the failed bill, things got even worse when the New York Board of Regents allowed emergency regulations surrounding museum deaccessioning to expire. This concerned many, as it was a sign that the flood gates for art sales could potentially now be open. Though that didn’t seem to happen en mass, at least on the record, the Regents caught a good deal of heat for it. Now, some months later, they appear to be attempting to regroup and figure out the controversial issue-at-hand. Judith H. Dobrzynski of Real Clear Arts reports that the Regents have recently formed a 16 member advisory committee who will look into how the state should handle museum deaccessioning. The list of members include lots of directors of museums across the state, as well as a couple of more high-profile museum types, including Martin Sullivan of the National Portrait Gallery, who was recently/currently mired in a controversy of his own. So what will come of the committee? That’s anyone’s guess. But given how tumultuous 2010 was for the state, it’s sure to be interesting to watch pan out.

States' desperate times lead to desperate measures

New York: Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed eliminating 20% of state agencies by combining duties, such as merging the Insurance Department, Banking Department and the Consumer Protection Board into the Department of Financial Regulation. It's part of "radical reform" to pull his state out of its fiscal crisis.
New Jersey: Republican Gov. Chris Christie skipped a $3.1-billion payment to the state's pension system in a push to cut benefits for public workers, while proposing higher employee contributions and a boost in the retirement age from 62 to 65.

Georgia: Deep cuts appear to await the state's popular HOPE scholarship program that provides public-college tuition to students who earn good grades. Rising tuition and enrollment have outpaced the lottery revenues that fund the program, and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has not proposed any additional state money to bail it out.

Illinois: Lawmakers voted for a dramatic 66% hike in personal income tax, from 3% to 5%, in a bid to resolve a $15-billion deficit, which amounts to more than half of the state's general fund. The tax increase will be coupled with strict 2% limits on spending growth. "It's important for their state government not to be a fiscal basket case," said Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat.

Texas: In oil-rich Texas, where education and social service spending is relatively low and Republican Gov. Rick Perry has railed against government spending, hard times loom. The shortfall is projected to be between $15 billion and $27 billion over the coming two-year budget cycle.

South Carolina: Outgoing GOP Gov. Mark Sanford proposed a spending plan that would end funding for museum and arts programs, slash college funding and cut state workers' pay by 5%.

Arts Gains Outweigh Losses According To Capital Region Leaders

The Times Union reported that the arts landscape in the Capital Region is an ever-changing aggregation of openings, closings, cutbacks and expansions. Looking back over the past five years, how have we fared?

"I'd say the last five years have been pretty good for the arts in the Capital Region," says Philip Morris, CEO of Proctors, which completed a $30 million renovation and now operates three theaters and attracts more than 500,000 people per year.

The crown jewel, of course, is EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center), the $200 million, 220,000-square-foot spectacle at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. It opened in 2008.

The Massry Center for the Arts at The College of Saint Rose in Albany opened the same year. In early 2010, the Arthur Zankel Music Center at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs opened.

"We now have top-notch, world-class performance venues," says Michele Desrosiers, managing director at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany. "I went to the Joshua Bell concert at EMPAC, when Dr. Jackson had her 10-year anniversary, and he made a comment about how this was one of the top three halls in the world."

Those additions, coupled with Proctors' ability now to present Broadway-quality shows, have changed the nature of arts offerings in the Capital Region, she says; they're increasingly sophisticated, more cosmopolitan.

"The good news is, we've just gone through a major cycle of capital investment in structures," Desrosiers says. "Now, as the economy has faded, we're at a time when we really can't afford those investments."

A cautionary note, Morris and others say, is that most of the major investments happened at colleges. Their priorities tend to be students and faculty, and they don't offer as many mainstream events for the public or involve the community as much as nonprofits or other arts organizations do, they say.

"Placing our cultural life at the college institutions, a migration like that, I don't think is the best thing for the community," Morris says. "It's a positive thing, but colleges are not about community engagement. They might open their doors for performances or exhibitions, which is great. But you don't see community people volunteering. You don't see community board members challenged with tough ethical issues or tough financial questions."

The economy, in the guise of state cutbacks, and scandal involving its director cost us the New York State Theatre Institute and its vast programming for children -- which for 36 years also engaged adults. The Troy-based theater company ceased operations on Dec. 31 and, arts leaders say, will be impossible to replace.

We also lost Revolution Hall in Troy, which held its final concert in June 2010. Tess' Lark Tavern in Albany burned down the month before. Other music venues and art galleries closed, and others opened.

We lost some First Nights but gained monthly Arts Nights in Albany, Schenectady and Troy as well as the Schenectady Art Attack, which in its first year drew 10,000 people to see 500 artists. We lost some summer concert series and some exhibition space, and some museums reduced hours.

But we gained the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, which offers an array of arts and music events, and WEXT, which, musicians say, is one of the most significant additions of the past five years. The FM station at 97.7 showcases local music.

"All in all, things do tend to even themselves out in the long run," says Sean Allen, marketing director at the Palace Theatre in Albany. "You lose some great ones, and others come in to fill the gap.

"I think given the size of the Capital Region, we can still consider ourselves very lucky with what we do have. This is not a huge city/area by any means, and I have seen much larger areas that didn't offer half of what we have for the arts."

After losing Gallery 100, an important exhibition space in downtown Saratoga Springs, to closure in 2008, Joel Reed, executive director of Saratoga Arts, says he fears that other arts groups will follow suit.

Read more:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Statement of Mental Health America on the Tragedy in Arizona

Contact: Steve Vetzner, (703) 797-2588 or

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (January 10, 2011)—Mental Health America joins Americans in mourning the loss of those killed in Saturday’s tragic and senseless attack and expressing our wishes for the full recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and fellow citizens who were injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives and everyone who is affected by these horrific events. And we join in applauding the brave actions of individuals who prevented greater harm.

It will likely take many days to understand the reasons and motivations behind this national tragedy. Many have pointed to mental health as an issue.

It must first be emphasized that people with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population. And we have science-based methods to successfully treat persons with even the most severe mental illnesses. A very small group of individuals with a specific type of mental health symptoms are at greater risk for violence if their symptoms are untreated.

At the same time, we must recognize that the nation’s mental health system is drastically under-funded and fails to provide Americans living with mental health conditions with the effective community-based mental health services they need. Sadly, in the current environment of strained state budgets, mental health services have been cut drastically just as demand for these critical services has risen dramatically.

It is also important that, as a community, we assist persons with signs and symptoms of mental illnesses to seek treatment. Although rare, when a person becomes so ill that he/she is a danger to themselves or others state laws provide a way to get them help even if they don’t believe that they need it. The best strategy, however, is to have an accessible system of care that is easy to use.

Science has not developed tools to predict reliably individuals at risk for violence. But we can reduce the small risk of violence in those with certain mental health conditions by investing in proven intensive, coordinated community-based mental health services and making certain that they can access these services.

We do not know if the mental health system failed in this situation or if there were missed opportunities or if effective treatment might have averted this tragedy.

We do hope that we can find answers and create solutions that prevent this from ever happening again.

Mental Health America ( is the country's leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives. With our century of service to America and our more than 300 affiliates nationwide, we represent a national movement that promotes mental wellness for the health and well-being of the nation— everyday and in times of crisis.

Web Site Seeks Suggestions from the Public and Stakeholders to Reform the Medicaid System and Save Taxpayers Money

News from New York State Office of the Governor
For more information contact: Press Office,, 518-474-8418
Governor Cuomo Announces Medicaid Redesign Web Site to Track Progress and Invite Public Participation

Web Site Seeks Suggestions from the Public and Stakeholders to Reform the Medicaid System and Save Taxpayers Money

ALBANY, NY (01/10/2011)-- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the launch of the State's new Medicaid Redesign Web site to track the progress of reforming New York's costly Medicaid system, and to invite the public's participation in the process.

The Web site,, includes electronic forms for Medicaid stakeholders and the public to suggest reforms to the system. The Web site will be an integral component to the reform process, which includes the Medicaid Redesign Team, created last week through Executive Order by Governor Cuomo. The Web site will also include listings of the Team's public hearings and prepared reports.

"It is imperative for the public, as well as stakeholders and government officials, to be part of the process of reforming the State's Medicaid system, and this Web site will help make that happen," Governor Cuomo said. "The Web site will be a component to developing our plan to reign in Medicaid costs without compromising care."

The Medicaid Redesign Team has been tasked by Governor Cuomo to find ways to reduce costs and increase quality and efficiency in the Medicaid program for the upcoming 2011-12 Fiscal Year. As part of its work, the Team is seeking ideas from the public at large, the health care workforce, and experts in health care delivery and insurance, economics, business, consumer rights and other relevant areas.

The Medicaid Redesign Team will undertake the most comprehensive examination of New York's Medicaid system since its inception, and it must submit its first report with findings and recommendations to the Governor by March 1, for consideration in the budget process. It will also submit quarterly reports thereafter until the end of 2011-12 fiscal year, when it will disband.

The Team will consider reform ideas from health care professionals, administrators, stakeholders, and the general public through regional public hearings and the online survey forms.

More than $53 billion is spent annually on New York's Medicaid program to provide health care to more than 4.7 million people in need. The program is funded through state, county and federal taxes. In effect, Medicaid is the largest health insurance program in New York State.

In a majority of the State's counties, Medicaid costs alone account for more than half of the entire county tax levy. New York spends more than twice the national average on Medicaid on a per capita basis, and spending per enrollee is the second highest in the nation. At the same time, New York ranks 21st out of all states for overall health system quality and ranks last among all states for avoidable hospital use and costs.

New York State Medicaid Director Jason Helgerson will serve as the Team's executive director, and the State Budget Director will serve as a non-voting member.

The members of the team are as follows:
• Michael Dowling, President and CEO of North Shore LIJ Health system.
• Dennis Rivera is the former Chair of SEIU Healthcare and is currently the Senior Advisor to the International President of SEIU.
• Kenneth E. Raske is the President of the Greater New York Hospital Association.
• George Gresham is the President of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
• Dan Sisto is the President of the Healthcare Association of New York State.
• Frank Branchini is the President and COO of EmblemHealth.
• Eli Feldman is the President and CEO of the Metropolitan Jewish Health System as well as the Chairman of the Continuing Care Leadership Coalition.
• Carol Raphael is the President and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
• Linda Gibbs is the Deputy Mayor of New York City for Health and Human Services.
• Ed Matthews is the CEO of the United Cerebral Palsy of New York City as well as the President of the Interagency Council.
• Dr. Nirav Shah is the newly nominated Commissioner of Health.
• Mike Hogan is the Commissioner for the Office of Mental Health.
• James Introne is the Deputy Secretary for Health and the Director of Healthcare Redesign.
• Max Chmura is the Acting Commissioner of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
• Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez is the newly nominated Commissioner of the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.
• Lara Kassel is a Coordinator at Medicaid Matters New York.
• Karen A. Ballard is the President of the New York State Nurses Association.
• Stephen J. Acquario serves as the Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties.
• Dr. Jeffrey A. Sachs is the Co-Chair of the JFK Jr. Institute for Work Education at City University of New York.
• Ann F. Monroe is the President of the Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York.
• Steve Berger is the former Chairman for the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century and a board member for the Partnership for New York City.
• Dr. William Streck is the Chair of the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council.
• Elizabeth Swain is the CEO of the Community Health Care Association of New York State.
• Senator Kemp Hannon is the former Chairman of the Senate Committees on Health and Housing. Senator Hannon was recommended by the Majority Leader of the Senate.
• Senator Tom Duane is the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, 2009-2010. Senator Duane was recommended by the Minority Leader of the Senate.
• Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried serves as the Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Health. Assemblyman Gottfried was recommended by the Speaker of the Assembly.
• Assemblyman Joe Giglio of the 149th Assembly District currently sits on the Medicaid Waste, Fraud and Abuse Task Force. Assemblyman Giglio was recommended by the Minority Leader of the Assembly.


Additional news available at High resolution images available at password: cuomo New York State Executive Chamber 518.474.8418


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cuomo details economic-development priorities in address

The Central NY Business Journal related that in his State of the State address today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined several portions of his economic-development agenda.

He called for creating regional economic-development councils that would work with state agencies to allocate resources. Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy will lead the councils, which will be drawn from the private sector, local governments, state agencies, and academic institutions.
Cuomo also wants changes in the Excelsior Jobs Program, implemented last year as a replacement for the much-criticized Empire Zones. Cuomo's plan calls for restructuring the value and length of tax credits in the Excelsior program to provide more incentives for job creation.

He also called for restructuring incentives for improving properties, paying credits as job-creation targets are met rather than at the end of a proposal, expanding research and development tax credits, and streamlining the program's application process.

In addition, Cuomo advocated for a permanent Power for Jobs program and pushed his proposed property-tax cap, which would limit property tax increases to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is less.

The governor detailed some of his fiscal plans as well, including an emergency financial plan he said would close the $10 billion deficit in the 2010-2011 budget without raising taxes or borrowing.

"We must transform the state of New York from a government of dysfunction, gridlock, and corruption to a government of performance, integrity, and pride," Cuomo said. "This is not about budget trimming or cutting, it's about looking at how we can fix government and make it work for the people.

"Together, we must take the significant steps needed to reinvent, reorganize and redesign government to restore credibility and to rebuild our economy by creating jobs all across this state."