NYCHA Money…With Some New and Improved Strings

If you work up here in Albany, you’ve probably heard it a million times, “The City is a creature of The State.”Albany giveth, and Albany taketh away. The State of New York could govern the city of New York if it chose to do so, and arguably did during the financial crisis in the 1970’s with the financial control board.

But that doesn’t mean the city has to like it. Sometimes the city stomps it’s feet and holds it’s breath and it STILL doesn’t get what it wants from Albany. See the West Side Stadium, and congestion pricing to name just a few. Then there is the dynamic between our current Mayor, Bill de Blasio, and our current Governor Andrew Cuomo. This has truly taken the constant back and forth between the city and state to new comedic heights.

Let’s circle back to that New York City Housing Authority money you likely first read about here. The State has agreed to give NYCHA $100 million in the upcoming fiscal year budget for repairs and improvements. There is broad agreement that the money is needed, but there was much dispute over how it should be administered and distributed. Much to the de Blasio Administration’s chagrin, the state will provide the funding, but not through a direct appropriation to NYCHA. Instead, all the money will be overseen by the state through DHCR which will strictly control which projects get approved and how each and every penny gets spent. Needless to say this did not go over well with the de Blasio Administration which argued NYCHA knows what it’s needs are and how better to repair the buildings it is currently charged with maintaining. No dice. The money is controlled by the state.

Well now, there is yet another layer to this. According to the just released bill language, the New York City Comptroller is mandated to conduct an audit of the management processes and procedures of NYCHA. So, in other words, the de Blasio Administration gets the money, but not without their sometimes other rival Scott Stringer poking around and looking for problems.

The bill reads (SIC),

“…and provided further that the comptroller of the city of new york shall immediately commence an audit of the new york city housing authority management and contracting process for repairs and maintenance and make recommendation on how to improve the process.”

According to sources, Governor Cuomo read this story in the Daily News about NYCHA not always having the best track record when it comes to spending money, and insisted strong controls be instilled in any appropriation that goes out the Capitol door to the city of New York for NYCHA. I’m sure it has nothing to do with poking de Blasio in the belly with a sharp stick. And frankly, I’m disgusted that you would even ask such a thing.

***Update*** IDC leader Jeff Klein, who fought to get the $100 million into the budget issued a statement through spox Candice Giove which reads,

“Senator Klein is proud that he delivered $100 million in funding to make critical repairs to NYCHA buildings. Equally important to the Senator is oversight of the state’s investment to ensure fiscal responsibility.”

Extras

With the budget deadline looming, good government groups criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders for reaching a deal on ethics reform without having bill printed.

Here’s a helpful Q-and-A on how the new teacher performance evaluation system will work.

The Assembly Republicans declined Cuomo’s offer for a personal briefing on what’s in the budget bills that lawmakers will take up tonight.

The New York Times expressed its disapproval that the DREAM Act, minimum wage, NYC mayoral control and campaign finance reform are missing from the budget deal.

EJ McMahon notes the governor’s plan, (with which he does not agree), for spending the $5.4 billion settlement windfall remains largely in tact in the final budget, and “shortchanges basica transportation and municipal infrastructure needs.”

Sen. Joseph Griffo introduced a bill that would require the governor to tell each school district how much state funding they would receive as part of the governor’s annual budget proposal.

SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher is happy with the support SUNY was given in the budget, even though the university system will have to pick up the tab for mandatory cost increases required by collectively bargained contracts.

Several large donors to Cuomo and the Senate Republicans stand to benefit from the tax breaks on yachts and private jets that were included in his budget, according to the Hedge Clippers.

New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox dismissed Cuomo’s move and noted that the Democratic governor plans a visit next month to Cuba, a country where he said “political dissidents are imprisoned and tortured.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s margins are down in matchups with possible 2016 GOP presidential candidates in three critical swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and in no state do voters say she’s honest and trustworthy, a new Q poll found.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio excoriated a controversial Indiana religious freedom law, calling it “deeply disturbing” and “doomed to failure.” He followed Cuomo’s lead and banned non-essential city travel to the Hoosier State.

The New York State Court of Appeals granted a motion to delay next month’s implementation of the city’s plan to standardize yellow cabs

The NYC agency created to increase oversight of the NYPD referred more than half of the complaints it received last year to the NYPD’s internal investigative body, causing some to question its independence and effectiveness.

Tucker Carlson, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, refused to criticize his brother, Buckley, for the vulgar email he sent to a de Blasio spokeswoman.

The NYC Council passed legislation to beef up the city’s Human Rights Commission, which critics complain has been weak in its enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said it was “stupid” of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to sign a state law that critics say would allow businesses to deny service to gay people.

A number of likely Republican presidential candidates have come out in support of the controversial Indiana legislation.

Cuomo appointed Linda Dobmeier, vice president of Dobmeier Janitor Supply Inc. and a past chairwoman of the Buffalo State College Foundation, chairwoman of the Buffalo State College Council.

NT2 weighs in on Fred Dicker v. Michael Shnayerson, which is really worth a listen, if you haven’t heard it yet.

Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has appointed Ron Tocci, a former Democratic assemblyman, as the county’s new director of the Veterans Service Agency.

Cuomo struck a deal with lawmakers to include a $100 million venture capital fund – double the initial request – in the final budget. It will be used to help businesses engaged in biotechnology and advanced materials take their work into the marketplace.

Will Clocks Stop Tonight?

State lawmakers are digging in at the state Capitol for the final passage of the 2015-16 state budget, with just hours to go before the dawn of the new fiscal year.

In addition to massive budget bills that total hundreds of pages and contain changes to education policy in the state, lawmakers are also due to consider a constitutional amendment for having officials convicted of corruption lose their pensions.

In short, the budget may not meet its midnight deadline, making for the first late spending plan since 2010.

The Republican-led Senate is in session at this point, but the Democratic-controlled Assembly is where Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reforms are the most contentious.

The budget includes a new teacher evaluation system, makes it harder for teachers to obtain tenure and reforms the process for removing teachers from the classroom, essentially making it easier to fire poor-performing teachers, regardless of tenure.

The reforms are staunchly opposed by the state’s teachers union, which is urging legislators to vote against them.

“I think judging from some of the phone calls and emails we’re getting in our offices right now, I think there’s a lot of anger and frustration about the process and what’s in the bill,” said Utica Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat.

“We’re digesting and we’re going to make a decision what we’re going to do,” he added.

It’s expected to be a long night. As of 5 p.m., the Assembly was yet to enter its session.

“We’re just going through it, going through bill copy,” Majority Leader Joe Morelle said. “There’s a lot of mechanics on the last day.”

Enacting the new evaluation criteria by November will be tied to a boost in education aid for school districts, and lawmakers are raising concerns with the effort re-negotiate contracts.

“I think it certainly scales back some of the collective bargaining rights teachers have negotiated, Brindisi said. “These are due process rights teachers have negotiated over a number of years.”

Lawmakers also have little time to consider the measures, contained in a 311-page education, labor and family assistance package that also has ethics and disclosure reforms tied to it.

“I would say many of my colleagues are very unsettled,” Assemblywoman Pat Fahy of Albany said. “It’s a lot to try to read today.”

Adding to the headaches for Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly, the education details were negotiated up until Monday, despite a framework agreed to on Sunday.

Those adjustments came after the United Federation of Teachers touted their efforts to have the evaluation legislation changed as initially proposed by Cuomo.

“There’s been a lot to absorb and just today,” Fahy said. “We thought were in one place on Sunday and then we backpedaled a little bit given the fallout evidently over some of the comments in the press about victories and what have you. So there was a long night yesterday trying to put things back together.”

Client Disclosure, But Only Moving Forward

The final ethics legislation to be voted on by state lawmakers includes disclosure requirements for those who work in the legal or consulting professions, but only for those with new business being taken on in 2016.

Client disclosure won’t be made public until June 2017, according to the law.

The bill language was released this afternoon and is expected to be voted on after lawmakers conference the massive education, labor and family assistance budget bill.

At the same time, there are allowances built into the legislation that would prevent client disclosure when it comes to the “invasion of privacy” for a client or “undue harm.”

Both the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Office of Court Administration will have the power to redact clients names based on that criteria and other exemptions, such as divorce proceedings, estate plannings and cases involving children.

When it comes to clients who are dealing with initial public offerings, where confidentiality is agreed to by federal law, names and other client information will be put into a “locked box” that is held by the Office of Court Administration to be opened at a later date.

JCOPE itself is due to receive a funding increase of $2.4 million, with half of that earmarked for the disclosure requirements being put into effect.

Moving forward, lawmakers with clients will need to detail what work they’ve done on their behalf and provide descriptions for a variety of sample services such as preparing “certified architectural or engineering renderings.”

Personal use of same campaign funds will be restricted, such as country club membership, rent and other dues.

But elected officials will still be allowed to use campaign money for attorney representation and other legal fees.

Cuomo Bans Non-Essential State Travel To Indiana (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a ban Tuesday on non-essential state-funded travel to Indiana as the debate rages over the state’s religious freedom law.

The ban is in effect immediately, Cuomo said in a statement.

“Today, I direct all agencies, departments, boards and commissions to immediately review all requests for state funded or state sponsored travel to the State of Indiana and to bar any such publicly funded travel that is not essential to the enforcement of state law or public health and safety,” Cuomo said.

LGBT state lawmakers in the Assembly — Deborah Glick, Matt Titone, Danny O’Donnell and Harry Bronson — and Sen. Brad Hoylman asked for Cuomo to issue the ban earlier this morning.

“Employees of the State of New York should not be placed in a situation where they are required to travel to a state where they face legalized discrimination,” the lawmakers said. “Likewise, New York State taxpayers should not be footing the bill for such travel.”

The ban comes as the state’s Republican governor, potential presidential candidate Mike Pence, has stood by the law, which says the government is prohibited from creating a substantial “burden” on the ability for a person to follow their religious beliefs.

Opponents of the measure say it allows businesses to legally discriminate against the LGBT community, while supporters say it merely ensures protections for those want to practice their religious beliefs.

Cuomo, of course, helped push through New York’s 2011 same-sex marriage legalization measure.

“New York State has been, and will continue to be, a leader in ensuring that all LGBT persons enjoy full and equal civil rights,” Cuomo said. “With this action, we stand by our LBGT family members, friends and colleagues to ensure that their rights are respected.”

Cuomo is traveling to Cuba in April as part of a trade mission as the U.S. normalizes relations with the country. Cuba has a decidedly mixed history on gay rights, though its laws have liberalized in recent years.

Updated: Republican Chairman Ed Cox in a statement takes note of Cuba’s human rights record in response to the Indiana travel ban.

“Now that Andrew Cuomo has banned travel to Indiana, he can cancel his upcoming trip to Cuba, where gay marriage is illegal, political dissidents are imprisoned and tortured, and the Castro regime is on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Or he can admit that both moves are political stunts meant to bolster his national profile with no grounding in reality or substance.”

Heastie: Despite Concerns, Assembly Dems Will Pass Education Reforms

Assembly Speaker Carl Heasite this afternoon acknowledged the education reform measure in the 2015-16 state budget are difficult for his members to accept, but the legislation will pass his chamber at some point in the next few hours.

“It’s not an ideal world, it’s not an ideal situation, but the people of this state want an on-time budget,” Heastie told reporters.

The bill, being printed now, will be voted on as soon as its ready, Heastie said.

The vote comes despite a last-minute push from labor-backed groups like the Working Families Party and the Alliance for Quality Education to not consider the bill today and insert potential changes.

Heastie had still been negotiating the education policy in the budget that Gov. Andrew Cuomo pursued this year, which includes a new teacher evaluation criteria and tenure requirements as well as a reform to the so-called 3020A process that makes it easier for low-performing teachers to be fired, regardless of tenure.

The state’s teachers’ union remains staunchly opposed to the evaluation, tenure and 3020A changes, and rank-and-file Democrats, too, have been critical of the reform polices.

Both the New York State United Teachers union and their city affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, have urged lawmakers to oppose the legislation.

But voting against the legislation will likely be difficult for Assembly Democrats: The package includes ethics reform legislation the conference previously signed on to earlier this month, which include new disclosure requirements for legal clients of state lawmakers, travel per diem reforms and campaign finance measures.

“We will pass the bill. Members raised a lot of I’d say issues of concern about implementation,” Heastie said. “You make these kinds of changes, members have questions.”

Teachers unions had called the changes a threat to collective bargaining, and local contracts will have to change in order to reflect the law’s changes. But they measures won’t be subject to negotiation on the local level themselves.

“I wouldn’t say it was undermining the bargaining units,” Heastie said.

Implementing the teacher evaluations is tied to a boost in school aid for districts, with a November deadline to do so. The Department of Education will be tasked with setting the weighted percentages for state tests and classroom observation.

Though a framework for the state budget was announced on Sunday by state lawmakers, the education reform measures were still being sorted out as late as Monday.

“There were a lot of open issues up until yesterday,” Heastie said, “and this was one of them.”

Progressives Seek ‘Pause’ on Education

As the budget clock ticks down, a host of progressive/left-leaning organizations and the labor-backed Working Families Party is making what amounts to a Hail Mary attempt to stop the Legislature from passing the education portion of the budget deal.

The WFP issued a joint statement with its allies – the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, Make the Road Action Fund, and New York Communities for Change – saying the Senate and Assembly should “hit the pause button on the education budget bill and get things right before voting.”

“Over 2.7 million public school students are counting on the Senate and Assembly to do their homework when it comes to education – not cram for the exam,” the statement continues. “We are asking the Senate and Assembly leadership to renegotiate the education budget bill before they bring it to a vote.”

“At a time when Governor Cuomo is making and breaking promises at lightning speed, it’s imperative that legislators demand the time to negotiate, clarify, and listen to the parents, teachers, and students they’re here to serve. Full funding for a sound basic education is a CFE mandate, not a bargaining chip.”

“…”So, let’s slow down and get this right. There’s no extra credit for rushing through bills that legislators haven’t even had time to read for the sake of a bad but on-time budget. That’s especially true for bills that impede our obligation to provide all of our students with a high-quality public education.”

This comes on the heels of a memo circulated yesterday by the state’s largest teachers union, NYSUT, that called on legislators to reject major provisions of the education reform proposals that are in the spending plan’s framework. The biggest sticking points for the union: Changes to the teacher evaluation system, tenure and the 3020A proceedings which make it easier for districts to fire poorly performing teachers.

And THAT memo came after NYSUT President Karen Magee issued a call for parents to opt their kids out of state tests, which, of course could – assuming enough people heed that call – undermine the results on which the teacher performance evaluation system is based.

It does not appear at this moment that the efforts to halt the budget proceedings will bear fruit. The education bill – known as ELFA – is in print. School aid runs are out. And lawmakers are moving forward with plans to start voting on the remaining budget bills later today in hopes of coming close to meeting the midnight deadline.

LGBT Lawmakers Asks Cuomo for Indiana Travel Ban

The Legislature’s five openly LGBT lawmakers (four Assembly members and one senator) have written to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, asking him to issue an executive order “immediately” barring any state-funded travel to Indiana in opposition to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law last week by Gov. Mike Pence.

The RFRA prohibits state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations, which opponents say is effectively opening the door to state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT individuals.

In their letter to Cuomo, Democratic Assembly members Deborah Glick (Manhattan), Matt Titone (Staten Island), Danny O’Donnell (Manhattan) and Harry Bronson (Rochester) and Sen. Brad Hoylman (Manhattan) wrote:

“These provisions make clear that Indiana businesses are permitted by law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in matters including housing, employment, and access to public accommodations.”

“Employees of the State of New York should not be placed in a situation where they are required to travel to a state where they face legalized discrimination. Likewise, New York State taxpayers should not be footing the bill for such travel. We urge you to bar state-funded travel to Indiana, thereby sending a strong message that New York will not stand for legalized discrimination and injustice against LGBT people.”

I’m not sure how much – if any – state-funded travel to Indiana is actually occurring these days. But an executive order would really be a symbolic gesture – one already undertaken by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee.

It has been noted that Malloy’s order could impact Connecticut’s collegiate sports teams, and if this situation continues into next year, that could interfere with UCONN’s ability to participate in the NCAA Final Four women’s basketball tournament, which is scheduled to be held in Indianapolis. Malloy said he hopes the NCAA moves the tournament.

Pence has defended the RFRA, writing in a Wall Street Journal OpEd today that it has been “grossly misconstrued as a ‘license to discriminate.'” He insists that the act actually reflects federal law, as well as laws in 30 states across the nation.

I actually tweeted early this morning that I was surprised no one in New York had mentioned anything about this Indiana issue yet – especially given the state’s LGBT history, and Cuomo’s success at getting a same-sex marriage bill through the divided Legislature and signing it into law during his first term. Of course, lawmakers have been pretty busy with the budget deadline looming, so they were understandably distracted.

A Few of My Favorite Things…

Golf with my buddies, and drinkin’ cape codders

Private plane parking, right at MacArthur

Yachting on Sunday without any strings

These are a few of my favorite things!

 

I gotta say…even for Albany, last night’s move was bold. After pairing down the budget to keep much of the controversial policy items out, including a minimum wage hike it takes enormous gall to then vote for a tax break for the 1%. It was a gangsta move in my book. Nevermind how this “looks” to the “public.” Pshaw! We are gonna vote for this even if it gives you material about us tolling the bell for billionaires for the rest of the session! Asked to defend this action during a gaggle yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said ( and I swear to you I have not edited this in the slightest, this is actually the verbatim ),

“We felt that it’s important, especially with the state that we have, with all our natural resources, that people be able to create jobs here in New York State.”

That’s some Sarah Palin stuff right there.

One insider suggested to me that Cuomo allowed this tax exemption to go through in order to draw attention away from his radical education agenda. Not sure I believe that, but let’s be honest…the changes the Governor is looking to make are huge. I say “looking to make,” because the bill has not hit the Assembly floor for a vote where it’s chances of quick passage remain murky at best. The Governor is in essence undermining the teacher’s union. Watering down their collective bargaining rights by putting into state law the mandatory dismissal of teacher’s who are rated ineffective. That’s a major departure from where things currently stand. Right now, it is very difficult to fire teachers. Especially those with tenure. Cue the numerous tab stories about “rubber rooms.” If Cuomo gets his way, the dynamic will be permanently altered. I don’t want to compare this to what Scott walker did in Wisconsin, but it’s the New York State Democratic-internecine-warfare-politics version of that.

The question, of course, is will the Assembly Dems go for it. Speaker Carl Heastie has a lot on the line here. It’s his first budget, and there is no question that he has been far more inclusive of the conference when it comes to crafting the bill language. The problem with that, is that it slooooows things down. No good budget ever gets negotiated by committee. At some point, it’s gotta get locked down. On the other hand, it’s not worth it to Heastie to demand a vote on radical changes to something as sacred as education if it means the loss of his speakership.

In conclusion, we may have to wait and see how this day shapes up. Hopefully we can quote Ice Cube at midnight by singing “Today was a good day.”

 

Under Budget, JCOPE To Receive $2.4M Boost

The ethics framework agreement is set to include a $2.4 million boost to the Joint Commission On Public Ethics, the lobbying and ethics regulator created in 2012.

The commission will receive $1.2 million in order to handle the new disclosure requirements for lawmakers with legal clients (Legislators who are lawyers with clients can also report to the Office of Court Administration and receive an exemption based on criteria such as the sensitivity of the case and whether the client has business before the state).

An additional $1.2 million will be earmarked JCOPE for information technology upgrades, according to an official briefed on the allocation.

Still, specific language on the ethics and disclosure package is yet to be formally released as lawmakers continue to discuss major budget bills such as the education, labor and family assistance package.

The ethics agreement, meanwhile, is being panned by a coalition of good government groups for not being released with hours to go before the deadline.

The groups — Common Cause of New York, Citizens Union, the Brennan Center, NYPIRG and Reinvent Albany — called on the bill to be released.

“It is unacceptable in a functioning democracy that an ethics bill about the disclosure of legislators’ outside income hasn’t even been disclosed to the public,” the groups said in a joint statement. “Yet it will be introduced in a moment’s notice, fast tracked with a message of necessity, and the legislature will vote on a major reform bill with no one having a chance to review it let alone read it.”