Violating Albany’s Prime Directive

With apologies to the late Mr. Spock, an anonymous Cuomo administration official today violated Albany’s prime directive: The Bear Mountain Compact.

The so-called agreement for so-called gentlemen in Albany basically requires that anything that happens in Albany stays in Albany, be it extramarital affairs, debauchery, drunkenness, etc.

The staffer was reacting to a Republican-backed bill that appears to be a thinly veiled effort to troll Cuomo in his bedroom: The measure would require financial disclosure from non-relatives who live with state officials, i.e., the governor’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee.

A Cuomo administration official told myself and several others: “It’s an interesting concept – if the bill’s anonymous sponsor ever comes forward, we may suggest expanding it to include all girlfriends, even those of married members.”

The quote is a clever one, but it’s also something of a threat delivered with a clenched-teeth smile.

To be sure, a lot of bad behavior has occurred (and likely continues to) in Albany for decades. On the surface, there’s an effort on the part by lawmakers and their colleagues to keep it a secret (see Lopez, Vito and Silver, Sheldon).

The press, historically, helped play a role in keeping extramarital affairs a secret, most notably with Nelson Rockefeller’s dalliances.

Consider, however, that two state lawmakers in recent years sought to help federal prosecutors by wearing a wire in order to get the goods on their colleagues and obtain some leniency.

Consider how easy — through the recording of a bathroom-stall cell phone video, archived Google chats and a reputation for bullying behavior — a trio of now-former state lawmakers made it for their victims to make sexual harassment complaints.

Consider, too, how easy it is for any state lawmakers to say something blunt or innuendo-laden on social media.

In other words, Albany may be a town of secrets, but in this day and age it’s a lot easier for those secrets to get out.

DeFran On Cuomo’s ‘Bizarre Approach’ On Education Aid

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco sharply criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approach on education spending in this year’s $142 billion budget proposal “bizarre” and said it risked an on-time spending plan.

“That’s going to stop the consecutive on-time budget process,” DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse, said on The Capitol Pressroom. “You don’t have an all or nothing situation and you don’t say I’m not going to negotiate. I think this is sort of a bizarre approach when we’ve gotten the four on-time budgets working in a cooperative way.”

Cuomo is linking up to $1.1 billion in new spending for education to enacting a number of his education reform proposals, including lifting the cap on charter schools and a new, more stringent teacher evaluation process.

The policy proposals have led to considerable consternation from the state’s teachers unions, who have ratcheted up their rhetoric in recent weeks claiming the governor is pursuing anti-teacher policies.

But Cuomo has defended his proposals, saying he wants to reward good teachers even as he wants to remove poor performing teachers from the classroom. Cuomo has also pushed a plan that would make it easier for the state to takeover a failing school.

At the same time, Cuomo has declined to release school aid runs — individual spending targets for school districts, which is a break with past practice.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this,” DeFrancisco said. “School districts have to plan their day, but we’re going to say we’re not even going to tell you what you get.”

Of course, Cuomo isn’t just linking education policy to spending. He has tied new income disclosure requirements to capital spending, as well as requiring receipts for travel reimbursement.

DeFrancisco added that it’s going to be up to the governor himself as to whether a budget will be approved before April 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year.

“It all depends on if the governor is going to be firm on these conditions,” he said.

The pace of negotiations are expected to pick up next week and Cuomo on Wednesday held his first leaders meeting with Senate leaders Jeff Klein and Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“It all depends on practical negotiations,” DeFrancisco said. “I don’t see why we can’t get there, but I don’t see if the governor is going to back off those conditions.”

With Some Snark, Cuomo Administration Reacts To Senate GOP Ethics Proposal

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Friday reacted to a bill that would require income disclosure of non-relatives who live with state officials.

The bill, submitted quietly by Senate Republicans on Thursday evening, would apply to Cuomo’s live-in girlfriend, Sandra Lee.

A Republican spokeswoman insisted in a statement that the bill was not targeting the Food Network star specifically, even if she would still be impacted by it.

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa, meanwhile, took a dig at the anonymous sponsorship of the bill, which was submitted to the Rules Committee without a formal sponsor.

“We’re happy to review any ethics proposal with the bill’s sponsor, whoever that may be,” DeRosa said.

Meanwhile, a separate administration official threw even more chin music toward lawmakers.

“It’s an interesting concept – if the bill’s anonymous sponsor ever comes forward, we may suggest expanding it to include all girlfriends, even those of married members,” the official said.

Sheriffs Urge Juvenile Justice Reform

A group of Republican and Democratic sheriffs from around the state on Friday urged state leaders to adopt a package of reforms to the juvenile justice system.

In letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to adopt the proposed changes, which include at the centerpiece a push to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

“Under the proposed legislation, the most serious offenders will continue to be prosecuted in the adult criminal courts. However, instead of using the same unsuccessful “one size fits all” solutions, the proposal before you calls for the creation of special Youth Parts of the adult courts that would offer appropriate sentences and services for young people, including incarceration,” the sheriffs wrote in the letter.

The reforms were first proposed by a panel convened last year by Cuomo also include changes to arrest procedures, removing youth from prisons that include adults and an expansion of services that would provide assistance to juveniles after their release.

The hope is the reforms will lead to reduce recidivism in the criminal justice system.

Those of us working in law enforcement know that these are the reforms New York desperately needs,” the letter states. “The public safety benefits to raising the age are overwhelming. Under the current system, youth housed in adult facilities are more likely to encounter criminal influences that will lead them to a permanent life of crime.”

Signing on to the letter: Sheriffs Craig Apple, Robert Maciol, Michael H. Zurlo, Colleen O’Neill, Barry Virts, Allen Riley, Ernest Cutting, Vincent DeMarco and Peter Convery.

Juvenile Justice Reform Letter by Nick Reisman

Senate Republicans Make An Ethics Target Of Sandra Lee (Updated)

A bill introduced in the state Senate on Thursday evening would require financial disclosure of live-in non-relatives — seemingly targeting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s girlfriend, Food Network personality Sandra Lee.

The bill was introduced quietly into the Senate Rules Committee and does not have an actual lawmaker sponsoring the legislation.

The bill would require financial disclosure statements to “include information on any person they reside with, rather than just their spouse and unemancipated children; requires timely compliance with requirements of this act by members of advisory entities prior to such entities being authorized to provide advice.”

Cuomo has dated Lee since 2005 and resides with her in a Westchester County home. If the two were married, Lee would likely have to disclose information on her business interests and investments, revealing potential business before the state.

The bill is just one of three measures that have surfaced in the last several hours taking apparent aim at Cuomo, which were first flagged by Capital New York.

Meanwhile, a separate bill backed by Staten Island Sen. Andrew Lanza and western New York Sen. Pat Gallivan would create new disclosure requirements for business entities with state contracts to report contributions.

And a third bill, sponsored by Sen. Carl Marcellino, would require state agency employees — members of the executive branch of government — to file financial disclosure forms.

The bills come after Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told reporters he believed Cuomo should be subject to the same disclosure requirements and scrutiny as lawmakers.

“As we’re discussing disclosure certainly I think there’s going to be robust changes to the requirements of legislators in terms of disclosure,” Skelos, a Long Island Republican, told reporters. “But I think there also should be disclosure by the executive branch. There’s a lot of focus on the Legislature. But I should point out — Spitzer, Hevesi, David Paterson — there have been problems in all branches of government and we’re going to work on a bipartisan way to fix those problems.”

Updated: Senate Republican spokeswoman Kelly Cummings in a statement says the legislation is not targeting a specific individual.

“The language to broaden financial disclosure to include all members of the household was taken from a proposal submitted to the Legislature by the Governor. It is not targeted at any one person, but would apply to every policy maker in state government who files the financial disclosure long form.”

Cuomo Campaign Emails On ‘Enough Is Enough’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign sent an email to supporters on Friday urging them to contact their state lawmaker and urge them to support the “Enough Is Enough” campaign aimed at cracking down on campus rape and sexual assault.

“The terrible truth is that there is an epidemic of sexual violence on campuses. Both here in New York, and nationwide,” the email states. “This is not a new problem, but it is time and past time we did something about it.”

Cuomo’s legislation would require affirmative consent for sexual encounters and have all reports of rape and assault be directed to law enforcement, not be adjudicated by the college’s administration.

SUNY campuses have already adopted the uniform policy standards; Cuomo wants to extend the policy to private campuses.

“These reforms represent a powerful step forward in this fight,” the email from Cuomo’s campaign says. “Not only will it help to protect our students, but New York will serve as an example and leader to the rest of the nation. But I can’t do it alone. I need your help and support to urge the legislature to do the right thing. Please tell your legislator to support these reforms.”

Gaming Commission Releases Casino Siting Analysis

The New York State Gaming Commission released a report today detailing the selection process of the Gaming Facility Location Board.

That board chose three locations, out of a possible four, to place casinos in three different regions of the state.

Governor Cuomo has called for the bidding process to be re-opened, to select a fourth casino in the Southern Tier. The Gaming Commision put that request in motion today by approving a draft request for applications.

The choice for the Southern Tier region was controversial to some because the pick was said not to be in the “true Southern Tier”, along the Pennsylvania border. Instead, the board choice Lago Resort, which will be located more in the Finger Lakes/Central New York region.

In the report, the commission cites Lago Resorts capital investment in the area – $425 million – saying it “far exceeds the proposed capital investment for the region.” The report also cites Lago’s potential to attract tourism to the Finger Lakes area, and, therefore, money.

As for the losing bid – Tioga Downs – the report said that location would not have the same impact. Since the building and location already exists, there would be less capital investment – about a third of what Lago proposed.

The report also says the board was concerned about the project’s debt to equity ratio. They say the proposed equity contribution was at $5 million, the rest of the project’s bill would be footed with loans. They were specifically concerned that the facility was relying on a commitment letter from one institution to provide $160 million in borrowed money.

They were also concerned with the facility’s design and how fast it would actually be open considering the many phases of development proposed.

You can read the full report online here.

Anti-DREAM Act Group Targets Assembly Democrat (Updated)

From the Morning Memo:

Another anti-DREAM Act group, using similar tactics employed by Senate Republicans during the 2014 campaign, is targeting Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis.

The group, New Yorkers For Affordable Education, recently posted to Facebook a video blasting Skoufis for supporting the measure, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

While still an apparent astroturf organization, this organization is a bit more straightforward in its approach than a phony Facebook group that on the surface appears to be supportive of the bill, but is actually critical of the proposal.

In the latest video, images of men crossing over barbed wire fences are shown, and Skoufis is linked to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who last year unsuccessfully sought a Democratic takeover of the state Senate.

The video may also run afoul of the Assembly’s rules: It uses video images of floor proceedings, which are barred from use in campaign commercials for or against a specific candidate or ballot issue and is property of the state Assembly.

Still, the video appears to be strikingly similar to campaign strategy employed by Republicans in the most recent Senate elections.

Republicans, victorious in three key upstate Senate races, ran on their opposition to the DREAM Act as well as public financing of political campaigns.

De Blasio and his support for the Democrats also played a key role in the GOP’s Senate efforts.

Skoufis is believed to be interested in running for the seat currently represented by longtime Republican Sen. Bill Larkin, which could be a Democratic pickup in 2016.

This year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tied the DREAM Act to the creation of an education tax credit, which is meant to spur donations to aid public and private schools.

The state Assembly on Thursday once again approved a standalone version of the DREAM Act on Thursday, 81-42.

Updated: Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation President Paul Ellis-Graham weighs in.

“If we are going to talk about the important issues facing New York State, let’s deal with the facts:

1) Why the fake group? If the political operatives behind this ad had any integrity, they would put their name on it.
2) Perhaps they won’t put their name on it because they know the ad is racist. Why is there footage of adult immigrants crawling through barb wire fences when the legislation is about children in high school looking to go to college?
3) Or maybe they won’t put their name on the ad because it’s full of lies. Since when did TAP amount to free college?

This ad is as ridiculous as it is cowardly, even by political operative standards.”

CBC: What To Keep, What To Cut In Budget

From the Morning Memo:

A letter to state lawmakers this week from the Citizens Budget Commission think tank gives elected officials a roadmap for what aspects of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal should be kept, altered or rejected totally.

The group is supportive of the slowed growth in spending, keeping design-build method of contracting in the budget, a reformed Brownfield proposal and the enhancements being made to the Rainy Day reserve fund.

Among the measures of the $142 billion budget to take out, the CBC recommends rejecting the education tax credit, which is being pushed by religious organizations and advocates for private schools.

The tax credit is actually aimed at helping both private and public schools through donations, but the bill is opposed by the state’s teachers unions and faces opposition in the Democratic-led Assembly.

The CBC, however, takes issue with the credit’s cost.

“The measure creates an enhanced, potentially costly subsidy for private education,” the group wrote. “Benefactors of education charities should continue to enjoy the same benefits available for other charitable contributions.”

Meanwhile, the budget commission is questioning what it he sees as “excessive economic development spending” — a facet of state spending plans that has grown steadily over the years.

In particular, the CBC points to the spending on tax credits of questionable value for film companies and as well as spending $1.5 billion of financial settlement money on a new round of competitive grant and incentive money for economic development.

“These proposals should be rejected and a moratorium declared on expansions in this area until the benefits of existing programs can be examined carefully and unsuccessful programs terminated,” the group wrote.

Finally, the CBC raises an alarm about pension fund deferrals, which it says is basically borrowing from the pension fund, with $3.2 billion having already been loaned by the end of the current fiscal year, March 31.

An additional $395 million is requested in deferrals for the coming budget year, which the CBC says should be rejected.

Here and Now

Happy “House of Cards” day! Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule.

At 9:30 a.m., the New York Gaming Facility Location Board meets, ESDC, 37th Floor Conference Room, 633 Third Ave., Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., acting NYS Tax and Finance Commissioner Ken Adams discusses the governor’s tax exemption for the wine, beer, cider and spirits industries, Flagship Brewery, 40 Minthorne St., Staten Island.

Also at 10 a.m., Stop the Pipeline holds a press conference on why it is calling on the state Department of Environmental Conservation to block the Constitution pipeline in the Southern Tier, LCA Press Room (130), Legislative Office Building, Albany.

At 11 a.m., NYS Broadband Program Office Director David Salway discusses the governor’s NY Broadband Program, Swain Ski Resort, Celeste and Sean Schoonover, 2275 County Road 24, Swain.

Also at 11 a.m., NYC Councilman Fernando Cabrera and representatives of a nonprofit organization that operates a job training program for former inmates, homeless residents and people treated for substance abuse, The Doe Fund, hold a news conference; Burnside and Jerome avenues, the Bronx.

At 1 p.m., the final joint legislative budget hearing is held on the workforce development portion of Cuomo’s 2015-16 spending plan, Hearing Room B, LOB, Albany.

Also at 1 p.m., the president of the NAACP’s state conference, Hazel Dukes, serves as guest speaker during an event marking the observance of “Black History Month,” attended by senior citizens assisted by several agencies and featuring artwork, a biographical presentation, cake, music performed by the Terri Davis Quartet and a poetry reading; The Carter Burden Center for the Aging Inc.’s The Carter Burden/Leonard Covello Senior Program, 312 E. 109th St., Manhattan.

At 3 p.m., Adams discusses the governor’s property tax relief program, 20 Dorchester St., Huntington Station, Long Island.

At 7:15 p.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will deliver remarks at the DC37 Black History Month celebration, 125 Barclay St., Manhattan.

Headlines…

As a new report shows that more than 97 percent of area principals and teachers are deemed effective or highly effective, educators across the state are rallying against a plan by Cuomo to make the rating system tougher.

Though 95 percent of New York’s teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in 2013-14, there are some exceptions.

A day after NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio traveled to Albany to try to convince state lawmakers that he should remain in charge of turning around the city’s lowest-performing schools, Cuomo challenged that assertion with a new report highlighting those schools’ struggles.

In the report, Cuomo linked legislators’ names to chronically failing public schools in their districts in a provocative move to win support for his education reforms.

Cuomo’s report cited 178 failing schools across New York – the same number used in a Families for Excellent Schools (F.E.S.) report released Wednesday, which calls for a state takeover of those schools, a major component of Cuomo’s education reform proposals.

Republicans in the state Assembly pushed Cuomo to release school aid runs so that districts can better plan their budgets and tax levies, which are due to go before voters this May.

Two of St. Lawrence County’s Republican Assemblymen say they are outraged by Cuomo’s proposal to tie the DREAM Act to funding for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Opponents call this “political blackmail.”

As ferocious battles rage in Congress, statehouses and courtrooms over the legal status of undocumented immigrants, an evolution has been underway at some colleges and universities. They are taking it upon themselves to more freely, sometimes openly, make college more affordable for these students, for whom all federal and most state forms of financial aid remain off limits.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is taking credit for starting the “Who’s your daddy?” serenade against pitching great Pedro Martinez during the 2009 World Series between the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. But the famed Yankees’ Bleacher Creatures are calling a balk.

Despite the insistence of sergeant-at-arms Wayne Jackson that it was time for session to begin, former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver shuffled up to former Red Sox and Mets pitcher, grinning as the soon-to-be Hall of Famer signed him an autograph.

Maggie Miller, the state’s chief information officer, faced a barrage of questions from lawmakers at a budget hearing yesterday afternoon about the Cuomo administration policy of automatically deleting emails of state workers that are more than 90 days old.

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