Minimum Wage Hike Falls From Budget, Skelos Says

An increase in the state’s minimum wage has been dropped from the state budget, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Thursday morning confirmed.

Speaking with reporters outside of his office, Skelos said the debate over the wage hike had devolved into a “bidding war” thanks to competing proposals from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“It seems like somebody says $10.50, then somebody says $13 and then de Blasio says $15 and it’s just like a bidding war without any real thought process,” Skelos said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had proposed in January a minimum wage hike of $11.50 for New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state. De Blasio, in a separate proposal, wanted a minimum wage of $13 for the city, indexed to the rate of inflation.

Skelos had not been enthused over the initial wage hike to begin with, but today said there should be discussions such as workers compensation and regulatory reform with any minimum wage conversation as well.

“There are a lot of issues that should be part of that, rather than a bidding war like how far I can go,” Skelos said.

The minimum wage in New York is currently $8.75 and due to increase to $9 by the end of the year.

Minimum wage and anti-poverty advocates had pushed Cuomo to include a new minimum wage increase in the state budget this year after they were dissatisfied with a deal struck two years ago on an increase, which they said was too slow.

Stewart-Cousins: Don’t Hold School Aid ‘Hostage’

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Thursday weighed in on the education funding discussions in the state budget, saying in a statement school aid should not be “held hostage” in the ongoing effort instill education reforms.

“Funding for New York State schools should not be held hostage due to the ongoing debate over how best to reform our education system. Our state’s students need help and we have a responsibility to ensure their schools are provided necessary funding immediately. Any delays or excuses to avoid adequate funding will simply hurt our students and that is unacceptable.”

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi weighed in on Twitter in response to Stewart-Cousins: “More & more money w/ no reforms keeps special interests happy, but does nothing to help kids trapped in failing schools.”

There is talk of forming an education commission to develop some of the reform criteria, including new standards for teacher evaluations.

Cuomo wants to boost education aid by as much as $1.1 billion, with the funding strings attached to backing the reforms.

Lawmakers this month backed a $1.4 billion hike in education aid.

Both the Senate and Assembly are due to leave Albany later today after the scheduled session, but could return at some point this weekend if a framework deal on the budget is reached.

Cuomo’s Second Term Blues

From the Morning Memo:

A major facet of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first-term power was his power to persuade, cajole and pressure state lawmakers and elected officials to bend to his will.

This year, the opposite appears to be occurring.

Now entering his second term, the governor appears to have lost high-profile debates in the state budget session to the state’s teachers union on education issues while he’s had difficulty in getting Senate Republicans to agree to disclosure legislation.

Those were once nominal allies of the governor, like mainline Senate Democrats, have little hesitation in criticizing him, either.

“It sounds like what we’re headed towards is a glorified extender which keeps the government running, but takes all the major issues out of it,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who is the deputy leader in the chamber, in a Capital Tonight interview.

Indeed, budget lines in the sand from Cuomo over ethics, education reform, the DREAM Act and education tax credit melted away in the last several days. Jettisoned from the budget talks, too, were discussions over juvenile justice reform and curtailing sexual assault on college campuses (funding for raising the age of criminal responsibility is still under discussion in the budget talks).

Every budget year is always different, but this does not appear to be shaping up to be the like packages of the first term, which included long-sought reforms in addition to being on time.

Part of that is Cuomo’s skill as a negotiator. Gianaris, in the interview, added a second factor: Cuomo’s mandate.

“There’s always a deference to a governor who is recently elected in his first term,” he said. “There’s a mandate there”

He cited Republican George Pataki who, in his first several years, won major victories on the death penalty and tax cuts, but ran into difficulty legislatively later in his time as governor.

Then, like now, the mandate for Cuomo appears to be waning, which has encouraged lawmakers in both parties to push back.

“As that fades, I think the Legislature is emboldened to speak up and stand up a little more,” Gianaris said. “Now we’re seeing, coming off an election the governor scored 52 percent or so of the people that turned out, I think people are feeling on the legislative side, and we’re talking about the majorities as well, a little emboldened to make that case. That’s a natural phenomenon, I’ve seen it happen with other governors and I think we’re seeing it now.”

Granted, Cuomo has found ways in his first four years to win major victories outside of the budget: Same-sex marriage, gun control, tax reform, a new pension tier and previous ethics victories just to name a few.

Cuomo can still turn his year around in Albany, but he’ll have to do without the powers afforded the governor in the budget-making process.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule. The Assembly is in session at 9:30 a.m., the Senate at 11:30 a.m. NYSUT is holding a big protest at the Million Dollar Staircase at 4 p.m.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will attend an event hosted by the Campaign for One New York, which is closed to members of the press.

At 10 a.m., the NYC Council Public Housing Committee will be holding a preliminary budget hearing to review the Authority’s current and future expenses, revenue, and operations, Committee Room, City Hall, Manhattan. (Public comment period begins at noon).

Also at 10 a.m., state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. host a community event at Bronx Borough Hall to bring attention to unclaimed funds, 851 Grand Concourse, 3rd Floor, the Bronx. (UPDATE: This event is taking place tomorrow).

At 11:30 a.m., NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and the Police Athletic League of New York City officials participate in the league’s 17th annual “Legal Profession Luncheon”; The Pierre hotel, 2 E. 61st St., Manhattan.

Also at 11:30 a.m., the Thruway Authority holds a board meeting, 200 Southern Blvd., Albany.

At noon, acting state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren hold a press conference at the Rochester Public Market to commemorate the beginning of spring farmers’ market season in New York, 280 N. Union St., Rochester.

At 2:45 p.m., NYS Broadband Program Office Director David Salway discusses the governor’s New NY Broadband Program, 26th Annual Local Government Conference, Jefferson Community College, 1220 Coffeen St., Watertown.

At 4:45 p.m., acting state Tax Commissioner Ken Adams discusses the governor’s property tax proposal, home of Norman Ungermann, 8917 Ungerman Rd., Cuba.

At 5 p.m., Washington Heights residents demonstrate against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposals; in front of Gregorio Luperon High School, 165th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan.

Also at 5 p.m., Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz will deliver his third State of the County address, Mason O. Damon Auditorium, downtown Central Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo.

At 6 p.m., Sen. Brad Hoylman and Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout speak to members of the Downtown Independent Democrats; downstairs meeting room, Von Bar, 3 Bleecker St., Manhattan.

At 6:40 p.m., Diaz Jr. discusses visiting Israel with Latino officials in January as part of a trip sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York Inc., and participates in a question-and-answer session; Riverdale YM-YWHA, 5626 Arlington Ave., the Bronx.

At 7 p.m., Sen. Leroy Comrie will host a forum on Consumer Protection at the Allen Community Senior Center, 166-01 Linden Blvd., Queens.

Headlines…

Under fire for letting the Education Investment Tax Credit and the DREAM Act fall off the budget table, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Legislature in a Daily News OpEd to move forward with stand-alone votes on both bills.

Cuomo and lawmakers are in talks to finalize the terms of what he has named as his top priority: a package of ethics overhauls designed to, among other things, shed more light on legislators’ outside income. Much of the rest of the governor’s agenda, as laid out in his executive budget and 30-day amendments, will now be addressed after the budget deal is reached.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the chamber’s majority Democrats take “major issue” with Cuomo’s plan to withhold a boost in school funding until lawmakers agree to reforms to the state’s education system. Senate Republicans aren’t thrilled with the idea, either.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos blamed Assembly Democrats for legislation to address sexual assault on college campuses apparently falling out of the state budget.

Cuomo has highlighted of his inclusion in this year’s budget of a ban on the personal use of campaign funds, as he promotes his commitment to ethics reform. But it is difficult to identify a single currently legal expense made by a legislator in the past decade that would not still be allowed if governor’s proposal is approved.

The state Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic Caucus called on Cuomo to publicly apologize for reportedly saying that the indicted former Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, is still running the chamber behind the scenes, saying the governor’s alleged comments show a “disturbing” lack of respect for the first black speaker, Carl Heastie.

Lawmakers have agreed to put $18 million of the revenue earned by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in to the Environmental Protection Fund, according to sources close to the talks. An additional $23 million will go toward other programs, sources said. This goes beyond the $36 million Cuomo initially proposed diverting.

Hundreds of public school teachers organized by NYSUT are expected to protest Cuomo’s education reform proposals at the Capitol today as closed-door budget negotiations continue.

Voting largely along party lines, the Assembly approved the most-debated individual measure of the 10-point Women’s Equality Act, but it’s not likely going anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio urged Cuomo and the Legislature to reauthorize mayoral control of New York City’s public schools, ratcheting up public pressure as his aides scrambled behind closed doors on several budget-related education issues.

If de Blasio wants to see mayoral control renewed in the state Senate, he’s going to have to accept letting the charter cap rise, according to Sen. Simcha Felder.

Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican from the southern Adirondacks, has signed on to an Assembly bill mandating the state keep emails for at least seven years, which would reverse a Cuomo administration policy of automatically deleting messages after 90 days.

Two internal investigators with the state Thruway Authority were “separated” from their jobs in the past week following a state Inspector General’s office probe that prompted the abrupt resignations of two authority leaders in December. Neither of the investigators was accused of wrongdoing or told why they were being terminated, both were involved in the investigation of whether a former top authority official’s government cellphone had been used to contact a suspected prostitute.

More >

Race For Erie County Executive Becoming Clear… Sort Of

The race for Erie County Executive just got a little clearer.  One of the two top contenders for the GOP nomination, to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz, dropped out Wednesday and threw his support behind another fellow Republican.

“Party leaders and donors asked me to speed up my timetable and make a decision to either run myself, or clear the field,” Erie County Stefan Mychajliw in a press release Wednesday morning.

Mychajliw has been considered a rising star in the party after winning two straight races in a county with 130,000 more Democrats than Republicans.  Mychajliw, 41, said the decision was personal.

“If I became a candidate for County Executive it would take me farther away from my family and will be the third time in four years I ran a grueling county-wide campaign,” said Mychajliw.

Rather than just announce his intentions, Mychajliw seemed to unintentionally put some pressure on Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs.  While Jacobs has long been considered a candidate for County Executive, he has yet to throw his hat into the ring.

“It is my duty to lead the charge to bring our party together and strongly support Chris Jacobs in his quest to become the next County Executive,” Mychajliw said.

The Jacobs reference did raise some eyebrows.  Republican Consultant Vic Martucci acknowledged it broke protocol.

“It’s unusual. It may just be he knows Chris Jacobs is running,” Martucci said.

The problem is Jacobs himself hasn’t yet decided.

“I appreciate Stefan’s comments, I will be making a decision sometime soon,” he said.

Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy saw Mychajliw’s comments as a ringing endorsement and not an effort to pressure Jacobs to declare.  But with the list of potential GOP candidates shrinking, Langworthy knows the clock is ticking.

“Everyone’s got their own internal checkpoints and processes before they jump into a race of this magnitude.  It’s a huge undertaking.  There’s a great deal of questions they have to internally answer.  Chris is going through that process right now and I expect that he’ll be giving me an answer shortly,” Langworthy added.

Along with the party enrollment disadvantage for the GOP the current County Executive seems to be enjoying a high level of popularity.  Martucci said, no matter the candidate, it could be an uphill battle.

“(Mark) Poloncarz had two big wins in his first term.  He negotiated a successful lease agreement with the (Buffalo) Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was an ironclad deal that prevented any potential buyer from moving the team.  He also delivered a strong performance during the November snowstorm.  Those two issues are still fresh in voters’ minds,” said Martucci

Other than State Senator Pat Gallivan, who told us Wednesday night he’s not running, Martucci sees Jacobs as the best candidate the Republicans could field to oust Poloncarz.

“He’s got everything you’d want in a candidate.  He’s likable, a fresh face, and has done a great job in the clerk’s office which has been a spring board to higher office,” Martucci said.

Jacobs has made no secret out of the fact he’s been thinking about a run for a long time.  Despite the challenges the race presents he sees a path to victory for the GOP.

“If I do enter this I will do it because I sincerely believe it is winnable, but more importantly because I sincerely believe that I could make a profound impact and better impact than who is there currently,” Jacobs said.

The Republican powers-that-be would like to see Jacobs make a decision sooner than later.  Langworthy said there are other candidates, with a lower profile, interested in running who would need to start their campaigns a little sooner.

“If we go to a different echelon of candidates, where they may have a district that doesn’t include all of Erie County, they have to go get known in different areas other than where they’re most familiar with,” said Langworthy.

Jacobs understands the ball is in his court.  But he’s always prided himself on being his own man and said he’ll announce his decision when he’s ready.

“The way you run a race independently enables you to govern independently and I felt very, very strongly about that,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs has served as New York’s Secretary of State under Governor Pataki and as a member of the Buffalo Public School Board. He was elected Erie County Clerk in a special election in 2011.

Extras

And we are back to where we were yesterday: Ethics and education remain key sticking points in the budget.

In Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio again pushes his alternative to Gov. Cuomo’s school receivership program.

De Blasio spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick versus the Carlson brothers.

Tucker Carlson is not apologizing.

Legislation that would address campus sexual assault will likely be left in the post-budget session.

Democratic Sen. Mike Gianaris says the potential ethics deal appears to be severely watered down.

De Blasio defended the hiring of Cecil House to lead the New York City Housing Authority.

Rep. Chris Gibson voted against a bill that would put in place new restrictions on EPA rule making.

NT2 takes notice of Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan and his potential rise as majority leader.

Flanagan, meanwhile, insists school aid will not be held up as a result of the budget talks.

The fight for New York City residents to keep their 212 area codes.

New Yorkers who did not receive their rebate checks can appeal to a hotline set up by the Department of Taxation and Finance.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has hired a Texas-based strategy firm in his lead up to a 2016 presidential campaign.

State lawmakers introduce legislation regulating what would be done to our bodies once we shuffle off the mortal coil.

Novelist Richard Russo returns to Gloversville to help lead a fundraising effort for its library.

Assembly Approves Stand-Alone Abortion Measure

The Demoratic-led Assembly this afternoon approved a stand-alone bill that would codify the Roe v. Wade decision in state law.

Passage of the bill comes after the measure was included in the larger, 10-point Women’s Equality Act, a package of measures aimed at pay equity, along with measures aimed at curtailing housing and workplace discrimination.

The bill passed 94-49.

“For the third session in a row, the Assembly has made a clear and bold statement that a woman’s ability to make decisions about her reproductive health – including the right to decide whether and when to have children and to protect her health during pregnancy – is essential to her equality and her and her family’s future,” said Andrea Miller of NARAL Pro-Choice New York.

The Assembly initially refused to take up individual pieces of the legislation as Senate Republicans approved the legislation piecemeal fashion, save for the abortion provision.

But lawmakers last week decided to hold their first vote on a stand-alone plank in the agenda that had already been approved in the Republican-led Senate: A bill that would strengthen penalties for human trafficking.

The move paved the way for other votes on aspects in the WEA package, though Assembly lawmakers have suggested they will approve different versions than what is contained in the omnibus bill.

“There was no valid reason for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Assembly allies to connect important, pro-woman measures with late-term abortion expansion; doing so has unnecessarily delayed the passage of bills that–unlike abortion expansion–would make New York State a better place,” said Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a social conservative group.

Republicans have pushed back efforts to hold a vote on the abortion provision, calling it an expansion of the current law — a claim supporters say isn’t the case.

“This measure was part of Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act which the State Senate refused to pass in its entirety largely because of their objections to women making their own health care decisions. The Assembly has always supported NY women in their efforts to control their own reproductive health decisions,” said the bill’s main sponsor, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick.

Opponents of abortion blasted the vote in the Assembly.

“Expanding cruel and brutal third-trimester abortions has long been a goal of the anti-life lobby who never met an abortion they didn’t like,” said Lori Kehoe, New York State Right to Life executive director. “With no regard for the fully developed unborn baby who is violently dismembered, or otherwise killed, the New York State Assembly once again put the abortion lobby above New York State women and their children.”

The bill at this point appears to stand little chance of becoming law, though it did take center stage during Cuomo’s re-election campaign with the formation of a Women’s Equality Party ballot line to promote the WEA.

NYSUT Supports Education Commission With “Experts in the Field”

NYSUT President Karen Magee said today her union would be in favor of a commission to recommend reforms to the state’s education system, as long as it had the appropriate members.

Magee told reporters that NYSUT would support a panel as long as it was made up of “experts in the field.”

“We would be in favor of some kind of panel that would look at the evaluation, be comprised of stakeholders, and make recommendations for our legislators to consider,” Magee said. “That would be a panel that would be most appropriate because they would then take into account all things that are going on with the APPR and they would be able to actually be, for example superintendents, teachers, Board of Ed members, regents…”

There has been no official proposal of such a commission, but Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos confirmed to reporters Tuesday that talks were underway on how it could possibly be implemented.

That could include appointments from the legislature and Governor. Magee says NYSUT has no problem with who’s doing the appointment, only with who would be appointed.

“Well, the appointment of such wouldn’t be such a big concern … provided they are truly stakeholders in the process and experts in the field, who appoints them is really not the argument here. It would be more, who could have the best impact and make the best decisions.”

She says while they support such a commission, it would only be used to make recommendations to the legislature. Any reform to the state’s education policy would then have to be passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

When asked if the idea of a commission was evidence that Governor Cuomo was backing down against the state’s largest teacher’s union, Magee did not respond directly to the conflict.

“I think the commission is a movement toward a responsible place to have good discussion about what’s right for schools and what’s right for kids in New York State.

Capitol Observations

A mountain of criticism is building about the budget negotiation process, which usually boils down to “three men in a room,” but not this year.

Normally, we reporters spend countless hours this time of year staking out leaders meetings that take place inside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. That hasn’t happened since early March.

Instead, the governor has shifted strategies. There he was coming up to the Assembly chamber to announce a two-way deal with Speaker Carl Heastie on ethics reform. Then on Tuesday, he took a walk through the Senate to talk ethics some more with Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Individual leaders have been in and out of his office all week, and there have been numerous private one-on-one phone conversations.

Asked if this was a better way to negotiate the budget, an insider told me bluntly: “Well, no.” But, I suppose US Attorney Preet Bharara’s fun-making, and all the heat about not including Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in the talks may have finally had an impact.

The good news is that it sounds like the budget is much closer to coming to fruition. That is due partly to the end of negotiations-by-fiat by Cuomo. For example, on education, there are discussions about creating what is known as a Berger Commission to come up with a system for evaluations.

Assembly Democrats say Cuomo has backed off his initial insistence that evaluations be based 50 percent on standardized tests. Often in this building, the negotiators like to take ideas for change or reform, wrap them up in a box, cover them with tissue paper then put them in an even bigger box. What they are actually doing is pushing the tough choices down the road to be decided another day.

That way, the budget doesn’t need to be held up, and they can try and reach a deal later in the session. If they can’t, so be it. Much less of a mushroom cloud then would be a late budget. So, why put so many policy ideas into the budget in the first place? Cuomo said as much yesterday. When he doesn’t put things in, he takes heat for not making them a priority. He has to show he cares about them, so they can fall away like bargaining chips the minute they look like they may prevent an on-time budget. On-time budgets poll well, after all. Fighting teachers does not.

“Now people will say, ‘If he doesn’t put it in the budget, he doesn’t really care about it,'” Cuomo said. “That’s what’s happened over the years. And if it’s not in the budget, then he doesn’t mean it. So, the budget has become expansive from that point of view.”

On ethics reform, Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco says the leaders and the governor are close to an agreement on disclosure of clients and outside income. DeFran has been part of a small working group that has been specifically tasked with solving this issue for the Senate. He declined to give details, because they haven’t seen anything in writing, and often what they agree upon orally then looks very different in draft language.

“What we discussed today is a possible solution to the disclosure issue,” the senator said. “We still need something in writing to make sure that what everybody thinks – they are not disagreeing on. It is not a situation that some thought it was that is going to blow up an on time budget. That’s not the situation.”

Again I have’t seen the details, but I’d be willing to bet disclosure ends up looking like “disclosure lite,” with some kind of weird zig-zaggy process for how sensitive information can still be kept hidden from public view. We shall see.

In response to DeFran’s comments, Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa told us:

“What’s being reported that Senator DeFrancisco is describing is not disclosure, it is current law. As the Governor has said, he will not enact a budget that doesn’t include an ethics package with real disclosure of legislator’s outside income, and he meant it.”

DeFran: Senate Close On Ethics Deal With Cuomo (Updated)

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco this afternoon said the GOP conference was close to an agreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on new disclosure requirements in the state budget.

“What’s on the table is not satisfactory,” he said. “What we discussed today is a possible solution to the disclosure issue. Again, we still need something in writing.”

DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, indicated to reporters that multiple drafts on disclosure have been passed back and forth between lawmakers in the Senate and the governor’s office.

“There’s a framework, but we’ve seen and the governor has seen situations where we think we have ideas we agree to but someone doesn’t believe it accurately reflects what was agreed to,” DeFrancisco said. “It’s not a situation that some thought it was, it’s not going to blow up an on-time budget.”

DeFrancisco indicated that one possible compromise on disclosure for outside legal clients would be to have state lawmakers reveal only those who have business before the state.

“We’re trying to narrow the necessary disclosure,” he said, adding, “The real issue is what has to be disclosed.”

Updated: Melissa DeRosa, a spokeswoman for the governor, notes DeFrancisco’s statements on a potential deal are already enshrined in law (At this point, entities with business before the state disclose, not lawmakers).

“What’s being reported that Senator DeFrancisco is describing is not disclosure, it is current law,” DeRosa said. “As the Governor has said, he will not enact a budget that doesn’t include an ethics package with real disclosure of legislator’s outside income, and he meant it.”

Cuomo has previously reached an agreement with Assembly Democrats on ethics legislation that would create new disclosure requirements, campaign finance regulations and travel reimbursement reform.

But a deal with the Senate, where a number of lawmakers are lawyers who work for law firms that represent clients with interests before state, has been more difficult to reach for Cuomo.

An ethics agreement with the Senate would be one of the final puzzle pieces in order to achieve a broader deal on the state budget, which is due on Tuesday.

Cuomo has pledged to hold up an agreement if ethics legislation is not included, a promise he made last month following the arrest of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges.

Lawmakers in both chambers are still sorting out Cuomo’s education proposals, which may include the creation of a commission to enact reforms.

“Neither the governor the Senate has raised our hands and said enough is enough,” DeFrancisco said. “As long as we keep talking, there’s hope it will get done.”