Gun Control Group Knocks Gibson

A prominent gun-control group on Wednesday criticized Rep. Chris Gibson’s call to rollback the SAFE Act, a signature legislative accomplishment for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Gibson on Tuesday launched his exploratory bid for governor ahead of the 2018 statewide elections, promising to tackle the SAFE Act by scaling back its provisions and replacing it with measures aimed addressing mental health and gang violence.

But New Yorkers Against Gun Violence in a statement said Gibson can’t have it both ways — claim the “moderate” label and pursuing a SAFE Act rollback. The group also pointed to Gibson’s $14,900 in contributions from the National Rifle Association.

“Our state doesn’t need a beltway alumnus like Chris Gibson to replicate what he and his colleagues did in Washington: stand idly by while nearly 100,000 Americans died from gun violence since the slaughter of twenty children and six educators at Sandy Hook,” said Leah Gunn Barrett, the group’s director. “It is unconscionable that he would wear this failure as a badge of honor as he pledges to roll back the real progress that has been made in this state.”

Gibson’s position on gun control is nuanced. He told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday he is not opposed to background checks, nor does he consider such provisions “gun control.”

Expect more of the same from organizations allied with Cuomo to knock Gibson as he starts the fundraising process early in the campaign cycle in order to be competitive with the Democratic incumbent’s $15 million war chest.

Cuomo has said he plans to seek a third term in 2018.

Cuomo Outlines Impact Of Minimum Wage Increase

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Wednesday released an eight-page report that highlight the potential benefits of a $15 minimum wage in New York.

Cuomo is backing a phased-in minimum wage increase to $15 in the current legislative session amid opposition from business groups and skepticism from majority Republicans in the state Senate.

In the report, the Cuomo administration and the state Department of Labor point to the 2.3 million residents in the state — about 25 percent of the workforce — will have their pay boosted, increasing spending power by $15.7 billion into the economy.

At the same time, the report points to most minimum wage earners being adults, with half of them being 35 years or older living outside of New York City.

The current $9 minimum wage, the product of a 2013 agreement between Cuomo and the Legislature, is “not a decent living wage” and only pays $18,720 a year for a full-time worker, the report states.

And getting to the heart of the business-backed argument that a wage hike would cost jobs, the Department of Labor’s data found employment increased following a wage hike.

“If you work full time, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty – which is why it’s time for New York to lead the way and pass a $15 minimum wage,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“This report demonstrates that raising the minimum wage will provide new opportunity and restore economic justice to millions of New Yorkers. Our proposal will lift families out of poverty and create a stronger economy for all, and I urge lawmakers to help us fight for fair pay for working families this year.”

The report released in packaged press releases aimed at highlighting the impact specifically in different regions of the state such as the Hudson Valley, Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley and New York Ciy.

Business groups, however, weren’t buying the claims.

The Rochester-based Unshackle Upstate said the report “falls short” of a deep analysis.

“For example, it does not look at the real impacts that a 67-percent minimum wage increase will have on small businesses, family farms, non-profits, local governments and school districts,” the group’s executive director, Greg Biryla, said in a statement. “It also fails to mention any potential job losses, tax hikes or cost-of-living increases that will occur if this mandate is enacted.

“The public deserves more from the state Labor Department than a self-serving report that regurgitates the slogans of minimum wage advocates and provides unsupported assertions about how a new wage mandate will benefit businesses.”

The National Federation of Independent Businesses dismissed the report as “propaganda.”

“Small businesses across New York have continuously expressed their very real concerns on the impact of the Governor’s incessant and misguided push to increase their labor costs,” said NFIB state Director Mike Durant. “We find this alleged analysis absent the comprehensive examination worthy of such state resources.”

Minimum Wage Report by Nick Reisman

Bill Would Create Prison Body Camera Pilot Program

A new bill from Manhattan Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell would launch a pilot program for the use of body cameras in state prisons.

The bill – introduced Wednesday – would use the program to measure whether body cameras would improve safety at prison facilities across the state.

Governor Cuomo has already allocated $25 million as part of his executive budget proposal to “ensure that correctional facilities and officers will be outfitted with the latest technologies available in the field.” That could include cameras – both worn and in prisons – thermal imaging, and heartbeat monitors.

The allocation would also launch a body camera pilot program. This bill would set the standard for the program if the funding is approved by the legislature.

The memo found in the O’Donnell bill says body cameras have proven to both improve safety and cut costs “in nearly every criminal justice organization that has tried them.”

Advocates have called for greater oversight of the state’s prison system following last year’s break-out from the Clinton Correctional Facility in June and a homicide at the Fishkill Correctional Facility allegedly involving a prisoner and multiple corrections officers, which is still under investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

NYSUT Raises Concerns With Con Con

The New York State United Teachers union’s newsletter to members several months ago calls a potential constitutional convention a “Pandora’s Box” and urges members to get involved in an effort to oppose holding one.

The newsletter was released over the summer, but largely escaped notice at the time. It was amplified today on Twitter by Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter

New York voters in 2017 are due to consider whether to hold a convention that could overhaul how state government functions — a potential enticing consideration given recent corruption scandals and concerns from upstate voters that too much power is vested in New York City interests.

But NYSUT raises issues with even the hint of altering New York’s system of governance, arguing that such a move could strip away bans on direct state funding of religious schools or infringe on pension benefits.

“If changes are made that give too much power to one branch, for example say the executive, then our system of self-governance will be upended,” NYSUT writes in the newsletter.

The last convention referendum, NYSUT’s newsletter states, was opposed by a coalition of “public and private organized labor” and environmental groups as well as good-government organizations “who worked together
to convince voters that holding a convention was not in the best interest of the people of the state.”

NYSUT raises the possibility the union will actively oppose the referendum in 2017 as well, or at the very least raise issues with an overhaul of the constitution.

“All of these groups, and more, will need to work together again in 2017 to make sure voters understand just what could happen if we open up the state constitution to drastic changes through a convention,” the newsletter states. “Since 2017 is an ‘off’ election year for the state Legislature as well as an ‘off’ election year for presidential voting, we will need to concentrate our efforts on this important issue.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State address last month agreed the process in which delegates are selected for a constitutional convention is largely flawed and proposed a constitutional commission charged with devising a blueprint for overhauling the process.

Laura Ingraham To Keynote State Republican Convention

Conservative pundit Laura Ingraham will deliver the keynote speech at the state Republican Convention next month, the state GOP committee on Wednesday announced.

The convention is being held on March 4 at the Marriott HarborCenter in Buffalo.

“We’re honored to welcome Laura Ingraham as our featured guest this year,”said New York Republican Chairman Ed Cox. “Laura is one of the preeminent conservative voices in America today and she is at the epicenter of this year’s presidential election. We’re very excited she will be joining us to offer her inside look into what is one of the most important elections of our lifetime.”

Ingraham is a conservative radio host heard in 225 markets and the editor-in-chief of the website LifeZette.com. She is also a regulator contributor on Fox News and is a substitute anchor on the O’Reilly Factor.

“We can’t wait to introduce Laura Ingraham to Buffalo,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy. “Laura has her finger on the pulse of the Republican Party and I know my fellow county chairs and convention attendees will be very excited to meet her.”

“The energy and motivation I am witnessing in the Party this year will make this an exciting convention, and Laura’s attendance makes this a can’t-miss event.”

State Republicans at the convention next month are expected to nominate a candidate to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. One potential candidate that has been floated is attorney Wendy Long, who ran against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2012.

Heastie Pushes Tax Plan For This Year, Not Next

heastiefebEven when Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a left turn, some lawmakers want to grab the steering wheel and make it an even sharper course change.

For the second-straight day on Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was critical of Cuomo’s recent comments that pooh-pooed the prospect of increasing taxes on the rich this year by making changes to the state’s tax code.

“It’s really about trying to come up with a more fair and progressive tax schedule for the people in the state of New York and at the same time raise revenue for the things that we need,” Heastie said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom on Wednesday morning. “We have infrastructure needs, we have education needs. That’s really what we’re trying to do with our proposal.”

Overall, Heastie expects the plan to generate $1.2 billion in added revenue for the state.

Heastie and Assembly Democrats are pushing a measure that would revise the state’s income tax code that is due to expire at the end of 2017. He wants to raise taxes on those earning more than $1 million and provide for a middle and lower-income tax cut.

Cuomo on Monday told reporters that “I don’t believe there is any reason or appetite to take up taxes this year.”

Heastie isn’t buying that argument. He took to Twitter throughout the day on Tuesday, tweeting about income inequality and the need for a fairer tax code. The Working Families Party released a supportive statement backing Heastie’s tax plan.

And on Wednesday, Heastie insisted his tax code plan is “the way to go” when it comes to taxing the rich. And he was supportive of a stalled proposal that would apply a surcharge on wealthy out-of-towners in New York City who own luxury apartments, known as a pied-à-terre tax.

“The city still has to provide services for these people,” Heastie said. “There is some merit to that as well. We will look at that. We’re intrigued by that idea.”

Cuomo in recent months has emphasized a decidedly liberal agenda with a $15 minimum wage proposal that puts him closer policy wise to Sen. Bernie Sanders than his endorsed presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton and he wants to create a 12-week paid family leave program — all measures backed by the Assembly Democrats.

But Heastie has suggested that Cuomo needs prodding when it comes to these issues, pointing out that the governor last year didn’t see any “appetite” for a $15 minimum wage being approved amid Republican opposition.

In backing the tax code changes this year, Heastie appears to be making an effort to not only push Cuomo, but get out in front of what would have been a debate not scheduled to reach Albany until next year and after an election.

Since becoming speaker 12 months ago, Heastie has had few public policy disagreements with Cuomo, save for the tug-of-war over education reform measures in last year’s budget.

Today, Heastie threw a sideways glance at Cuomo’s signature tax cap as well as his resistance to increase aid to municipalities funding.

“We’ve always favored that. The governor has been against aid to municipalities,” Heastie said. “Some feel the local governments have a better idea how to spend the money for their needs.”

Cuomo has in the past staked out a pragmatic approach on taxes. The last tax code change was engineered in 2011. At the time, Cuomo had vowed to oppose any tax increases as a surcharge on high-income earners was due to expire at the end of the year.

Amid pressure from liberals and following weeks of Occupy Wall Street protests, Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to tax code changes that cut rates for some and partially kept the surcharge for the rich, generating several billion dollars of revenue in the process.

Heastie, in his radio interview, pointed out that tax increase then didn’t little hurt the rich.

“Even with that increase the number of millionaires has increased,” Heastie said. “Millionaires are not going to flee the state of New York aren’t going to flee because they have to pay a little more on their income taxes.”

Superintendents Group Raises Issues With Education Budget

The state Council of School Superintendents raised a package of issues on Wednesday with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education budget, arguing the funding plan doesn’t go far enough and that the tax cap makes it difficult for schools to raise revenue.

“The state budget enacted last year gave school district leaders hope after several difficult years that financial prospects for their schools might at last be turning around,” said Deputy Director Bob Lowry. “But our report explains how the near zero tax cap combined with inadequate state aid proposed for next year now threatens the progress some schools were able to make.”

Cuomo has proposed a $990 million increase in education aid and a partial end to the cuts in the Gap Elimination Adjustment. The Board of Regents had initially called for a more than $2 billion increase in education aid.

But the superintendents argue the school aid hike doesn’t go far enough, nor does ending the GEA. So-called “average need” districts remain hurt by what is left of the GEA, the group writes in its report.

At the same time, the tax cap — due to allow for an increase of less than 1 percent in the levy this year — has constricted the ability of districts to raise funds.

“With the near zero tax cap, state aid comprises essentially the only source of additional revenue for schools. For all districts – rich, poor, and in-between – the result is the same: proposed state aid is not adequate to preserve their current programs and services.”

School district and local government officials have pushed in recent weeks to make the cap a 2 percent cap, and no longer link the law to the rate of inflation, which has been largely flat in recent years.

4 Key Points About School Aid in the 2017-17 State Budget by Nick Reisman

Lawmakers Seek Better Treatment For Women Inmates

Two state lawmakers are calling on state corrections officials to strengthen the treatment of women inmates in New York facilities.

In letter to acting Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Commissioner Anthony Annucci, Assemblyman Daniel O’Donell and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic point to a number of deficiencies facing women in prison, ranging from access to sanitary pads and toilet paper to the expansion of talk therapy groups.

And the lawmakers point to the concern among women in prison to have contact with family members — especially their children — while they are incarcerated.

“We are writing to ask you to create a special directive specifically for women prisoners, taking into account all of their different needs as a minority population within the department,” the lawmakers write in the letter, which was sent last week.

“We envision that the directive would address strengthening ties to children and families, property and hygiene issues and programmatic needs that predominante among the female inmate population.”

Both Rozic and O’Donnell are making the recommendations based on both conversations with inmates during prison vitas as well as letters the lawmakers have received from women residing in prison.

The points raised also come after advocacy groups, such as the Correctional Association of New York’s Women In Prison Project pushed for changes to how women are treated in prison.

The group last year released a report based on a five year study on reproductive health care for New York women inmates.

NDR%2cDOD%20DOCCS%20Letter.pdf by Nick Reisman

Flanagan: Senate Looking For ‘Accurate’ Minimum Wage Data

From the Morning Memo:

Increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 remains under review, with Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan insisting he’s trying to find “accurate information” to assess the proposal’s impact.

“One of the things we’ve grappled with is trying to get accurate information,” Flanagan told reporters after a press conference on Tuesday. “I don’t want to distort anything.”

The wage proposal is part of a key push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democratic state lawmakers and a coalition of unions and aligned groups in this legislative session.

Senate Republicans, who hold a narrow majority in the chamber, have not ruled a wage increase at some point in this legislative session, but at the same time are leery of the proposal’s impact on business.

GOP lawmakers have often counted the business community as their main allies in Albany, which has in turn pushed back against the $15 wage proposal, saying it could cost up to $15 billion once fully phased in.

Meanwhile, Flanagan pointed out varying groups have different figures: hospital associations peg the full cost at $2 billion, while 1199 SEIU believe it more closer to $1 billion.

“There’s a great dispartiy right there,” Flanagan said. “We’re in the process of trying to get that information.”

Republicans have questioned the wage hike in several legislative hearings, including discussions on the state budget.

Cuomo last year moved to increase the minimum wage — currently $9 in New York — for fast-food workers and state and SUNY employees to $15 over the next several years.

Morelle: Assembly Won’t Rollback SAFE Act

From the Morning Memo:

Don’t expect the Assembly Democrats to take up a rollback of the SAFE Act under a Republican governor.

That was the message from Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle on Tuesday night, who tweeted in response to Rep. Chris Gibson’s suggestion he could find common ground with Democratic lawmakers on education reform and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature gun control law.

Gibson launched the exploratory phase of a potential gubernatorial campaign on Tuesday, arguing that he could find ways of working with a Democratic-dominated Assembly through compromise on key issue by linking reforms to Common Core with changes to the SAFE Act.

“If you have a leader, with a mandate, with a strong vote, you could package a bill that rolled back Common Core, that empowered local schools with resources and flexible policies and in the same bill, roll back the SAFE Act and include mental health and include provisions to crack down on gangs and narco traffickers,” Gibson said.

That’s unlikely to happen, Morelle said in a post on Twitter.

“Mr Gibson will learn that the @NYSA_Majority, like most NYers support the common sense gun control provisions in SAFE ACT,” Morelle said.

Morelle, a Rochester-area lawmaker, is the number two Democrat in the chamber behind Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. He’s also been a key political ally for Cuomo, who has said he plans to run for a third term in 2018.

Last year, Cuomo and Senate Republicans agreed to not enact a provision of the 2013 gun-control law: an ammunition database, which the State Police have struggled to develop. Cuomo has said the database would be in place once the technology is available.