DOCCS Places 12 On Administration Leave At Clinton Correctional

As the FBI begins to investigate the circumstances of the June escape at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora as well as broader corruption concerns, the state Department of Corrections and Community Service on Tuesday placed 12 prison employees, including members of its leadership team, on administrative leave.

The leave includes three members of the prison’s executive team and nine staff members of the prison’s security team, DOCCS said in a statement.

Assistant Commissioner for Correctional Facilities James O’Gorman will oversee the leadership transition this week.

“Staffing for the security positions will be addressed through procedures outlined in the union contract,” DOCCS said. “Due to the ongoing review and investigations, additional information is not available at this time.”

In addition to the FBI probe, the state inspector general is conducting an administrative investigation of the escape of convicted killers Richard Matt and David Sweat.

Both men conducted a daring escape from the prison on June 6, which resulted in three-week manhunt across the North Country. The manhunt ended when Matt was shot and killed on Friday and Sweat was wounded and captured on Sunday by police.

Counties Overriding Tax Cap Cut In Half, Report Finds

Approved county budgets that overrode the state’s limit on property tax levy increases has dropped by more than half in the last four years, a report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office released on Tuesday found.

In 2012, the first year local governments and school districts were required to adhered to the cap approved in June 2011, 15 counties overrode the limit. This year, only six chose to do so.

The cap, which impacts the 57 counties outside of New York City, limits property tax increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. In the last four years, the tax cap is essentially been under 2 percent given the relatively flat inflation growth.

The slow growth has limited county revenue and could make future budgeting difficult, DiNapoli said.

“Counties are holding the line on property taxes,” said DiNapoli. “If inflation continues its downward trend, however, counties will need to tighten their budgets even more to stay within the tax cap and deliver services that homeowners expect. I believe the financial decisions for county leaders next year will be especially difficult.”

County government levies have increased overall between 2012 and 2015, from $5.1 billion to $5.4 billion.

The tax cap was re-approved this month for an additional four years with modifications that were not as sweeping as some local government and school district leaders had sought, such as making the cap easier to override and ending the linkage to the rate of inflation.

Instead, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved new exemptions for PILOTs and capital spending for BOCES programs.

County Tax Cap 0615 by Nick Reisman

Woolf: No Second Run For Congress

Democrat Aaron Woolf in an email to supporters on Tuesday announced he would not make a second bid for the North Country congressional seat he lost to Republican Elise Stefanik last year.

“While it’s an honor to even be considered, I want you to be among the first to know that I’ve decided against a run for Congress in 2016,” Woolf wrote in the email sent this morning. “Of course, that doesn’t mean our fight to keep Upstate New York moving forward is over. Far from it. I intend to stay deeply involved in this effort – but, for now, as a member of our community, rather than a candidate for public office.”

Woolf, a documentary filmmaker, indicated in the email he would continue to push for issues such as environmental protection, education and investment in capital projects.

“Infrastructure, education, and other long-term investments are the foundation of our rural economy and must be our primary focus. That’s a tough thing for a political class focused on short election cycles and short-term political victories,” he wrote. “But I believe our unique North Country perspective can transcend this polarized climate, and allow us to focus on ideas and innovation above party rhetoric and politicians.”

With Woolf out of the race, Democrats may turn to retired Army Colonel Mike Derrick in the 2016 contest. Both Woolf and Derrick met with Democrats in Warren County to talk about next year’s race.

The district, though rural and heavily Republican, has been considered a tossup seat in recent years.

The sprawling 21st congressional district last year was vacated by Democratic Rep. Bill Owens, who initially won the seat in a closely fought race in 2009 against Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate (Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava dropped her bid in October and backed Owens in the special election).

The seat went to Democratic hands for the first time in a century after President Obama appointed incumbent John McHugh to become the secretary of the Army.

Owens beat back a challenge from Republican Matt Doheny in 2010 to win the seat outright and again in 2012.

The district last year was seemingly wide open with two relatively unknown major party candidates who were criticized for relative lack of ties to the area.

Stefanik handily won the seat in 2014 with 53 percent of the vote (Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello, a baker from Glens Falls, received 10 percent of the vote).

 

School Districts Assess Modest Tax Cap Changes

From the Morning Memo:

Local government advocates and the state’s teachers unions banded together this legislative session to seek broad changes to the state’s cap on property tax increases, which they say has stifled the ability to raise revenues in a continuously challenging economy.

Also included in that coalition were school districts themselves, who backed a push to change the cap so a supermajority is no longer needed to override the measure on the budgetary level as well as end linking the cap to the rate of inflation.

Ultimately, the changes to cap fell short of what the groups wanted: Carve outs were made for payments-in-lieu-of-taxes and capital expenses for BOCES.

The measure itself was approved for another four years despite a push from Senate Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make the cap permanent (Cuomo late in the session quietly dropped the call for a permanent tax cap, as did a campaign from the state Democratic Committee, which he controls).

Though the changes were seemingly minor compared to what was sought, school district advocates in New York aren’t entirely declaring that a loss, given any changes show more could be in store down the road.

“I think that it’s incremental change,” said Dave Albert of the New York State School Boards Association in a Capital Tonight interview. “I don’t think any of us expected there to be widespread changes.”

Still, the cap itself, a signature economic achievement for Cuomo in 2011, seemed unlikely for any major changes.

“This had been pretty sacred and the governor seemed very reluctant to do anything in terms of changes to the cap,” Albert said.

Continuing to link the cap to inflation remains one of the bigger concerns for school districts, as the consumer price index has been largely flat over the last four years.

“School districts don’t buy the same things as consumers — health insurance, it’s not unusual for it to go up double digit percentage rates,” Lowry said. “Next year the expectation is we could have a cap around zero percent.”

Cap supporters point out the vast majority of school districts have been able to approve budgets that plan to raise levies under the limit and only a handful sought spending plans above the limit.

Meanwhile, spending overall at the district level as started to flatten out, even as the state starts to provide more aid after its own coffers filled in the aftermath of the recession.

“We saw for many years school districts cutting programs,” Albert said. “This year they were able to keep tax levies low and even some districts were able to start to restore those programs. But it because of the GEA reduction, it was because of the significant state aid increase.”

School districts are able to live under the cap in part thanks to a boost in state aid and a partial reduction in the Gap Elimination Adjustment (a full phase out is expected in next year’s budget), which they say makes budgeting slightly easier, for now.

“That makes it more possible for school districts to live within this tight tax cap,” New York State Council of School Superintendents’ Bob Lowry said in the same interview.on the show last night. “But if times go bad and that kind of aid disappears, school districts will face more difficult choices going forward.”

 

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule.

At 8:30 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul speaks the Business Council of Westchester’s leadership speaker series event, 800 Westchester Ave., 5th Floor, Rye Brook.

Also at 8:30 a.m., GOP supporters host a fundraising breakfast for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a 2016 contender, Rich’s Renaissance Atrium, 1 Robert Rich Way, Buffalo.

At 10 a.m., Hochul and Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner tour downtown small businesses, 224 East Hartsdale Ave., Hartsdale.

Also at 10 a.m., Rep. Nydia Velázquez attends a naturalization ceremony at the Old Stone House of Brooklyn for recent immigrants, Old Stone House & Washington Park, 336 Third St., Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., Uber drivers and their cusomters holds a news conference and rally to protest a legislative proposal concerning the number of “For-Hire-Vehicle” licenses that might be issued by city officials, which they say is unduly influenced by the taxi industry, City Hall steps, Manhattan. (This event precedes a Council Transportation Committee hearing on the issue).

At approximately 10:15 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers remarks with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Basement Floor 1B, Conference Room D, United Nations, Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., Hochul and Feiner and local officials tour the Theodore D. Young Community Center, 32 Manhattan Ave., White Plains.

Also at 11 a.m., Sen. Jeff Klein, Councilwoman Annabel Palma the Castle Hill Neighborhood Betterment Association, and nearly 50 community leaders and residents will rally in front of the NYC Department of Buildings to call on the oversight agency to issue a stop work order on a proposed “hot sheet motel” in the Bronx, 280 Broadway, Manhattan.

At noon, tenant advocates will “take over” Cuomo’s hometown of Mount Kisco to protest the rent law extension deal reached in Albany last week, accusing the governor of striking a back room deal with the Senate Republicans to benefit wealthy landlords, Kirby Plaza, Near Mount Kisco’s train station.

At 1 p.m., Hochul and Beacon Mayor Randy Casale tour local small businesses, Beacon City Hall, 1 Municipal Plaza, Beacon.

At 6 p.m., during the NYS GOP’s annual state gala, Rep. Peter King discuses recent attacks by the Islamic State group and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California serves as keynote speaker; The Pierre hotel, 2 E. 61st St., Manhattan.

Also at 6 p.m., Sen. Sue Serino Sue Serino and members of the Senate Taskforce on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases hold a community forum, FDR Site (Wallace Center, Multi-Purpose Room), Hyde Park.

At 6:30 p.m., Brooklyn BP Eric Adams delivers opening remarks before Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey moderates the organization’s educational forum and panel discussion about police department oversight; New York Law School, 185 W. Broadway, Manhattan.

At 7 p.m., Hillary Clinton speaks and DJ Cassidy performs during a fundraiser to benefit the Hillary for America campaign fund; Terminal 5 performance space, 610 W. 56th St., Manhattan.

Headlines…

The manhunt for escaped convicts Richard Matt and David Sweat was bogged down by dense vegetation in the North Country, and slow responses and miscommunication among law enforcement. The death of Matt and capture of an injured Sweat was the result of luck breaks for searchers.

The FBI in Albany has opened a corruption inquiry focusing on employees and inmates at Clinton Correction Facility in connection with the escape of Matt and Sweat. The state IG has already launched her probe into the incident.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Matt and Sweat had intended to go to Mexico before their plan unraveled when a prison worker accused of helping them, Joyce Mitchell, did not show up with her car.

…This information came from Sweat, who was shot by a State Police officer and is being treated at Albany Med, where his condition was upgraded from critical to serious. Sweat will face felony charges when he is released from the hospital.

State and federal law allows the use of deadly force to prevent an escape if the officer believes the escapee poses a significant threat. Law enforcement experts say the shootings of Matt and Sweat were clear-cut.

Worried that Matt, who was older and sick, was slowing him down, Sweat, 35, split from his fellow convict five days before Matt, 49, was shot and killed.

Matt and Sweat appeared to have sprinkled pepper in their tracks to throw search dogs off the scent – a trick they may have picked up from the movies. But an expert says that tactic was “extremely unlikely” to have actually worked.

The board that regulates rents for more than one million rent-stabilized apartments in New York City voted for a freeze on one-year leases, an unprecedented move in its 46-year history.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens issued a 43-page “findings statement” that put the state’s fracking prohibition into place and giving it the force of law six months after first promising to do so.

Most fast-food workers in New York will receive a wage increase to $15 an hour, according to members of the governor’s second wage board, but the details and timing still have to be worked out.

Alliance for Tenant Power, a left-leaning pro-tenants group, will protest outside Cuomo’s Westchester home today – the first salvo in an effort they say will prevent him from winning re-election in 2018 (if he seeks a third term).

More >

Extras

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled against three inmates who sought to ban the use of a drug used in lethal injections.

The court also moved to temporarily block a Texas law that could force the closure of abortion clinics in the state.

In a blow to the Obama administration’s environmental policy, the court struck down a key regulation for mercury pollution.

NBCUniversal has cut business ties with Donald Trump following his comments critical of illegal immigration.

NBC’s move to separate itself from Trump was praised by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

Sen. Patrick Gallivan says the state Senate will conduct hearings on the escape from Dannemora.

The case of the second alleged accomplice in the Clinton Correctional Facility prison break will go before a grand jury next month.

Residents of Dannemora are decompressing following the three-week search for Richard Matt and David Sweat.

Newsday’s editorial board calls for a grilling of officials at Clinton Correctional Facility to determine how Matt and Sweat escaped.

Sweat was upgraded to “serious” condition at Albany Medical Center after he was apprehended by police.

Both sides are claiming victory in the fight over strengthening charter schools in New York.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik last week backed a bill that would allow power plants to avoid compliance with clean air regulations.

An audit by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found questionable payments and claims in the Medicaid.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking his family on a road trip through the west and southwest, his office announced.

A neuter-and-release bill aimed at controlling feral cat populations is heading to Gov. Cuomo’s desk.

Rep. Peter King is warning that Americans should be “extra vigilant” for terror threats on July 4.

CUNY plans to raise the salary of economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

You are beautiful to me, world’s ugliest dogs.

Wage Board To Consider A Substantial Hike For Fast-Food Workers

The Department of Labor’s wage board on Monday indicated it would recommend a “substantial” hike in the minimum wage for workers in the fast-food industry, though no formal decision was announced.

The wage board, which held its first public deliberation following a series of hearings on the issue, also reached a consensus that hours for fast-food workers be more predictable and that businesses could be given an incentive to give employees more hours.

It’s not clear what the wage board will recommend for a minimum wage for fast-food workers as advocates call for a statewide minimum wage increase to $15.

New York’s current minimum wage is $8.75 and is due to increase at the end of the year to $9.

A broader increase in the minimum wage legislatively faltered in the Legislature during the session, leading Gov. Andrew Cuomo to convene the panel for the fast-food industry.

Cuomo had called for a minimum wage of $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state.

Last year, Cuomo convened a wage board to recommend an increase for tipped workers, which the Department of Labor ultimately approved.

Already, the business community is sounding the alarm over the potential increase for fast-food workers.

“A substantial increase in the minimum wage – as Governor Cuomo’s fast food wage board is preparing to put in place – will result in fewer jobs for fast food workers and higher prices for consumers. The board’s actions will be especially detrimental to young, low-skilled workers who are already struggling to enter the workforce,” said Unshackle Upstate Executive Director Greg Biryla. “It’s also troubling that the wage board appears to have decided to impose new labor regulations on an industry that it has yet to define. As if running a business in New York isn’t hard enough already, other employers will now have to wonder whether they will be the next the next target of the governor’s wage board.”

Cuomo On The ‘Very Hectic’ Session

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an interview on Time Warner Cable News insisted that while the legislative session this year was a “hectic” one it also had a number of highlights, ranging from a bill designed crack down on campus rape as well as a $3 billion property tax rebate package.

“We had a very hectic legislative session in Albany,” he said in an interview earlier on Monday with TWC News. “We have a Republican Senate and Democratic Assembly, so it’s never easy. I always have to reach compromise between those two bodies.”

State lawmakers did not put the finishing touches on the end of the session until late Thursday, when they signed off on a four-year extension of rent control for New York City as well as a four-year sunset for the state’s cap on property tax increases.

Lawmakers stayed in Albany more than a week longer than they were scheduled to as they negotiated extending and altering rent control as well as a real-estate tax abatement for New York City.

The session, Cuomo, acknowledged, was a turbulent one, considering both legislative leaders in the Assembly and the Senate at the start of the year resigned after their arrests in separate corruption scandals.

“Having said all that, we had a great legislative session,” Cuomo said. “We got a lot of things done and I’m all about getting things done for the state of New York.”

Cuomo touted the property tax rebate program as a major achievement and claimed he “can’t do anything” about property taxes (this is likely disputed by both local government advocates when it comes to their call to curtail mandated spending from Albany as well as fiscal hawks, who would like to see reforms to regulations as well as pension costs).

“I can’t do anything about it because it’s not a state tax, it’s a local tax — town, village, county,” Cuomo said. “But we can do rebates because I think the property tax is what’s killing upstate New York.”

Cuomo said he had a brief respite this weekend when he fished with his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who posted a photo of their catches on Instagram.

“I’m looking forward, frankly, to slowing down a little bit,” Cuomo said.

The fishing trip with Chris was interrupted by the call that escaped convict Richard Matt had been shot and killed.

“I’m spending the day with my brother, and what happens, bing — the phone rings: Richard Matt is down,” Cuomo said. “That was the extent of the vacation, it was about 77 minutes in all.”

DEC Moves To Formally Ban Hydrofracking

The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday moved to official prohibit high-volume hydrofracking in the state, issuing a formal “findings statement” that ends a seven-year review of the controversial natural gas-extraction process.

“After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated. This decision is consistent with DEC’s mission to conserve, improve and protect our state’s natural resources, and to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state.”

The findings statement, a 43-page document posted to the DEC’s website on Monday afternoon, formalizes a ban on the process, which uses a mixture of chemicals and water to release below-ground natural gas.

“In the end, there are no feasible or prudent alternatives that would adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts and that address the scientific uncertainties and risks to public health from this activity,” the DEC wrote in the document.

The move is not a surprising one, given that Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December embraced the findings of a Department of Health report that concluded there was no guarantee fracking could be performed safely in the state.

The move to ban fracking in the state by the Cuomo administration was hailed as a major victory for the environmental movement that had sprung up in protest of the process, but was also to the bitter disappointment of the natural gas industry and landowners who could have benefited from granting permits.

“New Yorkers can celebrate the fact that we won’t be subjected to the toxic pollution and health risks fracking inevitably brings,” said Alex Beauchamp of New Yorkers Against Fracking. “By banning fracking, Governor Cuomo stood up to the oil and gas industry, and in so doing became a national leader on health and the environment. He set a standard for human health and safety that President Obama and other state leaders should be striving for.”

findingstatehvhf62015.pdf by Nick Reisman

Cuomo: Convicts Were Mexico-Bound

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said both Richard Matt and David Sweat were initially planning to escape to Mexico, but changed course after a get-away vehicle failed to show up.

Sweat and Matt, who escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora three weeks ago, did so allegedly with the aid of prison employ Joyce Mitchell, who is charged with providing material support to the two men.

But Mitchell declined to show up with a car to help the men flee and their focus shifting to escaping north instead.

“The plan was to head to Mexico, which would have been aided by Joyce Mitchell’s vehicle,” Cuomo said in an interview on The Capitol Pressroom on WCNY radio. “They would kill Mitchell’s husband and then head to Mexico on the theory that Mitchell was in love with one or both of them and then they would live happily ever after, which wasn’t a fairy tale I was read as a child.”

Matt himself is familiar with Mexico, having fled to the country after he murdered and dismembered his boss. Matt had also killed another American while in the country.

Matt was shot and killed by law enforcement on Friday, while Sweat was apprehending on Sunday after he was wounded by State Police Sgt. Jay Cook. Sweat is expected to remain at Albany Medical Center for several days as his condition improves, the hospital said in a statement on Monday morning.

Sweat was caught by police just miles from the Canadian border. Cuomo said Matt and Sweat had actually separated five days ago after the younger Sweat believed Matt was slowing him down.

Cuomo conducted a round of media interviews on Monday morning following the resolution of the nearly month-long manhunt for the men in the largely rural and sprawling North Country region of the state.

In an interview with Time Warner Cable News, Cuomo said Sweat had dug in for a long-haul to Canada.

“He had a backpack that was fully well equipped,” Cuomo said. “It had maps, it had bug spray.”

Cuomo in the interview with TWC News anchor Jon Dougherty praised Cook for his police work as well the effort by the State Police overall.

He added that a two-pronged investigation would be conducted into how Matt and Sweat were able to escape as well the broader probe into security at state prisons. Both Matt and Sweat were on the “honor block” at Clinton Correctional.

“I want to review all of those system to see if we haven’t gone too far,” Cuomo said. The investigation’s conclusions would then “apply those lessons to the prisons in the rest of the system.”