Maziarz, Ortt Indicted On Felony Election Law Violations

We’ve learned Republican State Sen. Rob Ortt and his predecessor, George Maziarz, have been indicted on felony election law violations. A spokeswoman for Ortt confirmed the Niagara County-based senator faces charges for three counts of offering a false instrument for filing.

The news of the indictment comes on the same day Ortt volunteered to testify in front of an Albany County grand jury convened by state Attorney General Eric Schniederman. A spokesperson for Ortt told us earlier in the day the senator volunteered to testify as part of an investigation surrounding Maziarz. A source said he waived immunity.

“As someone who fought and sacrificed for our country, I am sickened that a career politician and hyper partisan like Eric Schneiderman can concoct baseless charges to serve his own political agenda. One thing is clear: the only reason I am included in this is to make their case politically appealing,” Ortt said in a statement.

“As multiple news organizations have documented, Eric Schneiderman has been obsessed with using his political office to persecute his political enemies and protect his political allies. We look forward to telling voters the truth about Eric Schneiderman and exposing him for the power hungry, political opportunist he is and I will fight this ridiculous charge.”

Ortt is being represented in court by Albany-area attorney Steve Coffey. Calls to the attorney general’s office have not yet been returned.

A source close to the Ortts said he believes the charges stem from an agreement the senator’s wife Meghan had with Synor Marketing and Regency Communications. Meghan Ortt apparently did graphic design work and was under retainer with company.

The source said payments were made directly to Mrs. Ortt, and all the appropriate disclosures were made.

Donovan Opposed To House GOP Health Care Bill

Republican Rep. Dan Donovan House of Representatives announced he would not vote for the GOP-backed health care bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Obamacare has burdened New York families with unaffordable premiums, rendered some insurance plans unusable because of high deductibles, and caused people to lose their doctors,” said Donovan, a Staten Island Republican, in a statement. “But recognizing that the status quo is failing isn’t, on its own, a compelling reason to vote ‘yes’ on the current replacement plan.”

And Donovan was critical of the proposal to shift the county share of Medicaid in New York onto the state government, saying it would unduly harm New York City. The measure is backed by two Republicans from upstate New York, Reps. Chris Collins and John Faso, as a way of getting more New York members on board.

“The provision excludes New York City, putting an unfair and disproportionate burden on City residents to cover the state’s exorbitant Medicaid expenses,” Donovan said. “We need healthcare reform – including promised Medicaid reform in New York where we spend more than Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania combined – but it shouldn’t be done on the backs of already overburdened City residents who will undoubtedly have a tax increase forced on them to pay for this eminently unfair policy.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has railed against the Medicaid amendment, saying on Wednesday it would result in a tax hike for New Yorkers.

Rep. John Katko, a central New York lawmaker, previously announced he is opposed to the bill.

Extras

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declined to take a position on the Medicaid amendment at the center of an ongoing battle between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rep. Chris Collins, saying it is a distraction from the larger problem of the American Health Care Act, the Republican plan to replace Obamacare.

Bill Hammond runs the numbers and finds it’s possible that block grant funding of Medicaid won’t actually hurt – and perhaps might even help – New York.

Hammond also considers what would happen if the Collins amendment included New York City. (In short, it would shift a greater shift of the cost burden onto upstate and Long Island).

Staten Island Rep. Dan Donovan explained in an OpEd in his local newspaper why he’s voting “no” on health care reform tomorrow, saying that “recognizing that the status quo is failing isn’t, on its own, a compelling reason to vote ‘yes’ on the current replacement plan.”

North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik said she wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act but isn’t ready yet to embrace the GOP replacement, even though an amended version of the bill exempts the rural counties that she represents from helping fund state Medicaid costs.

Asked today how Rep. Pete King intends to vote, the Long Island congressman’s spokesman said his boss is still looking at the legislation and has not come to a decision, adding that there were many moving parts.

State Sen. Robert Ortt was scheduled to voluntarily testify before an Albany County grand jury today in connection with the ongoing probe of former state Sen. George Maziarz and his campaign finances that has also produced its first guilty plea.

Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, Rep. King’s daughter, appears on her way to becoming a media star.

An attack outside Parliament plunged London into turmoil, leaving at least four people dead and 20 injured, and prompting the hasty evacuation of the prime minister in a confusing swirl of violence that traumatized the seat of British power.

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press reported.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes said new intelligence reports show some conversations involving members of Trump’s transition team were collected by intelligence officials, but said those conversations appeared to be collected “legally” in the course of “normal, foreign surveillance.”

Major upstate and Long Island transportation system heads implored state lawmakers and Cuomo to boost by roughly $10 million their operating aid for the coming fiscal year.

Despite alleged and recurring pushback from Cuomo, the New York Farm Bureau said it hopes a long-sought, twice-vetoed tax credit for food donations will pass with the state budget next month.

The Legal Aid Society of Nassau County spent more than $400,000 without proper authorization and inappropriately used nearly $230,000 from its petty cash bank account, according to an audit released today by Nassau Comptroller George Maragos.

NYC Mayor de Blasio says he’s retaining the same election lawyer whose campaign-fundraising legal advice put him under the scrutiny of federal and state prosecutors.

After successfully repealing the sales tax on feminine hygiene products, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal wants to make tampons and other feminine hygiene products free in low-income schools, homeless shelters and prisons.

A Washington, D.C. distiller has named a whiskey after Hillary Clinton – it’s called “Rodham Rye.”

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said the Oneida Indian Nation officials previously talked with him about wanting to expand in the region, so he took a chance and approached them about building a casino in Utica.

A Syracuse firefighter has been suspended without pay pending an investigation into his role in a hit-and-run car crash involving an investigator in the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office.

When Biden (the former VP) met Biden (the Golden Retriever puppy).

Senate GOP Turns Their Focus To Workers Comp

Last year, Senate Republicans grudgingly accepted an increase in the state’s minimum wage and 12 weeks of paid family leave. This year, the Senate GOP signals they aren’t willing to make the same deal.

“Last year we gave away stuff,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader. “We increased the minimum wage. Whether that’s good or not, somebody has to pay for that stuff and whether it was good or not there was no corresponding relief to businesses.”

Senate Republicans on Wendesday called for long-sought reforms to the workers compensation system in New York, including efforts to create a more efficient hearing process.

“If we don’t do something fast, make sure the system is changed for workers comp, which is a big component for the cost of doing business, then we’re making a big mistake,” DeFrancisco said.

Opponents worry this would create a less generous safety net. But Republicans say it’s about making the state more business friendly, and are pushing to include the measure in a final budget agreement that is expected next week.

“This is part of the discussion and we had this in our one-house budget resolution, language in there to bring reform,” said Sen. George Amedore.

And the push stood in contrast to a press conference that occurred at the same time at the Capitol Wednesday in which Democratic lawmakers and New Yor City Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed to increase taxes on the rich.

“It’s not government’s responsibility to create jobs,” said Sen. Fred Akshar. “It’s government’s responsibility to get out of the way so businesses can thrive and prosper and I think by reforming the workers’ compensation system we are providing that opportunity.”

Workers compensation reform last was approved in 2007 in New York and lawmakers say the changes were positive, but some, including the requirment for an annual report, were never followed through on.

Cuomo: Medicaid Move Could Hike Income Taxes

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in yet another statement issued Wednesday on the House Republican proposal to have New York assume county Medicaid costs warned an income tax increase would be likely if the plan was put in place.

In the statement, Cuomo warned the provision, backed by New York Republican Reps. John Faso and Chris Collins, would result in a 26 percent tax increase on “middle income” New Yorkers.

“If this bill is passed as is, our federal representatives will be responsible for massive income or sales tax increases or devastating cuts to New York’s healthcare system,” Cuomo said. “That is the plain reality. No political rhetoric can change it. New Yorkers will hold them accountable for their vote. This is radical conservative ideology at work rather than real public policy to help the very people of this state who elected them.”

This statement in some respects is also aimed at Republican lawmakers in the Senate, whose majority leader, John Flanagan, on Tuesday said he was skeptical of the Medicaid takeover plan and its impact on the state’s finances.

In a separate statement, Cuomo released figures that tallied how much hospitals in Faso’s 19th congressional district in the Hudson Valley would lose if the American Health Care Act is approved, finding $13.6 million in cuts for the more than dozen facilities.

The House bill is facing a backlash, however, from conservatives in Congress who believe it does not go far enough in scrapping the Affordable Care Act. A vote is scheduled for Thursday and, if it passes, would most likely be changed in the Senate.

NYSAC: Don’t Forget Indigent Relief

The state Association of Counties is urging state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to agree to a budget that includes the state assuming partial cost of indigent legal defense services.

The measure has long-stalled in Albany following multiple gubernatorial vetoes: Cuomo has cited the cost as well as the need to include the funding in the “context” of the budget.

NYSAC believes $370 million in relief is needed for the legal services for the poor, which would satisfy a 1963 Supreme Court ruling.

“The real cost shift took place 50 years ago, and property taxpayers have been paying for this state program ever since,” said NYSAC President William Cherry. “Our county leaders and State Lawmakers have been working for years on a sensible legislation that would relieve property taxpayers from this state burden. Now is the time to enact that language in the State’s spending plan.”

Cuomo’s $152 billion budget proposal does include a plan that would expand a recent state settlement that includes public defender case cap loads. But NYSAC finds fault with this, since it would require the counties to put up the expnaded indigent defense services cost.

“I believe we have made the case. That our public system of defense in New York can be vastly improved,” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy. “We have bi-partisan and strong support within the Legislature to implement the necessary reform, and I encourage our Senators and Assembly Members to support these reforms. These costs have always been the state’s responsibility, but they shifted those to property taxpayers. Now we have an opportunity to both strengthen public defense and lower the property taxes allocated to these services.”

Destito Calls On ‘Every Woman’ In Assembly To Pass Child Marriage Bill

RoAnn Destito, the commissioner of the Office of General Services and a former state lawmaker, directly called on women in the state Assembly to pass legislation that would outlaw child marriages in New York.

“The Senate has passed this bill and now the Assembly needs to act,” Destito said at a news conference in the Capitol called by Cuomo’s office on Tuesday morning.

“Every woman in the Assembly needs to vote yes on this legislation and ensure that it gets done. It is our duty to stand up and fight for these young women and girls and we must pass this bill to ensure they can lead long, healthy and happy lives.”

State law currently allows children as young as 14 to marry in New York. Those 14 and 15 can marry with judicial and parent approval. Those age 16 and 17 may do so with the consent of their parents.

The legislation stalled last year in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, though was introduced two days before the session adjourned.

Legislation, backed by Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Republican Sen. Andrew Lanza, would raise the minimum wage to 18 for marriage in New York. However, 17 year olds could marry with the consent of a judge and their parents.

WNY State Senator Scheduled To Testify Before Maziarz Grand Jury

A source confirmed state Senator Rob Ortt was scheduled to testify before a grand jury in Albany County this morning, in connection to an investigation surrounding former state Senator George Maziarz, the man he replaced. The source said the Niagara County Republican proactively requested to testify and has waived immunity.

The Buffalo News previously reported at least five Maziarz associates testified before the grand jury earlier this month including Ortt’s wife Meghan and state Assemblyman Mike Norris. They were reportedly granted immunity.

Ortt has also hired Mercury Public Affairs to represent him.

“Whether it has been as Mayor of North Tonawanda, a New York State Senator or as a decorated combat war veteran, Rob Ortt has always gone above and beyond to defend the rule of law at home and abroad. He felt strongly that he wanted to help the investigation in any way he could, which is why he is voluntarily speaking to the grand jury investigating George Maziarz and will answer any questions they may have,” spokesperson Andrea Bozek said.

Ortt was elected in 2014, after Maziarz, a long-time Western New York GOP power-broker, abruptly announced he would not seek re-election. Maziarz currently works for lobbying firm Patricia Lynch Associates.

DeFran Lashes Out At Cuomo

Syracuse Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco in a radio interview on Wednesday morning lashed out Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying he hopes a strong candidate runs against him next year, even raising the possibility of his running himself next year.

“I certainly hope we field a good candidate and give it the best shot for the taxpayer who is bearing the burden of these policies,” DeFrancisco told Fred Dicker on Talk-1300.

He added: “We need someone with a much more conservative philosophy. I’m going to support whoever gets the nomination as long as they have the right philosophy.”

And he didn’t shut the door to running himself next year as Cuomo seeks a third term. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, the Suffolk County lawmaker who edged out Flanagan in a 2015 leadership vote to replace Dean Skelos, has also said he’s interested in running.

“I never say never, but I don’t see it happening,” DeFrancisco said. “I get frustrated on so many occasions that I would love to run. But realistically that is something that has to be looked at carefully.”

The threat may be an empty one for the deputy majority leader who has been at odds with the governor on a variety of issues over the years and hasn’t been afraid to make them known.

But the comments are unusual ones to make amid the height of the budget talks and with a spending plan due to pass next week. Still, DeFrancisco even raised the possibility of the talks on key issues such as raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York to 18 and a plan to provide free tuition to public colleges and universities as going beyond April 1, the start of the fiscal year.

DeFrancisco was critical of the plan to provide free tuition to SUNY and CUNY schools, saying taxpayers will still ultimately foot the bill for the plan that would benefit families who make less than $125,000. He indicated there was opposition, too, within the GOP conference to a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility, a key issue for the Independent Democratic Conference, which has pledged to vote as a bloc against a budget that does not include the policy.

“This year I think the disagreement is just as strong in conference on raise the age and free tuition as it was on the minimum wage,” he said.

Ultimately, Senate Republicans voted to back a minimum wage hike that phases in to $15. DeFrancisco, however, says this year may be different.

“People succumbed to the pressure of an on-time budget which has to happen or the world is going to end,” he said.

The interview came with Dicker, who has been critical of Flanagan’s leadership in the Republican conference. Flanagan on Tuesday signaled he was concerned with the proposal on the federal level to have the state assume county Medicaid costs. DeFrancisco, however, embraced the proposal.

Cuomo Turns To Policy Wonk 1

As he continues his fight against a federally imposed state takeover of county Medicaid costs, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is turning to his longtime Medicaid czar Jason Helgerson.

The Wisconsin import, an instrumental figure in the state’s redesign of its costly Medicaid system, appeared in a video blasted out by Cuomo’s Twitter account on Tuesday evening calling the plan backed a Reps. Chris Collins and John Faso as a “war on New York” and a “budget buster for the state.”

“The best thing to do is call your member of Congress,” he says in the video. “You need to make your voice heard.”

The amendment, now part of the House Republican-backed health care bill being voted on Thursday, is a “horrific piece of legislation.”

On Wednesday morning, Helgerson’s name was attached to an email urging New Yorkers to call their member of Congress to oppose the bill.

“With this attack on our health care, they’ve declared war on New York, and we need to stand up and show them New Yorkers won’t be pushed around,” he says in the video.

It is an unusual role for Helgerson who goes by the handle @policywonk1 on Twitter and has largely stayed above the fray when it comes to politics, even as he navigates the thicket that is Medicaid spending in New York.