Senate Republicans Push Help For Farmers

A package of measures designed to boost the state’s agriculture sector was pushed for by Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday, with eye toward adding funding to support technological innovation and improve farmers’ bottom lines.

The measures include restore cuts proposed for 42 farm-related programs, which Senate lawmakers called the deepest cuts made to agriculture-related programs in the last five years.

At the same time, lawmakers are calling for increasing the phase-in timetable for overhauling the estate tax that was first enacted in 2014. The farmer personal income tax credit exemption, too, would be aimed at lowering taxes on family farmers by increasing the personal income tax exemption for small and mid-sized operations.

The package also calls for restoring spending cuts to programs that support Cornell University’s agriculture-related research as well as increase fund for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“New York farms—and New York farmers—are the backbone of our rural communities and economies,” said Sen. Patty Ritchie, the chairwoman of the chamber’s agriculture committee. “That’s why, once again, the Senate Majority Conference is making agriculture a top priority. We’re planting seeds to support the hard work of our farm families and grow the future of agriculture in New York State.”

In addition, the Senate Republicans are backing an effort to create new funding for a Cornell’s Small Farms Program that create five veteran-owned farms in a pilot program.

The proposals come as the state Farm Bureau is pushing back against a proposed increase in the state’s minimum wage to $15, which the organization says once fully phased in would cost billions in added expenses.

“The Farm Bureau has come up with some detailed information about what the effects would be,” said John Flanagan, the Senate majority leader. “Those are things we need to pay attention to.”

Lawmakers Push Aid-In-Dying Legislation

A pair of Assembly Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday pushed for legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with prescribed medication.

The measure, which has the support of at least one Republican lawmaker in the Senate, would allow a doctor to prescribe end-of-life medication to an individual who has a life expectancy of six months or less.

The measure is backed by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and is sponsored in the Senate by Republican John Bonacic.

“Just like withdrawing food and withdrawing meds is a choice, this is a choice,” said Paulin, a Westchester County Democrat whose sister, while suffering from stage-four cancer, declined food and medication before dying last year.

“We are each responsible for our lives,” added Gottfried. “It seems to me that if you’re responsible for your life, you have the moral right to have control over your life.”

The aid-in-dying legislation was pushed for last year and is staunchly opposed by the Catholic Church as well as the Catholic Conference.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, also raised concerns with the proposal.

“My visceral reaction is I don’t like that for a variety of reasons,” he said. “This is an area where we need to be extraordinarily careful and circumspect. We are literally talking about life and death.”

Flanagan: Banning Outside Income Not A Priority For Voters

Banning or limiting outside income is not a top-shelf issue for constituents, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Tuesday said.

Flanagan disagreed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s claim made on Monday that public pressure will lead to state lawmakers to backing new ethics legislation that includes limiting outside income to 15 percent of a legislator’s base salary, currently $79,500.

Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, said the real issue for most New Yorkers he has spoken to is jobs.

“The God’s honest truth is the most important thing I hear about from people is jobs,” Flanagan said. “They want economic development. They want the chance to have a good economic opportunity for them and their families, keep their kids here in the state of New York.”

As for limiting outside income?

“It is way at the bottom of the priority list,” Flanagan said. “Maybe other legislators are hearing it differently.”

A Siena College this week found most voters support curtailing outside income, 59 percent to 35 percent. But at the same time, most voters list pocketbook-related matters as top issues for state government: 44 percent believe education should be the top issue, followed by taxes at 39 percent and jobs at 31 percent.

As for applying public pressure, Flanagan shrugged that concern off.

“There are opportunities to get pressured on all kinds of issues,” Flanagan said. “If that’s going to come from public pressure, so be it. I think we have rational arguments why it’s not a good idea.”

Cuomo introduced the outside income measure in his State of the State last month after both legislative leaders were ousted from office following convictions on corruption charges.

Heastie: Time Is Now To Talk About Taxes

heastiefebWhile Gov. Andrew Cuomo sees “no appetite” for increasing tax rates on those earning $1 million and more, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday said it’s time to get the conversation started.

Speaking with reporters at the Capitol, Heastie noted the Democratic conference last year pushed for a $15 minimum wage as well as a 12-week paid family leave program, versions of which Cuomo is making priorities this year.

The current tax rates are due to lapse at the end of 2017.

“We believe we put out good ideas. We championed the minimum wage last year,” Heastie. “There seems to be a real deep discussion around minimum wage. We championed paid family leave and there’s a real discussion on paid family leave. This conversation has to happen sooner or later. We hope sooner because it expires at the end of next year.”

The Assembly Democratic plan also expands an earned income tax credit, which Heastie said coupled with the minimum wage hike would help the poor in New York.

“We’re trying to tackle poverty and the two biggest ways to tackle poverty is to raise the minimum wage and also increase the investment in the earned income tax credit,” Heastie said. “That’s the way to do it.”

Cuomo was less enthused with the proposal when asked about it on Monday after swearing in the state’s new chief judge.

“I don’t believe there is any reason or appetite to take up taxes this year,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Working Families Party in a statement called the Assembly’s tax proposal “common sense.”

“New York’s tax system is upside down,” said WFP state director Bill Lipton, “and we need to turn it right-side up so it works for all of us.”

U.S. Labor Secretary To Visit Buffalo Next Month

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez plans to visit Buffalo on March 8th. Congressman Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, announced the visit in a press release, Tuesday afternoon.

The office said details about what Perez will be doing and who he’ll be meeting while he’s in Western New York are still being finalized. Based on the release, it’s fair to expect he’ll be discussing the needs of low-income families in the area.

“The Secretary understands this community and can provide a very unique perspective on techniques for greater collaboration on critical issues of workforce opportunity and development,” Higgins said.

Perez was born and raised in Buffalo and his parents are from the Dominican Republic. He was nominated by President Obama in 2013.

Higgins reached out to the Secretary about the visit on behalf of two faith-based coalitions, VOICE Buffalo and NOAH.

Gibson Seeks Common Ground On Education And Gun Control

gibsonannounceRepublican Rep. Chris Gibson kicked off on Tuesday the exploratory phase of his potential campaign for governor, sharply criticizing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tenure in office over the last five years.

But at the same time, Gibson is already starting to look ahead at how he plans to govern in a state Capitol that’s dominated by Democratic lawmakers.

Gibson insisted he could find common ground with Assembly Democrats, who hold a veto-proof majority in the chamber, by linking reforms to education with efforts to scale back 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.

Gibson is among an increasingly crowded field of potential Republican candidates for governor, including Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, businessman Harry Wilson and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.

A three-term Hudson Valley House representative, Gibson retires at the end of the current term this year to focus on a statewide run.

No Republican in New York has been elected statewide since 2002.

The SAFE Act remains a key issue for Republicans and conservative voters in New York following its passage in 2013. The measure remains a signature law for Cuomo, who counts it among his key legislative successes from his first term.

Gibson, however, said he is supportive of background checks for gun purchases, saying such a provision isn’t restricting access to firearms.

“I would tell you that law-abiding citizens, background check, we don’t consider that gun control,” Gibson said. “We consider that the normal practices as part of owning a rifle or a pistol in a free society. So, you know, the background checks we support. The issue we have is when you start to make statements such as different types of rifles. This is not helpful and it’s unconstitutional in my point of view and it’s what we’re going to rollback.”

At the same time, Gibson insists he can sidestep the issue of abortion, calling the matter a settled one in New York.

Speaking a news conference with reporters at Albany International Airport, Gibson said he can’t recall a time in which a constituent came to him with a concern about access to abortion services.

“I think abortion is a settled issue in New York. I’ve worked so many cases in my office over the five years helping veterans, helping senior citizens, college students with issues with loans,” Gibson said. “I don’t ever remember having a case in my offices where a woman was facing a very weighty decision and she didn’t feel she didn’t have the support to make that decision in terms of what’s in current law. I’m not aware of a single case.”

Flanagan Credits Klein On Paid Family Leave

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan credited the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference Jeff Klein on Tuesday for advancing the paid family leave issue in the Legislature.

“Jeff Klein was way ahead of the curve on this and has put out proposals for the last couple of years,” Flanagan told a group of reporters following a news conference on agriculture issues. “I know several of our members have a keen interest in it as well.”

Klein, a Bronx Democrat who has been aligned with Senate Republicans, introduced legislation this week that allow workers who have four or more weeks in a row at a location earn some of their wage while on leave to care for a relative or a child.

Klein’s bill, which has no same-as bill in the Assembly, would allow employees that have worked four or more consecutive weeks at a location to earn parts of their wages while on leave to care for a relative or a child with a serious health condition.

The program once fully phased in would allow employees to earn 80 percent of their average weekly wage. Mainline Senate Democrats, too, have backed paid-family leave legislation in the Senate.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legislation would require a $1 deduction from an employee’s paycheck once fully phased in.

Flanagan indicated that he was open to a compromise on paid-family leave, saying the GOP conference is studying other states that have such programs in place.

“The fact that it’s an employee-based contribution is a significant change and there are a number of other states that have paid family leave,” he said. “We are in the throes of looking at other models if you will and seeing what’s going on in other states.”

Flanagan was not bullish using an expanded temporary disability insurance fund to pay for the measure, which is supported by Assembly Democrats.

“I’m amazed that has not gone up in decades, so what the cost factors would be in that,” he said. “I’m honestly not sure at this point.”

Flanagan Backs Keeping Indian Point Open

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan does not believe the Indian Point nuclear facility in Westchester County should be shuttered, a move that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has long called for.

“It should stay open,” said Flanagan, a Republican from Suffolk County.

Flanagan’s stance puts him closer to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who this past summer questioned whether the plant should be shut down as well.

“I’m never really been one to have issue with nuclear plants,” Heastie said during a visit to Schenectady. “But the discussion really is to make sure — particularly because Indian Point does supply a lot of energy to New York City — we have to make sure all the lights come on in the city.”

Cuomo has taken a hard line on Indian Point, which is operated by Entergy Corp., primarily because of the facility’s proximity to a densely populated area of the state. Cuomo and state officials have pushed to keep another nuclear plant open, the James FitzPatrick Nuclear Plant in Oswego County, from closing and impacting 500 jobs.

Cuomo this weekend raised concerns about a recent tritium leak at the facility, but Flanagan said he didn’t have enough information to comment extensively on the issue.

“I would think anyone would be concerned that something like that happened,” Flanagan said.

Nassau County PBA Backs McGrath In SD-9

The Nassau County Police Benevolent Association endorsed on Tuesday Republican Chris McGrath to take the Senate seat formerly held by disgraced ex-Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Both McGrath and Democratic Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky are running for the Senate seat in Nassau County in an April 19 special election.

In a statement, McGrath cited his own pro bono work helping secure coverage for first responders with health complications stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I am deeply honored and proud to receive the endorsement of the Nassau County PBA,” McGrath, an attorney and first-time candidate, said in a statement. “As someone who has worked closely with the brave men and women who put their life on the line by protecting us every day, and who worked tirelessly after the tragedy of 9/11, I am humbled by their endorsement and their confidence in me to represent our communities in the State Senate.”

The Nassau County PBA represents more than 5,000 active and retired members.

Christopher McGrath by Nick Reisman

Flanagan: Gibson ‘A Good Guy’

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Tuesday called Rep. Chris Gibson a “good guy” but didn’t immediately endorse his potential run for governor in 2018.

Flanagan predicted the field for the race that’s more than two years away will be a “packed” one for the GOP.

“He’s a good guy,” Flanagan told a group of reporters in a question-and-answer session. “There’s a lot of good people out there. We’re going to have a packed field in 2018.”

Gibson on Monday formally filed paperwork to launch an exploratory committee in the lead up to a statewide campaign. A three-term congressman, Gibson is due to retire from Congress at the end of the year.

Gibson joins potential Republican candidates for governor that include Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, businessman Harry Wilson and 2010 nominee Carl Paladino.