Union Leaders Back Cuomo’s Minimum Wage Push

A coalition of labor groups and their leaders on Thursday backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to increase the state’s minimum wage.

The push includes the release of a video featuring prominent union leaders Mario Cilento of the state AFL-CIO, Peter Ward of the New York Hotel Trades Council and George Gresham of 1199/SEIU.

“New Yorkers who work full-time should be able to afford food on the table and a path out of poverty,” Governor Cuomo said. “As our economy strengthens and more jobs are created in our communities, we must do more to ensure opportunity for all New Yorkers. I thank our labor leaders from across the state for joining the Fight for Fair Pay campaign and urging the State Legislature to increase the minimum wage this session.”

The unions signing on to the raise the wage campaign launched by Cuomo this week include a disparate collection of labor groups from both private trades and the public sector.

The coalition doesn’t include labor groups who had a truculent relationship with Cuomo, including public-sector groups like the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employees Federation.

Cuomo this year is tangling with the state’s teachers union over his education reform measures.

Still, Cuomo was not endorsed by the AFL-CIO last year in his bid for re-election.

Cuomo’s minimum wage proposal this year would increase the wage in New York City to $11.50 and $10.50 elsewhere. The wage is due to increase at the end of the year to $9, up from the current $8.75, part of a final phase-in from an agreement reached in 2013.

The governor has built support for his plan with the support from the state’s labor community as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has deemed Cuomo’s minimum wage proposal insufficient and called for a $13 wage in the city, indexed to inflation.

The union support for Cuomo’s plan deprives de Blasio of potentially potent allies for his competing proposal.

Cuomo’s office has called such a proposal a non-starter with the Legislature, primarily majority Republicans in the state Senate.

Strength In Numbers

ICYMI from the Morning Memo today:

Upstate Democrats’ numbers have been steadily increasing in the Assembly majority conference, but they remain outnumbered by the downstate members, who continue to control much of the agenda in the Legislature’s lower house.

Case in point: The downstaters and Democratic party leaders in the five boroughs recently used their clout to select a new speaker, Carl Heastie, who hails from the Bronx, over Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, a Rochester Democrat.

A handful of upstate members have realized they’re likely to have better luck at seeing results on their priorities, which often differ from those of their more liberal downstate counterparts, if they band together – much like the black and Latino members have done by creating their own caucus.

Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, a Utica Democrat, says a small group of upstaters – maybe five or six who hail mostly from urban areas – started meeting last year to strategize about education funding.

This year, Brindisi said, the number has grown to about 15 or so members from several regions – including the Upper Hudson Valley, Capital District and Buffalo – who have met several times so far to discuss a wide range of topics. They’re currently holding their meetings in the office of Central NY Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli.

Brindisi was reluctant to call this loose coalition a formal “delegation,” noting the formation of such a group was frowned upon under the former speaker.

“Any time you had large groups of member meeting, it certainly was cause for concern,” Brindisi recalled. “We lost out on certain things because of that.”

But the new speaker, Carl Heastie, doesn’t seem to have a problem with the idea of Democratic conference members forming special interest groups.

In fact, several of these coalitions formed during the brief but intense fight for the speakership after Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s corruption scandal cost him the post, and Heastie even met with some of them. (The newer members, the so-called “reform” caucus, etc.)

Brindisi said the upstaters have broadened their focus to include transit – “something we all agree could use more funding” – and addressing the needs of immigrant/refugee populations that have popped up in certain urban centers.

“We don’t want this to look like a downstate versus upstate effort; it’s not,” the assemblyman said. “It’s just that we have common issues – particularly in our urban areas – and we realized that when we work on the budget, it’s helpful for members to work together and advocate as one voice.”

Senate Republicans Introduce Common Core Refusal Bill (Updated)

Two freshman Republican lawmakers this week introduced a bill that’s aimed at strengthening parents ability to have their children opt out from Common Core testing.

The measure, known as the Common Core Refusal Act, would require the state Department of Education to notify parents of their right to not have children in grades 3 through 8 participate in Common Core-based testing.

The bill was introduced by GOP Sens. Terrence Murphy and Rich Funke.

Updated: The bill is being carried by Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco in the Democratic-led chamber.

“This bill codifies that parents receive proper notification of their rights as it relates to refusing to have their children participate in these field tests,” the bill’s memorandum states. “More importantly, it protects school districts, individual schools, teachers, and students alike from facing any withholding of funds, state takeovers, sanctions, negative impact on a teacher’s evaluation or any other punitive measures associated with the outcomes related to test refusal.”

Specifically, the bill is taking aim at tests provided by Pearson, an education company that has provided Common Core-based testing and has come under scrutiny for its $32 million contract to administer the tests for the state.

The bill would require a “universal notification” posted on school district websites as well as a mailed notification to parents.

The measure would block punishment for not participating in the tests, including withholding state aid and include protections for both teachers and students.

The bill comes after a pitched election year debate over the controversial education standards in schools across the state.

Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino ran on a newly formed Stop Common Core ballot line last year, which has now morphed into the Reform Party ballot line with a broadened agenda (to the consternation of anti-Common Core advocates).

Lawmakers estimate that 60,000 students last year declined to participate in Common Core-based testing.

Common Core has made for unlikely allies in New York and nationally for both conservatives who are skeptically of a nationally imposed education standard as well as teachers unions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year negotiated a bill with the statewide teachers union that would delay the impact of Common Core testing on teacher evaluations.

But Cuomo ultimately vetoed that measure as he pursues this year a more stringent teacher evaluation law.

Cuomo’s Budget Amendments Remain Under Review

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Democrats over the weekend had reportedly reached a deal to introduce and print Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 30-day budget amendments.

But at the moment, they do not appear to have done so.

Responding to questions about whether the amendments, which tie income disclosure and per diem reform to spending in the budget, had been introduced in the chamber, Assembly Democratic spokesman Mike Whyland said they are “reviewing” them.

“We are reviewing them with members and we continue to negotiate in good faith with the governor on all of the issues,” Whyland said.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday called a lawsuit over the amendments a “last resort” while Senate Majority Dean Skelos emerged from an hour-long leaders meeting to insist a lawsuit was not “necessary.”

Still, he too would not say whether the amendments would be introduced anytime soon.

Cuomo tied the spending to the policy measures in order to force the Legislature’s hand: Lawmakers can either vote the measures up or down, not alter them.

But state lawmakers expressed concerns with this approach, saying that such a move made it difficult for them to negotiate the state budget with the governor.

To UFT, Stewart-Cousins Knocks ‘Demonization’ Of Teachers

From the Morning Memo:

As thousands of charter school advocates, students and parents descended on Albany for an outdoor rally at the Capitol on Wednesday, the United Federation of Teachers held a smaller, counter-gathering indoors.

Appearing at the rally was Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who pushed back in a speech against the education reform group StudentsFirstNY.

The group, which is aligned with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on education issues, had criticized Stewart-Cousins earlier this year after she said the rhetoric over school policy this year is disparaging to teachers.

“You would have thought I said a horrible thing,” she said. “I said that there seems to be a lot of demonization of teachers.”

She told the UFT that the debate over education policy changes should be broadened to include teachers.

“And I said that we all agree that we have to improve our educational system, certainly for those kids who are not having the success we want them to have,” Stewart-Cousins said. “The conversation has to be broader because there is not one solution. Our teachers are our partners in achieving the results we want. Am I right?”

Cuomo’s $142 billion budget this year has put him at even greater odds with the UFT and its statewide umbrella group, the New York State United Teachers.

The governor is seeking to raise the cap on charter schools statewide by 100, craft a more stringent teacher evaluation system and make it easier for the state to takeover failing schools through an independent monitor.

Cuomo has insisted he’s not trying to smear teachers in the process of achieving reform, pointing to the merit bonuses he’s proposing for high-perfomring teachers.

Stewart-Cousins’s appearance at the UFT rally is another sign in the more assertive posture Senate Democrats in the mainline conference have taken with Cuomo as he enters his second term this year.

Democrats in the chamber have been more forceful in pushing back against the governor’s education priorities in particular and were critical of his including IDC Sen. Jeff Klein in the closed-door budget talks.

As education issues tend to do, the usual political fault lines are turned on their ear: Republicans and Democrats alike spoke at the pro-charter rally, which was organized by Families for Excellent Schools.

“This is an issue that transcends partisanship,” Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said after speaking. “It really does. Everyone who cares about their children and I’m speaking not just to parents, but teachers, but elected officials, we should be pulling together on this. There’s no reason this is a divisive issue.”

Passing Cuomo’s education plans is “the only way we’re going to see transformative change for education,” she added.

Here and Now

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

At 8:45 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the ABNY Breakfast, The Pierre Hotel, 2 East 61st St., Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul holds a Western New York Roundtable with students to combat sexual violence on college campuses, Daemen College, Rosary Hall Parlor, 4380 Main St., Amherst.

Also at 10 a.m., the NYC Council Transportation Committee holds a preliminary budget hearing on transportation, Council Chambers, City Hall, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., the NYS Thruway Authority hosts an Annual Drowsy Driving Awareness press conference, Guilderland Service Area, eastbound at milepost 153, between exits 25 (Schenectady) and 24 (Albany).

Also at 10 a.m., the New York National Guard hosts a US Chamber of Commerce Foundation Hiring Our Heroes Veterans’ Job Fair, Division of Military and Naval Affairs HQ, 330 Old Niskayuna Rd., Latham.

At 11 a.m., UUP holds a news conference calling for a major action regarding the state Education Department’s “highly flawed teacher certification process,” LCA Press Room (130), LOB, Albany.

At 1 p.m., Hochul convenes a Rochester anti-poverty task force meeting, SUNY Brockport, Rochester Educational Opportunity Center, 161 Chestnut St., Rochester.

Also at 1 p.m., Senators Patrick Gallivan and Timothy Kennedy and Assembly members Sean Ryan, Robin Schimminger and John Ceretto holds a news conference on infrastructure, LIUNA Training Site, 1370 Seneca St., Buffalo.

Also at 1 p.m., AQE releases a report, “Gubernatorial Delinquency: Cuomo’s Failure to Fund New York State’s Public Schools”, which gives a detailed accounting of how much the state owes schools in every Assembly and Senate district in New York, Sen. Neil Breslin and Assembly members Pat Fahy John McDonald and Angelo Santabarbara will attend, LCA Press Room, Legislative Office Building, 198 State St., Albany.

At 1:30 p.m., AG Eric Schneiderman makes an announcement, 120 Broadway, 25th Floor, Manhattan.

At 6 p.m., NYC Bar Association members and officials participate in a free public “New York Environmental Year in Review” panel discussion; 42 W. 44th St., Manhattan.

Also at 6 p.m., Monroe County Legislator Karla Boyce will be joined by representatives from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Anti-Drug Advocates, and medical experts for a panel discussion on the dangers of heroin and substance abuse, Mendon Fire Hall, 101 Mendon Ionia Rd., Mendon.

Also at 6 p.m., NYC Public Advocate Tish James holds a town hall on education, mayoral control of schools and community engagement, Lehman College, 250 Bedford Park Blvd., the Bronx.

At 7 p.m., Bronx residents and elected officials will participate in a major community forum about the re-zoning of 73 blocks along Jerome Avenue, Latino Pastoral Action Center (LPAC), 14 West 170th St., the Bronx.

Headlines…

Amid rising anti-Semitic violence abroad and his own political travails at home, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has embarked on a furious campaign to define himself as an international spokesman for Jewish concerns, and to deepen his relationship with New York’s often fractious Jewish community. This summer, he’ll make his first trip as mayor to Israel.

This morning, de Blasio will bring his message of combating income inequality — and, in particular, his ambitious affordable housing plan — to a group of influential New York City business leaders whose support could prove vital.

State lawmakers said suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo over his bullying budget tactics would be a “last resort,” but they did not rule out that option completely.

Testifying at the year’s first NYC Council budget hearing, de Blasio’s Budget Director (and former top Assembly staffer) Dean Fuleihan said the city would be hurt by deep cuts proposed by Cuomo in funding for homeless services and insufficient education funding. “It has an enormous impact on our budget,” he said.

Former Queens Councilman Dan Halloran was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in two corruption schemes, including taking thousands of dollars in bribes to help Malcolm Smith, a Democrat and the former state Senate majority leader, run for New York City mayor in 2013 as a Republican.

New York City will become the nation’s first major metropolis to close its public schools in observance of the two most sacred Muslim holy days, de Blasio announced – a watershed moment for a group that has endured suspicion and hostility since the Sept. 11 attacks.

With the political winds seemingly at its back, New York City’s charter school movement staged a splashy rally in Albany with an enthusiastic mix of thousands of students, a raft of state leaders and a pinch-hitting pop star. At the same time, supporters of teachers’ unions, who had also traveled to Albany in an armada of buses, gathered at a convention center adjacent to the Capitol.

The students, many of them from Eva Moskowitz’s NYC-based Success Academy Network, got a day off school to take part in the huge rally on the steps of the Capitol that called for an end to the “failing schools crisis” and featured the hip-hop singer and WNBA star Lisa Leslie.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, IDC Leader Jeff Klein and LG Kathy Hochul attended the charter school rally, while Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie spoke to the teachers union members.

The pro-charter event, paid for by the pro-charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, featured an performance by Ashanti. Organizers claimed attendance of 13,000, though that number seemed high by at least a third. State Police said the event was permitted for 7,500 people.

Teachers who turned up for Cuomo’s Syracuse event on raising the state’s minimum wage were not allowed to enter.

Contractors, highway superintendents and legislators are renewing their push for road and bridge funding, calling out Cuomo’s plan to split up a $5.4 billion one-time cash surplus into various corners. In response, the governor said he was opposed to “pork barrel” spending.

More >

Extras

The US Justice Department has cleared a Ferguson, Mo., police officer of civil rights violations in the shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager whose death set off racially charged and sometimes violent protests last year.

The computer server that transmitted and received Hillary Clinton’s emails — on a private account she used exclusively for official business when she was secretary of state — traced back to an Internet service registered to her family’s home in Chappaqua.

The House Select Committee on Benghazi, which first discovered Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail, plans to issue a subpoena for all e-mails related to the attack from all Clintonemail.com accounts and any other staff members’ personal accounts.

The revelation about Clinton’s emails has blindsided the Democratic establishment.

Zephryr Teachout thinks Clinton needs to come clean on her email practices. “She shouldn’t have done it,” the Fordham Law School professor and 2014 gubernatorial candidate said.

Ex-NYC Councilman Dan Halloran was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in former Sen. Malcolm Smith’s scheme to bribe his way onto the GOP line in the 2013 NYC mayor’s race.

Representatives for Families for Excellent Schools said some 13,000 people attended the pro-charter school “Don’t Steal Success” rally today – unlike last year, the governor was not one of them.

…and, in case you were wondering, it wasn’t actually a rally, but a “civic field trip.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio defended Clinton, a longtime ally, noting she released 55,000 pages of emails from her personal account to the State Department upon stepping down in 2013.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is “100 percent supportive” of an effort by upstate business leaders, including many of his top allies, to increase an upstate economic development fund from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion.

Cuomo has yet to offer the full-throated public support for MMA that the sport’s promoters claim he has expressed in private, but continues to make generally supportive comments about its potential economic benefits.

De Blasio announced that the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Adha and al-Fitr have been added to the NYC public school schedule, calling it “a change that respects the diversity of our city.”

Cuomo’s case for investing $500 million of the $5.4 billion financial settlement windfall cash on broadband is “less than compelling,” says the Empire Center’s Kenneth Girardan.

Actress and TV host Whoopi Goldberg joined the Cuomo administration’s “Enough is Enough” campaign to eliminate sexual assaults from college campuses.

NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña tore into Cuomo’s proposal to base public school teachers’ ratings and retention on standardized testing.

Check out images of Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s idea for a rebranded New York State Fair.

Both state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and the New York Building Congress gave a thumbs up to de Blasio’s latest budget.

Cuomo has been the top recipient of hedge fund campaign contributions, taking in $4.8 million in donations during his time as state attorney general and governor, a new “Hedge Clippers” report found.

Georgina Bloomberg is likely going to support Clinton in 2016 “just to be able to say that I voted for the first woman President.”

De Blasio doesn’t plan on marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue because the event’s organizers haven’t done enough to include gay groups.

The state’s Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers Inc. called on the state Legislature to invest $350 million in new funding for heroin and substance use prevention, treatment and recovery programs.

Cuomo Doesn’t Shut Door On MMA

A bill that would legalize mixed-martial arts in the state is a “controversial” one, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged the sport is growing elsewhere across the country.

“I look at it more from an economic development point of view,” he said. “It’s a big sport, it’s growing. If it can create jobs, then I’m interested in it.”

Cuomo today in Rochester would not rule out backing the MMA legalization measure if it meant creating jobs.

“Mixed-martial arts, MMA, is a growing sport,” Cuomo said. “I believe it’s legal in every part of the country except New York state.”

The governor added he understands the concerns being raised by MMA legalization foes, who have raised concerns with the sport’s violence.

“I understand the point. I focus on that less,” Cuomo said. “Football is a violent sport, rugby is a violent sport. Some people state politics is a violent sport. But I’m more focused on the economics of it.”

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle last month re-introduced his MMA legalization measure, which is yet to pass his chamber.

Supporters of MMA have renewed hope, however, given that newly elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie had backed the legalization bill in the past.

Heastie said last month he would support whatever decision his conference makes on whether to allow a vote on the bill and that his support for the sport remains a personal one.

Skelos: Lawsuit Over Amendments Not Necessary

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was skeptical on Wednesday afternoon that a legal challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 30-day budget amendments was needed and was optimistic there would be a compromise on the $142 billion spending proposal.

“I don’t believe there are lawsuits that are necessary,” Skelos said. “We’re going through the 30-day amendments, whatever you want to call them, they’re very complicated. I know the Legislature, the speaker, we’re all looking at them.”

Skelos, along with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein met with Cuomo privately for more than a hour on Wednesday afternoon.

The meeting came as state lawmakers have so far not introduced Cuomo’s 30-day budget amendments, which tie appropriations in the proposal to new outside income disclosure proposals as well as reforms to the legislative per diem system.

The move is an effort to jam the Legislature in either approving the ethics legislation or voting them down. Cuomo has said he will not support a budget that does not include ethics reform in the wake of former Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest.

But Cuomo’s posture on inserting ethics legislation into spending bills has met opposition in the Legislature, where lawmakers want to be able to negotiate the finer points of the agreement.

Not introducing the bills, in essence, keeps the GOP conference’s options open in discussing the ethics issues with Cuomo.

So far, Skelos gave no indication the amendments would be introduced.

“We talked about a result,” Skelos said. “We didn’t talk about introducing, not introducing.”

Klein, the IDC leader, called the meeting a productive one.

“We really discussed about many of the issues that are in the 30-day amendments, trying to come up with an agreement,” Klein said.

Cuomo earlier in the day downplayed the disagreement with lawmakers.

“I will wager you there is no lawsuit,” Cuomo told reporters. “We have different points of view and we’re arguing it and working it through.

Assembly Republicans Unveil Ethics and Transparency Proposals

Assembly Republicans will introduce 17 proposals that would change day-to-day functions of the State Assembly Monday.

The conference spoke about five of the most significant proposals included in the full list. If passed, term limits for legislative leaders, committee chairpersons and the Assembly Speaker would be limited to 8 years.

All committee meetings would be televised, recorded, and made public on the Assembly website. There’s also a bill included from Assemblyman Marc Johns that would allow members to choose one piece of legislation to bypass committee and come to the floor for a vote.

“What we’re trying to do is instead of having embedded power, power of the few is to empower the hands of many. Each and every one of the 150 members of this Assembly needs more say, more voices in how state government operates.”

The reform proposals also include more additions to LRS – the state’s legislative retrieval system – by making committee votes available as well as roll calls of floor amendments and motions to discharge a bill.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said earlier today that while he hasn’t received any notions of support directly by democrats in the chamber, he remains optimistic about their chances given the latest scandal involving former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“When they had to change with the speakership, there were many members of the Assembly majority talking about change, opening up the process, obviously having more member participation … I don’t think there’s a legitimate reason not to support each and every one of these 17 reforms because it’s going to empower them as much as it’s going to empower us.”

The conference will introduce each of the 17 reforms separately instead of including them in an all-or-nothing package. The State Senate has actually already passed one of those – a bill limiting leadership positions to eight years in both chambers.