The Weekend That Has Been (So Far)

While we’re waiting for the white smoke to emanate from the state Capitol, indicating a budget deal has been reached, here are some headlines – most, but not all, of which are non-budget related – to peruse:

First responders recovered two bodies from the wreckage of Thursday’s explosion in the East Village. The mayor’s office and NYPD said they haven’t positively identified the remains and the notification was ongoing. Two people were reported missing following the fire, which destroyed three buildings on Second Avenue.

The Cyclone at Coney Island got stuck at the top of its track today, marring its season debut and forcing passengers to walk down the tracks to safety, according to images and accounts posted on social media.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio scrambled to the aid of a mounted NYPD officer after the cop’s horse flung him onto the pavement in the middle of today’s Greek Independence Day Parade. The officer suffered minor injuries to his right ankle and is in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital.

Cuomo and legislative leaders have reached an agreement on the health and mental hygiene portion of the state’s 2015-16 fiscal year budget, but still have yet to reach an agreement on some of the most controversial health care proposals elsewhere in the state’s $141.6 billion spending plan.

Comedian Louis C.K. and “Nightly Show” host Larry Wilmore added some heft to de Blasio’s patented dad humor Saturday night at the annual Inner Circle dinner.

Much of de Blasio’s act mocked his liberal agenda, including universal pre-kindergarten and a new relaxed marijuana policy. He also poked fun at rumors of the mayor’s marijuana use, quipping that he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, used celery every day at 4:20 p.m.

Potential Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley said the country needs fresh perspectives for confronting its problems, adding: “The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families.” (In other words, the Bushes and the Clintons).

Former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton decided to “wipe her server clean” and permanently delete all e-mails from the personal server, according to the head of a House committee investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Hillary dvisers are once again grappling with how to deploy former President Clinton, a strategic imperative that was executed so poorly in 2008 that it resulted in some of the worst moments of her campaign.

Fred LeBrun: “The real red herring here is the entire daft preoccupation during Cuomo’s tenure with formalizing ethical standards for the Legislature of a sufficient sort to pass some mythical muster. The trap here is obvious. We’ve been down this road so many times we know all the landmarks.”

As local school districts await word from Albany on state aid, some are developing multiple budget proposals based on best, worst and most likely scenarios.

Buffalo stands to benefit in several ways in the final budget deal, based on talks that are ongoing at the Capitol.

The retirement of US Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid could come with a gift to New York: the possibility Sen. Charles Schumer may succeed him in a role almost certain to bring increased influence to the state.

Schumer confirmed his is indeed a candidate for Reid’s leadership post, but told reporters: “I want to tell my constituents, that I will continue to work as hard as I always have for New York. It’s in my bones and it will not diminish in any way.”

Schumer is calling for passage of legislation to outlaw gender-based pay discrimination. He says a recent study shows that unfairness even extends to nursing, where males are paid more than female counterparts.

Wayne Barrett reveals 70 backers of former MetCouncil head Willie Rapfogel, who is in prison for looting some $9 million from the non profit – including 19 rabbis, several politicians, and some of the city’s and country’s most prominent leaders of Jewish organizations – petitioned Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to go easy on Rapfogel.

Slated for release Tuesday, “The Contender” (Twelve, $30, 539 pages), the unauthorized biography of Cuomo, probably isn’t the book employees of the executive chamber want to be spotted reading on their lunch hour.

The state Board of Elections, even though it voted more than a year ago to investigate the WNY Progressive Caucus, refuses to discuss the case because it was referred to its enforcement counsel.

A New York City law firm says it has filed a class action lawsuit accusing the Syracuse-based Dinosaur Bar-B-Que chain of failing to pay its tipped workers fair wages.

After an outcry over a plan to install a boldly colored, government-financed sculpture in Queens, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer intends to submit a bill to the City Council this week that would allow for more public comment on public art commissions.

De Blasio has scheduled press conferences, speeches or public events before 11 a.m. just 23 of 87 days this year. The mayor has admitted he’s “not a morning person.”

Cuomo’s signature economic development program, Start-Up NY, has been slow to start up in the Syracuse area. Just three companies of the 93 approved for the program so far are located in Central New York.

Queens Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz and Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder are looking to change a law that requires morgues and hospitals to hand over unclaimed bodies to educational institutions after as little as 48 hours.

Diplomats have 529 legal places to park in New York City — but still racked up more than $16 million in parking tickets. The city has issued 219,902 parking violations to diplomatic vehicles including 18,008 alone to Egypt which owes $1.97 million – the most of any country.

Rep. Grace Meng, who is Chinese-American, said she was “deeply troubled” by NYC Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo’s bizarre comments about a wave of Asians moving into NYCHA developments in her district.

A new NYC Council bill to be introduced by Manhattan’s Dan Garodnick would require the NYPD to publish its official patrol guide on its website.

Ginia Bellafante: “The Hedge Clippers will accomplish a great deal if they can simply turn the secretive few into the widely infamous.”

In an excerpt from his forthcoming memoir, former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik recalls the disappointment and hurt experienced by he and his daughters when former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani rebuffed him due to his legal troubles.

Robert Moses, the bureaucrat-visionary who shaped the modern face of New York City, is the subject of a 105-page graphic biography published in English in December by Nobrow. It comes from France, where serious subjects often get the graphic-book treatment.

Budget To Include Juvenile Justice Reform Money

State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo could not reach a deal on juvenile justice reform in the state budget, but are planning to fund the proposed change to the age of criminal responsibility in the state budget.

The budget includes a $25 million allocation for juvenile justice changes, which include the planned increase in the age of criminal responsibility.

Cuomo had initially proposed the raise the age effort in January and included the policy changes in his state budget.

However, the debate over reforms to the juvenile justice system proved to be deeply complex and, for now, are being pushed further down the legislative docket.

Despite what appears to be a partial victory, the campaign backing the effort to “Raise the Age” is not declaring this a win just yet.

“The proposal to raise the age at which youth are charged as adults in the criminal justice system has support from Right on Crime and the Nation; sheriffs and District Attorneys from across the state; unions; clergy; children’s advocates and civil rights leaders,” the group said in a statement. “We look forward to the Governor and Legislature getting raise the age done. Failing to do so is not an option, as it would shamefully leave New York as one of only two states where 16 year olds are charged as adults and would perpetuate bad outcomes with increased likelihood of youth re-offending and decreased public safety. Time is of the essence, we have an opportunity to be smart on crime and raise the age of criminal responsibility.”

Four Budget Bills Pop Over Night (Updated)

Four budget bills were introduced before midnight on Saturday, while a broader deal on the state budget is yet to be reached.

Measures introduced last night include spending plans for the legislative and judiciary branches, aid to localities spending, health and mental hygiene and the revenue bill.

Gone from the budget framework is a property-tax rebate proposal akin to a “circuit-breaker” that would tie relief to a household’s income.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Saturday at the Capitol the property tax discussion, as well as a minimum wage increase, could be left for later in the legislative session, which runs through June.

Major aspects of the 2015-16 state spending are yet to be ironed out, however.

Lawmakers and Cuomo are yet to reach an agreement on education spending in the state, which is typically the final piece of the budget puzzle.

What makes this year different is that Cuomo is pushing for education reform measures in the budget – including a tougher teacher evaluation criteria and a receivership program for struggling (AKA “failing”) schools.

Assembly Democrats, in particular, have been hesitant to accept Cuomo’s education proposals.

We do know, however, that due to opposition in both houses, education spending in the budget is no longer linked to the reforms, and lawmakers expect to have a district-by-district breakdown of school aid – also known in Albany as “school runs” – in the coming days.

Cuomo had angered local education officials by refusing to release school runs this year, saying the numbers would be vastly different depending on whether lawmakers accepted or rejected his reform proposals. A number of those proposals have fallen off the budget negotiation table.

It is expected the final education aid increase will stand at around $1.4 billion, if not more.

At the same time, Cuomo is also pushing Senate Republicans to accept new disclosure measures for outside legal clients of state lawmakers.

As of Sunday morning, neither the massive education, labor and family assistance bill or the ethics bill has appeared in print — meaning both will likely require a message of necessity from Cuomo to waive the required three-day aging process if officials want to meet Tuesday’s on-time budget deadline.

Cuomo is due back in Albany later today after appearing at the Greek Independence Day Parade in his role as grand marshal.

Lawmakers are also due back to the Capitol later in the day to conference the latest in the budget talks.

UPDATE: The Assembly Democrats are scheduled to conference early this evening. The Senate Republicans are not conferencing again until tomorrow at noon.

Cuomo Calls This Budget The Hardest He’s Negotiated

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the negotiations over this year’s state budget “without a doubt” the hardest he’s dealt with since taking office.

No deal had been reached as of Saturday afternoon, and Cuomo had left the Capitol for appearances at the Inner Circle show’s cocktail hour and the Greek Independence Day Parade’s gala – both in New York City.

Cuomo reiterated that he still wants a budget that includes ethics reform legislation pertaining to the disclosure of legal clients of state lawmakers and what he called a broad transformation of the state’s education system.

“At the end of the day I want to be able to say transformation of education and ethics reforms that you haven’t seen in decades,” Cuomo told reporters in a gaggle outside of his office.

A final figure for additional state education spending was not revealed, though sources believe it will be around $1.4 billion – if not more.

Still, Cuomo indicated a number of issues in the budget are yet to be resolved, including tougher criteria for teacher performance evaluations.

Education policy, over which Assembly Democrats and the governor have been locked in protracted negotiations, has been the most arduous slog of this year’s budget battle, Cuomo indicated.

Cuomo said he wants “a really comprehensive transformation of probably what’s one of the most entrenched systems in the state of New York, what’s called the public education system,” adding: “It’s probably as not as good as it should be, but has always defied change.”

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are pushing to alter his proposal to spend $5 billion in windfall surplus funds, which includes the $1.5 billion upstate economic development competition that opponents have taken to calling the gubernatorial “Hunger Games.”

“Upstate New York has been short changed for decades,” Cuomo said. “I want to continue momentum and continue the investment.”

Cuomo opened the door to considering a property-tax rebate program and a minimum wage hike outside of the budget process — potentially leaving those issues, plus the DREAM Act and education investment tax credit to June.

Negotiations in recent days at the Capitol had centered around potentially linking some form of property tax relief to a minimum wage increase.

“Property tax cuts, minimum wage, Dream Act, EITC – these are issues you can address in the regular session,” Cuomo said.

The DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and the tax credit — meant to encourage donations to public schools and scholarship programs that benefit private schools — remain priorities, the governor said.

“Having said that, we still have a budget,” he said.

Cuomo insisted he would still have the leverage to do those items out of the budget negotiations, a process in which a governor typically has more power over state lawmakers.

“You still have the money in the budget,” Cuomo said. “If you pass a tax credit in June, you have the money. If you pass a rebate in June, you have the money.”

Still, leaving those measures out of the spending plan will make for a very busy June and Cuomo still use the expiration of rent laws and mayoral control for New York City to his advantage.

Cuomo acknowledged that it’s likely he would have to issue messages of necessity for some budget bills that are yet to be introduced in order to have them voted on early in the week to meet the April 1 deadline.

Lawmakers Continue To Haggle Over Education Aid

Assembly Democrats on Saturday continued to hash out the finer points of the 2015-16 state budget and while a deal seemed close, details on school receivership, education aid distribution and a potential minimum wage hike linked to property tax relief still remained outstanding issues.

Speaker Carl Heastie met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for about an hour on Saturday morning before returning to speak with some of the Democratic lawmakers who returned to the Capitol. Assembly Democrats are expected to be back at the Capitol by Sunday evening.

“We’re moving, we’re talking, we’re still anticipating an on-time budget,” Heastie told reporters outside of his office.

“Nothing is final, it hasn’t been closed down,” he added.

Still, a handful of budget bills have gone to print, including amended spending proposals for the public-protection and general government spending, as well as transportation and economic development spending.

Budget bills posted late last night showed a long-sought pay raise schedule for management-confidential workers — state employees who are not members of a public-workers union — that would be in place through 2018.

Management confidential employees or “M/Cs” have lobbied officials to include the pay raise in a budget plan after the governor vetoed a commission that would recommend potential salary increases.

Broader questions remain on school aid, however, even as education reforms such as teacher evaluation criteria are no longer linked to funding.

Sources familiar with the discussion say a final school aid figure could be north of $1.4 billion. The more nettlesome task now underway for legislative and executive staff is distributing school aid, and the “runs” for districts may not be available until early next week.

“We’re still going over the break down on the education,” Heastie said.

Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats continue to raise concerns with Cuomo’s proposal to have the state takeover struggling schools.

Lawmakers want to include a local component for school receivership as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pushes his own renewal program for public schools on the local level.

Democrats are also pushing for a minimum wage increase in the final state budget agreement, a push that could end up linking a property tax relief plan favored by Senate Republicans.

Cuomo had initially proposed a rebate program akin to a circuit-breaker for tax relief as well as a two-tiered wage increase for New York City and a lower one for the rest of the state. Assembly Democrats in their one-house budget resolution sought to expand on that measure by including the northern suburbs as well as Long Island in the higher wage bracket.

As for ethics disclosure in the budget, Senate Republicans were poised to make an agreement on a bill that would require revealing outside legal clients, a move already backed by Assembly Democrats.

“Ask the governor and the Senate,” Heastie said of the ethics package. “We’re comfortable.”

The budget is due by Tuesday, the final day of the state’s fiscal year.

Meetings with the Mayor

Mayor de Blasio met with a host of prominent New Yorkers over the last six months of 2014 – but only once with Governor Cuomo. That’s according to his official schedule, released today through a Freedom of Information Act request. The mayor and Governor sat down together at Casa Lever, an Italian restaurant in Midtown, on July 11. He also dined with former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on September 30 at Prime Grill, a kosher steakhouse in Manhattan.
While the mayor says he is fighting to close the gap between wealthy and poor New Yorkers, his schedule shows he’s made time for some of the city’s biggest leaders in finance and media. He spoke on the phone with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase and met with Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs, for 45 minutes at City Hall in July. De Blasio also met with Les Moonves, the President and CEO of CBS in August and had a phone call with him in November. All three ended up serving on the mayor’s host committee as part of the city’s push to win the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Opponents of the horse-drawn carriage industry also got an audience with the mayor. He hosted a meeting with two prominent opponents at Gracie Mansion in September. Steven Nislick and Wendy Neu got an hour of his time, according to his schedule. Both were big donors to the anti-Christine Quinn group “New York City Is Not For Sale” during the 2013 mayor’s race.
Also invited to Gracie Mansion? Lobbyists Harold Ickes and Janine Enright. They came for dinner with the mayor and his wife. Ickes, a former Clinton administration official, is also an adviser to the mayor.
There was some time for celebrating, the mayor’s schedule shows. He attended a reunion with his campaign staff at a rooftop bar on September 10th, exactly a year after he won the Democratic primary. The views from the top of 230 Fifth Avenue are impressive. The mayor and his aides could take a good look at the city they had won.

Extras

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced he won’t seek re-election in 2016, and endorsed US Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the chamber as his leadership successor.

Reid insisted the injuries he sustained during a January exercising accident were “nothing” compared to what he sustained in the ring as a young boxer, and said the incident did not motivate his decision to retire.

Reid said he believed the No. 2 Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin, would stand aside for his former roommate, Schumer.

As predicted, Durbin is indeed backing Schumer to succeed Reid, and he plans to run for minority whip again.

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she supports Schumer, though he might face a challenge from a female member of the Democratic conferene: Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington.

For Schumer, this is “the culmination of a ten-year climb through the leadership ranks of the Senate Democrats.”

Four major banks are threatening to withhold campaign donations to Senate Democrats in anger over Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s attacks on Wall Street.

A new gas main was being installed without city permission at the East Village building where a massive explosion and fire injured at least 25 people and left two missing.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio toured the blast site for about 30 minutes earlier today with top administration officials to assess the damage.

Buffalo made Men’s Journal’s list of America’s 50 Best Places to Live.

Sen. John Flanagan has some fans at NT2.

Rep. Pete King, who’s mulling a 2016 presidential run, released a statement accusing supporters of announced candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of hurling “vulgar, rabid and adolescent type” attacks at his office.

“There’s nothing good to come of a late budget,” said state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, though his office is prepared, should that scenario occur.

The post-budget fight over extending NYC mayoral control could get ugly.

Sen. Brad Hoylman credited singer Miley Cyrus for the $4.5 million in funding for homeless youth shelters included in this year’s state budget – the first significant increase in seven years.

A law firm headed by state Sen. Marc Panepinto has purchased a historic mansion on Buffalo’s Delaware Avenue for $1.21 million with the intent of moving into the property this summer

Syracuse firefighters will get retroactive 2 percent raises for the past two years but will begin paying 70 percent more for health care under an arbitration panel’s award issued this week.

The Greater Glens Falls Democracy for America chapter wants Cuomo to direct that all five medical marijuana growing licenses the state plans to issue be located in upstate New York.

Sen. Diane Savino did some hula hooping at Astroland’s opening day.

This year, the New York State Fair is seeking a vendor to operate a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in a dedicated space inside the International Building.

How liberals are hoping to nudge Hillary Clinton to the left.

Good-Government Groups Huddle With Cuomo’s Office

As the negotiations over the state budget appear to be winding down, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s counsel’s office met privately on Friday afternoon with several good-government advocates to discuss new outside income disclosure requirements under consideration.

The meeting was not with Cuomo himself, though the governor did make a brief appearance, said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Details were scarce on what a possible agreement between Cuomo and state lawmakers might look like at this point, though advocates said they were under the impression no formal deal had been made.

“I think the issue is still open,” Horner said.

Common Cause New York’s Susan Lerner agreed.

“The ethics bill is still in progress,” Lerner said. “I don’t think we learned anything that is surprising.”

The meeting was meant more to “trade ideas back and forth,” she said.

Both Lerner and Horner declined to go into the specifics of what was discussed or what proposals the governor’s office sought to float with them.

“I don’t think we’re in a position to go into any specifics,” Lerner said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos earlier in the day said he expected an ethics bill to be introduced as early as this evening.

Assembly Democrats last week announce they were in support of an ethics package agreed to by Cuomo that would create new disclosure requirements for lawmakers with legal clients and campaign finance while also change the travel reimbursement structure.

Senate Republicans have balked at the disclosure requirements and Cuomo has spent the last several days trying to reach an agreement that meets their concerns.

Lerner insisted no bill language was put before them in the meeting.

“We won’t possible know until we see bill language,” she said. “Things can be described and what it comes down to is drafting. Sometimes the drafting can be more expansive and helpful than the description.”

Schwartz Lands At OTG

Larry Schwartz, the former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will become the chief strategy officer for OTG, an airport management firm, the company announced on Friday.

“I am pleased to welcome Larry Schwartz as part of the OTG team. He is a proven leader with a track record of managing complex initiatives and delivering results at the highest levels. His experience and leadership will be a tremendous asset,” said OTG CEO Rick Blatstein.

Schwartz had initially left the administration at the start of the year and was replaced with Bill Mulrow, an investment banker and a longtime figure in state political circles.

At the time, the administration said Schwartz was leaving for a private-sector job.

“I am thrilled to be joining OTG, a company that is transforming airports across the country through local dining, award-winning design, and ground-breaking technology,” Schwartz said in a statement.

OTG briefly employed another former Cuomo aide, ex-State Operations Director Howard Glaser.

However, The New York Post reported last month that Schwartz was still on the administration’s payroll and was receiving accrued vacation time.

The administration later acknowledged Schwartz was still coming to the office to help with the transition. He final day was earlier this month.

Assembly, Senate Combine For Almost $1M In Legal Bills

The state Assembly and Senate combined for nearly $1 million in legal fees last month associated with various sexual harassment scandals in one house and for representation related to the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption in the other, according to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

The Democratic-led Assembly was approved for $545,000 to “various recipients” in order to settle the sexual harassment lawsuit against one-time Brooklyn power broker Vito Lopez.

The former assemblyman resigned following a Joint Commission on Public Ethics report that revealed the details of abuse and harassment by Lopez directed toward his legislative staff.

Ultimately, two staffers sued Lopez and the Assembly in court, which was recently settled.

Meanwhile, the Assembly also spent $13,000 for outside legal counsel from Whiteman Osterman & Hanna in the appeals process for former Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who was accused of sending inappropriate texts and online chats with legislative employees.

Kellner did not run for re-election last year.

In the Republican-led Senate, $435,000 was approved in legal bills to Kirkland & Ellis, which is special counsel for the conference in the Moreland Commission investigation.

The commission ultimately shuttered last year following an agreement on ethics measures in the state budget.

The panel’s closure, as well as the evidence it generated, is being reviewed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.