Nick Reisman

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Stefanik Announces Staff Hires

Republican Rep.-elect Elise Stefanik on Wednesday announced a series of staffing moves as she is poised to represent the 21st congressional district starting in January.

Stefanik, who won in a landslide earlier this month against Democrat Aaron Woolf and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello, has hired a chief of staff and a scheduler, according to her transition.

Lindley Katrovil is coming on board as Stefanik’s chief of staff. She has previously worked for congressional members from Colorado and Indiana. Like Stefanik, she is a former staffer in George W. Bush’s presidential administration.

“I am pleased to announce that Lindley will join my team as Chief of Staff. She brings a wealth of experience from both the Legislative and Executive Branches, has a mastery of key policy issues and has helped start up a new office before,” Stefanik said in a statement.

Stefanik also tapped Emily Hunter to serve as her schedule, who is moving over from the office of Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas.

Stefanik is filling the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Bill Owens, who declined to run for another term.

In NYC, Voters Write In Taylor Swift, Frank Underwood and Derek Jeter

OK, which one of you smart alecks voted for Derek Jeter?

The New York City Board of Elections on Wednesday released its certification report on the race for governor, which — delightfully — also gave a rundown of write-ins votes for celebrities, fictional characters and figures currently in the news.

Those receiving write-in votes included pop singer Taylor Swift, she received two votes, as did NYPIRG legislative director Blair Horner.

Frank Underwood, the Machiavellian politician who will stop at nothing to rise to the top of politics on the Netflix show “House of Cards”, received one vote.

The odd coupling of environmental activist Robert Kennedy, Jr. and former President Bill Clinton received one vote as well.

Dr. Craig Spencer, a Brooklyn doctor who was treated for Ebola and later released, received multiple votes alongside Kaci Hicox, a nurse who was briefly detained after returning from west Africa.

Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law School professor who challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo, received several hundred votes when combined with various incorrect spellings of her name.

Together with her running mate, Columbia professor Tim Wu, the erstwhile insurgent Democratic ticket received 133 write-in votes.

Perennial write-in candidate Mickey Mouse did not receive any votes, according to the report.

248331187 NY State Official Election Results by Nick Reisman

Barring Special Session, Infrastructure Spending Could Dominate 2015

Ask local governments about their wishlist for 2015 and the conversation inevitably turns to infrastructure spending. With the state running a multibillion dollar surplus, municipal leaders have a long list of what needs to get fixed.

“We think municipal infrastructure is really the foundation of economic development: transportation, water, sewer. There would be a huge return on investment if we were to do that,” said Peter Baynes, Conference of Mayors executive director.

Indeed, the 2015 legislative session could bring some major infrastructure projects for localities that have struggled to maintain roads, bridges and sewer systems after years of lean budgets.

“What happened in Erie County really brings to the front of the line if you will the need for infrastructure spending,” said Stephen Acquario, Association Of Counties executive director.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs using at least part of the surplus gained from windfall financial settlements on needed repairs, but the governor also wants to spend about $500 million on encouraging local governments to consolidate and share services. It’s a conversation Cuomo has tried to spark over the last several years with little success.

Local government advocates in Albany are cool to the idea, arguing that the best way to reduce property taxes is to help reduce mandated state spending.

“To dump a lot of state resources to sort of force a shotgun marriage that doesn’t always work, we don’t think makes a lot of sense. We think there’s better ways to use the money,” Baynes said.

Meanwhile, local governments may next year push for changes to the state’s property tax cap, first approved in 2011. The cap is tied to rent control laws for New York City, which are due to expire in June.

“We really have to look at the tax cap, we have to look at the language, see where it’s working, see where it’s not working in areas of payment in lieu of taxes,” said Acquario. “There are certain technical things that are tied to that current law that can and should be changed for the betterment of the program all across the state.

The debate over how to spend the surplus could be defused next in December if lawmakers convene in a special session.

Pension Fund Posts Negative Return

The total value of the state’s pension fund fell in the second quarter following a broader under performance of the financial markets, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Wednesday announced.

The fund’s rate of return was a negative 0.52 percent, taking the pension fund’s estimated value to $178.3 billion.

At the start of the state’s fiscal year, April 1, the fund was valued at $176.8 billion and had grown to $180.7 billion.

DiNapoli blamed the fund’s poor performance on “challenges” in the various markets, including small cap stocks and central banking decisions that led to market volatility overall.

“On the heels of a robust first quarter, the second quarter presented investors with challenges,” DiNapoli said. “As always, our diversified investment allocation positions us to maximize long-term value.”

Special Session Over-Under

From the Morning Memo:

There has been a lot of talk about whether the Legislature will return to Albany before the 2015 session – most likely in the second week of December – to approve a pay raise for lawmakers, whose $79,500 starting salary has remained the same since early 1999.

Officially speaking, there are no formal negotiations taking place. Both legislative leaders have spoken publicly about their support for a pay raise, but Cuomo hasn’t yet said much of anything.

That’s thanks in part to the fact that he was focused on storm recovery in Western NY, where he spent almost an entire week. Now, of course, the governor’s attention has turned to the next big storm to threaten the state.

But this storm isn’t expected to be nearly as significant, accumulation-wise, and Cuomo’s return to the NYC area has re-started the special session speculation.

The main question is what – if anything – lawmakers and the governor will seek to link to the pay raise in order to give themselves some cover.

If legislators return to Albany just to give themselves a nice holiday gift of higher pay, it isn’t going to sit well with many New Yorkers – especially when liberal advocates are calling for action on a minimum wage increase. But there isn’t really any consensus at this point on the linkage question.

Last night on CapTon, John McArdle, the Senate GOP’s former chief spokesman, who maintains strong ties to the conference and its leader, put the chances of a special session at “50-50, no better right now.”

McArdle argued in favor of a straight pay raise bill with nothing attached, other than perhaps reform of the per diem system.

“I think anything that’s on the table right now could be done in January, so there’s really only one issue that would require them to come back,” McArdle said.

“..when you get to what that could potentially be traded for, that’s where it becomes problematic, and may negative the session. Period.”

McArdle also argued that at a time when people like US Attorney Preet Bharara are investigating supposed “quid pro quos” and other illegal actions by state lawmakers, it might not look so great for legislators to vote “yes” on a pay raise in exchange for their support of some unrelated legislation.

Of course, that’s a time-honored tradition in Albany.

The last time lawmakers passed a (38 percent) pay raise, they did so only after striking a deal with then-Gov. George Pataki that created charter schools in New York and set up a system in which legislators’ paychecks would be withheld if they failed to enact an on-time budget. (In the long run, that didn’t work very well as a deterrent).

McArdle did point out that Cuomo ostensibly “needs” a pay raise just as much as legislators do, since any increase in salary will apply not only to his own bottom line, but also to that of his senior staffers.

And that might help the governor attract some new talent for Term Two at a time when he’s having a very tough time recruiting replacements for departing top aides.

Signs right now are pointing to the days on or around Dec. 10 as a likely time for lawmakers to return to Albany.

As Capital’s Jimmy Vielkind notes this morning, the Senate Republicans are scheduled to host a fundraiser at the Fort Orange Club in Albany on Dec. 10, which is the same day Cuomo will announce the latest round of regional economic development council awards.

Cuomo: State Prepared To Shut Down I-84

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Tuesday said the state was prepared to shut down Interstate 84 as early as Wednesday at 7 a.m. should road travel be deemed too hazardous.

The warning comes as a snow storm is expected to hit parts of New York, including the upstate region, starting on Wednesday, with some areas receiving up to 10 inches of snow.

And the storm itself comes a day before Thanksgiving, typically the biggest travel day of the year.

As such, Cuomo is urging drivers to plan alternate routes around I-84.

“This is one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, and with winter weather expected to impact much of the state, I urge all travelers to planning to use I-84 to establish an alternative route and exercise caution,” Cuomo said. “I’ve directed State agencies to be on heightened alert as this storm develops, and we are taking all necessary precautions to address potentially hazardous conditions. We’re hoping for the best, but planning for the worst in order to keep New Yorkers safe.”

Weather forecasts do not expect snow to accumulate in significance until later in the day.

However, Cuomo would likely want to avoid a repeat of having drivers stuck on the state Thruway as many were following a torrent of snow being unleashed on western New York earlier this month.

Cuomo has closed I-84 in the past, a move that was met with criticism by Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican who represents the Hudson Valley. Ball questioned the need to for closing the road at the time given the conditions were not considered all that dangerous.

Could A Hydrofracking Resolution Come In 2015?

Come 2015, hydrofracking, controversial gas drilling process, and whether it should be done in New York State, could loom large in state politics.

The contentious environmental issue has been under review the entire time Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been in office.

In October’s gubernatorial debate, Cuomo said he expects a review of the impacts of the natural gas extraction process to be released by the end of the year, and that he’s relying on experts to help him make the decision.

Should he approve hydrofracking, even on a limited basis, expect a big push from environmental groups and from lawmakers who want to ban the practice entirely.

“If you’re in the Legislature, I don’t know how you go ahead and say yes to fracking when more health information comes out on a weekly basis,” said Peter Iwanowicz, Environmental Advocates of New York executive director.

Cuomo has been criticized for an ongoing health review that has been performed in secret with little public input.

“We’ve worked under the assumption that the governor can decide whether we’re going to frack or not at anytime. He can decide today. He can decide the minute he sees the health study, which he’s done in secret,” said Iwanowicz.

Supporters of hydrofracking, however, point to the economic benefits, especially for the economically troubled Southern Tier, where natural gas deposits are especially rich.

“These are benefits that our Southern Tier communities many of them are looking for,” said Karen Moreau, New York Petroleum Institute executive director. “They’re supportive of drilling and we’re hoping we’ll see this move forward in 2015.”

Moreau points to recent court rulings that have allowed local governments to set the agenda on fracking, suggesting the fight over fracking may be concentrated not in Albany, but on the local level.

“Frankly there’s been a defacto moratorium because of the executive’s decision, so I don’t see the legislature looking to do anything like that and most importantly the decision has mostly shifted to the local level,” Moreau said.

The health department’s review began in September 2012.

State Pension Fund Commits $50M In New Investments

The state pension fund has committed $50 million in additional investment funds that will go toward state-based companies, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced on Tuesday.

The investment is part of the In-State Private Equity Investment Program, which DiNapoli said has been a success with a rate of return of $293 million while also boosting growht in the local economy.

Investments being made in the companies is being overseen by Graycliff Partners.

“This $50 million commitment to Graycliff will help to keep the state pension fund strong for the more than one million retirement system members and retirees as well as promote growth in our local economies,” DiNapoli said.

Overall, the state has invested $760 million in nearly 300 state-based companies, which the comptroller’s office says has either created or retained 4,000 jobs as of September.

The September report on the equity program can be found here:

Investing in NY Report 2014 by Nick Reisman

NYC Unemployment Outpaces Upstate

Upstate continued to have a slightly lower unemployment rate than the New York City metropolitan region, according to regional employment data released by the state Department of Labor.

In the 52-county region designated as upstate New York, unemployment stands at 5.5 percent.

Downstate, in the New York City region including the northern suburbs and Long Island, unemployment last month was 5.8 percent.

Unemployment in the upstate region overall has fallen in the last 12 months by more than a full percentage point: In October 2013, unemployment stood at 6.6 percent.

The counties with the lowest unemployment are mostly upstate, with Tompkins County (home of Ithaca College and Cornell University) at 3.9 percent.

  • Tompkins County (3.9%)
  • Yates County (4.3%)
  • Saratoga County (4.4%)
  • Columbia County (4.5%)
  • Putnam County (4.5%)
  • Nassau County (4.6%)
  • Albany County (4.8%)
  • Ontario County (4.8%)
  • Rockland County (4.8%)
  • Suffolk County (4.9%)

Unemployment remains highest in the Bronx, where it stands at 9 percent.

Overall, unemployment last fell in New York from 6.2 percent to 6 percent.

Despite the unemployment numbers reflecting some good news for upstate, the area as a whole is not growing as fast economically compared to the rest of the state.

ur_map by Nick Reisman

Kennedy On Sticking With The Mainline Conference, Carlucci With IDC

Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, says he’ll continue “working with” the mainline conference in the state Senate after the Independent Democratic Conference backed a primary challenge to him in September.

Kennedy, in an interview on Capital Tonight, didn’t necessarily give a Shermanesque, I’m-sticking-with-the-Democrats response to questions about his joining the IDC.

“Look, I am a Democrat. I’ve been working with the Democratic conference, and I’m going to continue to support the Democratic conference,” Kennedy say. “I believe in the short term and in the long term that Democrats are going to help our entire state have the economic recovery that we can all be proud of. Helping working families doing things like improving the minimum wage, fighting for women and the women’s health and the ten point women’s plan as well as helping to make sure children are a top priority, education is a top priority. We continue the economic revival of our state. We continue job creation, the momentum that’s already been started there.”

Asked a second time, Kennedy said he would work with both conferences.

“My goal right now is to get back to Albany and to continue to work on the progress we’ve already begun, continue to work with the Democratic conference, continue to work with the IDC and the Republicans where we can to deliver results to the people of Buffalo Cheektowaga and Lackawana, which is the district that I represent,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy at one point in 2012 received contributions from the IDC, which both sides downplayed in significance. This year, mainline conference member Sen. George Latimer received $40,000 from the IDC, which the the breakaway conference said was about supporting Democrats in state Senate races.

Meanwhile, Sen. David Carlucci says he will continue on as a member of the IDC despite speculation he’ll be jumping ship.

“I have been a proud Democrat throughout my career and that will never change,” Carlucci said in a statement. “I personally contributed time and resources toward winning a Democratic majority. At the same time for the last four years I have been a member of the Independent Democratic Conference that has produced real results for New Yorkers by working in a bipartisan fashion. The people of my district care about results, they care about governing, and they care that their elected officials are motivated by ideas and not politics. I will continue to work with with my colleagues in the IDC to help the people in my district.”

Carlucci remaining in the IDC’s fold comes despite pressure from local county Democrats to have him defect to the mainline conference.

Carlucci represents Rockland County, where Kristen Stavisky is the county Democratic chairwoman. She is the wife of Evan Stavisky, a partner at The Parkside Group, which provides consulting services for the mainline conference.

At the same time, incoming Democratic Sen.-elect Jesse Hamilton has not said whether he’ll join the mainline conference or the IDC.

The jockeying and speculation over who lands where comes as the IDC and Senate Republicans try to strike a new coalition agreement after the elections.

Under the current configuration, IDC Leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos share leadership power in the chamber.

The Republican conference captured full control of the chamber this month, but a source says one idea floated in the talks has been to allow the IDC to retain power in the chamber, with a hand-shake agreement continuing on through the 2016 elections.