Nick Reisman

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Cuomo: $2.5B For Water Quality ‘Not A Cheap Solution’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted a $2.5 billion bond for water quality and infrastructure upgrades contained in the state budget, saying in Auburn on Wednesday it wasn’t a “cheap solution” to a statewide problem.

Cuomo was in Auburn ostensibly to highlight the state’s efforts to cleanup Owasco Lake, one of the Finger Lakes which has been targeted for filtering of blue-green algae.

“The $2.5 billion is obviously a lot of money, but it’s a statewide problem,” Cuomo said. “It’s not a cheap solution to this, but you don’t want a cheap solution to this.”

Elsewhere, communities in eastern upstate New York have been under the strain of chemical contamination, with problems arising in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Newburgh.

Cuomo blamed a trio of broad issues for the water problems: Aging infrastructure, the classification of safe levels of chemicals by the Environmental Protection Agency and economic development.

“It’s threatened by development. It’s threatened, quite frankly, by the success of our economy,” Cuomo said, pointing to home building and the success of the state’s Greek yogurt industry.

“We’ve done a lot of things to stimulate the agricultural industry and that’s great,” he said. “But that also generates issues and a lot of those issues end up in the water.”

The $2.5 billion approved in the state budget includes money for a variety of quality control concerns, upgrades and testing, but some environmental organizations believe it is only a fraction of what is needed to strengthen the state’s water needs.

Cuomo wrapped the concerns in a broader message about conservation.

“Your basic responsibility is to leave the place better than you found it,” he said. “Every philosopher says that. Every religion says that in its own way.”

Moody’s: Enrollment Spike At SUNY Could Hurt System

The credit rating agency Moody’s in a report released Wednesday found the free tuition program as approved in the 2017-18 state budget is unlikely to have a negative impact on the credit of the state’s public universities.

For the most part, any bump in enrollment will be offset by tuition dollars already being paid.

The program once fully phased in would provide free tuition to students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year and will cost $160 million. The state budget agreement also included a $200 tuition increase.

“The new scholarship may contribute to a modest increase in overall enrollment, but we believe it is more likely these funds will supplant tuition dollars already paid by students from middle-income families,” said Moody’s Associate Managing Director Susan Fitzgerald. “Therefore it is unlikely to result in substantial new enrollment or funding for New York’s public universities.”

However, a spike in enrollment because of the scholarship program could lead to negative side effects for both the state and city public college systems, the report found.

As a result, SUNY and CUNY schools would need to find additional ways of covering new costs or finding new ways of raising revenue.

At the same time, an enrollment increase could move some students away from private colleges in the state, negatively impacting institutions that have less money and are more regionally known.

“Many of these schools already confront a highly competitive environment and even small shifts of enrollment to the public sector could have a negative effect on their already tight financial situations,” Fitzgerald said.

Tax Collections Decline $300M

The state’s tax collections declined in the fiscal year that ended March 31 by $300 million, according to a year-end cash report released on Wednesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Percentage-wise, the decline is a relatively small one, only 0.4 percent from the previous fiscal year.

And DiNapoli in a statement said the state’s cash position remains relatively strong.

“While personal income tax and consumption tax receipts exceeded the latest projections at the end of the fiscal year, they were more than offset by lower business tax collections,” DiNapoli said. “The state remained in a strong cash position starting the new fiscal year, because of factors including General Fund spending that was well below projections and unspent funds from financial settlements.”

All told, the state’s receipts from the fiscal year hit $156.4 billion, a 2 percent increase from the previous year. The received an 8 percent boost in federal aid during 2016-17 fiscal year.

Cuomo’s National Profile Expands

From the Morning Memo:

Less than week after the legislative session in Albany is scheduled to end, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will attend a New York City fundraiser in his honor with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden and Cuomo have cultivated a public friendship in recent years, with the former veep touting the governor’s work on infrastructure spending in the state.

The fundraiser in June — benefitting Cuomo’s 2018 re-election campaign — surfaced the same day the governor announced new staff appointments in his office, including a former top aide to Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

With Maria Comella serving as chief staff, Cuomo now has a trio of women — Melissa DeRosa and Kelly Cummings included — at the helm of his administration to run the government and focus on big picture strategy.

He’s also turned to Republican staffers. Cummings worked as a communications director for the state Senate Republicans as did his budget director, Robert Mujica.

At the same time, Cuomo has retained a mix of former Obama and Clinton staffers in his office. And, perhaps not insignificantly, he took on a new speechwriter with an international affairs background.

Comella, however, was the hire that raised eyebrows, given her experience running a presidential campaign.

Cuomo has insisted he’s focused on being governor and has been planning a bid for a third term with fundraisers and moving his former top aide, Bill Mulrow, to chair the 2018 effort.

Golden: ‘Trump Is Not Fooling Around’ On Sanctuary Funding

From the Morning Memo:

Cities that refuse to coordinate with federal immigration enforcement efforts cannot be stripped of federal funding, a judge ruled in a blow to President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday.

The issue is an acute one for cities in New York which have affirmed their status as “sanctuary” communities in recent months, including New York City, Syracuse and Albany.

“While I expect this fight to continue, it is my hope the administration can put this destructive chapter behind them and focus on solving our country’s important issues, including funding infrastructure, creating jobs for working-class Americans, and developing a meaningful urban agenda to tackle the serious challenges facing America’s cities,” said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner in a statement.

The case, expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, comes as some Democratic lawmakers in Albany have sought to expand the sanctuary status to the entire state as California lawmakers have done this year.

“I think Trump is not fooling around,” said Republican state Sen. Marty Golden. “I President Trump is going to stop funding going into cities across this great, great nation allowing criminals to stay in our communities. It’s just plain wrong.”

As for the sanctuary statehood move, Golden said Republicans in his conference are staunchly opposed.

“I don’t see this passing in our state,” he said, “nor should it pass in any state.”

Bills Aimed At Tobacco-Buying Age, E-Cigs Advance

From the Morning Memo:

Two bills that would place new restrictions on tobacco and nicotine use in New York advanced in the state Senate on Tuesday to the cheers of anti-smoking advocates.

“We think that senators heard our message loud and clear, they stood up to the tobacco industry, so we’re pleased they moved two of these bills today,” said Julie Hart of the American Cancer Society Action Network.

One bill tackles electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, and would have the increasingly popular nicotine alternative fall under the Clean Indoor Air Act.

“It’s just a habit that we have made unacceptable through society and this is now starting to encouraging new users and it’s the opposite of what’s good for the public health,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan.

Another bill would increase the tobacco purchasing age statewide from 18 to 21.

“We want to prevent young people from starting and that’s the most important thing because the older you are when you have your first cigarette, the less likely you are to start,” said Sen. Diane Savino.

The bill known as Tobacco 21 passed the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday. But it has already been made law in eight counties around New York.

“From a business prospective, for the retail industry in our state, it makes more sense to have a consistent application across the state,” Savino said. “They all have to comply with it. Our chain stores, our retail outlets.”

In the Democratic-led Assembly, the bill regulating e-cigarettes has already passed in previous years. But the tobacco 21 legislation is yet to advance to the full Assembly floor.

“We’ll talk about them internally with the conference,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “I think cigarette smoking is terrible and I hope people wouldn’t do it. We’ll have to see if the conference is ready to move forward with those.”

Both measures had been initially included in the state budget proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but dropped by the end of the negotiations.

Senate Once Again Backs Term Limits For Leadership Posts

The Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would enshrine its term limits rule in state law for leadership posts in the Legislature.

The bill would require eight-year caps on leadership posts in the Assembly and Senate — applying to the temporary president of the Senate, speaker of the Assembly and the minority leaders of both houses.

“For years the Senate has adopted voluntary term limits for leaders and committee chairs because it is an important government reform that promotes accountability and stability,” said Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I am hopeful that the Assembly will join us in enacting this measure into law.”

The Assembly has been generally opposed to term limits, a stance Speaker Carl Heastie has taken for both leadership jobs as well as for all elected officials.

An amendment proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year that would term limit all state elected officials has so far fallen flat in the Legislature.

Heastie Says Procurement Bill Will Be Aired In Conference

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called the effort to strengthen oversight of economic development programs “an admirable goal” but said a measure aimed at expanding the authority of Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will first be aired with his Democratic conference members.

“It’s something that I think we’ll have to talk about in conference,” Heastie told reporters on Tuesday in Albany. “You know me, I like to bring these things to the conference and see what they say. I guess in this day and age making sure that tax dollars are protected and spent correctly is an admirable goal.”

The Senate Finance Committee earlier in the day advanced a bill that would restore oversight powers over procurement and contracting to DiNapoli, a bill that comes after a bid rigging case ensnared top developers and a former close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, who backs the bill in his chamber, called the bill a needed reform to expand DiNapoli’s oversight powers following the arrests.

Repeatedly, Stewart-Cousins Says She’s Not Running For County Exec

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins repeatedly insisted on Tuesday she is not running for Westchester County executive, though she answered each time in the present tense.

As in, she’s not running.

“I’m here,” she said at a news conference. “We’re here. We’re doing this.”

Asked again, she repeated: “I’m not running. I’m not running for county executive. I’m not running for county executive. I’m not running, I’m not running and I’m not running.”

And when the question came back again — interpreted as being less than Shermanesque — she once again insisted she’s not currently a candidate.

“I am saying that I am not running for county executive,” she said. “I can say that again. I am saying that I am not running for county executive because I am not running for county executive.”

The question was raised in part because of the significant rumor mill that has started over her potential candidacy.

The Yonkers Democrat would likely shake up the race for the Democratic nomination in part because one of her conference members is already a declared candidate: Sen. George Latimer, a Rye lawmaker.

In addition to Latimer, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti and Ken Jenkins, a county legislator, are also seeking the nomination.

The race has potential statewide implications considering Republican Rob Astorino is running for a third term and is likely to be a candidate again for governor in 2018.

Stewart-Cousins has been the leader of the Senate Democrats since 2012 and is the first woman to lead a legislative conference in the state Legislature.

Senate Dems: Bill Would Weaken Raise The Age Deal

Not everyone was pleased with the agreement in the budget to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York.

But on Tuesday, Democrats in the mainline conference are raising concerns with a bill they say could weaken the compromise.

They pointed to legislation backed by Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader, that would allow for the unsealing of juvenile offender records.

“Once again we see the real world consequences of what happens when Republicans are allowed to run the State Senate,” Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “This action to weaken the already watered-down Raise The Age compromise is unacceptable. Clearly the Senate Republicans have not changed their views on the need to treat children like children, not hardened criminals.”

Democrats are backing an amendment to the bill that aimed at keeping youthful offender records sealed.