Nick Reisman

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SOP Live Dec. 2

On this episode of State of Politics:

Nick Reisman and guest Casey Seiler from the Albany Times Union discuss —

  • The potential for a special session.
  • The debate over a legislative pay raise and term limits.
  • The ongoing fight over control of the state Senate.

Watch it here.

Griffo, Kearns Cheer Term Limits Amendment

Republican Sen. Joe Griffo and Democratic Assemblyman Mickey Kearns on Friday cheered Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s backing a constitutional amendment that would set term limits for state elected officials.

Both lawmakers since 2009 have backed legislation that would create term limits for the Senate, Assembly, as well as the statewide elected officials — governor, comptroller and attorney general.

Under the legislative proposal, the terms would be limited to 12 years for state lawmakers; Cuomo’s parameters limit the Legislature to two, four-year terms.

“If you want to fundamentally and dramatically change the culture of Albany, then you need to limit the amount of time our elected officials are in office,” Griffo said in a statement.

“Imposing term limits will regularly shake up the makeup of state government, which will force change and reinvigorate the legislative process by bringing in new faces and fresh ideas. There are plenty of compelling concepts being proposed that are worth examining to restore trust in government, but real ethics reform must begin with term limits.”

Senate Republicans have been supportive of term limits in the past, with the chamber enacting caps on the amount of time leaders can serve in top posts and chairmanships.

Term limits face a more difficult path to passage in the Democratic-led Assembly, however, where majority lawmakers have been generally more skeptical of the idea.

“I want to thank Senator Griffo for his leadership and sponsorship of this bill,” said Kearns, a western New York lawmaker. “The Governor’s stance on term limits is a welcome one and long overdue. We have witnessed unprecedented convictions of the highest ranking legislators in this state and continue to be shocked by further indictments. It is time to integrate words with actions by giving the voters the opportunity to decide.”

Cuomo is backing the term limit amendment in addition to a constitutional change that would create a full-time Legislature, both of which he hopes will achieve first passage in a potential special session that could precede the first legislative pay hike since 1998.

32 Democrats In The Senate? Well… (Updated)

Updated: John Brooks registered to vote as a Democrat just before the election. His registration as it appears online doesn’t take effect until the next election. At any rate, it makes things a bit less complicated, maybe?

Like pre-Great War Europe, NCAA rankings, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the New York state Senate is absurdly complicated.

Consider the composition of the Senate should John Brooks successfully unseat Republican Michael Venditto.

Liberal groups aligned with the mainline conference in the chamber on Thursday urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bridge the divide between Democrats in the chamber, citing a workable majority if Brooks wins the race, which he currently leads by 41 votes and is subject to a court challenge from the Republicans.

Repeatedly, the groups pointed to “32 Democrats” in the Senate — a formal majority of the 63 seats — that would include the mainline conference of Democrats, the Independent Democratic Conference and Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who sits with the GOP.

And it would presumably include Brooks in that 32-member numerical Democratic majority.

Brooks, however, as of today, is still a registered Republican who ran on the Democratic line in the 8th Senate district.

Brooks most likely will align himself with the Senate Democrats if he’s seated.

At the very least, it’s yet another example of how the Senate and its composition defies shorthand and that it’s hard for anyone to truly claim a majority of party members.

0013_001 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

So Just How Quickly Would Those Amendments Take Effect?

As he raised concerns over the sweeping changes to state government through a pair of constitutional amendments proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a statement pointed to the relative short window of time debate would be held over term limits and creating a full-time Legislature that bans outside income.

But just how long is that window?

Actually, quite longer than it has been initially portrayed.

Let’s go to the state Constitution, specifically Article XIX.

The common short hand is that constitutional amendments must be approved be two separately elected sessions of the Legislature and then it by voters in a referendum before being made law.

At first blush, this would mean a fast timetable: The Legislature approves the amendments in a potential special session this month and then by the newly elected (or re-elected) lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly by January, with a referendum in the fall of 2017.

But that’s not the case, according to the constitution, which stipulates the amendment must be “referred to the next regular legislative session convening after the succeeding general election of members of the assembly.”

In other words, the next time the Legislature would consider second passage is after the 2018 elections, or the 2019 legislative session.

This gives everyone some significant wiggle room on both term limits and the push for an outside income ban (and, potentially, more leverage).

A hat tip is in order to Casey Seiler, who received a call on this earlier and brought it to my attention.

Gillibrand Says She Won’t Vote For Mattis Waiver

Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is among those lawmakers uneasy with the nomination of retired Marine General James Mattis to become the next secretary of defense.

The concerns from some Democrats in Washington stems from the American tradition of civilian oversight of the military.

Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in 2013.

“While I deeply respect General Mattis’s service, I will oppose a waiver,” Gillibrand said last night in a statement. “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”

Gillibrand is the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee sub panel on personnel.

Lawmakers Split On Key Issues In Potential Special Session

From the Morning Memo:

As talk continues about a potential special December session of the New York State Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting a push to unify Democrats in the fractious state Senate before next year’s session.

“I feeling strongly that Governor Cuomo can’t let the Republican Party and Donald Trump steal the New York state Senate,” said state Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan.

The chamber is controlled by Republicans, but Democrats in the Senate were buoyed after a paper ballot count left their candidate in a Long Island Senate race with a 41 vote advantage, potentially giving them a 32-person majority. They would still need the seven-member Independent Democrats to come on board, as well as Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder.

Emotions on all sides continue to run high.

“It’s clear there are some personal differences and personal hostilities that are difficult for people, but I think it’s the moment in time people have to get past that,” said Karen Scharff, the executive director of Citizen Action.

For Cuomo, the push and pull in the Senate is a sideshow compared to his efforts to engineer a special session that could result in the passage of constitutional amendments creating a full-time Legislature, term limits for elected officials and a reconstituted pay commission for lawmakers, who insist none of these items should be linked.

“The speaker is right that we have to be careful about the horsetrading. The pay has to be taken on its own merits,” said Assemblymember Pat Fahy, an Albany Democrat.

Assembly Democrats remain skeptical of the term limit proposal, which could benefit Senate Republicans, but are receptive to a full-time Legislature.

“I think there’s some merit to making the Legislature a full-time body. I know it’s a seven day-a-week job for me,” Fahy said. “You can never be away from your emails. You can never be away from keeping up on your constituent matters.”

It’s the opposite in the Senate, where Republicans who control the chamber have been opposed to a “professional” body, but receptive to term limits.

Over the last two days, the Cuomo administration, Senate Democrats, the Independent Democratic Conference and Assembly Democrats have exchanged increasingly harsh statements over the state of negotiations surrounding a potential special session, as a potential pay raise hangs in the balance.

“You do see some of the bickering,” said Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan, “and I think it highlights the very reason why there shouldn’t be politics involved in discussion with legislators salaries.”

From The Dept. Of Early Victories

From the Morning Memo:

As Democrats in the state Senate declare victory in the 8th district on Long Island with candidate John Brooks over incumbent GOP Sen. Michael Venditto, one observer pointed this week to the dangers of prematurely celebrating a narrow win.

In 2012, Republican George Amedore ended the paper recount with a lead in what was then the newly created 46th district. At the time, his lead was 39 votes.

Republicans, elated and relieved Amedore won the seat that was essentially drawn for him, invited him to conference and did everything but let him vote on the floor.

Only it wasn’t to be: Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk ultimately won a prolonged recount in the district, giving her an upset, if narrow win. Amedore ultimately won the seat back in 2014, unseating Tkaczyk by a wider margin.

This year, Brooks leads Venditto by 41 votes in the 8th district as Republicans are heading to court to contest the results.

The race is key for Democrats, who on Thursday began a sustained push to have Gov. Andrew Cuomo unite the party in the chamber.

Enviros Sue To Block Nuclear Subsidy (Updated)

Two environmental groups are suing to block the state from enacting a subsidy aimed at bolstering nuclear power in New York.

The groups, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and Goshen Green Farms, is challenging the provision by arguing the state Public Service Commission acted improperly when backing the subsidy, pointing to a “deceptive and opaque process” that resulted in its approval.

The move was hailed by the Stop the Cuomo Tax, a coalition of good-government groups and environmentalists who have pushed back against the subsidy on the grounds that it will increase power costs.

“New York ratepayers could be the big winners if this action blocks the Cuomo Administration’s plan to hike electricity bills by a whopping $7.6 billion,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG.

The subsidy is part of the broader Clean Energy Standard package backed the governor which is aimed at transitioning the state to renewable energies like wind and solar.

The Cuomo administration has defended the nuclear subsidy and has blasted the effort to reject the effort as a “cheap stunt.” The overall has clean energy push has been put together, Cuomo’s office argues, as a means of combating climate change in the state.

The subsidy was added as part of an effort to prevent the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant from closing in Oswego County by facilitating a sale to Exelon Corp.

Updated: The PSC released a statement.

“Clearwater’s opposition to nuclear energy is based on ideology, not reality and ignores the many benefits these upstate nuclear plants provide,” said spokesman Jon Sorensen. “Our Zero Emission Credit plan is a cheaper, sensible way to have the existing carbon-free nuke fleet serve as a bridge to renewables as opposed to importing fracked gas and using dirty oil.”

New Lawsuit Against Cuomo%27s Nuclear Bailout by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Not Guilty Pleas Entered In Bid-Rigging Case

From our colleagues at TWC News:

The eight high-profile men accused in an alleged bribery and bid-rigging scheme pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday morning.

Among them is former Cuomo aide Joe Percoco and former SUNY Poly head Alain Kaloyeros, as well as prominent developers from the Buffalo and Syracuse area.

The alleged scheme involved major economic development projects across the state.

United States Attorney Preet Bharara named the group in a criminal complaint a couple weeks ago.

It is the latest in a growing string of corruption cases that Bharara’s office has investigated.

What Would Senate Republicans Get?

The prevailing wisdom at the Capitol is this: Both chambers of the Legislature want a pay increase, but Assembly Democrats, especially those from the New York City region, want it much more.

A vote to reauthorize the pay commission through the end of December may be enough to bring Democrats to the negotiating table for a special session, but the incentive for Senate Republicans isn’t as clear.

The majority of the conference’s members represent upstate New York, where the cost of living is generally lower and the $79,500 base pay goes a lot further.

So what what would induce the Senate Republicans to return to the Capitol?

The answer may lie in the constitutional amendment to create term limits. Under the proposal outlined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, the terms would switch from two years to a four-year cycle, capped at eight years.

Under that system, it’s likely the Legislature would run for re-election in years that match the statewide elected officials. That happens to be even-numbered, non-presidential election years, when Republicans have typically made greater gains running down ballot than they do in presidential election years (the poor coattails of Hillary Clinton leading the ticket this year notwithstanding). Four-year terms running in non-presidential years could give Republicans in the narrowly divided Senate a boost in maintaining their thin majority.

Term limits still face an uphill argument in the Democratic-led Assembly, which has been opposed to any proposal.

At the same time, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has insisted such sweeping changes to state government should not be rushed through in a matter of weeks.