Nick Reisman

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Silver Accepts Harassment Findings Against Kellner

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver accepted the findings of the chamber’s ethics commission on Friday that outgoing Assemblyman Micah Kellner created a “sexually hostile work environment” and upheld sanctions placed on his office.

“I accept the recommendation of the Committee in full,” Silver wrote in a letter of admonition and reprimand to Kellner. “Therefore, I hereby and again admonish and reprimand you for your conduct. You have been found to have engaged in sexual harassment in 2012 and 2013 in violation of the Assembly’s Harassment Policy, in addition to and distinct from the previous findings of the Committee, upheld on appeal by Judge Levine, that you engaged in sexual harassment in 2009 and 2011.”

In a letter sent by the ethics committee to Silver on Wednesday, the panel also concluded Kellner violated the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy and found that his “conduct is unbecoming of a member of the Assembly and reflects poorly on the entire body.”

Kellner, a Manhattan Democrat, has been appealing sanctions that he sexually harassed members of his staff.

Kellner received a second round of sanctions after it was found he was in violation of rules imposed on his office, including having an intern.

The second round of charges leveled against Kellner were dismissed by hearing officer in November, with Judge Howard Levine determining in a letter that Kellner was not given enough notice earlier this spring following the new charge.

The letter to Kellner released today by Silver’s office accepts the findings in full from the ethics committee’s investigation that Kellner engaged in sexual harassment in 2009 and 2011.

Kellner blasted the development in response:

“Speaker Silver’s and the Assembly Ethics Committe’s actions in this matter have zero credibility after the Speaker’s hand-picked appeals officer questioned the legitimacy of the Ethics Committee’s investigation and the authenticity of the evidence on which they based their decision– ultimately leading the appeals officer to take the unprecedented step of throwing out these exact same charges in November. Speaker Silver has been making up this Kabuki theatre as he goes along, solely to protect himself, while failing to honor or complete the appeals process he put in place.”

EC 12-17-14f.pdf by Nick Reisman

Cuomo To Hold Swearing-In Ceremonies In NYC, Buffalo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will eschew a public swearing-in ceremony in Albany for the One World Trade site and Buffalo, an administration official confirmed.

The locations were first reported by The Daily News.

Cuomo, who will take the oath of office for a second, four-year term on Jan. 1., will hold a private swearing-in ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Albany on New Year’s Eve.

The governor on New Year’s Day will hold a public ceremony in Manhattan near the One World Trade site and in Buffalo, with an exact location expected to be announced next week.

Cuomo will be taking office alongside Lt. Gov.-elect Kathy Hochul, a former congresswoman from western New York.

It’s not surprising that Cuomo would want to spend some time in Buffalo on his inauguration day, given the attention he has lavished on the area in his first term.

Cuomo in 2010 held his swearing-in ceremony in Albany on the second floor of the state Capitol, a day that he also chose to re-open the second-floor office suite that had been closed off since the Pataki administration.

Moody’s Down On Speed Camera Implosion

The credit rating agency Moody’s gave a dim analysis of Nassau County’s rejection of a speed camera program after initially budgeting revenue from violations.

Albany lawmakers earlier this year approved a speed-camera program for Nassau County near schools, but officials there ultimately scrapped the program following public outcry.

Moody’s examined the speed-camera situation in Nassau County and a similar situation in New Jersey that also scaled back its implementation.

The agency concludes the problems with the programs constitute a “credit negative” due to the impact on local governments not being able to access new forms of revenue in the midst of tax caps, poor sales tax growth and opposition to tax hikes.

More from Moody’s:

“Net county collections from the cameras, after the vendor’s contracted share, were $21 million between September and November, indicating the county would have exceeded the $30 million (1% of total revenues) in speed camera revenue for which it had budgeted in 2015. Neighboring Suffolk County (A3/stable), which had projected only $2.5 million from speed cameras for 2015, chose to scrap its plan earlier this month before it had even begun, partially based on the Nassau experience.”

Reed: Congress May Override State Fracking Ban

GOP Rep. Tom Reed on Friday raised the possibility of the federal government exploring ways of superseding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to prohibit hydrofracking in the Southern Tier.

Reed, who represents the area of the state where natural gas deposits are especially rich, told Fred Dicker on Talk-1300 this morning the federal government could have the authority to overrule the ban, which will be formally put in place by the state Department of Environmental Conservation next year.

Reed compared the move to a federal telecommunications measure that overrode local zoning on the placement of satellite dishes.

“So the federal government could have a role here,” Reed said. “Obviously when we talk about energy, we’re talking about our energy security and that has national implications.”

Cuomo on Wednesday backed the proposal made at his year-end cabinet meeting to ban the controversial natural gas drilling process after Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker could not determine whether the practice could be conducted safely in New York.

Reed, in the interview, said he wanted to see the scope of the state’s fracking prohibition.

“I think it’s going to depend on how far the New York ban goes here,” Reed said.

He also criticized Cuomo over the ban, charging that it was a political decision.

“This is about presidential politics, trying to win a presidential primary,” Reed said. “Maybe he’s worried about trying to win a governor’s race four years from now.”

Moody’s: Casino Win A ‘Credit Positive’ For Host Communities

Winning a bid to host a casino resort is a “credit positive” for the host municipalities in upstate New York, a Moody’s analysis released on Friday found.

Nevertheless, there is a note of caution from the credit-rating agency: Given the troubles of the gambling and casino industry across the country, the long-term benefits of the projects could be “muted.”

The state’s gaming facility location board on Wednesday awarded casino licenses to project bids in Sullivan County, Schenectady and the town of Tyre in Seneca County.

Moody’s points to the revenue and job creation expected to be generated by the projects.

The counties hosting the casino resorts will receive “host fees” with $14.7 million going to Sullivan, $13.1 million expected for Schenectady and $6.9 million going to Seneca County.

The towns and nearby school districts will be in line for smaller amounts.

Moody’s also expects the host municipalities to see increases in local property tax bases driven by the new construction and the growth in sales revenue

Moody’s says the outlook on the gaming industry in the United States writ large is negative due to weakening revenues, lower demand and high fixed costs — suggesting the long-term impact in New York from casino revenue may be elusive.

“Gaming revenues, particularly outside of Las Vegas (Aa2/stable), are down in areas across the country and it remains to be seen if the estimates provided by the Gaming Commission and the casino companies themselves come to fruition. Significant increases in traffic and tourism will likely require an additional police presence. Host municipalities may also need to improve existing infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges, in order to accommodate increases in traffic.”

Siena Poll: New Yorkers Back AG As Special Prosector

A majority of New Yorkers support giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the power to investigate other instances of police brutality, a Siena College poll released on Friday found.

The poll found that by a 58 percent to 33 percent margin, New Yorkers would back giving Schneiderman the power of special prosecutor to probe other instances of police brutality after a grand jury chose to not indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

“A majority of Democrats, independents, voters from every region and race agree that the Attorney General and not local district attorneys should have authority in cases where unarmed civilians are killed by police officers, although Democrats, New York City voters, blacks and Latinos feel most strongly about this,” Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg said. “Only majorities of Republicans and conservatives think people of color are treated fairly by our criminal justice system. Two-thirds of Democrats and a plurality of independents disagree, as do a majority of downstaters, particularly New York City, and people of color. Whites and upstaters are closely divided.”

Scheniderman this month requested Gov. Andrew Cuomo issue an executive order granting him the special prosecutors role.

So far, Cuomo has said he’s reviewing the request, but raised questions with how broad the scope of those investigative powers should be.

The poll found that 55 percent of New Yorkers believe the grand jury should have made an indictment in the case, which has set off a wave of protests across the country and sparked a discussion over criminal justice reform legislation at the state level.

Meanwhile, most New Yorkers 52 percent to 35 percent believe the state’s criminal justice system does not treat people of color fairly.

Broken down politically, Republican voters by a 2-to-1 margin believe the grand jury was correct in not indicting Garner.

“Similarly, large majorities of Democrats, New York City voters, blacks, Latinos and younger voters want the Feds to bring civil rights charges, while Republicans are opposed, and upstaters, suburbanites, white and older voters are closely divided,” Greenberg said.

Cuomo himself has suggested he will push for a variety of criminal justice reforms, including greater transparencies for grand juries as well as strengthening police training and requiring some officers to wear body cameras.

The governor’s administration this week moved to ban hydrofracking in the state, but the poll found New Yorkers remain divided on the natural gas drilling issue.

Thirty-eight percent of voters say they are opposed to fracking, while 35 percent of those polled back the drilling method.

“Fracking has closely divided New Yorkers for several years. And while it has the intuitive partisan divide with Democrats opposing and Republicans supporting, from a regional perspective the results might be a little counterintuitive as New York City and upstate voters narrowly oppose fracking and a plurality of downstate suburbanites support it,” Greenberg said.

Similarly, New Yorkers are split on the DREAM Act, which would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. Forty-four percent of New Yorkers back the measure, while 48 percent do not. Cuomo will likely once again be under pressure from liberals in the Legislature to include funding for the DREAM Act in his state budget proposal.

A broad majority of New Yorkers continue to support Cuomo’s two-year-old gun control law known as the SAFE Act, but they are split along partisan lines.

By a margin of 58 percent to 33 percent, New Yorkers back the law, which Cuomo has said remains a significant legislative achievement for him.

The measure has the support of 69 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents, 67 percent of voters from New York City and 61 percent from the downstate suburbs. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans oppose the law.

And not surprisingly, there is widespread opposition to a pay raise for state lawmakers: 63 percent of those polled do not believe the Senate and Assembly should receive their first salary increase since 1998.

That sentiment cuts across party, geographic, gender and ideological lines.

Cuomo has said he is sympathetic to lawmakers who are pushing for the pay hike from the current $79,500, but has sought to have them enact sweeping ethics and campaign finance legislation, including the creation of a system of public financed campaigns and curtailing outside income.

For now, there has been no significant move to have lawmakers return to Albany in a special session to take up that legislation and vote themselves a raise.

The Siena College of 639 voters was conducted from Dec. 11 through Dec. 16. It has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.

SNY1214 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman

Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations Released

The state released a package of proposed regulations for its medical marijuana as Cuomo administration officials acknowledged the federal government denied a waiver that would have been able to bring medical pot in from other states.

At the same time, state officials said they were on track to have the full program up and running by January 2016.

Medical marijuana advocates have been pushing the state to adopt emergency regulations for the program in order to bring relief to patients, such as children suffering from seizures, who badly need the drug.

However, state officials said it was legally viable to bring in medical pot, based on a U.S. Department of Justice determination. A small pilot program is being put together to provide access to medical institutions, meanwhile.

The regulations, which will be included in a public comment period before being formally adopted, will bar medical marijuana dispensaries from being placed within 1,000 feet of a school or a church.

It remains for now unknown how much medical marijuana will cost patients. The price will be determined by the state Department of Health’s commissioner who will consider a variety of market-related factors.

The regulations are being considered after state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to a medical marijuana program in June which vests control over the program in the executive branch.

Cuomo has said that key to his agreement to the program’s creation is what amounts to a “kill switch” that would end the program if there were illegalities or other issues.

The program does not allow patients to smoke the drug.

Patietns who suffer from illnesses such as Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and HIV qualify for the program.

Meanwhile, administration officials seemed to be backing away from including food in the medical marijuana program, but would allow the drug to be inhaled through vaporization.

Up to five firms will be given licenses to grow, manufacturer and dispense medical marijuana, with each being allowed to run up to four dispenaries around the state. It is not clear where those dispensaries will be, though officials talk of allowing for geographic balance.

Regulations by Nick Reisman

Teachers Unions Slam Cuomo Letter (Updated)

The unions that represent teachers in New York City and statewide blasted a letter sent by one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aides that pledged to include education reform measures in the state budget.

The letter, sent to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Department of Education Commissioner John King, raised the possibility of a variety of major changes to the state’s education system, including raising the cap on charter schools, vesting more control of the education system in the state in the governor’s office and making changes to the state’s teacher evaluation law.

In a statement, Karen Magee, the president of the New York Stated United Teachers union called the letter “clueless.”

“The governor says he wants to put students first,” Magee said. “If that were even remotely true, he would listen carefully and act on the advice of the real experts — parents, educators and students — about what’s best for public education,” she said. “Instead, New Yorkers get clueless, incendiary questions that do the bidding of New York City hedge fund billionaires who have letterhead and campaign donations, but know absolutely nothing about how public education works. If the governor wants a battle, he can take the clueless New York City billionaires. We’ll take the parents, teachers, higher education faculty and students in every ZIP code of the state.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who has worked closely with Cuomo in the past, also slammed the letter.

“This letter comes right out of the playbook of the hedge funders for whom education “reform” has become a pet cause and who poured money into the Cuomo re-election campaign,” Mulgrew said. “The Governor owes these people big time, but unfortunately the children of New York will end up paying his debts.”

Regardless, Cuomo seems girding for a major battle next year when it comes to overhauling the education system in the state, putting the changes in the budget proposal, where he has the maximum leverage.

Cuomo addressed the letter when he was Schenectady earlier today, indicating he was frustrated with what he sees as a lack of progress on education issues.

“Give me the answers publicly and let’s discuss them,” Cuomo said. “I wish I could say I run education in this state, I don’t.”

Updated: Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa responds.

“New York state spends the most money per pupil, while continuously ending up in the middle of the pack on results,” she said. “It is mind-boggling that asking questions to start a dialogue on improving our public education system would provoke a hostile response, unless you view your responsibility as protecting a broken status quo at the expense of New York’s children.”

Cuomo: I Won’t Risk Health For Jobs

Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended his administration’s plan to prohibit hydrofracking, saying on Thursday he did not want to put public health at risk in exchange for job growth.

The ban on the controversial natural-gas drilling process, announced Wednesday at the governor’s cabinet meeting in Albany, appeared to be a double hit on Binghamton and the state’s Southern Tier, where natural gas is especially rich as the area also failed to win a casino resort license bid.

Cuomo said that there isn’t another governor “in the history of New York has worked harder for jobs in upstate New York.”

However, Cuomo said he’s not willing to take the chance of impacting public health negatively.

“I am not going to put the health at risk for jobs,” Cuomo said. “I’m not going to make that choice. I’m not going to make it in the Southern Tier, I’m not going to make it anywhere in the state. I believe we can have jobs and they can be in healthy communities and we don’t have to run the risk of hurting our children or creating health hazards.”

The long-awaited Department of Health review determined the evidence was too conflicting to determine whether fracking could be conducted safely in New York.

Cuomo said acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker saying that he would not want his family living in a community that allows high-volume fracking was “especially sobering.”

“Frankly, that is enough for me,” Cuomo said. “If the state health commissioner doesn’t want his kids living there, then I don’t want to my kids living there, then I don’t want any New Yorkers’ kids living there.”

Unemployment In NY Ticks Downward

Unemployment in New York fell from 6 percent to 5.9 percent last month, the lowest level since September 2008, the state Department of Labor on Thursday announced.

Still, New York’s unemployment remains slightly higher than the national average, 5.8 percent, which is falling at a faster rate since the formal end of the economic recession.

New York City’s unemployment rate is also remains higher than the rest of the state, but continued to fall: 6.4 percent in October, down to 6.3 percent last month.

The state outside of the five boroughs has an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent.

“In November 2014, the unemployment rates in both New York State and New York City continued their recent downward trend, reaching their lowest levels in more than six years,” said Bohdan M. Wynnyk, Deputy Director of the Division of Research and Statistics in a statement.

Nevertheless, private-sector jobs in pockets of the upstate region show either flat job growth or job reductions including Glens Falls, Syracuse and Utica-Rome areas.

In the Binghamton area, where the state Wednesday declined to grant a casino application and also announced a ban on hydrofracking, the area report a net increase of 500 jobs in the last 12 months.