Nick Reisman

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Assembly Seeks New Oversight For Buffalo Billion Spending

The Assembly Democratic conference was able to gain new oversight requirements for spending under the Buffalo Billion economic development project.

Some of the new requirements were spelled out by the Democratic conference’s proxy at the Public Authorities Control Board meeting on Wednesday afternoon following the approval of $485.5 million in spending for a key project in the program, which is under federal investigation.

That oversight includes a review by a third party, said to be Bart Schwartz, the independent investigator hired by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

A proxy for the Assembly Democratic representative on the board, Fiscal Studies Deputy Director Ashley Ryle, laid out the conference’s concerns with the spending:

“We are being called upon to authorize a substantial sum for a project that has generated a great deal of public interest, and its success is integral to providing economic opportunity in Western New York, and the state as a whole,” she said, according to prepared remarks.

“Therefore, as a condition to our approval, the Assembly requests that FSMC and/or the beneficiary company provide updates to the ESD Board on a monthly basis, regarding the overall progress being made on the project, and adherence to the terms and conditions that are stipulated in the funding overview. ESD shall monitor all approved and disapproved expenses. Extending this further, we request that PACB be updated monthly on similar terms, to ensure the public has faith in–and the appropriate level of information on–this critical project.”

The Assembly is seeking clarified meeting materials to more accurately reflect the agreement and limit the expenditure of public funding to the SolarCity project at RiverBend with not additional beneficiaries without PACB approval.

At the same time, the conference wants a clearer articulation for the consequences for failing to meet jobs and investment goals under the program.

Assembly Dem Women Take Over New York

… At least in their rebuttal video for last night’s LCA Show.

Here it is, featuring upstate Democratic women in the Assembly (and Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin in a cameo):

PACB Approves $485.5M For Buffalo Billion Cornerstone

The Public Authorities Control Board on Wednesday approved $485.5 million in spending for a key project in the Buffalo Billion economic development project, which is facing a federal investigation.

The meeting of the little-known entity on Wednesday afternoon included little discussion of the funding plan and only one elected official who attended: Republican Assemblyman Joe Giglio, who has no voting power on the board.

A proxy for the Assembly Democrats at the meeting did seek broader oversight of spending for the program, including monthly updates on the project from Fort Schuyler Management Company, the public benefit corporation that is an arm of SUNY Polytechnic, as well as the Empire State Development Corporation.

PACB itself includes members of the Assembly and Senate as well as the Division of Budget, an arm of the Cuomo administration.

The money approved was not wholly surprising. Legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate had indicated they were supportive of allowing the funding to be disbursed for the RiverBend project, site of the 1.2-million-square-foot SolarCity factory in western New York, a key piece of the Buffalo Billion.

Initially the meeting was scheduled for last week, but was postponed due to scheduling issues, according to state officials.

The spending must still be approved by Bart Schwartz, the independent investigator who was hired by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to review and investigate Buffalo Billion spending. A contract for Schwartz is yet to be made public.

Cuomo has defended the spending under the project, insisting it is vital for the western New York region.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office is probing economic development spending in an investigation that has drawn in Todd Howe, a lobbyist with ties to the Cuomo family, as well as longtime aide and confidant to the governor, Joe Percoco.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is investigating bid rigging at SUNY Polytechnic, a key player in the economic development programs.

In a bizarre scene after the meeting, a senior counsel for the Empire State Development Corp. who attended the meeting refused to stop and bolted from reporters who were asking his name and its spelling. ESDC spokesman Jason Conwall said it was Stephen Gawlik.

Gibson Bill Would Update Toxic Chemicals Law

Rep. Chris Gibson has introduced legislation that would update the Toxic Substances Control Act to include enhanced oversight of commercially used chemicals.

The bill comes after the municipal drinking water in the communities of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh was found to contain dangerous levels of PFOA, a chemical that had been used in manufacturing, but had a lower threshold for safety in water than public health officials advised.

“Given the frightening experiences of residents in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, where a chemical used in manufacturing has contaminated public water systems and private wells and raised serious concerns about long-term health impacts, I am proud to have joined my colleagues in passing this bipartisan bill to bring EPA standards up to date, modernize the approach to chemical testing, and better protect our people,” Gibson said in a statement.

“This bill affirms what I told the EPA Administrator earlier this year: We need more regular testing of commercially used chemicals to keep pace with scientific advances and provide consumers with the best information possible. What transpired in Rensselaer County is totally unacceptable, and we can’t let it happen in more communities.”

The bill passed the House of Representatives 403-12 and updates the current law by removing barriers to multiple chemical tests and requires safety reviews of chemicals currently in use. It also requires more information be made available to the public and limits animal testing whenever there is a reliable alternative. Deadlines for decisions by the EPA would also be set.

Supportive Housing Push Launched For MOU

A coalition of groups backing an expansion of supportive housing units for the homeless has launched an email campaign to push Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to sign on to a memorandum of understanding that authorizes 6,000 units be built.

Funding for the construction was included in the passage of the 2016-17 state budget in April, but the money can’t be spent until the MOU is signed.

As such, the Campaign 4 NY NY Housing launched its email campaign this week to get the ball rolling on the issue.

So far, the effort has generated 2,850 messages from New Yorkers.

In the email, the state’s top leaders are urged to back the MOU now in order to stem the growing homelessness issues in the state.

“Every day that passes without this MOU is another day thousands of New Yorkers will remain homeless,” the email states. “We need action now.”

“The homelessness crisis affects 80,000 New Yorkers. Leaving them on the streets, in shelters and cycling in and out of institutional care is not only inhumane, it is extremely expensive for local and state governments.”

At the same time, the campaign has a web page set up for a “call to action” petition backing the MOU for supportive housing.

Senate Approves Repeal Of Tampon Sales Tax

The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill that would repeal the sales tax on tampons.

The bill, which previously pass the Democratic-controlled Assembly, heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his signature.

The measure itself means about $12 million revenue for the state, but the repeal of the sales tax was considered as part of the state budget approved in April.

“It’s about time. Repealing this out-of-touch tax has been decades in the making,” said Sen. Sue Serino, the Republican from the Hudson Valley who backed the measure in the Senate.

“Last week, I announced that an agreement had been reached to repeal this egregious law and today, I am incredibly proud to announce that the infamous ‘tampon tax’ will finally be a thing of the past.”

Cuomo’s office has signaled support for repealing the sales tax as well.

“There are many issues that simply transcend politics and a unanimous vote in both houses tells you that this is certainly one of them,” Serino said. “Moving this legislation forward is a win for consumers and it’s a win for women who have largely shouldered the burden of the tax for generations.”

PACB Spending Likely To Be Approved

From the Morning Memo:

With more than $485 million in spending for a key economic development project on the line in western New York, the Public Authorities Control Board is likely to approve today the funding, despite concerns over investigations into the Buffalo Billion and SUNY Polytechnic.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb on Tuesday became the latest elected official to raise issues with the spending proposal, which was due to be voted on last week by the board, but the meeting was rescheduled to today after “scheduling” issues arose, according to the Division of Budget.

In letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Kolb urged the board’s members — composed of the Assembly, Senate and budget office representatives — take their time and assess the status of the project.

“Before spending nearly half-a-billion dollars of the public’s money, legislators should be provided a comprehensive status report on the current progress, future expectations, and possible concerns relating to the project,” Kolb wrote in the letter.

“At the request of the Assembly, Empire State Development Corporation held an informational briefing on Monday. However, agency representatives could not answer several questions posed by staff, and the meeting ended abruptly with promises that follow-up information would be provided.”

The money is to be disbursed to an arm of SUNY Polytechnic, which is being investigated by the state attorney general’s office over bid rigging. The money itself is budgeted for the RiverBend site, home to the SolarCity project, a key component of the Buffalo Billion economic development program, which is being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office.

Lawmakers in recent days have called the funding vital for the continuation of the project in western New York. Both legislative leaders on Tuesday indicated support for the spending.

“There’s a general belief that it’s a worthwhile project,” Heastie said. “There are a series of questions that we put forward and we’re just waiting to get those answers back and then I think everything will be fine.”

Senate Republicans, also, had requested more information and seemed to come away satisfied.

“It’s critical to economic development in the state of New York,” Flanagan said, “It’s critical to western New York.”

Biz Council Opposes Greenhouse Gas Elimination Bill

From the Morning Memo:

The state Business Council is opposing a bill that would require state environmental regulators to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions in New York by 2050.

In a bill memorandum of opposition released on Tuesday, the group said it backs efforts to reduce carbon “intensity” without hurting overall economic growth.

But the Business Council says the state should adopt efforts to address in-state emissions that do not lead to “carbon leakage.”

At the same time, the council pointed to suggestions that encourage the private sector to reduce emissions through competition.

The bill itself is “simply unworkable.”

“If this bill were to become law and could be enforced, it would result in the end of manufacturing, farming, busses, trucks, cars, and finally people,” the council wrote. “The legislation will require substantial emissions reductions in a relatively short period of time, requiring that in a little more than thirty years that all emissions from the following sources go to zero.”

Extras

A 21-year-old Bronx man was charged with trying to support the Islamic State.

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Buffalo Billion independent investigator Bart Schwartz insists he’ll be independent, but others remain skeptical.

Uber is moderating its expectations for New York ride sharing at the moment, given the atmosphere in Albany due to the ongoing investigations.

Amid high-stakes court battles, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has hired two attorneys.

€“Onondaga County prosecutors will set a dangerous legal precedent if they are allowed to pursue criminal charges against Syracuse resident Bruce Conner for sending a letter to the editor without permission, according to Conner’s attorney.

A report detailing how many jobs were created in 2015 under the START-UP NY program is nearly eight weeks late and some are questioning why.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher says union support is key to the effort with the Department of Education to train teachers.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s poll numbers are suffering amid ongoing investigations into his campaign fundraising activities.

Advocates at the Capitol on Tuesday called for a ban on e-cigarette smoking in indoor spaces.

Veterans are making a renewed push for a pension benefit credit legislation that has been vetoed multiple times.

Finger Lakes horsemen are calling for a cut of the expected proceeds from the Lago Resort and Casino.

A pride parade in Suffolk County has been postponed amid security concerns.

Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist will not compete at the upcoming Belmont Stakes.

Cuomo Admin: Up To Investigator To Release Buffalo Billion Report (Updated)

It is unclear if the report being compiled by independent investigator Bart Schwartz will be publicly released, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top counsel on Tuesday told reporters.

“It’s not our decision, it’s his,” said administration counsel Alphonso David. “He’s an independent investigator being retained by the state.”

Updated: Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi sent this statement along.

“Mr. Schwartz will make his findings public unless a law enforcement agency determines that it would interfere with their work,” he said.

Schwartz was hired by Cuomo’s office earlier this month after acknowledging a federal investigation was underway into the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo’s signature economic development program.

Schwartz is being charged with reviewing contracts under the program as well as giving the final go-ahead on spending.

Cuomo on Tuesday said in a gaggle with reporters a contract for Schwartz was yet to be finalized, but would be publicly available soon.

Cuomo called Schwartz a “credible, independent operator.”

Meanwhile, a vote before the Public Authorities Control Board determining whether to approve $485.5 million in spending for a Buffalo Billion-related project should be approved, Cuomo said.

:I believe it will. I believe it should,” Cuomo said. “These economic developmental programs in upstate New York are vitally important and have worked extraordinarily well. Well, there are questions about what one or two people. Alright, let’s get the facts.”