Nick Reisman

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Moody’s Finds Good News For Troubled Rockland County

The credit-rating agency Moody’s on Friday issued a positive look at Rockland County’s finances following a review from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Rockland County’s budgeting has come under scrutiny after state lawmakers approved a $96 million local bonding initiative after years of financial troubles in the county.

Allowing Rockland County to issue the local deficit reduction bonds came with the requirement that it open its books to DiNapoli’s office for a review of its budget.

And after DiNapoli determined the county wouldn’t have to make any major amendments to its budget proposal, Moody’s in a report today deemed that a “credit positive.”

“The comptroller’s lack of any requested amendments to the fiscal 2015 budget represents a milestone in the county’s recovery process,” Moody’s reported.

Moody’s points to the county’s 2015 budget has having taken a more conservative approach than in prior years, including a more realistic estimation of sales tax revenue. At the same time, the state allowed Rockland to increase its sales tax in order to generate more revenue.

Meanwhile, the county is budgeting to keep its tax levy within the state’s property tax cap, the first time the county has done that since the cap has been in place two years ago (the county in 2012 and 2013 overrode the cap and increased the levy by 18 percent and later 11 percent).

“The improvement follows years of financial deterioration due to inaccurate budgeting that opened up the deficit position,” Moody’s found. “The county budgeted aggressively for economically sensitive revenues such as sales taxes, which would often come in less than budgeted.”

Nevertheless, budget hawks were concerned when the state approved the local bond sale for Rockland County given the precedent the move set for other financially troubled municipalities.

Cuomo: FEMA Aid Possible For Buffalo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday said it was possible New York will qualify for federal disaster aid to help Buffalo and western New York clean up following days of devastating snow and likely flooding this weekend.

Cuomo, at a morning briefing with local officials, said he had spoken to President Obama by phone and added that damage costs to the area because of the storm are still being assessed.

“The president himself sends us his best wishes,” Cuomo said.

The governor added the damage from both the snow fall and what’s expected to come this weekend through flooding (temperatures are expected to hit the mid-60s) should be considered on one bill.

“They are one event,” Cuomo said. “The flooding is a direct consequence of the snow.”

State officials meanwhile announced there had been yet another death attributed to the snow fall, bringing the death toll to 13.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz would not rule out finding other bodies trapped into snow-covered vehicles, though Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said there were no further missing persons reported in the city itself.

Cuomo also announced that portions of the state Thruway will re-open this afternoon, starting at 3 p.m., to remove trapped vehicles as well as deliver essential supplies to the area.

Officials stressed that non-essential travel on these roads is not permitted.

“The opening of the roads is to move vehicles that are blocking roads and make essential deliveries,” Cuomo said.

Resources from around the state have poured into Buffalo and the region over the last several days, and Cuomo said it’s been surprisingly easy to free up the equipment to help with the recovery.

“The one bright light has been the response and the love people have shown to Buffalo and western New York,” Cuomo said. “I say Buffalo and they say whatever you need, just tell me.”

Stewart-Cousins Hopes For IDC Reunification

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins batted away a report on Thursday that Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference would enter into a long-term deal that could deny the mainline conference the majority after 2016.

“I understand why the Republicans would want that, but I can’t imagine that all of us who actually believe that A) elections matter and B) that when Democrats have the majority we should have the majority,” Stewart-Cousins said on The Capitol Pressroom this morning.

A source told Capital Tonight that one of the proposals being floated in the negotiations over Senate leadership would be to allow IDC Leader Jeff Klein to retain the power of co-president of the chamber, along with veto authority and a seat at the budget negotiation table.

At the same time, there would be a handshake agreement that the coalition continue through 2016, a presidential election year, and when Democrats are expected to make gains in New York.

Stewart-Cousins, however, insisted talks with Klein continue, even as he edged away from mainline Democrats before Election Day earlier this month.

“I rarely react to media reports,” she said. “I think people put things out and it becomes the kind of thing people discuss, but I don’t take things I hear and read at face value. I like to know the facts before I react.”

Stewart-Cousins added that she and Klein speak frequently and are continuing their talks. She is also holding out hope Klein will eventually align his five-member conference with the mainline Democrats.

“The conversation was always around us trying to find a path back. Obviously it would have been much easier if we had a numerical majority. It was well-stated we would have been working together then,” she said.

Republicans won a one-seat majority in the chamber on Election Day, and with Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder conferencing with them, do not need the IDC to retain full majority power in the Senate.

Upstate Lags Downstate In Job Growth

The New York City region enjoyed 2.2 percent increase in job growth over the last 12 months, while upstate New York grew at a slower rate, statistics from the state Department of Labor found.

Overall, the state’s unemployment rate dipped in the last month from 6.2 percent in September down to 6 percent, the Labor Department said.

Job growth over the last year statewide showed an increase of 110,000 private-sector jobs, a 1.5 percent increase, which slower than the national average of 2.3 percent.

The vast majority of those jobs were created in the downstate region, including the five boroughs and the suburban counties on Long Island and in the northern suburbs of Westchester, Putnam and Rockland.

North of those areas, job growth was virtually flat, increasing by 0.4 percent or 10,500 jobs over the last year.

Rochester, Utica-Rome and Syracuse, reported negative job growth.

Kolb Re-Elected Minority Leader

Brian Kolb was re-elected on Thursday the minority of the Assembly Republicans despite a faction of lawmakers raising issues with his leadership style.

“Not everyone is going to think the same or how we do things the same way,” Kolb said after the closed-door meeting with his colleagues.

Kolb said only one lawmaker voted against him receiving another two-year term for the job he’s held since 2009.

But Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney pegged that number at at least three no votes, including herself and Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin.

Kolb has been criticized by some of his members due to, by their estimation, a lack of an aggressive posture toward Assembly Democrats, especially when it comes to the spate on sexual harassment scandals that have engulfed the majority party conference.

Kolb critics also point to a requirement that all Republican conference members must agree on particular policy issue before taking a position as a conference as a whole.

At the heart of the issue is a common complaint for Assembly Republicans, who have been in the minority since the post-Watergate scandal Democratic wave of 1974: The GOP in the Assembly has practically zero actual power than that of the bully pulpit on key issues.

For those at odds with Kolb, even that hasn’t been used effectively.

Kolb defended his leadership as well as the effort to build consensus, which he said is a long-standing rule.

“There’s a lot of things that go into this job that are very, very tough,” Kolb said. “You’re going to have your critics, the job’s not easy, but I’ve been at this now I think for a good thing and I think my track record really speaks for itself and the successes this conference has had before I became leader and after.”

Kolb also insisted he has taken on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his handling of the sexual harassment scandals in the context of the campaign season through mailers and advertisements.

Kolb reiterated that it’s ultimately up to the Assembly Democrats as to who they pick as the speaker.

“You should be asking that question of the Assembly Democrats who elected him, why they’re continuing to support him, their leader, on that particular issue — especially the women in their conference,” Kolb said. “That’s why I’ve said from the beginning.”

Criticism of Kolb was renewed this week when four lawmakers — McLaughlin, Tenney, Steve Katz and Kieran Michael Lalor — signed on to an email to colleagues that called for a new direction for the conference, which is dwarfed in size by the Assembly Democrats.

Kolb pushed back against the email, deriding it as a “piece of fiction.”

McLaughlin said Kolb’s lashing out at the concerned members was the reason why he voted against him receiving another term.

“I’m not opposed to Brian being the leader in anyway,” McLaughlin said. “What has upset me over the past week is sort of attacking is own members, saying what we wrote is a work of fiction, and that’s not the case.”

McLaughlin nevertheless said he felt his concerns were heard.

“We’re here to discuss votes and formulate a plan,” he said. “Sometimes you need to shake things up in order to move the ball forward. We want this conference to grow, we want it to be as relevant as it can be.”

ABO Report: Environmental Facilities Corp Lacked Transparency In TZB Loan

A report from the independent Authorities Budget Office released on Thursday criticized the Environmental Facilities Corp. for discussing a controversial loan request to help pay for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement behind closed doors and for raising few questions over its legality.

The report found federal officials raised issues with the details loan in a letter to EFC board members prior to approval, but those questions and reservations were dismissed.

Broadly, the report paints a picture of an EFC that met privately to discuss a large, and ultimately controversial loan request that raised few questions by members of the board who relied on a staff analysis.

The report comes after a coalition of environmental groups earlier this year sought an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the loan’s approval by state officials.

The state had sought a $511 million loan from a revolving fund that is traditionally used to pay for clean-water and sewer projects. The loan was later halved by an oversight board on the state level, but largely rejected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency save for $29 million.

The state is appealing the decision to reject approval of the loan money.

The reported noted that no interference by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration in the loan process was found.

Overall, the ABO’s report found the Environmental Facilities Corp. engaged in little public discussion about the circumstances of the loan or sought to determine whether there were any assurances its approval met federal regulations and guidelines.

“The board and EFC staff are expected to know that the discussion of topics not germane to those purposes enumerated in Open Meetings Law must be discussed in open and public meetings,” the report found. “Meeting in executive session resulted in a lack of transparency and disclosure. This lack of transparency and disclosure by the board is an underlying cause for the complaint.”

And at the same time, some EFC board members were incurious or disinterested about the loan and whether it met federal guidelines.

The report found loan consideration before the EFC is often given a “default vote” of yes unless there was “compelling argument against approving an application.”

“The board did not raise concerns about the legal justification for the loan and board members were satisfied that authorization of the loan was consistent with EFC’s mission,” the report found. “Certain board members tended to raise more questions than others, but those questions were often to clarify how the loan would be used to reimburse specific elements of the project rather than to settle broader legal or programmatic issues.”

Environmentalists who sought the investigation seized on the report’s findings this afternoon who called on the loan to be shelved entirely.

“It is shameful that as communities across the state struggle to find the funding to repair crumbling sewage systems and drinking water supplies, we learn that the Cuomo Administration was working in secret for more than a year to divert more than a half a billion dollars from clean water funds to pay for a new bridge,” said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “The manner in which this plan was devised, advanced and approved is beyond reproach. Governor Cuomo should let this plan go, and the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) board should immediately direct staff to aggressively move these funds to the communities that are in desperate need of it.”

A final cost for the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge has not been fully determined, but estimates place the price tag at $3.9 billion.

The Cuomo administration has downplayed the significance of the loan behind denied by federal regulators, saying it was not contingent on the completion of the new bridge.

FinalReportofReviewofPublicComplaintBoardofDirectorsEnvironmentalFaciltiesCorporation.pdf by Nick Reisman

Cuomo Backs Obama On Immigration Executive Order

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on MSNBC this morning said he backed President Obama’s plan to issue an executive order on immigration reform which will be unveiled this evening in an Oval Office address.

Cuomo, appearing on “Morning Joe” on Thursday to discuss the ongoing response to the Buffalo snow fall, said one of the lessons of the November mid-term elections is that voters want government to function and act on things.

He said victorious Republicans “have to be careful because they now were handed the reins and gridlock will be punished.”

When it comes to the executive order, Cuomo even trotted out his favored analogy for what government isn’t supposed to be.

“Government is supposed to operate,” Cuomo said. “At the end of the day, government is a service bureau. It’s not a debating society that is supposed to have political, endless ideological debates in Washington and accomplish nothing.”

Cuomo at times has been criticized for pushing through legislation here in Albany either through what critics call strong-arm tactics or by waiving the required three-day aging process for legislation through a message of necessity.

The governor, though, said the president is right to exercise his executive authority in the face of congressional intransigence.

“An executive order, you’d like to do it through legislation, but you have executive authority,” Cuomo said. “And I think he’s going to make the point that he’s heard the people and government is functioning and maybe the Republican Congress should get with it.”

Cuomo himself is believed to have national ambitions.

And his support for the immigration move by Obama comes as liberals in New York push him to include the Dream Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to have access to tuition assistance, in his budget proposal.

Cuomo Says Bills Game Sunday ‘Impractical’

That Jets winning streak may be preserved after all.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday said it likely “impractical” to have the Buffalo Bills play the visiting New York Jets this Sunday given that the area continues to be pounded by snow, with another storm coming this weekend.

“At this point in time, everything we have to do with the driving ban, everything we just said, staying off the roads, would make a Bills game impractical,” Cuomo said during a press briefing this morning. ”

Cuomo said that having the game, scheduled for a 1 p.m. kick off in Orchard Park at Ralph Wilson Stadium, would potentially risk public safety.

“If you ask me today, right now, my two cents would be it would be impractical to do the game because it could jeopardize public safety,” Cuomo said. “I spoke to the county executive and the mayor about it,” Cuomo added. “Everybody would love to see a Bills game go forward, but I think even more, everybody wants to make sure that public safety comes first.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who has Bills season tickets, largely agreed with Cuomo’s assessment, saying public safety resources on the county level are being stretched due to the snow recovery.

“As of right now, I cannot commit to emergency personnel and sheriff’s deputies being at the facility on Sunday,” he said.

A bigger challenge is coming this weekend with rising temperatures above the freezing mark and, with it, widespread flooding.

For updates on the Buffalo snow situation, be sure to check in with our colleagues at TWC News Buffalo.

Senate-IDC Deal Floated With An Eye To 2016

A new power-sharing arrangement in the state Senate is being discussed that would last through the 2016 election cycle, giving Republicans a cushion against potential Democratic gains in a presidential election year.

The agreement, according to a source familiar with the discussions, would allow Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein to remain co-president of the chamber and include a handshake agreement that the coalition lasts through the 2016 elections.

The deal would allow Klein to retain the power to decide which bills come to the floor for a vote in the Senate and maintain his role in the state budget negotiations.

It has been widely speculated – and even publicly discussed by some current and former Senate GOP members – that Klein would have to give up some power now that the Republicans have won a clear 32-seat majority (plus the addition of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder).

But under this deal being floated, in exchange for allowing Klein to retain most or all of the power he currently enjoys, the Senate Republicans would gain the insurance of having the five-member IDC to fall back on two years from now, when a presidential election is expected to cause an uptick in Democratic turnout and potentially put the GOP back into a numerical minority.

A source stressed the talks remain fluid and that the final details of a new coalition agreement are yet to be hammered down.

A spokeswoman for Klein declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos.

Earlier this week, Skelos said after a closed-door meeting with the Republican conference at the Capitol there is a willingness among his members to continue the coalition with the IDC in some form.

“There was a consensus that we would like to keep the coalition going and I will be having discussions with Senator Klein on how we move forward,” he said.

The proposal has its pitfalls for both sides.

Liberals would no doubt once again seek to oust Klein and his members in party primaries – especially given the stakes of the coalition potentially continuing through the next election cycle – even as Democrats eye Hillary Clinton’s likely run for president delivering down-ballot gains for them.

The Republicans would have to trust Klein to keep his end of the bargain should they suffer losses in the next election that puts them in the minority.

Klein in June agreed to form a new power-sharing coalition with mainline Democrats, but that deal was contingent on the party gaining enough seats to form a majority in the Senate.

Klein has insisted that agreement only went into effect when and if the regular Democrats managed to win enough seats to control the chamber, which they failed to do on Election Day.

Under this new arrangement, mainline Democrats would have to either use their resources to primary the IDC (primary challenges to Klein and IDC Sen. Tony Avella of Queens both failed this year) or win enough seats to make the the breakaway conference irrelevant.

Klein’s chance of retaining power would allow him to once again be a Democratic voice in policy making, meaning he would have to deliver some tangible results in order to stave off opposition on the left.

After being elevated to the Senate co-presidency in the last two-year cycle, Klein was able to have the state’s minimum wage increased over a phased-in period.

Nevertheless, Klein has come under criticism from liberals and other advocacy organizations for the Senate’s failure to pass measures aimed at strengthening abortion rights, the DREAM Act and the full public financing of political campaigns.

Klein has countered that the votes aren’t there in the chamber for either bills to pass, even with the IDC’s support.

Republicans would have to convince their reluctant supporters on the right that they are playing a long game by again empowering a group of Democrats in chamber in what amounts to an insurance policy against falling back into the minority.

Cuomo, In Buffalo, Urges People To Stay Off Closed Roads

Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited snow-bound Buffalo on Wednesday, urging motorists and residents to stay off roads that have been closed down due to the ongoing storm.

Cuomo has declared a state of emergency in 10 counties and deployed about 150 National Guard troops to help with the storm recovery and response.

The storm, though, caused passengers in some areas of the state Thruway to be stuck in their snow-bound vehicles, some for up to more than 24 hours.

“We believe all passengers have been removed from their passenger vehicles,” Cuomo said today. “There are commercial truck drivers who are still on the roadway.”

Some of those truck drivers could stay with the trucks given it’s easier to sleep and remain in those vehicles.

“We’re now in the process of clearing much of those commercial vehicles on the Thruway,” Cuomo said.

The governor added some of the drivers on the roadways ignored travel bans that had been issued by officials in the wake of the heavy snow.

“They shut it down at an appropriate time. What happened was even though it was closed, people still went on the Thruway,” Cuomo said. “That’s what happened here. We had the official closing of the Thruway. Because we didn’t immediately block the every entrance and people then still went on the Thruway. It was a mistake. Part of it is citizen responsibility. If the road is closed, the road is closed. That’s what it means. We need cooperation from citizens.”

Cuomo is touring parts of the Thruway this afternoon to survey the clean up and road clearing efforts, he said.

“I believe when it’s all said and done, this snowfall will break all sorts of records and that’s saying something in western New York,” Cuomo said.