Nick Reisman

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Cuomo Opens Door To Minimum Wage Outside Of The Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Buffalo on Tuesday raised the potential to pursuing a minimum wage increase outside of the state budget, which is due at the end of this month.

At the same time, Cuomo spoke of compromising with Senate Republicans, who remain opposed to a two-tiered minimum wage hike proposal for New York City and the rest of the state.

Cuomo’s proposal would increase the state’s minimum wage to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere.

If state lawmakers do not act this year, the wage will increase automatically at the end of the year to $9, up from the current $8.75, a product of a 2013 law.

“I hope to get it done this legislative session either in the budget which is April or at the end of the legislative session in June,” Cuomo said in Buffalo.

He added that his appearance in western New York today was meant to highlight the push for the minimum wage increase and by having voters contact their local legislators to push for the wage hike.

But Cuomo also acknowledged that Republican lawmakers, who hold control of the Senate with 33 seats, remain opposed to the latest wage increase.

“We have a Democratic Assembly and a Republican Senate,” Cuomo said. “For many years, that stymied progress in New York. Probably the single thing I’m most proud of in the last four years we’ve been able to work together.”

He spoke generally about his own record on working with Republicans, adding he sees the possibility for a deal on a wage increase again.

“At the end of the day, we’ve been able to reconcile and reach a compromise,” Cuomo said. “We’ve been able to do that in New York, I wish Washington did that better, frankly. But we’ve been able to reach compromise positions and I think we’ll be able to do that again.”

The last minimum wage increase was allowed by Senate Republicans, though they technically held a numerical minority in the chamber. The Independent Democratic Conference, a five-member breakaway caucus, held power in the chamber over the last two years and pushed for the wage increase.

But liberals and other wage advocates have knocked that agreement, saying it didn’t go far enough.

Mainline Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy this morning said the most recent agreement was “half a loaf.”

“Raising the minimum wage is something that the Senate Democrats have long fought for and we were the ones that pointed out that the last deal made on the raise was nothing more than a half loaf,” Murphy said. “I hope the Senate Republicans will finally join the fight for fair pay and raise the minimum wage.”

The Push And Pull For Disclosure In The Post-Silver Era

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers are under pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to disclose more information on their outside business interests, including their privately held clients.

“People have to know. That’s where we keep getting into trouble as a government,” Cuomo told reporters last month in Utica.

But lawmakers in recent days have started to push back.

Senate Republicans introduced a bill last week requiring non-family members living with state officials to disclose their income as well. The bill appears to be targeting Cuomo’s live-in girlfriend, Food Network star Sandra Lee.

“We believe the governor’s office should be participating in these disclosures and participating in the ethics reforms,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco said in an interview.

Cuomo is linking new disclosure requirements to the approval of spending in the $142 billion budget proposal. This has upset some lawmakers, who say it makes it more difficult for them to negotiate a compromise.

“The more that appropriations are tied up in language, it ties the Legislature’s hands to act,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said at a news conference last week.

And then there’s Cuomo’s own record on disclosure and his administration’s new policy of deleting emails after 90 days. Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger is introducing a bill that would halt that deletion policy.

“I think the governor’s office really missed the boat on this one. We’re living in the 21st century. Email is a standard form of communication between the public and the government,” the Manhattan Democrat said in an interview.

For some lawmakers, the deletion policy being pursued by the governor’s office is in contradiction to the efforts to shine more sunlight on the Capitol.

“I think that the governor believes we should have more transparency, more information flow between legislators and the public. I think the governor just needs to think through is the right hand doing what the left hand is saying,” Krueger said.

The ethics push at the Capitol comes after the arrest of now-former Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges. Silver was one of the longest serving speakers in the state’s history. And on Monday, Senate lawmakers moved to limit how many years legislative leaders and committee chairs can serve.

“I do believe that when you’re in power for too long, you begin to somewhat removed and insular from people and there’s potential for more problems,” said Sen. Joe Griffo, a Rome Republican who is the measure’s main sponsor. “I believe this is a better way to empower more members, allow more members opportunities to serve in leadership.”

Gentile Receives WFP Nod

From the Morning Memo:

City Councilman Vincent Gentile on Monday evening received the backing of the labor-aligned Working Families Party as he seeks to take on Republican Dan Donovan in the 11th congressional district special election.

In a statement, WFP State Director Bill Lipton referenced Donovan’s role in presiding over a grand jury as Staten Island district attorney that ultimately voted to not indict a New York City police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

“Vincent Gentile’s been a fighter for working families on housing and health issues,” Lipton said. “He will bring extensive experience to this post from his time in the New York State Senate and as a member of the NYC Council. By contrast his opponent, Daniel Donovan, has become a national symbol for inequality in the criminal justice system.”

Donovan had recused himself as the prosecutor who investigating the WFP’s for-profit consultant firm Data & Field Services in a 2009 city council race, a move that was later upheld by the state Court of Appeals.

Donovan, meanwhile, was endorsed by the Independence Party on Monday as well as Republicans in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Over the weekend, Donovan received the endorsement of the Conservative Party.

The special election to replace disgraced Republican former Rep. Michael Grimm is set for May 5.

Krueger: Cuomo’s Disclosure Rules In Conflict With Email Policy

Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger on Monday criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration for pursuing an email retention policy that deletes messages after 90 days while simultaneously calling for state lawmakers to reveal more information on their outside business interests.

“I think that the governor believes we should have more transparency, more information flow between legislators and the public,” she said in an interview. “I think the governor just needs to think through is the right hand doing what the left hand is saying.”

As first reported by The New York Post, Krueger plans to introduce a bill that would block the administration’s new email policy.

“I think the governor’s office really missed the boat on this one,” Krueger said. “We’re living in the 21st century. Email is a standard form of communication between people and their government.”

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi took to Twitter this afternoon with a snarky response to the proposal.

“We’ll review Liz Krueger’s legislation & anticipate it will include provisions opening up the Legislature to FOIL process,” Azzopardi tweeted, prompting a back and forth with a Senate Demcoratic spokesman.

In the interview, Krueger said her bill would cover FOIL as well.

“We should absolutely have a 21st century rational retention policy for all forms of communication, including email. Of course, we should make sure that complies with FOIL, the Freedom of Information Act,” she said.

Up until recent weeks, the mainline conference of Senate Democrats has been hesitant to criticize Cuomo, but lawmakers have parted with him on several issues, including allowing Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins into the closed-door budget talks as well as the governor’s education policy proposals in this year’s budget.

DeFran: ‘Balanced’ Diclosure That Includes Cuomo

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco in an interview on Monday said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office should be included in a finalized ethics deal.

“We believe the governor’s office should be participating in these disclosures and participating in the ethics reforms,” the Syracuse Republican said. “There’s nothing about the Legislature that they’re any different than the governor’s office. I think it’s part of the negotiations and it should be balanced.”

Senate Republicans last week introduced a bill that would require non-relatives who live state officials to disclose information on their outside income. The move was seen as a way of targeting Cuomo’s girlfriend, Food Network personality Sandra Lee (a Senate spokeswoman denied Lee was specifically being singled out by the bill).

A Cuomo official told reporters in response the office would also support amending the bill to include married lawmakers’ girlfriends.

Cuomo this year is tying new disclosure laws and per diem reform to spending in the state budget as a way of getting state lawmakers to agree to the changes.

Cuomo has said he won’t agree to a budget deal without those reforms in place.

DeFrancisco, in the interview, reiterated that Cuomo’s bargaining method this year makes it more difficult for a spending plan to pass on time.

However, DeFrancisco is skeptical the governor would risk breaking his streak of approving budgets before the start of the state’s fiscal year, April 1. Cuomo is yet to preside over a late state budget.

“I truly believe the governor wants to have an on-time budget. He’s using it for negotiating strategy,” he said. “I think we’re going to come up with something we can agree on on ethics.”

Cuomo Promotes Regional Benefits Of Property Tax Plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Monday sought to shore up support for his $1.66 billion property tax proposal, which would tie increases to a household’s income, by giving a region-by-region breakdown of the plan’s potential impact.

“We must ensure economic opportunity in New York – and that means putting money back in the pockets of hardworking homeowners who have been struggling under the crushing burden of property taxes for far too long,” Cuomo said in a statement. “During the last four years, we capped property taxes, and then we froze them. Now we are going to cut them. This program addresses the one of the most important challenges we face as a state – making New York affordable – by providing real, meaningful, significant tax relief that will make a difference in people’s lives.”

The proposal is being paid for with a projected budget surplus, which Cuomo’s office plans will come from keeping spending under 2 percent increases. The plan would be phased in over four years.

Cuomo’s plan is essentially a version of the circuit-breaker relief proposal that has been proposed multiple times over the years.

Cuomo’s tax plan comes on top of a cap on property tax increases, which was first approved in 2011.

The plan also includes a tax credit for renters, with relief linked to a renter’s income, added last year at the behest of affordable housing advocates.

The property tax relief plan would impact homeowners with household incomes below $250,000 and whose taxes exceed 6 percent of their income.

On Monday, Cuomo’s office released a county-by-county analysis of how much taxpayers in a given area would benefit (For example, 15,296 in Broome County would receive an average credit of $686, totaling some $10.5 million, etc).

Schenectady Republicans Knocked By Gun-Rights Advocates For Hosting Skelos

The co-founder of a gun-rights organization is criticizing the Schenectady County Republican Committee for hosting Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos as its keynote speaker at an upcoming event.

Skelos is due to speak at the county GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner on Wednesday.

“The state languishes in an oppressive regulatory environment; has seen droves of its citizens flee to other states; and has a government mired in corruption,” wrote Jake Palmateer, the co-founder of the group NY2A, in a letter sent last week to Chairman James Buhrmaster. “But Upstate New Yorkers see a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness. The ire created by the federal corruption investigation and the continued political action of SAFE Act opponents could restore a voice in Albany for Upstate New York in future election cycles. The keynote speaker selection of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos by the Schenectady County GOP undercuts that hope and demonstrates the short-sightedness of a political party on the edge of irrelevance in New York State.”

The letter underscores the conservative dissatisfaction with the passage of the SAFE Act, which included a number of Senate Republicans backing the gun-control legislation, which passed in January 2013.

Skelos agreed to allowing a vote on the bill and voted in favor of its passage.

Senate Republicans have pointed to a number of provisions in the bill that address using illegally obtained firearms and the murder of first responders.

Still, Republicans in the chamber won full control of the Senate last year after three upstate Democrats lost their seats to GOP challengers.

Flanagan: $1.1 Billion Education Hike ‘The Floor’

For Gov. Andrew Cuomo, $1.1 billion is the ceiling on increasing state education spending in this year’s $142 billion budget proposal.

But Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan in a radio interview Monday called Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s high-end increase figure “the floor.”

Cuomo is tying much of the increase to approval of his education policy changes in this year’s budget, including a new teacher evaluation system, addressing failing schools by having them taken over by a state monitory and a strengthening of charter schools.

Without the passage of those measures, education spending would be hiked by $340 million.

“Tying everything together… or there’s no money, I don’t think that’s going work,” Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, said on The Capitol Pressroom.

The state Board of Regents, a semi-independent entity charged with setting education policy in the state, last year set its funding aspirations at $2 billion, twice as much as what Cuomo has proposed with policy measures approved.

“We look at $1.1 billion and say, ‘that’s a floor,”” Flanagan said.

As he has in recent weeks, the lawmaker added that Cuomo won’t be able to get everything he wants on education, even as the governor plays hardball by including them in his budget proposal.

“You can’t throw 20 things out there and say ‘I want everything’. Life doesn’t work that way,” Flanagan said.

A top priority for Senate Republicans this year has been completely eliminating the gap elimination adjustment through the budget, a move Flanagan said there’s “no question” he wants to see happen.

Adding more spending to the education portion of the budget — typically the most costly in New York’s spending plan save for Medicaid — is a perennial concern for state lawmakers, especially those from suburban school districts.

“This is my 29th year in the legislature and I don’t care who the Governor is, we always add,” Flanagan said.

Teachers Union Leaders Question Charter School Rally

The statewide teachers union on Monday criticized Success Academy Charter Schools for planning to close on Wednesday in anticipation of a massive pro-charter rally in Albany.

In a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Board of Regents Chancellor Merry Tisch and Acting Education Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin, New York State United Teachers Karen Magee and Vice President Andy Pallotta questioned the plan to close the schools in order to hold what amounts to a political demonstration at the Capitol.

The charter school organization held a similarly large rally last year and closed its schools in order to bring students and parents to the rally.

“New York State United Teachers is seeking your views on several important questions raised by the upcoming Success Academy event. As a matter of policy, should Success Academy Charter Schools, Inc., as taxpayer-funded public schools, be permitted to close their doors and transport students, parents and staff to Albany for a rally? Even if they use substantial private funds, is this the “right thing for students?”

The union leaders also wondered whether they would be similarly criticized if public school districts closed “en masse” for an advocacy day at the Capitol.

“If school boards and superintendents in the state’s nearly 700 school districts also wish to close en masse for a day and transport thousands of their students, parents and staff to Albany to lobby for additional state funding, would that be permissible? Would you consider closing traditional public schools for a rally to be good public policy and the ” right thing” for all students?”

The letter is the latest salvo in the battle over education policy in the state.

Cuomo’s $142 billion budget would increase education spending by as much as $1.1 billion, but much of that funding increase is tied to enacting a number of policy changes ranging from a more stringent teacher evaluation law and a strengthening of the state’s charter schools.

The teachers unions have sought to frame Cuomo’s push as being “anti-teacher” by pursuing those policies, while the governor points to merit bonuses for especially high-performing teachers.

lettertogovcuomochantischandactingcommberlin by Nick Reisman

Effort To Scale Back SAFE Act Backed By Assembly Democrat

Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi announced on Monday he had signed on to a legislative package that would alter and scale back some provisions of the SAFE Act, a omnibus gun control bill approved in 2013.

The measures, which are also backed by Sen. James Seward of Oneida, would address major aspects of the gun control law championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which he counts among his most significant accomplishments as governor over the last four years.

The proposals would end the ban on giving long guns as gifts to relatives and pistol permit holders, repeal a provision in the law that limits 10-round magazines to seven rounds and end the requirement for ammunition retailers to register with the state and provide background checks on customers.

At the same time, county judges would be banned from “imposing extraneous restrictions” in issuing pistol and handgun licenses.

It’s not unusual for Republicans to seek amendments or outright repeals of the law, which has become a lightning rod for gun-rights advocates around the state and country.

But it is eyebrow-raising for a Democrat to back such a sweeping repeal.

In a statement, Brindisi pointed to concerns being raised by gun owners over the years.

“Over the past two years, I’ve received numerous letters and phone calls from constituents who are responsible gun owners, and who have some very valid objections to some of the most burdensome aspects of this law,” said Brindisi, a Utica Democrat. “The four bills I am introducing in the assembly would roll back some requirements of the NY-SAFE Act that are an unnecessary burden on responsible gun owners.”

Seward, a Republican who did not support the law’s passage in 2013, took a pointed view of the existing law.

“The reactionary, hastily drafted and passed NY-SAFE Act was meant for headlines and has done nothing to stop criminals from getting guns and using them for illegal purposes,” he said. “We need to take action now to correct the many technical issues the law created for responsible gun owners who shoot for sport, collect firearms, and carry guns to protect themselves and their families.”