Nick Reisman

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Cuomo Endorses Benjamin In SD-30

Democratic state Senate hopeful Brian Benjamin on Thursday was endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

At the same time, Cuomo has endorsed Benjamin’s proposal to close Rikers Island within three years — faster than the 10-year timeline as proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a rival to the governor.

“Brian Benjamin has the talent, experience and proven leadership we need to keep New York moving forward,” Cuomo said in a statement released by his re-election campaign.

Cuomo lavished praise on Benjamin’s support for the Rikers Island closure plan, echoing comments made Wednesday night at an event for the National Action Network.

“Brian has been a leading voice in the fight for comprehensive criminal justice reform, and has shown a deep commitment to not just talking about issues of social justice, but actually delivering results. A centerpiece of this agenda is closing the door to Rikers Island once and for all – because 10 years is 10 years too long. Brian has the demonstrated passion to work as the next State Senator to address the critical needs in education funding, housing affordability, criminal justice reform and economic development. I’m proud to endorse Brian’s candidacy for State Senate, and I know working together we will build a fairer, more equal justice system for all.”

Benjamin is running for the open state Senate seat vacated by Bill Perkins, now on the city Council.

WFP Stokes Opposition To Trump’s Tax Plan

From the Morning Memo:

The Working Families Party in an email to supporters on Wednesday called President Donald Trump’s proposed tax cut package a “sham” and urged opposition to it.

“Trump’s plan to slash taxes for billionaires and corporations would mean a radical redistribution of wealth where the rich get richer and working Americans get left behind,” the email states.

The email, in the petition-style genre of asking supporters to send their address in a show of opposition, comes as the White House and Congressional Republicans move to cut taxes in the coming months.

Despite solid Republican control, tax reform is considered tricky as Trump pursues a large tax cut for individuals as well as corporations and some GOP lawmakers worry about its impact on the deficit. Also at play is a border adjustment tax that has some in Washington wary.

Added to this is the impact the plan could take on states like New York, especially if the state and local tax deduction is done away with in the final agreement. This is also expected to impact high-tax states like California and New Jersey.

And then, of course, is the subject of Trump’s own taxes, which he has refused to release. A group of Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate in Albany on Wednesday released a bill that would have the state Department of Taxation and Finance automatically release Trump’s state returns, along with those of statewide elected officials.

“Democrats in Congress — and even several Republicans — have already said Trump should release his tax returns. But this is where the rubber hits the road,” the WFP’s email states. “Unless Trump releases his own tax returns, Congress shouldn’t even consider this sham of a tax bill.”

Democratic Lawmakers Want Trump’s NY Taxes Released

Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly on Wednesday unveiled legislation that would require the Department of Taxation and Finance to release the tax returns of all statewide elected officials and President Donald Trump.

“It may seem as if this is an issue that we have tried and failed to solve, but it’s not,” said Sen. Daniel Squadron. “Like so much else in the Trump era, the states have enormous power here.”

Trump so far has refused to release his state or federal tax returns. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at a news conference Wednesday said the president has “no intention” of releasing his returns, but insisted Trump had divulged enough financial information.

The bill would require a five-year look-back period for the release of the state returns and comes as Republicans in Washington plan a tax reform bill this week.

“The fact the president can personally benefit is just rather extraordinary that we would not have any transparency or disclosure,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy. “So we do think we have the authority in New York state to seek this disclosure.”

The measure dovetails with a separate bill that would require presidential and vice presidential nominees to release their tax returns in order to qualify for the ballot in New York.

“We think this parallel track requiring tax returns at the state level be released now and tax returns be prospectively released if someone wants to run for president or vice president is very important,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman.
“It’s so important what President Trump is hiding in his tax returns.”

While the bill is being circulated in the Democratic-dominated Assembly, its fate is uncertain in the Republican-led Senate.

“We are always happy to have a serious discussion about what constitutes sound public policy for the state of New York, but this sounds like a P.R. stunt,” said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif.

SD-31: Jackson Files To Challenge IDC’s Alcantara

Democratic former city Councilman Robert Jackson this week filed with the state Board of Elections to challenge incumbent Sen. Marisol Alcantara, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference.

Jackson was among the challengers in 2016 in the crowded Democratic primary to replace Adriano Espaillat following his vacating the seat for the House of Representatives.

Alcantara was ultimately successful, with her campaign effort supported by the IDC. She later joined the conference, which has swelled to eight members in the last several months on the additions of Sens. Jose Peralta and Jesse Hamilton.

Jackson’s bid marks the first of the mainline Democratic challengers to an IDC incumbent.

The feud between the IDC and mainline conference erupted once again this year as Republicans retained control of the Senate with the aid of Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Fedler, a Democrat who sits with the GOP conference.

Alcantara this week also filed with the Board of Elections to run for re-election.

Cuomo: $2.5B For Water Quality ‘Not A Cheap Solution’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted a $2.5 billion bond for water quality and infrastructure upgrades contained in the state budget, saying in Auburn on Wednesday it wasn’t a “cheap solution” to a statewide problem.

Cuomo was in Auburn ostensibly to highlight the state’s efforts to cleanup Owasco Lake, one of the Finger Lakes which has been targeted for filtering of blue-green algae.

“The $2.5 billion is obviously a lot of money, but it’s a statewide problem,” Cuomo said. “It’s not a cheap solution to this, but you don’t want a cheap solution to this.”

Elsewhere, communities in eastern upstate New York have been under the strain of chemical contamination, with problems arising in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Newburgh.

Cuomo blamed a trio of broad issues for the water problems: Aging infrastructure, the classification of safe levels of chemicals by the Environmental Protection Agency and economic development.

“It’s threatened by development. It’s threatened, quite frankly, by the success of our economy,” Cuomo said, pointing to home building and the success of the state’s Greek yogurt industry.

“We’ve done a lot of things to stimulate the agricultural industry and that’s great,” he said. “But that also generates issues and a lot of those issues end up in the water.”

The $2.5 billion approved in the state budget includes money for a variety of quality control concerns, upgrades and testing, but some environmental organizations believe it is only a fraction of what is needed to strengthen the state’s water needs.

Cuomo wrapped the concerns in a broader message about conservation.

“Your basic responsibility is to leave the place better than you found it,” he said. “Every philosopher says that. Every religion says that in its own way.”

Moody’s: Enrollment Spike At SUNY Could Hurt System

The credit rating agency Moody’s in a report released Wednesday found the free tuition program as approved in the 2017-18 state budget is unlikely to have a negative impact on the credit of the state’s public universities.

For the most part, any bump in enrollment will be offset by tuition dollars already being paid.

The program once fully phased in would provide free tuition to students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year and will cost $160 million. The state budget agreement also included a $200 tuition increase.

“The new scholarship may contribute to a modest increase in overall enrollment, but we believe it is more likely these funds will supplant tuition dollars already paid by students from middle-income families,” said Moody’s Associate Managing Director Susan Fitzgerald. “Therefore it is unlikely to result in substantial new enrollment or funding for New York’s public universities.”

However, a spike in enrollment because of the scholarship program could lead to negative side effects for both the state and city public college systems, the report found.

As a result, SUNY and CUNY schools would need to find additional ways of covering new costs or finding new ways of raising revenue.

At the same time, an enrollment increase could move some students away from private colleges in the state, negatively impacting institutions that have less money and are more regionally known.

“Many of these schools already confront a highly competitive environment and even small shifts of enrollment to the public sector could have a negative effect on their already tight financial situations,” Fitzgerald said.

Tax Collections Decline $300M

The state’s tax collections declined in the fiscal year that ended March 31 by $300 million, according to a year-end cash report released on Wednesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Percentage-wise, the decline is a relatively small one, only 0.4 percent from the previous fiscal year.

And DiNapoli in a statement said the state’s cash position remains relatively strong.

“While personal income tax and consumption tax receipts exceeded the latest projections at the end of the fiscal year, they were more than offset by lower business tax collections,” DiNapoli said. “The state remained in a strong cash position starting the new fiscal year, because of factors including General Fund spending that was well below projections and unspent funds from financial settlements.”

All told, the state’s receipts from the fiscal year hit $156.4 billion, a 2 percent increase from the previous year. The received an 8 percent boost in federal aid during 2016-17 fiscal year.

Cuomo’s National Profile Expands

From the Morning Memo:

Less than week after the legislative session in Albany is scheduled to end, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will attend a New York City fundraiser in his honor with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden and Cuomo have cultivated a public friendship in recent years, with the former veep touting the governor’s work on infrastructure spending in the state.

The fundraiser in June — benefitting Cuomo’s 2018 re-election campaign — surfaced the same day the governor announced new staff appointments in his office, including a former top aide to Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

With Maria Comella serving as chief staff, Cuomo now has a trio of women — Melissa DeRosa and Kelly Cummings included — at the helm of his administration to run the government and focus on big picture strategy.

He’s also turned to Republican staffers. Cummings worked as a communications director for the state Senate Republicans as did his budget director, Robert Mujica.

At the same time, Cuomo has retained a mix of former Obama and Clinton staffers in his office. And, perhaps not insignificantly, he took on a new speechwriter with an international affairs background.

Comella, however, was the hire that raised eyebrows, given her experience running a presidential campaign.

Cuomo has insisted he’s focused on being governor and has been planning a bid for a third term with fundraisers and moving his former top aide, Bill Mulrow, to chair the 2018 effort.

Golden: ‘Trump Is Not Fooling Around’ On Sanctuary Funding

From the Morning Memo:

Cities that refuse to coordinate with federal immigration enforcement efforts cannot be stripped of federal funding, a judge ruled in a blow to President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday.

The issue is an acute one for cities in New York which have affirmed their status as “sanctuary” communities in recent months, including New York City, Syracuse and Albany.

“While I expect this fight to continue, it is my hope the administration can put this destructive chapter behind them and focus on solving our country’s important issues, including funding infrastructure, creating jobs for working-class Americans, and developing a meaningful urban agenda to tackle the serious challenges facing America’s cities,” said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner in a statement.

The case, expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, comes as some Democratic lawmakers in Albany have sought to expand the sanctuary status to the entire state as California lawmakers have done this year.

“I think Trump is not fooling around,” said Republican state Sen. Marty Golden. “I President Trump is going to stop funding going into cities across this great, great nation allowing criminals to stay in our communities. It’s just plain wrong.”

As for the sanctuary statehood move, Golden said Republicans in his conference are staunchly opposed.

“I don’t see this passing in our state,” he said, “nor should it pass in any state.”

Bills Aimed At Tobacco-Buying Age, E-Cigs Advance

From the Morning Memo:

Two bills that would place new restrictions on tobacco and nicotine use in New York advanced in the state Senate on Tuesday to the cheers of anti-smoking advocates.

“We think that senators heard our message loud and clear, they stood up to the tobacco industry, so we’re pleased they moved two of these bills today,” said Julie Hart of the American Cancer Society Action Network.

One bill tackles electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, and would have the increasingly popular nicotine alternative fall under the Clean Indoor Air Act.

“It’s just a habit that we have made unacceptable through society and this is now starting to encouraging new users and it’s the opposite of what’s good for the public health,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan.

Another bill would increase the tobacco purchasing age statewide from 18 to 21.

“We want to prevent young people from starting and that’s the most important thing because the older you are when you have your first cigarette, the less likely you are to start,” said Sen. Diane Savino.

The bill known as Tobacco 21 passed the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday. But it has already been made law in eight counties around New York.

“From a business prospective, for the retail industry in our state, it makes more sense to have a consistent application across the state,” Savino said. “They all have to comply with it. Our chain stores, our retail outlets.”

In the Democratic-led Assembly, the bill regulating e-cigarettes has already passed in previous years. But the tobacco 21 legislation is yet to advance to the full Assembly floor.

“We’ll talk about them internally with the conference,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “I think cigarette smoking is terrible and I hope people wouldn’t do it. We’ll have to see if the conference is ready to move forward with those.”

Both measures had been initially included in the state budget proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but dropped by the end of the negotiations.