Nick Reisman

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The Senate Money Race

Collectively the three main Senate campaign committees have more than $3 million in cash on hand heading into what is expected to be a heated campaign season.

Senate Republicans have $2 million in their campaign account, with $81,348 in its housekeeping or “soft money” account. Mainline Senate Democrats, as reported earlier, have a combined $1.1 million between its two campaign committees. The Independent Democratic Conference’s Senate Independence Committee, meanwhile, has $1.2 million, along with $220,301 in its housekeeping account.

The campaign filings come amid a period of suspended uncertainty for control of the narrowly divided state Senate.

Two vacancies are yet to be filled in yet-to-be-called special elections, which could be held as early as April. Having Democrats win those seats is key to the execution of a unity agreement between the mainline conference and the eight-member IDC. That deal has been made more complicated by the allegation made against IDC Leader Jeff Klein this month that he forcibly kissed a then-legislative staffer outside of a bar in Albany nearly three years ago.

Either way, the Senate race will likely be an expensive one. Playing a key role beyond the campaign committees will be independent expenditure committees, or super PACs, that have been fueled by labor unions, charter school supporters and the real estate industry.

Amendment Would Add Gender Protections To The Constitution

Lost in the shuffle of the budget presentation this week was the roll out of an amendment as proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would add gender protections to the state Constitution.

The amendment was previously announced part of a package of sexual harassment measures Cuomo unveiled several weeks ago. Specifically, it adds “sex” to the list of protected classes that currently include race, color, creed and religion.

It is also among four amendments Cuomo has proposed as concurrent resolutions with the budget plan, including the adoption of same-day voter registration, limiting the outside of state lawmakers and term limits for elected officials.

A constitutional amendment must be approved by two separately elected sessions of the Legislature and then goes to voters in a ballot referendum. The amendments proposed this year could be before voters as soon as 2019.

Budget Proposal Would Keep The Bills In Buffalo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $168 billion budget includes re-appropriated funding to keep the state’s sole professional football in Buffalo.

The budget would spend $2.3 million for “services and expenses related to the retention of professional football in Western New York.”

That’s the Bills, the team that made the playoffs for the first time this season since the end of the last century and are remaining in western New York.

The state through Cuomo has poured millions into western New York economic development and has spent millions to keep the team at its current address in Orchard Park.

Cuomo in his State of the State address last month gave a shout-out to the Bills: “We ended the drought in Buffalo, returning to the playoffs for the first time since 1999, ‘Go Bills! Go Bills! Go Bills!’

Which Payroll Tax Option Will It Be? Wait A Month

The Department of Taxation and Finance released a report providing an exhaustive menu of options for a potential statewide payroll tax in New York, but it may be a month before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration can settle on a preferred plan.

Budget Director Robert Mujica in a radio interview Thursday said it’s likely the finalized details for the proposed payroll tax would end up in the 30-day budget amendments.

“Having them review the options, this is based on earlier conversations but now we’ve put out concrete options,” he said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “And then work from now through the budget cycle to draft legislation. We have a 30-day amendment period so we can amend the budget that the Governor submitted yesterday to the legislature. So we hope to have legislation drafted within that 30-day period so we can get everything done.”

The tax could ultimately sit alongside the existing personal income tax and/or be a opt-in for businesses, that would then deduct the tax from its federal taxes.

Restructuring the state’s tax code has been met with skepticism from Republican lawmakers as well as some budget observers who have questioned whether such an undertaking can be done by the end of March.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, has been more welcoming of the potential change, saying that it’s a necessary response to the federal government capping state and local tax deductions at $10,000.

At the same time, there is also the possibility the federal government, either through Congress or the IRS, revise the tax laws again to close whatever loophole the state finds.

Mujica, in the interview, said the state’s analysis of the tax situation is sound.

“So within the confines in the law as it was drafted, we have legal experts, we have legal scholars, we have some of the best tax lawyers in the country working with us to do our, to create our code in a way that we think is going to withstand any legal test,” he said. “But if Washington wants to come after New York again and try to recover these funds we’ll have to deal with that. But right now, we’re going to do whatever we can to protect New Yorkers.”

Budget Proposal Would Require New Disclosures For Digital Ads

Policy language included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $168 billion spending plan would tackle the transparency issues surrounding digital ads and requiring new disclosure for what has been the wild west of political spending in recent years.

In what would be a major step for understanding how campaigns target individual voters, the language would require the disclosure of the audience the digital ad is targeting.

The language would also require a copy of the digital ad be made available online for public inspection, a digital copy of the independent expenditure and the date and time the ad was displayed.

The proposal itself impacts digital ads fueled by super PACs, which have also played increasing roles not just in statewide elections and ballot proposals, but legislative campaigns, especially for the state Senate.

The places the transparency onus on the platform provider, such as Facebook or Twitter. But radio, TV, satellite and cable providers would also be required make disclosures as well.

The proposal also calls for the average rate charged for the ad be disclosed, as well as the name of the candidate for which the advertisement refers to as well as the elected office being discussed.

For TV, there are already communications regulations in place for advertising shown over their air, with requirements that include the ad having some basis in fact.

The digital ad disclosure reforms come after a 2016 presidential election that fueled concerns of social media meddling by Russia in an effort to inject fraudulent information into the political bloodstream.

In New York, digital ads have appeared to target individual legislative candidates over the years, with little understanding of who was funding the ad.

State Considers ‘Foundation’ For Tax Changes

From the Morning Memo:

A plan to potentially restructure New York’s tax code received more details on Wednesday, a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined the plan in his $168 billion budget proposal.

One idea would call for a statewide payroll tax, but there are a variety of ways the Cuomo administration outlined to make that happen.

“We would shift from an employee paid system to an employer paid system,” Cuomo said, adding, “Rather than have a tax on the income received by the employee, tax the wages paid by the employer.”

The proposal would either replace or exist alongside the current personal income tax as a workaround to a newly approved federal cap on state and local tax deductions. The theory is that a payroll tax can still be deducted by a business on federal taxes.

The Cuomo administration further outlined its proposals in a 33-page report that also raised the possibility of creating a state-run charitable organization that could allow taxpayers to deduct taxes when paying for essential services.

All together, the proposals were a series of somewhat complicated permutations — a menu of options — for taking up state tax reform through a payroll tax adoption and potentially sidestepping the federal cap on deductions.

Cuomo in a statement called the proposals outlined a “blueprint for a foundation” to move forward with potential restructuring of how the state collects revenue.

Democrats in the Legislature on Wednesday indicated they were open to the discussion, but Republicans have increasingly issued caution signs when asked about the plan.

“This is just trying to make the state whole, those who pay the deductions and those who itemize,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican candidate for governor, is skeptical.

“It’s really more of a gimmick I think based on the information I’ve looked at,” Kolb said. “I think our tax system should not be tinkered with at least from the standpoint of shifting taxes and responsibilities.”

Other GOP lawmakers are concerned, too, that a payroll tax would lead to a reduction in employee pay.

“Payroll tax is actually going to result in money being taken out and the employee actually getting a lower paycheck,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader who is weighing a run for governor. “Politically, I don’t see how that’s possible.”

The tax system changes have made for an even more complicated budget season amid tighter finances and a four billion dollar deficit.

“I’m sure there’s going to be unintended consequences that we’re going to deal with,” Heastie said, “but overall if your salary is going to stay the same or perhaps go up, I think people will be interested in that.”

Cuomo Says Tax Change Proposals A ‘Foundation’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement Wednesday called the 33-page report released by the Department of Taxation and Finance a “foundation” for moving forward with a possible overhaul of the state’s tax structure.

The report released earlier in the afternoon presents a menu of potential options for the creation of a statewide payroll tax that could either replace or exist alongside the current personal income tax.

The tax is being proposed after a federal tax law capped state and local tax deductions at $10,000.

Another option outlined in the report would be the creation of a charitable entity that would allow taxpayers to contribute and deduct. The money would go toward providing essential state services.

“The federal tax plan is a devastating and targeted attack on New Yorkers that threatens the economic competitiveness of our state,” Cuomo said. “I thank the state Department of Taxation and Finance for their hard work and diligence in developing this report. With this blueprint as a foundation, we will work with experts, the Legislature, employers, taxpayers, and other stakeholders to develop and implement changes to the tax code that protect all New Yorkers. I will not stand by as partisan politics in Washington seeks to threaten the people of this state.”

Cuomo, Schneiderman Push EPA Over Smog

New York has filed a complaint pushing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act to curb ground-level smog pollution that blows into New York.

The complaint was announced as part of a joint push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The state argues that New York is downwind from states that contribute substantially to its smog problem. The complaint pushes the EPA to require five states — Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia — to better control pollution.

“New York is once again taking aggressive actions to not only push forward our nation leading energy goals, but also protect our state from harmful air pollution.” Cuomo said. “With this action, we are sending yet another clear message to the federal government that when our environment is threatened, New York will step up at every turn to protect our most vital resources for future generations.”

Schneiderman has challenged the Trump administration on a variety of issues, including the enforcement of environmental regulations.

“Millions of New Yorkers breathe unhealthy air due to smog pollution, much of which blows into New York from upwind states,” Schneiderman said. “Yet the Trump EPA continues to ignore its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act to reduce interstate smog pollution. Since the Trump EPA refuses to follow the law, we’re suing to protect the health of New Yorkers.”

Assembly Approves Emergency Access To Propane Bill

The Democratic-led Assembly on Wednesday approved legislation that would provide homeowners with more options for propane delivery when an emergency has been declared.

The bill, backed by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, would allow for the filling of a propane tank can be performed by a seller who is not the owner of the tank.

The measure came in response to some upstate residents, particularly in rural areas, who have not had timely access to propane refills during the winter months.

“It is simply unacceptable for families to be left without heat and unable to receive propane deliveries,” Santabarbara said. “With the cold temperatures expected to continue, we must do all we can to ensure no one is left behind.”

The bill also blocks a propane supplier from charging extra fees or penalties for filling the tank and bans companies that own the tanks from charging a penalty.

“No one should ever have to worry about being without heat during these cold winter months,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “That is why we have passed legislation to ensure that any individual or family heating their home with propane has options for filling their propane tanks when they need it most.”

Lanza Says He Wants A ‘Fair’ Congestion Plan That Doesn’t Punish Staten Island

Republican Sen. Andrew Lanza is concerned a proposed congestion pricing plan for New York City would punish Staten Island residents, saying Wednesday in an interview it’s “insulting and ridiculous” to charge drivers coming into Manhattan to work.

“If we’re going to address the traffic and do a congestion pricing scheme, it’s got to be fair and not punish the people from the outer boroughs,” Lanza said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave a broad brush outline on Tuesday in his budget address for a congestion pricing plan that would likely place a fee in “zones” around New York City and not add more to bridge tolls. Cuomo is reviving the congestion pricing idea as a way to bolster mass transit in New York City and the ailing subway system as well as reduce traffic.

More details are expected this week from a commission set up to study the issue.

Lanza, however, supports the opposite of equalizing tolls on bridges around the city, which he is a fairer solution.

“I’ll support anything that’s fair, but what I’m hearing in terms of proposals across the aisle is not fair,” Lanza said. “Any scheme that punishes the people of Staten Island who commute into Manhattan to work to add cost to that is something I reject and will fight against.”