Nick Reisman

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Skoufis Says He’s Not Running For Orange County Exec

Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis on Thursday took himself out of contention for the Orange County executive’s race, announcing he would not be a candidate in a statement.

“My position in state government grants me an opportunity to make a significant, positive impact on our community while working in partnership with local officials,” he said.

“Representing parts of two counties in the Assembly, I lend a substantial voice on regional and statewide tax, education, labor, veterans, health, economic development, public protection, environmental, insurance, and transportation policy. While county government performs many important functions, its purview is narrower in scope and oftentimes subject to state approval.”

Skoufis has been talked up as a potential candidate for the state Senate district represented by Republican Sen. Bill Larkin. The Democratic lawmaker, first elected in 2012, had run afoul of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office this year amid a disagreement over how to structure a proposal for free tuition at state university and college campuses.

Bar Association: Con Con Could Streamline Courts

A constitutional convention could help revise and simplify the state’s complex court system, the state Bar Association found in a report released on Thursday.

“Whether you are for a state Constitutional Convention or against it, all can agree that New Yorkers would benefit from a thorough reconsideration of Article VI and potential reforms that would improve and simplify it,” said Henry M. Greenberg, the chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on the New York State Constitution.

New Yorkers will consider whether to hold a constitutional convention this fall in a referendum, a once-a-decade vote that is being opposed by labor groups and some lawmakers.

But lawyers have zeroed in on the potential overhaul aspects of state government, including the Unified Court System, the modern form of which was established in the 1960s.

The Bar Association’s report points to the complex web of trial-level courts that could be streamlined under changes to the constitution.

“The potential to simplify the state’s court system, promote access to justice and reduce unnecessary costs and inefficiencies make the issue of court consolidation one that is ripe for consideration at a constitutional convention, should voters choose to hold one,” the report says.

“Despite its name, the Unified Court System is anything but-with its patchwork quilt of 11 different trial-level courts and multiple levels of appellate courts.”

Recommendations include addressing a judicial retirement age, the creation of a fifth department, how judges are selected and judicial terms for the trial level.

Report on Judiciary Article by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Housing Advocates Push MOU Approval In Advocacy Push

From the Morning Memo:

Housing advocates today are organizing a day of advocacy to push for their version of a memorandum of understanding that would spend nearly $2 billion on affordable and supportive housing.

The push is aimed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose office contends the MOU has already been approved on their end, but the Legislature needs to act.

The Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing is launching its effort through a call-in campaign, asking supporters to leave a message with the governor’s office, using this as a suggestion:

“We urge Governor Cuomo to get the housing MOU DONE NOW. He made this promise more than a year ago. Over 80,000 people are homeless across the state. Every day that passes without an MOU is another day that people live in the streets and in shelters. We need the Governor to fulfill his promise and get the MOU signed now.”

The MOU is aimed at developing 20,000 of units of supportive housing over the next 15 years. The 2016 execute budget included a five-year $2 billion plan for 6,000 units of supportive housing.

But at the end of the legislative session in June, Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to spend the first $150 million, building 1,200 units.

Senate Dems To Long Island

From the Morning Memo:

Democrats from the mainline conference on Thursday are trekking to Long Beach for a news conference on water quality, including Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Sens. John Brooks, Todd Kaminsky and Daniel Squadron.

While the issue is a common theme for state lawmakers to hit these days, it’s also a feather in the cap for Senate Democrats to hold an event on Long Island, what has been a traditionally Republican stronghold for the state Senate.

Democrats for years struggled to crack the so-called “Long Island 9” — the districts that comprise suburban Nassau and Suffolk counties and key to the Republican majority in the Senate.

Underscoring the importance of Long Island, Republican majority leaders — Ralph Marino, Dean Skelos and John Flanagan to name a few — are often Long Islanders.

Democrats were able to last break into the majority in 2008 with victories on Long Island, including Craig Johnson and Brian Foley.

Both would lose their seats in the 2010 wave year following a tumultuous single-term stint in the majority for the Democrats.

But Democrats have been able to win two seats on Long Island in the last year, with corruption cases to thank.

First, it was the special election to fill Skelos’s seat, who was ousted from office when he was found guilty of federal corruption charges stemming for helping his son’s business interests. Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, has held the moderate-leaning Nassau County district.

In November, Brooks narrowly defeated incumbent freshman Micheal Venditto, whose father Oyster Bay town Supervisor John Venditto, was arrested on corruption charges weeks before the election. The younger Venditto is not implicated in the case.

Still, Democrats are not in majority control in the Senate.

They’ve lost a member this week with the election Bill Perkins to the New York City Council. Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat, conferences with the Republicans. The Independent Democratic Conference — formed in the wake of the party’s 2010 legislative losses — now has eight members, leading to a round of public recriminations and acrimony in Albany between the two warring factions.

Cuomo: State ‘Clearly’ Had Authority Over NYC Bag Tax

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a news conference on Wednesday defended his approval a bill that blocks a 5-cent fee on plastic bags from taking effect in New York City, saying the surcharge’s approval “clearly” fell within the state’s authority.

“It’s clearly within the state domain,” Cuomo said. “The state passes laws that effects the cities in the state. Cities are a creature of state law. The city says I don’t want to be subject to a state law, well, you could see civil war, but other than that.”

New York City, in particular, has often chafed under the amount of authority state government has over their policy making, especially when it comes to issues like taxes.

The New York City Council had previously passed the bag tax and decried the move to block it.

The bill places a one year moratorium on the fee from being enacted, but will likely kill the surcharge in its current iteration.

Cuomo signed the bill on Tuesday and released a 900-word essay on plastic pollution and littering, saying he wanted to tackle the issue across New York through the formation of a task force.

“The plastic bag is not just a New York City problem, it’s a statewide problem,” Cuomo said.

Schneiderman Cheers Puzder’s Withdraw

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman celebrated the withdraw of businessman Andrew Puzder as labor secretary on Wednesday, a development that is also be feted by organized labor.

“I stand with millions of working men and women across America in cheering Andrew Puzder’s decision to withdraw his troubled nomination for Labor Secretary,” Schneiderman said. “Puzder had no business running the Labor Department — an agency that uncovered wage theft at a number of Puzder’s own restaurants — and it remains baffling that President Trump even nominated him in the first place. President Trump’s next nominee for Labor Secretary must be committed to protecting workers’ rights, rather than seeking to undermine them at every turn. Whoever that nominee is, I stand ready to use the full force of my office to ensure that workers are treated fairly.”

The nomination of Puzder, a former fast food executive who had led the company that owned Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., had previously come under the scrutiny of labor groups for his support for automation. Support for his confirmation further collapsed following revelations that he had employed an undocumented immigrant and had assaulted his wife.

Democrats had previously sought to scuttle the nomination of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to no avail.

“Fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder should have never been nominated to lead a department once headed by Frances Perkins, a true working-class hero,” said Héctor Figueroa of 32BJ SEIU. “That’s why today, as we celebrate Puzder’s withdrawal, we should also honor Perkins and the many men and women who dedicated their lives to fight for the minimum wage, equal pay, the 40-hour week and the right to have a voice at work. It’s because of them and the millions of hardworking Americans who continue to fight for what’s right that we will prevail.”

Few Surprises In Cuomo’s Spotify Playlist

In honor of the music streaming service Spotify moving into 4 World Trade Center, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has released a playlist of songs he allegedly listens to.

The songs are, not surprisingly, pretty New York centric. There’s a lot of Billy Joel, who Cuomo is friends with, as well as the inclusion of New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen. Cuomo anthems like “Simply The Best” and “Work For The Working Man” are of course on there.

The Jay Z-Alicia Keys version of “Empire State of Mind” is the only song that could remotely qualify as hip hop, and it’s a little surprising Cuomo shied away from the genre that was invented in New York City.

Other snubs include the Beastie Boys (Brooklyn), Run-DMC (Queens) and the Goo Good Dolls (Buffalo).

This is billed as “Vol. 1” however and perhaps a Vol. 2 could include the financially themed “C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu-Tang Clan (just a suggestion). After all, Spotify is receiving up to $11 million in rent credits from the World Trade Center Rent Reduction Program for the 15 years of its lease provided by Empire State Development.

The full playlist can be found here.

Tourism Signs Cost $8.1M

Updated: Based on testimony from the Thruway Authority acting executive director, the total cost of their 140 signs along the system was $2.7 million, bringing the total cost to $8.1 million.

The purchase and installation of signs along state highways advertising tourism in New York cost $5.4 million — nearly five times the amount initially estimated, according to state Transportation Commissioner Matt Driscoll.

The signs have become the subject of an ongoing dispute between officials in New York state government and federal officials in Washington.

The federal government contends the signage, advertising the I Love NY brand, apps and other amenities, is actually illegal, given they do not direct motorists to specific location or provide guidance on travel conditions.

All told, the cost to manufacture the 374 signs was $3.1 million. Installing them cost $2.3 million, Driscoll said. There are 514 signs along state highways and the Thruway system.

Initial cost estimates pegged the signs at $1.7 million, according to Gannett in Albany, which first broke the news about the ongoing dispute over the signage.

Lawmakers: $12M Needed For Refugee Re-Settlement

Democratic lawmakers who represent upstate New York cities called on Wednesday for $12 million in state funding to bolster refugee re-settlement efforts amid uncertainty over the federal ban on migration to the United State.

“Upstate cities — we welcome refugees. We welcome refugees because we know they rebuild our neighborhoods, our cities and help us build our economies,” said Buffalo Democratic Assemblyman Sean Ryan at a news conference. “We’re extending the welcome mat to refugees, we have for more than a decade and we want to make sure this program keeps going.”

Upstate cities have over the years since an influx of refugees, including Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Utica. In Erie County alone, 1,800 refugees were re-settled last year. Ninety-four percent of the 5,028 refugees who traveled to New York were sent to upstate communities.

But the concern from agencies that handle refugee re-settlement is the potential to lose federal funding due to the travel ban. Settlement agencies receive $950 for each person in order to provide transitional services over 90 days. The concern is that once the ban is lifted, federal funding won’t be available to handle newly arrived migrants with refugee status.

The money is being called for as President Donald Trump’s 120-day ban on refugee travel to the United States is in legal limbo. Federal courts have upheld challenges to the ban, which also prohibits travel from seven Muslim majority countries for 90 days.

Trump has signaled he may submit a revised executive order even as his administration moves toward appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Even with the ban under a legal stay, lawmakers said the order has wreaked havoc on funding for the re-settlement agenices.

“It’s pretty urgent because the complicated legal chaos caused by the Trump ban has sent shock waves through the legal communities,” Ryan said. “Because the ban has been stayed, the light switch didn’t just turn back on.”

Lawmakers are also concerned with the financial hit local economics could take with the ban. Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi represents Utica, a city that has been a destination for refugees.

“This travel ban is having moral implications on our country, it’s have economic implications on our upstate cities,” he said.

Lawmakers want the money included in the final budget agreement, due to pass March 31. At the news conference Wednesday morning, they said they had spoken with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to have the issue raised in the budget talks.

Taxi Group: Jobs Would Be Lost With Ride Hailing Expansion

The Upstate Transportation Association, a coalition of traditional taxi and livery companies fighting the expansion of ride hailing services in New York, is calling attention in testimony to be given later today to the potential jobs that would be lost should the measure be enacted.

The group is seizing on a report that estimated up to 11,150 full-time non-driver jobs would be lost.

“The jobs that ride-share companies claim to create are part-time, gig work, with no benefits or protections for the drivers,” according to the testimony to be given by John Tomassi, the group’s spokesman.

Lawmakers are hearing testimony from ride hailing firms Uber and Lyft as well that have been pushing for the expansion of their apps’ services outside of New York City, a measure that is included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion budget proposal.