Nick Reisman

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Long Island County Execs Endorse Cuomo’s Property Tax Plan

Long Island’s two county executives on Wednesday endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to have local governments develop consolidation and shared service plans with the goal of reducing overall property taxes.

“The property tax remains the most burdensome tax in New York and by challenging local governments to collaborate and create a plan to streamline operations for voter approval, this game-changing initiative will empower communities, cut costs, and reduce property taxes on Long Island and across New York,” Cuomo said.

“I commend these Long Island leaders for partnering with us and I look forward to working with them and local governments across the state to develop these plans, create efficiencies and provide real relief to New York residents.”

The plan was endorsed by both Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Republican Ed Mangano, the Nassau County executive (Mangano has been a prominent Republican ally for Cuomo. Mangano was arrested in October along with his wife on bribery and kickback charges).

The Long Island county executives’ embrace of the plan comes after Broome County Executive Jason Garnar also backed the proposal.

The proposal contained in Cuomo’s budget plan would require local government leaders on the county level to convene a review of ways to share services on the municipal level, with a plan that would be voted on in a public referendum by November.

It is the latest in a string of efforts by Cuomo to reduce the size of local government in New York, which he has attributed in part to the state’s high property tax burden. To date, those consolidation and shared service efforts have been mixed in their success.

Budget experts disagree with Cuomo’s link of high property taxes to the number of local governments and taxing districts, saying much of the cost is driven by state-sponsored mandates. Cuomo’s office has countered the administration has addressed those concerns by capping the growth of Medicaid on the local level.

32BJ Backs Ellison For DNC Chair

Rep. Keith Ellison picked up the backing of the politically active labor union 32BJ SEIU on Wednesday, which endorsed his bid for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

“As a union representing 163,000 working Americans, we are proud to endorse Keith Ellison for Democratic National Committee Chair,” said the union’s president, Héctor Figueroa. “Representative Ellison is offering an inclusive vision for a Democratic Party ready to channel the energy generated by millions of people across America in support of a country that works for and welcomes all.”

Ellison is among the leading contenders for the DNC post in an election that also includes former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a native of Buffalo.

“Ellison is the right person to lead a process that starts with rebuilding a Democratic Party committed to a grassroots strategy capable of engaging working-class voters and electing working families democrats,” Figueroa added. “We need a full-time Chair ready to expand the electorate with a fifty state strategy that opens wide the door of the Democratic Party.”

The union also endorsed two New York elected officials for vice chair in national party: Rep. Grace Meng and Assemblyman Michael Blake.

It’s the first time the union is making endorsements in the DNC leadership race.

“We are aware there are many qualified candidates who share our concerns and embrace our values — that alone represents a positive development for a much needed realignment of the Democratic Party with the needs of working families,” Figueroa said. “We wish the Republican Party would also align itself with the majority of Americans instead of being the party of the privileged few. Our country’s political system is in dire need of profound changes to facilitate and encourage the participation of eligible voters in the electoral process. Democrats are by no means the only ones who can contribute to that end but it would greatly benefit working families to have a DNC leadership committed to progressive political change; social, climate and economic justice; and the expansion of our democracy.”

Uber Predicts Heavy Use For NY Ride Hailing

From the Morning Memo:

Ride hailing app is bullish on its popularity in New York should a measure be approved allowing its service outside of New York City.

In testimony to be delivered today to a joint legislative budget committee meeting on transportation issues, the company lays out its economic impact estimate for ride hailing statewide outside of New York City.

“Within a year of launching, we predict that almost 9 million trips will take place through the Uber app. By 2020, we estimate that rideshare drivers could complete as many as 80 million trips,” the company’s testimony states.

“Ridesharing will provide numerous economic opportunities, strengthen public transportation infrastructure, make our communities’ streets safer, and provide a new, growing source of revenue for both the State of New York and for New Yorkers.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a ride hailing regulatory plan in his $152 billion spending plan. The Republican-controlled Senate also backed a stand-alone bill for ride hails that included a lower tax on the service per ride. The Democratic-led Assembly is also considering a standalone ride hailing bill once lawmakers return from a week-long break later this month.

Flanagan Backs Cuomo On Bag Tax Block

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Gov. Andrew Cuomo haven’t seen eye to eye on much so far this year following the crumbling of negotiations over holding a special session in December.

But on Tuesday evening, it was the Republican leader in a statement praising Cuomo for signing a bill that blocks the implementation of a 5-cent fee on plastic bags in New York City — a measure that had been pushed by the GOP conference, most prominently Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who aligns with the Republicans and is a key vote.

“I want to thank Governor Cuomo for doing the right thing and signing our common-sense, bipartisan bill to stop the implementation of the New York City bag tax,” Flanagan said in the statement. “The measure to overturn this tax was passed overwhelmingly by both houses, proving that the overall issue was never about protecting the environment.”

The bill, which delays the fee taking effect for a year, presented a quandary for the governor: Environmental groups wanted the fee in order to cut down on plastic waste; lawmakers from both parties viewed the fee as a regressive tax.

“If allowed to go forward, this onerous bag tax would have hurt low- and middle-income residents the most, making it even more difficult to make ends meet in what is already the most expensive city in the world,” Flanagan said in his statement.

A veto would have stirred talk of an override, a potentially embarrassing development for Cuomo in Albany.

Instead, Cuomo backed the bill and released a 1,000 word essay on a new initiative meant to cut down on plastic litter and waste through a task force.

Environmental groups were less enthusiastic in their response.

In the Trump-age, state government’s role cannot begin and end with blocking the work of local governments,” said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of the Environmental Advocates of New York. “While it’s been an open secret that Governor Cuomo did not want to deal with this legislation, as the state’s chief executive, he has the opportunity and, now, the responsibility to lead.”

Cuomo Signs Bill Blocking Bag Fee For NYC

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Tuesday delaying the implementation of a 5-cent fee on carry-out bags in New York City. 

Though the measure would create a one-year moratorium for the fee to take effect, the surcharge would have to be re-approved by a newly elected city Council. The fee would have taken effect on Wednesday.

In a 929-word statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo couched the approval of the bill with calls for statewide action to address plastic bags.

“As a New Yorker, I have reeled in numerous plastic bags while fishing in the Hudson and off Long Island,” Cuomo said in the statement.

“I have seen plastic bags in the trees while hiking in the Adirondacks and driving down the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. It is a statewide challenge. As such, a statewide solution is the most appropriate way to address this issue. Questions as to what the statewide solution should be are very much in debate: should the State ban paper and plastic carry-out products? Is a tax the best approach? If so, at what level and who should be the beneficiary? Should the State be obligated to supply reusable bags for a period of time during a transition so that low-income consumers are not unduly financially burdened through the process?”

The statement itself does not explicitly announce his signature for the moratorium bill; his office confirmed the bill was approved.

Cuomo added he was sympathetic to the support from environmental groups who want to cut down on plastic bag waste, but also the argument the fee amounts to a regressive tax.

“Most objectionable is that the law was drafted so that merchants keep the five cent fee as profit, instead of the money being used to solve the problem of plastic bags’ environmental impact – essentially amounting to a $100 million per year windfall to merchants,” he said.

The measure had been backed by the Democratic-led Assembly and the Republican-controlled Senate with bipartisan margins, making a veto unlikely.

In place of the city-based surcharge, Cuomo is forming a “task force” to take review how to reduce waste.

“This Task Force will be different than usual as this matter requires expeditious action,” Cuomo said. “I will ask the Senate and the Assembly to appoint Co-Chairs with me so that the recommendation can be quickly legislated. Local governments and stakeholders will also be included. By the end of this year, this Task Force will conclude with a report and proposed legislation. I look forward to New York State leading the way on this issue.”

Clergy Back Aid In Dying Measures

Supporters of a measure that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives were bolstered with the backing of members of the clergy who back the legislation.

The support from a coalition of religious leaders was aimed at countering the opposition to the bill from the Catholic Church and evangelical groups, among others.

The list of clergy backing the aid-in-dying bill included a range of Jewish, Unitarian, Episcopalian and Baptist leaders.

“Preachers across New York spend a great deal of time helping comfort individuals and families during illness and death. We are the ones called to the bedside to witness the suffering of dying people and their families,” said the Rev. Johnnie Green, the senior pastor at the Mount Neboh Baptist Church of Harlem.

“Talking about death and dying, particularly in African American communities, is too often taboo, and we need to change that. Opening up honest conversations about how people want to be cared for at the end of their lives is something we have to do, and that’s why I support legislation that would allow people the freedom to make their own decisions about death and dying, guided by their own faith.”

The legislation, if approved, would apply to those terminally patients who are deemed mentally competent, providing them with a prescription to end their lives.

The bill’s most prominent backer in the Senate has been Staten Island Democrat Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference.

“Today’s faith gathering is the next step in our fight to bring Aid in Dying to New Yorkers,” Savino said. “Aid in Dying is not something everyone would choose, but it’s a choice everyone should have, no matter how or where you worship. I’m a Catholic, and my faith is important to me, but allowing patients, their families and doctors to discuss a safe and compassionate way to end their suffering is important to me and millions of New Yorkers.”

IDC Pushes For Carried Interest Loophole Closure

The Independent Democratic Conference on Tuesday endorsed an effort to have New York enter into a multi-state compact that would seek to close a tax loophole that benefits hedge funds.

The goal is to close the carried interest loophole by imposing a 19.6 surcharge on income that falls under that category — typically hedge fund investors who have taken advantage of the relatively obscure section of the tax code.

The IDC framed the issue around generating more income for the state, which the conference pegged at an extra $3.5 billion.

“It is clear from this report wealthy private equity and hedge fund managers are taking advantage of the system and pocketing money that should be owed to the state,” said IDC Leader Jeff Klein. “The legislation we have proposed will impose additional fees to income categorized as carried interest. This much needed additional tax revenue would help the state eliminate the current $3.5 billion budget deficit that exists.”

The IDC unveiled their push at a Capitol news conference outside of the Senate chamber flanked by leaders of the state’s politically active teachers unions, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and New York State United Teachers union Vice President Andy Pallotta as well as the “Patriotic Millionaires” who support increasing taxes on the rich.

Seizing on the issue adds a populist policy concern to the IDC’s agenda in 2017 as the conference has faced criticism from mainline Democrats over their partnership with the Senate Republican conference.

At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion spending plan would continue higher tax rates on those who earn more than $1 million a year, a measure that has been met with opposition from GOP lawmakers.

In the Assembly, Democrats there are backing a tax hike on those who earn more than $5 million.

Heastie: Legislature Should Stand On Equal Footing With Governor

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought more authority over the budget after it is approved, legislative leaders are pushing back.

On Monday, it was Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who questioned the so-called lump sum arrangements sought by Cuomo in his $152 billion spending plan.

On Tuesday, it was Flanagan’s Democratic counterpart in the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie, who reiterated the Legislature’s prerogative in the budget-making process.

“I’d say the last couple of years I’ve pointed out in particular budget situations the Legislature should have good standing,” Heastie said. “My position hasn’t changed in that regard. I’m sure my colleagues standing here with me know that hasn’t changed. As I’ve said many times, the Legislature is an equal branch of government and should be respected.”

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has also raised concerns with Cuomo’s effort to have mid-year changes to the budget after the spending plan is approved by lawmakers. The budget is expected to pass by March 31.

Assembly Dems: Criminal Justice Reform A Priority

Assembly Democrats are emphasizing a package of a dozen criminal justice reform measures with measures designed to make it easier to obtain bail, enhance the grand jury process and speed up the process of bringing cases to trial.

And the package includes a long-sought goal for Assembly and Senate Democrats: Raising the age of criminal responsibility, removing 16 and 17-year-olds from the criminal court system.

Speaker Carl Heastie at a news conference flanked by advocates and rank-and-file Democrats on Tuesday wouldn’t commit to holding up the budget from passing to including the measure, but insisted the policy remains a priority for his conference.

“I don’t want to make declarations, but I’ve expressed to Senator Klein and Senator Flanagan how important raise the age and criminal justice reform is to me, but I haven’t made any declarations,” he said. “It’s a pretty serious issue for me.”

Raising the age has stalled in the Legislature as lawmakers debate how to adjudicate cases involving those between 16 and 17 and whether to send non-violent cases to the family court, which would require a boost in funding.

“We would not want to burden the system,” Heastie said. “We want to have a system that works and if we’re going to ask the family court system to handle these children, then we will have to include the resources.”

The Democratic-controlled chamber began passing the legislation on Monday and are taking up bills throughout the day on Tuesday.

The package also includes reforms to sentencing and wrongful convictions, “ban the box” provisions for employment applications and changes to solitary confinement.

32BJ Makes Early NYC Endorsements

The labor union 32BJ announced a slate of early endorsements for New York City candidates, including backing the bids of citywide candidates for re-election.

The union backed both incumbents Scott Stringer at city comptroller and Letitia James, the public advocate as well as Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. They are considered potential candidates for the Democratic nomination for New York City mayor, though are yet to launch a campaign against incumbent Bill de Blasio.

“New York City must remain a place where progressive policies and laws protect the most vulnerable among us,” said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. “We have endorsed these leaders because of their history of standing up for working people, immigrant rights, good public education, affordable housing, criminal justice, police reform and other issues that are important to our members and their families.”