Nick Reisman

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Direct Care Advocates Disappointed

Advocates in a campaign to guarantee a living wage for direct care workers who provide services to the developmentally disabled are disappointed Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not raise the issue in his State of the State agenda unveiled this week.

“Sadly, we have heard more from Meryl Streep about developmental disabilities this week than we have from Governor Cuomo, and she only spoke for six minutes,” said the #bFair2DirectCare Coalition in a statement released Thursday.

“Governor Cuomo may have taken his agenda to New Yorkers, but he ignored the several hundred thousand New Yorkers in our community — people with developmental disabilities, their families and the dedicated New Yorkers who sacrifice every day to take care of them.”

The group combed through not just the six regional State of the State addresses delivered by Cuomo this week, but also his briefing book, which did not mention the issue.

“A State of the State is important for what it says but also for what it chooses not to say. In all those words as well as the 383-page book released last night, it seems clear that Governor Cuomo has chosen to ignore the very real needs of those with developmental disabilities and the good people who serve them. There is still time for him to do the right thing. There is still time for Governor Cuomo to be a hero.”

The coalition is a collection of non-profit agencies that provide care and services to developmentally disabled New Yorkers and has enlisted some high-profile support for the issue of funding for a guaranteed living wage for the direct care workers.

“Despite not being invited to the Governor’s State-of-the-State speech at SUNY Farmingdale, I attended anyway and spoke directly with the Governor to remind him of the crisis our direct caregivers face because they are not paid a living wage,” said former Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg. “When caregivers leave their jobs because they cannot live on the pay, it is our most vulnerable population who suffer.”

What Small Biz Wants This Year

Business groups feel like they haven’t had a good couple of years in Albany, given the approval of a phase-in hike in the minimum wage that is due to hit $15 in the state’s downstate counties in a few years.

But on Thursday, the National Federation of Independent Business released its 2017 agenda, reiterating calls to reduce taxes, the cost of insurance and reform workers compensation and torts.

“After a difficult 2016, small business owners were hopeful that Governor Cuomo’s State of the State tour would bring news of a renewed effort to bolster Main Street,” said Mike Durant, NFIB/NY State Director. “Despite the rightful focus on fiscal restraint and infrastructure modernization, there has been little advanced that would restore overall confidence of New York’s small employers.”

The group’s agenda includes workers compensation reform such as durational caps for permanent partial disability and new standards for medical treatment as well as employing regional indexes for weekly wages.

And the group supports reducing the PIT, or personal income tax, as state lawmakers have called to keep a surcharge on high income earners that is due to expire at the end of the year.

The NFIB wants “sensible” tort reform, including changes to the the Scaffold Law, which have been long sought for businesses.

And the group wants to eliminate what is seen as a tax on health insurance through the Health Care Reform Act.

“We are hopeful that many in the legislature will work for small employers this year and aim to strike the necessary balance between small, regional economic development efforts and broad business reforms,” said Durant. “Our agenda will make New York more affordable and hospitable for small business while creating a more organic environment for economic activity.

Biz Council Encouraged By Cuomo’s Workers Comp Pledge

A pledge to reform workers’ compensation in New York contained in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017 agenda released this week was cheered on Thursday by the state Business Council.

Cuomo proposed in a briefing book released Wednesday to “actively” back a multi-year effort to study workers’ compensation changes, with the hope of pleasing both business and labor in the process.

In a statement from Business Council President Heather Briccetti, the business lobby outlines some places for Cuomo’s effort to start in the new year:

“To start, the administration can and should immediately and unilaterally promulgate the updated Standard Loss of Use (SLU) guidelines completed by the Workers’ Compensation Board,” Briccetti said. “This action would guarantee that workers receive the benefit of the most up-to-date medical care, while at the same time significantly reducing employer costs. Doing so would also send a strong signal to the state’s workers and business community that the administration is serious about addressing this pressing issue.”

Assembly To Expand Public Database Of Legislation

The state Assembly on Thursday announced an expanded realm of public access to legislation dating back to 1999, part of an effort to modernize the chamber’s operations that began under Speaker Carl Heastie.

“These new internet resources will help modernize our website’s capabilities and allow for the public to better understand proposals and Assembly operations,” Heastie said in a statement. “The new database will allow New Yorkers to research and understand legislation that is currently being debated as well as track legislative history of issues.”

As announced, the database available on the nyassembly.gov website includes debate video and testimony from hearings. The Assembly is also providing daily calendars and a resolutions list. The full updates will be available by the end of the month.

The move comes as the Assembly is starting to update its public information online as well as the chamber’s technology. Lawmakers can now access bills on tablet computers on their desks, part of an effort to transition to the Legislation to a “paperless” entity following the passage of a constitutional amendment.

Report Finds Public Authorities Have $267B In Debt

The state’s web of public authorities have amassed $267 billion in debt, equating to $13,487 for each New Yorker, a report released on Thursday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Public authorities are semi-public entities that are created in order to borrow outside of normal bonding procedures, often deriding as “backdoor” borrowing.

As championed by controversial state builder Robert Moses, public authorities have come under criticism over the years for their opaque structure and financing.

“New York’s public authorities play an increasingly influential role in government yet they operate outside the traditional checks and balances that apply to state agencies,” DiNapoli said. “Some of these entities are repeatedly used in a way that circumvents borrowing limits and oversight. As a result, New York is shouldering a huge debt load issued by public entities operating in the shadows that voters never approved.”

The report counted 1,192 public authorities in the state, which includes 324 state-level authorities and entities. On the local level, there are 860.

The report also found 91 percent of the outstanding debt for state purposes has been amassed over the years by three major entities that have played key roles of late in economic and infrastructure development spending: the Empire State Development Corp., the Dormitory Authority and the Thruway Authority, the latter of which is overseeing the massive replacement project for the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Overall, state authorities employ 112,846 people, with local authorities employing 53,602, with nearly 18 percent being paid in excess of six figures.

In recent years, there have been efforts to identify public authority spending and debt, while also shuttering authorities and local development corporations that are defunct or no longer serve a purpose. The Authorities Budget Office annually releases reports on public authority financing and spending habits.

DiNapoli in a statement reiterated his call for legislation that would provide more sunlight for authorities, such as requiring an appropriation approved by the Legislature for their spending and would subject them to a pre-audit review.

At the same time, the bill would have public authorities fund projects with state appropriations that are based on measurable criteria.

Cox: Paladino Should Remain On Buffalo School Board

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Chairman Ed Cox believes Carl Paladino should remain on the Buffalo School Board, saying in a Capital Tonight interview his critics are using the comments he made about President Obama and the first lady as an excuse to kick him out of his post.

“I would like to see him continue in his current job. He feels passionately about inner city kids and doing something for them,” Cox said. “They want to get rid, but that’s for other reasons. They’re using this as an excuse. He’s trying to get real reforms there. If he focuses on that, that would be very significant. He should focus on that, totally, and get that job done.”

Paladino late last month responded to survey questions from a newsweekly in western New York about his aspirations for 2017, saying he wanted Obama to die of mad cow disease and have Michelle Obama “return to being man” and live with a gorilla in Africa.

Paladino insisted several days later he had meant to send the responses to friends as a joke.

An effort is underway by the Buffalo School Board to remove Paladino after the remarks caused an uproar, given Paladino’s prominent role in Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign in New York.

Cox in the interview noted Paladino’s son distanced himself from the remarks of his father.

“His son completely disowned his father’s statement and I retweeted that,” he said. “That was a substantive response.”

But as for Paladino’s future in elected politics — he’s talked about running for governor again in 2018 — Cox said that would be a steep climb for the Buffalo real estate developer.

“That would be up to him, but I think it would be very difficult given the comments he made,” Cox said.

Wilson Skeptical Of SUNY Tuition Plan

From the Morning Memo:

As he mulls a run for governor in 2018, Republican businessman Harry Wilson in Syracuse on Wednesday was critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to provide expanded tuition assistance to students whose families meet certain income requirements.

In particular, Wilson is questioning the timing of the proposal for the tuition, suggesting it’s due mainly to Cuomo’s perceived national ambitions.

“We could accomplish the same thing through expanding the tuition assistance program and make it more accessible. He’s been governor for six years,” Wilson said. “If he thinks college is unafforable, then for the last six years he could have done something about it by expanding the tuition assistance program. Why? Because it’s more sale-able to his left wing when he runs for president that he made college free.”

Wilson was a key architect of President Obama’s automobile industry task force and unsuccessfully ran for comptroller against incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli in 2010.

He plans to make a decision on whether to run for governor at some point later this year, noting his timeline to run statewide six years was too constrained.

“I think the happy medium of getting to the point of where it makes sense for me and family have made the decision and having enough time to run a successful race is in fall of 2017,” he said, adding, “I have no interest of being governor for the sake of being governor. I have more interest in making a difference in peoples’ lives.”

Cuomo Plans Task Force To Assess ‘Gig Economy’ Benefits

A task force aimed at developing “portable benefits” for workers who part of the “gig economy” are among the proposals in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017 agenda.

As outlined by Cuomo, the task force would be required to develop options and recommendations so workers in the state can have access to portable benefits, such as workers compensation. It will be led by Roberta Reardon, the state Department of Labor commissioner and Empire State Development President and CEO Howard Zemsky, who will act as co-chairs.

The panel will also be composed of members of the insurance industry, labor unions, freelancers and experts on traditional employee benefits.

The proposal comes as Cuomo is pushing to expand ride sharing services outside of New York City and amid concerns the impact of the growing sector of the freelance or for-hire workforce has led to fewer worker benefits.

A briefing book outlining the plan released Wednesday noted the number of self-employed workers in New York stands at 9.7 percent, lower than the 6.2 percent of workers in the manufacturing sector.

“Many of these workers lack the core protections and benefits provided for in the traditional labor market, and the existing system for supporting workers is outdated,” the book states.

The book adds: “If workers encounter unforeseen disruptions or hardships, their only safety net is taxpayer-funded government assistance programs.”

Cuomo Calls To Decriminalize Marijuana

Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to introduce legislation aimed at decriminalizing marijuana possession, according to the State of the State briefing book his office released on Wednesday afternoon.

The plan stops short of full legalization of marijuana, but the book indicates the measure will be designed to reduce low-level drug arrests. Overall, it is light on the details of how far decriminalization will go.

“This measure reflects the national trend and dramatic shift in public opinion,” according to the book. “Whereas other states have sought the full legalization of marijuana, this legislative change will specifically affect individual users and not reduce penalties on those who illegally supply and sell marijuana.”

Cuomo in 2012 backed an effort to decriminalize possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana in public while smoking it would remain illegal.

“The illegal sale of marijuana cannot and will not be tolerated in New York State, but data consistently show that recreational users of marijuana pose little to no threat to public safety,” the book states. “The unnecessary arrest of these individuals can have devastating economic and social effects on their lives.”

Extras

President-elect Donald Trump held his first news conference with reporters since the summer, decrying the reports of Russian blackmail and announced he would transfer his business to his sons.

The publishing of claims in an unsubstantiated dossier of salacious details surrounding Trump was debated in journalism circles.

Trump’s secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, was aggressively questioned on Wednesday Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrapped up the final leg of his State of the State tour at the SUNY Albany campus.

SAAB will invest $30 million North American headquarters for its Defense and Security Division in Onondaga County.

Mohawk Valley leaders were disappointed when Cuomo chose not to deliver a State of the State address in the region. So instead, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi held his own.

The town supervisor in Cuba, NY apologized for saying President Obama “deserves a bullet to the brain.”

Vireo Health of New York has been approved by the state to launch a medical marijuana home delivery program, the first of its kind in New York.

It was garbage day in Rochester and the strong wind that blew through upstate New York did not help things.