De Blasio, On The Train, Calls For State Responsibility

From the Morning Memo:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday called on the state government — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo — take responsibility for the ailing subway system, escalating a contentious debate over blame for the crumbling of mass transit.

“He needs to just take responsibility,” de Blasio said of the governor. “That’s the simple answer.”

De Blasio rode several stops on Sunday with reporters in tow after he had been accused of not sympathizing enough with the plight of commuters amid a series of delays and derailments of trains this summer.

Cuomo himself was last on a subway to tout the opening of the Second Avenue line at the start of the year.

In a statement from MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, de Blasio was accused of staging a photo op.

“The mayor’s comments today were completely disingenuous, knowing that the MTA is set to present its 30-day overhaul plan this week,” said Lhota, who ran against de Blasio in the 2013 race for mayor and was re-appointed to the chairmanship this June by Cuomo.

Cuomo also pointed to the billions committed by the state to shore up capital expenses while also calling on local governments within the MTA service area.

But it was de Blasio on the offensive on Sunday, criticizing claims the city is to blame for the current crisis. Cuomo last week told reporters the state helped bolster transit funding out of a “moral obligation” while Lhota insisted the subway system was merely leased to the MTA.

“I’m really surprised at what he said,” de Blasio said. “It makes no sense. And I have never heard anything like that from Joe Lhota before.”

The mayor, however, told reporters the funding issues are beside the point.

“So this is not about the MTA needing more money right now. This is the MTA needing to use its money the right way, spend its money properly on the things that matter. What people of the city want is for the subway to show up, for it to run on time, for these horrible delays to end, and these breakdowns to end,” he said.

“That’s where the State should be putting its focus and the MTA should be putting their focus, not on other matters that are not as important. That’s the bottom line.”

Labor Spends To Oppose Con Con

A coalition of disparate groups formed to oppose the constitutional convention referendum this November reported raising $635,300 toward that effort, according to a campaign filing made public this week.

The bulk of the group’s money came from a variety of deep-pocketed labor unions, with influential labor organizations like 1199/SEIU contributing $250,000 alone. Other groups like the New York State United Teachers union gave $50,000 and the Civil Service Employees Association contributed $50,000, as did AFSCME. Other public workers union, the Public Employees Federation, gave $10,000.

The money was given to New Yorkers Against Corruption — a wide-reaching coalition that in addition to unions also includes organizations like the Conservative Party and the Rifle and Pistol Association and environmental conservation groups.

In its filing, the group reported spending $246,410 on advertising and consultants, ending the filing period with $323,489 in cash on hand.

The group was formed to oppose the coming convention referendum, which is put before voters every 20 years. The concern from these groups is provisions enshrined in the current constitution — such as labor rights or environmental protection laws — could be scaled back at a convention.

At the same time, opponents of a convention argue wealthy special interests could swing control of a convention.

For now, proponents of a convention have not spent as heavily as those opposed.

The campaign committee backed by the state bar association supporting a convention reported $5,000 in cash on hand.

Uber Inks Ride Hailing Partnership With NYRA

With the 2017 meet in Saratoga Springs getting underway on Friday, the New York Racing Association on Thursday announced Uber as the official ride hailing “partner” for the Saratoga Race Course.

The partnership with NYRA comes as ride hailing apps like Uber and Lyft were legalized as part of the state budget, allowing them to operate outside of New York City.

“Uber is proud to become the official ridesharing partner of Saratoga Race Course,” said Sarfraz Maredia, General Manager, Uber New York. “We look forward to providing access to affordable, reliable transportation for New Yorkers and visitors as they visit the race course this summer.”

Special pickup zones will be made available for events like the Travers and Whitney stakes races held in August.

Red Horse Opens California Office

The New York-based political consulting firm Red Horse Strategies on Wednesday announced the opening of a California office, part of a west coast expansion.

The California office will be led by a former aide to the California Assembly speaker’s office, Charu Khopkar.

“It’s an exciting time to announce the opening of our firm’s California office,” said Red Horse Strategies partner Matthew Rey. “Democrats around the country look to California as a beacon of progressive policies and a bulwark against the dangerous Donald Trump agenda. As outside-the-beltway creative thinkers who pride ourselves in empowering emerging communities, California is the perfect place for us to use our experience and skills to drive winning campaigns.”

The firm is coming off a string of victories on races it had a hand in, including Rep. Grace Meng’s re-election as vice chair to the Democratic National Committee and a special election in a Republican-heavy Assembly district on Long Island.

It Was The Jury Instructions

As the New York political world continues to grapple with the fallout of Sheldon Silver’s corruption conviction on Thursday, it’s worth pointing out why it happened.

The decision by the Second Circuit federal appeals court actually rejected a key argument advanced by Silver’s attorneys: There was not enough evidence to convict the former Assembly speaker.

Instead, the court specifically takes issue with the jury instructions, noting they conflicted with the Supreme Court overturning the fraud conviction of ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

“Though we reject Silver’s sufficiency challenges, we hold that the District Court’s instructions on honest services fraud and extortion do not comport with McDonnell and are therefore in error,” the ruling found. “We further hold that this error was not harmless because it is not clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have reached the same conclusion if properly instructed, as is required by law for the verdict to stand.”

Former U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian, the prosecutor who oversaw the case against ex-Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno that was ultimately overturned, said federal lawmakers need to act to strengthen anti-corruption laws.  

“With the Supreme Court repeatedly limiting the scope of federal corruption law in recent years, we will continue to see outcomes like this,” he said. “Unless Congress acts, the line between public service and private benefit will continue to blur.”

16-1615_opn by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Leadership Scales Back Outside Income

From the Morning Memo:

During their time in power, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver made thousands of dollars in outside income as attorneys.

But their clients remained a mystery. Financial disclosure statements from their successors in the Assembly and Senate made public late last week tell a different story.

“It makes sense to us that the legislative leaders with their enormous power would step back from making money on the side and we think it’s an indication — at least for now — that it’s going to be the practice in Albany,” said NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner.

For the second straight year, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader John Flanagan reported almost no outside income. Heastie, an accountant by training, has not received outside income since becoming speaker; Flanagan resigned from his law firm when he took the leadership post.

IDC Leader Jeff Klein in 2015 also has stepped down from his law firm. Still, most lawmakers do not continue to hold dual roles as legislator and taking in outside income.

Not everyone is an attorney. One lawmaker is a funeral home director. Another is a farmer. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo says it’s problematic for legislators to have legal or business clients while also deciding public policy.

“Maybe they come to you because you’re a senator and they have a bill that’s going to come up. So, it’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo has tried and failed to limit outside income for lawmakers, who earn a base $79,500 as elected officials. Some lawmakers point to the governor’s own outside income for the money he earned for a low-selling memoir. Cuomo sought and received approval for the income from ethics regulators.

At least one lawmaker, however, has started releasing the names of his clients.

Republican Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer’s 2016 disclosure includes a list of his law clients and the work he did for them.

ABO Finds Rising Debt Load For Authorities

A report released by the Authorities Budget Office found the amount of debt carried by the semi-public entities continued to rise in 2016.

The report found the total debt for the 578 state and local authorities stood at $269.9 billion last year, an increase from nearly $249 billion five years ago. Of that, local authorities accounted for $82 billion of that debt, a nearly 20 percent rise since 2012.

“The debt growth at the local level is concerning and we are devoting increased attention to the proliferation of not-for-profit local development corporations that are created to issue tax exempt debt and undertake public projects,” said ABO Director Jeff Pearlman. “We need to ensure these entities are held to the highest standards of accountability and transparency in order to understand how they are carrying out a bona fide public benefit.”

Meanwhile, the report found 115 authorities deemed to be non-compliant with public accountability and transparency as required by the authorities law in the state, those entities could be subject to additional enforcement action.

Public authorities and other similar entities are able to accrue debt outside of the normal constitutional borrowing, which requires public referendum. Proponents of the system — originally championed by builder Robert Moses — say it enables to speed up needed public benefit projects. Critics contend the patchwork of entities has led to less transparency and questionable spending.

Over the last 10 years, the number of entities falling under the ABO’s jurisdiction has increased by 293 authorities or public corporations.

Here’s the full report.

Committees For And Against Con Con Form

Campaign committees backed by groups for and against holding a constitutional convention have been formed with the state Board of Elections, filings show.

The committees are being formed as voters this November will consider whether to hold a convention that could revise or rewrite the state’s governing document.

But the once-every-20-years referendum is taking place in the post-Citizens United era that has led to unlimited campaign spending from businesses, wealthy individuals and unions.

With that concern in mind, groups like the Adirondack Council have formed the Committee to Defend Forever Wild as environmental groups fear a roll back in conservation efforts at a convention.

Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said last week the effort was meant to help the organization track its political spending as the vote approaches.

Meanwhile, supporters of holding a con con have formed the New York State Bar Association For A Constitutional Convention to back the approval of the referendum.

The last convention was held after the 1967 referendum, but that did not include any changes to the constitution.

Enviros Fret ‘Forever Wild’ Status

From the Morning Memo:

New York’s environmental groups, worried about keeping the Adirondack Park and the Catskills pristine, are lining up to oppose holding a constitutional convention.

The concern is over the Forever Wild clause, in place since an 1894 convention.

The clause has strictly limited development in the Adirondack Park, and local governments there chaff at times over the regulations, but the Adirondack Council says there’s a broader concern at stake for the park.

“Our many concern is for business interests that would be interested in the fact the Adirondack Park has 300,000 of ancient old growth forest in it that isn’t found anywhere in the northeast, that there are 3 million acres of forest land that could be exploited one way or the other, with a simple tweak to the Forever Wild clause,” said John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council.

Polls this year have shown support for holding a convention and supporters argue voters have control over the process, but opponents contend the process could be taken over by special interests with well-funded campaigns thanks to loose campaign finance restrictions.

“There’s an appeal to the constitutional convention because people have a lack of trust in government right now, but the problem with the constitutional convention is there’s nothing to say it’s not just made up by legislators, so the same people are doing things the public might not be so happy with,” said Liz Moran of the Environmental Advocates of New York.

That’s not to say the Adirondack Council opposes changes to the constitution. The group backs the amendment that would create a land bank for the Adirondacks, something voters will also consider this November.

New York voters consider whether to hold a constitutional convention every 20 years. The last one was held in 1967, but did not produce any changes.

County Execs Question Health Care Bill

Two county executives — a Democrat and a Republican — expressed reservations on Thursday with the GOP-led efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

The county executives, Republican Marc Molinaro of Dutchess and Democrat Dan McCoy, came at it from somewhat differing viewpoints, even as they expressed support broadly for shifting Medicaid costs to the state government during a joint interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

But McCoy said he wouldn’t support the provision as backed by Reps. John Faso and Chris Collins due to the overall impact on health care spending.

“We’ll get our Medicaid and the governor should pay for it,” McCoy said, “but it’s going to be on the backs of repeal and replacement and that I can’t have.”

Of the Faso-Collins amendment, McCoy added, “If this was a standalone, I would be applauding him all across New York state. It’s not.”

Molinaro, too, was uncomfortable with changes to Medicaid and the potential reductions in the Senate and House versions of the legislation. Instead of cuts, Molinaro said the system in New York can benefit from finding more efficient ways of spending money on care.

“On the global bill I have serious concerns about the reduction in Medicaid,” Molinaro said. “I think if you don’t actually address the underlining need and you cut the appropriation, that I would oppose and do oppose.”

Molinaro said the state should move forward with the form of mandate relief of the Medicaid cost shift to the state, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo vehemently opposes.

Molinaro, a potential candidate for governor next year, said he had spoken about the issue during a mandate relief panel convened by Cuomo.

“I had the conversation,” he said. “It seems to me the state government is finally faced with the same pressures Dan and I face everyday from Albany, it’s not a good idea.”