5 Questions For The Rest Of Session

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers are returning to Albany with a drastically different political landscape than when they left three weeks ago.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and administration is under investigation for political fundraising activities stemming from his effort to help Democrats gain control of the state Senate.

A former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joe Percoco, is under federal investigation for reportedly failing to properly report income as broader scrutiny from the U.S. attorney’s office is placed on the governor’s signature economic development program for western New York, the Buffalo Billion.

In the Senate, Democrat Todd Kaminsky appears poised to replaced Republican former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, makign the GOP technically a minority party when it comes to enrollment.

And there’s still 21 legislative session days to go in the calendar — a virtual eternity in Albany time. Then, lawmakers return to their districts to run for re-election and, for a few, campaign in congressional primaries.

Here are five questions for the rest of the session. More >

Study Finds NY Rates High In ‘Legal Corruption’

A study from Illinois State University released this week found New York is among the states with the highest perception of “legal corruption” in the country.

The study, a follow up from a 2014 Harvard University study of the same nature, surveyed reporters for their observations of the state government corruption in the three branches of government, both of the illegal and “legal” variety.

In this case, the form of legal corruption is defined as a form of implicit quid pro quo, or “the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”

The survey was conducted in 2015, the same year both legislative leaders — former Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos — were ousted from their leadership posts following corruption arrests. Felony convictions later removed them from office.

The survey found illegal corruption in the Legislature is perceived to be “moderately common” to “very common” while the legal form of corruption is considered to be “extremely common” in the Senate and Assembly.

The full report can be found here.

LCA Show Is May 24

The LCA Show, one of the oldest annual gridiron dinners in the country that skewers Albany politics, will be held May 24.

The folks behind this year’s program have released a trailer, below, satirizing the post-legislative leaders meeting press scrums (That’s Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco and Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy playing reporters).

Tickets for the event can be purchased in the LCA press room or by calling (518) 455-2388. A free dress rehearsal will be held the night before, and guests are asked to bring a canned food donation.

Another Union Departs WFP

From the Morning Memo:

Yet another union is cutting ties with the Working Families Party, saying the organization has strayed from its founding mission to support “all New Yorkers,” and instead is routinely backing legislation and policies that could cost workers their jobs.

The Mason Tenders District Council Political Action Committee, a founding member of the WFP, will formally announce its decision today to break from the party.

“The WFP, in its current iteration, engages in selective application of it’s progressive principles,” said Mike McGuire, MTDCPAC political director and WFP board member.

“In many cases it has abandoned the working men and women of New York who have fought for decades to achieve middle-class status, especially those who build this city.”

Robert Bonanza, chairman of the MTDCPAC, criticized the WFP for focusing on campaign finance reform and climate change, while “ignoring overall job creation and economic development.”

He noted, for example, the party’s 2009 decision to oppose redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory – a project that has gone through many iterations and is still causing issues today.

The Mason Tenders’ move follows the decision by a number of other fellow unions – first reported by Ken Lovett of the NY Daily News – to either stop funding the WFP or cease participation altogether.

Lovett also reports this morning that the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union is not happy with the WFP, with union President Stuart Applebaum specifically citing the party’s decision to back Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the recent New York Democratic presidential primary.

WFP State Director Bill Lipton told Lovett that the party has “huge respect for all of our over 30 affiliates as well as our allies,” and he also insisted that the WFP has “never been in a stronger position than it is now” – organizationally, politically and financially – despite suffering a spate of union defections.

Clinton won New York handily, but that was due to her support from Democrat-dominated downstate. Sanders carried almost all of upstate, with the exception of several urban centers, though notably, not the City of Albany.

Unshackle Upstate Report Assesses Other Measures In Budget

From the Morning Memo:

While a minimum wage increase and 12 weeks of paid family leave were the marquee items in the state budget this year, the business-backed Unshackle Upstate’s report on the spending plan shines a light on less covered aspects of the agreement approved two weeks ago.

The report released this week from the Rochester-based group pointed to a range of issues covered in the budget, including billions of dollars in economic development funds, $55 billion in infrastructure spending that reaches parity between downstate and upstate capital projects and a tax cut aimed at joint filers earning $300,000 and less.

The group, along with most of the business community in the state, had deeply opposed the effort to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15. Ultimately, the wage in New York City and in the suburban counties will grow to $15 over the next several years. North of Westchester County, the wage will increase to $12.50 and then be subject to an economic analysis to assess future increases.

“There was no shortage of high-profile issues in this year’s budget,” said Greg Biryla, executive director of Unshackle Upstate. “We’re deeply disappointed about the new minimum wage and paid leave mandates that will squeeze struggling Upstate employers, taxpayers and consumers. However, it’s important to recognize that dozens of additional measures – such as the middle-class tax cut and Upstate infrastructure investment parity – were also approved in the budget.”

Business groups remain leery of the impact of the paid family leave program, which includes a $10 million transfer from the workers’ compensation board to set up costs associated with the program.

At the same time, Unshackle says it remains concerned about the impact of mandated spending and regulations in the state.

“Half-hearted efforts won’t fix New York’s burdensome regulatory structure and costly mandates. Albany must step up and deliver meaningful results for employers and taxpayers. Until that happens, Upstate communities will continue to lose valuable jobs and hardworking residents.”

$1M For Con-Con Commission Not in Budget

From the Morning Memo:

Now that everyone has had a chance to actually read the fine print of the budget that was rushed into law last week, some details are emerging of what made the cut and what did not.

It turns out that somewhere along the line, the $1 million the governor included in his executive spending proposal to establish a commission to consider the possibility of, and plan for, a state constitutional convention fell off the negotiating table.

That’s not terribly surprising. Even though the governor, like his father before him, professes to be a big con-con backer, there weren’t many majority conference members in either the Senate or the Assembly who expressed much interest in the issue.

Nevertheless, convention advocates like my father, Prof. Jerry Benjamin, a state government expert and head of The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, were pretty upset about the Legislature’s decision to axe the $1 million.

“It’s really classic,” my dad fumed to me during a brief telephone interview yesterday. “They’ll block preparation and then say we’re not prepared.”

“(Legislators) know they’re at risk because the Trump-Sanders phenomenon is a protest movement, and if New Yorkers catch on to the fact that there’s a vehicle for protest that could effect real change, they’re in trouble,” Dad continued. “I intend to make sure people know about this.”

A number of good government advocates endorsed the commission, saying its work would be crucial to making sure a convention – should one be held – would be as independent as possible. The absence of any independent planning would draw out the process and increase the chances of it being influenced by special interests.

But the Legislature was unmoved by that argument.

Mike Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, said there was “really no structure” around the governor’s commission proposal, adding: “So, as defined in our one-house budget we thought a better use of the funding would be for the Women’s Suffrage Commemoration Commission.”

Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif concurred that the executive failed to provide “enough details” about how the $1 million would be spent for the majority to go along with Cuomo’s plan, and he didn’t sound terribly enthusiastic about the idea of a convention, generally speaking.

“I would note that even in the absence of a commission and/or a convention the state has been able to amend the constitution a number of times in recent years, and we will continue to do so as necessary,” Reif said.

So, now it’s up to the governor to decide whether he’s interested in coming up with the cash on his own to prep for a convention to be ready in case the voters decide in the November 2017 elections that they do indeed want to see one held.

Technically speaking, the Legislature could call a convention any time it wanted. But the question about whether to hold one is constitutionally mandated to go before the voters every 20 years.

Since the first constitution was inked 1777, New York has significantly rewritten it on only eight occasions. Voters turned down a convention in 1957, 1977, and again in 1997.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the governor continues to support a constitutional convention and is ” examining all options and resources available to form and fund a commission.”

He noted that former Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1993 used an executive order to form a similar commission, referred to as the Goldmark Commission, which was funded through a partnership with Rockefeller College.

The Presidential Campaign Comes To Upstate NY

From the Morning Memo:

It’s a somewhat surreal moment: Presidential candidates and their surrogates traipsing across upstate New York, rallying for votes and courting supporters ahead of a primary contest that very much matters.

But that’s the situation Hillary Clinton’s campaign has found itself in as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders makes a concerted push to win her adopted home state in the standalone April 19 primary.

Clinton has already rallied in Brooklyn and Syracuse. Today, she’ll be trying to get some of the shine from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s victory in the state budget to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 in New York City and in the immediate suburbs (the wage grows to $12.50 upstate and then is indexed, based on the deal in the budget) with a rally at Javits Center in Manhattan.

Then, it’s on to the Albany area, with a rally at Cohoes High School as well as a meeting with state Democratic lawmakers.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, will be playing the surrogate role, holding organizing events for the campaign in Depew and in Rochester on Tuesday.

The Sanders campaign is deploying surrogates of its own, meanwhile, with Capital Region-area lawmakers who have endorsed his campaign holding a noon rally at the Capitol West Park.

Ahead in the delegate count, Clinton is trying to lock down the Democratic nomination in the coming weeks against Sanders, who has managed to harness distrust across the political spectrum with establishment candidates and economic anxiety among voters.

New York’s presidential primary rarely matters and the state is often considered an ATM of sorts for candidates of both parties thanks to wealthy donors living in and around the New York City area.

But New York’s primary voters have been mobilized for liberal causes in recent history. Less than two years ago, Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout launched a stronger-than-expected bid for the Democratic nomination against Cuomo.

Teachout was able to harness, in part, the grassroots environmental movement that had picked up around the hydrofracking issue.

Now, the Sanders campaign believes it can take a liberal movement organized around issues like hydrofracking, outsourcing of jobs upstate and criminal justice concerns to wrest an upset against Clinton in New York.

Polls have shown Clinton with double-digit leads against Sanders, who has represented the state in the U.S. Senate.

So, There’s a Budget – Now What?

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers are taking a bit of a breather after last week’s marathon of negotiations and voting that resulted in the slightly late passage of the 2016-17 budget.

Though the governor and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie touted the final deal as one of the best in recent memory as far as Democrats were concerned, rank-and-file lawmakers still had their personal disappointments and triumphs.

During a CapTon interview last Friday, for example, Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, an Albany Democrat, touted the “historic” minimum wage and Paid Family Leave deals, expressing confidence that upstate will eventually get to $15 an hour – though perhaps it will take seven or eight years (or longer?) to get there.

“I think there is a firm, firm commitment on all sides that we get, statewide, to $15 an hour,” she said. “…Yes, the language isn’t the best as any of us would like, but I think there’s a solid commitment. And, quite frankly, I think that’s only going to grow.”

Fahy said she hopes the issue of additional higher ed capital funding in the face of the Legislature’s refusal to reauthorize the so-called “rational tuition” increase will be revisited in the post-budget session, adding that the speaker and Senate majority leader are “committed” to addressing that.

Other issues left undone, of course, include the much discussed ethics reform, which both legislative leaders and the governor said would have to be handled outside the budget process.

That does include the pension forfeiture constitutional amendment, which the Assembly balked at giving second passage last year even after supposedly reaching a deal with the Senate.

Also on tap: Regulations for daily fantasy sports betting following AG Eric Schneiderman’s agreement with FanDuel and DraftKings that they stop taking bets in New York; and the NYC real estate tax abatement program known as 421-a, which ceased to exist early this year after developers and downstate labor unions failed to reach a deal on prevailing wage requirements.

Also, don’t be surprised if the Democrats make another run at the DREAM Act, while Republicans might push for the education tax credit, which the governor included in his executive budget, but didn’t make it into the final agreement.

Last year, Cuomo linked those two issues together in hopes of forcing both sides to accept something they hated in exchange for getting something they very much wanted, but that backfired. This year’s budget battle saw a lot less linkage of unrelated items.

Heastie Talks Clinton Visit

Hillary Clinton’s planned visit to Albany on Monday will include a meeting with Democratic state lawmakers, a meeting Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said was a wise way of having her connect with her supporters ahead of the April 19 primary.

Heastie acknowledged the meeting in part was likely to have Clinton spur state legislators to get out the vote for her in the nominating contest against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“I’m sure that’s part of it. She’s running for president,” Heastie said. “She’s in the middle of the campaign. One of the biggest mistakes that an elected official could ever make is taking places for granted. All politics is local. I think she feels good about what’s going to happen here in New York.”

The meeting location itself hasn’t been disclosed, but won’t be taking place at the Capitol.

“It will be off campus, it won’t be at the Capitol,” Heastie said, joking, “It will be at an undisclosed location.”

A source familiar with the plans said it will potentially take place at the Renaissance, a recently refurbished hotel in downtown Albany steps away from the Capitol. Lawmakers will be invited to bring one staffer each for the closed-door event.

“She wants to come and talk to us about her vision and thank many of us who are supporters of hers,” Heastie said. “I think it’s good for her to come here and connect with some of her biggest supporters not only in the state but in the country.”

An Elusive Budget Deal

From the Morning Memo:

Messages will be a necessity.

State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday night blew a semi-unofficial deadline on Monday to reach a budget agreement that would avoid the waiving of a three-day aging process for legislation.

That means Cuomo will likely have to issue messages of necessity to speed the process through the Thursday finish line.

Cuomo has pointed out that he has, statistically speaking, used the message route far less than his predecessors. But he has used the method for major items, be it the passage of the budget in prior years in order to achieve an on-time spending plan or the passage of the SAFE Act, a sweeping 2013 gun control law.

This year, Cuomo and state lawmakers are yet to lock down agreements on a $15 minimum wage, a 12-week paid family leave program and education aid. Hanging over the talks, too, has been a debate over SUNY tuition and Medicaid costs for New York City.

Details on potential compromises, especially when it comes to the minimum wage, have been floated by the day.

“Albany is the art of the compromise,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday, “and we’ll see what happens at the end of the day on the minimum wage and on paid family leave, but the members are fully aware that sometimes you have to compromise up here in Albany.”