NFIB Agenda: Make Tax Cap Permanent, Expand Design Build

The New York chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business on Tuesday released its 2015 agenda that calls for a permanent cap on local property tax increases, reform to the state’s Scaffold Law and an expansion of the single-source contract method known as design-build.

“The election is over and now the real work must begin,” said NFIB New York State Director Mike Durant. “Small business cannot be a theme in October but an afterthought in January. Main Street needs Albany to work on their behalf once again and this agenda identifies a myriad of issues that have long served as a barrier for Main Street in New York”. ”

At the same time, the group next year will push for braod tax relief aimed at small-scale employers who the group says were left out of tax reforms approved in the last year.

“Smart tax policy is broad in impact and unfortunately that did not happen last year,” said Durant. “The majority of small businesses are not going to feel the positive impact on that tax reform package and Albany can correct that mistake in 2015.”

NFIB, like other business groups in Albany, is opposed to renewed efforts to hike the state’s minimum wage as well as increased tolls on the Thruway system.

The group also backs using the roughly $5 billion windfall surplus for infrastructure projects (as have numerous construction, trades and business groups, along with officials like Comptroller Tom DiNapoli).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated support for using the money on public works projects, but also targeted education spending and paying down state debt.

“New York has major infrastructure needs, from roads and bridges to water and sewer needs, and this large amount of non-recurring revenue should be invested in these projects,” Durant said. “Sound investment in infrastructure will create jobs and reduce the costs of being a New Yorker and help modernize deficient delivery systems across the board.”

2015 LegislativeAgenda 12 4 14 by Nick Reisman

New Wrinkle In Pay Raise Talks (Updated)

From the Morning Memo:

Officially speaking, there are no formal negotiations taking place about a legislative pay raise – the first since 1999 – and what the governror might be interested in trading for that.

But it has been clear for some time that those talks are indeed taking place, and, according to multiple sources, that is occurring at the highest possible level.

(In other words, with direct conversations between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders, and not just among staffers for the three men in the proverbial room).

Officially speaking, no numbers have been floated as far as how big a raise lawmakers might be seeking.

But it has also been clear for some time that those who have been calling the longest and the loudest for an increase in their $79,500 base legislative salaries hail from downstate, where the cost of living is highest.

The starting salary for a New York City Council member is $112,000, which has been mentioned by state legislators as a figure they, too, would very much like to obtain – at the very least.

But a boost of that size – or even to just under $100,000, so as to not break that ugly six-figure mark – would make New York’s Legislature the most highly compensated in the nation.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California lawmakers currently make the most, with a base annual salary of $90,526. Pennsylvania comes in second at $84,012. New York ranks third.

New York is also up there when it comes to per diems, though Alaska, (where the base pay is $50,400) comes in highest at $234 per day.

Imagine this headline: New York lawmakers raise own bottom lines, become highest paid in the nation.

Even with whatever reforms the governor manages to wring out of legislative leaders, that one’s not going to play terribly well.

It especially won’t sit well with the New York Times, which has been hammering Cuomo for failing to make good on (in the Gray Lady’s eyes, anyway) his 2010 pledge to clean up Albany, and for pulling the plug early on his anti-corruption Moreland Commission.

The Times reported earlier this week that Cuomo is trying to drive a hard reform bargain with lawmakers in exchange for their pay raise, and won’t sign off on anything until he’s satisfied those changes are “significant.”

Now, one could argue that the Times is probably never going to be satisfied with the level of reform to which legislative leaders are likely to agree. And it will be Cuomo who will bear the brunt of the paper’s wrath, since lawmakers can’t really sink much lower in the editorial board’s esteem.

As we’ve noted in previous memos, Cuomo could benefit from a legislative pay raise himself, since it’s tied to his own salary, not to mention the salaries of his top commissioners and second floor aides.

It’s no secret the governor has been having a tough time attracting top talent to work for him in Term II, and perhaps a boost in the salaries he’s able to offer would sweeten the deal for potential new employees.

Today might be the make-or-break moment for a legislative pay raise. Cuomo and the leaders are due in town for the regional economic development grant awards, postponed from yesterday due to the weather.

It’s widely expected that the three will get together for a leaders meeting after the noon event at The Egg.

A special session, if it’s called, would likely have to take place next week – most likely Monday.

But one lawmaker told me Tuesday or Wednesday is also a possibility, even though Chanukah starts at sundown Tuesday, complicating matters for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an observant Jew.

After that, you’re cutting things pretty close with the Christmas/New Year’s holiday season and pre-session vacations.

UPDATE: A Cuomo administration source emailed to correct me on the question of the governor’s own salary, which is not set in a pay bill, but rather by a joint resolution of the two houses of the Legislature, as laid out in the state Constitution.

Coalition Of Groups Wants Public Hearings On Criminal Justice Reforms

A coalition of advocacy and good-government groups on Wednesday called on a state lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate to schedule public hearings that would consider criminal justice and grand jury reforms.

The call comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated in recent days he wants to overhaul aspects of police training as well as the grand jury procedure following a Staten Island grand jury not indicting a New York City police officer in the choking death of Eric Garner.

Cuomo, in calling for the reforms, has pointed to potentially having police wear body cameras, adding more transparency to the grand jury process and in some instances replacing a district attorney with a special prosecutor to handle police-related deaths.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this week called on Cuomo to grant him authority to investigate deaths of unarmed civilians caused by police until legislative changes can be made.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, want the appointment of a special prosecutor in the interim, and are pushing for the creation of an investigator to probe police deaths.

Both Schneiderman and Stewart-Cousins have said they would support addressing these changes in a potential special session.

However, the coalition writing to legislative leaders and committee chairs said such proposals should be discussed in public legislative hearings.

“This important topic cries out for a broad and open discussion between elected leaders, members of the Legislature, advocates, and the public,” they wrote. “Public interest in this topic is at a fever pitch, both from those who advocate for specific reforms and those who believe no reforms are necessary. The gravity of the issue requires an approach that goes beyond the usual behind closed doors negotiation process.”

NYS Letter on Open Hearings 12-10-14 FINAL by Nick Reisman

Capitol Comings And Goings (Updated)

From the Morning Memo:

‘Tis the season for announcement of departures and new hires in New York politics and government.

This is a fairly standard end-of-the-year occurrence that has drawn more attention than usual, thanks to the fact that Cuomo is staffing up for Term II and apparently having some trouble attracting talent.

Others, meanwhile, are staffing up and slimming down, depending on their success (or failure) in the recent elections.

Yesterday, Peter Ajemian, who served as spokesman for AG Eric Schneiderman’s successful re-election campaign, announced that he has accepted a new post as chief of staff to Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat.

Ajemian also worked on NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s successful 2013 campaign.

Ajemian is replacing Julia Alschuler as Hoylman’s chief of staff. Alschuler sent out a “goodbye” email yesterday, saying her “next chapter” will be in Washington, D.C., but offering no additional details (yet).

UPDATE: Ajemian is actually replacing Laura Morrison, who was former Sen. Tom Duane’s chief of staff for many years before taking the same job working for Hoylman, Duane’s replacement in the Senate. Alschuler was Hoylman’s communication direction, and there is not direct replacement for her (yet), so media inquiries will be directed to Ajemian for the time being.

Also yesterday, Cuomo announced he has made a new hire: Maggie Miller, who will serve as chief information officer at the state Office of Information Technology Services.

Miller, according to Cuomo’s office, is the former chief information officer of Girl Scouts USA and an expert in IT strategy, innovation, business transformation, multi-channel strategies, M&A evaluation and integration, business intelligence and analytics, and outsourcing.

And another departure from Team Cuomo was made official yesterday, as NYRA Chairman David Skorton, the outgoing president of Cornell University, announced he’s stepping down as he prepares to head the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

Skorton Steps Down From NYRA Post

David Skorton formally announced his plans to leave the New York Racing Association on Wednesday following an effort to overhaul the public-benefit corporation that oversees horse racing and wagering in New York.

“Governor Cuomo’s appointment of Dr. David J. Skorton has changed the direction of thoroughbred racing in New York,” said NYRA President and CEO Christoper Kay in a statement. “Dr. Skorton’s leadership, integrity and focus on results transformed NYRA into today’s revitalized, reformed and financially-sustainable racing leader. As a result, the New York Racing Association is now better positioned to support New York’s growing economy.”

The resignation came following NYRA’s scheduled meeting today.

Skorton, who is also the president of Cornell University, is leaving that post to lead the Smithsonian Institution June.

NYRA’s chairmanship is an unpaid position.

After former NYRA President Charlie Hayward left the top spot following revelations that the association incorrectly paid out winnings for exact bets, Skorton tapped Kay for the job.

Barring Special Session, Infrastructure Spending Could Dominate 2015

Ask local governments about their wishlist for 2015 and the conversation inevitably turns to infrastructure spending. With the state running a multibillion dollar surplus, municipal leaders have a long list of what needs to get fixed.

“We think municipal infrastructure is really the foundation of economic development: transportation, water, sewer. There would be a huge return on investment if we were to do that,” said Peter Baynes, Conference of Mayors executive director.

Indeed, the 2015 legislative session could bring some major infrastructure projects for localities that have struggled to maintain roads, bridges and sewer systems after years of lean budgets.

“What happened in Erie County really brings to the front of the line if you will the need for infrastructure spending,” said Stephen Acquario, Association Of Counties executive director.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs using at least part of the surplus gained from windfall financial settlements on needed repairs, but the governor also wants to spend about $500 million on encouraging local governments to consolidate and share services. It’s a conversation Cuomo has tried to spark over the last several years with little success.

Local government advocates in Albany are cool to the idea, arguing that the best way to reduce property taxes is to help reduce mandated state spending.

“To dump a lot of state resources to sort of force a shotgun marriage that doesn’t always work, we don’t think makes a lot of sense. We think there’s better ways to use the money,” Baynes said.

Meanwhile, local governments may next year push for changes to the state’s property tax cap, first approved in 2011. The cap is tied to rent control laws for New York City, which are due to expire in June.

“We really have to look at the tax cap, we have to look at the language, see where it’s working, see where it’s not working in areas of payment in lieu of taxes,” said Acquario. “There are certain technical things that are tied to that current law that can and should be changed for the betterment of the program all across the state.

The debate over how to spend the surplus could be defused next in December if lawmakers convene in a special session.

Special Session Over-Under

From the Morning Memo:

There has been a lot of talk about whether the Legislature will return to Albany before the 2015 session – most likely in the second week of December – to approve a pay raise for lawmakers, whose $79,500 starting salary has remained the same since early 1999.

Officially speaking, there are no formal negotiations taking place. Both legislative leaders have spoken publicly about their support for a pay raise, but Cuomo hasn’t yet said much of anything.

That’s thanks in part to the fact that he was focused on storm recovery in Western NY, where he spent almost an entire week. Now, of course, the governor’s attention has turned to the next big storm to threaten the state.

But this storm isn’t expected to be nearly as significant, accumulation-wise, and Cuomo’s return to the NYC area has re-started the special session speculation.

The main question is what – if anything – lawmakers and the governor will seek to link to the pay raise in order to give themselves some cover.

If legislators return to Albany just to give themselves a nice holiday gift of higher pay, it isn’t going to sit well with many New Yorkers – especially when liberal advocates are calling for action on a minimum wage increase. But there isn’t really any consensus at this point on the linkage question.

Last night on CapTon, John McArdle, the Senate GOP’s former chief spokesman, who maintains strong ties to the conference and its leader, put the chances of a special session at “50-50, no better right now.”

McArdle argued in favor of a straight pay raise bill with nothing attached, other than perhaps reform of the per diem system.

“I think anything that’s on the table right now could be done in January, so there’s really only one issue that would require them to come back,” McArdle said.

“..when you get to what that could potentially be traded for, that’s where it becomes problematic, and may negative the session. Period.”

McArdle also argued that at a time when people like US Attorney Preet Bharara are investigating supposed “quid pro quos” and other illegal actions by state lawmakers, it might not look so great for legislators to vote “yes” on a pay raise in exchange for their support of some unrelated legislation.

Of course, that’s a time-honored tradition in Albany.

The last time lawmakers passed a (38 percent) pay raise, they did so only after striking a deal with then-Gov. George Pataki that created charter schools in New York and set up a system in which legislators’ paychecks would be withheld if they failed to enact an on-time budget. (In the long run, that didn’t work very well as a deterrent).

McArdle did point out that Cuomo ostensibly “needs” a pay raise just as much as legislators do, since any increase in salary will apply not only to his own bottom line, but also to that of his senior staffers.

And that might help the governor attract some new talent for Term Two at a time when he’s having a very tough time recruiting replacements for departing top aides.

Signs right now are pointing to the days on or around Dec. 10 as a likely time for lawmakers to return to Albany.

As Capital’s Jimmy Vielkind notes this morning, the Senate Republicans are scheduled to host a fundraiser at the Fort Orange Club in Albany on Dec. 10, which is the same day Cuomo will announce the latest round of regional economic development council awards.

Scarborough Raked In Per Diems Since 2009

Assemblyman Bill Scarborough, the Queens Democrat who now faces state and federal corruption charges stemming from misuse of campaign-finance funds and per diems, has consistently ranked among top earners when it comes to taxpayer-funded reimbursements.

According to the state comptroller’s office, Scarborough has received $196,929 in per diem funds from 2009 through 2014.

He received the second-highest amount of reimbursements in 2009 and 2010 and ranked first in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

This year, in which he has received $18,544, he is ranked 12th among his colleagues in the Senate and Assembly.

Federal prosecutors charge Scarborough filed for per diem money that he was not entitled to, either claiming he was in Albany when he wasn’t, or that he was in the Capitol for a shorter amount of time than claimed.

Scarborough is accused of receiving at least $40,000 in reimbursement cash that he should not have gotten.

Scarborough Arrested, To Be Arraigned In Albany

Queens Democratic Assemblyman Bill Scarborough was arrested by investigators from the state attorney general’s office on Wednesday and is due in an Albany court later this morning.

The arrest is expected be discussed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli at a news conference this afternoon at 2 p.m. in New York City.

Scarborough’s legal troubles began in March, when investigators from the attorney general’s office and the FBI raided the lawmaker’s district office in Queens, his home and his Capitol office in Albany.

Scarborough had initially told reporters investigators were interested in his reporting of travel expenses and denied any wrongdoing.

His arrest comes a year after a trio of incumbent lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly were arrested in separate corruption scandals.

Sen. Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican, was charged earlier this year with one count of lying to the FBI in a case stemming from his son receiving a job at a politically connected law firm.

The arrest, coming just over a month before Election Day, comes as the anti-corruption commission created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo comes under scrutiny from the U.S. attorney’s office in New York City.

Redistricting Amendment Supporters Plan Campaign

The good government groups that back a proposed constitutional change to the state’s redistricting process plan a voter outreach and education effort in the lead-up to the Nov. 4 election.

The groups – Citizens Union and the League of Women Voters, – held a webinar-style briefing for reporters on Tuesday that pitched the redistricting amendment – the product of a 2012 compromise between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers – as the best chance for reforming the system in generations.

“It’s rare when voters are able to take power away from legislators,” said Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey. “This is a once-in-a-half-century opportunity.”

The amendment to the state’s constitution would create a new panel to draw Assembly, Senate and congressional districts in the next round of redistricting, based off the 2020 U.S. Census.

Supporters of the amendment contend the measure will remove the highly partisan process that has resulted in gerrymandered legislative districts and place it in the hands of a less self-interested body.

But state’s good-government advocates are not in complete agreement on the measure.

Both Common Cause and the New York Public Interest Research Group contend the language on the ballot before voters is both misleading and confusing. They especially take issue with the word “independent” being included on the ballot referendum, pointing to the commission being appointed by members of the Legislature.

Common Cause’s executive director, Susan Lerner, is a petitioner in a lawsuit filed in response to the ballot language.

But the amendment’s supporters say the provision before voters is the best possible reform.

“Independent has a strange meaning here in Albany,” said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. “Independence – you have to go a couple of degrees out, and this actually does that. This is as independent as you can get in Albany.”

The groups are launching a website to highlight the need for the amendment’s passage and are not ruling out a paid advertising campaign if fundraising allows.

“This will involve a great deal of voter education,” Dadey said.