Albany

Raise The Age Supporters Point To Science

From the Morning Memo:

Supporters of raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York are pointing to a study released this week that reviewed juvenile brain chemistry, finding that charging younger people as adults likely will lead to recidivism.

The report, released by the Scientists Action and Advocacy Network, comes as state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are negotiating the details of a potential agreement on the juvenile justice reform by raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18.

The report also found that charging people under 18 in the juvenile system would allow of interventions that would be able to reduce re-offending due to the malleability of younger minds.

The full report can be found here.

The budget is expected to pass by the end of next week, but Senate Republicans have raised concerns with the measure, questioning which violent offenses should still be tried in family or juvenile diversion court.

Maziarz Pleads Not Guilty To 5 Count Charge

Republican former Sen. George Maziarz pleaded not guilty on Thursday to five felony counts of filing a false instrument in a case related to the corruption case of his successor in Albany, Sen. Robert Ortt.

Ortt pleaded not guilty earlier in the day to three charges of filing a false instrument; he faces expulsion from the Senate if found guilty on any of them.

Ortt is accused of having his wife receive payments through a no-show job after his own pay as mayor of North Tonawanda in western New York was reduced by $5,000.

Maziarz, in an indictment unsealed in Albany County Court on Thursday, is accused of playing a role in a “multilayered pass through scheme” that had him using campaign funds and the Niagara Conuty Republican Committee to funnel payments to a former Senate staffer who had been accused of sexual harassment.

Maziarz did not speak with reporters after the court appearance on Thursday. His attorney, Joe LaTona, insisted Maziarz would be vindicated.

Prosecutors say both the county GOP committee and the Maziarz campaign paid the former staffer $49,000 in 2012 and $46,000 between 2013 and 2014.

The payments were concealed to avoid scrutiny through pass-through entities in filings with state Board of Elections.

Both Maziarz and Ortt used the same pass-through entity to allegedly conceal the payments.

“Campaign finance disclosure ensures New Yorkers have confidence that their elected officials are serving them honestly and with transparency, said Risa Sugarman, Chief Enforcement Counsel for the New York State Board of Elections.

“The public has the right to know how their representatives spend the contributions they receive and that the disclosures are honest and accurate. We will continue to work together with the attorney general to assure New Yorkers that violations of the public trust do not go unpunished.”

Both Ortt and Maziarz are due back in court May 8.

An Ill-Timed Indictment

From the Morning Memo:

There’s no such thing as a well-timed indictment, but the charges faced by Republican Sen. Rob Ortt and his predecessor, Republican former Sen. George Maziarz, come at a particularly inconvenient time for some at the Capitol.

Ortt, who plans to fight the indictment, is due in court today in Albany. In a defiant statement issued on Wednesday night, Ortt made clear he’ll fight the case and has no plans to resign.

But the indictment comes as Senate Republicans hold a narrow majority in the state Senate. They currently have 32 members in their conference, counting Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn.

An Ortt resignation or removal from office — triggered if he’s convicted on a felony charge — would leave Republicans with 31 members, requiring them to seek out a coalition with the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference.

That’s the long-term issue.

In the short term, there’s the state budget, which is expected to pass next week.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders had done nothing significant in public to suggest a grand bargain on ethics reforms like those contained in the package he first laid out in December and largely revived in January in his State of the State agenda.

On Tuesday in New York City at a press conference, Cuomo indicated he’s still pushing for those issues, but they will have to wait until after the budget.

“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo said.

“If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”

Wealthy New Yorkers Urge Millionaires Tax Expansion

Wealthy New Yorkers, including George Soros, Steven Rockefeller and the Responsible Wealth organization on Tuesday in a letter to state leaders urged for increasing taxes on the rich in the budget.

The proposal comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging lawmakers — mainly the Republican-led Senate — back an extension of expiring tax rates on those who earn more than $1 million.

Assembly Democrats want to have taxes increase on people who make more than $5 million in addition to re-authorizing the extesnion.

“As New Yorkers who have contributed to and benefited from the economic vibrancy of our state, we have both the ability and the responsibility to pay our fair share. We can well afford to pay our current taxes, and we can afford to pay even more,” the letter states. “Our state’s long‐term economic prosperity depends on strong investments in our people and our communities.”

Supporters of the tax hike say it would generate $6 billion in additional revenue if approved.

Direct Care Advocates Have Times Square Billboard

befairedirectcare

As state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo mull funding for a wage increase for direct care workers, a coalition of groups that has pushed for the funding have space on a Times Square billboard pushing the issue.

The 5,000-square-foot advertisement is a digital billboard that will be seen two minutes per hour and was donated by a person active in the push for supporting people with developmental disabilities. It began running Sunday.

The billboard comes as advocates are seeking $45 million a year over six years to pay for a living wage for direct care workers who provide services and support for people with developmental disabilities.

State lawmakers in the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly have included the funding in their budget resolutions.

Legislative Leaders Give Chilly Reception To Consolidation Plan

The leaders in the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly on Monday indicated they would push to change Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to require local governments to develop ways of sharing services and scale back his efforts to expand his office’s powers over the state budget.

“I think that we are generally in agreement that there should be the prerogative of the Legislature over the Senate and Assembly and I think we have a number of disagreements with the executive over allowing too much power to go to his authority over the budget,” Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said.

Lawmakers met Monday afternoon for the start of the joint budget committee process — a meeting known in Albany as the “mothership” and initially held as a way of enhancing transparency in the opaque state budget process, but also a chance for lawmakers to lay out their public priorities in the talks.

While the Legislature has been loathe to surrender powers over making changes to the budget after its approved to Cuomo, the legislative leaders were also skeptical Cuomo’s consolidation plan would remain intact.

“It wasn’t in our one-house,” Speaker Carl Heastie said. “The governor maintains its one of his priorities. We’ll see what happens, but it’s not something that I’d say, at least in our conference, any of the members were too happy moving forward with that.”

The plan would require local governments to work with county officials to find ways of sharing services and consolidating costs with an effort of finding concrete ways of reducing property taxes. The plan would be considered by voters in a referendum this November.

Cuomo has long sought to consolidate and scale back the size of local governments in New York, which he has blamed for the state’s high property taxes — an assertion budget watchdogs say is more tied to the cost of programs like Medicaid or employee pensions.

At the same time, lawmakers contend Cuomo is dangling aid to municipalities over local governments to force the sharing of services — a claim the governor’s office denies.

“Local governments are just saying that’s not really an appropriate carrot or a stick and frankly they deserve that money and they do a lot of shared services now,” Flanagan said.

But Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein suggested there would be a compromise possible on the issue.

“If indeed there’s a way they can do these efficiencies and enjoy the benefit of the local level, I think that’s something we can discuss,” Klein said.

NAACP And Uber Highlight Upstate Transportation Needs

From the Morning Memo:

The New York State Conference of the NAACP and ride-hailing company Uber on Monday released a report highlighting the transportation needs of the state’s major upstate cities — finding deficiencies in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.

Both the company and the NAACP found in the report that the needs for adequate transportation are greatest in helping provide for economic growth.

“This report confirms the sad truth that inadequate public transportation options have created a barrier preventing low-income communities from enjoying the benefits of a growing economy in Upstate New York,” said NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes. “It is now clearer than ever that allowing ridesharing in all of New York’s cities is not just a matter of economic common sense, it’s also a matter of economic justice.”

The report comes as ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft are pushing to expand into upstate cities, which could be part of a state budget agreement that’s expected to pass at the end of this month.

The transportation issues vary by the city, the report found.

Buffalo’s transportation network is meeting the demand of a growing workforce, which has increased by 10,000 people over the last three years. Meanwhile, nearly 14 percent do not have a car that can take them to work.

In Albany, more than 14 percent of the workforce lack a vehicle, while the report says current public transportation is limited after 8 p.m. in certain areas

In Rochester, there are more than 20,000 families deemed low-income who do not own cars and bus service can be spaced 75 minutes apart at night on the weekends.

In Syracuse, bus options are also scaled back after 8 p.m.

“The facts in this report can not be ignored: Upstate New York continues to be left behind, as struggling communities are stuck in transit deserts,” said Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber NY.

“Uber can be an important complement to existing public transit options in cities across New York State. Now it’s time for the Legislature to ignore New York City special interests and allow Upstate to join the 47 other States and New York City where residents have access to reliable, affordable transportation options.”

The report can be found here.

JCOPE Settles Libous-Related Case

Ethics regulators on Friday announced a case related to the perjury conviction of the late Sen. Tom Libous was resolved with a $10,000 settlement levied against a lobbyist who had hired the lawmaker’s son.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics settled its case against Fred Hiffa, formerly of Ostroff, Hiffa, & Associates, Inc., following allegations that he had violated the state’s lobbying gift ban in 2006 by hiring Matthew Libous in 2006, retaining the Binghamton lawmaker’s son for $4,166 a month for one year to a Westchester County-based law firm.

While Matthew Libous was employed at the firm, Hiffa had sought to influence Tom Libous, an influential Republican lawmaker who eventually was elevated to the post of deputy majority leader.

The elder Libous was convicted in 2015 of lying to the FBI over the circumstances of his son obtaining the job at the firm. He was sentenced to six months of house arrest later that year as well as two years probation. Libous died in 2016 after a prolonged battle with cancer.

Libous’s family has sought to have the conviction vacated following his death, which was initially granted, but later denied late last year.

Hiffa Settlement Agreement Executed by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Budget Talks Enter The Next Phase

From the Morning Memo:

The state budget season entered its next phase on Wednesday as the Senate and Assembly approved competing budget plans. In the Senate, Republicans rejected Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to extend a tax rate on millionaires.

“In extending it, his own financial plan says at the time period there’s going to be a $5 billion surplus,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I don’t know why we need something like that.”

Cuomo is pressuring Flanagan to extend the millionaires tax, due to expire at the end of the year — deploying the state Democratic Committee’s funds to air a TV ad pushing for the tax.

“I’m not going to sweat stuff like that, I just don’t think it’s particularly helpful,” Flanagan said. “You see when I go out and make comments I will be diplomatic, courteous and respectful and yet I can disagree.”

And Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats alike are against Cuomo’s effort to expand his power to unilaterally make changes to the budget after it’s passed.

“I would say it’s well more than one step too far,” Flanagan said. “Our members are stridently opposed to the governor’s approach. I think I’m on solid ground saying the Assembly feels the same way.”

In the Assembly, Democrats there do want to hike taxes on the rich, with new tax brackets for those making $5 million and more. And they want a more generous free tuition program for SUNY schools, encompassing more families in New York.

“When you tinker around the edges on on proposal, there’s a financial component to it,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “Like I said, we improved on the governor’s proposal.”

Heastie too, is concerned with Cuomo amassing too much power over the budget, but said he’s not drawing any lines in the sand.

“Our forefathers wanted to make sure we had checks and balances and we’re never going to walk away from that,” Heastie said.

The budget is expected to pass by March 31, the final day of the fiscal year.

Apres Le Deluge

From the Morning Memo:

It appears to have stopped snowing, at least for here in the Capital Region, and at least for the moment. 
There’s going to be some additional accumulation in some places across the state throughout the day, however. But things have slowed considerably, and are slowly starting to return to normal as everyone digs out. 

Stella did not hit as hard as expected downstate, instead moving inland and whalloping the Southern Tier, causing the Cuomo administration to shift its response. 

Apparently, the National Weather Service got reports that its dire prediction of up to two feet of snow for New York City may have been exaggerated — but decided not to change its forecast “out of extreme caution” and to avoid confusion.

As of last night, the storm was on track to break the 30-inch accumulation mark in Binghamton. Records were broken in numerous locations. 

Also last night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted the travel ban and tractor trailer ban on I-84, but kept a tractor trailer ban on I-81, I-86/Route 17, I-87 from Albany to the Canadian border, I-88 and on the entire state Thruway. The full travel ban for all of Broome County also remained in effect.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’s running for reelection this fall and knows storm response can make or break an incumbent, was put on the defensive for being over preprepared for the storm. He said he was “totally at peace” with how his administration handled things. 

The storm provided yet another opportunity for political frenemies de Blasio and Cuomo to try to outdo one another with TV appearances and press briefings. 

Kids in NYC are headed back to school today, though many districts upstate are closed for a second day. Also, airports and local governments have warned of additional delays as cleanup continues. Check your local listings for updates. 

Metro-North was set to reopen with limited service until 11 p.m., and the commute in New York City and its suburbs was ready to run on schedule, according to the MTA. Amtrak is operating on a modified schedule. 

Both the Senate and Assembly had a snow day yesterday, but they’re scheduled to be back at work today, voting on their respective one-house budgets. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany and NYC with no public schedule released as yet. 

President Donald Trump is headed to Detroit this morning, where he will tour American Manufactured Vehicles, lead a roundtable with CEOs and Union workers and make remarks at the American Center for Mobility.

In the afternoon, he’ll travel to Nashville, Tenn., where he will tour Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, participate in a wreath laying ceremony and make remarks. In the evening, Trump will participate in a Make America Great Again Rally before heading back to D.C.