Aug 19th - 1:57 pm
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.
Aug 7th - 12:55 pm
The various corruption investigations and sexual harassment scandals have been an economic boon for law firms in New York, according to a review of legislative spending by the Empire Center for New York State Policy.
The think tank found state lawmakers have spent more than $1 million in public money for outside legal representation over the last six months, based on the recently released expenditure reports.
The Assembly has paid a total of $657,629 to five different law firms. The largest chunk of money went to Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedma — $345,000.
The state Senate, meanwhile, has $418,574 in legal services performed by Jones Day, most likely stemming from work performed during the redistricting process.
Other outside spending was most likely due to representation for the Moreland Act Commission investigation and representation for the various sexual harassment scandals in the Assembly.
The expense reports cover Oct. 1 of last year through the end of the fiscal year, March 31.
The report comes as the state is spending $300,000 on legal representation for the now-defunct Moreland Commission in the ongoing investigation of its closure by the U.S. attorney’s office.
Jun 25th - 12:54 pm
Two primaries — one for federal elections and another for state and local races — isn’t just an expensive proposition for New Yorkers, it’s driving low voter turnout, said good-government group Citizens Union.
New York’s Congressional primaries were moved to June in 2012 by a federal judge so the state could comply with a federal law governing timely access to military and overseas ballots.
But state lawmakers failed to agree on moving the primary date out of September.
So, like 2012, New York will have a second round of party primaries for state and local races.
“Participation in our democracy is in a steep decline,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director at Citizens Union. “Voter turnout has been plummeting for decades, and rather than addressing this troubling trend, our state legislature has made matters worse by failing to agree on the same date for both federal and state primary elections. With too many elections, voters are increasingly checking out.”
Citizens Union found turnout in the June primary in 2012 was only 9.57 percent. Granted, sparse turnout is a hallmark of primaries, but that was a drop of 31 percent from average turnout in races from 2004 through 2010 when consolidated primary days were held.
Citizens Union adds the legislative calendar should be adjusted in order to accommodate the June primaries. This would also benefit state lawmakers who run for Congress. Two state senators — Democrat Adriano Espaillat and Republican Lee Zeldin — competed in last night’s primaries as did Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney.
Jun 23rd - 1:31 pm
The state commission charged with regulating ethics and lobbying in Albany has a new hotline and website with the goal of getting tips on wrongdoing.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics Monday launched the website, reportmisconduct.ny.gov, along with the hotline.
Though framed initially as a place for state employees to report sexual harassment, the website and phone number have a much larger purview, with tips being solicited for public corruption such as conflicts of interest, nepotism and improper gifts.
“Promoting compliance with our ethics and lobbying laws remains the Joint Commission’s top priority, and that includes holding those who violate the laws accountable for their actions,” said Commission Executive Director Letizia Tagliafierro in a statement. “The Commission’s new tip line and website provide a secure means for State employees and officials, and all New Yorkers, to inform the Commission of potential misconduct in our government.”
The hotline, first proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, includes a $200,000 allocation in the 2014-15 state budget.
Jun 19th - 8:57 am
From the morning memo:
Be prepared for a late evening at the state Capitol what is the scheduled final day of the 2014 legislative session.
And while some aren’t closing the door to staying through Friday, a host of complicated issues are coming down to the wire.
Medical marijuana remains the most closely watched issue in the final hours of the session, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to have concerns over how the bill is being written, including whether it will allow for the smoking of the drug.
Senate Democrats sent a shot across everyone’s bow this morning to note their votes are going to count on the Compassionate Care Act, saying in so many words to The Daily News that a watered-down bill won’t have their support.
The news could be one reason for Cuomo to be less inclined to negotiate on the bill, citing a lack of votes for his preferred changes to the legislation.
While there isn’t necessarily a timetable for medical marijuana, lawmakers and the governor are at a more precarious point with changing the state’s teacher evaluation law after adjustments were made to the Common Core roll out.
Lawmakers worry the state is at risk of losing federal funding should the evaluation issue not be resolved, and so far no details of a potential agreement have leaked out.
Still, Cuomo repeatedly placed blame on the state Department of Education for the need to make legislative fixes to the evaluation law as well as Common Core standards for students.
In New York City, meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio trying to get state lawmakers to approve a bill setting a 25 mph speed limit, part of his “Vision Zero” initiative to increase traffic safety.
But the bill, like so many end-of-session discussions, is imperiled by the political considerations.
De Blasio and the city Council have embraced legislation proposed by Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, who backs a plan that would give deference to community boards.
To say the least, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos was non-committal on holding a vote on the bill when speaking with reporters on Wednesday, sarcastically referring to the liberal mayor as his “best friend.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has his own version of the legislation that
did not did receive a home rule message, and said in an interview he’d be taking a wait-and-see approach with what the Senate plans to do on the speed limit legislation.
Correction: A home rule message was approved for the Assembly bill.
These are all headline-grabbing issues that reporters and lobbyists are scrambling to keep up with. The hallmark of any legislative session ending, even with a relatively uneventful one like this, are under the radar items that don’t come to light until they’re voted on or, worse, well after the fact.
But we do know Cuomo and lawmakers are negotiating a budget “clean up” bill that will have God-knows-what inside of it.
Plus, Cuomo has introduced a variety of program bills in the last several days. One recent bill includes a long-sought provision for 1199 SEIU, a key union that helped broker the Working Families Party’s endorsement of the governor.
Another bill introduced this week would address constitutional concerns over a cyberbullying law.
Jun 16th - 4:45 pm
The top leaders of the Senate and Assembly met for about an hour with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday to discuss the end of the legislative session in Albany.
Characteristically, Sens. Jeff Klein and Dean Skelos, along with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said little after emerging from the closed-door meeting.
Indeed, all three wanted instead to talk about the state’s bond rating being improved by Moody’s earlier this afternoon.
Klein, the leader of the independent Democrats, said Cuomo served them cake to celebrate the bond rating news (The cake was apparently given to staff; none of the leaders would say what kind of cake was served).
But Skelos, the Republican leader, wouldn’t rule out a vote by the end of the week on a measure that would legalize medical marijuana.
“I’m not ruling anything out, I’m not ruling anything in,” Skelos said. “I’ve been here long enough to know never say never.”
The medical marijuana legislation known as the Compassionate Care Act remains under negotiation, but those talks seemingly took a step backward today when Sen. Diane Savino accused Cuomo of attempting to negotiation the measure through the press.
Details of Cuomo’s concerns over the bill leaked this morning to The Daily News.
Still, Cuomo has not ruled out issuing a message of necessity for the measure should an agreement come in to place.
The bill has the pledged the support from Republicans in the Legislature, but Cuomo says he continues to be concerned about patients being able to smoke marijuana.
Jun 16th - 1:22 pm
Moody’s Investment Services upgraded New York’s bond rating from Aa2 to Aa1, citing both a well-funded pension system and a reversal of government gridlock.
Moody’s pointed to the state’s economy improving during the economic recovery and a reduction in spending growth. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed budgets that have kept spending under 2 percent increases year over year.
“The stable outlook reflects our expectation that the state will preserve and improve upon the gains it has made in governance and its financial position,” Moody’s found.
But challenges do remain for the state, Moody’s said.
The investment service found the state still relies on the financial services sector and income taxes which is a volatile source of revenue. The state also maintains a “relatively low” fund balance that provides minimal protection.
Still, look for the Moody’s news to be touted by Cuomo, who has cited his efforts to end government gridlock in Albany as having a brader impact on drawing businesses to the state.
Jun 13th - 2:39 pm
Non-unionized state workers with management-confidential status will receive a long-sought 2 percent pay bump, according to a memorandum made public on Friday by the Division of Budget.
According to the memo, the workers will start receiving the payroll adjustment in July. The increase impacts about 12,000 state workers.
State lawmakers last year approved a commission to recommend pay increases for the “M/C” designated workers, who haven’t seen a pay bump since the onset of the financial crisis.
The legislation creating the commission was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, who said the measure would be taken up in the state budget.
M/Cs were further disappointed when the state budget didn’t include the pay hike, with top gubernatorial advisor Larry Schwartz insisting in April it would be taken up administratively.
The group representing management confidential workers called today’s development a first step, adding it doesn’t take care of all issues.
“Today is a positive step forward and OMCE acknowledges the steadfast advocacy of its members, the strong support of the legislature and attention by the administration in making this first step a reality,” said Barbara Zaron, the president of the Organization of Management Confidential Employees. “However, work remains to be done to fully resolve the remaining seven percent salary inequity. We will continue to work with the administration and legislature to satisfactorily implement a complete and timely resolution of this issue.”
Jun 11th - 1:01 pm
Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has a reputation around Albany as a pretty nice guy.
But according to his video played at last night’s 114th annual LCA Show, DiNapoli is, apparently, quite the opposite.
Jun 10th - 12:05 pm
From the morning memo:
Lawmakers have less than two weeks before their summer vacation is scheduled to begin. And with time running out, so is the hope that high-profile legislation will pass.
“We have some cleanup items,” Cuomo told reporters on Monday. “I don’t expect us to do any major legislative initiatives.”
And as Cuomo pushes for a full Democratic takeover of the state Senate, Republicans have less and less motivation to help him pass his agenda.
That means the more political charged measures such as the public financing of political campaigns and the 10-point women’s equality act practically have no chance of even coming up for a vote.
“The majority coalition holds all the cards right now in terms of what gets done and what comes out,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “We’re here, we’re ready to work and we have certainly things we’d like to see. But obviously it’s up to them what they do.”
State lawmakers are still hopeful that a measure changing the 2013 teacher evaluation law to accommodate changes made to the implementation of the Common Core standards can be put together.
“Seven to eight days in Albany can be a lifetime. So I think there’s still plenty of time to have these discussions. I’m engaging in a number of them already,” Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan said.
Cuomo in April indicated he would support changing the law after Common Core fixes were made in the state budget.
“He’s the one who opened the door more than anybody else after the budget,” Flanagan said. “He made some very direct comments and I would be surprised if he did a walk away from that.”
Cuomo indicated to reporters he’s open to signing the medical marijuana legislation. It’s the furthest he’s gone in saying he would be open to approving the bill.
“If they have a piece of legislation and the legislation makes sense, then I would sign because I support the overall effort,” Cuomo said.
And legislative sponsors of the medical marijuana bill are confident it will come to the floor.
“Let’s just say that I’m very confident that the bill is coming to the floor,” IDC Sen. Diane Savino, one of the key backers of the bill, told reporters.
But the medical marijuana bill is currently in the Senate Finance Committee and its chairman, Syracuse Republican John DeFrancisco says he won’t let it come up for a vote.