Teachout Robocalls In Support Of Opting Out

From the Morning Memo:

Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law School professor who challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo in last year’s Democratic primary, recorded a robocall informing parents of their right to not have students take state tests.

The call is part of a growing campaign to have students not take standardized tests and potentially dilute results for teacher evaluations.

Teachout’s call was received by parents on Sunday evening and directs recipients to the website of New York Allies for Public Education, which provides further details on how to opt out of state tests.

In the call, Teachout tells parents they have a “constitutional right” to have their children not take a standardized test in a public classroom.

Standardized testing begins this week in New York schools for the next two weeks.

The New York State United Teachers union, along with their allied groups, is encouraging parents to not have their children participating in the testing.

The opt out push began right before Cuomo and state lawmakers approved new teacher evaluation criteria in the state budget.

The legislation would require teachers be evaluated based on one test, plus in-classroom observation. A second test would be subject to collective bargaining on the local level.

The state Department of Education would determine how much weight to give the tests versus classroom observation.

But NYSUT, along with other labor-backed groups like the Working Families Party, are seeking to have parents keep their children from taking the standardized testing this month.

Lawmakers, too, have sought the passage of measures that would require the state Department of Education to inform parents of their right to have their children opt out.

The Cuomo administration has insisted the education measures in the budget will put in motion a plan to reduce the amount of testing in schools overall.

Nevertheless, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul added last week that having children opt out could be harmful down the road.

“The truth is, I think if you hold you’re children back from this kind of participation, it could be doing them a disservice,” Hochul said. “But if they want to make an individual decision going down that path, there are consequences in the future that I’d be concerned about.”

Driscoll To Be Nominated To DOT Commissioner

Environmental Facilities Corp. CEO Matt Driscoll will be nominated to become the next commissioner of the Department of Transportation, sources familiar with the plan tell TWC News’ Bill Carey.

Driscoll is the former mayor of Syracuse and has served in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration since 2011, when he left to lead the EFC, a state entity that offers grants and loans for sewer and water projects.

Current DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald is expected to leave the post later this year.

The nomination of Driscoll as the new DOT commissioner comes as the replacement project for Interstate 81 which runs through Syracuse is being pushed.

The options include renovation of the existing, elevated highway, removing the viaduct system and replacing the highway with a street level boulevard or following the boulevard plan, but keeping the highway route through the city by constructing a highway tunnel.

Driscoll served as mayor of the central New York city from 2001 through 2009.

His nomination is pending Senate confirmation.

Heastie To Offer Democratic ‘Rebuttal’ At LCA Show

Newly elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will deliver the Democratic “rebuttal” at the annual Legislative Correspondents Association political gridiron show.

Heastie, who was elected speaker earlier this year following the arrest of Manhattan Democrat Sheldon Silver, will be the first Assembly speaker in more than two decades to appear in the program, known as The LCA Show.

The annual event lampoons state government and politics and is the oldest political gridiron show in the country.

The Bronx Democrat is not exactly known for his love of reporters and the press in general, but the event could be an ice-breaking one for the new speaker.

The event is scheduled for Tuesday, June 9 at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. A free dress rehearsal is scheduled for Monday night.

A Republican presenter for the program. is expected to be announced shortly.

Johns Calls Pay Commission ‘Backdoor’ Way Of Getting A Raise

A Rochester-area State Assemblyman says if his colleagues want a pay raise they should draft legislation and vote on it.  Webster Republican Mark Johns not only criticized the way the pay raise commission was approved he called the bill flawed.

“We passed the bill at 2:30-3:00 in the morning and there’s not a lot of daylight then and people aren’t necessarily paying attention.  The problem I have with a pay commission is the people on the commission will be appointed by politicians to decide how big of a raise the politicians should get,” said Johns.

About a week ago the idea of a pay raise commission for state-elected officials looked like a dead issue.  The commission was included in a last minute budget bill approved by the Senate and the Assembly.

“I believe the constitution says that we have to vote ourselves a raise, which will not take effect until the next legislature is seated, and I believe that’s the correct way to do it.  I think if people want a raise they make their argument, like they would with any other bill, and then have an up or down vote on it so you can see how your legislators are going to vote on the increase,” Johns said.

As Nick previously detailed, the new panel is actually being rolled into the commission created in 2011 that determines whether state judges should receive a boost in pay.  As Johns noted, any pay raise for the Senate and Assembly would not take effect until the next Legislature is seated, or Jan 1, 2017.

“I got elected in 2010 and I took a pledge not to vote for a pay increase for the duration that I’ll be down there.  I think that people would like to see a lot of things voted on and a pay increase is not one of them.  We don’t vote on term limits which upwards of ninety percent of the people want.  We’re going to do a backdoor way of getting a pay increase and I don’t think that’s going to be real popular when it gets out,” said Johns.

Increasingly frustrated with the legislative process, Johns teamed up with Democratic Sen. Diane Savino last year to introduce the SOLE act.  The Sensible Opportunity for Legislative Equality bill would allow each member to bring a bill that’s been discharged from committee to the floor for a vote at least once during a two-year legislative session.

A version of the bill was included in an Assembly Minority ethics reform package and did not make it into the budget. Johns is hopeful the idea will still be considered before the end of the legislative session.

“I’ll be honest with you we talk about all kinds of equality: marriage equality, pat equality, gender equality, I think legislative equality would go a long way.  We vote on a lot of issues down there and the red button does work.  There’s no reason a minority member or a majority member shouldn’t be allowed to bring up a good idea for discussion and have an up or down vote and if you don’t like the bill or the contents vote it down,” Johns added.


Pay Raise Commission Wouldn’t Have To Act Until After Election Day

Any approval for a salary increase for state lawmakers and other elected officials would be released by Nov. 15 of next year, after the next Election Day, according to legislation approved by state lawmakers during Tuesday’s budget vote.

Once believed to be dead and gone from the state budget negotiations, a pay raise commission for state elected officials was resurrected and approved by the Senate and Assembly on Tuesday night.

The commission was included in a massive “clean up” budget bill that wasn’t printed and distributed on lawmakers desks until Tuesday night (Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Sunday had confirmed the pay raise commission was included in the budget agreement on Sunday).

The new panel is actually being rolled into the commission created in 2011 that determines whether state judges should receive a boost in pay.

Historically, judicial pay was tied to pay increases for state lawmakers, who have not received a salary bump of their own since 1999.

Four years ago, the decision was made to decouple the politics surrounding the lawmaker pay raises from judicial salaries through the commission.

Now, those politics appear to be back, at least as far as this commission is concerned.

The legislation also spells out what the commission should consider when determining where salaries should be increased, including:

— Overall economic climate
— Rate of inflation
— Public-sector spending changes
— Current benefits and compensation from executive and legislative branch officials in other states and federal government
— Benefits received by government professionals, non-profits, academia and the private sector
— State government’s ability to to afford to the pay raises

The commission will include seven members: Three appointed by the governor, one appointed by the Senate and Assembly each and two appointed by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals. The judicial appointee shall be a non-voting chair of the panel.

In addition to state legislative and judicial pay raises, the panel will determine pay increases for commissioners in the governor’s cabinet as well as the attorney general and comptroller.

There’s no prohibition against elected officials from sitting on the panel itself and the commission must hold at least one public hearing in which the public can weigh in.

The commission itself is due to form by June 1.

Any pay raise for the Senate and Assembly would not take effect until the next session of the Legislature is seated, or Jan 1, 2017.

Lawmakers currently earn $79,500, but many earn more through per diem expenses and stipends for leadership and committee chair titles.

How To Spend $5.4 Billion

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to spend the state’s $5.4 billion windfall surplus from major financial settlements appears to have survived largely intact.

Though there was a concerted push to have the broad majority of the money spent on infrastructure needs across the state, the money is being spent on a mix of items, including a major downpayment for a settlement with the federal Centers for Medicaid Services.

New York plans to send $850 million to the federal government based on its settlement with the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. The state will subsequently send $200 million a year over the next 10 years to satisfy the settlement.

The most notable tweak from the initial plan is $150 million earmarked for Long Island economic development projects, which will be doled out by the Empire State Development Corp (Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County last week hinted at a push to have the money spent elsewhere in the state).

A breakdown of the framework agreement on Monday provided by an administration official shows a $1.5 billion economic development program for upstate New York remains in the spending plan.

The competitive allocations will not include New York City, Long Island or western New York, the latter of which is already receiving attention through the “Buffalo Billion.”

The Thruway Authority is in line to receive $1.3 billion, with $900 million being sent to help pay for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project. The additional $400 million will be used to help the authority shore up its finances and stave off a toll hike for a year. Additional spending cuts on the administrative level at the authority were not ruled out.

Rural health care facilities will receive $400 million in an effort to help large hospitals merge with them.

The $500 million project to expand high-speed broadband in under-served areas will be included, which comes with a private match.

Four new MetroNorth stations will be added to the Bronx for $250 million, along with $150 million being spent on counterterrorism and disaster preparedness.

An additional $60 million will be spent on public safety equipment needed for the package of criminal justice reforms that lawmakers are expected to negotiate this year.

A pet issue for Cuomo, local government restructuring, will receive $150 million.

Upstate infrastructure will get a boost: $65 million for ports and rail upgrades in Oswego, Albany and Ogdensburg.

The state fairgrounds just outside of Syracuse will receive a $50 million upgrade

The Southern Tier and Hudson Valley regions will receive $50 million in farmland protection.

Raise The Age Campaign To Advertise Law Enforcement Support

From the Morning Memo:

The campaign backing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to increase the age of criminal responsibility in New York is advertising its support from law enforcement officials.

An ad that will run in the weekly Legislative Gazette newspaper will highlight the support for the effort from county sheriffs and district attorneys.

The ad will be distributed as a flyer to state lawmakers as well.

Cuomo’s proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility was proposed earlier in the year following a year-long commission studying the issue of juvenile justice reform. Senate Republicans are skeptical about the proposal, which would raise the age for juvenile jurisdiction to 18.

The New York City Bar Association, meanwhile, has also endorsed the push in a legislative memorandum.

The bar association writes that raising the age will have the effect of reducing recidivism and provide “alternatives to incarceration are a more effective and cost-efficient way to reduce youth recidivism than detention and incarceration.”

RTA-2015-0002_FINAL by Nick Reisman

State Lawmakers Rake In The Albany Green

An analysis from the New York Public Interest Research Group released this morning found state lawmakers are busy this legislative session not just crafting a budget, but raising campaign cash in the state’s Capital city.

The report from the good-government organization found that state lawmakers and the top leadership in the Senate and Assembly have scheduled at least 118 fundraisers between January and the end of this month.

The list isn’t exclusive to Albany venues: The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee held a fundraiser in Buffalo and Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to hold an event in April in New York City.

Of course, the campaign activity is in full swing only months after state lawmakers faced re-election in November for another two-year term. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this week called for four-year terms for legislators in order to space out running for re-election and the fundraising needed to do so in order to focus on governing.

Here’s the full list from NYPIRG:

St Patricks Albany Money Machine 2015 by Nick Reisman

Coalition of Groups Pushes Cuomo On Email Retention

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo begins to reassess his administration’s email retention, a coalition of organizations and lobbying entities is calling on him to adopt the federal standard: A seven-year minimum for keeping email and other electronic messages.

In a joint statement, the groups called on Cuomo to issue an executive order on transparency guidelines.

“We call on Governor Cuomo to issue this executive order regardless of what the state legislature does or does not do – Governor Cuomo has the unilateral authority to increase email transparency, and he should,” the organizations said.

After Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office on Thursday announced it would revise a 90-day email purge policy, Cuomo’s office made plans for an open government summit to review transparency measures for state government.

The measures recommended could include subjecting the Legislature to the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

“While our groups strongly support extending the state Freedom of Information Law to include the state legislature, we see no reason why Governor Cuomo cannot adopt a policy of saving state emails for 7 years regardless of what the legislature does,” the organizations said. “The issue here is increasing government transparency, and Governor Cuomo has the unilateral power to do that by matching the proposed federal policy of saving emails for 7 years.”

The groups include good-government entities like Citizens Union, Common Cause, the New York Public Interest Research Group and the League of Women Voters. But organizations not usually involved in open government and ethics issues, but may certainly have a stake in seeing records retained, also signed on, including the Environmental Advocates of New York and the Tri-State Transportation Committee.

Business Council Endorses MMA Legalization

The New York State Business Council has signed off on legislation that would legalize mixed-martial arts in the state — a move that’s being cheered by UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertita.

“I want to thank the leadership of the Business Council for recognizing that legalizing MMA in New York – the last place in North America where professional MMA is illegal – would provide a new economic boost to New York,” Fertitta said. “As the Business Council recognizes in its memo, legalizing and regulating MMA in New York ‘will bring much needed economic activity to New York’s sports and entertainment venues, hospitality industry and generate additional revenues for the State and local governments.’

The bill, backed by Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle and Sen. Joe Griffo of the Utica-Rome area. Supporters of renewed hope of a vote for the bill in the Democratic-led Assembly, following MMA opponent Sheldon Silver losing the top post of speaker.

Still, opponents include women’s groups and labor unions who this year have formed a coalition opposing the bill, MMA Go Away.

In its bill memo backing the measure, the state’s top business lobby points to the potential economic benefit of legalizing the sport.

“Currently, New York is the only state in the U.S. where professional MMA is not allowed,” the memo states. “With Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) being one of the fastest growing and popular sports in the United States, this legislation would help will bring much needed economic activity to New York’s sports and entertainment venues, hospitality industry and generate additional revenues for the State and local governments. By some estimates, legalizing professional MMA will generate up to 950 jobs and $135 million in annual economic activity across the State of New York.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been non-committal on legalization mixed-martial arts. He’s noted the opposition finds the sport too violent, but did say he is interested in the economic development potential of MMA.