NARAL Pro-Choice NY Ends Affiliate Status

The abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice New York has ended its affiliation with NARAL Pro-Choice America and will become an independent entity, the organization said in a statement on Thursday.

The group called it a “natural evolution” for its sister organization, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and is largely reflective of an “internal” restructuring.

“We are grateful to have been part of the NARAL family for so many years, and excited and proud to be entering this new phase as a fully independent and integrated organization informing and supporting advocacy in New York and dozens of other states and localities,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health and its new action fund.

“With critical decisions about reproductive health, rights, and justice increasingly made at the state and local levels, now is the right time for the National Institute to unify, expand, and amplify the network we’ve been building across the country for nearly a decade.”

At the same time, the group insisted the change won’t impact its legislative and political work. It will continue under the banner of the Campaign for a Pro-Choice New York and is considered a “project” of the National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund.

The electoral work will also continue with its political action committee and the current staff and leadership won’t change.

Abortion issues have in recent years taken center stage in Albany policy battles, especially in 2013 and 2014, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed a package of measures aimed at women’s rights. The bill included a provision that would have strengthened abortion rights and codified Roe v. Wade in state law, a measure that failed to the pass the GOP-led state Senate.

CUNY Union Runs Ad In Amsterdam News Ahead Of Caucus Weekend

The union that represents professional staff and professors at the City University of New York on Thursday placed an advertisement in The Amsterdam News pushing back against proposed cuts to the system.

The ad, running in a newspaper that is read by the African-American community in New York City, is timed to be released ahead of Caucus Weekend, which is scheduled to be held in Albany starting Saturday.

PSC leaders also plan to present for a higher education workshop being held as part of caucus activities on Saturday, along with a labor lunch from noon to 2 p.m.

The print ad is part of a broader campaign that includes radio spots airing in the Albany area.

The ad raises concerns that “without more state funding” CUNY would be unable to attract new faculty and staff.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been criticized for proposing a budget that would shift more spending for CUNY onto the city government. Cuomo has said the cost shifts could be avoided if ways of finding efficient cost savings are reached.

Amsterdam News Feb11 by Nick Reisman

NYSUT Raises Concerns With Con Con

The New York State United Teachers union’s newsletter to members several months ago calls a potential constitutional convention a “Pandora’s Box” and urges members to get involved in an effort to oppose holding one.

The newsletter was released over the summer, but largely escaped notice at the time. It was amplified today on Twitter by Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter

New York voters in 2017 are due to consider whether to hold a convention that could overhaul how state government functions — a potential enticing consideration given recent corruption scandals and concerns from upstate voters that too much power is vested in New York City interests.

But NYSUT raises issues with even the hint of altering New York’s system of governance, arguing that such a move could strip away bans on direct state funding of religious schools or infringe on pension benefits.

“If changes are made that give too much power to one branch, for example say the executive, then our system of self-governance will be upended,” NYSUT writes in the newsletter.

The last convention referendum, NYSUT’s newsletter states, was opposed by a coalition of “public and private organized labor” and environmental groups as well as good-government organizations “who worked together
to convince voters that holding a convention was not in the best interest of the people of the state.”

NYSUT raises the possibility the union will actively oppose the referendum in 2017 as well, or at the very least raise issues with an overhaul of the constitution.

“All of these groups, and more, will need to work together again in 2017 to make sure voters understand just what could happen if we open up the state constitution to drastic changes through a convention,” the newsletter states. “Since 2017 is an ‘off’ election year for the state Legislature as well as an ‘off’ election year for presidential voting, we will need to concentrate our efforts on this important issue.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State address last month agreed the process in which delegates are selected for a constitutional convention is largely flawed and proposed a constitutional commission charged with devising a blueprint for overhauling the process.

Preet’s Coming To Town

From the Morning Memo:

Every now and then, the planets align in Albany for a truly fascinating — and hectic — day.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara will make his first-ever public sojourn to the state’s capital city today, providing the keynote address to several hundred attendees of the New York Conference of Mayors’s winter meeting.

He’ll be speaking at a hotel just a stone’s throw down the hill on State Street from the Capitol building itself, where Bharara’s office has struck genuine fear with a series of blockbuster prosecutions.

Later, he’ll be attending the swearing-in of the state’s new chief judge, former Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore.

Also in attendance: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose administration Bharara’s office recently cleared in the investigation into the handling of the anti-corruption Moreland Commission. Federal prosecutors are said to still be looking into the governor’s signature economic development program in western New York, the Buffalo Billion.

Later, Bharara will be taking part at a forum further uptown for the public radio station WAMC.

Amid all of this, Bharara’s immediate predecessor as the top prosecutor at the Southern District, Michael Garcia, will have his nomination for the Court of Appeals considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee and, likely, the full Senate.

Oh, and Bruce Springsteen is in town.

Just over a month ago, Bharara netted his biggest fish: Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were convicted in corruption cases brought by the Southern District.

Bharara’s presence may be unsettling to some state lawmakers, but his remarks at such events have in recent weeks been remarkably consistent.

Bharara preaches that good actors (be it lawmakers or Wall Street bankers) should help blow the whistle on bad actors. He likes to tell the tale of Adam Skelos grousing on wiretap that “f-ing Preet Bharara” is listening in on every call. And he likes to remind politicians that he’s merely doing his job in making cases and, instead of complaining about his methods, find ways of reforming their system.

The more fascinating moment will surely be to watch the body language and interaction (if any) between Cuomo and Bharara — the two heavyweights in the room at the Court of Appeals chamber today.

Albany is cramming a lot into one day (kind of like the budget!) and we’ll be here to follow as much of it as possible.

State IT Chief: Attempted Data Breaches ‘Vary Widely’

From the Morning Memo:

The state’s top information technology official on Thursday told state lawmakers attempted data breaches “vary widely” and are on par with what businesses have had to deal with in recent years.

“The biggest priority we have is cyber security,” Chief Information Officer Margaret Miller testified to a joint budget committee hearing.

Data breeches in the private sector have led to compromised personal information of tens of thousands of customers falling into the hands of hackers, including credit card and Social Security numbers.

The federal government, too, has been plagued with data breeches.

Miller insisted the attempts to hack New York’s guarded information have not been successful.

“We remain paranoid rather than com placement,” she told lawmakers. “At every occasion we ask ourselves if we have the expert in house to rely on cyber security or do we need a third party.”

Black & Puerto Rican Legislators Honor Pioneers

From the Morning Memo:

The New York Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators is gearing up to mark its 50th anniversary in Albany next weekend, and will be honoring two veteran New York City politicians.

Retiring Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel and former Bronx Rep. Robert “Bobby” Garcia – two Democrats who experienced a rocky road in their political careers, yet retain considerable respect and standing among their supporters – will be receiving the Percy E. Sutton Empire State and Nation Builder Award, which is the association’s highest and most prestigious honor.

The awards ceremony will be held at the association’s 45th annual legislative conference – AKA caucus weekend – which traditionally takes place (for some reason that has never been clear to me) on Valentine’s Day weekend in Albany.

Valentine’s Day – Feb. 14 – also happens to be the 47th anniversary of Garcia’s election to Congress. He won a 1978 special election to fill the vacant seat of former Rep. Herman Badillo, who stepped down to become a deputy mayor. Garcia ran as a Republican, though he made it clear it planned to vote with the Democrats if elected.

While in the House, Garcia earned attention by sponsoring a bill to establish a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. After considerable debate, the bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

Garcia is also a former state assemblyman and former senator, and was the first Puerto Rican elected to serve in New York’s upper house.

Before receiving their awards, Rangel and Garcia will participate in a panel discussion with two past award recipients – former NYC Mayor David Dinkins and former Buffalo Assemblyman Arthur Eve. The panel will be moderated by former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall.

The keynote speech at the caucus weekend gala will be delivered by DNC Vice Chairwoman and political commentator/operative Donna Brazile.

According to the caucus weekend schedule, the governor is planning to hold a reception at the executive mansion on Sunday.

Ethics Conference Scheduled

From the Morning Memo:

With an ongoing focus in Albany on the need for ethics reform following the twin corruption convictions of two former legislative leaders last year, City & State Reports and the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs/Albany Law School will be hosting a “training institute” and conference on the subject in April.

The line-up of participants for this one-day event on April 20 is pretty prestigious, and includes, but is not limited to: Former LG Richard Ravitch, counsel to the governor Alphonso David, and veteran New York Times editorial writer Eleanor Randolph, who has been on a clean-up-Albany crusade for years.

The purpose of the conference is to provide “executive training for professionals and government officials on the theory and practice of ethics in state government.” Participants will receive an official certificate of completion from Rockefeller College and, for attorneys, CLE credits.

Tom Allon, founder and CEO of City & State Reports, said there’s “no better time” to have a conference on this subject, and noted that the slate of guest speakers “are among the foremost political experts in their respective fields.”

Upstate Mayors: What About Us?

minerFrom the Morning Memo:

Waiting in the wings while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was questioned by state lawmakers for five hours on Tuesday were his colleagues from the state’s other big cities.

The mayors of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany traveled to the Capitol to also talk about the impact of the state budget on their city’s finances in addition to New York’s chief executive.

Sure, their testimonies were a little less closely watched, but arguably just as important.

They came with one overarching goal: Get more help from the state with revenue and infrastructure investment.

“When you look at the property tax levy in the City of Albany, the levy in actual dollars, both city and school, is higher than the levy in actual dollars in cities that are significant larger than Albany,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

The cash-strapped city of Albany faces a $12.5 million deficit, and Sheehan argues the state should help because most of the city’s property is actually owned by the state, which does not pay property taxes.

The city of Buffalo, meanwhile, has a different problem: Lots of development, but given the tax cap, little ability to collect revenue.

“Because our principal source of revenue is the property tax, it’s been hard to generate revenue from the new investments in our city because of the way the cap is structured,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

The state has poured millions of dollars into the Queen City for economic development. That’s generated economic growth, but Brown says tax revenue hasn’t gone up as much.

“It’s very difficult to realize the benefit of that new investment because of the way the cap is structured,” Brown told lawmakers.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner came to Albany with an alternate message. In addition to urging the state to invest in infrastructure, Miner pushed for ethics reforms.

“In order for a government to be successful, it needs to have the trust of the people that it governs,” Miner said. “What we’ve seen in Albany over the past year that’s really undercut that trust in the government.”

Miner, the former state Democratic Committee co-chair, says a lack of ethics reform after so many corruption scandals is as important as fiscal concerns.

“It’s not just the people in Albany. They don’t trust it, now blends into city leadership and the federal arena as well,” she said. There needs to be real reform. People feel like money is buying public policy and they are disengaging.”

And Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren push lawmakers to find a more equitable way to provide aid to schools in her city on similar footing with the other upstate communities.

“Tin cup” day as its known at the Capitol came amid a backdrop of potential municipal mergers and consolidations — Syracuse and Onondaga have a grant to consider a “metro” government — and a record-low cap on property taxes this year that’s expected to be under 1 percent.

State aid to municipalities remains flat once again in the proposed budget.

New York City And The Property Tax

From the Morning Memo:

When it came to issues facing New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his team likely weren’t expecting a grilling on capping property taxes.

Nevertheless, a grilling on the issue was what de Blasio got by more than a half dozen state lawmakers during his budget testimony on Tuesday.

And de Blasio’s team did provide some numbers on why the property tax is a bit different in New York City.

For starters, de Blasio’s team points out city homeowners already have a rate of 0.85 percent for class one homeowners, compared to 3.14 percent for downstate counties nearby.

The de Blasio administration also argues that if a cap were applied to the city like the rest of the state, it would lose $1 billion in revenue. Should the measure approved by the GOP-led Senate be put in place, the loss would be $3 billion, according to de Blasio’s budget office.

The mayor’s position during the testimony was essentially the city is already budgeting without a tax increase, but could potentially need to tap in the revenue should an emergency arise.

But the issue is a source of strength for Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who did not make a public appearance on Tuesday — who has railed against the cost of property taxes upstate and in suburban communities.

The cap approved in 2011 exempted New York City property taxes, but applied to local governments and school districts throughout the state.

Kolb Urges Legislative Leaders To Invite Bharara To Albany

With U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara headed to Albany next month to address the Conference of Mayors, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb isn’t giving up on his own invitation.

Kolb, the Republican leader in the Assembly, earlier this month invited Bharara to the Capitol to address lawmakers on ethics and corruption — a move that comes after the prosecutor secured convictions of the top legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly last year.

Bharara’s office told Kolb, however, the invitation was declined, given he didn’t want to appear at a partisan event in Albany.

No matter for Kolb: He’s now urging his fellow conference leaders — Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie — to offer a bipartisan invitation to Bharara.

“We have each publicly stated that Albany is in need of reform,” Kolb wrote in a letter dated Thursday. “This is an opportunity to show we have learned from the past, we are serious about bringing change to the Capitol, and we are committed to restoring the public trust.”

Bharara is scheduled to speak before NYCOM’s winter legislative meeting on Feb. 8 at the Albany Hilton.

Letter to the Leaders (3) by Nick Reisman