Albany

In Philly, de Blasio Decries ‘State Level’ Paralysis

In a panel discussion on Monday afternoon in Philadelphia, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio decried “state level” paralysis that has prevented cities from enacting liberal policies.

In his remarks, de Blasio urged local government officials to not be discouraged when state officials thwart their plans, but instead work together to build support for their issue.

“In the time of federal paralysis, and I can certainly say we’ve seen this at the state level in many, many states, too — state governments that are resistant to their cities and state governments resistant to progressive change; we’re not powerless as a result,” de Blasio said at a panel discussion at the National Museum of American Jewish History on Philadelphia.

“It doesn’t mean go home. It means do things at home and tie them together to what other cities and towns and counties are doing.”

De Blasio, like his predecessors, has seen his own agenda foiled in Albany during the course of his term in office. Most recently, a New York City-backed move to charge a 5-cent fee on plastic bags was delayed amid concerns from state lawmakers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been feuding with mayor over the last year, has touted a state government during his administration that has enacted the broad strokes of his agenda over the last years as well as enacted on-time budgets.

The mayor has in recent months accused Cuomo of undermining his administration’s agenda in Albany and working too closely with Senate Republicans, who remain hostile to de Blasio.

Property Taxes To Be Capped Under 1 Percent

Local governments will face a cap on property tax levy increases will be under 1 percent, according to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Monday.

Local government tax increases will be capped at 0.68 percent, a slight decrease from the current year, in which the ceiling was 0.73 percent.

Property taxes in New York are capped at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Given inflation has been largely flat since the cap has been in place, property taxes have been essentially limited to under 2 percent since 2011.

“In what is becoming the norm, New York’s local governments must cope with extremely limited growth for property taxes to stay within the tax cap,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

“Low inflation has positive effects for consumers, but it also reflects an uncertain economic environment. Local officials have faced growing fixed costs and limited budget options for years, but 2017 will necessitate even tougher financial choices.”

The New York State Association of Counties, unsurprisingly, is not happy with this developing, saying the low cap will result in more services being cut or reduced.

“In the past five years, counties have sold assets and depleted reserves to meet the state’s property tax cap requirements,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario. “The low sales and property tax revenues announced in the past few days will require counties to further reduce local programs and services.”

Local government organizations as well as groups that represent school districts and educators have sought to change the cap to a “straight” 2 percent limit on levy increases, but the proposal has been thwarted in Albany.

Federal, State Oversight Coming For Water Quality

Oversight of water quality in New York is coming from both federal and state lawmakers. In Albany, Assembly Democrats plan to hold public hearings in September to address water issues across the state. In Washington, lawmakers plan to review New York’s response to the chemical contamination of drinking water in Hoosick Falls.

“They’re going to try to hide, they’re going to try to obfuscate,” said Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin in a news conference at the Capitol.

“But there’s no hiding from this. The email trail is pretty clear about what went on here.”

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin has pushed for state legislative hearings on the Hoosick Falls contamination issue since the beginning of the year. Initially, the Assembly indicated plans to hold hearings, only to seemingly drop the issue after the budget was approved in April. Now McLaughlin says the hearings will move forward.

I think they are going to hold true to their word because I think the firestorm of backing off would be insurmountable,” he added.

McLaughlin has been especially crtical, however, of Senate Republicans who are yet to hold oversight hearings on the matter, suggesting they’re worried about embarassing Governor Andrew Cuomo and his office’s response to the PFOA contamination.

“You have the New York Senate Democrats, you have other congressmen joining in,” he said. So the only group that is not calling for hearings is the New York state Senate.

The office of Republican Sen. Kathy Marchione who represents the area did not respond to a request for an interview. Democrats in the Assembly say the hearings aren’t meant to criticize the governor’s office, but find a way to improve the state’s response when water quality issues pop up.

“For me this is not about finger pointing,” said Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat who represents the Capital Region.

“This is about finding out where government can do a better job, where we can protect residents’ health in all circumstances.”

In Washington, meanwhile, Rep. Chris Gibson says the federal review announced Thursday of the state’s response is a needed layer of oversight.

“What they learn from these documents could very lead to hearings, which we ultimately hope will be the resolution of this so the constituents of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh can have a full accounting of what happened,” Gibson said.

The Cuomo administration said in a statement it will gladly provide federal lawmakers with information, including their concerns over the EPA’s conflicting guidelines for safe PFOA levels in water.

For Top Lawmakers, Limits To Outside Work

From the Morning Memo:

The financial disclosure filings of the state’s legislative leaders made public on Tuesday show a pullback in private-sector income and activities.

The disclosure reports of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, are a far cry from the disclosures made by their scandal-scarred predecessors, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos.

The filings of 213 state lawmakers covering the year 2015 were initially filed in May with the Legislative Ethics Committee in May and made public by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics on Tuesday.

Flanagan, who announced that he would leave his law firm last year when he was elected majority leader in the Senate, wrote in his filing that “Reporting individual did not provide direct services in 2015″ with his firm, Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana, where he holds an “of counsel” position.

Flanagan reported he provided “indirect services” in areas such as wills, estates and corporate trusts.

In 2014, Flanagan indicated a more active role with the firm, such as providing direct services to clients in real estate and land use.

Flanagan last year earned between $100,000 and $150,000 from the firm, he reported on the filing. He is no longer listed on the firm’s website among its roster of attorneys.

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, meanwhile, formally left his law firm on March 20, last year.

Klein had announced he was leaving the firm where he was a partner around that time on Feb. 9, saying it was a matter of restoring the public’s trust in government

“During this crisis we need to win back the voters’ trust,” Klein said. “I think the way we do this is to not have any potential conflicts at all moving forward. I think this is sort of a clarion call for all. If you want to earn outside income, you shouldn’t be in public service.”

In his disclosure report, Klein wrote that he was “no longer representing clients.”

Klein in 2015 still received income from the firm through a return on investment of equity, amounting to $5,000 as well as a $36,000 guaranteed payment.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, meanwhile, reported no outside income on his filing. He left the unpaid role of Bronx Democratic Committee chairman in February last year.

Pulling back from outside employment for the legislative leaders comes as both Heastie and Flanagan assert the posts are full-time jobs in themselves requiring all of their focus.

But it also comes after the convictions of Silver and Skelos, both of whom held lucrative jobs outside of government at politically connected law firms.

Silver was convicted late last year of masking bribes as legal referrals for his firm, Weitz and Luxenberg.

Skelos’s conviction did not center directly on his outside employment, but the official actions he took to aid his son’s business interests at an environmental technology firm.

Cuomo in January called for caps on the amount of money lawmakers can earn outside of government work. The proposal failed to gain traction in the Legislature.

Siena Poll: Voters Give Session A Passing Grade, Barely

Most New York voters were not overly impressed with the legislative session in Albany, scoring Gov. Andrew Cuomo with a “C” grade on the last six months and the state Legislature earning a “C-“, according to a Siena College poll released on Thursday.

The poll found a middling reviews for the ethics agreement struck in Albany, nor were they in agreement with Cuomo’s claim the session was “the probably the most successful in modern history, the poll found.

Cuomo’s own favorability rating remain largely flat from the last time the poll was conducted a month ago, standing at 56 percent to 38 percent. His job performance rating remains under water and similarly little changed from last month: 40 percent to 59 percent, the poll found.

Amid a push to clean up Albany following a series of scandals that rocked the Senate and Assembly — including the convictions of both legislative leaders last year — as well as ongoing corruption probes into economic development spending in upstate New York, most voters, 56 percent to 27 percent, believe the measures approved in June won’t lead to a significant reduction in fraud and corruption.

Only 23 percent of voters agree with Cuomo’s claim the session, which stretches from January through June, was one of the most productive in modern history. The session included the passage of a budget that contained a tax cut aimed at middle-income earners, a phased-in increase of the minimum wage to $15 downstate and a 12-week paid family leave program.

Nevertheless, voters graded Cuomo’s work on the session with a “C” and both chambers of the Legislature with a “C-” for the last six months

“Thirty-nine percent of New Yorkers would give Cuomo an ‘A’ or ‘B’ for the 2016 session, while 25 percent would fail him or give him a ‘D.’ His overall GPA is 2.09 – a solid ‘C’ – his lowest post-session grade ever, and down from 2.35 the last time Siena asked in 2013,” Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said. “The good news for the Assembly and Senate is that their grades haven’t fallen as much as the Governor’s; the bad news is that their grades – both have GPAs of 1.88 – are worse than the Governor’s, earning both the Senate and the Assembly grades of ‘C-,’”

The poll also found 64 percent of voters give him a negative job performance rating on ethics, education and his handling of the state’s economy. Democratic voters, too, had little cheer with Cuomo on those issues, according to the survey.

Though Cuomo is not up for re-election this year, all 213 seats in the state Legislature are, and voters indicated they are ready to keep their incumbents in place, despite the dim view taken of the session.

The poll found by a 48 percent to 37 percent margin they are ready to re-elect their state senator rather than a generic “someone else. In the Assembly, the re-elect rate is slightly smaller, 42 percent to 38 percent, the poll found.

In the race for president, the poll found Democrat Hillary Clinton maintaining a wide lead over presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump, 54 percent to 31 percent.

Republican Wendy Long’s bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer continues to face steep odds: The likely Democratic Senate leader leads Long, 66 percent to 23 percent.

The poll of 803 registered New York voters was conducted from June 22 through June 28. It has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

SNY0616 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman

Education Group Pushes Computerized Assessments

From the Morning Memo:

A group that has been supportive of the Common Core standards is praising the proposed use of computerized assessments as a way to improve student performance and provide teachers with “critical prospectives.”

“Computerized testing is a better, faster, more individualized approach to assessing students and providing real-time feedback that helps teachers do their most important job – helping kids learn and grow,” said Stephen Sigmund, the executive director of High Achievement New York.

“Students, teachers and parents need to understand the specific benefits of this new format and this new sharable graphic will help spread the word.”

HANY is backing the use of computer-based tests in part for its tailoring of ability levels of individual test takers, altering the degree of difficulty based on a student’s answers.

The group is especially excited for computer-based testing given how it provides instant feedback for tests results for teachers and students while eliminating human error.

At the same time, the computerized assessments are easy-to-use platforms for interactive questions.

But computerized tests are controversial, with supporters of the opt-out test movement urging students decline to take field testing for computerized assessments in more than 900 schools this spring.

“State leaders should remember that opt-out organizers have opposed testing improvements at every turn,” Sigmund said.

“They have urged refusal not just of annual state assessments, but of local tests, and now field testing of computer assessments. They have even argued against using Regents’ tests as a high school exit exam, a standard in New York since the 1870s. Refusing tests of every kind is not just a slippery slope, but a cliff for student progress in every community.”

Pay Raise Panel Meeting Gets Heated

An otherwise mundane meeting of the state commission charged with considering a potential pay increase for state lawmakers this year grew heated on Tuesday when an appointee of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s traded sharp words with a former state senator and Republican member of the board.

Tensions flared more than half way into the meeting of the state Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation, which met Monday in New York City to consider a pay raise for lawmakers and state judges as well as those who work in the Cuomo administration.

The argument flared between Cuomo appointee Fran Reiter and former Sen. James Lack, a Republican from Long Island, as the commission debated how to define the Legislature as a “full time” or “part time” job.

Reiter argued lawmakers hadn’t been making an effective case for why their jobs should be considered full-time work.

“No one that I can recall among the three (lawmakers) that we did hear from made any argument whatsoever that they are full time,” Reiter said. “Not one of them came here and said to us, ‘You know, the work we do is not just when we’re here in Albany. We go back to our districts and here are the things we do.'”

Lack quickly interjected: “Oh, Fran, cut it out.”

In Albany, there’s been a broader debate over the nature of state legislative work, in which Cuomo this year unsuccessfully sought to cap outside pay, a move rejected by Senate Republicans. Assembly Democrats offered a counter proposal that linked private salary to judicial compensation, but Cuomo was cool to the suggestion.

In his argument with Reiter, Lack insisted lawmakers work full time jobs given the work done back in their districts.

“Well, OK. You don’t care about it, but you know what?” Reiter said. “I care about it, because I think I’m here to try to do what’s right for the people of the state of New York, not just as elected officials.”

Responded Lack: “Oh, I get it. I certainly get why they don’t want to come and see you.”

The pay commission is expected to make its determination for the legislative pay hike, if any, on Nov. 15, after Election Day.

Lawmakers earn $79,500 in base salary, which has not increased since 1999.

The full exchange can be seen here:

Moody’s: Casino License Revenue Will Help

From the Morning Memo:

For cash-strapped counties and local governments in New York, the $30.2 million in one-time casino license fees is considered a credit positive by the ratings agency Moody’s.

But in a report released this week, Moody’s points to the benefit of having this money be used toward longer term growth in revenue than as a one-shot way to balance spending.

In other words: It may be a one-shot sugar high, but for municipalities in the age of the tax cap, any new revenue injected into its balance sheets will be helpful.

The trick is finding how to make that money work for more than one fiscal year.

“The one-time receipt of casino fee revenue will be credit positive for these municipalities as they work to maintain balanced operations in a strained operating environment,” the report found. “However, those that use the funds to create long-term tax revenue growth will be better positioned than those that use the funds as a one-time budget balancing measure.”

All told, county governments are facing a variety of fiscal challenges and weaker revenues, that making it harder to cut costs, including strong collective bargaining units as well as the Triborough Amendment, the report found.

“Given the environment, any additional revenues have an outsized effect on a municipality’s ability to balance its budget, especially in the host municipalities, whose revenue as a share of budget is sizable,” according to the report.

The money from the casino license fees being distributed to county governments represents about 20 percent of the total $151 million that will eventually be allocated. An additional $120.8 million will be distributed among more than 700 school districts through the statewide funding formula.

Schneiderman: Fantasy Sports Will Be Allowed, But Regulated

From the Morning Memo:

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman indicated on Thursday the measure approved to legalize and regulate daily fantasy sports in New York will satisfy the terms of a settlement reached with operators DraftKings and FanDuel earlier this year.

“The settlement set up a situation in which if we could pass legislation, set up a law, before the end of June, then we would not pursue the litigation further,” Schneiderman said during a news conference. “This would resolve it. It’s now legal.”

The Democratic-led Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate last week approved legislation to allow fantasy sports operators to provide the online service in New York, with licensing and fee structure in place.

The measure, yet to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, comes after Schneiderman last year sued fantasy sports operators, arguing their businesses were essentially offering gambling illegal under the state’s constitution.

At Thursday news conference in western New York, Schnedierman said his office still retained the power to sue the companies for false or deceptive advertising.

“Daily fantasy sports are going to be legal, they’re going to be taxed, they’re going to be regulated,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been calling for all along. The settlement we reached is not only consistent with this legislation, it really provided some incentive to get it done and get it done quickly.”

SUNY Poly Board To Open Meetings

The entity created to oversee economic development projects by SUNY Polytechnic announced on Wednesday it would open its meetings to the general public.

The move came after it was reported Tuesday the press would not be able to listen in on a meeting held by conference call by Fort Schuyler Management Corp.

“Contrary to a misleading media report yesterday, the board had to convene and then act, which it has done. It has always been the intent of the board to ensure openness and transparency in all of its decision making processes, including subjecting itself to FOIL and posting volumes of documents online for public review,” said FSMC Chairman Jerry Barber.

“I applaud our board members for showing such strong support for opening all future meetings to the public. Our operations and business practices have always been subject to multiple layers of oversight and we are proud of the high marks we have consistently received from auditors at the New York State Comptroller’s Office. We welcome the opportunity for the public to join us at future meetings.”

Fort Schuyler was a largely unknown entity, but has fallen under scrutiny as investigations have been launched into economic development spending in upstate New York by federal prosecutors. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is reviewing contracting at SUNY Poly as well over potential bid rigging.

The entity was created to oversee economic development efforts in Utica, but its portfolio has expanded projects in upstate cities like Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.