Albany

Assembly Dem Women Take Over New York

… At least in their rebuttal video for last night’s LCA Show.

Here it is, featuring upstate Democratic women in the Assembly (and Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin in a cameo):

PACB Approves $485.5M For Buffalo Billion Cornerstone

The Public Authorities Control Board on Wednesday approved $485.5 million in spending for a key project in the Buffalo Billion economic development project, which is facing a federal investigation.

The meeting of the little-known entity on Wednesday afternoon included little discussion of the funding plan and only one elected official who attended: Republican Assemblyman Joe Giglio, who has no voting power on the board.

A proxy for the Assembly Democrats at the meeting did seek broader oversight of spending for the program, including monthly updates on the project from Fort Schuyler Management Company, the public benefit corporation that is an arm of SUNY Polytechnic, as well as the Empire State Development Corporation.

PACB itself includes members of the Assembly and Senate as well as the Division of Budget, an arm of the Cuomo administration.

The money approved was not wholly surprising. Legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate had indicated they were supportive of allowing the funding to be disbursed for the RiverBend project, site of the 1.2-million-square-foot SolarCity factory in western New York, a key piece of the Buffalo Billion.

Initially the meeting was scheduled for last week, but was postponed due to scheduling issues, according to state officials.

The spending must still be approved by Bart Schwartz, the independent investigator who was hired by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to review and investigate Buffalo Billion spending. A contract for Schwartz is yet to be made public.

Cuomo has defended the spending under the project, insisting it is vital for the western New York region.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office is probing economic development spending in an investigation that has drawn in Todd Howe, a lobbyist with ties to the Cuomo family, as well as longtime aide and confidant to the governor, Joe Percoco.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is investigating bid rigging at SUNY Polytechnic, a key player in the economic development programs.

In a bizarre scene after the meeting, a senior counsel for the Empire State Development Corp. who attended the meeting refused to stop and bolted from reporters who were asking his name and its spelling. ESDC spokesman Jason Conwall said it was Stephen Gawlik.

Supportive Housing Push Launched For MOU

A coalition of groups backing an expansion of supportive housing units for the homeless has launched an email campaign to push Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to sign on to a memorandum of understanding that authorizes 6,000 units be built.

Funding for the construction was included in the passage of the 2016-17 state budget in April, but the money can’t be spent until the MOU is signed.

As such, the Campaign 4 NY NY Housing launched its email campaign this week to get the ball rolling on the issue.

So far, the effort has generated 2,850 messages from New Yorkers.

In the email, the state’s top leaders are urged to back the MOU now in order to stem the growing homelessness issues in the state.

“Every day that passes without this MOU is another day thousands of New Yorkers will remain homeless,” the email states. “We need action now.”

“The homelessness crisis affects 80,000 New Yorkers. Leaving them on the streets, in shelters and cycling in and out of institutional care is not only inhumane, it is extremely expensive for local and state governments.”

At the same time, the campaign has a web page set up for a “call to action” petition backing the MOU for supportive housing.

Biz Council Opposes Greenhouse Gas Elimination Bill

From the Morning Memo:

The state Business Council is opposing a bill that would require state environmental regulators to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions in New York by 2050.

In a bill memorandum of opposition released on Tuesday, the group said it backs efforts to reduce carbon “intensity” without hurting overall economic growth.

But the Business Council says the state should adopt efforts to address in-state emissions that do not lead to “carbon leakage.”

At the same time, the council pointed to suggestions that encourage the private sector to reduce emissions through competition.

The bill itself is “simply unworkable.”

“If this bill were to become law and could be enforced, it would result in the end of manufacturing, farming, busses, trucks, cars, and finally people,” the council wrote. “The legislation will require substantial emissions reductions in a relatively short period of time, requiring that in a little more than thirty years that all emissions from the following sources go to zero.”

Legislative Leaders Indicate Support For PACB Spending

The top legislative leaders in the Democratic-led Assembly and GOP-controlled Senate on Tuesday indicated they support approving $485.5 million in spending for a subsidiary of the under-investigation SUNY Polytechnic, saying the money is vital for the continuation of the economic development program in western New York.

“There’s a general belief that it’s a worthwhile project,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “There are a series of questions that we put forward and we’re just waiting to get those answers back and then I think everything will be fine.”

Added Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan: “It’s critical to economic development in the state of New York, it’s critical to western New York.”

The vote for the Public Authorities Control Board is scheduled for Wednesday after it was delayed a week due to scheduling issues, according to the state Division of Budget.

The money is set to go toward an entity formed by SUNY Poly, which is being investigated for bid rigging by the state attorney general’s office. The money is part of a broader spending effort to the RiverBend project, the site of a SolarCity factory in western New York.

The project is a component of the Buffalo Billion program, an economic development effort that is being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

Both the Assembly and Senate have votes to approve the spending, as does the Division of Budget, which is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

Still, lawmakers have questioned the spending, while Cuomo himself has said the funding is to be reviewed by the independent investigator his office hired, Bart Schwartz.

“There are a lot of vehicles for oversight which should take place,” Flanagan said. “But I don’t think that should be an excuse for not moving ahead and making sure we approve jobs for the economy.”

WNY Lawmakers Assess Coming PACB Vote

From the Morning Memo:

As a little known state entity considers approval of another $485 million for the under-investigation Buffalo Billion plan, some western New York lawmakers say the project is too important to the area to be put on hold.

“The question is posed: Should the project be held up because of whatever investigations are going on?” said Sen. Patrick Gallivan. “I think not.”

The money to be voted on Wednesday is slated to be sent to a non-profit formed by SUNY Polytechnic, which is under investigation by state attorney general Eric Schneiderman.

The U.S. Attorney’s office is also investigation economic development projects, including the signature Buffalo Billion program. But Republican Senator Pat Gallivan says the Public Authorities Control Board’s decision should be based strictly on the merits of the project.

“They should look at it as a construction project,” Gallivan said. “They should look at its performance, they should make a decision based on those particular things. But I don’t see the two as connected.”

Other lawmakers from western New York, however, have broader questions of the state’s spending for the program, regardless of the investigations.

“Putting aside the investigations that can really be separate,” said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger. “I think the PACB should look at the return on investment with this project. I think the PACB should look at whether there was something that changed this spring.”

Schimminger has concerns with the oversight for projects that fall under spending for the Buffalo Billion, and questions why the money is needed now for RiverBend, the site of factory for SolarCity, which has been struggling financially.

“The state comptroller’s normal oversight doesn’t occur here,” he said. “The normal processes for building a building don’t apply here. Because of that, it’s very difficult for legislators or probably even the state comptroller to track this project.”

The Public Authorities Control Board is expected to vote on whether to approve the $485 million on Wednesday. The vote was delayed a week, officials said, because of scheduling.

Amid Investigations, de Blasio’s Albany Agenda Hits A Rough Patch

From the Morning Memo:

It’s not easy being New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio these days in Albany.

The mayor faces five investigations into his political spending, which has complicated his efforts to receive an extension of mayoral control of New York City schools.

“When we send over $9 million to the city of New York, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask where the money is going,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Flanagan said earlier this month.

“While it’s lofty and aspirational about what’s going to happen with the next generation, I’d like to know what’s going on with this generation.

Senate Republicans remain hostile to de Blasio, who is under investigation in part for his efforts to funnel money through county committees in order to help Democrats win control of the chamber two years ago. De Blasio signaled Wednesday he would not attend a second Senate hearing on mayoral control, prompting a fresh wave of Republican criticism.

“I know personally he’s come after myself and I have an awful lot of questions I would have loved to ask him,” said Sen. Terrence Murphy, a Republican from Yorktown. “He is the mayor of New York City. He said he would come to these hearings and he’s not showing up.”

In the Assembly, lawmakers on Tuesday approved a three-year extension of mayoral control. The Democratic conference there has generally backed de Blasio and Speaker Carl Heastie says the relationship remains strong. Democrats point out the last time mayoral control was up for renewal under Michael Bloomberg, the issue was far less contentious on the GOP side of the aisle.

“The mayor’s agenda is pretty much in line with the Democratic conference members who represent Albany,” Heastie said. “It’s not an issue. He’s been attempting to communicate more with the members and I think everything is fine.”

So much of the agenda at the state Capitol hinges on what is needed or not for New York City. And de Blasio’s predecessors have been stymied by Albany’s byzantine way of doing business.

But complicating things for the mayor has been his relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo. Even in good times it has been strained. Now, de Blasio has hinted that Cuomo leaked a critical Board of Elections memo recommending prosecution for his helping Senate Democrats. The governor responded to those claims sarcastically.

“It may be a grand conspiracy against him. But then the U.S. attorney, the attorney general of the state of New York, the Manhattan district attorney are all part of a conspiracy.

NYSUT Lobbies For GENDA

Members of the New York State United Teachers union are at the Capitol on Tuesday to lobby for a package of measures aimed at strengthening anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measures include lobbying for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would prevent housing and workplace discrimination based on gender identity. The broad contours of GENDA have been included in regulations by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, but lawmakers and advocates say the measures need the force of law behind them.

The advocacy from the state’s umbrella teachers union comes as President Obama’s administration in a letter directed school districts across the country to provide bathroom and locker room access to students based on their gender identity, a move that’s been cheered by transgender advocates, but staunchly criticized by conservatives.

“There is absolutely no room in our society for discrimination of any kind, most especially in our schools,” said NYSUT President Karen Magee. “Classrooms should be sanctuaries and we must ensure that students feel safe at all times — safe from physical harm and unfair treatment in the knowledge that they can be themselves regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In addition to pushing GENDA, NYSUT is also backing a bill that would block so-called “conversion therapy” of sexual orientation and gender identity as well as a measure that recognizes the legitimacy of children born with help from reproductive technology. The latter bill legalizes surrogate parenting contracts as well.

Gridlock Creeps Up On Ethics Bills

From the Morning Memo:

When it comes to passing new ethics legislation, the g word is slipping into the Legislature: Gridlock. Lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly differ on a range of anti-corruption measures, including an amendment that would strip those convicted of corruption of their pension.

“Staffs are speaking. We’re hoping to get it done,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday morning. “I think there’s a willingness from all sides including the governor to get that done.”

Only Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan says those talks ended last year, when his chamber approved their own pension forfeiture measure. The Assembly would later approved a different version. No agreement has been reached on what polls have shown to be a broadly popular proposal.

“What we passed was the right thing in part because it’s good public policy,” he said. “More importantly, it’s the deal we agreed to and we kept our part of the bargain.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011 pledging to end legislative gridlock, and over the last several years piled up a series of accomplishments that include on time and timely budgets, a shift from the years in which budgets would be routinely stretched into the summer.

At the same time, ethics legislation has been approved nearly every year Cuomo has been governor.

Cuomo has sought to make both both forfeiture and the closure of the liability limited corporation loophole in state election law priorities before the end of the legislative session.

Senate Democrats are once again pushing a closure of a loophole in state election law that allows donors to give unlimited campaign donations through LLCs, a measure Republicans bottled up in committee earlier this month.

“I think this loophole and peoples’ increasing lack of faith in state government are certainly tied together,” said Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Democrat from Brooklyn.

But Republicans have their own proposal: Increase penalties on those who seek to subvert campaign finance laws and donor limits through county committees, which is believed to be part of an investigation surrounding New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Democrats call the measure a distraction.

“There is no diversion at all,” said the measure’s main sponsor, Sen. Terrence Murphy. “This is actually breaking the law. My bill is for people to have some skin in the game who are actually breaking the law.”

And yet through it all, lawmakers insist the broadening investigations won’t impact their ability to approve bills.

“I don’t think it affects anybody’s mood or morale,” Heastie said. “We have a responsibility. We have 15 days left in the session and we know we have work to get done.”

With Investigations Looming, A Slog In Store

From the Morning Memo:

It’s been anything but typical this month in Albany as lawmakers stare down the final weeks of the legislative session.

Once again, the specter of federal investigations hang over Albany and, this time, City Hall as well as subpoenas seeking more information on the very business of political fundraising and economic development.

That U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has seemingly moved the goal posts in what constitutes quid pro quo has given little comfort state officials as both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his erstwhile counterpart, ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, were sentenced to prison this month in separate corruption cases.

Now, the possibility of more indictments and more arrests from Bharara’s office once again threaten to upend the legislative session.

Still, lawmakers insist the budget was an unusually productive document — especially for Assembly Democrats.

“Will the second half be as rewarding to me as the first half with the great things in the great budget? I don’t know,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “That’s more for people to respond to.”

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have emerged on the record with several clear items on their agenda now through the middle part of June: A package of bills aimed at combatting heroin addiction and the renewal of the 421a tax abatement, which expired last year.

For the real-estate abatement, lawmakers will likely tread lightly, given the watchful eye of federal investigators of measures that pass aiding generous campaign donors, in this case the real-estate industry.

Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate, pointed to the anti-heroin legislation as a likely source of compromise for the Legislature.

“We have a heroin epidemic in New York State. So I think we want to put together a robust plan to fight the epidemic,” Klein said. “That’s something I’m hopeful we will be able to accomplish before the end of the session.”

Oh, and there’s the renewal of mayoral control of New York City schools, a policy that has been called into doubt by Senate Republicans to once again entrust to Mayor Bill de Blasio, their political enemy now under investigation in part for aiding Democratic candidates in 2014.

“While it is lofty to be aspirational about what is going to happen for the next generation, I’d like to know what is going on with this generation,” said state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “Because the parents of those children? They don’t want to see the template for the next group. They want to see what is happening to their children.”