No Ethics Reform, But How About A Pay Raise?

capitolsummerFrom the Morning Memo:

Despite the dirty laundry that is airing in the corruption trials of both ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Majority Leader Dean Skelos, state lawmakers are still not expected to approve any tightening of state ethics laws.

“They’ve had time; they’ve had all of the incentive given all of these trials, given all the people who have gone to prison. What they what they don’t have it would appear is a fear from the public that they’re going to get unelected because of any of this that goes on,” said League Of Women Voters Legislative Director Barbara Bartoletti.

Lawmakers did approve new measures designed to have lawmakers disclose more information on their outside business interests earlier in the year. But good-government advocates argue the trials of Skelos and Silver — which have highlighted Albany’s self-dealing and lawmakers use of power to enrich themselves and family — is a sign that more needs to be done.

“You need to change things in Albany,” Bartoletti said. “Everybody says they’re going to be reformers. Everybody says that. Somehow the rhetoric really outpaces what the actual actions are.”

Lawmakers; however, say the cause of corruption is more specific than a lack of strong ethics laws. Namely, it’s the lack of a pay raise in more than 15 years. More >

IG: ‘Extensive Investigation’ Into Prison Break Being Finalized

Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott in a statement on Friday said she was moving toward finalizing an “extensive investigation” into the escape of two convicted killers from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora in June.

The statement comes as the surviving escapee, David Sweat, pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme which, along with Richard Matt, led to one of the largest manhunts in state history.

“David Sweat, as a convicted murderer already serving life in prison, had all the time he needed to manipulate and extort Clinton Correctional’s profound lapses in security procedures,” Scott said in a statement. He recruited assistance from a complicit staff and sawed, chipped and pried his way through the prison’s labyrinthine corridors and ultimately to freedom beyond the walls for himself and another murderer. His brazen actions caused immeasurable harm and fear in the community, endangering the lives of New Yorkers and the brave members of law enforcement who worked tirelessly to effectuate the inmates’ capture.”

Scott pledged the probe into the escape will lead to a “detailed accounting” of what occurred at the prison that led to Matt and Sweat being able to break out.

“I am working to finalize my extensive investigation into the escape and provide the public a detailed accounting of all the actions and systemic failures that permitted two cold-blooded killers to perpetrate this scheme, as well as propose reforms to help ensure New Yorkers are never again subjected to such an event,” she said.

Gottfried: Expedited Program Gives DOH ‘Flexibility’

Medical MarijuanaFrom the Morning Memo:

The measure approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to hasten access to medical marijuana will provide “flexibility” to the state Department of Health should the program not be ready by January, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried said in an interview.

At the same time, Gottfried said there are real concerns about the possibility of the main program not being ready for its January start date.

“I think the department is doing everything within their existing power, but some of the registered organizations are having difficulty getting their dispensaries located with local zoning and the like,” Gottfried said. “I hear there are other registered organizations that have had some rough spots in getting their organization going.”

Still, state officials insisted on Wednesday the program remains on scheduled, despite grumblings from advocates who have closely watched the roll out.

“I can tell you all the registered organizations are growing plants and the medical Marijuana program is still on track to begin as planned (in) January,” said Department of Health spokesman Jim Plastiras

Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and primary sponsor of the expedited medical marijuana bills that Cuomo approved, said the measure could ultimately aid state officials should the main program not be in place. More >

Schumer: State Best Equipped To Review Health Republic

From the Morning Memo:

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer remains concerned over the failure of Health Republic, a co-op in the New York’s health-care exchange, telling reporters on Wednesday that the state should “step up to the plate” to ensure no one loses health care.

“I am worried about the people getting the health care they need,” Schumer said. “I think the state has to step up to the plate and I’ll do anything I can at the federal level to help those people if they lose health care. There are other alternatives, but they might not be as cheap and they might not be as comprehensive, but we’ve got to do something to help those people.”

Health Republic is due close amid financial troubles and state officials at the Department of Financial Services moved to auto-enroll into new health plans beyond Nov. 30 should they not pick a new plan.

The move is an effort to ensure continuous coverage beyond the Nov. 30 open enrollment deadline.

At the same time, Republican Rep. Chris Gibson, a potential candidate for governor in 2018, has called for an investigation into Health Republic beyond DFS’s review of the co-op’s financial picture.

Asked if the state was best equipped to handle the investigation, Schumer said it was.

Adirondack Council Launches Digital Ad Campaign

From the Morning Memo:

The Adirondack Council later today will launch a six-figure digital ad campaign that is aimed at backing an expansion of the Adirondack Park’s High Peaks Wilderness Area.

The campaign, called “BeWildNY,” comes as an expansion in the park would include 35,000 acres of soon to be or newly purchased lands, including most of the Boreas tract, MacIntyre East and most of the parcels in the MacIntyre West, along with other lands and waters.

All of the new areas being purchases touch the boundary of existing areas that have been designated as wilderness areas.

All told the expanded wilderness would be connected to the Dix Mountain Wilderness area, which would create a single motor-free area of more than 280,000 acres.

The campaign, which will launch in the Albany and North Country markets, will be aimed at highlighting the issue of the expansion and land purchases, which can be controversial among the park’s year-round residents and elected officials.

The push also includes the launch of a website in addition to the paid digital media offerings elsewhere.

“These first few weeks will help gauge the initial reaction to the campaign, so we can adjust any elements to maximize reach,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway. “The print and video elements will come later.”

The campaign is coupled with a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who has backed major land purchases and wilderness preservations during his time in office — urging him to back the Dix Mountain Wilderness expansion.

“You have an extraordinary opportunity to create a true national legacy, an Adirondack wilderness area here in New York whose scale and positive impacts will rival some of the most famous conservation landmarks in the world,” the letter to Cuomo states.

Legislature To Meet 57 Days In 2016

The Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly is scheduled to meet 57 days in 2016, according to the newly released legislative calendar.

The calendar shows two four-day day weeks in March during the height of the budget season, with the spending plan due March 31.

The first day of session, as per the law, is Jan. 6, which is also the day of the State of the State address by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The final day is scheduled for June 16.

Lawmakers have a two-week break in April before returning May 3.

Legislative Calendar by Nick Reisman

1199 SEIU Losing Longtime Political Director

From the Morning Memo:

Kevin Finnegan, who has served as the political director for powerhouse health care workers union 1199 SEIU for the past seven years, confirmed yesterday that he plans to soon leave the post, but won’t depart until after his replacement is found and settled into the job.

Finnegan said he will return to the New York City law firm where he is a partner, Levy Ratner, which specializes in labor issues, but he has no idea exactly when his last day on the job with 1199 will be.

“I’ve been thinking about leaving and talking about leaving for the past two years,” Finnegan said during a brief phone interview. “I just want to move on.”

“But I’ll stay around as long as they need me, and I’m not going far…I expect, depending on who they finally decide on, that I may be spending just as much time in Albany as I usually do – at least this year.”

Finnegan long served as the general counsel to the labor-backed Working Families Party, and served several times as the party’s placeholder candidate for NYC mayor while officials worked out their endorsement issues. He said he remains particularly dedicated to the “Fight for $15″ campaign, and will see it through – either from his current post with 1199, or from his law firm. More >

Gibson: DFS Probe of Health Republic ‘Not Satisfactory’

From the Morning Memo:

The state Department of Financial Services investigation into the imminent demise of the Health Republic co-op is a good first step, Rep. Chris Gibson says, but does not replace the need for an independent, outside review of the type he first called for last week.

“It’s not satisfactory in my view,” the Republican congressman said during a CapTon interview last night. “The fact that DFS is looking into Health Republic makes sense to me, and that’s part of their responsibilities, but we need to know more than that…Given the gravity of this situation, there needs to be an independent review of the oversight responsibilities here.”

During a conference call with reporters last week, Gibson asked state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to look into Health Republic’s financial woes, which are causing the shutdown of the nation’s largest health care insurance co-op, leaving some 200,000 New Yorkers – including 20,000 of his constituents – scrambling for coverage.

Asked whether DiNapoli will heed the congressman’s call, a spokesman said the comptroller’s office is “closely monitoring state and federal inquiries into this matter,” adding: “We’ve communicated with federal officials and stand ready to assist.”

The Cuomo administration announced over the weekend that the deadline for those impacted by Health Republic’s closure to sign up for new coverage has been extended to Nov. 30, and DFS will be examining how this mess came to be. More >

DFS Investigating Co-Op Health Republic

From the Morning Memo:

State officials on Sunday announced new steps designed to preserve those who enrolled in insurance coverage through Health Republic, a co-op in the state’s health exchange that is due to close after financial troubles.

The Department of Financial Services and the New York State of Health (the insurance marketplace) in a statement said those customers enrolled through Health Republican will be auto-enrolled into new health plans beyond Nov. 30 should they not pick a new plan.

The move is an effort to ensure continuous coverage beyond the Nov. 30 open enrollment deadline.

At the same time, the Department of Financial Services — which regulates the insurance industry – is investigating the co-ops claims made to the state about its financial conditions.

DFS says state regulators on Oct.30 found the company’s finances were “substantially worse” than what was initially reported.

“We will continue to take aggressive action to protect consumers in the wake of Health Republic’s failure,” said Acting Superintendent Anthony Albanese. “The extended deadline and auto-enrollment option are important steps in helping ensure the company’s customers do not go without insurance. Additionally, while our first and primary focus is protecting consumers, we are also investigating the inaccurate representations Health Republic made to the State about its financial condition.”

The failure of Health Republic had become a political issue as well: Republican Rep. Chris Gibson, a potential candidate for governor in 2018, criticized the state’s handling of the co-op’s oversight in a press call with reporters last week.

NYSUT All In On Fight for $15

From the Morning Memo:

The statewide teacher’s union, NYSUT, is doubling down on its support for a statewide $15-an-hour minimum wage boost, even as school business officials warn that the increase would put districts in a financial bind and could even cost jobs.

“Unions and coalition groups across New York State have announced a push for $15 for all workers. It is essential that we all stand together and show our solidarity,” the union wrote to its members in an “action” notice on its website. “Join NYSUT’s $15 for Everyone movement!”

NYSUT is planning a series of “$15 for Everyone” rallies across the state next Tuesday, with events scheduled for Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, New York City, Binghamton, Poughkeepsie and Kingston.

The state Association of School Business Officials recently said that while the governor’s minimum wage push is well meaning, it could put added pressure on already cash-strapped districts, which employ thousands of minimum wage workers and have difficulty raising revenue on their own thanks to the tax cap.

A statewide minimum wage increase would cost districts an estimated $276 million, according to the association, which surveyed its members on the subject.

That would translated into an average property tax hike of 2.6 percent – unless the state ponies up more education aid to help districts cover the additional cost.

Increasing aid – specifically through finally fully funding the CFE settlement – is exactly what NYSUT wants to see the state do, according to union spokesman Carl Korn.

NYSUT would also like the Cuomo administration to relent on the issue of the tax cap, approving changes that make it easier for districts to break it if necessary without requiring approval from a supermajority of voters.

“Depending on how you do the math, they’re approximately $5 billion behind in funding CFE,” Korn said. “And the tax cap has proved not only undemocratic but unworkable. It strips away local control from New Yorkers who may want to invest more in their schools and in the people who are the foundation of their schools.” More >