Albany

Kavanagh Wins Manhattan Dems, Cuomo Support

The following is from NY1’s Zack Fink. For a more detailed look at the ins and outs of the vote, click here to see his tweets from yesterday.

Democratic Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh is expected to fill the Lower Manhattan state Senate seat vacated by ex-Sen. Daniel Squadron in a yet-to-be-called special election, though he did not secure the lion’s share of the vote when members of the Manhattan Democratic Committee gathered to select a candidate.

District Leader Paul Newell, who ran an unsuccessful primary challenge to then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in 2008 and also lost a bid for Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016, received more votes.

But Kavanagh is expected to have the support of Brooklyn Democratic Party leaders, and that should be enough to secure him the nomination.

The 26h Senate District seat straddles both New York and Kings’ counties. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Comptroller Scott stringer and NYC Public Advocate Letitia James have endorsed Kavanagh for the seat, which is safely Democratic, and won’t be a factor in the upcoming rematch over control of the Senate chamber.

There were other contenders for Squadron’s seat, but they bowed out, creating a two-man contest between Newell and Kavanagh. Over the weekend, the assemblyman received the support from the Brooklyn Democratic Party, though the reform New Kings Democrats members are supporting Newell.

Squadron’s abrupt retirement last month took Democrats by surprise, though he had made no secret of his desire to depart Albany, and ran unsuccessfully for NYC public advocate in 2013.

His departure left a vacancy that likely will be filled by a special election called by the governor, who has not yet selected a date, but is expected to announce the contest will run concurrent with the upcoming general election in November.

After yesterday’s vote, Kavanagh’s campaign released a statement announcing that the assemblyman had secured the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his Senate bid.

“We need leaders in the state Senate who will fight for a more progressive future for New York, and I’m proud to endorse Brian Kavanagh for the 26th state Senate district,” Cuomo wrote.

“In the Assembly, Brian has been a relentless advocate for all New Yorkers, working diligently to get illegal guns off our streets, protect our environment, and preserve affordable housing.”

“Now, as the next state Senator for Manhattan and Brooklyn, I know Brian will work with me to continue New York’s proud tradition as the progressive capital of our country. Brian has my full support.”

Cuomo has come under fire from the left wing of the Democratic Party and its allies in the Working Families Party who do not believe he has done enough to assist the so-called regular Democrats in reuniting with the breakaway, eight-member IDC faction to help them re-take the majority in the Senate.

Pressure on Cuomo to help assure a Democratic majority in the Senate has grown as speculation mounts that the is considering a potential White House run in 2020.

There is likely to be a sizable Democratic field interested in taking on President Donald Trump, and if Cuomo gets into a Democratic primary situation, he’ll face the sort of true believing voters who are informed about things like Senate control and the governor’s history of endorsing – or failing to endorse – fellow Democrats in his home state.

Unemployment Shrinks, But Growth Has Been Uneven

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo first took office in 2011, he set the goal of reviving the state economy; especially the upstate region, which had been mired in stagnation even before the 2008 recession.

“My colleagues in the Legislature and I had many discussions early on that we had to do something about the economy, we had to do something about the economy of upstate New York,” said Cuomo, D-New York.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office this week found the state’s overall employment is at its highest level ever, with more than 9.1 million people working, but job growth hasn’t been spread evenly.

“We’ve been watching this data pretty carefully for years and it really helps shape our legislative agenda, so it’s not a surprise to us,” said Ken Pokalsky, a vice president at the Business Council.

Upstate New York has largely lagged behind the New York City metropolitan region, failing to grow at the same rate as the rest of the country in the recovery after the recession.

Upstate New York has largely lagged behind the New York City metropolitan region, failing to grow at the same rate as the rest of the country in the recovery after the recession. Many upstate counties show low rates of unemployment, but that can be misleading due to the de-population of the region.

“What that really shows is that the number of jobs isn’t growing, but the labor force has been shrinking,” Pokalsky said. “Unemployment rate looks good, but it really isn’t evidence of economic growth.”

The struggles of upstate New York have made New York City all the more important to the overall economic health of the state.

“New York City is really the economic engine that drives New York state, no doubt about it,” he said. “So, it’s great to see our major metropolitan region doing well.”

And that report from DiNapoli’s office also found 24 percent of New York workers belong to a labor union — the highest participation rate of any state and more than double the national rate.

Court Of Appeals Upholds Ban On Doctor-Assisted Suicide

New York’s ban on physician-assisted suicide was upheld by the state’s top court in a ruling issued on Thursday which found the measure does not violate constitutional rights.

The state Court of Appeals found in a 5-0 decision the so-called “aid in dying” was not a basic right in the constitution, nor does it violate due process.

“Although New York has long recognized a competent adult’s right to forgo life-saving medical care, we reject plaintiffs’ argument that an individual has a fundamental constitutional right to aid-in-dying as they define it,” the ruling stated.

“We also reject plaintiff’s assertion that the state’s prohibition on assisted suicide is not rationally related to legitimate state interests.”

The ruling was celebrated by the Catholic Church and social conservatives who oppose aid in dying legislation in the Legislature.

“The decision is a significant victory for those who would be most at risk of abuse and most susceptible to pressure to take their own lives, including the isolated elderly, persons with disabilities, and those who are depressed and overcome with hopelessness,” said Kathleen Gallagher of the New York State Catholic Conference.

The Rev. Jason McGuire, of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, said the ruling “will save lives.”

“All New Yorkers should cheer today’s decision in the case of Myers v. Schneiderman. Confronted with a controversial and emotionally charged case, the New York Court of Appeals has done the right thing in declining the plaintiffs’ invitation to legislate from the bench,” he said.

Pension Rate Decline Will Give Some Relief, But Not A Lot

From the Morning Memo:

Local governments are getting a measure of relief when putting together their budgets, as the average contribution rates they pay for pension benefits will decline. But taxpayers may not notice the difference.

“I don’t think it’s going to impact taxes in terms of being able to lower taxes,” said Peter Baynes, the executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors. “It’s certainly going to be able to bring some slight measure of relief or margin when local governments are putting their budgets together.”

Pension costs are among the top drivers of a local government’s budget. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli last week announced the average percentage of a local government’s payroll will modestly decrease. Local officials still have other challenges, however.

“It’s a real significant piece of a budget. To have it level off or go down would be good, but it’s not a panacea by a longshot,” Baynes said.

Local governments and school districts say the challenges include a cap on local property tax increases which has been linked to the rate of inflation, put in place to control the nation’s highest levies in 2011.

Local governments and school districts have largely approved spending plans that budget within the cap, but that could change.

“It is good news on the pension side, but they are going to have to budget very carefully to stay under that cap this year,” said New York School Boards Association spokesman David Albert. “It remains to be seen; we may see a few more override attempts.”

Added to the mix for school districts is increased costs for health care insurance due to rise, which is not expected to be offset by the lowered pension bill.

“So while we’re seeing a decrease in one component of personnel costs, pensions, we’re seeing an increase in health insurance costs,” said Albert, “and health insurance costs actually comprise about 10 percent of expenditures in a budget.”

During the 1990s, pension rates in many years barely reached a full percentage point; that’s unlikely to ever be the case again.

For Some Races, The Primary Is What Matters

From the Morning Memo:

Voters head to polls Sept. 12 in the state’s largest cities to vote in mayoral primaries, but the drama in some of those contests could be limited to that vote.

“Generally speaking, winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to winning the election,” said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.

That’s because Democrats dominate voter rolls in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and New York City. And in Albany, the GOP doesn’t have a declared candidate. It’s a heavy lift for Republicans in a city historically dominated by Democrats.

“You’d have to have all the right things going for you,” said former Albany County Republican chairman Don Cleary. “You’d have to have an incumbent under indictment; you’d have to have the city just literally in flames.”

And with closed primaries potentially deciding who wins weeks before the general election, that can lead to voter apathy.

“Turnout in New York has been in a slow downward spiral now for decades,” said Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group. “There’s no reason to expect that’s going to change.”

One way of changing that is reforming how elections are held and how voters are registered.

“Make it easier for people to be automatically registered,” Horner said. “You can allow people to register on Election Day. So there are things you can do to enhance the registration opportunities for people who are new to the system.”

But the general election does matter in New York. In addition to several constitutional amendments, voters will consider a referendum for a constitutional convention. It’s unclear what potentially low turnout could mean for that vote.

“It’s hard to say, because the polling has been a little bit across the board in terms of who these ‘con con’ supporters are,” said Greenberg. “It’s not straight upstaters support, downstaters oppose or Democrats oppose and Republicans support.”

A convention vote is held every 20 years and was last approved in 1967.

Watch New York Guardsmen Rescue Harvey Victims

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Wednesday released a video clip of the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York National Guard conducting rescue operations from a helicopter in Texas.

So far, the wing has rescued 345 people.

The state has deployed 119 Airmen along with three HH-60 Pavehawk rescue helicopters, two HC-130 search and rescue aircraft and several boats and watercraft.

The video is pretty stunning:

Tax Reform, Or Shutdown, Could Impact New York

Next month, Congress has a heavy lift in front of it: avoid a federal government shutdown, an outcome that could have a big impact on New York.

“In terms of our overall economy, including here in New York, we don’t see anything good to come out out of it,” said Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. “The state budget — about one out of every three dollars is federal money that would pass through.”

And it’s not just keeping the government running that’s on the to-do list. Congress must also lift the nation’s debt ceiling. Failure to do so could jolt financial markets in New York that have so far not reacted to volatile news.

“I think the markets are going to get skittish, and they’re going to send a message to the folks in Washington that if you’re not going to work together and make progress, that’s going to impact on our financial analysis and ultimately on the markets,” DiNapoli said.

The shutdown threat was raised in part by President Donald Trump, who wants Congress to fund his proposed wall along the Mexican border. Rep. Tom Reed says agreements can be reached.

“We are already working potentially as a group to take a position in a bipartisan way to say ‘we need to govern, we need to keep the lights on and we need to deal with the debt ceiling at the same time,’ ” Reed said. “So I’m very confident we’ll avoid a government shutdown.”

And perhaps most complex of all is a plan to rewrite the nation’s tax code. One proposal would eliminate the deductibility of state and local taxes — a major change.

“State and local taxes have always been deductible,” said Empire Center President EJ McMahon. “The first federal income tax that was temporary during the Civil War had deductibility in it.”

Ending the deductibility would simplify the tax code, but to the detriment of states like New York, New Jersey and California, where taxes are higher than the rest of the country.

“High-taxes states, but really disproportionately, far more than any other states. So that’s going to have big implications for New York,” McMahon said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called the proposal a hostile attack, wile Trump administration officials estimated it could save $96 billion this year.

Group Cheered By Lower Opt-Out Rates

From the Morning Memo:

The lowered rates of students opting out of English and mathematics exams is a “clear trend” toward better participation, a group that has backed education standards found in a report being released on Wednesday.

High Achievement NY’s report reviewed the number of students opting out of the most recent round of testing for grades 3 through 8 in English language arts and math, which overall reduced from 21 percent to 19 percent.

“More important, the vast majority of individual districts across the state, as well as the districts with the largest year-over-year changes, all saw decreases in opt outs,” the report found.

“The clear trend is toward greater participation in the annual Grades 3-8 state ELA and Math assessments, which we only expect to continue as more improvements are made, including continued shortening of testing time and moving toward computerized assessments.”

Meanwhile, 76 percent of districts saw their opt out rates decline.

A more granular assessment of district opt-out rates with maps can be found here.

HANY – Opt Out Data Summary by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Lawsuit To Require Con Con Question Up Front Is Tossed

A lawsuit that challenged the placement of a referendum for a constitutional convention has been tossed by a state judge.

Evan Davis, a former counsel to Gov. Mario Cuomo who filed the suit, said in a statement he plans to appeal the decision.

Davis had filed suit against the state Board of Elections to require the question over whether to hold the convention on the front of the ballot. A supporter of the convention, Davis is challenging the ballot placement given it’s the first time in recent political history the once every 20 year referendum is being put to voters on paper, not lever machines.

“I am disappointed that the Court has declined to order that the Convention Question be on the front of the ballot,” Davis said.

“The Question is mandated by the State Constitution, arises once every 20 years, and consists of only 13 words. When placed on the back of the ballot, too many voters will not see it and will lose their constitutional right to correct state government. I, therefore, plan to appeal directly to the New York Court of Appeals as permitted by state law.”

Con cons, as they are known in Albany, are rarely approved by voters. The last one was backed in 1967, but the resulting convention did not produce any changes to the state’s constitution.

AG Pledges To Bolster Student Loan Oversight

From the Morning Memo:

As college students head back to the classroom this month, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office on Sunday pledged a renewed push to oversee and regulate the student loan industry in New York, where the average debt load is $30,000.

“I won’t allow a generation of New Yorkers to get victimized by the very system that was created to help them get ahead,” Schneiderman’s email states. “I’ve directed my office to aggressively pursue fraud and abuse in the student loan industry, and we are pressing ahead at full speed.”

Schneiderman’s email points to oversight of for-profit colleges — once given up for dead, but are making a comeback under the new Republican administration in Washington — as well as efforts to review practices in student debt collection.

And the AG’s office is reviewing how the U.S. Department of Education is regulating the industry.

“It’s important for New York to step up,” the email states. “When a student loan company breaks the law and misleads thousands of students into taking on loans they can’t afford, that company should be held accountable.”