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.

Gipson To Cuomo: Call Lawmakers Back To Albany

From the Morning Memo:

The 2016 legislative session is in the history books and state lawmakers are unlikely to return before Election Day in November.

But former Sen. Terry Gipson, a Democrat who is running for the seat he lost in 2014 to Republican Sue Serino, is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call state lawmakers back to Albany and take up ethics reform this year.

In an open letter released on Tuesday, Gipson called for a special session to deal with ethics and campaign finance legislation, namely the closing of the loophole in state election that allows for unlimited donations to flow from a web of limited liability companies.

“Governor Cuomo, you have the constitutional power to call the Legislature back for a special session,” Gipson wrote in the letter.

“You can keep them in Albany until they take the corrupting influence of big corporate money seriously and close the LLC loophole that currently allows corporations to contribute unlimited sums of money into our political system. New Yorkers overwhelmingly support these reforms, and they want it done now.”

Forcing lawmakers to return to Albany wouldn’t necessarily guarantee action and the LLC loophole measure, particularly in the state Senate, has been an especially contentious issue.

Cuomo earlier this month released a “menu” of options for closing the LLC loophole, submitting bills that would impact legislative races, statewide candidates or just the governor’s race.

Last week, lawmakers did back legislation designed to provide better oversight of independent expenditure committees when it comes to coordination with candidate campaign committees.

But after a year of scandal that saw both former legislative leaders convicted of corruption, Gipson insisted more has to be done.

“Both Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were empowered by millions of dollars in corporate contributions and illegal schemes to enrich themselves and their families,” he wrote. “Even this failed to inspire our current legislative leaders to take campaign finance reform seriously.”

The Mayors And The End Of Session

From the Morning Memo:

Two mayors who Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been at odds with over the last several years released the seemingly usual perfunctory statements this weekend reacting to the end of the legislative session.

But the statements were notable for not mentioning one person: Cuomo himself.

In a statement from Mayor Bill de Blasio, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and his Democratic conference was praised for their stance on mayoral control, which at backing a three-year extension with no changes, was no different than Cuomo’s public stance.

“With the leadership and commitment of Speaker Heastie and his Assembly colleagues, New York City secured a series of important State commitments that will improve lives across our five boroughs,” de Blasio said in a statement.

“Preserving mayoral control of schools will ensure progress continues for 1.1 million students,” he continued. “While one-year extensions are no way to treat our children, families or educators, this action is a crucial acknowledgment by State lawmakers that the education progress we have made in New York City could not have happened without our accountable control of the school system.”

Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse was less sanguine when reacting to what she felt was lackluster ethics reform agreements at the Capitol.

The measures agreed to on Friday night included the first passage of a constitutional amendment for pension forfeiture of corrupt elected officials and policy makers, an effort to crack down on independent expenditure committees and new disclosure requirements for lobbyists and political constants.

For Miner, a former state Democratic Committee co-chair under Cuomo whose relationship with the governor has soured, the provisions do little to restore confidence of the voters in the wake of the convictions of both legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, on corruption charges.

“Few would argue that a crisis of corruption doesn’t grip our state capitol. Just weeks ago, a Siena College poll found that 96% of New York voters considered it “very important” or “somewhat important” to pass new laws addressing political corruption this year,” she said. “Yet when it came to important ethics reforms, a failure of leadership resulted in this year’s session ending with a whimper of cynical distractions and half measures.”

“Sadly, little was accomplished that would begin to restore a modicum of faith in Albany.”

5 Things To Watch For On The Last Day Of Session

From the Morning Memo:

It’s the final scheduled day of the legislative session in Albany, and state lawmakers (as well as their staffs) have a very long day ahead of them.

Key issues remain unresolved, while agreed-to bills have aged and need to be voted on today.

Here are five things to watch for today:

1. What shape will mayoral control take?

It’s choose your own adventure time for mayoral control of New York City schools. Realistically, the program is almost certain to be re-approved before both chambers leave for the rest of the year. And the current options include a one-year straight extension, a three-year deadline without the “bells and whistles” of other proposals such as the education tax credit, and a the three-year straight extension as favored by Assembly Democrats and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Albany is waiting to see who blinks first on the issue. Senate Republicans have two bills for extending mayoral control — a 12-month extension, plus oversight from the governor’s office and a three-year measure that includes a range of education issues deemed non-starters from Democratic lawmakers.

Senate Republicans could very well try to jam the Assembly and pass both of their mayoral control bills and leave, forcing the other chamber to pick one.

Observers expect mayoral control debate goes right to midnight, with a message of necessity from Cuomo and a quick approval in the early hours of Friday morning.

2. What happens to pension forfeiture?

Do lawmakers have a deal on a constitutional amendment for pension forfeiture, or don’t they? What is considered low-hanging fruit by good-government advocates remains a heavy lift for the Legislature.

A meeting with the legislative leaders on Wednesday afternoon concluded with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Senate IDC Leader Jeff Klein hopeful the Assembly would pass a version similar to the Senate’s amendment that has languished over concerns the language was too broadly written. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not comment to reporters, exiting the meeting to say only there was no news.

Public-sector labor unions quickly went to work expressing anger over the potential agreement for the pension amendment on Wednesday evening.

Still, as one lawmaker pointed out, the unions could always have lobbied the Senate to back the more narrowly written Assembly version of the amendment.

Marginal lawmakers running tough re-election races this fall, however, are eager to see something, anything done on ethics and anti-corruption reform in Albany after the parade of high-profile arrests and convictions at the Capitol.

3. What gets linked?

Well, everything and nothing are linked on Planet Albany until it is all wrapped under one package.

There was some talk in the Assembly on Wednesday night the pension forfeiture amendment would be linked to a more Democratic-pleasing mayoral control measure. Not everyone was happy with that trade. Assembly Democrats haven’t been crazy, historically, about mayoral control, which began under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

But as one lawmaker put it, there shouldn’t be linkage on an issue like ethics. “That’s what’s getting people in trouble here in the first place,” the lawmaker said.

4. Bet on fantasy sports?

It’s a game of skill to figure out where this one lands as an army of lobbyists from racinos (opposed) and retired quarterbacks (support) have been deployed to the Capitol to lobby on the issue of legalizing daily fantasy sports.

Lawmakers appeared edging toward a deal on Wednesday, with Senate Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman John Bonacic insisting there was a three-way deal after the Legislature accepted “technical” amendments recommended by the governor’s office for the bill, including applying a fee to year-round leagues.

One factor in the discussions has been concerns raised by labor unions, who fear the loss of jobs from casino-based businesses should fantasy sports be allowed.

5. Who can claim victories?

That’s always the trick in these days of the session and Cuomo has shown a willingness, if not a desire, to paint everyone as a winner. A budget that includes something for everyone. A post-budget session whose trade offs serve a variety of needs.

But with the issues so comparatively mundane (extending a program, the first passage of a constitutional amendment), lawmakers and Cuomo are in effect fighting over a shrinking pie.

Mayoral Control Remains Sticking Point

Mayoral control of New York City school remains a major sticking point for lawmakers at the Capitol on Wednesday, a day before the legislative session concludes for the year.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for more than an hour on Wednesday at midday, saying little on the state of negotiations among the key outstanding issues.

“We made progress on things you all know about,” Flanagan said after the meeting while listing a range of already agreed-to measures. “But no final resolution on the big issues.”

Flanagan told reporters after the meeting the Senate was sticking with “our bill” on mayoral control.

The Senate GOP has actually presented two bills, one that would provide for 12-month extension, plus oversight from the governor’s office.

A second bill from the Senate released on Monday night would provide for a three-year deadline, along with a range of education measures deemed unacceptable by Assembly Democrats and Heastie, such as an education tax credit.

Heastie rejected the bill on Tuesday, calling it a non-starter.

“It would be good if everybody negotiated, got down to brass tacks, sat down at the negotiating table,” said Sen. Carl Marcellino, the Education Committee chairman. “And instead of talking to you guys, they should be talking to us.”