SOP Live Dec. 2

On this episode of State of Politics:

Nick Reisman and guest Casey Seiler from the Albany Times Union discuss —

  • The potential for a special session.
  • The debate over a legislative pay raise and term limits.
  • The ongoing fight over control of the state Senate.

Watch it here.

So Just How Quickly Would Those Amendments Take Effect?

As he raised concerns over the sweeping changes to state government through a pair of constitutional amendments proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a statement pointed to the relative short window of time debate would be held over term limits and creating a full-time Legislature that bans outside income.

But just how long is that window?

Actually, quite longer than it has been initially portrayed.

Let’s go to the state Constitution, specifically Article XIX.

The common short hand is that constitutional amendments must be approved be two separately elected sessions of the Legislature and then it by voters in a referendum before being made law.

At first blush, this would mean a fast timetable: The Legislature approves the amendments in a potential special session this month and then by the newly elected (or re-elected) lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly by January, with a referendum in the fall of 2017.

But that’s not the case, according to the constitution, which stipulates the amendment must be “referred to the next regular legislative session convening after the succeeding general election of members of the assembly.”

In other words, the next time the Legislature would consider second passage is after the 2018 elections, or the 2019 legislative session.

This gives everyone some significant wiggle room on both term limits and the push for an outside income ban (and, potentially, more leverage).

A hat tip is in order to Casey Seiler, who received a call on this earlier and brought it to my attention.

Lawmakers Split On Key Issues In Potential Special Session

From the Morning Memo:

As talk continues about a potential special December session of the New York State Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting a push to unify Democrats in the fractious state Senate before next year’s session.

“I feeling strongly that Governor Cuomo can’t let the Republican Party and Donald Trump steal the New York state Senate,” said state Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan.

The chamber is controlled by Republicans, but Democrats in the Senate were buoyed after a paper ballot count left their candidate in a Long Island Senate race with a 41 vote advantage, potentially giving them a 32-person majority. They would still need the seven-member Independent Democrats to come on board, as well as Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder.

Emotions on all sides continue to run high.

“It’s clear there are some personal differences and personal hostilities that are difficult for people, but I think it’s the moment in time people have to get past that,” said Karen Scharff, the executive director of Citizen Action.

For Cuomo, the push and pull in the Senate is a sideshow compared to his efforts to engineer a special session that could result in the passage of constitutional amendments creating a full-time Legislature, term limits for elected officials and a reconstituted pay commission for lawmakers, who insist none of these items should be linked.

“The speaker is right that we have to be careful about the horsetrading. The pay has to be taken on its own merits,” said Assemblymember Pat Fahy, an Albany Democrat.

Assembly Democrats remain skeptical of the term limit proposal, which could benefit Senate Republicans, but are receptive to a full-time Legislature.

“I think there’s some merit to making the Legislature a full-time body. I know it’s a seven day-a-week job for me,” Fahy said. “You can never be away from your emails. You can never be away from keeping up on your constituent matters.”

It’s the opposite in the Senate, where Republicans who control the chamber have been opposed to a “professional” body, but receptive to term limits.

Over the last two days, the Cuomo administration, Senate Democrats, the Independent Democratic Conference and Assembly Democrats have exchanged increasingly harsh statements over the state of negotiations surrounding a potential special session, as a potential pay raise hangs in the balance.

“You do see some of the bickering,” said Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan, “and I think it highlights the very reason why there shouldn’t be politics involved in discussion with legislators salaries.”

Enviros Sue To Block Nuclear Subsidy (Updated)

Two environmental groups are suing to block the state from enacting a subsidy aimed at bolstering nuclear power in New York.

The groups, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and Goshen Green Farms, is challenging the provision by arguing the state Public Service Commission acted improperly when backing the subsidy, pointing to a “deceptive and opaque process” that resulted in its approval.

The move was hailed by the Stop the Cuomo Tax, a coalition of good-government groups and environmentalists who have pushed back against the subsidy on the grounds that it will increase power costs.

“New York ratepayers could be the big winners if this action blocks the Cuomo Administration’s plan to hike electricity bills by a whopping $7.6 billion,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG.

The subsidy is part of the broader Clean Energy Standard package backed the governor which is aimed at transitioning the state to renewable energies like wind and solar.

The Cuomo administration has defended the nuclear subsidy and has blasted the effort to reject the effort as a “cheap stunt.” The overall has clean energy push has been put together, Cuomo’s office argues, as a means of combating climate change in the state.

The subsidy was added as part of an effort to prevent the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant from closing in Oswego County by facilitating a sale to Exelon Corp.

Updated: The PSC released a statement.

“Clearwater’s opposition to nuclear energy is based on ideology, not reality and ignores the many benefits these upstate nuclear plants provide,” said spokesman Jon Sorensen. “Our Zero Emission Credit plan is a cheaper, sensible way to have the existing carbon-free nuke fleet serve as a bridge to renewables as opposed to importing fracked gas and using dirty oil.”

New Lawsuit Against Cuomo%27s Nuclear Bailout by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Not Guilty Pleas Entered In Bid-Rigging Case

From our colleagues at TWC News:

The eight high-profile men accused in an alleged bribery and bid-rigging scheme pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday morning.

Among them is former Cuomo aide Joe Percoco and former SUNY Poly head Alain Kaloyeros, as well as prominent developers from the Buffalo and Syracuse area.

The alleged scheme involved major economic development projects across the state.

United States Attorney Preet Bharara named the group in a criminal complaint a couple weeks ago.

It is the latest in a growing string of corruption cases that Bharara’s office has investigated.

SUNY Chancellor Faces Affordability Questions

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers on Wednesday raised concerns with the debt load that graduates of New York’s public university system are saddled with: $25,000 on average.

“I think that the amount of loan debt students are going out from public university is still a pretty shocking number,” said Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, an Ithaca Democrat.

While not as high as the average debt taken on by graduates of private colleges, state lawmakers are worried that SUNY grads may still be hobbled by the burden into early adulthood.

“The data is showing that students are out there trying to work, they’re not out there buying a car and they’re not buying their first home,” Lifton said. “It’s not good for them, their personal situations or their families.”

Testifying for three hours on Wednesday before the Assembly panel, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher defended how SUNY officials have helped students manage costs.

“We still can manage the cost of college by bringing down the time students spend, by making sure they stay on track, by making them more financially literate,” Zimpher said.

The hearing came before SUNY officials later in the day formally backed a multi-tiered tuition increase for college campuses, a move they say provides more flexibility.

“The point we’ve been trying to make since NY SUNY 2020 sunsetted is that a policy that allows students to predict the cost of college is best managed in the hands of the Board of Trustee,” she said.

Lawmakers had been hesitant to grant the board power to raise tuition or allow individual campuses to do so — part of the now-expired SUNY 2020 program. But Zimpher says the tuition arrangement made for predictability for students and their parents.

“Rational meant that we keep it under a lid, a $300 lid, it would be predictable, and with the maintenance of effort it wouldn’t be susceptible to cuts,” Zimpher said.

Zimpher is set to leave the chancellor post in June and a search for her replacement is currently underway.

Confirming Amendments Push, Cuomo’s Office Says Ball In Legislature’s Court

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Wednesday night formally confirmed the push for a pair of constitutional amendments that would ban outside income and term limit the state Legislature as talk of a special session before the end of the year heats up.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, meanwhile, insisted in a statement — as he has done repeatedly — that no measures should be linked to a legislative pay raise.

Cuomo outlined earlier in the day what he would like from a special session of the Legislature: approval of $2 billion in affordable housing, procurement reform and the funding of a hate crimes task force.

At the same time, Cuomo said lawmakers could return to re-authorize the existence of a commission that could recommend a pay increase. Cuomo’s appointees back a “modest” pay increase for the Legislature or, baring action on ethics reform, a significant hike.

“The Governor is most interested in having the people’s business attended to and believes if there is to be a special session the legislators should do more than merely reauthorize a committee to consider their pay raise,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in a statement.

The constitutional amendments, as laid out by Cuomo’s office in the evening statement, would create a four-year legislative term, essentially limit legislators to two terms. Statewide elected official would limited to eight years as would new members of the Legislature.

The amendment would also extend “the life of the Pay Commission until post Constitutional Amendments determinations.”

Meanwhile, there’s a new chair of the pay commission, Cuomo’s office announced, suggesting the panel isn’t quite dead yet.

“The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is appointing a new Chair of the Commission, former Judge Leo Milonas,” Azzopardi said. “It is now up to the legislature to decide what they want to do.”

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, meanwhile insisted no linkage should be made in any special session to what lawmakers view as disparate and distinct issues.

“As I have said many, many times, we are simply not going to trade a pay raise for any piece of legislation. That is wildly inappropriate and I cannot be any clearer on this subject. That said, we have had a number of conversations on issues important to the people of New York,” Heastie said.

The speaker at the same time said a number of a measures that Cuomo has raised haven’t been discussed.

“However, there are items that the Governor has spoken about that have never been brought to my attention,” he said. “These items include significant issues that go to the very heart of our system of government and they cannot be considered on a whim. I have no idea who the Governor is speaking to about these issues, but it certainly isn’t me. The Governor is entitled to his wish list about how he wants to see the world, but the Legislature is a co-equal branch of government and must be respected.”

Source: Lawmakers Face Two Options

State lawmakers face two options this month should they return to Albany for a special session.

In one scenario, lawmakers could come back, pass a package of measures that range from a hate crimes task force to procurement reform and funding for affordable housing while also backing a measure that would reauthorize the standing of a pay commission through the end of the year.

In that scenario, lawmakers would likely receive what Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointees on the commission have said would be a “modest” pay increase, their first since 1998.

In the second scenario, lawmakers in a special session would also pass two constitutional amendments, one limiting them to two, four-year terms and another banning outside income, in effect creating a full-time Legislature.

Under that situation, a “significant” pay increase would be included in the constitutional amendment that bans outside income. Lawmakers currently earn a base $79,500.

That’s all according to a Cuomo source familiar with the ongoing discussions surrounding a potential special session.

The source insisted, however, that none of the items — including procurement reform, the hate crimes task force funding or the affordable housing agreement — are linked to the passage of the term limit and outside income ban amendments.

“There’s no this for that,” the Cuomo source said.

That distinction is deeply important to the legislative leaders.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie earlier this afternoon insisted talks of linking a pay raise in direct exchange for the constitutional amendments was not true.

Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland added in a statement: “We are always willing to discuss issues important to New Yorkers. We are in conference on Monday and will be discussing a wide range of topics. But to reiterate, what was outlined in that article is simply not true.”

The source compared the more expansive choice before the Legislature to what the New York City Council ultimately did: Ban outside employment and set term limits through the blessing of voters and raise their salaries. Constitutional amendments must be approved twice by separately elected sessions of the Legislature and then approved in a referendum by voters.

“Let the people decide,” the source said. “That’s what the City Council did to justify a raise.”

The trade off is apparently this: Assembly Democrats would be satisfied with their first pay increase since 1998, while Senate Republicans are likely more amendable to term limits (they already have set in rules limits to the number of years committee chairs and leaders can serve).

At the same time, the source described the term limit proposal as a “sweetener” given that it would allow lawmakers to not have to immediately run for re-election and fundraise after winning office, while also giving them a grace period to adjust to the potential changes.

All of this would have to come to a head in the coming weeks, and lawmakers have a narrow window of time to do so before vacations begin for some members.

“They have the clock ticking until Dec. 31,” the source said.

Uber: Thousands Upstate Tried To Access App On Thanksgiving Eve

More than 43,000 people outside of New York City tried to access the Uber app to no avail on Thanksgiving eve, considered one of the most popular nights to go to a bar during the year, the ride-hailing company said on Monday.

The statistic is being used by the company to bolster its case that expanding its service would cut down on drunk driving (though it is not entirely clear how many people try to access Uber or similar ride-hailing apps during a given day outside of New York City).

“This Holiday season, millions of Americans have access to a safe, reliable ride home while New Yorkers continue be left stranded by Albany dysfunction,” said Josh Mohrer, General Manager, Uber NY. “In cities and towns where Uber operates, it has proven to help reduce drunk driving incidents. Albany leaders must take action to make New York roads safer and arm people with better transportation options.”

Uber this year its push to expand to upstate New York and the city suburbs after lawmakers in the most recent legislation session failed to reach an agreement on how to provide insurance regulations.

Uber has previously pointed to a Mothers Against Drunk Driving report released in conjunction with the company that more people are likely to make “responsible choices” that cut down on alcohol-related crashes.

Education Reform Group Urges SED To Reject Changes To Violence Tracking

Families for Excellent Schools, a group that backs education reforms and charter schools, is urging the State Education Department to reject changes to a system that tracks violence in schools.

The concern, in part, stems from what the group says will be the classification of some incidents in the same categories as minor offenses.

“By lumping serious assaults and minor altercations into the same incident categories, these changes to VADIR would sweep violent acts under the rug and keep parents in the dark about their children’s safety,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, the group’s CEO. “Thousands of New York City students are still suffering from an ongoing crisis of school violence, and it’s critically important that the Board of Regents move to protect these kids by rejecting the proposed reforms.”

At the same time, Families for Excellent Schools is worried the changes will reduce transparency in reporting.

The changes to the VADIR system being considered by the Board of Regents are currently under review.