Oct 26th - 6:45 am
From the Morning Memo:
It’s not an overstatement to call the relationship between the governor and PEF, the state’s second largest public workers union, rocky in recent years.
The last round of contract talks was so acrimonious, in fact, that it contributed to the union’s decision to back Cuomo’s primary opponent, Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout, in 2014 after supporting him in his first gubernatorial run in 2010.
The union also went through its own internal upheaval, ousting its former president, Susan Kent, just three years after she successfully challenged former PEF president Ken Brynien, who had also presided over a contentious – and not terribly successful – round of contract talks with Cuomo.
Wayne Spence, who succeeded Kent, was determined not to make the same mistakes as his predecessors. With yet another contract needing to be negotiated, he vowed to have a “courteous” dialogue with the Cuomo administration, adopting a “catch more bees with honey” approach.
It looks like Spence’s approach worked – for now.
PEF leaders and the Cuomo administration recently announced a three-year contract that provided 2 percent annual raises for union members and no immediate health care cost increases, though there are a number of details that need to be hammered out.
During a Capital Tonight interview last night, Spence said he expects the deal will be approved by the rank-and-file.
Looking ahead, he predicted that while there are still PEF members who are angry with Cuomo, this contract experience may have smoothed ruffled feathers sufficiently for the union to at least consider supporting the governor should he seek a third term in 2018.
“I think now that…we can now have the conversation,” Spence said. “My members are still upset, because the state workforce is still at a 40-year low. This is the first step toward having that conversation, but I can tell you they’re still not happy. They’re not happy.”
“I remember one of my members said to me in Binghamton last week…’If the governor even wants us to have a conversation with him and even consider endorsing him, he better give us something we can live with.'”
“I believe our members were given something they can live with,” Spence continued. “Would they like three percent and everything else? Who wouldn’t. But here’s what they do recognize. This shows that he recognized the union, recognized our sacrifice.”
“What good is a major increase in health insurance, or your salary, if you have to pay a major increase in taxes. Because we’re all taxpayers. So I think this is a nice balance.”
Oct 20th - 9:57 am
School districts in 2017 are being handed a virtually flat property tax cap — a development that will likely force them to rely more on state aid as overrides will likely have limited success, according to an analysis released Thursday by Moody’s Investor Services.
The cap, which limits how much local governments and school districts can raise in property taxes, stands at 0.12 for school districts as a starting point.
“The close-to-flat allowable growth in the tax levy for fiscal 2017 will further deepen the financial challenges facing school districts,” Moody’s found.
“Allowable growth has fallen considerably since the cap was implemented, with the nearly 0% growth in fiscal 2017 further challenging districts already constrained by the cap. The limited growth strains property tax revenue generation, which is the largest revenue source for many districts.”
Attempting to override the cap has been an increasingly popular effort as the number of school districts in the 2017 fiscal year seeking to pierce it doubled it.
But Moody’s notes that while more than three-quarters of the 36 districts voting to override the measure were successful, marshaling the 60 percent of voters to do so remains a “relatively high hurdle.”
“With generally low voter support for piercing the cap, school districts may be forced to reduce fund balance levels to meet rising expenditures in the absence of revenue growth,” Moody’s found.
In some respect, that lack of revenue from taxpayers on the local level has been partially supplemented on the state level. After dipping to $19.5 billion in 2011-12, the state has gradually increased aid to school districts to $23.5 billion.
And it is not all bad news for budget officers at schools. Credit quality is expected to remain “relatively stable” in light of the cap. At the same time, school districts have seen modestly declining contribution rates to the state teacher retirement system.
“Growth in state aid has outpaced levy growth, benefiting less wealthy districts that tend to be more reliant on state funding,” the Moody’s report found. “All districts have received some relief in pension obligations, notably with the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System decreasing contribution rates in fiscal 2016 for the first time in five years.”
The tax cap limits levy growth to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Inflation has been low in the four years since the cap has been place, and some local government and school district advocates have called for a decoupling of the inflation index from the measure — a move Gov. Andrew Cuomo has rejected.
Oct 20th - 7:30 am
From the Morning Memo:
With a bill aimed at curtailing online rental companies like Airbnb in New York City sits on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, a sustained effort is picking up to influence his decision.
Supporters of the bill — including affordable housing advocates and New York City tenants — are emailing Cuomo’s office urging him to sign the bill that would outlaw the advertising of multifamily dwellings on websites, a measure seen as being aimed squarely at Airbnb.
At the same time, advocates have in their first day generated hundreds of calls pushing the bill.
Proponents of the measure insist it is aimed at bolstering affordable housing in New York City and cracking down on so-called illegal hotels advertised online.
“Airbnb has been breaking the laws for years, and lining their pockets at the expense of our affordable housing stock,” said Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC. “They have built a multi-billion empire by stealing thousands of housing units and driving up rents and displacing tenants. If Governor Cuomo wants to protect NYC tenants and not Silicon Valley billionaires, he will sign this bill into law.”
The campaign comes amid a renewed push from advocacy coalition like ShareBetter, which have sought to limit Airbnb’s impact on affordable housing in New York City.
Airbnb isn’t standing by, however.
In addition to funding an independent expenditure campaign aimed at lawmakers who backed the legislation earlier this year, the company released a memorandum on Wednesday signaling a more conciliatory tone on regulatory issues.
In a memorandum, the company proposed “simple, mandatory registration” for those offering short-term rentals.
At the same time, company proposed having hosts pay local and state lodging taxes.
“Unfortunately, current state law does not distinguish between everyday New Yorkers who occasionally rent out their homes to make ends meet and illegal hotel operators who remove permanent housing from the market,” the memo states.
“By embracing comprehensive reform that promotes responsible home sharing, we will not only help thousands of New Yorkers who share their homes as a way to pay the bills or make the mortgage, but will also support businesses in communities far beyond the traditional tourist hotspot of Midtown Manhattan.”
Oct 19th - 4:33 pm
One of the heirs to retail giant Wal-Mart on Thursday gave $500,000 to New Yorkers For A Balanced Albany, a group that is tied to the education reform group StudentsFirstNY.
A filing with the state Board of Elections on shows Jim Walton made the contribution to the group that has funded efforts aimed at backing candidates sympathetic to issues such as charter school support.
The contribution comes as education policy is once again expected to dominate the legislative session in 2017.
Meanwhile, two more donations were made to the independent expenditure committee supported by the Real Estate Board of New York.
Filings show Varego Holdings contributed $125,000 while Silverstein Properties gave $110,000.
Oct 11th - 2:24 pm
The State University of New York on Tuesday confirmed Alain Kaloyeros has resigned as president of SUNY Polytechnic, but added it is evaluating whether he should continue as a member of the faculty.
The statement released by Board of Regents Chairman Carl McCall added Kaloyeros’s “practices and actions” remain under an ongoing review as he faces state and federal corruption charges related to a sweeping bribery and bid-rigging scheme as alleged prosecutors.
“We accept Dr. Alain E. Kaloyeros’ resignation as president of SUNY Poly, and we are evaluating his request to return to his faculty position,” McCall said. “As Dr. Kaloyeros indicated in his resignation letter, his ‘continued leadership would pose a distraction from SUNY Poly continuing its good work’.”
Kaloyeros was one of the highest paid state employees during his time as the point man for key economic development projects that brought high-tech businesses and investment to upstate New York.
McCall said Executive Vice Chancellor Alexander Cartwright will serve as officer-in-charge until a replacement for Kaloyeros can be appointed.
“Our primary focus continues to be the thousands of students, faculty, researchers, and staff that SUNY Poly serves,” McCall said.
Oct 11th - 11:35 am
Alain Kaloyeros, the celebrated leader of SUNY Polytechnic credited with spreading high-tech economic development jobs across upstate New York, issued his resignation as the college’s president after his arrest on corruption charges last month.
Kaloyeros is facing state and federal corruption charges related to alleged bid rigging for projects to favored developers.
In addition to Kaloyeros, eight other people were arrested and charged, including a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joe Percoco and prominent upstate developers.
His resignation was first reported by The Daily News.
Updated: Here’s a statement from Kaloyeros’s attorney, Mike Miller.
“Dr. Alain Kaloyeros resigned yesterday from his position as the President of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute. A copy of his letter of resignation is attached. Dr. Kaloyeros resigned because he believes that the federal and state prosecutions recently filed against him are an unnecessary distraction for the good people working hard at SUNY Poly. Dr. Kaloyeros is proud of all that SUNY Poly has accomplished during his tenure as President and the amazing work of the students, faculty, and staff at SUNY Poly. Dr. Kaloyeros is innocent of the charges filed against him and looks forward to being exonerated when the cases have run their course.”
And here’s his resignation letter:
Oct 6th - 10:56 pm
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is confident the convictions of both disgraced former legislative leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver will be upheld on appeal, even as a recent Supreme Court ruling on corruption made such cases harder.
“It makes it harder to prosecute certain kinds of cases and I think there are still many reasonable country in that think the things in the McDonell case should be criminalized and we’ll have to live with that,” Bharara said, referring to the corruption trial of ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
“But it’s up to Congress to determine if you want to undo that.”
Bharara’s comments came Thursday evening at panel discussion on the campus of the College of Saint Rose in Albany and just weeks after his office announced his latest blockbuster case: The arrests of nine people on bribery and bid-rigging charges, including a former top aide to Governor Cuomo, Joe Percoco, SUNY Polytechnic leader Alain Kaloyeros and prominent upstate developers.
The panel discussion — which included Times Union editor Rex Smith and prominent Albany defense attorney Stewart Jones — was Bharara’s first appearance in Albany since last month’s arrests.
In the discussion, Bharara indicated he takes a personal interest in such cases.
“There is as a natural matter in a work place a greater amount of thought and care and consideration that goes into bringing a case against that kind of a person contrary to what seem people make think that we see bright lights and go for it,” he said. “That’s not how it works.”
As he’s done previously, Bharara said the press play a key role in bringing corruption cases to his office’s attention.
“The reason we began looking at issues related to the bidding that we allege was rigged was because of reporting coming out of really good papers saying there were odd things going on,” Bharara said.
But at the same time, Bharara said his office has generated an increased number of tips following a string prominent corruption cases.
“What I have personally noticed that we get more people calling us up and more people coming forward the more of this that we do because the more people see that it might lead to something,” Bharara said.
Bharara also took a not-so-veiled shot at Cuomo’s decision to close the anti-corruption Moreland Commission in 2014, saying what’s needed are more cops on the ethics beat, not less.
“It seems to me given the track record of the last number of years by a number of offices in the state including mine that this would be the time for more reform not less,” he said. “This would be a time for not shutting down ethics commission but keeping them open, not removing watchdogs, but increasing oversight.”
Lawmakers in June approved a package of ethics measures that were aimed at curbing the influence of independent expenditure committees through greater disclosure.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has indicated he’s opposed to any effort to link new ethics measures to the approval of a pay increase for lawmakers by a state commission.
Sep 28th - 3:35 pm
Probably not the wisest thing to do when facing federal and state corruption charges, via the Facebook page of suspended SUNY Poly chief Alain Kaloyeros:
Kaloyeros is known for having had a salty and irreverent presence on Facebook, posting jokes and memes about women and Darth Vader.
h/t due to Casey Seiler, who has an uncensored version of the Facebook status here.
Sep 26th - 4:49 pm
Updated: A source familiar with the rules of the Reform Party says Sliwa’s election is basically “illegitimate and fraudulent.”
Essentially, Sliwa is claiming he has the support from the party’s state committee, which the source says doesn’t technically exist, given the party is currently led by an interim committee.
“There is no way they came to close to filling two-thirds of men and women in every Assembly district in the state,” the source said, referring to the rules for forming the committee. “On the merits, it’s just nonsense.”
Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels founder and colorful radio show host, was elected chairman of the Reform Party on Monday, the ballot line formed by Republican Rob Astorino in 2014.
In a statement, Sliwa took direct aim at the latest corruption scandal to emanate from state government, which has ensnared a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the leader of SUNY Polytechnic and prominent upstate developers.
“Last week’s indictments and the recent convictions of our state legislative leaders demonstrate not only that we need to be ever vigilant in guarding against public corruption but that we need party leaders in this state who won’t fold like a cheap camera when the principles of good government are at stake,” Sliwa said in a statement.
The ballot line was formed during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign by allies of Astorino, the Westchester County executive. The line was initially called the Stop Common Core ballot line, intended to draw voters to the platform of pulling New York out of the controversial education standards.
After losing the election to Cuomo, Astorino announced the line would be reconstituted as the Reform Party in order to broaden its appeal.
Sliwa’s victory was announced in a press release by Frank Morano, a longtime political activist who has staged demonstrations to draw attention to the state’s election laws.
Most recently, Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka won a write-in on the Reform Party line for a congressional seat.
Sliwa indicated he would continue to take the party into the direction of pushing for ethics reform in Albany, blaming both mainstream parties for failing to do so.
“The leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties has utterly failed not only the people of this state but even their own members,” he said. “While party bosses seem more concerned with being wined, dined and pocket lined by lobbyists and special interests, my hope is that the Reform Party will put the will of the voters first. We need a watchdog in this state to oust the crooked politicians and to keep the honest politicians honest.”
Sep 26th - 1:42 pm
Fred Dicker, one of the most recognizable and longest serving figures in the Legislative Correspondents Association, is departing The New York Post where he had an influential print home since 1982.
Dicker’s daily Monday through Friday am radio show on Talk-1300, however, will remain in place.
While it’s hard not to see this as anything other than the passing of an era in statehouse journalism for New York, the kind of insider-ish scoop-based reporting Dicker honed over his career will continue, even as it has migrated to blogs and Twitter.
Dicker’s column on Mondays was a highly anticipated read — filled with items geared for political insiders but widely distributed by a high circulation New York City tabloid. Other newspapers sought their own Monday scoop-based columns, including The Times Union and The Daily News to compete with Dicker.
But no other reporter in recent memory could wield the same level of power or influence as Dicker, who was a multimedia journalist before there was a term for it. Given the fragmented nature of the audience for consuming news, and the increasingly youthful press corps covering the Capitol, it’s likely no other reporter who covers Albany will ever again have as much sway over driving key stories at the Capitol as Dicker.
With a flare for language and a penchant for arched analysis, Dicker’s pen has made and broken governors.
Eliot Spitzer’s administration was hobbled by the “Troopergate” scoops generated by Dicker and The Post, leaving the governor with few legislative allies before his downfall in a prostitution scandal.
Later reporting during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration revealed the governor’s thinking on a range of issues. Dicker later became deeply critical of Cuomo following the passage of the SAFE Act, a package of controversial gun control measures.
A hard-charging reporter and columnist, Dicker takes no prisoners and never suffers fools or liars, be they press secretaries or elected officials.
The style, substance and institutional knowledge of the column lives on, however, with the radio show and Dicker’s Twitter feed remaining active with news and commentary.
Dicker has been critical of the governors he has covered over the years (dating back to Hugh Carey) including the incumbent, who once referred to the Post reporter as a “caged beast” who must be kept at arm’s length.