Albany

Hochul Defends Biz Efforts In Albany

From the Morning Memo:

As the efforts to encourage job and business growth in Albany come under scrutiny from the latest ratings by the National Federation of Independent Business, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday defended those efforts.

Speaking with reporters in Syracuse, Hochul pointed to the heavy investment by the state in economic development projects.

“You need to look at the entirity. We have now spent over $4 billion on economic development projects,” she said. “That’s pro-business — over 4,100 positions created because of that. So, we have a lot of initiatives I woul say that are helping lift up the business community, investing in them, giving them the workforce development opportunities.”

Business groups have argued the state’s approach shouldn’t be on targeted investments or tax credits, but a broader effort to scale back the state’s regulatory environment as well as improve the tax climate.

The NFIB’s legislative scorecard this week showed most legislators received lower grades this past legislative session, too, due to the approval of measures such as 12 weeks of paid family leave and the approval a minimum wage set at $15 in the downstate region.

Upstate, the wage is due to reach $12.50, which an effort to hit $15 at some point, based on economic conditions.

Hochul cited the upstate wage provision as a sign that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking businesses’ concerns seriously.

“There are people who wanted a $15 minimum wage tomorrow here in upstate New York,” she said. “The governor listened to those concerns and there has been a slow ramp.”

And at the same time, Hochul defended the wage hike as well as the approval of paid family leave, saying those are measures improving New Yorkers’ lives.

“I would disagree with the premise that it’s anti-business,” she said. “It’s pro-people here in the state of New York.”

NYSUT-Linked PAC Gets A $4M Boost

A super PAC controlled by a top official at the statewide teachers union received this week a $4 million contribution from a separate committee that lists the union’s headquarters as its address.

A filing on the state Board of Elections website shows the committee, New Yorkers For A Brighter Future, transferred $4 million to the independent expenditure committee Fund For Great Public Schools.

The IE’s treasurer is Andy Pallotta, the vice president of the New York State United Teachers Union.

New Yorkers For A Brighter Future lists is address as 800 Troy Schenectady Road, the same as NYUST’s headquarters in the Albany suburb of Latham.

The Brighter Future group, first formed in 2010, has been funded through donations that appear to be in the $100 range.

The group this week reported $3.9 million in cash on hand.

The bolstering of independent expenditure committee for NYSUT comes as a range of groups funded by wealthy supporters of charter schools and the education investment tax credit have spent heavily on behalf of challengers to Democratic incumbents in upcoming Assembly and Senate primaries.

Those independent expenditure groups are expected to play a role in the broader fight for control of the state Senate this November.

NFIB: Pro-Biz Ratings Suffer After Tough Votes

From the Morning Memo:

A pro-business group’s legislative ratings for individual state lawmakers took a hit this year after a legislative session of difficult votes for businesses in New York, ranging from a minimum wage increase to 12 weeks of paid family leave.

The ratings from the National Federation of Independent Business especially hit the Republican-led Senate, where the GOP conference out of solidarity approved a budget bill containing the minimum wage increase after a contentious internal debate.

“The scores, particularly within the State Senate, trend significantly lower when compared to past sessions,” said NFIB state director Mike Durant.

A passing grade for the NFIB is 70 percent and the highest scoring lawmaker in the Senate was Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, a Democrat who sits with the GOP conference in the chamber. Felder scored an 83.

In the Assembly, the Republican conference generally scored best, with multiple members receiving a 100 percent score. Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a western New York lawmaker, was the highest scoring Democrat in the chamber based on NFIB review.

In addition to the minimum wage provision, NFIB also considered bills aimed at strengthening the state’s cap on property taxes, a measure aimed at bolstering laws governing the employment of farm laborers and the bill to create universal health care among their criteria for the ratings.

But the $15 minimum wage, as pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year after he set the wage for fast-food workers through a Department of Labor board, proved to be an especially bitter pill for some business groups to swallow.

The wage increase set the minimum wage to $15 in New York City and the surrounding suburban counties, to be phased in over the next several years. North of Westchester County, the wage will hit $12.50 and then be subject to an economic review by the Division of Budget.

Both the wage hike and the paid-family leave program were included in the 2015-16 state budget.

Republicans in the state Senate were ultimately able to secure a sizable tax cut aimed at middle-income earners in the budget alongside the wage measure. Business groups opposed to the wage measure, however, insisted the tax cut did not offset the cost of the $15 minimum wage.

“When analyzing the legislative session from a macro perspective it is very clear that the high profile issues, like minimum wage and paid leave, negatively impact small business while there are limited efforts to enact real, meaningful reform,” Durant said.

“Frankly, small business in New York needs more than lip service from Albany. There needs to be a more concerted effort to not only promote Main Street, but to push for high impact legislative reforms to the cost drivers that already hamper job creators. Until then, small business in New York will only continue to tread water, at best.”

NY 2015-2016 Voting Record

No Expectation Court Ruling Will Impact Pension Forfeiture Push

From the Morning Memo:

After a federal court ruled this week upheld U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s push to clawback disgraced former Assemblyman Eric Stevenson’s pension, Speaker Carl Heastie does not expect the move will make the Legislature change course on a constitutional amendment for pension forfeiture.

“I’ll talk to the legal team, but I don’t think it changes any way we fell. The people of New York believe if an elected official has done something wrong, they shouldn’t be entitled to their pension,” Heastie said on Wednesday.

“We came to a resolution, I think we will still follow through when we get back in January on second passage. I don’t know how much of an effect if any this will have.”

Lawmakers this year approved first passage of a constitutional amendment that would strip public officials convicted of felony corruption of their pensions. Second passage of the amendment must still be approved by a separately elected session of the Legislature, which takes office in January 2017.

Voters would then consider the measure as a ballot question as final approval.

The pension forfeiture push came after both legislative leaders — ex-Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos — were convicted of corruption, but allowed to keep their annual pension benefits totaling $80,000 and $96,000 respectively.

Joint Legislative Water Quality Hearing Planned

Joint hearings from Assembly and Senate lawmakers on water quality in New York will be held next month, lawmakers on Tuesday announced.

One hearing will be held in Albany on Sept. 7, while a second is planned for Smithtown on Long Island on Sept. 12. Both will begin at 11 a.m.

The hearings will be conducted by the Democratic-led Assembly Health and Environmental Conservation committees as well as their counterpart panels in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Lawmakers are holding the forums after contamination of municipal drinking water has been found in upstate communities, including Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Newburgh.

“Water contamination in communities across the State has highlighted the need for a thorough review of water quality issues,” lawmakers said in a statement. “The purpose of this hearing is to examine water contamination situations and assess the effectiveness and implementation of laws and public policies in protecting water quality and public health.”

The Senate is holding a separate hearing in Hoosick Falls later this month as the rural village continues to grapple with the fallout of a PFOA water contamination. The area was declared a state Superfund site as remeidation begins on the contamination.

Health Care Execs Top Highest Pay In New York

Executives at the hospitals in Westchester County and at the Buffalo-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute topped the list of the highest paid state employees, according to a database published Tuesday by the Empire Center.

At the top of the list is Michael Israel, the CEO of the Westchester County Health Care Corp., earning $2.2 million in 2015 — the most since the think tank began tracking state employee payroll in the last eight years.

The database lists the Roswell Park’s CEO, Dr. Candace Johnson, earning more than $1.4 million.

Second on the list is Dr. Donald Trump (no, not that one), the former CEO of Roswell Park, who earned $1.4 million

Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, the SUNY Polytechnic chief who has been wrapped up in a state investigation over potential bid rigging related to economic development efforts, has often been credited as the highest-paid state employee. He has not been since 2014, but last year earned $549,847.

After Failing, Firms To Try Again On Ride Hailing’s Upstate Expansion

From the Morning Memo:

Despite spending heavily to influence the debate, ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft failed to expand their business into Upstate New York, but lawmakers involved in the discussion over the bill say the debate is coming back next year and could be different.

“I’m optimistic,” assemblywoman Pat Fahy said. “I think we came very close. I think the clock ran out on negotiations and I think there’s a strong will on both sides to try to get this done.”

The Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly this year considered competing versions of a bill that would accomplish the same goal; expanding ride sharing or ride hailing outside New York City. However, the debate was mired with disagreements over the insurance details.

“There are concerns, particularly in our house making sure we added in the protections we need for the drivers and the passengers,” Fahy said.

And it wasn’t for a lack of trying on Uber and Lyft’s part after they spent a combined $1 million lobbying state officials.

“What’s become clear is that lawmakers and the Governor need to hear from the vast majority of upstate New Yorkers who are tired of being left behind due to Albany dysfunction,” Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang said in a statement.

“With New York being one of the last places without access to Uber, we will continue to do whatever it takes to make sure the voices of New Yorkers are heard.”

School Districts And Local Governments Wary Of Low Tax Cap Once Again

From the Morning Memo:

School districts and local governments alike are bracing for another year of budgeting with a tax cap of less than two percent. For municipalities, the cap for the new year will limit levy increases to 0.68 percent.

“It’s just continuing to put a lot of pressure on local governments. They’re doing everything that’s available to them,” said Peter Baynes, the New York Conference of Mayors executive director.

Everything includes dipping into what’s left of rainy day funds and delaying infrastructure projects. Even so, stretching budgets for some local governments won’t go far enough, which could lead to an increase in officials seeking tax cap overrides next year.

“Those are things they can do for so long, and the trend we’re going on without state assistance, I think tax cap compliance is going to start to fall,” Baynes said.

Local government assistance hasn’t been increased under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has encouraged municipalities to share services or merge with neighboring communities.

And for supporters of the cap, the measure that was first approved in 2011 is working as it was intended to: Reining in some of the highest property tax bills in the nation. Over the last several years, communities that have budgeted within the cap have seen flatter levy growth.

Efforts to weaken the cap by making it a “straight” 2 percent limit and discarding the rate of inflation component have fallen flat at the Capitol and is opposed by Cuomo.

School districts, meanwhile, have seen a low cap as well, but an increase in aid.

“It used to be that school aid was unpredictable, but districts did have more control what they could raise through the property tax. Now we have the limit,” said Robert Lowry of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “It’s commonly thought of as a two percent, but in fact it floats from year to year.”

Education aid was increased by more than four percent in the current budget, helping school districts make ends meet as they struggle to raise revenue from local taxpayers. That has its own complications.

“The stakes over school aid become higher for all districts,” Lowry said.

Relying on Albany for school aid can only go so far. A downturn in the economy means less money for the state, and less money for New York means less money for schools constrained by the cap.

“For some affluent districts, state aid is becoming more of an after thought for them, but now they have to be concerned just as poor rural and urban districts have been,” said Lowry.

The tax cap for school districts is yet to be quantified, but it is expected to clock in at 1.1 percent.

DOH Re-Issues Water Advisory For Petersburgh

As the Rensselaer County community of Petersburgh contends with a contamination of the chemical PFOS in its town water supply, residents there are being urged by the Department of Health to continue to use bottled water for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula.

The advisory from the Department of Health comes as state officials were notified on Monday of a leak in the water supply that required the town to temporarily reactivate well #2, which tested above the health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion as issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Department of Health is in constant communication with local officials and stands ready to assist with whatever is needed as the town works to fix the leak as quickly as possible,” the DOH said in a statement.

The town has been under a bottled water advisory since February 2016, with free bottled water being provided at the town hall.

The development is the latest for the community, which is near the village of Hoosick Falls, a declared state Superfund site after a contamination of the chemical PFOA was discovered in the municipal drinking water.

Moody’s Finds Nuclear Subsidy Could Have Broader Impact

The approval of a 12-year subsidy for nuclear plants in New York by state regulators last week could have a broader impact beyond the effort to keep the FitzPatrick Nuclear plant open in central New York, according to an analysis on Monday from Moody’s Investors Service.

The Public Service Commission approved a renewable energy plan backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week that included subsidies for the nuclear industry, adding $17.48 for each megawatt hour of power produce starting on April 1 of next year.

The subsidy was approved as Entergy Corp. is preparing to sell the FitzPatrick facility to the Exelon Generation Company, and without it would likely be shuttered.

In a report released by Moody’s, the subsidy could have “broader implications” for nuclear industry as plants are operating with a minimal or negative cash flow, including facilities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“Many are also located in rural areas where the nuclear plant is the primary source of employment and tax base,” the report found. “Closures of these plants risk harming local economies and hampering states’ compliance with greenhouse emission goals.”