NY Farm Bureau Awaits Farm Bill Passage

From the Morning Memo:

Congress could make a decision on the Farm Bill before the new year.

The 2014 Farm Bill expired on Sept. 30 amid congressional gridlock, but an temporary extender has held the legislation in place. This came much to the dismay of struggling farmers nationwide, from all sectors of agriculture, ranging from cattle to dairy to soybean production.

Disagreement around SNAP specifics, or the food stamp program, largely concerned differences in Republican and Democrat determinations on work requirements–not to mention, SNAP accounts for the most expensive portion of the bill. Decisions on crop insurance, subsidy eligibility and forest management similarly need smoothing out.

In a statement on Thursday, New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher:

“New York Farm Bureau is pleased that Congressional leaders have reached a consensus on the 2018 Farm Bill ahead of the current Farm Bill’s lapse at the end of this year. While we have yet to see specific details, we are hopeful that final passage of the legislation will give farmers some reassurance moving forward that critical risk management tools will be in place as they plan the best they can for next year.

“Improvements to the dairy safety net, the continuation of important conservation programs as well as support and research programs for New York’s specialty crop producers are much needed in this tough farm economy. The Farm Bill is an investment in our food system. It helps farm families weather some unpredictable conditions and provides consumers the reassurance that we will continue to have a strong, affordable food supply in this country. We encourage our Senators and Representatives to support the compromise legislation.”

New York farmers have been particularly concerned with tariff impositions, especially in light of the state’s close proximity to, and trade relationship with Canada.

Sexual Harassment Working Group Heartened By Potential Hearings

A committee composed of women who are victims and survivors of sexual harassment while working in state government on Thursday cheered the potential for hearings on the issue in Albany.

Senate Majority Leader-designate Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview Wednesday with WNYC indicated a push for new measures to combat sexual harassment as well as public hearings.

“We will be able to have the hearings and see what we need to do, if anything, to strengthen the laws,” Stewart-Cousins said in the interview.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group has for nearly a year called on lawmakers as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo to back hearings to address how the state can combat sexual harassment and misconduct.

“The illumination of the breadth and depth of sexual harassment in New York State is long overdue. Victims across all industries deserve to be heard; workers across New York deserve to know their elected officials are ready and willing to listen,” the group said in a statement.

“We are excited to work with the Senate, Assembly, Governor, and all state officials in improving protections against sexual harassment, and we look forward to the legislature scheduling public hearings very soon.”

Democrats in January are poised to take control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade.

Lawmakers and Cuomo did agree to a slate of sexual harassment law changes, but the working group has pointed to further concerns that need to be addressed.

Pay Panel Sympathizes With Lawmaker Salaries

Attracting fresh talent. It’s a full-time job to already. Going 20 years without a pay increase would make anyone mad.

Those are arguments that have been advanced over the years by state lawmakers who have pushed unsuccessfully for a salary hike.

And those are arguments that have a sympathetic ear from the four-man panel that is considering whether lawmakers should receive a compensation bump, their first since 1998.

“There is a lot of emotion attached to this and we’re just trying to do the right thing,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. “I’d like to think this commission can throw away the last 20 years and start fresh.”

The panel, composed of Stringer, former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, former state Comptroller Carl McCall and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, met for just under an hour on Wednesday in Albany for the second of three public hearings assessing pay for lawmakers, cabinet commissioners and department chiefs as well as statewide elected officials.

Three of four — Stringer, DiNapoli and McCall — have served in the state Assembly and Senate, where they remain popular figures.

Lawmakers in New York earn a base pay of $79,500, though many earn more with legislative stipends known as lulus for committee posts and leadership jobs. The base salary ranks third among state legislatures, behind California and Pennsylvania.

The median household income in New York is $62,909.

But state lawmakers are also paid less than those who serve on the term-limited New York City Council, a disparity that some have pointed to amid the recent churn in the Legislature.

The pay panel was devised as a way to remove the issue from the plates of lawmakers and the governor. But lawmakers became incensed when Cuomo sought to link the previous iteration of the pay panel to holding a special session that never materialized and talk of a salary increase was tabled.

Cuomo in recent weeks has said lawmakers should curb their outside income from private sector jobs, a move that has in the past received a lukewarm response from the Legislature.

“It’s my point of view that’s an appropriate reform,” DiNapoli said. “The extent to which this committee has the ability to impose something like that I think is open to question, but it’s something that should have been done a long time ago.”

Cuomo has also long spoken of the need to increase salaries for department heads, which are set by statute. Many cabinet-level departments are now led by executive deputy commissioners in part because holding a commissioner title would mean a step down in pay.

That concern, too, has drawn sympathy from the panel.

“It’s very difficult to attract talent and you need talented people to carry out the significant responsibilities that fall on public officials in New York,” McCall said. “I think there’s a consensus there should be an increase for commissioners.”

A determination from the pay commission is expected in December.

Peralta GoFundMe Campaign Hits Goal

From the Morning Memo:

The death of Democratic state Sen. Jose Peralta last week at 47 brought a sad coda to the end of the year in New York politics and for that of his family.

But those who knew Peralta came to provide some help.

A GoFundMe campaign quickly reached its goal on Sunday of raising $25,000 to help Peralta’s family cover memorial service and visitation expenses. As of Monday morning, the effort has raised $34,360.

And who gave, too, is a sign that even the rough and tumble of the New York political world can be put on hold for a family in need.

Peralta was a member of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference, a bloc of Democrats who had allied themselves with Republicans in the state Senate. The IDC dissolved earlier this year, but six of its eight former members lost their primary bids, including Peralta.

The fight over the IDC, stretching over the balance of the decade, was one of the more heated and politically fraught ones in state politics.

All that was set aside for the day.

In addition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $10,000 contribution, the GoFundMe campaign received donations from IDC critics like Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell. Republican Marc Molinaro, the GOP nominee for governor, also gave, as did Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is likely to become the next majority leader in the Senate.

The Parkside Group, the firm associated with the mainline conference of Democrats, also donated.

There were countless others, including Peralta’s former colleagues in the IDC and staffers who were on both sides of the fight.

Mario Cuomo would often talk about the “family of New York.” It can often resemble a dysfunctional family.

But for a day, the things can divide New York can be set aside.

Democrats Plan New Year With Long-Bottled Up Bills

Democrats for the first time in a decade will have full control of state government, holding a large majority in the state Senate that will enable them to pass a variety of bills long-sought by liberals.

“What we agree on is so overwhelming and what we will get done is so overwhelming it’s going to be transformational for this state,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday during a stop in the Bronx.

And the list of what could get done in the first few weeks of the 2019 legislative session is a long one.

Top Democratic leaders in the state Senate and Assembly have signaled they will move to pass measures meant to strengthen abortion rights in the state, create a system of pre-Election Day early voting in New York, make it easier for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits, enhance protections of transgender New Yorkers and provide college tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants as well as new gun control legislation.

“We are going to make rapid, remarkable change,” Cuomo said. “All of those issues that have been bottled up for years that the conservatives would not pass by ideology.”

Cuomo has long blamed Republican control of the state Senate for the failure of key progressive legislation in Albany — a complaint his liberal critics say rings hallow when he was also able to pass gun control measures and the legalization of same-sex marriage while the GOP held power.

“I couldn’t get it passed because the conservatives just wouldn’t pass it,” Cuomo said, “and they wouldn’t pass it for years. We can now get all those things done.”

For Republicans, it’s adjusting to a new reality in the minority of both the state Assembly and now the state Senate.

“I think the governor is doing something great, I’ll say so,” said Sen. John Flanagan, who will hold the minority leader post. “Now, I’m scared to death about what’s coming.”

Republicans say Democrats also have to show they will be able to handle the day to day work of running the state.

“Now that they’ve been given the mantle of governing, I will match my ability to articulate our positions with anybody,” Flanagan said. “We’re ready to go right at it.”

The 2019 legislative session begins in January and runs through June.

Beyond PACB, Another Role For Legislature In Amazon Deal

Amazon’s performance-based Excelsior tax credits will have some input from the state Legislature — giving lawmakers another piece in the agreement for the online web retailer to bring up to 40,000 jobs over 15 years to Long Island City.

The Citizens Budget Commission on Wednesday released a point-by-point explainer for the state’s tax incentive package tied to Amazon bringing the jobs.

The agreement stipulates Amazon receives the maximum credits if it employs 25,000 net new full-time workers by the end of June 2028 and maintained through January 2029 that total $1.2 billion.

As the CBC’s report points out, Excelsior benefits are capped at $183 million in 2019 and decrease each year to $36 million in 2024.

“Assuming Amazon meets its job targets, the State Legislature would need to approve an extension of Excelsior that increases the caps,” the report found.

Still, an Albany source notes this is less of a choke point than it would appear. Excelsior job credits also impact other projects that lawmakers likely have an interest in continuing.

There’s a lot more in there and it’s worth reading for a clear explanation of what’s happening.

Beyond Single Payer, Lawmakers Assess Health Care Needs

From the Morning Memo:

Expectations are being tempered as Democrats take full control of state government next year on an issue close to liberal and progressive groups: A state-level single-payer health care system.

But at the same time, some lawmakers are looking toward the new year with the possibility of tackling other health care issues on affordability as well as public health needs, like the opioid and heroin addiction.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been skeptical the state can afford such a program and there are roadblocks, such as cooperation from the federal government and President Donald Trump’s administration when it comes to the Medicaid program.

“There will be a rhetorical desire to do things and then governmentally there will have to be a reality test to fit in the budget,” said Cuomo in a recent radio interview with WCNY, reiterating his support for the program on the federal level.

The proposal aside, the coming legislative for state lawmakers will bring more challenges after many campaigned on making health care more affordable.

“The sad part is as health care continues to grow, it’s a large part of our economy, we’re seeing family’s pay checks decrease even when there’s an increase in compensation,” said Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat from the Albany area.

One proposal may be to codify aspects of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, into state law. But lawmakers like McDonald are wary of what President Donald Trump’s administration may do.

“The biggest challenge we have is what’s next with Washington? What are they going to be doing?,” he said.

McDonald, who runs a pharmacy in addition to being a state lawmaker, is also concerned with the ongoing opioid and heroin epidemic, which he said needs to be treated as a public health issue.

“If we don’t take that more longer view,” McDonald said, “and wraparound approach as a health care issue we’re going to be spending an awful lot more money without results.”

The 2019 legislative session will begin in January.

Statewide Transit Coalition To Launch

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition is being launched today to advocate for public transportation systems in New York statewide ahead of the upcoming legislative session in Albany.

The group, to be known as New Yorkers For Better Public Transit, is being formed in part by the New York Public Transit Association, bringing together transit systems that provide service in cities like Rochester and Syracuse, as well as in the Tri-State area and on Long Island.

The coalition also includes General Contractors Association of New York, Reinvent Albany, the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, Vision Long Island, the Riders Alliance and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA

“Whether they live in city centers or rural towns, millions of New Yorkers rely on the services transit operators across New York provide on a daily basis,” said Bill Carpenter, the president of the New York Public Transit Association and chief executive officer of Regional Transit Service in Rochester.

“Our partners in the transit community and in other industries recognize transit’s role in regional growth and development. We are excited to partner with them to push for state funding in 2019 that complements the investments the state is making in our communities and cements transit as a key contributor in improving the lives of all New Yorkers.”

The coalition has launched a petition drive meant to call attention to a variety of transit concerns, including an increase in funding, as well as a website that highlights the role public transit plays in the state’s economy.

The coalition also comes as the 2019 legislative session is expected to focus heavily on transit issues specifically in New York City when it comes to MTA service needs.

“Increasing public funding for transit is one of the best investments New York State government can make to grow the economy, improve quality of life, protect the environment and increase social justice,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany. “We are proud to be part of this coalition working to make New York better for everyone.”

Conwall To Executive Chamber

From the Morning Memo:

Jason Conwall, a familiar face around the state Capitol to reporters, is headed to the second floor.

Conwall is joining the executive chamber on Monday to serve as the deputy communications director for Albany in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. He’ll be working with Rich Azzopardi to handle inquiries from the Legislative Correspondents Association.

He most recently worked as the senior director of communications for Empire State Development, serving as the chief spokesman for the agency and overseeing upstate communications since March 2012.

Before ESD, Conwall had spent two years with the press office of the Senate Democrats.

A Capital Region native, he’s a graduate of Hobart College in Geneva and Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park.

NY Unemployment Falls To 4 Percent

The state unemployment rate dropped slightly in October to 4 percent, tying its lowest recorded level for the first time since May 1988.

Unemployment fell from 4.1 percent in September, according to the Department of Labor, with the number of jobless claims dropping from 397,600 to 387,700.

Year to year, the state’s unemployment rate has dropped from 4.7 percent since October 2017.

Nationally, the unemployment rate remains lower at 3.7 percent in October, which was essentially unchanged from the previous month.

“New York State’s labor market continued to expand in October as the State added 22,600 private sector jobs to reach a new, all-time high employment count. At the same time, the statewide unemployment rate fell from 4.1 percent to 4.0 percent in October, matching its lowest level on record,” said Division of Research and Statistics Director Bohdan Wynnyk.