Trichter Launches Bid For Comptroller

From the Morning Memo:

Campaign operative Jonathan Trichter in an email and video released Monday night formally unveiled his bid for state comptroller, with plans to run on the Republican and Conservative Party lines.

Trichter is a Democrat who has largely worked for Democratic candidates, including Mark Green, Carolyn McCarthy, Eliot Spitzer and Fernando Ferrer. But he also most recently worked with Harry Wilson, a Republican businessman who unsuccessfully ran for comptroller in 2010 against incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli.

Wilson bowed out of running for governor at the start of the year.

He’s received public encouragement to run by state GOP Chairman Ed Cox as well as Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long.

“I had a front-row seat in the private sector to what happens when a government office meant to provide grownup supervision to Albany politicians was itself run by Albany politicians,” Trichter said. “The prior Comptroller was hauled off to prison. The current Comptroller was handpicked to fill the vacancy by disgraced ex-Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver over the objections of every editorial board in the state.”

Trichter would be taking on DiNapoli again, who was first appointed to the post in 2007, replacing the scandal-scarred Alan Hevesi. He was elected to a full term outright in 2010. He defeated Republican Onondaga County Executive Bob Antonacci in 2014.

In his campaign announcement, Trichter indicated he would take a different track than DiNapoli.

“The Comptroller came to office not because he was qualified but because he was everybody’s best friend in Albany,” Trichter said. “It’s no surprise, then, that he has brought to bear the powers of that office to protect the Albany status quo. I don’t have any friends in Albany. I will use the powers of the Comptroller to protect ordinary New Yorkers.”

JCOPE Settles Lobbying Law Violations Related To Pro-de Blasio Group

The state’s main lobbying and ethics regulator on Monday announced lobbyists connected to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York has agreed to pay a $50,000 in fines to settle an investigation into alleged violations of the state’s lobbying laws.

The settlements paid by James Capalino and New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets co-founder Steven Nislick and board member Wendy Neu conclude an investigation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics into the work done by the now-defunct Campaign for One New York.

The organization was developed by allies of Mayor Bill de Blasio as a way of pushing legislative and policy goals of his administration in Albany.

The investigation by JCOPE, according to the panel, began after lobbyists or clients of lobbyists who were seeking to influence New York City officials, donated to the Campaign for One New York at the request of either de Blasio himself or Ross Offinger, the mayor’s top fundraiser and treasurer of the group.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s allies had formed their own version of this previously in 2011 with the creation of the Committee to Save New York, which folded after 2012.

JCOPE had previously re-written its rules to make contributions to non-profits like the Campaign for One New York.

Capalino had donated $10,000 to the campaign and bundled an additional $90,000 in contributions from nine of his lobbying clients. After that, Capalino worked with Offinger in order to arrange meetings with those clients and de Blasio.

In a separate settlement, Nislick and Neu settled allegations of lobbying law violations, admitting that they had sought to influence legislation on replacing horse carriages in Manhattan with electric vehicles that they donated to the Campaign for One New York.

NYCLASS was also forced to admit that it failed to register with JCOPE as a lobbying entity and must file the required documents as part of the settlement.

Felder Won’t Pick Sides Until After April 24

Today’s news of a new-and-improved reunification deal brokered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo between the IDC and so-called “regular” Senate Democrats gives even more power to a single individual – Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder – who already proved during the recent budget battle that he’s quite comfortable in his lynchpin role, even if that means holding up proceedings to get what he wants.

Even if this latest peace deal between Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and IDC Leader Jeff Klein holds when lawmakers return to Albany after the Easter/Passover break next week, and even if the Democrats win both the April 24 special elections (the Westchester County race is really the deciding factor there, since the Bronx seat seems a safe bet), the Republicans will still have control of the chamber as long as Felder, a conservative Democrat, continues to caucus with them.

During a brief telephone interview this afternoon, Felder told me he “doesn’t see the benefit” of making a decision right now as to which side he’ll be on when the dust settles on April 24.

“If and when it happens, I’d have to think about it,” Felder said when asked who he’ll be sitting with in Albany. “I don’t want to think about it right now. That’s how I handle my life. I compartmentalize decisions that I have to make today rather than something I may have to decide a few weeks from now…If they don’t win those two seats, they don’t have the majority anyway. I’m not moving just to be a loyal Democrat, which I’ve always said I am not.”

The governor’s office has added a 4 p.m. event to his schedule with Stewart-Cousins and Klein at Cuomo’s Midtown Manhattan office, presumably to formally announce the details of this latest deal.

Felder said he doesn’t feel pressure to make a decision one way or another from Cuomo, who clearly is feeling pressure himself – likely from the primary challenge launched by Cynthia Nixon, who has made control of the Senate a focus of her campaign thus far – enough pressure, that is, to want to accelerate the peace deal between the warring Democratic factions that was struck late last year.

“We’ve talked about issues, but not about this recently,” Felder said, adding that he feels some “anticipatory pressure” about his impending decision, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be rushing into anything any time soon.

As for the deal for loosening state Education Department regulations for yeshivas (Jewish religious schools) that he got by holding up the state budget agreement last week, Felder said he is semi-satisfied.

“I think it’s certainly helpful, but it’s not what I wanted,” the senator said. “I think that it’s very rare that you get what you want…I don’t think you’ll find anyone who will say that the situation isn’t better than it was before. I think anybody who wants to be fair, and I’m being conservative, would say there’s a fifty percent improvement.”

The Senate Republicans should not feel confident, however, that the yeshiva deal was sufficient to keep Felder’s loyalty going forward. In fact, the senator told me he was not at all happy to see Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan predicting during an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom that Felder would be staying put, and also downplaying his obviously outsized role in determining the budget outcome – not to mention the battle over the majority.

“I’ve love to say: Just drop dead and go somewhere else,” the senator said. “But that’s me back in first grade.”

That said, the Democrats should be careful what they wish for, too, when it comes to Felder. It’s not a foregone conclusion that if he returns to the Democratic fold that they would have sufficient votes to pass the sorts of progressive bills that activists who are paying attention to this fight expect them to take up if reunification goes through.

For example, there’s no way Felder, an observant Jew, would ever vote “yes” on the abortion rights bill. And he’s simply not movable on that issue, much like former Bronx Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., another conservative Democrat and deeply religious man, (he’s a reverend), could not be counted on as a “yes” on pretty much anything abortion related.

“It’s not about the issues they talk about,” Felder said of the Democrats who are pushing for unity in the Senate. “Those are the issues that might motivate the average person on the street, and they want those people to be excited so they can get what they really want, which is money and power.”

5 Budget Takeaways

From the Morning Memo:

New York has its $168.3 billion budget for the new fiscal year, which began Sunday. The budget funds everything from education, to the tune of more than $26 billion, to boosting efforts to fight heroin and opioid addiction while also setting in motion an effort to bolster mass transit in New York City.

Here are some takeaways from the budget and what it could mean for the rest of the year:

1. Sen. Simcha Felder is the kingmaker.

The Brooklyn Democrat who conferences with Republicans in the state Senate insists he doesn’t have a lot of power in the Legislature, humbling joking to disbelieving reporters, “just ask my wife.” But his push to change curriculum oversight regulations for yeshivas and other religious schools — while seemingly esoteric — largely held up the finalization of a deal on Friday, the drop-dead day to get the budget done before a holiday week.

Ultimately, a compromise was struck, with Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican who is known to have a cordial relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, acting as a key legislative negotiator on the issue. The episode, an apparent 11th hour request from Felder, underscored his importance for Senate Republicans, who need to keep him satisfied enough to not bolt the GOP conference. Democrats could pickup two open seats in an April 24 special election, giving the party a numerical majority again in the chamber. Under the terms of a unity deal, the Independent Democratic Conference would then align with mainline Democrats. The question becomes: Where does Felder go? Even then, would Democrats want Felder to be them what he is to Senate Republicans?

These questions make for a potentially messy and unpredictable April for the state Senate, where nothing can be simple.

2. Albany dominates New York City.

The city of New York is shouldering virtually the entirety of the state’s economic growth. It’s population is surging and its wealthy is helping to replenish the state’s coffers. But when it comes to Albany, New York City is virtually in the backseat of the car. The budget agreement found ways to remind New York City, even as it desires to be a city-state unto itself, that power in New York state flows from the top down.

The city is on the hook to pay half of the $800 million earmarked for upgrading the subway system — a stick in the eye to Mayor Bill de Blasio, the governor’s chief antagonist. Congestion pricing in the form of tolls at key entrances to Manhattan did not survive. Instead, lawmakers and Cuomo agreed to a surcharge on ride hail cars of $2.75 and yellow cabs at $2.50 in Manhattan. The New York City Housing Authority is being shored up by an infusion of state help, for which Cuomo is taking credit. The state is moving aggressively to develop part of Penn Station over security concerns. And a push for more oversight of per-school spending is seen as an effort to highlight school funding issues in New York City, silencing critics of the governor that he is not doing enough to help high-needs schools and students.

Cuomo and de Blasio remain adversaries, a deepening rivalry that is turning toward electoral politics. Cuomo views the challenge from actress and education advocate Cynthia Nixon as a de Blasio-backed push against him that is, at the very least, meant to embarrass him on a national stage. The mayor, meanwhile, continues to chaff (as his predecessors) that Albany controls so much of his agenda. This frustrations fueled by a Republican-controlled Senate he’s largely holds little to no sway in that remains hostile his proposals. Add the feud to the mix and de Blasio’s options remain few.

3. Gun control can pass in the Senate.

The Legislature approved its first gun control measure since 2013, a bill that is meant to close loopholes and take guns away from those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. For Democrats and gun control advocates, the bill is low-hanging fruit. The measure was broken out of the budget and considered as a standalone bill. This allowed Republicans to cast votes against a bill on Second Amendment groups without also voting against, say, education aid, while addressing larger concerns about linking policy to spending.

The measure’s approval, which came with the aid of Democratic votes in the Senate, was a victory for Sen. Elaine Phillips, a Republican who represents suburban Nassau County and a swing district that Democrats have long hoped to flip. It’s also the first gun control measure to be approved in Albany since the SAFE Act in 2013, a package of gun control provisions pushed through the Legislature in the wake of an elementary school shooting in December the prior month. The resulting controversy surrounding the SAFE Act’s passage led to the election of more conservative Republican lawmakers in the senator who have vowed to undo the law. That has largely not happened, but made new gun regulations less likely to happen.

Lawmakers this year pursued a range of new gun control measures, such as a bill that would expand background checks in New York to 10 days, following a shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people on Feb. 14, part of a nationwide outcry on the issue. Republicans countered with calls to strengthen school safety through funding for armed resource officers, a move opposed by Democrats in the Assembly.

4. Policy melts away.

Lawmakers have not been pleased with policy intertwined in the budget with spending. It forces them to take tough votes on issues that they wouldn’t necessarily support while hamstringing their negotiations. For Cuomo, the budget has become the easiest way to grease the skids for policy proposals that he would otherwise have less leverage in negotiating during the remainder of the non-budget session, which runs through June.

In this budget, Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to changes to the state’s sexual harassment policies, measures that had been criticized by survivors of harassment for not going for enough.

Elsewhere, policy largely fell out of the talks: The Child Victims Act, a bill that would make it easier for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits, went nowhere again. A provision that would establish early voting in New York also died in the talks. Ethics and good-government reforms also died away in the negotiations.

5. The process wasn’t pretty.

In the end, the budget was largely once again negotiated in secret, often at the governor’s mansion a mile away from the Capitol building by a handful of people elected and appointed who control billions of dollars. The budget agreement itself was voted on as the ink dried, with bleary-eyed lawmakers voting on the final bill at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning of a holiday weekend.

Lawmakers and Cuomo once again agreed to the re-creation of a legislative pay commission to consider whether the Legislature should receive a boost in pay from its base $79,500. Cuomo insisted Friday evening he would not further link legislative pay increases to future proposals.

Budget Starts To Coalesce As Major Issues Are Resolved

A deal has been reached over Sen. Simcha Felder’s push over education curriculum standards for Yeshivas has been resolved, clearing the way for an agreement on the broader budget.

Sources on Friday afternoon indicated the agreement had been reached and language was being haggled over between legislative aides.

Still, the move clears the way for a significant development in striking a deal on the $170 billion spending pan that was scheduled to pass by this weekend.

Felder left Friday to observe the Passover holiday in Brooklyn — a sign he had gotten what he sought in the talks. Felder declined to detail what, exactly, the compromise entailed, only that he was leaving Albany.

Meanwhile, more details on spending are trickling out: The state will increase education spending by $1 billion, including a $619 million hike in foundation aid and $240 million more in expense-based aid.

Other issues, including a provision that would apply a fee on ride hail apps like Uber and Lyft in Manhattan in order to fund mass transit has been agreed to as well.

But the Felder push for Yeshivas represented a significant set back for the progress of the talks. First raised on Monday this week in a closed-door leaders meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the proposal virtually blew up the talks as lawmakers had sought to lock down deals this week.

Multiple sources this week said the discussion over the proposal, raised by Sen. Andrew Lanza and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, led to Cuomo angrily raising his voice at the two lawmakers and an end to the meeting.

Lawmakers are set to vote on budget bills throughout the evening, even as others leave the Capitol for religious observances.

“We’re going to keep working as long as there’s work to do. So, yeah, our plan is to continue to work,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle. “We’re talking to members about how to make certain that if they have religious observances that they go to services here. People have been very cooperative, checking in with me.”

Lawmakers, Cuomo Reach Agreement On Sexual Harassment Changes

A deal has been reached on changing the state’s sexual harassment policies, but survivors of harassment who have worked for the Legislature are disappointed with the final result.

The agreement, reached as part of a $168 billion budget, would apply to independent contractors and the private sector, ban taxpayer-funded settlements for individual harassment claims and end mandatory arbitration.

“That’s a major victory for all New Yorkers,” said Sen. Cathy Young, one of the lawmakers who negotiated and crafted the legislation. “It’s a very good bill. There are several provisions in it that are going to protect people across the board.”

But the bill does not expand the definition of sexual harassment nor does it apply to gender discrimination. At the same time, it does not appear new money was allocated to investigate harassment claims by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

“There are several provisions to the bill,” Young said. “I think that as we go along there probably will be needed money for investigations as they arise and I think they will, unfortunately.”

But women who have worked for the Legislature and have filed harassment complaints against lawmakers criticized the process and the end product, saying the new provisions will not adequately protect workers.

“By rushing through the process of reforming our sexual harassment laws without critical input from stakeholders, especially survivors, New York will not be the national leader it aims to be. Legislators received the sexual harassment language just hours before the anticipated vote, buried in nearly 100 additional pages of a larger budget bill,” the women said in a joint statement. “It is disappointing that our elected officials feel our protection deserves so little attention and transparency.”

Adding to the discord over the negotiations was a push to have Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Yonkers, included in the top-level leaders meetings to discuss the changes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week said a working group consisting of women from the Legislature and his staff, including his top aide Melissa DeRosa, have been leading the discussions on the issue. Democrats in the state Senate have insisted they were not included in the formalized discussions or allowed to provide input.

Budget Extends Self-Driving Car Tests In New York, Expand State Police Oversight

The finalized transportation and economic development bill in the state budget extends autonomous vehicle testing in New York for up to one year and provides the State Police with more direct approval over the tests.

The bill was approved early this morning by the Democratic-led Assembly and is expected to be taken up today by the Republican-controlled Senate.

The measure would extend tests for self-driving cars for another year. State law allowing companies to tests self-driving cars in New York was due to expire on April 1. The budget bill gives technology and car companies who are investing heavily in the emerging technology another year to conduct tests in New York, running through April 2019.

The State Police superintendent would have an expanded role in the testing of autonomous vehicles. The bill stipulates that “a law
enforcement interaction plan shall be included as part of the demonstration and test application that includes information for law enforcement and first responders regarding how to interact with such a vehicle in emergency and traffic enforcement situations.”

The language providing for greater State Police oversight and extension comes as Uber Technologies suspended its self-driving vehicles in Arizona following a pedestrian death during a test earlier this month.

Traditional car manufactures are also interested in the technology.

General Motors last year indicated it would begin testing autonomous vehicle technology in Manhattan, specifically lower Manhattan — making the bill language a boost for the company. The challenge for companies testing the technology has been New York’s motor vehicle law requiring that a driver have both hands on the wheel of car while it is in operation.

Budget Bills Pass, But No Deal In Place For $168B Spending Plan

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo are racing to get to a budget deal, but a finalized agreement remained up in the air Thursday evening at the Capitol.

“I want it wrapped,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, a Democrat from Albany. “I am one who really believes this is how we show we’re high functioning despite the disappointments, despite how difficult this year has been, despite the multi-billion-dollar deficits to overcome, it’s important to just get it done.”

Lawmakers did make some progress on relatively non-controvesial bills. The Senate early Friday morning approved three budget bills: legislative and judiciary, public protection and general government, and education, labor and family assistance.

The Democratic-led Assembly, meanwhile, approved those three bills, plus the measure for transportation and economic development.

Republicans in the state Senate huddled for hours in private at the Capitol Thursday afternoon, emerging to say little, other than that a tax on prescription drug manufacturers in order to combat the opioid epidemic remains on the negotiating table.

“I think there are a few Is that need to be dotted, a few Ts that need to be crossed,” said Sen. Jim Tedisco. “But I think we’re there with most everything. Got the policy issues off, which we should do in this representative democracy.”

But major sticking points remain:

-Lawmakers must still come to an agreement over a state levy that would be created from the sale of the Fidelis Catholic health plan to Centene, a for-profit firm.

-Curriculum oversight issues for Yeshivas continues to be pursued by Sen. Simcha Felder, a key lawmaker for Senate Republicans.

-Lawmakers are also discussing a provision that would strip gun owners of their firearms if convicted of domestic violence, tightening what gun control advocates say are loopholes in the state and federal law.

Back from the dead, apparently, is the creation of a voluntary payroll tax, meant to act as a work-around for the federal cap on state and local tax deductions — a major priority for Cuomo.

“The payroll tax is on the table,” Tedisco said. “They’re trying to close that, exactly how it’s going to fit.”

And lawmakers apparently cannot agree on spending money for upgrades to school safety — called for in the wake of a high school shooting last month in Florida. GOP lawmakers blamed Democrats for the impasse.

“So for a political issue, gun control, they’re sacrificing what may be the safety of our children,” said Sen. John Bonacic.

But time is running out for a deal. Today is Good Friday and Passover starts at sundown. Lawmakers have been discussing a possible budget extender measure that would keep the government funded until May.

Still, that’s a scenario they want to avoid.

Asked Thursday about an extender bill, Sen. Rich Funke shook his head and said, “Oh, I hope not.”

Daily News Reporter Arrested After Using Cell Phone

lovetKen Lovett, the longtime bureau chief for The Daily News in Albany, was arrested Wednesday while using his cellphone in the lobby of the state Senate.

Lovett was released from a State Police substation after the incident. Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a personal appearance at the substation on the concourse of the Empire State Plaza.

Cuomo jokingly told the State Police officer on duty that he was Lovett’s lawyer.

“He is a free man. He welcomes his freedom and he’s not going to flee the jurisdiction,” Cuomo said. “We don’t believe any charges are going to be filed. Freedom of the press is alive and well in Albany.”

Using a cellphone in the lobby of the state Senate is prohibited, but a lightly, if seldom enforced rule. The Senate itself was not in session at the time of the incident, and rules for using a cellphone or a camera are generally waived.

“Earlier today a reporter was asked to comply with a rule prohibiting use of a cell phone in the Senate lobby. He refused and the State Police were notified,” said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif. “The incident escalated quickly and unfortunately he was detained by the State Police. We formally requested that he be released immediately and very much regret the incident.”

Adding to the bizarre incident was a woman who, while Cuomo started to speak to the gathered Capitol press corps, began berating him with obscenities. After a minute of her yelling at the governor only inches away from him, State Police officers arrested her and brought her into the substation.

Child Victims Act Supporters Rally Constituents In Last-Minute Push

From the Morning Memo:

Advocates for a bill that would make it easier for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits are rallying local-level constituents of Republican state senators in a bid to save the measure in the budget talks.

The group New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators is applying pressure to lawmakers through a letter-writing campaign that aims to rally little league organizations, parent-teacher groups and similar entities. The campaign being organized in the home districts of Sens. John Bonacic, John DeFrancisco, Pat Gallivan, Andrew Lanza and Cathy Young.

“We write you with urgency regarding the safety and well-being of Upstate New York’s children,” one of the letter states sent to a parent-teacher organization in Bonacic’s district.

“State Senator John Bonacic is doing everything he can to protect sexual predators in this district and throughout New York State, by actively blocking a common-sense piece of legislation that would bring them to justice.”

The bill, known in Albany as the Child Victims Act, appears to have fallen out of the budget talks as lawmakers have disagreed over the creation of a one-year “look back” window for survivors to file claims.

The budget, scheduled to be approved Thursday, is yet to be agreed to by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers.