PACB Spending Likely To Be Approved

From the Morning Memo:

With more than $485 million in spending for a key economic development project on the line in western New York, the Public Authorities Control Board is likely to approve today the funding, despite concerns over investigations into the Buffalo Billion and SUNY Polytechnic.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb on Tuesday became the latest elected official to raise issues with the spending proposal, which was due to be voted on last week by the board, but the meeting was rescheduled to today after “scheduling” issues arose, according to the Division of Budget.

In letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Kolb urged the board’s members — composed of the Assembly, Senate and budget office representatives — take their time and assess the status of the project.

“Before spending nearly half-a-billion dollars of the public’s money, legislators should be provided a comprehensive status report on the current progress, future expectations, and possible concerns relating to the project,” Kolb wrote in the letter.

“At the request of the Assembly, Empire State Development Corporation held an informational briefing on Monday. However, agency representatives could not answer several questions posed by staff, and the meeting ended abruptly with promises that follow-up information would be provided.”

The money is to be disbursed to an arm of SUNY Polytechnic, which is being investigated by the state attorney general’s office over bid rigging. The money itself is budgeted for the RiverBend site, home to the SolarCity project, a key component of the Buffalo Billion economic development program, which is being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office.

Lawmakers in recent days have called the funding vital for the continuation of the project in western New York. Both legislative leaders on Tuesday indicated support for the spending.

“There’s a general belief that it’s a worthwhile project,” Heastie said. “There are a series of questions that we put forward and we’re just waiting to get those answers back and then I think everything will be fine.”

Senate Republicans, also, had requested more information and seemed to come away satisfied.

“It’s critical to economic development in the state of New York,” Flanagan said, “It’s critical to western New York.”

Nojay Facing GOP Primary

He was rated the most conservative member of the New York State Legislature by the State Conservative Party in a conservative Assembly district, but that ranking isn’t shielding Bill Nojay from a Republican Primary challenge.

Last week, Honeoye Falls Mayor Rick Milne announced he was seeking the 133rd Assembly seat through a social media post.

“It is my belief, that the residents of the 133rd Assembly District deserve representation that will actively serve all the communities within the district and strive to support all the communities in a positive way,” Milne wrote.

Milne was elected mayor in 2005 and noted he served as president of the New York State Conference of Mayors in 2015 in his announcement.

When reached by phone Tuesday night, Nojay touted his opposition to Governor Cuomo’s policies on gun control and the minimum wage, which earned him that conservative ranking.

“If he’s suggesting he’d vote differently then let’s talk about the issues,” Nojay said. “If he has a substantive problem with any vote I’ve taken I’d love to hear from him.”

This primary challenge came just days before the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported he had consulted on Lovely Warren’s Democratic primary challenge of Rochester Mayor Tom Richards in 2013, a report Nojay described as old news.

“It was not at all a secret.  It was widely known in political circles in Rochester,” he said.

Nojay said he voiced his support for Warren on his radio talk show because there was no Republican in the race for Rochester mayor.  Nojay explained a mutual friend then got him involved with Warren.

“In 2013 the choice was between an incumbent Mayor who had no vision for the city and a young vibrant candidate.  (Assemblyman) David Gantt asked me to help out and I did,” said Nojay.

Despite follow up reports on his ethics filings, Nojay insisted he had nothing to hide and chalked up the examination of three-year-old information to this upcoming election cycle.

The 133rd Assembly district includes Livingston, and parts of Steuben and Monroe counties.  Nojay has already received the endorsement of the Livingston and Steuben Republican Parties.

The Monroe County GOP will hold its nominating convention Wednesday night.


Legislative Leaders Indicate Support For PACB Spending

The top legislative leaders in the Democratic-led Assembly and GOP-controlled Senate on Tuesday indicated they support approving $485.5 million in spending for a subsidiary of the under-investigation SUNY Polytechnic, saying the money is vital for the continuation of the economic development program in western New York.

“There’s a general belief that it’s a worthwhile project,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “There are a series of questions that we put forward and we’re just waiting to get those answers back and then I think everything will be fine.”

Added Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan: “It’s critical to economic development in the state of New York, it’s critical to western New York.”

The vote for the Public Authorities Control Board is scheduled for Wednesday after it was delayed a week due to scheduling issues, according to the state Division of Budget.

The money is set to go toward an entity formed by SUNY Poly, which is being investigated for bid rigging by the state attorney general’s office. The money is part of a broader spending effort to the RiverBend project, the site of a SolarCity factory in western New York.

The project is a component of the Buffalo Billion program, an economic development effort that is being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

Both the Assembly and Senate have votes to approve the spending, as does the Division of Budget, which is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

Still, lawmakers have questioned the spending, while Cuomo himself has said the funding is to be reviewed by the independent investigator his office hired, Bart Schwartz.

“There are a lot of vehicles for oversight which should take place,” Flanagan said. “But I don’t think that should be an excuse for not moving ahead and making sure we approve jobs for the economy.”

Heastie: Ride Share Bill Avoids NYC

A ride sharing measure under consideration by the Democratic-led Assembly would not cover New York City, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday said in an interview.

Lawmakers in the Democratic conference discussed last night a draft of a proposal from Assembly Insurance Committee Chairman Kevin Cahill that would provide for an insurance structure for companies like Uber and Lyft to operate outside of New York City.

The bill would not cover ride sharing where it is currently allowed in New York City.

“This would really be dealing with insurance outside of the city of New York,” Heastie said.

As for ride sharing in New York City, Heastie indicated the measure would keep the current regulatory system from the Taxi and Livery Commission in place.

“That’s regulated by TLC and we’ll leave the jurisdiction to the city,” he said.

The bill avoids setting Albany in opposition to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration over ride sharing. Initially, state officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, had suggested a statewide framework could be development that would have jurisdiction over ride sharing in the state, including New York City.

As for the bill’s chances of passage before the end of the legislative session next month, Heastie was non-committal.

“It was a draft that Assemblyman Cahill came up with, put it out there for comments,” he said. “We’ll put it out there and see what happens.”

Assembly Dems Discuss Insurance Options For Ride Sharing

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Democrats late Monday afternoon conferenced potential legislation for ride sharing — an issue that is expected to be among a handful of high-profile issues to be debated as the legislative session winds down.

And while lawmakers initially considered a statewide regulatory system for services like Uber and Lyft, bills under consideration could simply allow ride share companies to purchase insurance in order to operate in communities outside of New York City.

“While a statewide comprehensive regulatory framework is best for New Yorkers who are demanding ridesharing,” said Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang, “allowing ridesharing activity to be covered by insurance policies that are up to ten times higher than local cab companies would allow communities to start welcoming flexible economic opportunities and better transportation options.”

Such a move would give local governments room to allow ride sharing should they want the service, and potentially allow for a statewide measure in subsequent legislative sessions.

Upstate lawmakers have in recent weeks indeed talked of taking a regional approach on broader transportation issues in order to get cab companies on board with the stiff competition they would likely face with the legalization of a ride sharing insurance plan.

Assembly Health Panel Backs Aid-In-Dying Bill

The Assembly Health Committee on Monday approved a bill that would legalize aid in dying for the terminally ill.

The measure, which passed 14-11, was sent to the Assembly Codes Committee.

The measure allows for narrow qualifications for patients and requires that two physicians confirm the terminal prognosis. Patients must also be referred to a mental health professional for evaluation if considered necessary by a doctor.

Multiple versions of the bill have been proposed in the Legislature in the last several years and has been staunchly opposed by social conservatives as well as the Catholic Church and advocates for the disabled.

Differing bills earlier this month were combined into one piece of legislation.

Supporters of the bill saying the proposal has built in a package of safeguards and provide relief to terminally ill patients, who must self-administer.

“Our gratitude goes to Chairman Gottfried, Assemblywoman Paulin, the other sponsors of the bill, and the members of the Assembly Health Committee for this historic, first-ever approval of the Medical Aid in Dying Act, which would allow terminally ill, mentally competent, adult patients to self-administer prescribed medicines if their suffering becomes unbearable,” David Leven, the executive director of End of Life Choices New York, said in a statement.

“It provides a compassionate way for dying patients to achieve a peaceful death of their choosing.

New Yorkers For Constitutional Freedoms, a conservative Christian organization, blasted the measure, saying lawmakers should conduct a more public airing of the bill through hearings.

“The Assembly Health Committee had the opportunity to show leadership today by voting down physician-assisted suicide legislation,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, the group’s executive director.

“Sadly, the Committee did not take that opportunity. By hastily rubber-stamping this deeply problematic proposal, the Committee has taken a step toward a future in which the lives of terminally-ill persons are treated as expendable, and in which insurance companies will be at liberty to make cost-saving coverage decisions that steer vulnerable individuals toward physician-assisted death. As a matter of social justice, NYCF calls upon the full Assembly to reject this bill.”

Lawmakers Seek Resolution To DFS Regulation

State lawmakers are considering a three-tiered system for regulating daily fantasy sports in New York that would include small-time operators, major companies like FanDuel and DraftKings as well as Yahoo Sports.

“We’ve carved out a piece for Yahoo which is a little different than the big fantasy sports operators and we’ve carved out a piece for the little fellows, so we’re trying to make it accommodating to everyone that engages as a business in fantasy sports,” said Sen. John Bonacic, the Republican who chairs the Senate’s Racing and Wagering Committee.

Bonacic plans to introduce his legislation either later this week or early next week, with plans for a $10 million licensing fee for the large companies, with a three-year tax credit over the first three years.

“The major part of the revenue will be from the licensing fee,” Bonacic said. “I don’t anticipate much revenue from daily usage, maybe $5 million.”

In the Democratic-led Assembly, Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow plans a bill sometime this week, he said.

Pretlow’s bill also envisions an omnibus-style regulatory plan.

“What we’re proposing is a two or three level licensing fee and everyone will pay about the same tax fee once the prizes are paid out,” Pretlow said. “It will be based on what their revenues were last year or what their perceived revenues were.”

The legislation comes after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a legal challenge against major fantasy sports operators in New York, charging they were running games of chance, illegal under the state’s constitution.

The companies ultimately ceased operations in New York as state lawmakers work out a regulatory plan.

Bonacic, in the interview, said he expects the bill to take effect before the start of football season.

Erie County Democratic Committee Chair Rips Mazurek’s Candidacy

Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner didn’t waste much time ripping into political operative Kristy Mazurek, who, as we reported earlier, is laying the groundwork for a Democratic primary in New York’s 143rd Assembly District. Zellner released a long statement, Thursday evening, striking a contrast between Mazurek and the committee’s endorsed candidate Monica Wallace.

“Kristy Mazurek embodies everything that is wrong with politics, and the contrast could not be greater between her and Monica Wallace, a principled leader who brings a unique perspective to the seat and has spent her entire career fighting for justice and teaching ethics at UB Law School,” Zellner said.

Zellner went on to say the Mazurek candidacy is “nothing more than another sideshow orchestrated by (former Dem Chair) Steve Pigeon.” Zellner referenced reports of State Police and the FBI looking into her role as the treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus, a Pigeon-led pack that backed non-endorsed candidates in several 2013 primaries.

“In addition, she has multiple arrests, and if she were serving in Albany today, we would be calling for her resignation based on these facts,” he said.

I did find record of at least one Mazurek arrest, according to the Albany Times Union she was charged with DWI in June 2006.

“Monica Wallace is the right person at the right time to represent the people of Cheektowaga and Lancaster, and she will restore trust and integrity to the 143rd Assembly District,” Zellner said.

Wallace said she was already preparing for a challenge against Cheektowaga Councilman Jim Rogowski, who were told has dropped out of the race. She said a primary against Mazurek won’t change the way she campaigns.

Political Operative Connected To Pigeon Seeks WFP Endorsement In 143rd Assembly District

It looks like there’s another shakeup in the race for New York’s 143rd Assembly District. A friend of Democratic candidate Jim Rogowski confirms he’s dropping out of the race for personal reasons.

Now it appears someone else could be stepping in to challenge endorsed Democrat Monica Wallace in a primary. Dave Pfaff, who was helping Rogowski, said political operative Kristy Mazurek is laying the groundwork for her own primary campaign.

Pfaff said Mazurek has been interested in running for the seat for awhile, but was deferring to Rogowski, a friend and popular councilman in Cheektowaga.

So far, Wallace, a University at Buffalo law professor, is the only candidate to file paperwork with the Board of Elections, but Jesse Lenney, the Upstate Political Director for the Working Families Party, said both Wallace and Mazurek applied for the WFP endorsement.

A Mazurek candidacy would be interesting for several reasons. First of all, she still has pending litigation involving her time working as a staffer for the 143rd District. Mazurek was one of seven women who sued former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak for sexual harassment. Gabryszak’s attorney, Terry Connors, said a judge dismissed her suit but she has since filed a notice of appeal.

Mazurek is a close ally of former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon. The Attorney General recently impaneled a special grand jury for an investigation involving Pigeon. 

In June of last year, Time Warner Cable News reported Mazurek had a non-prosecution agreement with investigators.

Finally, Mazurek is the sister of 2014 Democratic candidate Mark Mazurek, who lost to Conservative newcomer Angela Wozniak. She would be able to exact some revenge for her brother, except Wozniak dropped out after admitting to having an inappropriate relationship with one of her staffers. That staffer, of course, isn’t ruling out his own campaign on the Republican line.

Assembly Approves Veterans’ Pension Benefit

The Democratic-led Assembly once again has approved a bill that would provide for additional pension credits for those in the state retirement system who also served in the military.

The measure, which would extend the benefit to all veterans in the state retirement system, has been vetoed two times by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

This version of the bill was approved earlier this month by the GOP-led Senate.

“We owe so much to our veterans for the sacrifices they have made in the service of our country and our state,” said Speaker Heastie. “This bill is a testament of our gratitude to these honorable men and women who complete their military duties and return home to continue their leadership in our communities and in our public workforce.”

The bill, in essence, removes existing date of service limitations and expands eligibility of the veteran’s service credit. Current law prescribes only veterans who have served in specific conflicts receive up to additional three years of service credit in the pension system.

“Our veterans take on the enormous risk of injury or even death when they enlist in the military,” said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. “This bill offers service members an incentive to stay here in New York State and continue to make meaningful contributions to our communities.”