RIP Assemblyman Skatardos

Assemblyman Frank Skartados, 62, a Democrat who has been representing a Hudson Valley district on and off since 2008, has died following a battle with metastasized stage IV pancreatic cancer, his office announced this morning.

He passed away at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Newburgh, surrounded by family and friends, according to a statement released by Steve Gold, the assemblyman’s chief of staff.

Skartados was admitted to the hospital on March 24 for respiratory issues and pain associated with cancer, with which he was diagnosed in late January, but his office only recently revealed the depth of the assemblyman’s illness.

Funeral arrangements are being made at the DiDonato funeral home in Marlboro.

Skartados, the seventh of eight children, was born on the Greek island of Astypalaia, and grew up on a small farm which he helped his father maintain. In 1970, at age 14, he arrived in New York City with his mother. Skartados graduated from George Washington High School in upper Manhattan. He later worked in the restaurant industry and eventually owned his own eatery.

The assemblyman graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in Political Science, and later received a master’s degree in International Studies at the State University of California at Sacramento. He served for eight years at the New York Military Academy to serve as chairman of the Health Department.

Skartados was first elected to a two-year term in the Assembly in 2008 to represent the district that encompasses the city and town of Newburgh, Marlborough, Lloyd and the city of Beacon. He narrowly lost re-election in 2010 to Republican Tom Kirwan, who died in November 2011, spurring a special election.

Skartados won that election in 2012, and has held the seat ever since, garnering 80 percent of the vote in the most recent election (2016).

NY Forward Flexes For Dems In Special Elections

From the Morning Memo:

The independent expenditure spending over the last month has been largely dominated by the usual players: Committees funded by real estate or wealthy supporters of charter school expansion.

But NY Forward, a group that has received contributions from a committee with ties to the New York State United Teachers union, has started to increase its efforts on behalf of Democratic candidates running in the April 24 special election.

NY Forward last month reported a $468,744 from the group New Yorkers For A Brighter Future, which lists the same street address as NYSUT’s headquarters in suburban Albany.

The group this week spent $22,201 on a mail campaign boosting Democratic state Senate candidate Shelley Mayer, who is running in a key district in Westchester County.

At the same time, filings show that the group has also spent to bolster Democratic Assembly candidates, Patrick Burke and Cynthia Doran. Since March 30, NY Forward has spent $55,330 on direct mail efforts in those races.

In addition to the two high-profile Senate races, voters on April 24 will fill nine vacancies in the Democratic-dominated Assembly.

Burke is running for a western New York Assembly district, Doran is running for an open seat east of Albany.

Line In The Sand Time At The Capitol

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie blamed Sen. Simcha Felder on Friday for the impasse in the state budget negotiations, telling reporters his conference would not move forward on the Brooklyn lawmaker’s push to change oversight measures for Yeshivas.

Heastie told reporters that “99 percent” of the budget is completed and it’s Felder’s issue “that’s holding us back.”

“There will be no discussion of extenders,” he said. “If there’s a budget at some point he sends up, or it will be up to Senate Republicans to shutdown government.”

Nevertheless, Heastie insisted this was not a “take it or leave” it moment for the state Senate.

Felder, meanwhile, insisted, he’s not holding up the final agreement on the budget.

“I’m not Moses, I’m not Jesus, I’m not that powerful,” Felder said. “Your question is based on the premise that I somehow have the power to hold things up. Absolutely not, and if you don’t believe me, ask my wife.”

Felder, however, is a key lawmaker in the Senate GOP conference. A Democrat who has helped keep Republicans in a working majority in the Senate, Felder will become even more important after an April 24 special election should Democrats fill empty Senate seats in the chamber.

Felder could then play a kingmaker role in determining which party controls the Senate, based on a unity deal forged last year by the state Democratic Committee, the mainline Democratic conference and the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate.

Lawmakers have approved several budget bills already, but a number of measures remain to pass. The formal end of the fiscal year is Saturday, but lawmakers are expected to leave town due to the holiday weekend. Passover starts at sundown today.

Morelle To Remain Majority Leader During Campaign

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle will remain in that leadership post while he runs for the open House seat in the Rochester area.

But after that, it’s unclear who will replace Morelle if he’s elected to Congress.

Morelle, for the moment, isn’t vacating the job he has held since 2013, making him the Democratic floor leader and the number two lawmaker in the conference’s large majority.

“I’d love to be able to continue to serve,” Morelle said on Monday in Albany to reporters. “I’ll have to see how the next few weeks go.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, meanwhile, is not in a rush to find a successor to Morelle just yet, saying he wants to get through the budget process.

“I think there’s a lot of qualified members,” he said. “They’ll have big shoes to fill with Joe. He’s been a tremendous partner, I love him to death. He’s elected in November, so I have plenty of time to make this decision.”

Typically the post of majority leader is filled by an upstate lawmaker balancing out a speaker who comes from the Bronx.

Heastie, however, would not commit to appointing an upstate resident.

“I would be doing a disservice in considering other people around the state,” he said. “At the appropriate time I’ll go through it. I’ll see who’s interested. Balance is always important, but that would eliminate someone who is significant. I do like to look at all kinds of things.

He added: “Personal qualifications to me always have to be the number one thing.”

Uber Ups Campaign Against Ride Share Fee Proposal

A campaign backed by Uber Technologies is increasing its efforts to push back against a proposal in the Assembly’s one-house budget to add a fee on ride hailing companies.

The budget would draw $500 million in new revenue from a proposed Transportation Sustainability Program that would create a $2.75 charge for ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft as well as black cars and limousines in Manhattan below 96th Street.

A $1 charge would added to trips outside of the zone. Taxis and other street hailed green cabs hailed below 96th Street would subject to a 50-cent per trip fee.

It’s unlikely to become law as it was passed by the Democratic-led Assembly.

But Uber is stepping up its push against the proposal. It has released an email that urges New Yorkers who use the Uber app to contact the Assembly and oppose the plan.

“The New York State Assembly is proposing an additional tax on ridesharing options in the outer boroughs—this will affect the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who rely on Uber to get around the outer boroughs, especially when public transportation isn’t easily accessible,” the email states.

“Uber supports fair and progressive congestion pricing, but this proposed tax on ridesharing apps in the outer boroughs could cause you to pay nearly three times the taxes as someone hailing a taxi in Manhattan. To keep unfair taxes out of outer borough Uber trips, we need your help. Make your voice heard by calling or tweeting the New York State Assembly today to show your support for fair congestion pricing.”

Morelle Not Ruling Out Bid For Slaughter’s Seat

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle on Wednesday did not rule out a campaign for the seat held by the late Rep. Louise Slaughter who died last week.

“I’ve not shutting the door,” Morelle told reporters. “I really need the weekend to talk to people. Not just the Democratic Party, but the entire community.”

As he makes his decision, Morelle pointed to his job as majority leader in the Assembly and his family concerns. Morelle’s daughter Lauren died last year after a battle with cancer.

“Honestly, the biggest consideration in some respects is my responsibilities here and my family,” he said. “We’ve had some challenges this year, so I just to have to make sure everyone is emotionally ready.”

Morelle became majority leader in 2013, making him one of the key Democratic lawmakers and a floor leader in the chamber.

Slaughter’s funeral is Friday and a special election to fill her Rochester-area seat is yet to be called. Gov. Andrew Cuomo could schedule the special election the same day as the general election in November, having the winner serve out the remainder of her term.

“I’ve owe it to people who have called and have talked about it and have raised it with me,” Morelle said. “Obviously I owe them the opportunity to make the case, so in the next couple of days I’ll have to make a decision.”

SUNY SA President Running for Assembly

From the Morning Memo:

It didn’t take long for the president of the State University of New York Student Assembly to officially enter the political arena. Marc Cohen plans on receiving his Masters Degree in Public Affairs from SUNY Albany this year, he’s also running for state Assembly this fall.

Cohen, who also is a SUNY trustee and a former officer for the College Democrats of America, is challenging Republican Ray Walter in the 146th District. Cohen said the district needs new and progressive leadership.

“For too long we have lacked a strong, active voice in the Capitol. We need someone who isn’t afraid to stand up for improving our schools, protecting our environment, strengthening our economy, and repairing our infrastructure,” he said.
Cohen was also named the American Israel Public Affairs Committee “Ally of the Year.” He is the son of prominent Buffalo attorney Steven Cohen.

Walter was first elected in 2011 and has successfully defended his seat on several occasions. He continues to actively campaign and recently hosted a St. Patrick’s Day themed fundraiser

Assembly Budget Would Add Surcharge For Ride Hailing, Cabs In NYC

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Democrats on Monday evening released their one-house budget proposal, a $170 billion spending plan that would fund transportation in New York City through fees on ride hailing services and cabs in Manhattan and add more money for education than what was proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Taxes on the rich would also be increased under the Assembly plan, a move that would likely be opposed by Senate Republicans.

The resolution is non-binding, but provides a roadmap for where lawmakers want to see the budget talks go this month. Senate Republicans are expected to release their own proposal this week.

“The Assembly majority is dedicated to making New York State a better place to live and to raise your family,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Our budget reflects that, making important investments in education, so from pre-k to college, our students have the resources they need to thrive in the 21st century economy.”

The budget would draw $500 million in new revenue from a proposed Transportation Sustainability Program that would create a $2.75 charge for ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft as well as black cars and limousines in Manhattan below 96th Street.

A $1 charge would added to trips outside of the zone. Taxis and other street hailed green cabs hailed below 96th Street would subject to a 50-cent per trip fee.

At the same time, the Assembly wants progressive tax rates for the real estate transfer tax for both residential and commercial properties valued at $5 million and higher.

Finding ways of funding mass transit has been a key issue for lawmakers this legislative session amid ongoing problems with the New York City subway system. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a congestion pricing plan that would create a system of tolls to help the MTA — a move that has historically been met with bipartisan resistance by lawmakers from the boroughs outside of Manhattan and suburbs.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed a tax increase to help bolster transit, which is considered dead on arrival with both the governor and Senate Republicans.

The Assembly’s one-house budget would also spend $10.5 billion on transportation overall, including adding $490 million to the MTA.

Meanwhile, the Assembly wants to increase education spending by $1.5 billion, putting school aid at $27.1 billion. Cuomo’s budget would increase education spending by $770 million.

The foundation aid increase backed by the Assembly stands at $1.2 billion, a figure backed by public education advocates who say the state is not spending enough on poor and high-needs school districts.

On taxes, the Assembly wants to make permanent a top rate of 8.82 percent and increase taxes for those who make more than $5 million. The hike on the personal income tax for the rich would increase state revenues by $232 million and eventually grow to $4 billion by 2022.

Rates of 9.32 percent for those earning between $5 million and $10 million would be applied, along with 9.82 percent for those who make between $10 million and $100 million. For those earning more than $100 million, the rate would reach 10.32 percent.

Assembly GOP Proposes Medicaid Reform

Assembly Republicans unveiled legislation Monday to restructure New York’s Medicaid program. The bill would require the state assume the full local share of Medicaid, everywhere but New York City.

The change would be phased in over a decade to “allow the state time to make structural changes that do not reduce services to the overall cost of the program.” Over a 20 year period, the state would take on half of New York City’s costs as well.

“Simply put, we can no longer sit idly by and watch New York take ownership of another ‘Worst Of’ label,” Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said. “Continuing to force localities to pay massive Medicaid costs leads to higher property taxes and punishes taxpayers, homeowners and businesses alike. We must change how New York does business when it comes to managing sky-high Medicaid enrollee costs.”

The New York State Association of Counties has long prioritized Medicaid mandate relief. It said the 57 counties and New York City pay $7.5 billion annually and it accounts for the vast majority of county tax levies.

The Minority proposal would mandate the savings be passed on directly to the taxpayer.

“In Monroe County, our 2018 Medicaid payment to Albany will total $175 million. If we were empowered to pass those savings on to taxpayers, we would be able to cut our property tax rate nearly in half,” Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said.

GOP Gubernatorial front-runner Marc Molinaro, who Kolb endorsed Monday, also expressed his support for the plan. He said in Dutchess County, where he currently serves as county executive, the mandate accounts for 70 percent of the tax levy.

“Minority Leader Kolb’s proposal will lift a major burden off the backs of state property taxpayers, providing much-needed tax relief that will benefit New Yorkers and boost our state economy,” he said.

Last year, congressmen Chris Collins and John Faso proposed an amendment to the Republican healthcare legislation which would have required New York to take on the local Medicaid burden. The legislation, which ultimately failed, did spur criticism from the governor’s office.

RWDSU Endorses Epstein In AD-74

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union on Thursday unveiled its endorsement of Democratic candidate Harvey Epstein, who is vying for the seat vacated in the Assembly by Sen. Brian Kavanagh.

The district is one of nearly a dozen seats in the Legislature that will be filled in a special election on April 24, with nine alone being decided for the Assembly.

“Harvey Epstein has spent his career fighting for tenants who are struggling to make ends meet. Harvey was instrumental in negotiating the last two rent freezes through his work on the Rent Guidelines Board; he has been strong advocate for working people, just trying to keep a roof over their head, and we know he will be a strong advocate for increasing wages and benefits that will truly give working people a chance to live affordably in New York City,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “We are proud to endorse his candidacy today.”

Kavanagh was elected last year to the Senate to fill the district vacated by Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who left the Legislature to join a national policy institute.