Heastie: Minimum Wage Hike Still Under Discussion

While Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos earlier on Thursday said a minimum wage increase isn’t in the cards for the state budget, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters it remains on the table in the negotiations.

“That’s not my understanding,” Heastie said after emerging from a closed-door conference with Democratic members. “We continue to press people in this state need the minimum wage. We continue that debate.”

Assembly Democrats this afternoon huddled to discuss Cuomo’s education reform proposals, which he is linking to approving a boost of education aid in the state.

Lawmakers on Thursday confirmed the education commission initially floated that would develop criteria has been abandoned, and lawmakers are now discussing having the Board of Regents be charged with developing evaluation criteria.

“We are still discussing education, all the different ways to go,” Heastie said. “At this point, there’s no agreement in anything.”

Likewise, Cuomo is yet to reach an agreement with Senate Republicans on disclosure of legal clients in the state budget, which is due Tuesday.

Heastie said the ethics debate remains “an open subject.”

“I had a conversation about it today with the governor and he’s trying to talk to the Senate,” Heastie said.

Cuomo himself released a lengthy statement reiterating that he won’t back a budget deal without ethics or approve a significant increase in education aid without reform measures for schools included.

The governor also defended his decision to tie so much policy to spending in the budget as well.

“As much as the governor are working toward an agreement, that’s a place where we disagree,” Heastie said. “We don’t believe a lot of policy should be tied up in appropriations.

Despite the posturing, all sides appeared close to reaching an agreement within the next 24 to 48 hours.

Lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly are due to return Friday to have more conversations on the budget. The Assembly is also due to be in Albany for a rare Saturday meeting on the spending plan as well.

An agreement could come as late as Saturday night in order to have measures age without a message of necessity from Cuomo and be voted on Monday and Tuesday.

Assembly Approves Stand-Alone Abortion Measure

The Demoratic-led Assembly this afternoon approved a stand-alone bill that would codify the Roe v. Wade decision in state law.

Passage of the bill comes after the measure was included in the larger, 10-point Women’s Equality Act, a package of measures aimed at pay equity, along with measures aimed at curtailing housing and workplace discrimination.

The bill passed 94-49.

“For the third session in a row, the Assembly has made a clear and bold statement that a woman’s ability to make decisions about her reproductive health – including the right to decide whether and when to have children and to protect her health during pregnancy – is essential to her equality and her and her family’s future,” said Andrea Miller of NARAL Pro-Choice New York.

The Assembly initially refused to take up individual pieces of the legislation as Senate Republicans approved the legislation piecemeal fashion, save for the abortion provision.

But lawmakers last week decided to hold their first vote on a stand-alone plank in the agenda that had already been approved in the Republican-led Senate: A bill that would strengthen penalties for human trafficking.

The move paved the way for other votes on aspects in the WEA package, though Assembly lawmakers have suggested they will approve different versions than what is contained in the omnibus bill.

“There was no valid reason for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Assembly allies to connect important, pro-woman measures with late-term abortion expansion; doing so has unnecessarily delayed the passage of bills that–unlike abortion expansion–would make New York State a better place,” said Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a social conservative group.

Republicans have pushed back efforts to hold a vote on the abortion provision, calling it an expansion of the current law — a claim supporters say isn’t the case.

“This measure was part of Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act which the State Senate refused to pass in its entirety largely because of their objections to women making their own health care decisions. The Assembly has always supported NY women in their efforts to control their own reproductive health decisions,” said the bill’s main sponsor, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick.

Opponents of abortion blasted the vote in the Assembly.

“Expanding cruel and brutal third-trimester abortions has long been a goal of the anti-life lobby who never met an abortion they didn’t like,” said Lori Kehoe, New York State Right to Life executive director. “With no regard for the fully developed unborn baby who is violently dismembered, or otherwise killed, the New York State Assembly once again put the abortion lobby above New York State women and their children.”

The bill at this point appears to stand little chance of becoming law, though it did take center stage during Cuomo’s re-election campaign with the formation of a Women’s Equality Party ballot line to promote the WEA.

Heastie: Assembly Remains Opposed To Funding Linkage

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday reiterated the Democratic conference remains opposed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to link teacher evaluation criteria to a funding boost for education in the state budget.

“The major issue that the conference has is the linkage of funding to the ratification of the decision,” Heastie said. “We don’t believe that the policy should be linked to appropriations. That’s what I’ve been saying to you for months.”

Lawmakers and Cuomo are discussing the formation of an education commission which would determine potential reform policies.

While that’s seemingly a retreat for the governor who promised to ram through broad education reforms, Cuomo is sticking to his earlier effort that links aid to enacting the policies.

The funding linkage remains a sore point for lawmakers, who have sought to uncouple Cuomo’s appropriations from the policies.

“We’re open to having a conversation on teacher evaluations, but we would like to see that money, the needed money, gets to those districts,” Heastie said.

The exact composition of the commission still remains up in the air and no deal has been finalized at this point.

It’s also unclear what policies the panel would ultimately be charged with developing.

“We haven’t decided anything at this point and I spoke to Senator Skelos yesterday,” Heastie said. “We’ll continue to see where the Senate is and we’ll be speaking to the governor later today.”

The Legislature wants to increase education aid by $1.4 billion; Cuomo’s budget adds $1.1 billion with the policies implemented.

Education Matters

The conversation on education reform in the state Budget appears to have shifted. Sources say last night Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a long talk about some of the governor’s policy proposals and now, finally, there seems to be some movement.

Assembly Democrats conferenced the proposed changes this afternoon, which include taking charter schools out of the discussion. Cuomo had wanted to raise the cap to allow more charters, but as of now that will be taken up at another time – likely later in the session.

The governor also appears to be backing away from his insistence that “failing” schools be placed into a receivership. Democrats staunchly oppose this. Weakening teacher tenure is also on the chopping block – (Cuomo had wanted to make it harder for teachers to gain tenure) – and a formula for teacher evaluations is still being worked out.

Democrats described the overall mood on budget talks as “very different” from the start of this session. No longer is Cuomo taking a “storm-the-beach” approach on his controversial education reforms. Many of those ideas have now been “uncoupled” from the revenue appropriations they were attached to. That paves the way for compromise – not to mention an on-time budget = at least within the the world of Democrats who had loathed the governor’s approach, accusing him of being a bully.

But of course, Republicans still need to come around on ethics if the budget is actually going to be on time.

So, what changed? Well, a couple of things. For one, sources say Cuomo was losing the war against teachers.

First there was the poll last week showing his approval rating at the lowest it has ever been. Then there was the Siena poll that showed the public isn’t really with him on this one. Finally, there are the teachers unions, NYSUT and UFT, whose members successfully painted Cuomo as the enemy of overworked and underpaid teachers.

From the campaign to demonstrate he has spent no time in schools since taking office, to the billboards on the Thruway telling him that he needs to listen to to teachers, it all adds up to a losing battle for the governor.

Not for nothing, but if you are going to take on an entrenched group like the teachers union in this state, you gotta be ready to really go to war. That includes a TV ad blitz, which was noticeably absent in this particular fight.

Cuomo’s buddy across the Hudson, Gov. Chris Christie, successfully turned the public against the NJEA in New Jersey, but he did so after first coming into office in 2010 when his political clout was at its highest. It was also during the great recession when antipathy toward public unions living large on the public dime was at an all-time high.

Then there is the ethics reform piece. Last week, Cuomo successfully pulled Speaker Heastie into the fold on ethics when the Democratic duo announced a two-way agreement that left Senate Republicans on the sidelines. This was immortalized by the hug-heard-round the world.

(This photo appears to have been taken after the two leaders won their field hockey game. They then apparently went back to the mansion and watched “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and shared a good cry. Next week, it’s an all “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Steel Magnolias” marathon. BTW – I’m totally kidding about everything I just wrote in parenthesis…Heastie actually HATES “Steel Magnolias.”)

Once the governor had the Assembly Democrats on his side on ethics reform, he was able to squeeze the Republicans a bit. But, of course, no one gets everything they want. And to bring the Dems on board for ethics meant sacrificing something on education – an issue of massive importance in the Assembly majority conference. Heastie and his members couldn’t live with what Cuomo wanted in terms of ed reform. Cuomo needed ethics to be his top priority following the arrest of former Speaker Sheldon Silver.

It stands to reason that NO ethics reform really has any teeth unless lawmakers and the governor are willing to have the big conversation, which is banning ALL outside income and making the Legislature full time – with a significant pay raise, as good government groups have proposed. But as the great Nick Reisman noted earlier, that pay increase commission Cuomo gave lip service to all those months ago is apparently also out of the budget along with the Dream Act and the EITC.

Q Poll: NYers Back Disclosure From Elected Officials & Their Significant Others

An overwhelming majority of New York voters – 84 percent – support the idea of elected officials bring required to disclose the sources of their outside income and investments, a new Q poll found.

A smaller number, but still a majority of 64 percent, also believe the spouses and girlfriends of those same officials should be required to make public the source and size of their respective incomes. (The poll did not differentiate between legislative and executive disclosure proposals, which is the focus of debate between the governor and the Senate Republicans).

“Follow the money, New Yorkers say,” remarked Q pollster Mickey Carroll. “Overwhelmingly, they want legislators to tell how much they earn. Legislators say spouses and companions of government folks should have to tell all, too. Voters agree.”

Eighty-nine percent of poll respondents said government corruption is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem in the state today, but only 45 percent support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s threat of holding up this year’s budget in order to force the Legislature’s hand on ethics reform.

Fifty-four percent of voters disapprove of the way Cuomo is handling ethics in government, and 47 percent believe he’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Cuomo might be able to take some solace in the fact that 62 percent of New Yorkers disapprove of the job the Legislature is doing, compared to its 55-28 job approval rating last December.

There is strong support – 76 percent – for the idea that lawmaker convicted of a felony should lose their public pensions – a proposal included in the two-way deal struck by Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, but one that requires a constitutional amendment to achieve. Support for this idea is strong across party, age, gender and regional groups, the poll found.

As for the claim that is widely made by good government groups and left leaning reformers that establishing a public campaign finance system would go a long way toward getting big money out of the political system and reducing corruption, New Yorkers aren’t really on board. Fifty-four precent oppose the creation of such a system for statewide elected officials and the Legislature.

Fifty-seven percent voiced support for a full-time Legislature with a complete ban on outside income, which is what reform advocates and AG Eric Schneiderman have been pushing – a proposal that goes considerably further than the governor wants at this point.

Speaking of Schneiderman, his approval rating is 45-22, while state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli came in at 35-19.

March 19 Q poll on ethics. by liz_benjamin6490

Assembly Approves Paid Family Leave Measure

The Democratic-led Assembly on Tuesday approved a paid family leave measure as advocates and lawmakers who support the measure hope to make it a reality this session.

The bill passed the chamber, 84-43.

It’s not the first time the Assembly approved such a bill, which would cover up to two-thirds of an employee’s salary and provide for up to 12 weeks for time off.

The Senate’s one-house budget resolution advances a differing measure, which would be funded out of the state’s general fund, with six weeks of coverage and cover up to 50 parcent of the average weekly wage.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had been previously lukewarm to the proposal, seized on the differences.

“This administration strongly supports the notion of providing paid family leave in New York State,” said Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa. “Unfortunately, the Senate and Assembly have advanced differing versions of this policy that do not see eye-to-eye, and that fail to form the comprehensive solution that the issue requires. We need a paid family leave policy that is sustainable, and would provide real protections to employees.”

The statement also criticized the Senate measure, backed by the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, for being “half-a-loaf.”

Still, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, a Queens Democrat and the main sponsor of the Assembly bill, was heartened by the latest push by the Senate.

“Last year in the debate I had colleagues say the Senate would never, ever consider it, so I’m glad it’s taking a step forward,” she said.

IDC Leader Jeff Klein, however, questioned the Assembly’s expansion of the temporary disability insurance fund, which he said would be too costly.

“I think it needs to be increased, it hasn’t been increased for years,” he said. “But that makes it very, very expensive. It would cost $900 million if the state paid for it. It would be a much larger burden not just for the employee but the employer.”

Klein is pushing for a hearing to hash out the differences in the two bills.

“I think we should be open to discussion,” he said. “We should get the business community on board, see what recommendations they make. A lot of the union groups — there is a paid family leave coalition that’s been fighting for this. Let’s make sure all the stakeholders are involved.”

Some business leaders, however, remain staunchly opposed to the measure, saying it would in essence be a tax on employers.

“We’re 100 percent against it,” said Mike Durant of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “We will not negotiate paid family leave just like our stance with minimum wage and it needs to be scuttled as our negotiations conclude.”

Cuomo Plans To Swiftly Sign Anti-Trafficking Bill

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced he would quickly sign an anti-human trafficking bill that was approved in the Democratic-led Assembly this afternoon.

The bill, whose passage had been stalled in the debate over the broader Women’s Equality Agenda, strengthens anti-trafficking provisions and increases penalties.

“Human trafficking is a crime that robs victims of their most fundamental rights, and it affects people in communities across our state – including more than 1,000 children every year,” Cuomo said in a statement. “That is an injustice that simply cannot be allowed to continue in New York, and I look forward to signing this legislation quickly to make our state safer for this vulnerable population.”

The anti-trafficking provision’s passage in the Assembly comes after the Republican-controlled Senate approved provisions in the Women’s Equality Agenda save for the measure codifying Roe v. Wade.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul at Albany’s St. Rose College earlier in the day said the passage of the bill was an acknowledgement of the “political realities.”

“People understand now that the Senate is not willing to vote on the one plank addressing reproductive rights,” Hochul said. “But there are other elements that are so important to getting passed.”

Republicans have staunchly refused to hold a vote on the abortion provision and even before the GOP gained full control of the chamber last year its passage seemed doubtful.

Cuomo campaigned hard on women’s issues, creating a ballot line meant to promote the legislative package and campaigned in a bus called the “Women’s Equality Express.”

The governor and Hochul won, but Republicans gained seats in the Senate.

Hochul today indicated that holding a vote on the anti-trafficking bill was a first step.

“That’s the reality. Elections have consequences,” she said. “We ran hard on this. We had hoped there would be a Senate that would have supported those initiatives especially when they saw how excited women were over it. The reality is you have to have the Senate on board as well. If they’re not prepared to undertake all 10 elements, let’s get as close as we can.”

Assembly Vows To Move Forward On Women’s Issues

For the last two-plus years, the Women’s Equality Agenda was a rare point of partisan contention in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Albany.

Cuomo, who had prided himself on bringing both Democrats and Republicans to his political center, introduced an omnibus package of bills aimed at enhancing rights for women, including a provision aimed at the codification of Roe v. Wade.

Republicans refused to hold a vote on the full bill, choosing instead to approve nine of the 10 measures in a piecemeal fashion, excluding the abortion plank.

In the Democratic-led Assembly, Speaker Sheldon Silver, under fire for his handling of a sexual harassment scandal that engulfed former power broker Vito Lopez, lawmakers would only take up the full 10 points as a single piece of legislation.

As a result, the full package languished in the Legislature.

But today, things changed: The Democratic-led Assembly agreed to vote on a provision that is aimed at strengthening the state’s anti-human trafficking legislation. It’s a measure that was lobbied hard for by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Democrat from Westchester County.

The measure is one of six lawmakers in the Assembly will approve today. And tomorrow, Assembly lawmakers will hold a vote on paid family leave as well.

Paulin herself led a coalition of suburban lawmakers during the effort to oust Silver from the speakership following his arrest on corruption charges.

In an interview, Paulin said the decision to hold the vote on a separate bill was driven by rank-and-file conference members — particularly women.

“I think that wisely both speakers left the women to discuss how we should go ahead,” Paulin said.

Silver’s successor, Speaker Carl Heastie, suggested today at a news conference a subtle shift in the chamber’s approach on women’s issues.

“There was an election of new members and we just had a discussion and this was the direction that women in the conference wanted to go,” Heastie said. “As I’ve said I want to be member-driven.”

As for the remaining items in the women’s agenda, Heastie indicated the Assembly won’t necessarily taken up identical bills approved in the Republican-led Senate.

“We will take up all of the topics, but not necessarily the exact same bills,” Heastie said. “We want to cover the other nine points, plus many of the other points that matter to making sure women and other families are taken care of in this state.”

Assembly lawmakers continue to assert some of the items in the women’s agenda were “negotiated down” — including pay equity legislation the Senate already has approved.

Advocates for abortion rights today were not giving up, insisting the decision to hold a separate vote was not a set back. But at the same time, there was an acknowledgment from some that the debate over the women’s agenda had shifted from what was in the package to the dispute over legislative tactics.

But the abortion plank was likely doomed this session after Republicans won an outright majority in the Senate last year.

As for abortion rights issue writ large, Heastie said the Assembly wasn’t dropping the matter.

“At the right time we will engage in that conversation with the Senate,” Heastie said. “It’s an ongoing discussion with the Senate that we hope to convince them that we’re right.”

O’Donnell: Cuomo FOIL Summit ‘Insufficient’

One of the Democratic state lawmakers who is trying to block Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 90-day email purge policy said in a statement Friday afternoon that a summit on open government is “insufficient.”

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who along with Manhattan Sen. Liz Krueger, is pushing a bill that would block the delete policy as well as subject the state Legislature to the Freedom of Information, or FOIL, law.

The statement also serves to respond to former Gov. David Paterson’s letter to state lawmakers chiding them for not submitting to the state’s open government laws and suggested the missive was meant to “deflect attention.”

In his statement, O’Donnell said an immediate halt to deletion push is what’s needed, like Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s announcement that he will suspend the 90-day retention policy for his own office.

“While I have worked well with former Governor Paterson in the past in our shared communities, and I appreciate his interest in transparency for our government, I think on this occasion he is working on behalf of others to deflect attention from the crucial matter at hand—an indefensible 90-day email deletion policy,” O’Donnell said. “Governor Cuomo’s proposed meeting to discuss a unified government policy on email is well-intentioned, but simply insufficient. As Attorney General Schneiderman recognized yesterday when he suspended the 90-day policy for his own office, an immediate halt to the practice is necessary. Every single day we wait, emails are being deleted automatically that may prove relevant for future investigations.”

Roberts Was All For CFE Funding Before He Was Against It

Assemblyman Sam Roberts raised eyebrows this week by taking a very public swipe at Syracuse Mayor Stephine Miner and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push for the Cuomo administration to fulfill the 2006 CFE settlement, under which the state owes hundreds of millions of dollars to school districts across the state and a whopping $1.5 billion to the Big Apple.

In a letter to de Blasio, Roberts questioned why the city is seeking additional education dollars under the auspices of the CFE settlement when it current has a healthy economy, sizable tax base and budget surplus of $1.58 billion. Instead, the Syracuse Democrat suggested, perhaps the city, with its “greater resources”, should offer to contribute to its poorer neighbors and districts elsewhere in the state.

“The Assembly has focused its attention and funding on New York City for far too long at the expense of other 676 school districts statewide,” Roberts wrote.

The assemblyman’s sentiments are especially surprising due to the fact that he signed onto a letter to the governor back in January, calling on him to include a “substantial” increase in education in his 2015-16 executive budget proposal and citing data from the state Education Department that suggests the state is $4.5 billion behind on its CFE committment to districts statewide – an argument being made repeatedly this year by AQE, NYSUT and others.

Nowhere in the January letter was any distinction made about upstate districts versus New York City – the largest school district in the nation, which was the focus of the CFE case and is owed the lion’s share of the outstanding state aid. The majority of Assembly Democrats signed the letter – including Roberts.

Perhaps the assemblyman’s change of heart – and desire to pubicly criticize two fellow Democrats who have had very public disagreements with the governor – had something to do with the report that he has been offered a job with the Cuomo administration?

A source who has spoken directly to Roberts confirmed that the assemblyman did indeed say he would likely be joining the governor’s staff at the end of this year’s legislative session. According to this source, Roberts was actually offered a job early in the year, but turned it down, and is now up for a different – albeit yet-to-be-determined – position.

Asked by the Syracuse Post-Standard whether the governor had offered him a job, Roberts did not deny that had occurred, saying only: “A lot of people offer me jobs, OK?”

“Well, that hasn’t happened as of yet,” he also told the paper. I’m still in the New York State Assembly…There’s nothing etched in stone There’s all sorts of discussions. General Motors offered me a job, but I’m still here.”

Roberts did not return a message left by SoP at his district office in Syracuse last night.

The assemblyman said in 2013 that he was considering a potential run for mayor of Syracuse in 2017 when Miner will be barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

January 2015 letter to Gov Cuomo seeking additional CFE cash. by liz_benjamin6490