Heastie Wants To ‘Go Beyond’ Millionaires Tax Extension

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie staked out further ground on the millions tax, saying he would like to potentially see more revenue generated in order to provide a greater chunk of funding for education.

“We still feel we want to go beyond that,” Heastie said of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to extend the expiring surcharge on the wealthy.

That could mean tax increases for earners who more than $1 million and further up the income scale.

“We still believe we want to add more tiers for the highest earning millionaires in the state,” he said.

Heastie indicated to reporters on Wednesday he wanted to see a larger increase in education aid. Cuomo’s budget would hike spending by 3.9 percent or $961 million, according to the proposal.

Assembly Democrats have called for the satisfying the Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling, which would require a $4 billion increase over two years.

“We don’t feel at least preliminarly there’s not enough money in for education,” Heastie said. “We still believe there’s some back money that should be put to education. Just the extension of the millionaires tax won’t satisfy the conference’s needs to provide more education.”

Assembly To Take Up RHA

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic-led Assembly today is expected to take up the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, a measure designed to bolster the state’s abortion laws that may take on new urgency given the coming Republican control of the federal government.

A news conference on the bill’s passage, which has stalled in the Republican-contorlled state Senate, will be held at 1:30.

Supporters of the bill contend it is aimed at codifying the Roe v. Wade decision in state, a necessary move should the Supreme Court ever reverse the decision.

Opponents have called the RHA an unnecessary expansion of existing abortion rights in the state.

A version of the bill was initially included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act, an omnibus package of measures that also included provisions aimed at pay equity and blocking gender discrimination in the workplace and housing.

Ultimately, only the RHA failed to be made law after Cuomo agreed to pass individual components of the legislative package.

The debate over the RHA has at times become an emotionally fraught one in Albany.

Last June, Republican Assemblyman Ron Castorina decided abortion as “African-American genocide” — a comment that led to a heated debate on the chamber floor.

Assembly To Expand Public Database Of Legislation

The state Assembly on Thursday announced an expanded realm of public access to legislation dating back to 1999, part of an effort to modernize the chamber’s operations that began under Speaker Carl Heastie.

“These new internet resources will help modernize our website’s capabilities and allow for the public to better understand proposals and Assembly operations,” Heastie said in a statement. “The new database will allow New Yorkers to research and understand legislation that is currently being debated as well as track legislative history of issues.”

As announced, the database available on the website includes debate video and testimony from hearings. The Assembly is also providing daily calendars and a resolutions list. The full updates will be available by the end of the month.

The move comes as the Assembly is starting to update its public information online as well as the chamber’s technology. Lawmakers can now access bills on tablet computers on their desks, part of an effort to transition to the Legislation to a “paperless” entity following the passage of a constitutional amendment.

Legislative Leaders Want Details On Indian Point Closure

The top leaders in the Senate and Assembly want more details on the impact of the proposed closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant by April 2021.

As backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the facility in Westchester County would wind down operations over the next several years, with renewable energy as a replacement for the 2,000 megawatts generated by the plant, which is the predominate supplier for New York City and the surrounding area.

“The fact that it supplies about 25 percent of the power to the city of New York amongst other places, it shows us there’s going to have to be a real plan on how you’re going to have make up that kind of generation,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“We’ll see what the details are, but it’s a tremendous supply of energy for downstate New York. We’ll have to see what the substitute is for that.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan was more critical, questioning why the Cuomo administration sought no input from local elected officials, who fret about the impact closure will have on jobs and the tax base in Buchanan, where the plant is located.

“I have to look at in more detail, but the notion this thing was negotiated without the input of a lot of different people, including local elected officials and Westchester County people is problematic,” Flanagan said. “We need to have good, reliable energy sources.”

It’s unclear if the closure would require a vote of the Legislature, but Flanagan indicated more discussion is needed before the plan is to take effect.

“Just on a visceral reaction it strikes me there should be more input from some of the people that are affected,” he said. “It’s going to have major ramifications.”

Wright Won’t Lobby His Former Colleagues

From the Morning Memo:

Former Assemblyman Keith Wright will immediately undertake lobbying efforts at his new job at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, but a two-year ban on influencing his former colleagues in the Legislature remains in place.

Wright, a longtime Manhattan Democratic lawmaker, declined to run for re-election as he mounted a failed bid for the congressional seat vacated by Rep. Charlie Rangel, losing to Adriano Espaillat.

While the law precludes Wright from lobbying the Senate and Assembly, he is still permitted to lobby the governor’s office. Wright was appointed a state Democratic committee co-chair by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, serving in that post from 2012 through 2014.

“Assemblyman Wright is restricted from lobbying the New York State Senate and Assembly for the next two years, but will be working on a myriad of other projects on the both the State and City level,” said John Griffin, a spokesman for the firm. “The restriction on lobbying the legislature will not impact his ability to do his job at DHC.”

Heastie Fills Chair Vacancies On Housing, Corporations Panel

Brooklyn Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz will takeover the key Assembly Housing Committee, Speaker Carl Heastie announced on Wednesday, alongside a slew of committee chairmanships.

Cymbrowitz is taking the post vacated by former Assemblyman Keith Wright, who declined to run for re-election as he sought the congressional seat held by Rep. Charlie Rangel. Wright lost a Democratic primary in June to Adriano Espaillat, sworn in on Tuesday as the first Dominican-born member of Congress.

Meanwhile, Bronx Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz was appointed chairman of the Corporations, Authorities & Commissions Committee, replacing retired former Assemblyman James Brennan.

Aside from the Housing and Corporations, Heastie left the leadership and committee structure intact, with Denny Farrell returning as Ways and Means chairman and Assemblyman Joe Morelle re-appointed majority leader.

Heastie Puts Focus On Policy, Downplays Cuomo Conflict

While members of the Assembly Democratic conference increasingly grumble about Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the failure to reach an agreement on the legislative session, Speaker Carl Heastie insisted on Wednesday he was placing his focus on policy.

“Usually you try to go along and get along,” he said. “The governor is the leader, the executive of the state and it’s the governor’s job, particular through the budget, to lead. But our constituents sent us here to get a job done.”

Similarly, Heastie didn’t want to bite on a question in speaking with reporters over whether he was upset that Cuomo plans to hold a half-dozen regional State of the State announcements and not the more traditional address at the Capitol (or nearby as he has done in the past).

“People are ready to move on and ready to do their jobs,” he said. “What’s more important for us is what’s in the message, not where the message is.”

The diplomatic tone for Heastie comes in contrast with the increasingly bitter relationship between Cuomo and the Republicans in the state Senate.

Cuomo’s office has blamed the Senate GOP conference for the failure to reach an agreement that would have led to a special session and, most likely, a legislative pay increase.

Still, Assembly Democrats have increasingly voiced disquiet with Cuomo’s tactics, with some suggesting the passage of the budget could be held up beyond the start of the new fiscal year, April 1. The governor has broad authority over the budget, and an obstinate Legislature could lead to Cuomo pushing through swaths of his spending proposal through a continuing resolution or result in a state government shut down.

Nevertheless, Cuomo and the Assembly are far more in tune policy-wise as underscored by Heastie’s stated agenda.

As for policy, Heastie on the first day of the legislative session reiterated long-stated goals for the Assembly Democratic conference, including the continuation of higher taxes on the wealthy, the protection of abortion rights through the codification of Roe v. Wade, bolstering health care amid uncertainty over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the passage of the DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants.

Heastie also wants to fully fund Foundation Aid for schools — potentially a heavy lift in what could be a difficult budget year.

“The state has more millionaires today than ever before, and we are renewing our call for a progressive tax structure that supports funding for initiatives that are critical to our families,” Heastie said in his remarks to lawmakers after he was re-elected speaker for another two-year term.

Cuomo has in the past expressed discomfort with increasing taxes on the rich in the past, though he engineered a rate change in 2011 that partially kept the tax in place as it was about to expire.

Heastie is taking a wait-and-see approach on whether the budget negotiations will be contentious.

“We’ve laid out our priorities and that’s where we want to start,” Heastie said, “but I can’t forecast how difficult the negotiations are going to be.”

New Front In Pay Raise Battle

From the Morning Memo:

Though they lost their latest skirmish with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over a potential pay raise late last year, some members of the state Legislature aren’t quite ready to throw in the towel.

Lawmakers – especially downstate Democrats in the Assembly, who face a higher cost of living and have to see their NYC Council counterparts earning considerable more ($148,500) than their comparatively meager $79,500 a year – are still smarting over what they view as Cuomo’s meddling in what was supposed to be an independent compensation commission.

In fact, one member, Queens Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, says the failure of the commission’s gubernatorial appointees to act of their own accord may very well have been illegal – though not terribly surprising, given Cuomo’s track record of seeking to influence supposedly independent bodies. (Exhibit A: The corruption-busting Moreland Commission).

“Seeing he likes to go around saying that government must work, we actually though that he was going to allow government to do his work,” DenDekker said during a CapTon interview last night, seeking to explain why the Legislature agreed to the commission’s creation in the first place.

“…this time the way he interfered, I believe those appointees have violated sections of the Public Officers Law,” the assemblyman continued.

“I can’t speak for my body as a house, but I can tell you I am investigating and reviewing sections of that law that the JCOPE would have jurisdiction over. The way I am interpreting it now, and I’ve talked to three other attorneys about this, I think I will be filing a complaint personally against the appointees that the governor put on the commission.”

When reminded that JCOPE, the state ethics watchdog, is another of those supposedly independent entities that has been widely criticized as too much under the governor’s thumb, the assemblyman replied:

“It’s true, but there still are requirements that take place once an action is started that not even he will be able to stop. There’s also the court of public opinion, and we can let the public decide. That’s exactly what the governor has been doing all along.”

The assemblyman said he hopes to file his complaints with JCOPE by the end of the week.

DenDekker acknowledged that his effort won’t likely do much to improve the broken relationship between the Legislature and the governor, which was strained almost to a breaking point by the pay raise fight. But he also said Cuomo himself must bear some of the blame for the breakdown and any gridlock that follows.

“I don’t know how we negotiate with a member of our own party when we can’t trust him, per se, to keep commitments that he makes,” DenDekker said.

“…I’d like to compliment every rank-and-file member from both parties in both houses that truly decided not to come back for a special session and vote for a commission again, because it was absurd to do it the first time…we should have had the foresight to realize he would interfere with it.”

DenDekker said he hopes the Legislature manages – somehow – to establish a mechanism by which lawmakers’ salaries are linked to automatic cost of living increases, and stressed that he would support any effort put forth during this session to take the politics out of this issue, once and for all – assuming, in fact, that such a thing is even possible.

Special Session Talks Collapse

What appeared to be the coming together of a post-Christmas special session devolved, appropriately enough on Festivus, into an airing of grievances.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Friday night officially pulled the plug on having his chamber return to Albany before the start of the new year, saying the package that had been under discussion was not enough to justify a reconvening of the Legislature.

“At the end of the day, however, there just isn’t enough in this package to justify convening a special session and bringing 213 legislators back to Albany before the end of the year,” he said in the statement.

The session, which could have been held as early as Tuesday, would have considered a variety of proposals, ranging from expanding ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft outside of New York City to funding for supportive housing and a hate crimes task force.

The session would likely also have paved the way for the first legislative pay increase since 1998. Lawmakers earn a base pay of $79,500, though many earn more through leadership stipends, and, of course, per diems.

While the Democratic-led Assembly had been considered especially eager to strike an agreement and trigger the salary increase through the re-authorization of a pay commission, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Senate had been relatively unenthused throughout this discussion.

“As Senate Majority Leader, I believe that the public deserves a Legislature that listens and is responsive to its concerns,” Flanagan said.

“While I believe many of the issues we have discussed have merit, some of the specific provisions have raised concerns that warrant further deliberation. We look forward to continuing those discussions when the Legislature is scheduled to return in January.”

Barring a re-opening of the talks, the collapse of a deal could have profound repercussions for the 2017 legislative session.

Word spread Friday evening of a potential deal that could have also included ethics-related measures such as more oversight of procurement procedures – a discussion sparked by the latest public corruption scandal that reached into the governor’s inner circle – and a public financing system for judicial campaigns.

But just as quickly as talk of a deal surfaced, so did oppositions to the proposals – and talk of recriminations from anonymous sources involved in the negotiations.

One source with direct knowledge of the talks groused that Flanagan could not deliver the votes in the GOP-controlled Senate for the session, due the closely-divided nature of his chamber.

The source added that “this was after weeks of negotiation in which he himself agreed to do the deal,” suggesting the legislative leadership and Gov. Andrew Cuomo were in agreement at one point, but rank-and-file lawmakers themselves could not be brought along.

A second source sympathetic to Flanagan, meanwhile, blamed Cuomo for the deal’s demise, saying the governor had the most to lose if a session is not ultimately held.

“He meddled with independent pay commission and nixed potential pay hike,” the source said, “now faces angry Legislature.”

Lawmakers Cautious On Ride-Hailing Timeline

From the Morning Memo:

With an aggressive lobbying effort, apparently strong public support and even the endorsement of the governor, you’d think a bill to legalize ride-hailing services in upstate would pass pretty quickly whenever legislators end up returning to Albany.

Maybe that’s not such a sure thing. Savvy lawmakers continue to say they’re hopeful legislation can be passed ASAP, but they refuse to venture a guess as to exactly when that will occur.

“I’m not going to make any predictions on that, but it’s very much on the minds of the governor as well as the legislators,” Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

State Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican, echoed the LG’s sentiment.

“One of the things I’ve learned early on is not to predict,” he said. “My hope is (ride-hailing will pass) early in the session. I am very much in favor of it as are many of my colleagues, especially upstate.”

At the moment, everything is in flux as legislative leaders and the governor try to hammer out a special session deal that may or may not include a measure to legalize ride hailing apps outside New York City. And in true Albany style, everything remains possible until it’s not anymore.

“Everything is in negotiation right now,” Hochul said. “There’s absolutely no finality to any part of it.”

The latest wrinkle is a proposal to add a surcharge for each ride, with the money generated going to support public transportation. Legislators have different opinions on where the money should go though, with some saying it should fund existing transit services, and others calling for it to be invested in much-needed infrastructure projects.

Ranzenhofer said he believes the potential revenue should go toward funding roads and bridges, but he doesn’t think this issue will be a deal-breaker. One thing the senator said he does know for sure is that his constituents are very keen on being able to use apps like Uber and Lyft.

Earlier this month, he launched an online petition to measure public interest. On the first day alone, about 2,700 people signed, which Ranznehofer deemed “phenomenal.”