AD-65: Sanders Groups Back Newell

A coalition of groups that backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid endorsed on Wednesday Paul Newell’s campaign in the 65th Assembly district.

Newell, who previously ran for Democratic nomination in the lower Manhattan district when it was represented by disgraced former Speaker Sheldon Silver, was given the nod of a range of Sanders-supporting groups, including People for Bernie, Citizen Action New York, the New York State Nurses Association and congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout.

“This is a chance for an important district to make a significant point at a pivotal moment: the political revolution has only just begun,” said Charles Lenchner, co-founder People for Bernie.

“This district is central to the fight for economic justice and raising the voice of the people in politics. Here, we have both the financial district and the birthplace of Occupy. Paul has a proven record of bringing people together, supporting social movements, and standing up for justice.”

Yuh-Line Niou, who ran on the Working Families Party line in the April special election, is once again seeking the Assembly seat now held by Democrat Alice Cancel, who was backed by allies of Silver earlier this year.

NFIB: Pro-Biz Ratings Suffer After Tough Votes

From the Morning Memo:

A pro-business group’s legislative ratings for individual state lawmakers took a hit this year after a legislative session of difficult votes for businesses in New York, ranging from a minimum wage increase to 12 weeks of paid family leave.

The ratings from the National Federation of Independent Business especially hit the Republican-led Senate, where the GOP conference out of solidarity approved a budget bill containing the minimum wage increase after a contentious internal debate.

“The scores, particularly within the State Senate, trend significantly lower when compared to past sessions,” said NFIB state director Mike Durant.

A passing grade for the NFIB is 70 percent and the highest scoring lawmaker in the Senate was Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, a Democrat who sits with the GOP conference in the chamber. Felder scored an 83.

In the Assembly, the Republican conference generally scored best, with multiple members receiving a 100 percent score. Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a western New York lawmaker, was the highest scoring Democrat in the chamber based on NFIB review.

In addition to the minimum wage provision, NFIB also considered bills aimed at strengthening the state’s cap on property taxes, a measure aimed at bolstering laws governing the employment of farm laborers and the bill to create universal health care among their criteria for the ratings.

But the $15 minimum wage, as pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year after he set the wage for fast-food workers through a Department of Labor board, proved to be an especially bitter pill for some business groups to swallow.

The wage increase set the minimum wage to $15 in New York City and the surrounding suburban counties, to be phased in over the next several years. North of Westchester County, the wage will hit $12.50 and then be subject to an economic review by the Division of Budget.

Both the wage hike and the paid-family leave program were included in the 2015-16 state budget.

Republicans in the state Senate were ultimately able to secure a sizable tax cut aimed at middle-income earners in the budget alongside the wage measure. Business groups opposed to the wage measure, however, insisted the tax cut did not offset the cost of the $15 minimum wage.

“When analyzing the legislative session from a macro perspective it is very clear that the high profile issues, like minimum wage and paid leave, negatively impact small business while there are limited efforts to enact real, meaningful reform,” Durant said.

“Frankly, small business in New York needs more than lip service from Albany. There needs to be a more concerted effort to not only promote Main Street, but to push for high impact legislative reforms to the cost drivers that already hamper job creators. Until then, small business in New York will only continue to tread water, at best.”

NY 2015-2016 Voting Record

AD-65: Niou Endorsed By AFL-CIO

Democratic Assembly candidate Yuh-Line Niou this week was endorsed by the New York State AFL-CIO in her bid to unseat incumbent Alice Cancel.

“I am humbled by the endorsement of the workers and leaders of the NYS AFL-CIO,” she said. “I have always worked to be a champion for workers, and cannot wait to fight for the members of the NYS AFL-CIO and all working families in Albany.”

Niou and Cancel are facing each other in rematch following an April special election to replace disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was ousted late last year following his corruption conviction.

Niou ran a strong challenge on the Working Families Party line against Cancel, who had the backing Silver’s political apparatus in the lower Manhattan Assembly district.

“I am proud to announce the NYS AFL-CIO’s endorsement of Yuh-Line, and look forward to ensuring she is the Democratic nominee in September,” said Mario Cilento, President of the NYS AFL-CIO. “Yuh-Line understands the importance of continuing the fight for working men and women and giving all working people a strong voice in Albany. We know she will work for us, so we are looking forward to fighting for her.”

Assembly Incumbents Bolstered By NYSUT-Linked PAC

From the Morning Memo:

An independent expenditure committee is bolstering the campaigns of incumbent Assembly Democrats whose opponents have been aided by a group tied to the passage of the education investment tax credit.

Board of Elections records show the Fund For Great Public Schools has in recent days spent $85,048 in support of three incumbent Democrats in the Assembly who have drawn primary challengers: Assemblywoman Pamela Harris, Assemblywoman Latrice Walker and Assemblyman Phil Ramos.

The committee’s treasurer is listed as Andy Pallotta, the vice president of the New York State United Teachers.

The Democratic primary challengers in those races have drawn support from the group New Yorkers for Independent Action, whose treasurer, Thomas Carroll, has led Invest In Education, a group that’s backed the tax credit.

Records show New Yorkers For Independent Action has backed former Assembly aide Kate Cucco against Harris, city Councilwoman Darlene Mealey against Walker and Democrat Giovanni Mata against Ramos.

The tax credit legislation is designed to spur donations to public schools and entities and scholarship programs that aide private and parochial schools. The measure, which has languished in the Legislature, is opposed by the teachers unions in New York.

Heastie Tells AFL-CIO He’s Opposed To Con Con

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday reiterated to the New York State AFL-CIO he’s opposed to holding a constitutional convention, a matter that is due to go before voters in a once-a-decade 2017 referendum.

The event was closed to the press, but Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland confirmed in an email the speaker remained opposed to holding the convention. At the same time, he noted the Legislature removed funding for a commission to study changes to the process in the state budget.

“He does not support it and was very clear about that in his remarks to the AFL-CIO,” Whyland said. “It was not funded in our budget earlier this year as well.”

Support and opposition to overhauling the state’s constitution often makes for strange bedfellows. Labor unions have been especially vocal in their opposition to holding a convention over concerns changes could impact pension benefits.

Environmental groups, too, have raised issues with holding a constitutional convention as have good-government organizations.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been supportive of a constitutional convention, but earlier this year called the delegate selection process “flawed.”

No Expectation Court Ruling Will Impact Pension Forfeiture Push

From the Morning Memo:

After a federal court ruled this week upheld U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s push to clawback disgraced former Assemblyman Eric Stevenson’s pension, Speaker Carl Heastie does not expect the move will make the Legislature change course on a constitutional amendment for pension forfeiture.

“I’ll talk to the legal team, but I don’t think it changes any way we fell. The people of New York believe if an elected official has done something wrong, they shouldn’t be entitled to their pension,” Heastie said on Wednesday.

“We came to a resolution, I think we will still follow through when we get back in January on second passage. I don’t know how much of an effect if any this will have.”

Lawmakers this year approved first passage of a constitutional amendment that would strip public officials convicted of felony corruption of their pensions. Second passage of the amendment must still be approved by a separately elected session of the Legislature, which takes office in January 2017.

Voters would then consider the measure as a ballot question as final approval.

The pension forfeiture push came after both legislative leaders — ex-Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos — were convicted of corruption, but allowed to keep their annual pension benefits totaling $80,000 and $96,000 respectively.

In Campaign Mailer, Assembly Candidate Crops Out Pigeon

It’s no secret that Assembly candidate Kristy Mazurek has ties to Steve Pigeon. For instance, this blog has chronicled extensively how the two operatives worked together in 2013, to support candidates in Democratic primaries against committee-endorsed candidates.

Of course, their fundraising tactics during that election cycle led to complaints that opened the door to a wide-reaching public corruption investigation. Ultimately, Pigeon was indicted, accused of bribing a state Supreme Court judge.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mazurek might want to downplay her relationship with him as she tries to secure the Democratic nomination in the 143rd Assembly district. Maybe that’s why she cropped her former ally out of a campaign mailer sent to voters this week.

The literature features a photo of Mazurek with Buffalo business owners J.P. and Ulla Bak, but Erie County Democratic party boss Jeremy Zellner said somebody recognized Pigeon was in the original photo. That person began to circulate the photo, from Pigeon’s Facebook page, to committee members.

“Kristy Mazurek may be able to crop Steve Pigeon out of a photo, but he is always in the picture when it comes to Mazurek. Despite her misleading mailer, it is clear that a vote for Kristy Mazurek is a vote for Pigeon and everything that he represents,” Zellner said.

I reached out to Mazurek’s spokesperson, Dave Pfaff, to confirm that Pigeon was cropped out of the photo.

“Yes, it is a cropped photo. Kristy is a candidate for state Assembly. Steve isn’t. What are you implying with this question?” he responded.

I told him, I was curious why she had chosen that photo. Wouldn’t it provide more campaign fodder for her opponents?

“No, it wouldn’t,” he responded.

Mazurek Pigeon

Joint Legislative Water Quality Hearing Planned

Joint hearings from Assembly and Senate lawmakers on water quality in New York will be held next month, lawmakers on Tuesday announced.

One hearing will be held in Albany on Sept. 7, while a second is planned for Smithtown on Long Island on Sept. 12. Both will begin at 11 a.m.

The hearings will be conducted by the Democratic-led Assembly Health and Environmental Conservation committees as well as their counterpart panels in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Lawmakers are holding the forums after contamination of municipal drinking water has been found in upstate communities, including Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Newburgh.

“Water contamination in communities across the State has highlighted the need for a thorough review of water quality issues,” lawmakers said in a statement. “The purpose of this hearing is to examine water contamination situations and assess the effectiveness and implementation of laws and public policies in protecting water quality and public health.”

The Senate is holding a separate hearing in Hoosick Falls later this month as the rural village continues to grapple with the fallout of a PFOA water contamination. The area was declared a state Superfund site as remeidation begins on the contamination.

Amid Sharp Questioning, ESDC Chief Defends Economic Development Spending

Amid sharp questioning from lawmakers in the state Assembly on Wednesday, the top official in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration staunchly defended economic development spending that has fallen under federal investigation.

Everyone should take a deep breath. A lot of foundation has been laid and a lot of seeds have been planted,” Empire State Development Corp. CEO Howard Zemsky told reporters after the hearing. “Let’s give it a few years.”

For more than two hours, Zemsky was questioned on the state’s economic development spending and system of targeted tax breaks for companies. Drawing particular ire was the state’s costly START-UP New York program, which has only created 408 jobs despite a $53 million ad campaign.

The spending for START-UP NY, which offers years of no taxes for companies that bring jobs to New York, and for the Buffalo Billion, have been pet projects for Cuomo. But overall economic development spending has fallen under increased scrutiny for their effectiveness and investigations into bid rigging.

“Companies that have invested, forty, fifty years of blood, sweat and tears in New York state are seeing very little in return,” said Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter.

Democratic Assemblywoman Addie Russell went further, knocking the claims of the state changing the perception of having a poor business climate.

“Folks in my area are looking for jobs,” she said, “not perception.”

Lawmakers also questioned how economic development officials were calculating the success of the program.

“Maybe their success is also attributable to some spin off from Buffalo Billion,” said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger. “Maybe there are some companies related to the Buffalo Billion. So it seems like there is a layering.”

But Zemsky insisted that despite the costs and aggressive advertising, the economic development spending was working, helping to change the perception of the state.

“Eight million jobs for the first time. Unemployment half of what it was,” he said. “We are firing on so many cylinders right now.”

Zemsky also challenged lawmakers leading the hearings, saying much of the money has benefitted their districts.

“Both of you gentleman are from western New York,” Zemsky said to Schimminger and Walter. “This is the most prolific region that’s taking advantage of START-UP NY. Assemblyman, I think UB is in your district. Why don’t you talk to UB and see what they say about START-UP NY?”

However, Zemsky acknowledged the federal investigation into upstate economic development has led to delayed payments for key projects in western New York, including approval for a half-billion dollars earlier this year for the Riverbend site, home to a SolarCity plant.

“Clearly there has been more scrutiny, further layers of protection and review and of course that’s going to take some getting used to,” he said.

Heastie: A Dem Senate Would Help

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a Capital Tonight interview on Tuesday said a Democratic-led Senate would benefit the passage of key police issues for his conference.

“Of course, the short answer to that is absolutely,” Heastie said. “A Democratic Senate will agree with us on a number of policy issues.”

Heastie has indicated plans to make a renewed push for increasing taxes on the wealthy. The speaker has seemingly operated on a two-year plan when it comes to policy: In 2014, Assembly Democrats backed a $15 minimum wage; the measure was approved a year later. The same went for a push on paid family leave, which ultimately passed this year as well.

“I do believe we would be a much more progressive state and we could do a lot more progressive policies if we had a Democratic Senate,” he said.

Both the minimum wage and paid family leave program came with the help from a Republican Senate, however, and Heastie said “it wasn’t a problem to have those conversations” with a GOP-controlled chamber.

At the same time, he declined to criticize Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan for his endorsement of Republican nominee Donald Trump.

“John’s a Republican and he’s going to support the Republican nominee,” he said.