Stipend System Falls Under Scrutiny

From the Morning Memo:

Falsely reporting senators as committee chairs so they can receive lucrative stipends has shined a light on a more commonplace practice in both the Senate and Assembly: The so-called lulu system of doling out extra pay for leadership positions.

“I think sometimes in Albany the people here forget whose money it is,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It’s taxpayer dollars and we think it should be spent appropriately. Both houses should defend these leadership positions that have these vague and obscure titles.”

Some lawmakers hold rather oblique titles. For example, Senator Carl Marcellino holds the post of majority conference vice chairman. In the Assembly, there’s a deputy majority whip and an assistant majority whip. All come with stipends on top of the base $79,500 pay.

“I believe that all the members, Democrat or Republican, Assembly or Senate, are worthy of the compensation they receive,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

Flanagan on Monday defended the procedure of falsely reporting leadership titles and the lulu system overall, saying it’s constitutional.

“There’s been litigation for the Senate to uphold the ability to run its own house,” he said. “The statute for stipends has been in place for years.”

The Assembly, too, defended its use of committee and leadership titles, which some good-government groups argue empowers leadership to hold sway over members.

“I think every one of the established lea dership positions or committee chairs do the relevant and they compensate for doing that extra work,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Sen. Tom O’Mara is one of the lawmakers who receives compensation for his role as vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, receiving $15,000 for the job.

But O’Mara says he’s advocated for key issues, such as highway funding.

“I would say the primary role I’ve had is I’ve been a leading advocate on CHIPs funding,” O’Mara said, “and infrastructure funding for many years now since I’ve been in the Senate.”

Heastie Says Assembly Stipend System Doesn’t Mirror Senate

Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday said his chamber does not follow the same practice as the Republican-controlled state Senate when it comes to designating non-committee chairs as leaders of panels in order to receive paid stipends.

“I’m not sure how the Senate handles things, but for us anyone who is a chair of a committee or in a leadership position, they get the corresponding stipend that’s written in statute,” Heastie said. “I don’t really know what the Senate did, but ours in a straight process.”

He added that his chamber “just takes it to the letter of the law.”

The Senate has come under scrutiny for the practice of falsely designating seven lawmakers as committee chairs on payroll documents to the state comptroller when they do not actually hold that position.

Those lawmakers hold the post of “vice chair” in their Senate committees.

The Assembly, Heastie noted, does not have the vice chair position.

McLaughlin Considering Run For Rensselaer County Exec

Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin over the years has considered a number of potential races: state Senate, the House of Representatives and even toyed with running for governor.

Now McLaughlin, an outspoken lawmaker from Rensselaer County, says he is considering a bid for the open county executive post.

Incumbent Republican Kathy Jimino announced on Thursday she would not seek another term and would retire.

Speaking on Fred Dicker’s Talk-1300 radio show — when the Jimino news to him was just rumor — McLaughlin said he would consider a bid.

He later posted to Twitter his congratulations to Jimino and added: “I am ready to serve and STRONGLY considering it.”

If he decides to run, McLaughlin would be the latest in a line of state lawmakers to seek an exit from the Legislature as a number are seeking to run in off-year local elections for county executive races in Nassau and Westchester counties and other campaigns.

Heastie Huddles With Flanagan

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie huddled with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan for about 30 minutes on Wednesday to discuss the final weeks of the legislative session.

“We just shot the breeze. Nothing significant,” Heastie said when asked about meeting after leaving Flanagan’s office on the Senate side of the building. “We talked about the next six weeks of session, nothing specific.”

Pressed on whether they discussed issues like procurement reform or mayoral control of New York City schools — which expires in June — Heastie demurred.

“Nothing really specific, just six weeks left,” he said. “We have to talk about what to do toward the end of session, but there’s nothing really specific. We had gotten together since the budget was passed.”

The meeting comes as lawmakers have been largely left to their own devices since the budget was agreed to and approved in April.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has largely stayed outside of Albany for the last month and has said he largely got what he wanted in the spending plan, which included a plan to provide free tuition to SUNY and CUNY schools.

Cuomo told reporters he would largely take his cues from the Legislature.

“I’ll respond to the initiatives that the Legislature comes up with,” he said. “Frankly, everything big we wanted to get done we got done in the budget.”

Heastie, Flanagan Concerned With Con-Con

The legislative leaders on Tuesday expressed unease with a constitutional convention, raising concerns with the cost and changes by “temporary” officials.

The comments by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie during a joint appearance at the Times Union’s media center in Albany come as voters this November will consider a referendum whether to hold a constitutional convention.

“It’s not going to be inexpensive by any circumstances,” Flanagan said. “This is so unknown, so unknown.”

He added, “This would not be the wisest course of action.”

Flanagan pointed out more than 250 amendments have resulted in changes to the state constitution.

The last constitutional convention was held in 1967 and voters by law consider whether to hold one every 20 years.

A range of organizations — including public-sector labor unions and environmental groups — have expressed opposition to a constitutional convention, pointing to changes that could be made to collective bargaining rules or upending conservation protections.

Heastie raised the issue of outside influence on the process for selecting delegates and changing the document.

“I understand peoples’ desire to put it in the hands of the people to decide. But people are also subjected to campaigns,” Heastie said. “My concern is there can be a lot of outside money influencing what would be the election of 180 or so temporary legislators.”

Concerns over special interests having an undue impact on the process aren’t new, and good-government groups have pointed to that as well.

“I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside of the state who can decide to spend millions of dollars to put forward their position,” Heastie said.

Heastie Says Assembly Like To Take Up E-Cig Bill

The Democratic-led Assembly is likely to take up a bill that would expand the Clean Indoor Air Act to electronic cigarettes, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday said.

The bill last month moved through the Senate Health Committee, which also passed a measure setting the state’s tobacco purchasing age to 21.

The Assembly has previously approved the e-cigarette legislation in prior years; it’s unclear if the Senate will advance the bill to the full chamber.

“We’ve done it before and I believe we’ll be passing it again,” Heastie said.

Heastie: People Want Transparency In Economic Development Spending

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday reiterated the push by the Democratic-led conference to pass new transparency measures for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s various economic development efforts.

At the same time, Heastie criticized the conuterargument that the Legislature should be more concerned with passing term limits for state elected officials as Cuomo has proposed.

“I think one of the things we need to stop doing is every bill be classified as an ethics reform,” Heastie said. “I don’t know what a term limit does in terms of someone’s honest. I think that’s window dressing or a distraction.”

The latest dust-up over economic development oversight was reported this morning by The Daily News as Assemblyman Robin Schimminger is calling for the re-instatement of public disclosure requirements for the START-UP NY program.

“I think what the people of the state want is they want transparency,” Heastie said. “They want the belief money is being spent in the correct way. These things about how long people have been here is silly, actually.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers and Cuomo are also at odds over a bill that would restore power to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to oversee procurement for economic development programs through SUNY-related entities.

Cuomo wants to appoint investigators to oversee state contracting, a measure lawmakers question given independence issues.

“I think there’s always room for compromise on conversations, but I do think the concern is peoples’ independence when you appoint prosecutors,” Heastie said. “All of these things would have to be discussed.”

Cahill Backs Bill To Speed Up Ride Hailing

Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill has backed legislation that would hasten the implementation of ride hailing in New York.

The measure, introduced by Republican Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer, is aimed at allowing ride hailing firms like Uber and Lyft to operate by June 29 in suburban and upstate communities.

The measure backed in the approved budget puts ride hailing in effect outside of New York City for July 9.

The momentum is building to get ride-sharing services up and running in Western New York for the Fourth of July holiday weekend,” Ranzenhofer said. “The legislation is one step closer to a reality with Assemblyman Cahill’s leadership in the State Assembly. I look forward to working with him to get this bill passed by both houses of the State Legislature.”

Picking up Cahill is key for the legislation’s passage given he carried the bill in the Assembly for the last several years and was a key lawmaker in the negotiations.

“With full legislative recognition of the unique business model of the ride hailing industry, it makes sense to move up the authorization a few days to allow for the services to kick off before the 4th of July holiday,” Cahill said. “I will work to fast track this legislation through the Assembly and I am sure Senator Ranzenhofer will do the same in the Senate. It will then be up to the TNC’s to bring their product to market all over upstate New York.”

Women’s Caucus Calls For Child Care Task Force

A bipartisan group of women in the state Legislature want to see more done for child care. So they’re calling for the formation of a child care task force to take up issues they say are of concern for both Democrats and Republicans.

“This definitely has universal appeal,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo. “The women who are in the caucus are mothers, grandmothers. They’ve spent their lives as teachers and providing child care themselves. So, it’s an important issue.”

And the proposed task force comes as the budget did include victories such as $35 million for afterschool programs. And lawmakers say they were able to beat back an effort that would have shifted money away from child care programs. The money as proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget resulted in a $7 million gap for child care.

The proposal would have shifted $27 million in discretionary Title XX money, and would have resulted in the closure of 65 senior centers in New York City.

Lawmakers were able to partially restore some of that funding, about $20 million, but still leaves the gap in spending.

The lawmakers also raised other budgetary concerns: The budget cut $2.5 million from Advantage Afterschool, which provides funding for programs in all school districts, including those not located in economically troubled districts. The gap is expected to result in 900 fewer slots for children in child care programs.

Heastie Urges House Delegation To Oppose Curtailing Deductions

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called on Tuesday the proposal to end state and local tax deductions a blow to the middle class and appealed to the state’s Republican House delegation to oppose the plan.

“I hope they stand up and say you shouldn’t him on them,” said Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, of House Republicans from New York. “It’s the big states that are blue that are being hit on this and I would hope the federal government isn’t playing politics with this for the states that didn’t support him.”

The proposal has drawn an outcry from high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, too, has raised alarms over the proposal.

At least two New York Republicans in the House of Representatives, Reps. Claudia Tenney and John Faso, have signaled unease with ending deductions, which are seen as helping partially offset the cost of high property taxes.

Heastie, speaking with reporters on Tuesday in Albany, said the proposal would have a severe impact on middle class homeowners.

“I think anybody like me who is a homeowner looking at those type of deductions, taking away from those deductions would be a pretty heavy load on us and would be really hitting the middle class in the stomach,” Heastie said.

“I would hope the president would reconisder that or at the very least the Republicans who represent New York.”