Lawmakers Reject Rational Tuition 2.0

From the Morning Memo:

SUNY officials, with support from some (but not all) student leaders, have been pushing state lawmakers to approve another round of so-called “rational” tuition hikes, first approved as part of the SUNY 2020 plan.

Supporters said the program, which allowed campuses to raise tuition by $300 a year for in-state students and up to 10 percent for out-of-staters, took effect in 2011 and expires this year, provided students and their families with predictability regarding increases, removing the issue temporarily from the hands of the Legislature, where it tended to be a political football.

Before 2011, SUNY had increased tuition – with the Legislature’s assistance – 13 times since 1963. The largest hike was a $950 increase to in-state tuition in 2003.

The governor included an extension of SUNY 2020 in his executive budget proposal. But lawmakers are not so eager to give another green light to this initiative, citing concerns that too much of SUNY’s costs are now born by students, while state aid has steadily dropped.

The Assembly’s one-house budget proposal will include a SUNY/CUNY tuition freeze, the TU reports this morning. Assembly Higher Education Chair Deborah Glick hinted about that during a CapTon interview last night, saying she expects the Senate Republicans will do the same.

“This will be five years of the system adding a tuition burden to the students and their families at a time when salaries have stagnated…I think most members in both houses are loathe to continue authorizing a $300-a-year increase in tuition,” the assemblywoman said.

Glick said the administration has done a “maintenance of effort light, a skim milk maintenance of effort, if you will,” after the governor rejected the MOU legislation last year, saying it needed to be dealt with in the budget. She said she prefers a “full, robust maintenance of effort” that would address ongoing SUNY system costs without relying so heavily on tuition dollars.

Glick said she is not closing the door entirely on the idea of a tuition increase, saying: “I would just say that both houses have felt that the burden, and with it, a certain increase in student debt, which is a very big problem, is a very big lift for the Legislature.”

Wozniak Sanctioned Over Relationship With Legislative Aide

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie issued sanctions on Wednesday against a freshman Republican lawmaker after the chamber’s Ethics Committee determined she had retaliated against a legislative aide she had engaged in a sexual relationship with.

Western New York Assembylwoman Angela Wozniak is the latest state lawmaker to be punished after a string of harassment scandals in the Legislature, including that of her predecessor, Democratic former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak.

Wozniak entered a consensual relationship with the aide, Elias Farah, in June 2015. After Wozniak revealed to her husband the affair, Wozniak began blocking Farah from being in the district office or attending community meetings while she was present.

“The sexual relationship had a negative impact” on Wozniak’s office, the Assembly Ethics Committee wrote in its findings to Heastie.

The Ethics Committee also determined that Wozniak displayed “incredibly poor judgment” by entering into a relationship with someone who worked in her office.

The sanctions include a letter of public admonishment from the speaker and prohibiting Wozniak from having an intern. At the same time, Farah will be reassigned to a comparable job with similar pay and benefits that will come from Wozniak’s staff budget until the end of her current term.

Meanwhile, an independent investigator will conduct climate surveys of Wozniak’s Assembly employees on a semi-annual basis to ensure there is no “repeat conduct,” Heastie’s office said in a statement.

The Assembly’s sexual harassment policy was developed in the wake of the late Vito Lopez’s scandal, in which the Brooklyn lawmaker was found to have harassed and assaulted women who worked for the Legislature. Despite the women bringing the complaints to the leadership, Lopez continued to harass subsequent aides working in his office.

Wozniak 3-9-16 by Nick Reisman

Ethics Committee 3-8-16 by Nick Reisman

Wozniak’s Attorney Expects Ethics Committee Report Soon

It’s been a recurring trend when it comes to the New York State Assembly Ethics Committee investigation into Western New York Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak. Her attorney Steve Cohen said, in general, the media has had more information about what’s going on with the investigation than he has.

That was the case again when a source told Capital Tonight’s Zack Fink to expect sanctions for Wozniak on Thursday. Cohen said he is expecting the committee’s report but doesn’t anticipate any punishment for his client.

“I just don’t think the facts could support any of those accusations or charges,” he said.

The attorney admitted if the committee concludes there was merit to accusations Wozniak sexually harassed and retaliated against a male staffer, he believes there could be trouble. He said because Wozniak is the only registered Conservative on the New York State Legislature, she is a political target.

“It is my expectation that Democrat Carl Heastie, that Democrat Charles Lavine are probably going to come down harder on her than they would on anyone else and let’s not forget Sheldon Silver was not sanctioned by the Assembly Ethics Committee,” he said.

A source told Fink the sanctions would include not allowing Wozniak to have interns and assigning somebody to monitor her office.

“I believe that would be completely unwarranted here. It is my position based on what I know of the case. It is my opinion, my belief that the accuser manipulated this situation and putting in a monitor to monitor Angela Wozniak would be entirely inappropriate.”

Cohen said he and Wozniak are hoping to put the investigation behind her but they can’t make any final decisions until they see the report. He is not ruling out an appeal though.

Cuomo Admin Nudges Assembly On Military Spouses Licensing

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Tuesday evening in a statement pushed the Democratic-led Assembly to back a measure aimed at streamlining the professional licensing application process for spouses of military personnel.

The bill has already been approved by Senate Republicans and Cuomo plans to approve the legislation if signed.

New York is the only state that does not have a provision to allow military spouses with professional licenses in other states have a streamlined application process, state Division of Veteran’s Affairs Director Eric Hesse.

In a statement, Hesse said the current arrangement “creates unnecessary roadblocks for military spouses.”

“The Governor strongly supports this bill, which the New York State Senate has previously passed, and has agreed to swiftly sign legislation it in order to right this wrong,” Hesse said. “The Assembly must join us and act now to ensure that military families are treated the same in New York as they are in the rest of the country.”

Assembly Proposes $30M To Fight Heroin Epidemic

The Democratic-led Assembly is backing $30 million in funding that would combat the growing heroin addiction epidemic in the state, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced on Tuesday.

The proposal, part of the Assembly’s one-house budget proposal, would expand treatment and support programs for heroin and opiate abuse.

“All across New York State, it has become clear that we need to step up our game in the fight against heroin and opiate addiction,” Heastie said in a statement. “It has taken too many lives and touched too many homes. That’s why the Assembly has proposed to increase funding significantly from last year.”

The funding includes $15 million for treatment and preventative services, as well as $9 for post-treatment recovery, which is aimed at supporting those who recently completed addiction treatment.

Another $6 million would be used for patient engagement programs that help individuals find treatment options.

“New York is facing a heroin and opioid addiction epidemic, and we must allocate resources to ensure robust prevention, education and treatment to help save lives,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who chairs the chamber’s Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Committee. “Our communities can no longer afford to continue the criminalization of those who desperately need our help. Instead, we must empower them with the support they need to recover and regain their lives.”

Along with the $30 million package, the one-house budget would restore $2 million to fund substance abuse prevention and intervention specialists for schools in New York City.

This Year, A Liberal Economic Platform Dominates Albany Discussion

From the Morning Memo:

Five years ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office as the state was grappling with the aftershocks of the recession, not the least of which was a $10 billion deficit.

At the time, Cuomo sought to make the state more business friendly, successfully racking up a series of economic legislative victories that would have made a governor of either party jealous, with pension reform and a cap on local property tax increase among them, along with reforms to Medicaid spending that also gave labor a seat at the table.

But things changed over the last five years: Liberals have chafed at austerity budget proposals and labor unions have started conducting well-financed campaigns to increase the minimum wage to $15 and expand membership that has been dwindling for decades.

Cuomo, too, has undertaken an emphasis on economic measures that preaches the growing concern over income inequality.

“Middle class in this country is going backwards, not forwards,” Cuomo said on Monday on Long Island. “Earning potential is going backwards. There was a time when CEOs made about 20 times what a worker makes. Now they make thousands of times what a worker makes.”

Cuomo remains an adherent to a voluntary limit on spending increases in the budget at 2 percent. And he has no desire to make broad-based changes to the tax cap, despite please from the state’s teachers union, municipal leaders and some state lawmakers.

Nevertheless, Cuomo has clearly gotten to work on bolstering support on his left flank after a stronger-than-expected primary challenge in 2014 from Zephyr Teachout, a little-known Fordham Law school professor.

The Working Families Party, a labor-backed organization, nearly handed its ballot line to Teachout that year, requiring Cuomo to appear in video messages pledging support for a minimum wage increase (at the time, $10.10, the governor has gone further by embracing the “Fight For 15″ movement).

At the same time, Cuomo has been in a series of public disagreements with the liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that erupted in full view when the mayor accused the governor of siding with Senate Republicans in end-of-session negotiations.

And it’s not just Cuomo who is pushing the issues. Emboldened by the success of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail as well as the vocal Occupy Wall Street movement from 2012, Democratic state lawmakers are pushing a range of liberal economic measures this legislative session.

“We’re the Empire State and we always do things first, we try to make an impact and that’s why I really think you start to see, when New York does things, it’s a model for the rest of the country,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Democrats in the Assembly this year are backing a tax hike on the rich. On Monday, two lawmakers introduced a bill that would close what they call a loophole in the tax law that helps hedge fund managers avoid taxes.

“Times change, right? Relative to what see, the issue of income inequality in this country is now being raised on a national level,” said Assemblyman Jeff Aubry. “I think the public and people of good will such as we have here are saying, ‘Hold up, that’s a problem.'”

Activists have been encouraged too with efforts to rebuild the ranks of organized labor and increase the state’s minimum wage to $15.

“There’s definitely been a shift,” said Karen Scharff, the executive director of Citizen Action and the co-chair of the state Working Families Party. “I agree that we’re in a period of time now where there’s such strong, broad and widespread public approval all across the country, all across the state, saying the current economic system is not fair and has to change.”

The development, however, worries business groups and Republicans. New York remains one of the highest taxed states in the nation and continues to bleed population to other states that have more favorable tax (and weather) climates.

“To make it more difficult for small businesses and even the non-profits that employ people,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican. “I don’t know how that can be done given how this process is being worked out so far.”

Assembly Lawmakers Call For Strengthened CUNY Funding

From the Morning Memo:

The Assembly Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force in a letter urged Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in the budget talks to back funding for the City University of New York aimed at having the college system “remain whole” after the budget is approved.

In the letter sent last month, the lawmakers raise concerns with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $154 billion budget that would shift $485 million in spending for CUNY onto New York City.

At the same time, the lawmakers urge Heastie to back $240 million in the governor’s budget that supports retroactive salary increases for CUNY’s labor unions.

Third, the task force writes that CUNY must receive funding for mandatory cost increases, including collective bargaining expenses in the coming years.

“For many, CUNY represents the only option for an affordable college education and the chance for a better life,” the lawmakers write. “And the whole state benefits: students from every Assembly and Senate district in New York state attend CUNY.”

The letter comes after Senate Democrats this week in a letter of their own raised concerns with the proposal to shift CUNY-related costs onto New York City. The governor’s office has said the Cuomo administration is willing to work with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office to find efficiencies in spending in order to avoid broad-based spending cuts.

Letter Speaker Hispanic Task Force on CUNY Budget by Nick Reisman

Legislature Nears One-House Budget Resolutions

The Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led Assembly are expected to release their one-house budget resolutions in the coming days as the state spending negotiations enter a new phase ahead of the March 31 deadline.

“We’re going to go to print on our one-house resolution on Friday so we continue to brief the members,” said Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat who leads the Assembly.

The Assembly’s one-house budget resolution isn’t expected to contain too many surprises: The Democratic conference has already staked out positions in favor of increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 and a 12-week paid family leave program, while also increasing taxes on the wealthy and providing a cut to lower income earners.

In the Senate, Republicans are grappling with both the minimum wage proposal and paid family leave, both of which are being boosted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who included them in his $154 billion budget proposal.

“We’re getting consensus among our members, but I believe we’re on track to do something by this week,” said Sen. Cathy Young, the Olean Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

The one-house budget resolutions aren’t binding documents, but offer a public blueprint for each majority conference in the chamber for a process that is otherwise conducted behind the scenes.

Senate Republicans are yet to reach agreement on the nettlesome minimum wage and paid leave proposals, which Majority Leader John Flanagan has not officially ruled out passing a version of sometime this year.

“We’ve given preliminary discussions about those issues, but we have not come up with any consensus on those issues at this time,” Young said of paid family leave and the minimum wage.

Both measures have raised alarms within the state’s business community, which have been traditional political allies for the Senate GOP. But the Republican conference faces a potentially complicated road to maintaining the majority after this year’s general election and has a narrow advantage in the chamber at the moment.

Both the minimum wage increase and paid family leave are backed by a majority of voters, polls have shown.

Still, Senate Republicans may seek more clarity from Cuomo in his own spending, especially when it comes to the more than $2 billion in discretionary funds in the budget.

“We believe very strongly we want to know where the state budget funding is going,” Young said. “That is a prime concern to all of our members, because we want to make sure we have fairness across the state.”

Parents Group To Lawmakers: Don’t Appoint ‘Single-Issue’ Regents

From the Morning Memo:

A new group of public school parents in letter to be released later today urged state lawmakers to not appoint “single issue” candidates to the Board of Regents based on the backing of the opt-out movement in testing.

The letter from the group, New York Parent Alliance for Learning Standards — NYPALS — comes as the Legislature is considering three appointments to the Board of Regents, which oversees education policy in the state.

“Parents, educators and policy makers across the state believe that our leaders should put the best interests of New York’s 2.6 million students first, not politics,” the parents said.

“Unfortunately, there are a number of candidates for the Board who have accepted the endorsement of a single-issue special interest group that organizes a cynical campaign urging students to refuse to take annual state assessments. We ask you to reject any candidate who fails to approach policy with an open mind.”

The letter was sent to the Assembly and Senate leaders, as well as the chairs of the legislative education committees, Sen. Carl Marcellino and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan.

The group includes parents who have children in grades 3 through 8 in New York, with the plan to push the Legislature to back Regents on the board who are supportive of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s task force on the Common Core education standards.

The state Department of Education is largely autonomous from the governor’s office, with the board being appointed by a combined vote of the Senate and Assembly. Given the Assembly’s overwhelming Democratic majority, the conference in essence controls who sits on the board.

State education officials have been sharply criticized for their handling of the Common Core Core roll out, and last April about 20 percent of students declined to take math and English language arts examinations.

The standards are now being revised after a moratorium was declared over linking Common Core-based tests to teacher performance reviews.

Republicans Say They Want To Block Undocumented Workers Action By Regents

From the Morning Memo:

A plan that would allow undocumented workers to apply for teacher certifications and other professional licenses is drawing opposition from Republican lawmakers, who say the Board of Regents shouldn’t have acted alone.

“We should block it administratively and if the Board of Regents wants to radically change New York state policy that’s been in place for over 100 years, they should come to the Legislature to ask permission,” said Republican Assemblyman Bill Nojay, “not do it by bureaucratic fiat.”

The Board of Regents oversees the state Department of Education, which also is in charge of granting a range of professional licenses. The board last week announced it would begin accepting applications from undocumented immigrants — a move supportive lawmakers say is designed to provide expended opportunity.

“I want to applaud the Board of Regents for taking such a great step forward in doing that,” said Assemblyman Francisco Moya. “I think that what it does is really help and benefit the state of New York with so many qualified individuals who will have that opportunity to really benefit this great state.”

The Department of Education is largely independent from the Legislature and the governor’s office. Lawmakers opposed to the plan say it should have gone through legislative vetting at the very least.

“What are we even here for if you’re letting the Board of Regents making decisions like this?” said Sen. Terrence Murphy, a Republican from the Hudson Valley. “Why do you have the Legislature? So, this is what the people have elected us officials to do.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, is taking a wait and see approach to the plan.

“It depends how they write the policy as to whether or not it’s legal and constitutional,” Cuomo said last week. “I haven’t seen anything I’ve only heard. When we see it, we’ll have the lawyers take a look.”

The regents are acting as state lawmakers and Cuomo continue to debate the DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.