Heastie: ‘Nice Conversation’ With Cuomo, Flanagan

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters on Monday morning he had a “nice conversation” with Gov. Andrew and his Republican counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader John Flanagan.

But agreements on an extension of rent control laws for New York City, as well as mayoral control of New York City schools and a real-estate tax abatement remain elusive.

“We’re talking, the governor, Senator Flanagan and I, we had a nice conversation this morning,” Heastie said after the hour-long meeting. “There’s no agreement, so for me to tell you something now, it could change.”

Heastie also rejected a bill introduced over the weekend by Senate Republicans that would extend rent laws for six years on the grounds it did not provide enough protections for tenants such as vacancy decontrol.

“It’s a non-starter for us,” he said. “It doesn’t have the issues that we’d like to see.”

Meanwhile, Heastie’s position on mayoral control appeared to harden.

“Michael Bloomberg got six years,” Heastie said. “I don’t see why Mayor de Blasio should be afforded the same respect.”

As the negotiations drag into a new week, state lawmakers and Cuomo do not appear any close to broad agreements on key issues that have expired or are due to sunset by the end of this month.

Last week, lawmakers and Cuomo agreed to a temporary extension of rent control and the 421a tax abatement which expires on Tuesday after the rent laws and abatement expired for less than 72 hours.

Nevertheless, it is a somewhat promising sign that Heastie and Flanagan are meeting in the same room together after Cuomo has held a series of separate meetings with the lawmakers.

Heastie said he was unsure whether the Legislature would have to stay here for the rest of the week in order to secure a deal.

As for the governor, Cuomo has not been seen in a public venue since June 14, when he appeared at a news conference in Yonkers unveiling a $100 million struggling schools fund.

“That’s for you to ask him,” Heastie said when asked about Cuomo’s lack of visibility. “I have to represent the interests of the conference and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Rookie Mistakes and Impossible Asks Create More Gridlock

“We are nowhere,” said one insider familiar with the negotiations currently taking place among the Senate, Assembly and Governor Cuomo. I suppose no one really expected a huge breakthrough over the weekend. Especially with the Hallmark Holiday of Father’s Day sunday. Democrats also have a fundraiser tonight at Yankee Stadium that ( as first reported by the great Ken Lovett) Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will skip.

It’s kind of a bummer for the speaker, as he was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the stadium. Oh, well.

But let’s take a step back and look at how we got here. Right from the get-go, the newly-elected speaker made it clear that his conference was all about rent. He refused to engage in any discussions about linkages. And he made his top priority the singular focus of his negotiations. Some now view this as a rookie mistake. If you only want one thing, and you make that known, the other side is going to hold that one thing over you – simply because they know how badly you want it, and you’re not giving them anywhere else to go.

Heastie was talking about ending vacancy decontrol, which began in 1993 and was greatly expanded in 1997. The notion that in this climate the state Legislature would be willing to roll back more than 20 years of precedent strikes some observers as not only absurd, but nakedly naive.

Moreover, insiders say after insisting on no linkages, Heastie then went and did exactly that on Friday night when the Assembly introduced a bill with straight extenders for rent regs and mayoral control of the New York City schools. Heastie also rejected a proposal to raise the minimum wage in New York City beginning next year up to $11.50 per hour – something that has been a big priority for Mayor Bill de Blasio. But the speaker was unwilling to compromise on rent in order to accept it. Again, a singular focus.

Defenders of the speaker say it’s a little more complicated than that. They believe it’s “two against one” inside the notorious three-men-in-a-room lair – meaning Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (himself a rookie, and technically even greener than Heastie), are siding against Heastie on rent.

Sources say the Senate was willing to include some sweeteners on rent including “inflaters” that would supposedly keep more apartments under rent protections longer. But people close to the Assembly counter that they start at too low a threshold to be effective. If the governor has a plan for rent, they maintain, why doesn’t he release it? As we all know of course, Cuomo once famously admitted to keeping his bill language secret. I think Jon Campbell of Gannett even sang a song about that in the 2013 LCA show, if I am not mistaken.

Cuomo and Flanagan also want to make it even easier for charter schools to reject, and even kick out, students who don’t do well academically and might tarnish the pretty statistics charter schools often paint to suggest they present a much better alternative to traditional public schools.

Another facet of this is de Blasio. Republicans introduced what’s known as a “big ugly,” according to this solid weekend reporting from Josefa Velasquez and Jessica Bakeman. This bill extends mayoral control of city schools for just one year.

Both Cuomo (at least he did back in February) and the Assembly Democrats want three years. If it is only one year, then de Blasio has to come back up to Albany next year and beg for more during an election year. Observers say that could give Republicans an opportunity to put de Blasio on the shelf for the 2016 elections. In other words, “We will give you more time, if you don’t actively campaign – again – against our members.”

Apparently Senate Repubs still have some very raw feelings over the mayor’s involvement in the 2014 elections, even though one could fairly argue that his involvement actually contributed to Repubs PICKING UP seats in swing districts. Whatever. Next year may be a tough one for Repubs since it is a presidential. Let’s also remember that de Blasio’s predecessor (who, admittedly, was the single largest individual contributor to the Senate GOP conference at the time) got seven years for mayoral control. One year is kind of a diss.

Anyway, It’s all very complicated and still a bit of a log jam right now. I wonder what our old friend the wood frog thinks about all this…


Whither The Tax Cap Discussion?

From the Morning Memo:

As the debate over New York City’s rent control regulations continues at the Capitol, there has seemingly been little talk of changing a separate, albeit just as important measure: the state’s cap on property taxes.

The debate, for now, has been waged by groups in favor of making changes to the cap, including the New York State United Teachers and representatives of local government lobbying groups like the New York State Association of Counties, New York Conference of Mayors and the Association of Towns.

The latest entrant last week was the NAACP: A letter from the group, distributed by NYSUT, argued the cap was hurting poor and minority school districts by widening the state’s achievement gap.

On the other side of the argument has been business organizations who are pushing to keep the cap as it is. The latest pro-business organization to enter the debate last week was the Long Island Association.

“The property tax cap enacted in 2011, with support from the LIA and the statewide business community, is working,” wrote Kevin Law, the Long Island Association’s president and member of the state’s casino siting board, in a letter to the state’s top elected officials on June 18. “Municipalities throughout New York State, including school districts which are the biggest driver of property taxes, have by and large responded to the cap with prudent budgeting, more efficiency and restrained spending.”

“In essence, our counties, towns, villages and schools have learned to do more with less.”

The cap limits property tax levy increases by 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Supporters of changing the cap wanting to eliminate the inflation provision in the law and make it easier to override when considering budgets that have levy increases of more than 2 percent.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed the cap through in 2011, had initially called for the cap to be made permanent. But a digital campaign backed by the state Democratic Committee — which Cuomo essentially controls — did not call for a permanent expiration date for the law.

The cap does not lapse until next year, but its extension is tied to rent control regulations, which have dominated talk at the Capitol.

Whether the cap should be changed is part of an end-of-session muddle dominated by New York City issues, including rent control and the extension of the 421a tax abatement.

“Rent, rent and more rent,” Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters last week when asked about his priorities in the end-of-session negotiations.

The tax cap, for some lawmakers, is viewed as an “upstate issue” while the 2016 sunset gives them little impetus to make changes to the measure.

But for those who are on either side of the tax cap issue, now is the time to make the case for permanency or tweaks that will help local governments and school districts raise revenue.

Democratic lawmakers who represent districts outside of New York City (i.e. those impacted by the tax cap) have called for some changes, including ones addressing payments-in-lieu-of-taxes.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, back a permanent tax cap, but Majority Leader John Flanagan surprised some supporters of the law by suggesting his conference favored “minor” changes including PILOTs.

“A lot of our members have advocated for minor changes to the cap,” Flanagan said after meeting with Cuomo earlier in the day. “There’s a lot of issues involving PILOTs, which is complicated issue, regardless. changes involving BOCES.”

Lia Prop Tax by Nick Reisman

Extended Session Gives Renewed Life To Issues

From the Morning Memo:

The state legislature returns on Tuesday and hopefully, state leaders say, members can consider a deal on a range of late session issues.

“As long as the clock hasn’t run out on the session, I guess a lot of things are still on the table,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Lawmakers have some breathing room after approving a temporary extension of rent control laws in New York City that now expire on Tuesday. That also gives time for other issues, such as the legalization of mixed martial arts in New York.

“We’re right on the cusp here, so I knew I had the votes today. I talked to the speaker and he’s said he’s certainly willing to entertain it next week even though we’re trying to close down other issues today,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle.

The last several weeks at the Capitol have been largely dominated by downstate issues like rent control and a real-estate tax abatement favored by developers. But some upstate lawmakers are hopefully eyeing a fund proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo aimed at supporting struggling school districts.

“We understand there’s some school assistance, potential money for failing and struggling schools. We’re right there, looking for that for our school districts,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, a Democrat from the Southern Tier.

But Assembly Democrats are also wary of Cuomo potentially linking the $100 million upstate school fund to the passage of education tax credit, which is being pushed by private and parochial schools.

“If there’s dollars to be invested in public education, there can’t be conditions attached,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.

Cuomo says he is not linking the tax credit to the fund. Heastie said he believes that’s the case.

He made an announcement and said it wasn’t linked,” Heastie said. “I would like to take the governor at his word. Shouldn’t you?”

Minimum Wage Hike For NYC Floated, But Rejected By Assembly Dems

A minimum wage increase for New York City was put on the table in exchange for a compromise on rent control protections, but the move was rejected by Assembly Democrats, sources familiar with the talks said.

The wage increase was put on the table in the negotiations this week in the talks between Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans.

But the proposal would have come with what was viewed by the conference as a weakening of tenant protections as part of a broader agreement, which led to Democrats in the Assembly shelving the proposal.

Updated: A source — clearly not with the Assembly — disputes the idea that tenant protections would have been weakened under the proposal that was floated.

“Only in Albany can down be called up, more money be called a cut and significantly strengthening rent regulations be called weakening them,” the source said.

The minimum wage proposal comes after Cuomo created a wage board at the state Department of Labor to study and potentially recommend a minimum wage increase for workers in the fast-food industry.

Cuomo earlier this year proposed a two-tiered minimum wage for New York City at $11.50 and $10.50 elsewhere in the state.

Assembly Democrats had countered with a higher wage increase to include the surrounding suburban counties.

The state’s current minimum wage is $8.75 and is due to increase to $9 by the end of the year.

A longer-term deal on rent control regulations remains elusive this week after lawmakers and Cuomo agreed to a five-day extension of the laws through Tuesday.

Morelle: Mixed-Martial Arts Bill Potentially Next Week

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle on Friday said he is “hopeful” for a vote on a bill that legalizes mixed-martial arts in New York and indicated Speaker Carl Heastie is likely to put the measure on the floor for a full vote.

“I certainly remain hopeful. We had a couple of members who could not be here for family reasons, so I didn’t want to take a chance, obviously,” Morelle told reporters on Friday. “We’re right on the cusp here. I knew I had the votes today, but I talked to the speaker and he said he’s certainly willing to entertain it next week as we’re trying to close down other issues today.”

The revised MMA bill has already been approved by the Republican-led Senate. The new measure is broader than the initial bill: Combat sports the state already regulates like boxing and wrestling would be included in the legislation.

The bill would create a $1 million accident insurance policy covering brain injury-related medical costs. The bill gives authority to the state Athletic Commission to determine groups or organizations that oversee the currently unregulated amateur-level fights.

The bill also would increase the minimum amount needed for accident insurance in both boxing and mixed-martial arts fights to $50,000, up from the current $7,500 for boxing matches in New York.

Supporters of the measure say it has reached majority support in the Democratic conference, a key trigger for allowing a vote in the Assembly, where the MMA legislation has been bottled up in previous years.

The state Assembly concluded its session on Friday and, like the Senate, will return on Tuesday after approving a temporary extension of rent control laws for New York City and the surrounding area.

“In terms of big picture, obviously we wish we had a deal here,” Morelle said of the rent control issue. “The next thing is to make sure we still have an opportunity to continue to have a conversation. Hopefully by Tuesday we’ll have some kind of an agreement.”

Hawk Keeps Watchful Eye On Assembly


No news, just a hawk perched on ledge outside of the Assembly chamber on the Washington Avenue side of the building as lawmakers finish up a Friday session this afternoon.

Feel free to caption this in the comments section.

Heastie: ‘Taking Cuomo At His Word’ On Linkage

When it comes to keeping a fund for struggling schools separate from other unresolved issues at the end of the legislative session, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters on Friday he’s taking Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his word that’s the case.

“He made that commitment so you’ll have to ask him. I would like to take the governor at his word,” Heastie said with an eyebrow slightly raised. “Shouldn’t you?”

Cuomo unveiled a $100 million fund for schools that have struggled financially. The announcement was made by Cuomo in Yonkers on Sunday, and the governor said at the time there’s no link to the approval of the fund to the passage of measures Assembly Democrats have balked at, such as lifting the cap on charter schools or the education tax credit.

Cuomo has linked the passage of stronger rent control laws to the creation of the tax credit, which is supported by private and parochial schools, but opposed by the state’s teachers unions.

Heastie on Friday reiterated the Assembly’s reticence to support lifting the cap on charter schools, which Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has linked to an extension of mayoral control in New York City.

“For the most part, the Assembly conference are not big supporters of charter schools,” Heastie said. “Charters are something Senate Republicans like to support. They never want them in their district.”

Still, for a session that has focused heavily on New York City-centric issues, the school district fund was welcome new for upstate lawmakers.

“We understand there’s some potential money for failing and struggling schools,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, a Democrat from the Southern Tier. “We’re right there — looking for that for our school districts. But you’re right, it’s definitely being dominated by downstate issues.”

Heastie plans to stay in Albany over the weekend to negotiate a larger deal on rent control legislation after lawmakers on Thursday night agreed to a five-day extension of the laws that expired at the start of the week.

The state Senate wrapped up work for the week on Thursday, while the Assembly is staying here through the afternoon.

The Legislature returns to Albany on Tuesday, the same day the temporary extension expires.

But Heastie, who cancelled his appearance at a Monday fundraiser at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, said there’s still time to settle a range of issues such as the legalization of mixed-martial arts, which will not be voted on by the chamber today.

“As long as the clock hasn’t run out of the session a lot of things are still on the table,” he said.

Lawmakers And Cuomo Buy Breathing Room With Rent Control Agreement


From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, appropriately enough, was sitting at the back of the chamber on Thursday night solving a Rubik’s cube.

The accountant by trade can solve the cube in under five minutes and he was twisting and turning ts sides with little effort to make the colors match.

A grand compromise — or “big ugly” in Albany parlance — has been a harder puzzle to solve for Heastie and his fellow rookie legislative leader, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

Heastie and Flanagan, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, announced a temporary stop-gap measure for extending rent control regulations as well as the 421a tax abatement in New York City and several surrounding counties until Tuesday.

“We just wanted more time to negotiate,” he said. “Whether it’s going to be Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, we were still going to be continuing the talks.”

The extra few days could help.

“I won’t be happy until we get some real rent laws that protect tenants in the city of New York,” said Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Keith Wright. “This five-day extender gives us all in the Legislature a chance to fight another day.”

Lawmakers and Cuomo remain apart on key issues like rent control and the real-estate tax abatement, which lapsed on Monday at midnight. At the same time, legislators and the governor must consider the soon-to-expire mayoral control of New York City schools as well as the education tax credit, which Cuomo has linked to stronger rent control regulations.

The extension, albeit temporary, was something of a breakthrough for a week that has seen few agreements save for deals on legislation aimed at combating rape and sexual assault on college campuses as well as new protections for workers in nail salons.

“I think it shows the willingness of myself, the governor and Senator Flanagan to come to an agreement on a number of issues,” Heastie said of the deal.

It also brings some breathing room for Cuomo, who had cancelled his appearance at a fundraiser previously scheduled in New York City in order to attend to the negotiations (the fundraiser itself still went off).

Cuomo had pledged to use his power to keep state lawmakers in Albany should an agreement on rent control not be reached.

Now, he won’t have either Senate Republicans leaving town with lapsed regulations, nor will he have to force them to stay at the Capitol and simply gavel in and out (some lawmakers were comparing that potential situation to the days of Gov. David Paterson).

But whether this brings Senate Republicans around to a longer term extension of the existing regulations remains to be seen.

Assembly Democrats are pushing for an end to vacancy decontrol, while Senate Republicans approved a measure this week that would require income and residency verification for those who live in rent-controlled units.

Heastie was unsure whether this agreement could portend a larger deal on rent and the other remaining issues.

“I appreciate the fact that Senator Flanagan thought that while we’re still talking we should try to give a show of good faith to two and a half million people we should try to get something done,” he said.

Senate Leaves Tonight, Flanagan Says

The state Senate will leave after tonight, but Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan told reporters on Thursday he plans to stay in Albany and continue negotiating end-of-session issues.

“We can finish our business that’s unaddressed, we can finish it today,” he said.

Flanagan met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo this afternoon following a 2-hour closed-door Republican conference. He emerged from both meetings to indicate he had not budged on his position on rent control and insisted the Democratic-led Assembly should approved the bill backed by the GOP-controlled Senate earlier this week.

“The Assembly can pass our bill, which is an eight-year extender,” he said.

Democrats have rejected the Senate’s bill, which would require verification for income and residency.

But Flanagan told reporters the Senate feels its work has been largely completed a day after the legislative session was scheduled to conclude.

“I will stay and work with the governor and the speaker to get done what we need to,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why our members need to be here. We did a property tax cap being permanent, we did rent, we did a whole litany of things.”

Still, Flanagan added he’s not completed negotiating with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“I think it’s in everybody’s best interests to be done today,” he said.

Heastie, meanwhile, plans to keep his members in Albany.

“I can only be responsible for the Assembly,” he said. “We’re going to keep working tomorrow.”

Cuomo has threatened to use his power to keep the Legislature in Albany as long as rent control remains unresolved.