Petitioning Open for Sam Roberts’ Seat

If you’re itching to be elected to a seat in the New York State Assembly, one is now available in the Syracuse area. Petitioning is officially open to replace Assemblyman Sam Roberts, who was confirmed by the Senate last week as the Commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Roberts is consequently no longer a member of the state’s lower chamber. His page and name have already been removed from the Assembly’s website, less than 24 hours after the end of this year’s legislative session. Instead, his name as been added to the OTDA website.

Anyone seeking to take the 128th Assembly district seat has to submit their petition to the Onondaga County Board of Elections by July 9th – less than two weeks from today.

The county’s Democratic committee has already placed its bets on Syracuse Common Councilor Pamela Hunter. She won their endorsement during a vote Thursday night.

But two other Democrats are reportedly preparing a primary challenge against the committee favorite. Jean Kessner, another member of the Common Council, and David Scott, a former county legislator are also preparing their petitions for a run.

The district itself includes part of the city of Syracuse and a few surrounding municipalities, making it unlikely that a Republican would flip it in their favor.

Heastie Announces Off-Session Travel Reimbursement Policy

In an effort to curb per diem abuse by state lawmakers, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Friday, announced reforms to the chamber’s travel policy.

The new requirements apply to travel reimbursements sought when session is not scheduled in Albany. If a lawmaker wants to claim expenses for more than 30 trips during that time, they’ll have to seek approval from the Speaker.

Under federal regulations, lawmakers are allotted $172 for a full day for food, lodging and costs related to the trip. They’re allowed $61 for a partial day per diem.

The new regulations limit off-session trips to 30. Lawmakers can claim a full-day per diem for only 20 of those trips. Legislative duties, like public hearings, are excluded.

Heastie said in a statement that the reforms come in response to calls for greater transparency at the capitol.

“Shortly after I was elected Speaker, my colleagues and I pledged to review the Assembly travel per diem policy,” Heastie said in a statement. “Today, we’re delivering on our promise, consistent with legislation enacted during the budget process, and instituting new rules that will apply to members when the Assembly is not in session.  We believe these new policies will provide increased transparency and greater accountability to the process by which members are reimbursed for their actual travel expenses.”

These new guidelines build on reforms released by Heastie last month. Under those rules, lawmakers are now required to electronically prove they were in Albany for business through voting in committee and using swipe machines in the state plaza’s Legislative Office Building.

For travel reimbursements, lawmakers must also provide documented proof, like toll records and receipts from hotels and restaurants that show they were in Albany at the time.

This comes after a third lesser-talked about scandal came to a bitter end for one Assemblyman this session. Former Queens Assemblyman William Scarborough plead guilty to charges of per diem abuse in federal court last month.

Assembly Passes Big Ugly, Legislature Adjourns

Lawmakers have left the state capitol after members from both chambers overwhelmingly supported a final agreement between Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders.

The Senate approved the measure earlier in the night, followed by the Assembly just before midnight in a vote of 122 – 13.

A handful of Republicans and at least one Democrat opposed the final measure. Assemblyman Charles Barron said the agreement doesn’t guarantee enough protections for tenants in New York City.

“Rent protections, not there I don’t think, 421-a program should’ve been scrapped,” Barron said on the Assembly floor. “When I look at this bill I am disappointed – and I know you think in negotiations you go as far as you think. We can talk about the Republican senate, the governor. To me, the governor is a disgrace to this state.”

Others, including those in the minority looked to the cost-saving measures for taxpayers as a positive.

“For me, the fact that we are able to extend the property tax cap, that we are providing some relief to our property tax payers despite the fact we could’ve done so much more with significant mandate relief,” Assemblyman Bob Oaks said on the floor. “My choice tonight is going to be voting in the positive.”

The final vote marks the end of this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers are due back in January.

In his closing remarks, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that while the past few months have been a challenge, the outcome was worth it.

“After this session our families are stronger, our schools are stronger, and our communities are stronger.” Heastie said. “It truly is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the women and men on both sides of the aisle.”

Heastie’s counterpart in the Republican-led Senate had much of the same to say. In his closing, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan touched on his working relationship with Governor Cuomo since he assumed the leadership role just last month.

“We have had a tumultuous couple of weeks for sure but at the end of the day we worked closely together, we worked well together, certainly disagreements,” Flanagan said. “He is tenacious, as he will often tell people, and I look forward to working with him again.”

On Heastie, Flanagan had no complaints.

“Carl Heastie’s a good guy, he’s a gentlemen,” Flanagan said. “He’s a fair broker, he certainly was very passionate on issues like rent and certainly issues involving the city of New York. He has been good to work with, plain and simple.”

Flanagan pointed to a few of the chamber’s major victories, like the historic increase in education aid included in this year’s budget, along with movement on the Women’s Equality Agenda.

“The log-jam on that broke,” Flanagan said. “We passed all the bills and we got a lot of cooperation from the Assembly.”

Flanagan even hinted at an issue he’s planning to make a priority in the Senate next year: organ donation.

“We are 50th in the country, which is abysmal,” Flanagan said. “For as progressive of a state as we are, and the things that we advocate I find it reprehensible that we are not better at that subject matter, at that issue, and I would hope that my colleagues would think about that very seriously.”

For now, lawmakers will return to their districts more than a week after the legislative session was originally scheduled to end.

In the final days of session, lawmakers were able to tackle key issues like rent control, education reform, and an extension to the state’s property tax cap. But others didn’t make the final cut, including the governor’s education tax credit, a hike in the state’s minimum wage, and an agreement on pension forfeiture.

Whether lawmakers will take any significant action on those issues next year is unclear – members from both chambers are up for re-election the following November.


Big Ugly Done, Assembly Set to Vote

The Assembly is set to vote on a final agreement to end this year’s legislative session.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie emerged from a mid-morning conference Thursday to say they’re ready to vote on the final deal.

“The conference is very happy to move forward with the agreement,” Heastie said.

The outstanding issues will all be included in one, final bill. In Albany speak, that’s typically referred to as a Big Ugly.

Speaker Heastie says the final sticking points have been resolved among members and the Republican-led Senate since yesterday.

We’re also learning new details about both the final agreement on the state’s property tax cap and rent regulations.

The tax cap will be a statewide rebate program. According to the Speaker, it’s not quite a circuit-breaker, but a hybrid of sorts.

The first year, all eligible property owners will receive a rebate check. For the following three years, it will be based on a combination of the homeowner’s income and property values.

The program is capped for households earning $275,000 annually, and will be linked to the STAR rebate tax program.

The four-year extension of the state’s rent control laws will also include an increased threshold of vacancy decontrol to $2,700 with indexing.

Democrats were seeking an all-out end to vacancy decontrol this year, but Heastie says the Republican-led Senate wouldn’t budge on their position.

“We would have loved to adopt into law the bill we passed but the Republican Senate has a total opposite view when it comes to rent regulations,” Heastie said. “They’d like to see more units leave. So until the political realities change, we have to live in those realities.”

For the city’s decades-old tax abatement program for developers, 421-a will see a four-year extension if the real estate industry and labor come to an agreement over wages for construction workers involved in those projects.

Heastie says despite the turmoil that’s developed in the last few months here at the state capitol, lawmakers are ending on a good note.

“I still feel very happy and privileged with the opportunity my colleagues have given me and I think it was a very successful session.”

Trying Again On A Final Deal

From the Morning Memo:

The framework is there, but the meat of the deal being added to its bones is another issue.

A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo sat with the top legislative leaders to announce a framework, end-of-session agreement “in concept,” state lawmakers took those caveats to heart.

“See, it wasn’t a deal yesterday, it was a framework, because there are still some outstanding issues,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “There were some items that weren’t settled. It was really about letting people have an idea about what items will be discussed if at the point we reach a final deal. There’s still a lot of outstanding issues on each of the items.”

Assembly Democrats, in particular, insisted the agreement was not yet locked down as rank-and-file members try to exact some last-minute changes.

Both the Senate and Assembly adjourned on Wednesday night without coming to a conclusive end to the legislative session and without bill language being printed.

One Senate Republican, John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, said it was just a matter of the specific language being haggled over at the final moments.

But lawmakers and their staff certainly seemed prepared last night for an extended session. Just as the Senate adjourned, dinner arrived for lawmakers and staff.

The unfinished business in the Big Ugly underscores the deep dissatisfaction among Assembly Democrats — mainly from New York City — over the agreement reached on extending rent control laws for New York City.

“Well, we’re still contemplating whether we can make some tweaks in the bill and so forth,” said Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, a Brooklyn Democrat. “The big thing for me, obviously, is the rent laws.”

The tentative framework, in addition to rent control’s extension, included a $1.3 billion property tax rebate program, a 12-month extension of mayoral control for New York City schools and a re-approval of the state’s cap on property tax increases.

Democrats on Wednesday afternoon were still holding out hope that Heastie would be able to improve the finer points of the agreement, such as raising the threshold limit in vacancy decontrol to $3,000.

“We are counting on the speaker to do everything that he can to deliver,” said Assemblyman N. Nick Perry. “I’m sure he’s mindful of that.”

Heastie himself offered no predictions to reporters on when the deal would officially set in stone, pencils would be put down and bills printed.

The speaker was seen on Wednesday night leaving Cuomo’s office by an alternative exit to avoid reporters. Later, while walking quickly back to his office, Heastie said no deal was reached.

“Nothing’s closed down,” he said.

‘We Took One Step’ On Raise The Age

From the Morning Memo:

A key reform for the state’s juvenile justice system won’t go before the state Legislature. An effort to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York faltered, and now Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to go it alone with an executive order.

“Yes, we took one step, but we’re not going to quit until we reach the ultimate goal, and that’s to raise the age,” said Assemblyman Michael Blake, a Bronx Democrat.

Cuomo’s executive order will move 16 and 17-year-old inmates out of adult prisons and into alternative facilities after a larger agreement could not be reached on moving their cases to family court.

“New York should not have the distinction where we are only one of two states still having our young people in these criminal facilities,” Blake said. “We have to actually give them the chance.”

The agreement in part couldn’t be reached on Republican and Democratic lawmakers parting ways on how to shift cases involving teenagers to a different court system.

“Fundamentally you had some Senate Republicans who made it a conscience decision that sending these kids to family court was not the option, not the route,” Blake said.

For his part, Cuomo says the issue fell victim both to complications and the lack of time left in the legislative session, which has been extended more than week due to disagreements on an array of issues.

“It’s more a question of complication and time and details,” he said. “The raise the age — we made a lot of good progress. We didn’t get there.”

But some Republican lawmakers don’t want to give up on the raise the age issue. Senator Patrick Gallivan says the criminal justice and prison system should be studied for changes for how it impacts young people.

“It’s appropriate we continue the conversation,” said Sen. Pat Gallivan. “I don’t know that anybody can make the argument that we provide sufficient programming and rehabilitation services for 16 and 17-year-olds and ultimately all of the people who are going to return to society.”

Heastie: De Blasio’s Agenda ‘Comes Out Of This Fine’

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday disagreed with the assertion New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did not score the necessary wins on a range of issues like mayoral control, an extension of rent control and the alterations of the 421a tax abatement.

“He’ll get mayoral control. There will be 421a,” Heastie said. “We tried to put together the best rent deal that we could. So I think the mayor comes out of this fine.”

De Blasio had pushed Albany to approved a permanent extension of mayoral control of New York City schools, only to have the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agree to a 12-month extension, meaning the mayor will be back at the Capitol once again to call for the program’s renewal.

At the same time, 421a, a tax abatement that de Blasio wanted to have expanded to include new affordable housing requirements, is due to expire in six months unless developers and labor unions can agree to a prevailing wage provision.

De Blasio has lobbied personally on his agenda, though Senate Republicans are especially hostile to the mayor given that he sought to flip the chamber last year to Democratic control.

“The mayor’s not a state legislator. He’s entitled to lay out his vision for the city and it’s up to the state Legislature to respond,” Heastie said. “To say that he has to live up here to get things done for the city  — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Michael Bloomberg laid out a vision for the city and would come up here and let Albany want he needed. I think de Blasio should be given that same respect.”

The bigger question is the continued animosity between Cuomo and de Blasio, who have in recent weeks been at odds with each other on the 421a issue, among others.

“There’s always funniness about the relationship between a mayor and the governor,” Heastie said. “Government always has to have a way to figure things out. We have to have a way to accomplish that.”

De Blasio Holding Out Hope on Rent, 421a

There’s a general consensus around Albany that NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio got the short end of the stick in the so-called framework deal announced yesterday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders, but the mayor is trying to put a positive spin on things, saying today there’s still time for things to change while the deal remains open.

Speaking to reporters earlier today, de Blasio heaped praise on the Assembly Democrats, (even though his support among conference members has reportedly been eroding steadily over the past several weeks), saying they have been “consistently responsive to the city’s concerns,” and adding: “They’ve been serious, they’ve been resolute, and they’ve gotten a lot done, particularly on issues like rent regulation.”

De Blasio went out of his way to thank Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who stressed during his own chat with reporters that the framework deal is just that – a framework – and nothing has been nailed done just yet.

The mayor said there are “very promising signs” at the Capitol when it comes to rent regulation, and that 421a is “very much on the table.”

“There’s a real dialogue happening on that right now,” de Blasio continued. “So I think we all need to step back and see where this process is leading us…And, you know, we don’t know if the session is going to end today, tomorrow, or some other day, but, you know, we’re focused right now on what’s going on with both the rent issue and the 421-a issue.”

De Blasio was asked whether it was a mistake for him to campaign on behalf of, and raise money for, the Senate Democrats in their failed effort to re-take the majority, given the fact that it angered the Republicans and made them predisposed against his Albany agenda. His response? “No.”

(It should be noted that the Senate Republicans aren’t the mayor’s only problem – or even his biggest problem – at the Capitol these days. His on-again, off-again relationship with the governor appears to be very much off, and some Democratic lawmakers who are disappointed with the rent deal as it currently stands are accusing Cuomo of siding with the Senate GOP against the Assembly Democrats during negotiations in large part to spite the mayor).

The mayor was also asked about the fate of his affordable housing plan if the 421a tax abatement program for real estate developers lapses. (The framework deal includes a four-year extension, but the whole thing will expire if the labor unions and real estate industry fail to reach a prevailing wage agreement within six months). Again, de Blasio was reluctant to accept that the framework is the final word on this issue, saying:

“There’s a real dialogue going on right now on 421-a. Our focus is on greatly intensifying the affordability that can be achieved through 421-a. I’ve spoken to this issue many times, as to the vision we have for making 421-a a real vehicle for greater affordability for New Yorkers. Some very serious discussions are happening right now and we have to see where that leads us.”

Capital NY’s Laura Nahmias reported earlier this afternoon that some Assembly Democrats are pushing for changes to the rent agreement, including an increase in the threshold for vacancy decontrol, though the governor’s office denied that was the case.

Heastie: Yesterday’s Deal Was Really A Framework

A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s top legislative leaders announced broad compromises on key end-of-session issues, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters no agreement had been officially finalized.

Bills for issues ranging from rent control for New York City and the surrounding area, as well as a $1.3 billion property tax rebate program, a real-estate tax abatement and mayoral control for New York City schools are yet to be printed as language continues to be haggled over.

“We’re still working on language,” Heastie said outside of his office. “See, it wasn’t a deal yesterday, it was a framework, because there are still some outstanding issues. There were some items that weren’t settled. It was really about letting people have an idea about what items will be discussed if at the point we reach a final deal. There’s still a lot of outstanding issues on each of the items.”

Heastie has not told his conference members whether they should prepare to stay in Albany through the rest of the week, he said.

The details of the framework were announced at a Red Room news conference before Heastie or Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan had briefed their conferences on the details.

Assembly Democrats met for several hours on Tuesday to sort out the details of the framework.

“There were some things brought up that we’re trying to finish,” Heastie said.

Heastie this afternoon indicated negotiations will continue, despite the framework announcement.

“We tried to be very careful and say the word framework because there was no final deal,” Cuomo said. “As I said, I couldn’t say yes until I spoke to the final conference.”

It is not unusual for outlines of large, packaged compromises in Albany to be announced for the details have been sorted out, even as top aides and lawmakers work out the final language.

But the negotiations have dragged on a week after the legislative session was due to conclude and have been especially nettlesome for two new legislative leaders and Cuomo.

Rent control expired once again at midnight after state lawmakers and Cuomo signed off on a five-day extension after the laws lapsed week for several days.

The framework includes a four-year extension for rent control as well as the state’s cap on property tax increases, which will include changes that fall short of what local governments and school districts had wanted.

Cuomo had initially linked stronger rent control laws to the passage of an education tax credit, which was pushed heavily by Senate Republicans and private-school backers.

In the end, the tax credit was dropped in favor of a $250 million reimbursement program for mandated services at private schools.

Heastie indicated that Cuomo’s stance on rent control — generally closer to the Assembly Democrats — and support for the tax credit made things more difficult.

“I think trying to be on the side with the Senate on their big issue and be with us on our big issue, it caused a conflict for him,” Heastie said. “It was one of the reasons I would say we stumbled a little bit. There were a lot of fruitful discussions, but we’re at a place where there’s a framework. But it’s not done.”

After Difficult Negotiations, Assembly Democrats Back Compromise

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Democrats emerged from a closed-door conference late Tuesday afternoon resigned to back the agreement reached with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

The conference did not get everything it wanted — especially on the key issue of rent control — and Speaker Carl Heastie seemed to acknowledge that during a news conference with Cuomo in the Red Room.

“We’re always going to be about compromises,” Heastie said. “We stake out our positions early on and you try to work from there. We did the best that we could to get that done.”

Vacancy decontrol was not done away with, though Heastie was able to successfully push back on the education tax credit, a measure opposed by the state’s teachers unions that was heavily supported by Cuomo and the Senate GOP.

There was some talk of some rank-and-file lawmakers casting symbolic votes agains the legislation on the grounds it doesn’t go far enough on rent control.

Lawmakers aren’t blaming Heastie, but rather what they saw as a two-against-one negotiation, with Heastie seemingly outnumbered by Cuomo and Flanagan on the key issues.

“I don’t know what happened in there, but we were depending on him to extract the best deal from the Senate,” Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said of Cuomo.

Rosenthal was irked by Cuomo claiming his rent control extension package was ultimately superior to what Assembly Democrats had pursued.

“The Senate Republicans for the most part get not just their seed money, but their money to run for re-election from the landlord lobby — REBNY,” she said. “They were holding fast to their commitment to them. I was perturbed when the governor said he’s better on rent than the Assembly. He couldn’t have been better than us.”

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, a Rochester-area Democrat who sought the speakership after Sheldon Silver resigned following his arrest on corruption charges this year, said Heastie had the backing of the conference following the difficult round of negotiations.

“The Senate has very different views about what their priorities are,” Morelle said. “This was a challenge just to get to a consensus. I think the speaker has done an amazing job in negotiating it.”

The agreement’s details were yet to be hammered out on Tuesday and few lawmakers by the evening had more than the top-line information.

Still, it’s expected the compromise, with a four-year extension of rent control, is expected to hold.

“I think it will be fine. People in conference expressed their support for the speaker, they expressed their support of the package,” Morelle said. “A lot of details to work out, but I think in terms of the framework we’re in a good spot.”