Carl Heastie

Heastie: Long-Term MTA Funding ‘A Priority’

The Democratic conference in the Assembly hasn’t settled on a specific plan just yet for funding mass transit in the New York City region, but Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie insisted the issue is a priority for his conference.

“We had an initial conversation internally,” Heastie told reporters Monday at the Capitol. “I can clearly say the funding sources for the MTA is a priority for members, but I don’t think the members at this point are ready to go forward. But I do think we will come up with some ideas because the importance of funding the MTA — even the biggest critics realize some sort of long-term funding is necessary.”

Lawmakers in the Assembly are yet to embrace either Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for a congestion pricing system that would create tolls at areas in Manhattan in order to relieve traffic and generate revenue for the subway. A separate plan backed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio would create a surcharge the wealthy to boost the MTA’s finances.

Both have their perils in Albany, where congestion pricing has died several deaths over the decades and Senate Republicans are unlikely to back a tax increase.

But Heastie said there’s a sense that lawmakers want to tackle the issue this legislative session after months of delays and breakdowns on the system, frustrating commuters and riders in the process.

“The conversation is going the right way that we understand the seriousness of funding the MTA,” he said.

Weinstein to Succeed Farrell as Ways and Means Chair

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has tapped the first woman to serve as chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, selecting Brooklyn’s Helene Weinstein to succeed retired Assemblyman Harman “Denny” Farrell Jr., of Manhattan, in the post.

“One of the longest-serving members of the Assembly, Helene has made immeasurable contributions to the residents of New York state,” said Heastie in a press release. “Her vast experience in the People’s House and extensive knowledge of the state budget process will guide the Assembly majority as we continue to pursue our Families First agenda.”

With this selection, the chairs of the budget oversight committees of both the Senate and Assembly are now headed by women. The Senate Republicans were the first to break the glass ceiling when they elevated Sen. Cathy Young, of Olean, to chair the Finance Committee in January 2016. Young also heads the political fundraising arm of her conference, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, or SRCC.

The ranking Senate Democrat on the Finance Committee is Liz Krueger, of Manhattan. She has held that position since 2011, taking over when its former occupant, ex-Sen. Carl Kruger, also of Brooklyn, was indicted on corruption charges.

Weinstein, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1980, was also the first woman to chair the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, a position she has held since 1994. At the time, she was the first woman of any legislative conference to take their party’s top spot on the Finance Committee.

Weinstein said she is “humbled by the historic opportunity to lend new perspective and solutions to the needs facing our families and communities,” adding:

“I have always believed that diversity in leadership is critical to achieving a government that is both inclusive and responsive to today’s challenges. Working together over the years, the Assembly has made tremendous strides in improving the quality of life and economic opportunities for all New Yorkers and I know that we have much more to do.”

“I am proud that I have been chosen to succeed former Assemblyman Denny Farrell, a true legend who guided the Assembly Ways and Means Committee for many years with great skill. I want to thank Speaker Heastie for this honor and I look forward to working with all my Assembly colleagues and partners in government in this new role.”

Weinstein has been a Ways and Means Committee member since 1993, so she has inside knowledge of how it operates. A lot of senior Democrats were interested in this post, since the committee more or less holds the purse strings for everything budget related. Also, the committee has jurisdiction over all legislation introduced in the Assembly that would impact spending or revenues at the State or local level.

Another perk: The Ways and Means Committee chairmanship carries a pretty hefty stipend, known as a lulu in Albany parlance, of $34,000. (That’s just $500 behind what Majority Leader Joe Morelle gets for his leadership post). The job also has a sizable staff – bigger than any other Assembly committee chair.

Heastie joked during my last interview with him that pretty much every member of the conference wanted the job, though Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried, the longest-serving member of the Assembly, insisted that he’s perfectly happy where he has been for the past 30 years. Also mentioned, due to his seniority, was Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lenthol, who heads the Codes Committee.

Weinstein’s elevation means the Judiciary Committee job is open, and that sparks a process known as “churn,” in which various lower ranked Assembly chairs jockey for position and move up the leadership ladder.

Somos Dispatch

From the Morning Memo:

Much of New York’s political class – particularly the Democrats – has decamped, as they typically do after Election Day, for Puerto Rico, where the Somos el Futuro fall conference is taking place. Our NY1 colleague Zack Fink is there, and he sent this report:

Usually the Somos conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico is a moment to just take a breather. An election has just past. Presumably everyone worked hard to get out the vote. And with the largely Democratic attendees, there have usually been great successes at the ballot box to celebrate.

But this year is different. 

“Shock.” “Surprise.” “Profound disappointment.” These are some of the words used to describe President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise triumph over Hillary Clinton Tuesday night. 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie hosted a welcoming reception last night in Puerto Rico, as is custom for the speaker. But former Speaker Sheldon Silver used to hold a perfunctory event in a nondescript room off the lobby at the hotel Condado Plaza. 

Heastie went big. He held the event at Hacienda Campo Rico, a fancy country club on the outskirts of San Juan ( 45 minutes to reach by car in traffic ). 

The place was beautiful. A colonial building with a sitting area blending nicely into outdoor space. A man sold cigars on one end, and a band played at the other. Toward the corner, chefs took up clevers and chopped up two whole spit-roasted pigs, as a crowd of onlookers watched. 

The speaker himself was dressed in a suit, but most everyone else wore “island chic” clothing. Guayaberas for men, and elegant floral dresses for women. 

Heastie seemed relaxed as he rushed in slightly late to greet arrivals and graciously grant us an on-camera interview. Asked about Trump, Heastie said, 

“I for one am very shocked. But the people have spoken and I think here in New York we must do the best we can and hope that his administration is not going to be one that is harmful to the state of New York.”

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born Puerto Rico, was more blunt. Criticizing not only Trump, but also the electoral college process that got him elected over the popular vote, which went to Clinton.

“Due to the way the electoral system is set up, he is the president-elect,” Mark-Viverito said. “We do not know now what the implications will be for New York City, New York state. There is a lot of trepidation, considering what he has run his campaign on and what he has presented his platform to be.”

Just before the reception began news broke, courtesy of the rom the great Daily News Capitol Bureau Chief Ken Lovett, that there was a deal reached back home in New York to revive the 40-year old tax credit known as 421a, which quietly expired without much fanfare a year and a half ago.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejected a 421-a plan hatched by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015, and instead reached a deal to make any renewal contingent upon a prevailing wage agreement between the construction trades and REBNY.

Well, surprise surprise, they couldn’t reach a deal in six months. But now almost a year later, it appears as though they have; 421a is not only essential for developers, it’s the only way to ensure that affordable housing gets built.

Under the terms of the agreement, developers agree to pay a $60 wage to construction workers on projects in Manhattan below 96th street with 300 units or more, and $45 for workers in buildings expected to rise along New York’s emerging Gold Coast – the Waterfront that stretches from Queens to Brooklyn. In exchange developers get a 35-year property tax abatement. 

Privately, many Democrats said that 35 years is too long. Asked about the deal, Heastie said: “There are some details within that we have to get a chance to look at. So we need to go through that. Myself, the members. We need to talk about because there are some changes.”

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s chief of staff, said the governor is “open to a special session” to pass this agreement. But Heastie indicated he is in no hurry.

Assembly members are expected back in Albany the week of Dec. 4th for a retreat. One insider quipped that lawmakers don’t want to hold a special session that week because they are afraid of what else might come up. 

Finally, there is a buzz in Puerto Rico about the state Senate composition. Democrats swear it ain’t over yet, resting their hopes on uncounted absentees in two Long Island races, but others aren’t so sure. 

Head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Michael Gianaris, of Queens, acknowledged to me that his candidates performed “much worse” than he expected. But he also pointed out that Clinton barely broke 50 percent in Nassau County, which should be Hillary Country. 

Anyway, we will keep an eye out for all of this through the weekend. More on the Senate later and if there are any deals to be had. My money is on “no.”

Heastie: No Change Of Heart On Water Hearings

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in Syracuse on Thursday insisted he had planned to hold water-quality hearings even after plans seemingly stalled earlier in the srping.

The Democratic-led Assembly this month announced it would hold two hearings in early September on water quality issues around the state, with forums planned in Albany and on Long Island.

The hearings are drawing interest in the Capital Region amid a water contamination crisis in the village of Hoosick Falls, where the municipal drinking water was found to be contaminated with PFOA, a chemical used in manufacturing plants nearby.

Initially announcing meetings during the height of the budget season, talk quietly died away of the hearings, only for Heastie’s office to announce them amid a vocal disagreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office over the ongoing feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“It was never a changing of my mind,” Heastie said. “I would always say I would look at it. I would never said that we weren’t going to do it. WE allowed the state agencies to deal with certain situations around the state and now in the fall it’s time to find everything that happened.”

Cuomo’s administration has been criticized by some elected officials, including Rep. Chris Gibson, for moving too slowly on the issue. Cuomo’s office has said the state took swift action in Hoosick Falls when it understood the scope of the problem at the beginning of the year.

The GOP-led Senate soon after the Assembly announced water hearings plans to hold a hearing in August in the village. The Republican-led House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into the government’s response as well, a move Gibson hopes will lead to hearings in Washington as well.

Heastie’s hearings are taking a broader approach to water issues, assessing water concerns statewide.

“This is not just about Hoosick Falls,” he said. “This about trying to make sure we have water quality that is satisfactory for all of our citizens around the state.”

Heastie Says He Accepts Scrutiny

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie insisted on Thursday he was not concerned with the investigation into his tenure as Bronx County Democratic chairman, saying such attention comes with hold a prominent post in state government.

The Daily News reported this morning county committee treasurer Michael Benedetto, also a state assemblyman, had been issued a subpoena for financial records dating back to Heastie’s time as chairman. The subpoena sought information on reimbursements Heastie received while leading the committee.

Heastie last year succeeded Sheldon Silver as speaker, who stepped aside amid corruption charges. Silver was later convicted of the charges in December.

Along with his new role as speaker, Heastie stepped down as Bronx County chairman.

“When I took on the task of becoming speaker, I knew that anything I’ve done or anything I will do in this job will be scrutinized,” Heastie said. “I’m very comfortable to say I’m not concerned about one transaction that occurred during my time as county chair.”

Heastie reiterated that he was yet to be issued a subpoena or contacted by investigators in the probe.

“I just think that in this environment that we’re dealing with here — I accept that things that have happened in the past as county chair will be scrutinized,” he said.

Heastie Vows Anti-Heroin Measures Won’t Be ‘Window Dressing’

State legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agree on the concept of passing a package of measure designed to curb heroin addiction in New York and are working out the details, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday said.

Cuomo, along with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Heastie held a leaders meeting on Wednesday morning, which included a “productive discussion” on passing anti-addiction legislation, Heastie said.

“I think all parties feel we have to absolutely get something done, not just window dressing,” said Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. “All parties are there, we just have to work out the details.”

Republican lawmakers earlier in the day called on the Democratic-led chamber to take up heroin-related bills before the end of the legislative session, scheduled to conclude on June 16. The measures deal with a variety of issues within heroin addiction, including treatment coverage from insurance, prevention as well as strengthening penalties for dealers.

A report from Cuomo’s anti-heroin task force is due today, the governor said last week on Staten Island.

Heastie, meanwhile, insisted lawmakers were working to conclude the session on a productive note, with a number of outstanding issues on the table ranging from expanding ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to upstate New York as well as mayoral control of schools in New York City.

“Staffs continue to speak,” Heastie said. “We had a leaders meeting today. There’s many things on the list and we’ll try to get as many accomplished as we can.”

Heastie Open To Ag Carveout In Minimum Wage

Assembly Speaker Carl Heasite on Wednesday morning departed a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the state budget, indicating he was open to a potential “modification” for the minimum wage to accommodate agricultural businesses.

“We’ve always felt that, as I’ve said in general, places that don’t have the market set for reimbursement rates or if their revenues are set, we always have to make modifications for that, whether it’s hospitals or dairy farmers, because those prices are set,” Heastie said in a brief interview while walking into the Assembly chamber.

Cuomo on Tuesday in Niagara Falls floated the possibility of a farm-based carve out in a minimum wage agreement.

Senate Republicans have not ruled out a minimum wage increase to $15, up from the current $9, but have raised questions about the impact of the hike on businesses.

A bigger hurdle may be negotiating a slower phase in for the minimum wage, something sources this morning said Cuomo’s office has sought. Labor unions that have backed an extensive campaign to raise the minimum wage this year are concerned, however, the wage increase could be too slow to reach workers.

Heastie: Assembly Ethics Plan To Be Voted On Next Week

Updated: The Assembly will consider the ethics legislation outside of the one-house budget resolution, but both measures will be voted on next week.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie expects to include ethics legislation along with the Democratic-led Assembly’s one-house budget resolution when it is voted on next week, he said at a Crain’s New York breakfast.

Meanwhile, Heastie said internal reforms to how the Assembly operates, promised more than a year ago when he succeeded Sheldon Silver in the top leadership post, will be released sometime next week.

Heastie also insisted the talks between the Senate, Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the $154 billion budget proposal have been largely preliminary in scope. Sources have said that at least two leaders meetings between Majority Leader John Flanagan, Cuomo and Heastie have been held, but not publicly disclosed.

“We’ve had conversations, I’ve talked to Senator Flanagan and the governor and Senator Flanagan and I have spoken, but we haven’t had any real detailed discussions,” Heastie told reporters after his remarks.

Now that both chambers are releasing their one-house budget resolutions — the Senate is expected to do so either today or sometime this weekend — the spending plan negotiations will enter a new phase.

“We now will put into print today where we want to start for the negotiations,” Heastie said. “There hasn’t been any real discussions except overall what we want to see happen.”

Assembly Democrats are largely aligned with Cuomo on a $15 minimum wage and the effort to create a 12-week paid family leave program, though they differ on how to pay for it. The Assembly also wants to restore $485 million in cost shifts Cuomo proposed for the City University of New York.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, want an across-the-board tax rate cut of 25 percent. Assembly Democrats want to boost taxes on the rich and back a middle-income tax cut.

“We have a proposal that has tax cuts as well,” Heastie said. “That’s the senator’s position and we’ll see what happens.”

Heastie Pushes Tax Plan For This Year, Not Next

heastiefebEven when Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a left turn, some lawmakers want to grab the steering wheel and make it an even sharper course change.

For the second-straight day on Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was critical of Cuomo’s recent comments that pooh-pooed the prospect of increasing taxes on the rich this year by making changes to the state’s tax code.

“It’s really about trying to come up with a more fair and progressive tax schedule for the people in the state of New York and at the same time raise revenue for the things that we need,” Heastie said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom on Wednesday morning. “We have infrastructure needs, we have education needs. That’s really what we’re trying to do with our proposal.”

Overall, Heastie expects the plan to generate $1.2 billion in added revenue for the state.

Heastie and Assembly Democrats are pushing a measure that would revise the state’s income tax code that is due to expire at the end of 2017. He wants to raise taxes on those earning more than $1 million and provide for a middle and lower-income tax cut.

Cuomo on Monday told reporters that “I don’t believe there is any reason or appetite to take up taxes this year.”

Heastie isn’t buying that argument. He took to Twitter throughout the day on Tuesday, tweeting about income inequality and the need for a fairer tax code. The Working Families Party released a supportive statement backing Heastie’s tax plan.

And on Wednesday, Heastie insisted his tax code plan is “the way to go” when it comes to taxing the rich. And he was supportive of a stalled proposal that would apply a surcharge on wealthy out-of-towners in New York City who own luxury apartments, known as a pied-à-terre tax.

“The city still has to provide services for these people,” Heastie said. “There is some merit to that as well. We will look at that. We’re intrigued by that idea.”

Cuomo in recent months has emphasized a decidedly liberal agenda with a $15 minimum wage proposal that puts him closer policy wise to Sen. Bernie Sanders than his endorsed presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton and he wants to create a 12-week paid family leave program — all measures backed by the Assembly Democrats.

But Heastie has suggested that Cuomo needs prodding when it comes to these issues, pointing out that the governor last year didn’t see any “appetite” for a $15 minimum wage being approved amid Republican opposition.

In backing the tax code changes this year, Heastie appears to be making an effort to not only push Cuomo, but get out in front of what would have been a debate not scheduled to reach Albany until next year and after an election.

Since becoming speaker 12 months ago, Heastie has had few public policy disagreements with Cuomo, save for the tug-of-war over education reform measures in last year’s budget.

Today, Heastie threw a sideways glance at Cuomo’s signature tax cap as well as his resistance to increase aid to municipalities funding.

“We’ve always favored that. The governor has been against aid to municipalities,” Heastie said. “Some feel the local governments have a better idea how to spend the money for their needs.”

Cuomo has in the past staked out a pragmatic approach on taxes. The last tax code change was engineered in 2011. At the time, Cuomo had vowed to oppose any tax increases as a surcharge on high-income earners was due to expire at the end of the year.

Amid pressure from liberals and following weeks of Occupy Wall Street protests, Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to tax code changes that cut rates for some and partially kept the surcharge for the rich, generating several billion dollars of revenue in the process.

Heastie, in his radio interview, pointed out that tax increase then didn’t little hurt the rich.

“Even with that increase the number of millionaires has increased,” Heastie said. “Millionaires are not going to flee the state of New York aren’t going to flee because they have to pay a little more on their income taxes.”

Heastie Heads to Israel

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will depart on a week-long trip to Israel – his first ever trip there – on Sunday, the Bronx Democrat’s office confirmed.

Heastie and 10 fellow Assembly majority conference members will be making the “educational” voyage, departing this Sunday and returning Dec. 22. The cost will be covered by the Jewish Community Relations Council, a spokesman for the speaker said.

There is no fixed itinerary for the trip yet. But while in Israel, the group of New York lawmakers is expected to visit prominent sites and meet with local elected officials.

Heastie has never before been to Israel, but the country remains on the must-visit list for New York politicians seeking to curry favor with the Jewish community back home. (The New York metropolitan area is home to the largest population of Jews outside Israel).

At one time, New York elected officials had to make sure to hit the so-called “three Is” – Israel, Italy and Ireland – to satisfy powerful ethnic voting blocs. Though Israel remains on the list, the other two have been bumped in favor of Puerto Rico, thanks to the rapidly growing clout of New York’s Latino population.

Israel was a frequent stop for Heastie’s predecessor, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is an observant Jew.

Silver accompanied Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Israel last August when the governor, who was seeking a second term at the time, led a delegation to the country in a “demonstration of solidarity” during the nation’s ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.

That was Cuomo’s first international trip since he took office in January 2011. He has since made several other trips – including to Cuba, with which he and other governors are anxious to strengthen ties now that the Obama administration is moving to normalize relations with the communist nation.

Cuomo is expected to make more international trips in his second term, with potential trade missions to Canada, Mexico, Italy and China.