Andrew Cuomo

Through Pocket Veto, Cuomo Nixes Police Discipline Bill

A bill that would have made police disciplinary procedures subject to collective bargaining has been nixed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo let the bill die through a pocket veto, essentially taking no action on the measure after he received it at the end of December from the state Legislature.

The bill, approved at the end of the legislative session, had received renewed attention after Staten Island man Eric Garner was killed in a choke hold by a New York City police officer, who was subsequently not indicted by a grand jury, setting off a debate about police procedures, community relations and arrest tactics.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said in a statement that previous incarnations of the legislation had been struck down by Cuomo’s predecessors, including the current governor himself.

“Versions of this legislation have been passed by the Legislature fours times over four different administrations. Each previous administration believed this issue is best left in the purview of publicly accountable elected officials and thus, the bills were not signed into law,” Azzopardi said. “At this time, this administration does not see a compelling reason to disagree.”

The legislation was backed by the police unions, but opposed by the NYPD’s leadership as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Cuomo Pans ‘Management By Committee’

While insisting he doesn’t want to meddle in how the Assembly Democrats run their conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today panned the five-member leadership team floated by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in lieu of completely relinquishing his leadership post following his arrest last week

“The Assembly, the Legislature is a different branch of the government, and the governor runs the executive, so I’m not going to tell them how to run the Assembly,” Cuomo said during a brief Q-and-A with reporters following the first of two briefings he’ll hold today on the storm that is heading toward New York.

“To the extent I have to interact with the Assembly, committees, management by committee, I’ve never been a fan of, and I’ve never seen it work well,” the governor continued. “So, I’d like to see what the actual configuration is that they’ve come up with, when they come up with it. And then I’ll have an opinion.”

“…I’m focused on the functionality of government, and I want to know what the mechanism is that will replace the spaker…the quote, unquote committee. I don’t know what that means. I can’t negotiate with a committee, so I have to see what they actually come up with. From my own selfish point of view, I don’t understand how you negotiate with a commitee, how I negotiate with a committee.”

Cuomo reiterated that this is a “terribly unfortunate situation” – both for Silver, personally, and for the people of New York, since corruption scandals (especially one of this magnitude) only serve to re-enforce negative and cynical views about government.

The governor said his main goal is to keep government functional, and to that end, “the distraction of what’s going on with the speaker” needs to be resolved.

“So, to the extent that there’s going to be a replacement to run the Assembly, I think that’s a good thing. Because from my point of view, my job is to get things done, to get the government working. And the Assembly is an important part of that,” Cuomo said.

“…We have to negotiate a budget. I laid out a State of the State that probably had 70 proposals. How do we reform education? How do we bring broadband to people across the state. How do we do a tax cut. This is all important information, and these are all real-life decisions that make a difference in people’s lives. You’re talking about their health care. You’re talking about their security. So that the government works matters.”

There has been a lot of speculation about Cuomo’s relationship with Silver over the years, and it was breifly speculated when the governor first took office that he might seek to take the speaker out. But in the end, he didn’t make a move against the Manhattan Democrat, perhaps determining that he was simply too entrenched to move against.

Despite what Cuomo says about the governor needing to stay out of a dealings of the legislative branch, it would not be unheard of for a governor to seek to influence the selection of a legislative leader; former Gov. George Pataki helped his preferred Senate majority candidate, Joe Bruno, during the infamous “Thanksgiving coup” during which Bruno unseated Ralph Marino, who had not been a Pataki supporter.

Cuomo is speculated to prefer Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester, to replace Silver. But one of the chief roles of a speaker is to defend his conference against the governor, and to take bullets on the behalf of his members. The failure of last year’s pay raise talks left a bad taste in a lot of members mouths – especially downstaters, who have been pushing hardest for a bump in their base salary of $79,500 – and a number of them are not at all pleased with Cuomo’s assault on the public education system.

Being perceived as too close to Cuomo could hurt a speaker candidate, adding to the existing complication (in this case) of the fact that Morelle is an upstater and the conference is dominated by downstate members, though it is far more diverse, geographically speaking, that it was back when Silver first took control in 1994.

The Moreland Connection

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb today questioned whether there was “some connection” between the governor’s decision to shutter his corruption-busting Moreland Commission and the fact that the body might have uncovered wrongdoing by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was indicted earlier today on corruption charges.

Kolb said Gov. Andrew Cuomo “should make a statment” about the Silver mess and whether the Manhattan Democrat should continue on as speaker. Kolb and a number of his fellow Republicans are calling for Silver to relinquish his leadership post, arguing that it would be too much of a distraction from important legislative business for someone so damaged to continue to lead the chamber.

“He has said in the past it’s up to the members, the Assembly Democrats, the internal process, but Governor Cuomo is the leader of the party,” Kolb said. “And it goes back to why was the Moreland Commission cancelled? Is there some connection? Was this percolating back then? Those are a lot of questions I think the governor has to answer.”

According to the criminal complaint against Silver, a grand jury started probing his outside business interests in June 2013. Cuomo convened the Moreland Commission in July 2013, and it released its preliminary report in December of that year. Cuomo disbanded the commission in March after striking an ethics reform deal with legislative leaders.

Us Attorney Preet Bharara’s office picked up where the Moreland Commission left off, and Bharara was quite critical of the governor for shutting the panel down before its work was complete. He also reportedly has been looking into whether Cuomo meddled with the commission, as was widely reported, and tried to micromanage it and steer its attention toward the Legislature and away from anything to do with his own fundraising or influence.

Cuomo, meanwhile, argued he couldn’t possibly have broken any rules by interfering with the commission because he created it in the first place.

Kolb isn’t the only one to be invoking Moreland following this morning’s bombshell about Silver’s arrest. Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner, issued the following statement:

“The arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver by federal authorities for undisclosed income further reveals the crucial role the Moreland Commission played in bringing corruption in New York State government to light. This sad development underscores, yet again, the sorry state of ethics enforcement in New York.”

“These circumstances make it particularly egregious that the statutorily mandated Review Commission which was supposed to have been appointed by the Governor and legislative leaders to review and evaluate the performance of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission was never named”

“Common Cause/NY supports requiring New York’s Legislature to work full-time for New Yorkers along with strict limits on outside income. In the meantime, New York State needs stricter disclosure laws requiring elected officials to fully open their books to public scrutiny and a wholesale overhaul of ethics laws and enforcement. New Yorkers deserve a Legislature that does not function under a persistent and permanent ethical cloud. Common Cause/New York urges the U.S. Attorney and Speaker Silver to do everything possible to facilitate an early trial to resolve these troubling charges.

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School Aid Runs Will Have To Wait For A Budget Deal

With a significant chunk of the $1.1 billion increase in education funding tied to reform measures proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state will not release estimates of how much schools would receive in the coming fiscal year.

It’s no small thing for school districts, who have to have a budget to put before voters in May. The budget isn’t due to be passed until March 31, the end of the state’s fiscal year.

Education spending is a perennial fight at the Capitol and the break down of who gets how much is a closely scrutinized facet of budget day.

But Cuomo is attaching a number of strings to his 4.8 percent hike in funding: A new, more stringent teacher evaluation law, reforming teacher tenure and making the state’s cap on property taxes a permanent facet.

Cuomo already has significant sway over the budget process writ large, and yoking his policy proposals to funding is not a novel concept for the governor, who is beginning his second term.

Making the 2011 tax cap permanent — which limits levy increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation — is a proposal that has business groups and budget hawks cheering.

Still, ending the cap’s sunset date from 2016 to forever raises questions about its ultimate linkage to rent control regulations for New York City, the latter of which are due to expire in June of this year.

The 2011 agreement on the cap tied both the cap and rent control together.

Cuomo also wants to increase the number of charter schools allowed under the statewide cap from 460 to 560 as well as create new teacher training programs.

Cuomo today pegged his education plan as one that combats income inequality.

“It is now the great discriminator. The truth is we have two systems: We have one for rich and one for the poor,” Cuomo said. “And the greatest symbol of disparity is our failing schools.”

Teachers Unions on the Warpath

Not surprisingly, the statewide teachers union, NYSUT, is not at all thrilled with what Gov. Andrew Cuomo had to say this afternoon about education, releasing a statement from union President Karen Magee that hit inboxes even before the governor got to that portion of his Opportunity Agenda speech that accused him of “intellectually hollow rhetoric that misrepresents the state of teaching and learning.”

Cuomo spent a considerable amount of time laying out the argument for why the reforms he’s calling for are needed, listing a number of dismal data points (low student test scores vs. high teacher performance evaluations, for example, which led the governor to deem the current evaluation system “baloney”).

But NYSUT insisted the governor is misrepresenting the “reality” of public education in New York, which, according to Magee, has “has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation and a professional, highly dedicated teaching force. Gov. Cuomo should be celebrating that excellence.”

“Students, parents and teachers, who know better, aren’t buying this agenda, which everyone knows is driven by the governor’s billionaire hedge-fund friends,” Magee continued. “The truth is, there’s no epidemic of failing schools or bad teachers.”

“There is an epidemic of poverty and under-funding that Albany has failed to adequately address for decades. Nearly 1 million New York schoolchildren — including more than one-third of African-American and Latino students — live in poverty. The state’s systemic failure to provide enough resources for all of its students and to do so equitably — while giving all teachers the tools and support they need — is the real crisis and the one our governor is trying to sweep under the rug.”

Magee didn’t directly address Cuomo’s pledge to provide a significantly larger education funding increase – $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent – instead of the planned $377 million if the Legislature agrees to enact his reform agenda, which includes a teacher evaluation plan based half on student test scores and half on classroom observations by a superior or an independent reviewer.

The governor also wants to change the state’s teacher tenure system to require five years of positive evaluations before tenure protection is granted instead of the current three, and offer highly effective teachers $20,000 bonuses on top of their salaries.

On the charter school front, Cuomo wants to increase the current cap by 100 (up to 560) and make the entire cap statewide, without any regional limitations. He proposed a modest per-pupil funding increase for charters of $75.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who has enjoyed a close relationship with Cuomo in the past, paid the Democratic governor the ultimate insult by comparing him to former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, with whom the NYC teachers union often feuded.

“The governor’s speech was warmed-up Bloomberg leftovers – ignore the real problems, blame the teachers for everything that’s wrong, and toss in a few failed schemes like individual merit pay,” Mulgrew said. “I’m inviting the governor to drop the rhetoric of his hedge-fund pals who hate public education and come visit a real New York City public school, where teachers, kids and parents are working to make education a success.”

The Alliance for Quality Education, which receives funding for NYSUT, already put out a statement slamming Cuomo’s education reform agenda, saying it “is slamming the door shut on opportunity for hundreds of thousands of students in every corner of the state.”

“Governor Cuomo has failed to address the educational crisis of our day which is the dramatic inequality for students based on the wealth or poverty of their zip code,” AQE continued. “There is no denying the numbers–the Cuomo policies have increased educational inequality to record setting levels and this budget fails to address inequality.”

“The $1.1 billion proposed increase is half of what the Board of Regents and 83 state legislators have identified as what is needed. That is why on this very day students and parents from eight small cities are suing New York State for the Governor’s failure to fund our schools. No wonder he wants to distract voters by talking about high stakes testing, his flawed teacher evaluation system and privately run charter schools.”

DAs – and Jay Z – Respond to Cuomo Criminal Justice Reforms

A veritable landslide of statements is being released on all aspects of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 Opportunity Agenda, including his seven-point criminal justice reform proposal, which includes a statewide reconciliation commission on police/community relations and an independent monitor in certain police brutality cases in which a grand jury issues no indictment.

Cuomo is also calling for district attorneys to be able to issue a grand jury report or letter of fact if no “true bill” (indictment) on a police fatality to explain the proceedings, and he wants to fund replacement vests, body cameras and bullet-proof squard cars in high crime areas.

In addition, the governor says the state should help local police departments recruit more minority members and provide race and ethnic data on police actions statewide.

So far, two of the five local DAs in New York City – Brooklyn’s Ken Thompson and Manhattan’s Cyrus Vance – have issued brief statements in support of Cuomo’s plans.

“I support the governor’s proposal, which would enable grand jury investigations of fatal police encounters with unarmed civilians to conclude with a report or Letter of Fact if an investigation ends without criminal charges. This change will provide greater transparency into cases of vital public interest,” Vance said.

“The proposed subsequent review by an independent monitor would add a level of scrutiny, thereby enhancing public confidence in the process itself. To the extent that errors are found in the grand jury presentation or new evidence is found to exist, the appointment of a special prosecutor will ensure that justice is served.”

Thompson’s statement was even shorter – just two lines. He applauded the governor for his “leadership” in taking on this issue, adding: “People must have confidence in the justice system, and the Governor’s proposals should help restore that confidence.”

Erie County DA Frank Sedita, president of the District Attorneys Association, said the organization “accepts the concept of statutory changes to increase the transparency of the grand jury process and to create more informed procedures in police involved civilian fatalities,”

“We believe these changes proposed by the Governor would improve the system and improve the public’s confidence in the system,” Sedita said. “Accordingly, the association enthusiastically looks forward to working closely with the executive branch and the legislature to work out the details of the proposal.”

And last, but hardly least, comes a statement from Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, the hip hop mogul whose meeting with Cuomo amid unrest caused by the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict an NYPD officer in connection with Eric Garner’s chokehold death caused a bit of a stir.

Jay Z said the governor’s reform package “is a huge step forward in restoring fairness, protection, sensitivity and accountability for all under our justice system.”

“I commend Governor Cuomo for his bold leadership in taking this issue head on at this critical time,” he continued. “This package presents comprehensive steps to protect and improve relations amongst all citizens. We cannot be divided, as every single human being matters. Together, we can move forward as a community, with mutual respect for each other and continue to make this great state stronger than ever before.”

Funke: All Regions Of the State Must Benefit From Budget

Delivering the response for the Senate Republicans, freshman Sen. Rich Funke, of Rochester, took swipes at two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top policy initiatives – the $1.5 billion upstate economic development competition and the $1.66 billion property tax relief plan – saying his conference wants to make sure all regions of the state benefit equally from the 2-15-16 budget.

Property taxes should be cut “for every middle-income taxpayer in every region of the state, Funke said, adding: “And let’s do it this year.” (He did not mention the 2 percent property tax cap, which sunsets in 2016 and is expected to be tied to the NYC housing laws, which expire at the end of this coming June).

Cuomo has proposed an income-based circuit breaker tax relief plan that is tied to the property tax cap and would provide relief to only some New Yorkers. Singles and seniors are expected to fare the best under his plan, while double-income families might earn just a bit too much to qualify. Only those whose property tax bill is higher than their annual federally adjusted income and make less than $250,000 – about half the state’s homeowners – would be eligible.

Funke also made it clear that the Legislature “should and will” have a role in determining how to spent the $5 billion windfall realized by the state through financial industry settlements over the past year. Cuomo has already suggested using $1.5 billion of that money for an upstate economic development fund in which seven regions would compete, but only three would win up to $500 million.

“It’s essential that every region in this state benefit from this budget so there aren’t any winners and losers from one region to the next,” Funke said. “Five billion presents us with a unique opportunity to boost the entire state. Let’s do it right.”

Cuomo also wants to use $1.3 billion of the settlement funds to prevent any toll hikes on the Thruway. Funke didn’t address that specific proposal, but he did say the Senate Republicans want the settlement cash to be invested in “modernizing” the state’s infrastructure – “roads and bridges, sewer and water systems, projects that are geared toward real economic development.”

Funke expressed the Senate Republicans’ desire to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to deliver the fifth on-time state budget in a row. He noted that despite winning an “outright majority,” the Senate GOP is continuing its “historic coalition” with the IDC, though he did not mention that the terms of that relationship have been modified to provide the breakaway Democrats with less power than they used to have.

Also in his response, Funke noted that the Senate GOP has passed the bulk of the Women’s Equality Agenda. He urged the Assembly Democrats to follow suit because “the women of this state have already waited too long,” adding:

“Let’s show the nation that in New York real progress on women’s health and women’s equality always trumps partisan politics and not the other way around.”

On education, Funke reiterated the Senate Republicans’ main goal of fully eliminating the gap elimination “adjustment scheme” that was implemented during a fiscal crisis by former Gov. David Paterson. He also said that every child in New York should be provided with a “first-class education and the opportunity that goes with it.”

On public safety, Funke said the GOP conference will soon be holding hearings and want to “do everything possible to protect police officers that protect us.” He didn’t address the various criminal justice reform proposals that have been floated since a Staten Island grand jury declined to bring charges against an NYPD officer in connection with the chokelhold death of Eric Garner.

Funke, a former TV broadcaster, turned in a polished performance during the seven-minute response, which was recorded prior to the governor’s combined State of the State and budget address (AKA: the 2015 Opportunity Agenda). He was clearly tapped by the GOP in part due to his experience in front of the camera, as well as to highlight one of the new faces in the majority conference. (He ousted former Democratic Sen. Ted O’Brien in the November elections).

Cuomo To Cuba — And Soon

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday in his State of the State and budget presentation said he plans to travel to Cuba within the next 45 days.

The Cuba trips comes as the U.S. begins to normalize relations with the Communist country.

Cuomo is planing the trade missions as a way of promoting New York agriculture, while other trade missions are being planned for China, Japan, Canada and Israel later this year.

At the same time, Cuomo is calling for a $35 million import-export bank to promote international trade.

Cuomo this week insisted the trip to Cuba would be a “business trip” and does not plan to raise concerns with the country’s human rights violations, including allegations of arrests of gays and lesbians.

President Obama in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night urged Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba.

Cuomo Proposes $141.6B Spending Plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday unveiled a $141.6 billion spending plan – a budget proposal that lifts state operating expenses by 1.7 percent over the current year.

Cuomo’s executive budget projects a $1.8 billion surplus. Education spending would be boosted by $1.1 billion, or a 4.8 percent increase over last year.

The budget includes increased funding for charter schools through supplemental basic tuition increases from the current $425 per pupil to $575 per pupil at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

For pre-kindergarten programs, $25 million would be spent on half-day and full-day programs meant to draw in at-risk 3-year-olds.

Much of the education spending is tied to school accountability, including $8 million aimed at “turnaround strategies” for failing schools and $6 million for a teacher training program.

Another costly area of state government spending, Medicaid, will grow to $62 million in the coming 2015-16 fiscal year.

A separate, $5.4 billion windfall gained from financial settlements is being set aside for $3 billion in loans and special grants for infrastructure projects, while $1.5 billion will be spent toward a competitive economic development program in seven upstate regions.

An additional $850 million is being reserved to “address risks.”

A separate pot of $440 million in settlement funds from JP Morgan will be put toward various housing programs.

A spending plan agreed on by the legislative leaders and the governor is due March 31.

Cuomo’s budget includes support for the DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, whose passage is tied to the approval of an education tax credit, aimed at boosting donations that support both public and private schools.

Cuomo’s budget would extend tax credits for entertainment companies.

STAR benefits would be converted into a benefit aimed at new homeowners, while the growth in the basic and enhanced STAR benefit would be capped annually.

As Cuomo’s previously announced, the budget includes a $1.66 billion property tax relief program that is tied to a household’s income and geared toward keeping local governments under a tax cap.

While Cuomo supports repealing some $3 million in “nuisance fees” a package of new fees is also being proposed, including a $100 vehicle inspection fee for privately hired passenger carriers — a proposal that appears aimed at emerging companies like Uber and Lyft.



Cuomo: $1.3B For Thruway, TZB Project

After outlining his Thruway and bridge spending in broad strokes earlier today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration offered some numbers to fill in those blanks.

Cuomo on Tuesday proposed spending $1.3 billion on the state Thruway system with the goal of keeping “tolls down and allow for critical repair and maintenance, support the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge and alternative transit options.”

An additional $750 million will be “strategically” spent on the state’s network of roads and bridges.

No additional breakdown of the spending, or how much cash will go toward tolls versus the $3.9 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project, was available.

The spending on Thruway Authority comes after the agency approved a budget last month that includes a $26 million shortfall, heightening concerns the state will seek a system-wide toll increase.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in an interview last week said he hoped to spend the state’s $5 billion windfall surplus funds on infrastructure, not “one-shots.”

Asked if using the money to offset toll increases fell into that category, Skelos said it did.

“That’s a one-shot deal,” Skelos said. “I think the infrastructure money should go toward exactly that — infrastructure.”