Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo: Education And Ethics Remain The Top Priorities

The debate over policy being included in the state budget is a “red herring,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a lengthy statement on the budget talks released Thursday afternoon.

“The truth is that every budget boils down to two essential issues: How much money are we spending and how are we spending it?” Cuomo said. “There is no financial judgment that can be made without a corresponding policy judgment. Indeed many of the Legislature’s proposals in their one house budgets have related policy proposals.”

Cuomo has linked policy to spending in previous budget proposals.

But his $142 billion spending plan was seen as an even greater amount of policy linkage to appropriations this year, especially on education issues, where a $1.1 billion increase in aid is tied to reform proposals.

Meanwhile, Cuomo sought to yoke ethics measures dealing disclosure and campaign finance laws to appropriations in his 30-day budget amendments, that lawmakers declined to introduce.

Governors have broader powers over the budget process in Albany and Cuomo sought to use that leverage to achieve some policy victories.

In the statement, Cuomo reiterated his top priorities in the budget remain education and ethics reform.

Cuomo continues to insist that he won’t agree to a budget that does not include “real ethics reform” or allow a “dramatic increase in education aid” without reform measures.

Cuomo lays out those reform measures in education as being ones that deal with “accountability, performance and standards.”

On ethics, Cuomo says ethics must be considered in the budget, adding that client disclosure issues have plagued Albany for more than a generation.

“These two issues remain my highest priorities in this budget,” Cuomo says of ethics and education. “They are transformative changes.”

Currently, Assembly Democrats are meeting behind closed doors discussing education measures in the budget.

A previously proposed education commission is no longer part of the budget talks, lawmakers confirmed. Now, lawmakers are discussing having the Board of Regents potentially consider reform recommendations later this year.

Here is Cuomo’s full statement:

Cuomo Statement by Nick Reisman

Cuomo’s Second Term Blues

From the Morning Memo:

A major facet of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first-term power was his power to persuade, cajole and pressure state lawmakers and elected officials to bend to his will.

This year, the opposite appears to be occurring.

Now entering his second term, the governor appears to have lost high-profile debates in the state budget session to the state’s teachers union on education issues while he’s had difficulty in getting Senate Republicans to agree to disclosure legislation.

Those were once nominal allies of the governor, like mainline Senate Democrats, have little hesitation in criticizing him, either.

“It sounds like what we’re headed towards is a glorified extender which keeps the government running, but takes all the major issues out of it,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who is the deputy leader in the chamber, in a Capital Tonight interview.

Indeed, budget lines in the sand from Cuomo over ethics, education reform, the DREAM Act and education tax credit melted away in the last several days. Jettisoned from the budget talks, too, were discussions over juvenile justice reform and curtailing sexual assault on college campuses (funding for raising the age of criminal responsibility is still under discussion in the budget talks).

Every budget year is always different, but this does not appear to be shaping up to be the like packages of the first term, which included long-sought reforms in addition to being on time.

Part of that is Cuomo’s skill as a negotiator. Gianaris, in the interview, added a second factor: Cuomo’s mandate.

“There’s always a deference to a governor who is recently elected in his first term,” he said. “There’s a mandate there”

He cited Republican George Pataki who, in his first several years, won major victories on the death penalty and tax cuts, but ran into difficulty legislatively later in his time as governor.

Then, like now, the mandate for Cuomo appears to be waning, which has encouraged lawmakers in both parties to push back.

“As that fades, I think the Legislature is emboldened to speak up and stand up a little more,” Gianaris said. “Now we’re seeing, coming off an election the governor scored 52 percent or so of the people that turned out, I think people are feeling on the legislative side, and we’re talking about the majorities as well, a little emboldened to make that case. That’s a natural phenomenon, I’ve seen it happen with other governors and I think we’re seeing it now.”

Granted, Cuomo has found ways in his first four years to win major victories outside of the budget: Same-sex marriage, gun control, tax reform, a new pension tier and previous ethics victories just to name a few.

Cuomo can still turn his year around in Albany, but he’ll have to do without the powers afforded the governor in the budget-making process.

Cuomo Defends The Budget’s Casualties (Updated)

It’s doubtful the DREAM Act and the education tax credit will return to the budget negotiations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged on Tuesday afternoon.

Cuomo also defended those long-sought measures dropping from the talks as Cardinal Timothy Dolan urge state lawmakers and the governor to come to an agreement on both issues.

“They could go back in, but it’s highly unlikely,” Cuomo said after meeting with Senate Republicans.

Cuomo said he’s made his priorities in the state budget “clear” by linking so many items to appropriations.

Cuomo sought to tie the DREAM Act, the education tax credit and the Tuition Assistance Program together in a single package.

In the end, the governor couldn’t get the differing sides in the Legislature to agree.

“We have no agreement,” Cuomo said. “We are no where close to an agreement. The Assembly does not want to do the ETC. The Senate does not want to do the DREAM Act. They’re both dug in, so it was pointless in the budget. I support both. I support both deeply.”

The DREAM Act provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. The tax credit met to aid both public and non-profit scholarship programs that benefit private schools.

“I’m going to work very hard to make sure they’re passed,” Cuomo said. “But remember, this is only the budget, the session ends in June.”

The governor appeared to be directing his comments at the vocal proponents of both issues, including Dolan, who said in a statement he had spoken with Cuomo over the phone about the issues.

In his statement, Dolan urged Cuomo to be “unwavering” on the education tax credit, a measure he has lobbied for in the last several legislative sessions.

Cuomo today confirmed the proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility for juveniles will have to be taken care out of the budget, given its complicated nature.

Updated: Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa says the juvenile justice reform proposals remain part of the budget talks.

Cuomo Meets With Senate For A ‘Good Conversation’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans met privately for about an hour on Tuesday afternoon to discuss ethics reform legislation in the state budget.

Cuomo took the unusual step of traveling to the third floor of the Capitol to meet with Republican lawmakers in their offices as the GOP conference remains skeptical over a proposal to disclose private legal clients of state lawmakers.

“I understand their issues,” Cuomo told reporters after the meeting. “We’ve been talking about it now for a number of weeks. We have an ethics agreement with the Assembly, which demonstrates it can be done.”

Cuomo added he had a “good conversation” with Republican lawmakers even as disclosure remains a “sensitive area” for lawyer-legislators.

“You should also remember this issue has plagued Albany for about 50 years,” Cuomo said.

The meeting takes place a week after Cuomo and Assembly Democrats agreed on a package of ethics reform measures in the state budget ranging from disclosure to pension forfeiture and travel per diem disbursement.

But the disclosure concerns and their scope have taken center stage for Republicans in the state Senate.

Cuomo is pushing the ethics legislation following the arrest of now-former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges that stem from legal referrals masked as bribes, according to prosecutors.

“Members brought up some of their concerns and it’s mainly client confidentiality,” Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told reporters, adding, “The main issue is how far do we go and also protect client confidentiality because that is very important.”

Cuomo has insisted that lawmakers must include ethics legislation in the budget or he won’t agree to a broader spending plan.

But Skelos this afternoon signaled both sides were willing to make an agreement on the ethics issues.

“We all realize there’s give and take if you’re going to get a result,” Cuomo said. “That’s where the discussions are right now and we’re going to continue.”

Senate Republicans did not mention any of their own reform proposals aimed at the executive branch when meeting with the governor, Cuomo and Skelos said.

Cuomo Opens Door To Policy Post-Budget

In a lengthy statement released Monday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office acknowledged the likelihood of removing some of the thornier policy concerns out of the final budget agreement.

The statement, released by Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa, suggests measures a variety of controversial issues ranging from the DREAM Act, the education tax credit, a legislation pay commission and lifting the statewide cap on charter schools will be taken up after the final budget agreement is reached.

The acknowledgement that those items could be taken up in the post-budget session comes after many of those issues appeared to drop out of the budget negotiations, which have intensified with next week’s looming deadline.

The indication that a number of these items will be taken up in the post budget session adds to an already heavy workload for state lawmakers: Rent regulations are due to expire in June as is mayoral control of New York City schools. The session runs until June 17.

But Cuomo will also have significantly less leverage over these issues, which face varying degrees of opposition in the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly, when dealing with them outside of the framework of the state budget talks.

DeRosa reiterated this afternoon Cuomo’s push to have ethics reform legislation included in the budget and that no agreement will be reached without disclosure measures included.

Similarly, education reform is described as “another top priority in this budget” with a number of the measures enumerated, including having struggling schools put into receivership.

“The key education reforms are dealing with the epidemic of failing schools, improvement to the teacher evaluation system, tenure reform, teacher performance bonuses and scholarships to attract new teachers,” DeRosa said. “If those reforms are passed, the Governor will support a significant funding increase. The Governor believes these changes will be transformative to our education system.”

Cuomo’s $142 billion proposal tied a number of policy measures to appropriations in the spending plan — a tactic that angered state lawmakers, but took advantage of the broad powers a governor has over the executive budget.

Cuomo’s budget would increase spending on education aid by as much as $1.1 billion, but without approving many of those reform measures, spending would increase by only $340 million.

But the education reform measures have faced significant push back from the state’s teachers union, which has its deepest influence with Assembly Democrats.

Cuomo is yet to reach an agreement with Senate Republicans on disclosure rules and GOP conference members today said they hoped to modify the governor’s deal with Assembly Democrats.

Still, Republicans were able to secure a victory with the legislative pay commission falling by the wayside in the negotiations.

Here is DeRosa’s full statement:

The Governor and the Legislative Leaders Are in the Midst of Ongoing Budget Discussions Which Have Intensif… by Nick Reisman

Education Matters

The conversation on education reform in the state Budget appears to have shifted. Sources say last night Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a long talk about some of the governor’s policy proposals and now, finally, there seems to be some movement.

Assembly Democrats conferenced the proposed changes this afternoon, which include taking charter schools out of the discussion. Cuomo had wanted to raise the cap to allow more charters, but as of now that will be taken up at another time – likely later in the session.

The governor also appears to be backing away from his insistence that “failing” schools be placed into a receivership. Democrats staunchly oppose this. Weakening teacher tenure is also on the chopping block – (Cuomo had wanted to make it harder for teachers to gain tenure) – and a formula for teacher evaluations is still being worked out.

Democrats described the overall mood on budget talks as “very different” from the start of this session. No longer is Cuomo taking a “storm-the-beach” approach on his controversial education reforms. Many of those ideas have now been “uncoupled” from the revenue appropriations they were attached to. That paves the way for compromise – not to mention an on-time budget = at least within the the world of Democrats who had loathed the governor’s approach, accusing him of being a bully.

But of course, Republicans still need to come around on ethics if the budget is actually going to be on time.

So, what changed? Well, a couple of things. For one, sources say Cuomo was losing the war against teachers.

First there was the poll last week showing his approval rating at the lowest it has ever been. Then there was the Siena poll that showed the public isn’t really with him on this one. Finally, there are the teachers unions, NYSUT and UFT, whose members successfully painted Cuomo as the enemy of overworked and underpaid teachers.

From the campaign to demonstrate he has spent no time in schools since taking office, to the billboards on the Thruway telling him that he needs to listen to to teachers, it all adds up to a losing battle for the governor.

Not for nothing, but if you are going to take on an entrenched group like the teachers union in this state, you gotta be ready to really go to war. That includes a TV ad blitz, which was noticeably absent in this particular fight.

Cuomo’s buddy across the Hudson, Gov. Chris Christie, successfully turned the public against the NJEA in New Jersey, but he did so after first coming into office in 2010 when his political clout was at its highest. It was also during the great recession when antipathy toward public unions living large on the public dime was at an all-time high.

Then there is the ethics reform piece. Last week, Cuomo successfully pulled Speaker Heastie into the fold on ethics when the Democratic duo announced a two-way agreement that left Senate Republicans on the sidelines. This was immortalized by the hug-heard-round the world.

(This photo appears to have been taken after the two leaders won their field hockey game. They then apparently went back to the mansion and watched “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and shared a good cry. Next week, it’s an all “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Steel Magnolias” marathon. BTW – I’m totally kidding about everything I just wrote in parenthesis…Heastie actually HATES “Steel Magnolias.”)

Once the governor had the Assembly Democrats on his side on ethics reform, he was able to squeeze the Republicans a bit. But, of course, no one gets everything they want. And to bring the Dems on board for ethics meant sacrificing something on education – an issue of massive importance in the Assembly majority conference. Heastie and his members couldn’t live with what Cuomo wanted in terms of ed reform. Cuomo needed ethics to be his top priority following the arrest of former Speaker Sheldon Silver.

It stands to reason that NO ethics reform really has any teeth unless lawmakers and the governor are willing to have the big conversation, which is banning ALL outside income and making the Legislature full time – with a significant pay raise, as good government groups have proposed. But as the great Nick Reisman noted earlier, that pay increase commission Cuomo gave lip service to all those months ago is apparently also out of the budget along with the Dream Act and the EITC.

Despite Education Battle, Cuomo’s Favorable Rating Largely Unchanged

New York voters disagree with his budget tactics of tying so much policy to spending.

They don’t like the 90-day email deletion policy.

Voters trust the teachers union more with handling education policy.

But there is a silver lining for Gov. Andrew Cuomo in today’s Siena College poll: His favorable rating since December is largely unchanged.

Cuomo received a 58 percent favorable rating at the end of 2014. It hit 60 percent in January, and has gone down to 57 percent this month — all results within the margin of error.

This comes despite the hits Cuomo has absorbed in his high-profile battle with the state’s teachers unions, who staunchly oppose his education reform proposals, which include a more stringent teacher evaluation criteria and making it harder for teachers to obtain tenure.

“After three months of hand to hand combat and incredibly personal attacks by the teacher’s union and their allies, this poll shows that their attacks haven’t worked and the Governor’s standing has remained unchanged,” said a Democratic insider close to the governor.

Cuomo has accused of being anti-teacher (the governor notes his mother was a teacher) and knocked for not visiting public schools.

Nevertheless, his job performance remains unchanged, but notably underwater: Only 43 percent of voters approve of the job he is doing, down from 44 percent last month.

DeFran: ‘Serious Problems’ With Cuomo’s Disclosure Measure

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is “interested in modifying” his ethics agreement struck last week with Assembly Democrats, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco told reporters.

Senate Republicans at this point have not agreed to back Cuomo’s push on disclosure rules that would require private business clients of state lawmakers be made public.

“We think there’s serious problems for people who practice law and other professionals,” DeFrancisco said. “We’re trying to get something that’s workable.”

A source with knowledge of the talks earlier today said a legislative pay raise commission — which is opposed by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos — was out of the budget framework.

The move suggested a larger push to reach a deal on ethics reform measures before the budget is due to pass next week.

There appears to be a prevailing sense among state lawmakers that Cuomo, despite his public pronouncements, wants to have an on-time budget and strike a deal on ethics reform.

Already, some of the more controversial measures appear to be falling out of the talks, including the DREAM Act and the education tax credit, which Cuomo had yolked together in his $142 billion spending proposal.

Assembly Democrats, too, had indicated today Cuomo was willing to compromise on the thornier education reform proposals.

Cuomo had tied much of his reform in education to increasing state aid by $1.1 billion.

“If this was just the budget, we’d be done,” DeFrancisco said. “It’s all the ancillary issues that are holding things up, the policy issues, that’s why it’s very difficult this year.”

Senate Republicans had campaigned heavily against the DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. The state’s teachers union and some Assembly Democrats were opposed to the education tax credit, which is meant to spur donations to public schools and private-school scholarship programs.

Cuomo last week had indicated ethics reform was his top priority in this budget, but Senate Republicans have questioned whether any deal could be good enough in the long term.

“It’s kind of immaterial,” DeFrancisco said. “Maybe next year the media, the public, the good-government groups, will want something else. It’s never ending ethics reform. The best ethics reform is to elect ethical people.”

State And City Bar Associations Bless Client Disclosure

Both the city and statewide bar associations on Thursday backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to have legal clients of state lawmakers disclosed — a proposal backed by the Democratic-led Assembly, but not Senate Republicans.

“In this political climate, it is particularly important that the public have a high level of trust in its elected officials,” said New York City Bar Association President Debra Raskin. “The public should know that its elected officials are in government to work in the public interest, not to take care of their own interests. One key element of establishing public trust is disclosure of outside income.”

State Bar Association President Glenn Lau-Kee provided a similar thumbs up to the disclosure effort.

“The New York State Bar Association believes in transparency in government but is also concerned with protecting clients of lawyers who are entitled to have private information be kept confidential. No proposal should be enacted that does not adequately protect client confidentiality,” Lau-Kee said in a statement. “We support the Governor’s proposal on disclosure, which protects client confidentiality, because it serves the public interest by enhancing financial disclosure while fundamentally recognizing the critical right of clients to avoid publicly revealing very sensitive matters.”

Cuomo and Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday evening announced the two-way deal, a move that was made without the Senate’s knowledge. The agreement does include some narrow exemptions for disclosure, such as cases that involve children.

Securing a bilateral agreement is an apparent way of pressuring the GOP-led Senate, but lawmakers there are pushing for broader disclosure from Cuomo and his administration as well.

With the bar associations validating the disclosure proposal, there are no excuses for making it law, Cuomo said.

“The bottom line is that New Yorkers will never trust government until they know the who, what and where of outside employment and unprecedented reforms put forward by this administration and the New York State Assembly will do just that,” Cuomo said. “The New York State and New York City Bar Associations’ affirmation that our proposal does not conflict with attorney-client privilege eliminates any excuses as to why this should not be law.”

Skelos: Cuomo’s ‘Minions’ Should Disclosure Travel Expenses

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos lashed out at Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, saying after a joint budget committee hearing that disclosure rules should apply to the governor’s staff and girlfriend.

“What applies to the Legislature should also apply for the governor,” Skelos said.

Holding up a copy of the bi-annual legislative expense report, Skelos said such documentation should also be expanded to include the executive branch.

“You can find out where any of our council staff people went, how much they paid for lodging, their gas expenses, whatever they chit,” Skelos said. “The governor, his staff, when they move their minions for a press conference, other than for security purposes, they don’t have to disclose.”

The comments come after Senate Republicans were excluded from a two-way agreement between Cuomo and Assembly Democrats on ethics reform.

The package includes private client disclosure, per diem reform and the pledge to pass a constitutional amendment to expand pension forfeiture for officials convicted of corruption.

Still, Skelos insisted the budget talks were going well, despite the deepening rift with Cuomo over ethics reform.

“This is the smoothest budget negotiation I’ve ever been involved in,” Skelos said.

Top conference leaders met today to formally announce targeted spending agreements in the state budget, due April 1.

Cuomo has sought to challenge lawmakers this year to pass new ethics reform measures by tying the proposals to spending in his 30-day budget amendments.

Senate Republicans say they were not given a heads up from Cuomo or the Assembly on the surprise, two-way deal.

Cuomo in the last four years has worked well with Senate Republicans and the back and forth over ethics legislation has been a rare point of contention in a relatively productive and publicly friendly relationship.

Cuomo’s office maintains that the ethics measures the governor is pushing apply to the executive branch of government as well.

But Republicans have ratcheted up the rhetoric in recent weeks, including introducing a bill that would require disclosure of finances of domestic partners, a move that is seen as a shot at Cuomo’s girlfriend, Food Network personality Sandra Lee.

Cuomo’s office has said the proposal is not part of the negotiations.

“I didn’t bring up his girlfriend,” Skelos said. “What I brought up was the fact that when the governor was the attorney general, he had language that included domestic partners.”