Democrats

Dream Deferred

From the Morning Memo:

Last night, a number of Senate Democrats took their frustration with being excluded from the closed-door budget negotiations on the final product, voting “no” on part of the agreement that dealt with transportation, economic development and environmental spending.

There was some testy back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans on the Senate floor during the debate, and you should expect more of the same – if not worse – when it comes time to take up legislation relating to the most controversial parts of this budget: Ethics and education.

It’s a fairly safe bet that Sen. Jose Peralta will be voting “no” on the education bill, if for nothing else than to demonstration his distress over the fact that the DREAM Act did not make it into the final budget deal.

Peralta, clad in his signature DREAM Act T-shirt, which he sports over his chamber-dress-code-appopriate shirt and tie, told me during a CapTon interview last night that he and his fellow Latino lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly are in discussions to reject the education bill, even though they are well aware their “no” votes will be merely symbolic.

Many of the same lawmakers threatened to vote “no” on last year’s budget if the governor failed to include the DREAM Act, which would help undocumented college students pay for college by allowing them to apply for TAP.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not heed that call, and the DREAM Act ended up coming onto the Senate floor for a stand-alone vote, where it died without a single “yes” vote from any GOP senators.

This year, Cuomo included the DREAM Act in his executive budget for the first time, which advocates saw as a very positive development, but many were disappointed that he linked it to the Education Investment Tax Credit in hopes of forcing the Senate GOP’s hand.

This gambit did not work, in part because so many of the Senate GOP’s new – and most politically vulnerable – members specifically campaigned against the DREAM Act and providing any sort of taxpayer-funded support to undocumented immigrants during the 2014 election cycle.

Now Peralta, the main sponsor of the DREAM Act in his chamber, and others are looking to Cuomo to expend some political capital to push the Senate Republicans to pass the measure in the post-budget session.

But Cuomo’s main leverage is in the considerable power afforded to the executive during the budget process, and he declined to use in large part during this year’s talks. The DREAM Act was not the only policy initiative he proposed in his executive budget to fall off the table as the April 1 deadline drew near.

It is possible that the DREAM Act could get linked to something else during the end-of-session horse trading that comes before the so-called “big ugly” – the mishmash of bills passed in a mad rush before lawmakers depart Albany for the summer.

Linkage of a number of education initiatives that didn’t make it into the budget is already under discussion, including EITC, continuation of mayoral control in NYC and raising the charter school cap.

In the meantime, DREAM Act advocates are also planning to exert some pressure on a some of Republican lawmakers – especially on Long Island – whose districts have sizable Latino populations, staging rallies in their districts and engaging local religious leaders to help spread their message.

Senators Phil Boyle, (who was missing from the 2014 DREAM Act vote), and Jack Martins come up fairly frequently as potential targets of the DREAM Act advocates. (Martins voted “no” last year, saying the bill was drafted too broadly). Peralta said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, another Long Islander, will also be targeted.

Boyle told City & State he’s not planning on altering his position on the DREAM Act, even if supporters launch a campaign against him. He plans to continue pushing for a non-taxpayer-funded alternative – several of which were floated to no avail during the budget talks.

Two Democratic senators – Rochester freshman Ted O’Brien, who was defeated by a Republican, Sen. Rich Funke, in last year’s election; and Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, who conferences with the GOP, also voted “no” in 2014.

Later yesterday afternoon, Peralta issued a statement slamming Skelos for saying the DREAM Act would give undocumented students an unfair advantage over college students with legal immigration status who are forced to take out loans to pay for their education.

Peralta noted that TAP is an entitlement program, which means all students must meet residency and financial requirements to qualify, and to do that, they have to be paying taxes.

“Since Senator Skelos is in the majority, he is in a position to give those kids who take out loans an advantage by increasing the income eligibility from the current $80,000 per household per year to $150,000,” Peralta added.

“This means the kids’ parents would have to make under $150,000 combined to quality for TAP. Senator Skelos has the power now to make this happen but he is not using it.”

“He can help all college students, but he may rather give this money to the rich so they can get tax breaks when buying their private yachts and private planes.”

Expect a lot more where that came from.

The yacht tax break is going to be a very big focus for progressives as the budget battle winds down, even though, as Capital NY’s Laura Nahmias points out this morning, the sales tax exemption for expensive boats had its genesis in both houses of the Legislature, which means both Assembly Democrats AND Senate Republicans were on board.

The measure was not included in the governor’s executive budget proposal.

Pelosi Makes Fundraising Push for Slaughter

Taking a breaking from the budget madness for a moment to focus on the 2016 congressional elections…(yes, I know they’re far away).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent out a fundraising appeal over the weekend on behalf of veteran Rochester Rep. Louise Slaughter, whose near loss in the 2014 general election by her under-funded and little-known Republican challenger, Gates Town Supervisor Mark Assini, took Democrats both in New York and across the nation by surprise – especially after Slaughter survived a tough challenge in 2012 from a far better known GOP opponent, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks.

Clearly, the Democrats do not intend a repeat of this experience when they try to re-take the majority in 2016, should the 85-year-old Slaughter seek yet another term. Assini has already signaled an interest in a rematch, and Slaughter has not ruled out running again.

In her email sent Sunday morning, Pelosi said she needed to talk about “my friend Louise,” who “won by just 871 votes last year, attracting the attention of Speaker Boehner and every mega Tea Party donor across America.”

“The first FEC deadline of the year is arguably the most important one, especially after such a close call in November,” Pelosi continued. “Louise’s opponent will be scouring this FEC report for any sign that Louise is weak. She must shatter records before her deadline on Tuesday.”

“Louise needs our help…We need more people like Louise in Congress. But apparently Republicans think we need less—and they’re prepared to put their money where their mouth is. That’s why I’m asking you to help Louise fight back now – before it’s too late.”

According to Pelosi, the DCCC is matching all contributions to Slaughter of $3 or more – yet another sign that the Democrats aren’t fooling around this time, taking this race seriously.

And if Slaughter doesn’t run, they’ll have to defend an open seat. Technically speaking, that should be a fairly easy lift for the Democrats in a presidential year, since they enjoy an enrollment edge in NY-25, but it all depends on who the candidates are – and, of course, you can’t forget that all politics are local.

It’s also worth noting, though this is completely unrelated, that Slaughter is appearing today with US Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is the favorite to succeed retiring Sen. Harry Reid as the next Democratic caucus leader in the upper house. The duo is together for a dedication ceremony at the Rochester Main Post office in honor of SPC Matt Glende

UFT Declares Victory In Budget Battle (Updated)

From the Morning Memo:

The United Federation of Teachers on Sunday night declared victory in an email to its members, writing that most of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Draconian agenda” had been turned back by state lawmakers.

“Now all of our hard work is paying dividends,” the teachers union that represents mostly New York City teachers wrote in the email to members. “The governor’s Draconian agenda has, in large part, been turned back. We want to thank the Assembly and the Senate for standing up for our schools and school communities.”

In the email, the union pointed to a variety of changes in the final budget agreement that had been reached last night, including tweaks to school receivership that provide for some local control, altered tenure requirements for up to four years and an evaluation system that will use several metrics, including state tests, observation and local input.

Cuomo was not able to win his plan to lift the cap on charter schools by 100 — a proposal that may be tied later down the road to an extension on mayoral control for New York City schools.

Also gone from the final product: A $20,000 merit bonus proposal for high-performing teachers.

Updated: Contra UFT’s email, the administration says an appropriation for the bonus proposal was included in the final agreement.

The Cuomo administration sees the education battle’s outcome a bit differently. Merely having state lawmakers, especially the Democratic-led Assembly, actually agree to these changes is a huge step forward.

A senior administration official last night called the public education system across the “$50 billion industry” that is resistant to reform.

At the same time, the reforms agreed to in the budget framework represent one of the biggest shifts in education policy in the state’s history, the official said.

Still, in the early reporting there’s some disagreement over the extent of the changes: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie last night told reporters there is input from the Department of Education on helping develop teacher evaluation criteria.

The official last night said SED’s role in criteria development for evaluations was minimal, save for helping put together a second, optional test for school districts to use.

Nevertheless, the efforts by both UFT and the statewide New York State United Teachers made for a more complicated and difficult set of negotiations with the state Legislature and Cuomo.

The governor was accused of “demonizing teachers” with the proposed changes and local level union members were stirred into traveling to the Capitol to protest and contacting their Legislature.

The unions’ strength and influence was strongest in the Democratic-led Assembly, where lobbyists were a near-constant presence this weekend waiting for news on education budget.

UFT describes rank-and-file members’ impact this way:

“They blasted his agenda on social media; invited him to visit their classrooms to see for himself the impact of overcrowded classes and lack of supplies; spoke out at community education forums; called, faxed and sent postcards to their state legislators; and held actions at their schools that engaged the entire school community.”

Four Budget Bills Pop Over Night (Updated)

Four budget bills were introduced before midnight on Saturday, while a broader deal on the state budget is yet to be reached.

Measures introduced last night include spending plans for the legislative and judiciary branches, aid to localities spending, health and mental hygiene and the revenue bill.

Gone from the budget framework is a property-tax rebate proposal akin to a “circuit-breaker” that would tie relief to a household’s income.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Saturday at the Capitol the property tax discussion, as well as a minimum wage increase, could be left for later in the legislative session, which runs through June.

Major aspects of the 2015-16 state spending are yet to be ironed out, however.

Lawmakers and Cuomo are yet to reach an agreement on education spending in the state, which is typically the final piece of the budget puzzle.

What makes this year different is that Cuomo is pushing for education reform measures in the budget – including a tougher teacher evaluation criteria and a receivership program for struggling (AKA “failing”) schools.

Assembly Democrats, in particular, have been hesitant to accept Cuomo’s education proposals.

We do know, however, that due to opposition in both houses, education spending in the budget is no longer linked to the reforms, and lawmakers expect to have a district-by-district breakdown of school aid – also known in Albany as “school runs” – in the coming days.

Cuomo had angered local education officials by refusing to release school runs this year, saying the numbers would be vastly different depending on whether lawmakers accepted or rejected his reform proposals. A number of those proposals have fallen off the budget negotiation table.

It is expected the final education aid increase will stand at around $1.4 billion, if not more.

At the same time, Cuomo is also pushing Senate Republicans to accept new disclosure measures for outside legal clients of state lawmakers.

As of Sunday morning, neither the massive education, labor and family assistance bill or the ethics bill has appeared in print — meaning both will likely require a message of necessity from Cuomo to waive the required three-day aging process if officials want to meet Tuesday’s on-time budget deadline.

Cuomo is due back in Albany later today after appearing at the Greek Independence Day Parade in his role as grand marshal.

Lawmakers are also due back to the Capitol later in the day to conference the latest in the budget talks.

UPDATE: The Assembly Democrats are scheduled to conference early this evening. The Senate Republicans are not conferencing again until tomorrow at noon.

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.

The IDC Seeks ‘Healthy Debate’ On Ethics Legislation

The five-member Independent Democratic Conference is not giving its blessing to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ethics agreement with Assembly Democrats.

In a statement, the conference which has been aligned with Senate Republicans in the chamber, said simply it was looking forward to a “healthy debate” on the issue and touted its own recommendations.

“The Independent Democratic Conference has put forth a serious ethics package to ban outside income and reform the per diem system,” said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove. “The IDC looks forward to a healthy debate.”

IDC Leader Jeff Klein no long holds the power of Senate co-president in the chamber after Republicans gained a full majority.

But Klein is still being kept close by the Senate’s Republican leadership should a majority coalition arrangement be needed again.

Klein, along with Skelos and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, is being included in the closed-door budget meetings.

The mainline conference, too, was similarly unimpressed with the agreement, which is largely what Cuomo had sought in his 30-day amendments tying ethics spending to appropriations in the budget.

“The Senate Democratic Conference has always been the most aggressive advocates of comprehensive ethics reforms,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats. “We look forward to reviewing the legislation when it is finalized.”

Senate Republicans privately met to discuss the issue late Wednesday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos emerged from the meeting to call for enhanced disclosure requirements aimed at Cuomo and the executive branch.

Senate Democrats Nudge Cuomo On Homeless Youth Funding

From the Morning Memo:

A group of mainline conference Democrats and members of the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate signed on to an effort led by Sen. Brad Hoylman to include more funding in the state budget for homeless runaway youth shelters.

The letter sent this week to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislative conference leaders, calls for at least $4.75 million in the state budget agreement that would help create new beds in order to handle 5,041 instances of children being turned away from shelters.

“Young people who are turned away from shelters are forced to live on the streets, where they are significantly more likely to resort to drastic measures to secure a place to sleep,” the letter states.

The letter was signed by 25 lawmakers in the Senate, including IDC members Diane Savino, David Carlucci and David Valesky.

Lawmakers say the increase in spending would come after the funding to shore up homeless youth programs has been “slashed bty more than half in just five years.”

The allocation in 2014 was frozen at $2.35 million.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers say the needs of poverty-stricken youth has only increased in the last several years.

“Help for our state’s homeless youth represents a moral imperative to protect innocent children from the evils and exploitation of life on the street,” the letters states. “It’s also prudent public policy to provide these kids with stable housing so they may grow into responsible, healthy adults and make a positive impact on our communities.”

Hoylman Sign-On Letter to Restore Homeless Youth Shelter Funding by Nick Reisman

Roberts Was All For CFE Funding Before He Was Against It

Assemblyman Sam Roberts raised eyebrows this week by taking a very public swipe at Syracuse Mayor Stephine Miner and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push for the Cuomo administration to fulfill the 2006 CFE settlement, under which the state owes hundreds of millions of dollars to school districts across the state and a whopping $1.5 billion to the Big Apple.

In a letter to de Blasio, Roberts questioned why the city is seeking additional education dollars under the auspices of the CFE settlement when it current has a healthy economy, sizable tax base and budget surplus of $1.58 billion. Instead, the Syracuse Democrat suggested, perhaps the city, with its “greater resources”, should offer to contribute to its poorer neighbors and districts elsewhere in the state.

“The Assembly has focused its attention and funding on New York City for far too long at the expense of other 676 school districts statewide,” Roberts wrote.

The assemblyman’s sentiments are especially surprising due to the fact that he signed onto a letter to the governor back in January, calling on him to include a “substantial” increase in education in his 2015-16 executive budget proposal and citing data from the state Education Department that suggests the state is $4.5 billion behind on its CFE committment to districts statewide – an argument being made repeatedly this year by AQE, NYSUT and others.

Nowhere in the January letter was any distinction made about upstate districts versus New York City – the largest school district in the nation, which was the focus of the CFE case and is owed the lion’s share of the outstanding state aid. The majority of Assembly Democrats signed the letter – including Roberts.

Perhaps the assemblyman’s change of heart – and desire to pubicly criticize two fellow Democrats who have had very public disagreements with the governor – had something to do with the report that he has been offered a job with the Cuomo administration?

A source who has spoken directly to Roberts confirmed that the assemblyman did indeed say he would likely be joining the governor’s staff at the end of this year’s legislative session. According to this source, Roberts was actually offered a job early in the year, but turned it down, and is now up for a different – albeit yet-to-be-determined – position.

Asked by the Syracuse Post-Standard whether the governor had offered him a job, Roberts did not deny that had occurred, saying only: “A lot of people offer me jobs, OK?”

“Well, that hasn’t happened as of yet,” he also told the paper. I’m still in the New York State Assembly…There’s nothing etched in stone There’s all sorts of discussions. General Motors offered me a job, but I’m still here.”

Roberts did not return a message left by SoP at his district office in Syracuse last night.

The assemblyman said in 2013 that he was considering a potential run for mayor of Syracuse in 2017 when Miner will be barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

January 2015 letter to Gov Cuomo seeking additional CFE cash. by liz_benjamin6490

CNY Assemblyman Swipes At de Blasio

Following news that NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner have teamed up to pressure Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fulfill the CFE settlement and make a big boost to education aid, Assemblyman Sam Roberts, a Syracuse Democrat, is accusing the downstate mayor of seeking additional state aid “at the expense of truly poor” urban and rural school districts upstate.

In a letter he sent to de Blasio yesterday (and released publicly today), Roberts notes that New York City has a $1.58 billion surplus and a sizable tax base – two things the majority of upstate communities lack.

According to de Blasio and Miner, the state owes New York City $2.6 billion and Syracuse $87.1 million as a result of never fully funding the settlement that resulted from the 2006 CFE case, which found New York was routinely shortchanging students in needy districts, thereby depriving them of their constitutional right to a sound basic education.

“The irony is that while New York City has a $1.58 billion surplus, it is requesting money based on CFE – the core principle of which is that district need and wealth should be taken into account in State funding allocations – and that poorer districts should receive higher State funding to account for a lower tax base,” the assemblyman wrote.

“…To fully comply with CFE, I would assert that NYC, who has greater resources, should contribute to the funding of its poorer neighbors and school districts within the state. The Assembly has focused its attention and funding on New York City for far too long at the expense of other 676 school districts statewide.”

Syracuse has been struggling to make ends meet for several years, with Miner warning that the city could be forced over the fiscal cliff if the state doesn’t step up and assist. She also is currently locked in a war of words with the governor over whether infrastructure funding trumps economic development funding, or vice versa. (He says the city, which recently experienced its 100th water main break so far this year, should pay for its own pipes and create some jobs before looking to the state for help).

Miner and Cuomo have had a rocky relationship for several years now. She was his hand-picked state Democratic Party co-chair, but stepped down from the post after criticizing him quite publicly on key policy proposals – most notably on the lack of attention to the fiscal woes of upstate communities and the failure to adequately address ballooning pension fund costs.

Roberts, like Miner and de Blasio, is a Democrat. He has been mentioned as a potential contender for Syracuse mayor in 2017 when Miner will be barred from seeking re-election due to term limits.

Assemblyman Sam Roberts' letter to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio by liz_benjamin6490

Caucus To Cuomo: Include Stewart-Cousins In Budget Talks

From the Morning Memo:

The Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus today will call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in the closed-door budget talks with the other legislative leaders.

In a statement due to be released later today and first obtained by Capital Tonight, the caucus of Assembly and Senate lawmakers it’s an “injustice” that Stewart-Cousins, the first black woman to lead a legislative conference in Albany, to not be included in the talks.

“For too long the voices of certain groups have been absent from discussions on important state policies. This very fact spurred the creation of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus and has guided our mission ever since,” the caucus said in a statement. “With the apparent changes in requirements on who is able to attend the three/four men in a room negotiations, we would hope that all Conference Leaders of both houses are included.”

The statement comes after the elevation of Carl Heastie to the speaker’s post, who is the first black lawmaker to hold the position following former Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest on corruption charges. The caucus also makes note that Stewart-Cousins is the “first and only female leader” who is being left out of the negotiations.

“In 2015, it’s simply unacceptable that a leader who better represents our state’s diversity, and is the first and only female leader in our state’s history, is being excluded from the current budget negotiations,” the caucus said. “There is still time to correct this injustice and invite all Conference Leaders, including Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, to all policy discussions regarding the direction of New York State. It is clear that the more diversity and light we can shine on Albany, the better it is for all New Yorkers.”

The statement is part of a broader push to have Stewart-Cousins included in the budget meetings. Democrats, along with Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, were emboldened to push for great inclusion in the negotiations after Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein was added to the negotiations this year.

Klein continues to hold an alliance with Senate Republicans in the chamber, but after the GOP gained a full majority last year, is no longer co-president and does not have the power of determining which bills come to the floor for a vote.

Heastie, in a news conference this week, said it was up to Cuomo as to who is included in the budget meetings.

“You have to ask that question to the governor,” Heastie said, adding, “If the governor wants to invite the members of the minority, I have no problem with that.”

Meanwhile, women’s advocacy organizations on Thursday tweeted their support for including Stewart-Cousins in the negotiations.

“Let’s stop marginalizing elected reps,” the Westchester Women’s Agenda posted on Twitter. “#MakeRoomNYS for all conference leaders in the budget process.”

Democratic Sen. James Sanders also made a reference to including Stewart-Cousins in the meeting as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, presided over her first Senate session on Wednesday.

“I’m hoping this democracy spreads and we all see the beauty of having women in places of leadership,” Sanders said.

In an interview on The Capitol Pressroom on Thursday, Stewart-Cousins said she has not broached the topic with Cuomo, but did discuss it with Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

“He would be more than happy to have me in the room,” Stewart-Cousins said.

As for the governor, Stewart-Cousins said the matter of including her was up to him.

“It’s his room,” she said.