Flanagan Bill Extends Mayoral Control For 1 Year

From the Morning Memo:

A measure introduced late last night by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan would extend mayoral control of New York City schools for one year.

The bill would also seek to expand access to the state’s charter schools as well by raising the statewide cap on the schools by 100, from 460 to 560 — a proposal first backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the start of the year.

The bill just hours after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio left Albany following a round of meetings with Flanagan, as well as Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Speaking with reporters, de Blasio had warned against a 12-month extension of mayoral control, saying such a move would make it a “political football.”

But de Blasio also said he secured no commitments from top state lawmakers and the governor on a host of issues, including mayoral control and rent control regulations as well as the 421a tax abatement reforms he is seeking.

Still, the measure has always been seen as linked to an expansion of the charter school cap. Statewide, there are fewer than 460 charters and opponents of argued a lifting of the cap is unnecessary.

Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, approved a bill last week that would provide for an unchanged mayoral control extension for the next three years, an expiration date that de Blasio said he could live with even as he pushed for keeping the system in place permanently.

Senate Republicans have called for unspecified changes to mayoral control in the city, though at least one Republican from the city, Brooklyn’s Marty Golden, backed an extension.

The GOP conference are not political allies for de Blasio, who backed Senate Democrats politically in last year’s elections. Republicans gained full control of the chamber last year.

Incoming Senate Education Committee Chairman Carl Marcellino said in an interview last week that mayoral control as well as the charter cap expansion would ultimately be a “conference decision.”

De Blasio Returns To Albany With A Different Political Landscape

From the Morning Memo:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio returns to Albany today with an altered political and power landscape.

Gone as majority leader is Dean Skelos, the Nassau County Republican who de Blasio made little secret of trying to oust from power in last year’s elections.

Skelos resigned this month from his leadership post and was replaced by John Flanagan, a Suffolk County lawmaker who has made conciliatory statements with regard to the liberal New York City mayor.

“He’s the mayor of the city of New York,” Flanagan said in a Capital Tonight interview after he was elected leader. “So he is a key player. He deserves fundamental respect for who he is, and more importantly, for the job that he has.”

The state Republican Committee is less welcoming.

In a statement due to be sent later this morning, state Republican spokesman David Laska fired a preemptive shot over the mayor’s bow, knocking his recent travels to midwestern states to push progressive measures (The New York Post has reported de Blasio is considering a bid for the White House; de Blasio allies and other political observers aren’t buying it).

“New York is learning what happens when the Mayor prioritizes his personal national ambitions over running New York: crime is on the rise, public schools are still failing our children, and Bill de Blasio’s signature initiative, Vision Zero, isn’t working,” Laska said in a statement.

De Blasio’s success in Albany, so far, has been something of a mixed bag.

Like his predecessors, he has sought more autonomy for New York City from the state, and has tangled with the Legislature on issues that range from changing the speed limit on certain city streets to winning a minimum wage increase for the five boroughs.

But now the stakes are different as Albany enters the final 12 days of the legislative session: Rent control is due to expire next month, as is 421a, a tax abatement he is seeking changes to.

Meanwhile, de Blasio is seeking an extension of mayoral control of city schools. The Democratic-led Assembly passed a measure for a three-year extension.

Senate Republicans have suggested they support extending it, but have not given timeline for how long it could be extended (One expectation is Senate Republicans could trade a raising of the state’s cap on charter schools for a mayoral control extension).

More broadly for de Blasio the question remains: How will Gov. Andrew Cuomo choose to engage the mayor this time?

Flanagan Makes Upstate Foray

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan is scheduled to attend an Onondaga County GOP event tomorrow in Syracuse – his first upstate trip since he ascended to replace his fellow Long Islander, Dean Skelos, as head of the GOP conference earlier this month.

It’s a safe bet that it’s no accident Flanagan’s inaugural visit north of Albany will be to the home turf of the man he defeated in the leadership battle: Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco. (NOTE: A reader correctly points out that Syracuse is west of Albany, not north. Sorry for my geographical goof. – L)

Onondaga County GOP Chairman Tom Dadey, who was a big DeFrancisco boosted during the fight to succeed Skelos after he was arrested on federal corruption charges, issued an invite to Flanagan during a CapTon interview to attend the party’s annual clambake fundraiser.

The $150-per-person event is being held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow at Hinerwadel’s Grove, which, according to its website, has been hosting Central New York clambakes since 1914.

Dadey said it was DeFrancisco himself who followed up with Flanagan on the chairman’s invite.

“My guess is he realizes upstate is important, and out of respect for (DeFrancisco), decided to make Syracuse his first stop upstate as leader,” Dadey said of the majority leader’s impending visit.

DeFrancisco said during a CapTon interview following his loss that there are no hard feelings between himself and Flanagan, who work out regularly together at the Senate gym.

But some of DeFrancisco’s grassroots backers – particularly gun rights advocates who were not at all pleased by Flanagan’s “yes” vote on the SAFE Act – are still upset over the Syracuse senator’s loss.

They were eager to see the leadership post in the Senate go to a conservative upstater, and are now vowing to get their revenge by backing primary challengers against some of the more pragmatic GOP members in 2016.

Flanagan tried to smooth things over by including “common sense” reforms to the SAFE Act among his top end-of-sesison priorities this year, even though he would be the first to admit that’s more or less a non-starter with the Democrat-controlled Assembly and the governor.

Currying favor with Dadey, who also happens to hold the No. 2 post in the state GOP, might the first step for Flanagan on the road to making peace with upstate GOPers – both local party leaders and grassroots activists.

Unity in the party is going to be of the utmost importance if the GOP conference is to have any shot at retaining control in 2016 – an effort that’s already shaping up to be an uphill battle, thanks to the presidential contest that year that promises to boost Democratic turnout in this increasingly Democrat-dominated state.

Property Tax Cap Extension Debate Continues

From the Morning Memo:

The state’s cap on property tax increases doesn’t expire until next year, but some lawmakers at the Capitol are already looking to make the measure first passed in 2011 a permanent one.

“Making the property tax permanent is in the best interests of the taxpayers and the people of the state of New York.

The state Senate on Wednesday voted for a bill that would create a permanent extension of the cap, which limits local levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation.

It’s a key provision this year, especially for upstate and suburban Republican lawmakers.

“Keeping property taxes down has been a priority for me in the Senate and something I’ll continue to advocate for,” said Sen. Patty Ritchie, a North County Republican.

The drive to make the tax cap permanent, through a straight extension, is also backed by statewide and regional business groups, who argue it will bring a new level of certainty to businesses that want to settle in New York.

But it’s a different case in the Assembly, led by Democrats, who question the need to make the cap a permanent fixture.

“I’m actually a big fan of sun setting more legislation than not simply because as circumstances change it gives you an opportunity to make adjustments and amendments as time goes on,” Majority Leader Joe Morelle said.

And Democrats in the chamber are suggesting that some changes could be made and school aid should be boosted as well to help districts budget within the cap.

“I think that the cap has been an effective tool, but we need to make sure we do the rest of here at the state, make sure that critical state aid is going to our schools, make sure they’re properly funded,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, a Schenectady Democrat.

There is a growing drive from local government advocates as well to make some changes to the cap that could be coupled with mandate relief or even a boost in state aid.

For now, lawmakers have said the discussions do not center around linking the cap’s renewal to mandate relief provisions.

The vast majority of school districts this week had their budgets approved by voters and nearly 99 percent all budgeted within the legal limit. An override is possible, but only with a 60 percent majority.

While the cap doesn’t expire this year, it is linked to rent control regulations for New York City, which are due to lapse next month. Extending rent control is a top priority for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“The Senate has a list, we have a list and where we can come to an agreement on some of the things we want, that’s what usually happens,” Speaker Carl Heastie said Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs a permanent property tax cap, which as a signature economic achievement from his first term.

The Final Countdown

From the Morning Memo:

Counting today, there are 15 days remaining in the 2015 legislative session, and things are heating up, with the Senate and Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo starting to lay out their respective agendas for the mad dash to the finish of what has been a very rocky year in Albany.

Yesterday, new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan released a list of his end-of-session priorities, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo did a whirlwind tour of four Brooklyn churches and a yeshiva to tout his latest version of the Education Investment Tax Credit, now known (with some additions and changes) as the Parental Choice in Education Act.

Also over the weekend, Flanagan introduced a bill that would make the 2 percent tax cap permanent – a top priority for the Senate GOP’s conservative and business allies. The Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, introduced a bill to extend the New York City rent laws for another four years and make them more tenant-friendly.

These two issues are linked, though the rent laws are scheduled to expire next month, and the cap won’t do so until next year.

When he ascended to the speaker’s post back in February, Carl Heastie said renewing and strengthening the city’s rent laws would be his “No. 1 priority” this session.

The “renewing” part is probably not going to be a problem with the Senate Republicans. With the exception of two lone NYC lawmakers – Sens. Marty Golden, of Brooklyn; and Andrew Lanza, of Staten Island – the members of the GOP conference don’t have many (if any) constituents directly impacted by the laws.

But they did collectively benefit from well over $1 million from REBNY during the 2014 elections, which spent big to help the Republicans re-take the majority with an eye toward getting a clean extension – in other words, no pro-tenant changes – of the rent laws this year.

Also up for discussion is the controversial 421-a tax abatement program, which has been a boon to big NYC developers, who, in turn, have given big bucks across the board in Albany.

With the role played by developer Glenwood Management in the federal corruption scandals of both ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, advocates are hoping some rent law reforms could be had.

But the fact that Flanagan did not mention the issue in his priority list statement released yesterday was not a good sign, though he has said since ascending to the majority leader’s post that he expects both the rent laws and New York City mayoral control, which is also set to sunset next month, will likely be extended before the session’s scheduled end on June 17.

The Senate Republicans are likely going to push for unspecified changes to mayoral control to improve transparency and accountability, which is not going to sit too terribly well with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies in the Assembly Democratic conference.

Flanagan did include “common sense” reforms to the SAFE Act on his to do list – a nod to the conservative upstaters who did not support him during the battle to replace Skelos as leader because of his “yes” vote on the controversial gun control law.

The likelihood of the governor and Democrat-controlled Assembly signing off on any SAFE Act modifications is fairly low.

One conservative Republican lawmaker, Assemblyman Bill Nojay, of Livingston County, is suggesting Flanagan hold the rent laws hostage in exchange for SAFE Act reforms. But that seems like an extreme, playing-with-fire sort of approach that would not benefit the newly-minted majority leader – especially not as he looks toward what will be a difficult election year in 2016.

The Senate Republicans and the governor are on the same page – at least conceptually – when it comes to the education tax credit. This issue creates a problem for Heastie, who used to be a sponsor of legislation to enact the credit, but took his name off that – and all other bills – when he became speaker.

Mike Whyland, spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, is quoted in the NY Times this morning that there has “not been sufficient support” in the conference for the tax credit, though some members – especially in poorer, urban areas – have been under intense pressure to back it.

Whyland also said Heastie would not allow the tax credit to be linked to passage of any other legislation – like, say, mayoral control of the New York City school system, which some are suggesting could be linked to raising the charter school cap, another issue pushed without success by Cuomo during the budget battle.

Cuomo tried unsuccessfully during the budget to link the education tax credit, which is a problem in the Assembly majority conference; to the DREAM Act, which is a problem in the Senate majority conference. Playing the two sides against one another didn’t work in that instance. We’ll see what ends up in the so-called, end-of-session “big ugly.”

The Assembly Democrats and Senate GOP are in agreement – again, conceptually – when it come to revisiting the education reforms, especially the teacher performance evaluation system, they agreed to in the budget deal. This is likely to be an uphill battle with Cuomo, for whom the education reforms were a bright spot in a budget that saw many of his policy priorities shunted aside.

Flanagan Calls For ‘Common Sense’ SAFE Act Changes

Less than a week ager his election as majority leader of the state Senate, Republican John Flanagan on Sunday laid out an end-of-session to-do list with the pledge to pass “common sense” changes to the SAFE Act.

The pledged to do so, while left vague in the statement, underscores the fence mending Flanagan is expected to do with upstate Republicans and gun-rights advocates who opposed his elevation to the leadership post.

Upstate county chairs and Second Amendment organizations had supported Senate Finance Chairman John DeFrancisco as they raised concerns for Flanagan’s vote in favor of the law.

Flanagan in several interviews last week, including with Capital Tonight, acknowledged that a wholesale repeal of the 2013 gun control law is unlikely.

The measure is a signature one for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed the package of laws through the Legislature in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shooting.

Flanagan has said he will travel upstate to meet with party leaders as well as the business community.

Still, as Albany turns to policy in the remaining few session days left, what can actually get done after both legislative leaders were forced to step down following arrests in separate corruption scandals remains a question hanging over lawmakers as well as Cuomo.

The governor himself has seemingly given up on the Legislature coming to an agreement on a minimum wage increase and instead has turned his attention to a commission likely to recommend a hike for workers in the fast-food industry.

There’s still plenty to disagree on: Criminal justice reforms being pushed for in the wake of the Eric Garner case remain a sticky wicket for state lawmakers and Cuomo, as does expiring measures such as rent control and mayoral control of New York City schools.

Cuomo, like the Senate, supports an education investment tax credit aimed at spurring donations for public schools and scholarship programs that boost private schools. Assembly Democrats are generally opposed to the measure, where Speaker Carl Heastie last week acknowledged the bill is a heavy lift.

Flanagan, meanwhile, sought common ground with the governor on combating sexual assault on private college campuses through an affirmative consent proposal being pushed for by Cuomo.

“Senate Republicans are ready to work with the Governor and our partners in the Assembly to combat and root out campus sexual assault so students can feel safe in knowing that we have done everything possible to protect them from harm,” he said.

Flanagan, in a lengthy statement, reiterated his support for making the state’s cap on local property tax increases permanent as well as the passage of an education investment tax credit along with a lifting of the cap on charter schools.

The former Senate Education Committee chairman said he supports an effort to “address the concerns” raised by parents over the controversial Common Core education standards.

Making reforms to education reforms passed a little more than a month ago is perhaps the biggest, and most important, area of agreement for the Democratic-led Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate.

Lawmakers in both chambers are pushing for changes to the teacher evaluation criteria and its implementation — a policy championed by Cuomo in the budget approved last month.

State lawmakers in recent weeks have spoken in support of unlinking the implementation of the new evaluations on the local level with a boost in school aid for districts — a key facet of Cuomo’s reforms he is unlikely to go along with.

The legislative session is scheduled to conclude June 17.

Flanagan: De Blasio Deserves ‘Fundamental Respect’

From the Morning Memo:

Newly elected Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said this week he will take a tactful approach to dealing with New York City’s Democratic mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Flanagan’s immediate predecessor, Dean Skelos of Nassau County, made little secret of his resentment toward de Blasio, who unsuccessfully sought to flip the state Senate to the Democratic conference and provide for a more favorable airing his business in Albany.

The politics of the 2014 elections soured the already tenuous relationship between Senate Republicans and the de Blasio administration, which is fighting to preserve and make permanent mayoral control of city schools.

The mayor’s office is also involved in pushing a revision to the 421-A tax abatement as well as the debate over rent control regulations, due to expire next month.

But Flanangan told NY1’s Zack Fink in a one-on-one interview that he will find a way to constructively engage de Blasio.

“He’s the mayor of the city of New York,” Flanagan said. “So he is a key player. He deserves fundamental respect for who he is, and more importantly, for the job that he has.”

Flanagan said it’s unlikely mayoral control will be permanent, but he will negotiate an extension.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Republican said he will turn toward his three conference members from New York City, Sens. Andrew Lanza, Marty Golden and Democrat Simcha Felder, to help guide him on the issues facing the city.

“As the leader of the conference, and as a colleague, the three most important people to me in the city of New York are Lanza, Golden and Felder. Senator Lanza, Senator Golden and Senator Felder. So we, whatever actions we take, I think should be guided by their knowledge and experience,” he said.

Lawmakers Eager To Take Up Teacher Evaluation Changes

From the Morning Memo:

In April, state lawmakers approved a budget that created a new teacher evaluation system. Now attention in the legislature is turning toward making changes to that plan.

“I’ve co-sponsored it to deal with a lot of the issues that have come up to deal with so many of the issues that have come up with the governor’s so-called education reform proposals. Taking a look at Common Core, extending the period for public comment,” Sen. Pat Gallivan said.

Lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly have introduced bills that would scale back the impact of the evaluation law.

In particular, lawmakers want to extend the period of time for the regulations governing the evaluation criteria to be written.

The budget set June 30 as a deadline for determining how much weight to give in-classroom observation versus a standardized test.

Another proposal would reverse linking education aid for school districts to the adoption of the evaluation systems, which districts must now enact by November.

And as a tumultuous week in Albany began to settle down, lawmakers needed little prompting to discuss their desire to change the education measures in the budget.

“I think we need to have more of a comment period and require that in the statute so that parents and educators involved can have more opportunity for input,” said Sen. James Seward.

More broadly, lawmakers want the Department of Education to review the Common Core standards and ensure examinations aren’t going over students heads.

“We need to take steps to make sure these tests that are given that are given to our students in school are age appropriate and actual cover material in the classroom,” Seward said.

If lawmakers seem to have a sense of urgency, it’s because parents and the state’s teachers unions have been vocally opposed to the education changes included in the budget agreement – policies lawmakers reluctantly adopted in order to get a boost of state aid.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, is turning his attention to a revamped proposal: the Education Investment Tax Credit.

“It gives parents the real choice and it gives them the real options and it keeps religious schools open,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo this week introduced a new version of the bill which is meant to spur donations to public school foundations and private school scholarship programs. Cuomo urged supporters to contact their legislators.

The tax credit bill has passed in the Senate, but is yet to be approved by the Assembly.

DeFran: Cuomo ‘Definitely’ Influenced Senate Leadership Fight

From the Morning Memo:

Despite his claims to the contrary, Gov. Andrew Cuomo “definitely” influenced the recent leadership battle in the state Senate, according to the candidate who came up short in that fight, Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco.

Cuomo reportedly preferred the ultimate winner, Long Island Sen. John Flanagan, to succeed former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. But publicly insisted he had no preference, telling reporters “I’m not in the Legislature,” and “I see my job as working with whoever they send me.”

But during a wide ranging CapTon interview last night, DeFrancisco rejected Cuomo’s claims, saying his colleagues specifically told him they had received calls from the governor on Flanagan’s behalf.

“Oh definitely he made calls, definitely, no doubt about it,” the Senate Finance Committee chairman said, adding: “He can do whatever he wants, but be honest about it.”

Asked why he thought Cuomo would prefer Flanagan, the former Education Committee chairman, over him, DeFrancisco replied:

“Maybe the question might be, if you’re the governor and you wanted to deal with John Flanagan or John DeFrancisco, this abrupt person who tells it like it is, maybe that might answer it….the governor’s reasons will have to come from him, and no doubt, if you ask him that question, he’ll say he didn’t call anybody.”

DeFrancisco expressed frustration with the fact that some of his colleagues said one thing and did another when it finally came time to cast their votes in the closed door conference, where he reportedly received 15 votes to Flanagan’s 18, with six fellow upstaters casting deciding votes.

“What should be practiced in Albany, like any other place where people work professionally, is look people in the eye and you tell them the truth,” the senator said. “You don’t lie, you don’t make things warm and fuzzy.”

“The reason we couldn’t get an agreement, people were telling John something, people were telling me something. In order to agree, you have to have an accurate count.”

“We could have resolved this in two minutes if everybody told us, straight up, who they supported.”

DeFrancisco insists he has no hard feelings, and, as of yesterday, was continuing his morning routine of working out with his former opponent in the Senate gym. He was the first to nominate Flanagan on the floor of the Senate to lead the chamber, and stressed the need for the GOP conference to go forward united.

DeFrancisco admitted that “maybe you’re going to look at someone a little differently than you did before” if that person reneged on a promise to back him in the leadership fight. But, he said, the needs of the conference – and, more importantly, preserving GOP control – should take precedence over any one senator’s personal grudges.

“We have 32 Republicans, one Democrat,” DeFrancisco said. “If a bunch of people go off ship, we’re going to end up with two years of Democrat control of everything in the state…there will be no voice for upstate New York. So we’ve got to maintain the conference.”

DeFrancisco did express frustration over the rumor that he had planned to retire at the end of this two-year election cycle until the possibility of becoming majority leader was raised.

“I don’t know where that came from,” he said. “…it’s not true. I’m still a vital human being. I still can do what I need to do to lead a conference.”

At the same time, DeFrancisco refused to commit to seeking re-election in 2016, saying: “A lot of things happen between now and then, and we’ll evaluate it at that time…I definitely was not planning on anything, whether I’m running or not.”

Upstate Lawmakers Say They’re Uniting Behind Flanagan

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan rose to power this week on the strength of the GOP conference’s nine-member Long Island delegation, but he insisted on Tuesday he will represent the entire state.

“You’re not going to hear me talk about upstate-downstate. You’re going to hear me talk about the state of New York,” Flanagan told reporters on Monday.

“If people want to chatter about that, that’s up to them, but I’ll tell you from my standpoint the fact that I’m from Long Island, that has no bearing.”

Questions remain for upstate conservatives, who backed his rival John DeFrancisco of Syracuse.

Conservative advocates and upstate Republican chairmen have raised concerns over Flanagan’s backing of the SAFE Act and whether he understands the needs of the upstate region.

“We really need to see some concrete actions that upstate is being heard in the Republican conference,” said Jason McGuire, the Livingston County Conservative Party Chairman.

Flanagan won the majority leader post in a narrow vote and he did receive backing from six upstate Republicans, including western New York Sen. Cathy Young.

“Senator Flanagan has a stellar record. His record is one that supports the entire state, but upstate too,” said Young, an Olean lawmaker.

Those Republicans who supported DeFrancisco say now is the time for unity in the GOP conference.

“Much is made about upstate and downstate. We are one state,” said Patrick Gallivan, a Republican from Elma who supported DeFrancisco.

Lawmakers also say that while there are key differences in this diverse state, there are some unifying issues Flanagan and Republicans from upstate both support, such as making the state’s property tax cap permanent.

“We need to work together to advance the interests of all of our constituents. There might be some differences, there are many similarities,” Gallivan said. “As Republicans, we care about reducing the size of government, reducing the regulatory burden and keeping government out of peoples’ lives.”

With Flanagan of Suffolk County now majority leader, none of the “three men in a room” live north of Westchester County.