Senate GOP Backs Cuomo’s Push Against Bias Crimes

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Republicans are backing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest effort to combat hate crimes in New York, which includes $25 million in grants to strengthen security at soft targets like day care and community centers.

“We stand with the Governor, Assembly and the people of New York in strongly condemning hate crimes and anti-semitism anywhere it exists, and look forward to taking decisive action to combat it,” said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif. “Security has always been a top priority of our conference and we must ensure the state provides adequate resources to protect our citizens from these attacks or threats.”

Cuomo announced the measures, which includes a text messaging feature for the Division of Human Rights to report hate crime incidents, after yet another round of bomb threats Jewish Community Centers and at the headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League in New York City.

Scrutiny has been further placed on anti-Semitic activity as President Donald Trump was slow to condemn both the incidents as well as the support he’s received from white supremacist groups during his campaign.

Trump this week forcefully condemned the incidents, saying the threats have to stop.

Cox Accuses de Blasio Of Presidential Ambitions

For the last two days, Democrats in public settings have suggested Gov. Andrew Cuomo could make a “great” presidential candidate.

But on Wednesday, it was Republicans who accused the governor’s rival, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, of harboring White House ambitions.

In a statement, New York Republican Committee Chairman Ed Cox knocked de Blasio’s support for Rep. Keith Ellison to lead the Democratic National Committee, citing the Minnesota lawmaker’s past comments critical of Israel.

“It’s bad enough the Mayor of New York City who represents more than one million Jews would endorse someone with a long history of anti-Semitic leanings and anti-Israel positions, but his consistent focus on his own national ambitions comes at the expense of New Yorkers,” Cox said in the statement. “Part-time Bill needs to stop playing national politics and focus on fixing the problems plaguing this city. They demand his full attention.”

De Blasio outlines his support for Ellison in Washington Post op/ed on Tuesday — providing fodder to the state GOP, which called it the “latest in a string of misguided maneuvers to inject himself into national politics.”

“It’s very telling he won’t take questions from members of the New York City press corps, but he’s all too willing to make his voice heard in a Washington D.C. paper,” Cox said.

Flanagan: Cuomo ‘Usurping’ Legislature’s Role

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Wednesday in a radio interview continued his criticism of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to shift more budgetary authority to the executive branch after the spending plan is approved, charging the governor is “usurping” the role of the Legislature.

“A lot of our members in both houses on both sides of the aisle feel that he is usurping the independent role of not only the New York State Assembly but the New York State Senate,” Flanagan said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

“We have a constitutional functional perspective and operational status here that we’re not going to simply give away.”

Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have not embraced the proposal by Cuomo to make mid-year changes to the budget through the Division of Budget, an arm of the governor’s administration, without first seeking legislative input.

The language was included as Cuomo’s $152 billion spending plan does not include provisions for a potential repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act and its impact on the state’s finances.

Governors typically have more power during the budget-making process than in the course of developing and signing legislation approved by the Senate and Assembly.

In the interview, Flanagan indicated he would oppose the changes in the negotiations.

This isn’t the first time Flanagan expressed alarm with Cuomo’s proposal to shift more authority in the budget process to his office. Flanagan on Wednesday said he’s fought similar battles with the governor before on the basics of being an equal branch of government. Earlier this month, Cuomo’s office questioned Flanagan’s motives in opposing the changes, accusing him of wanting more discretion over legislative pork and a return to member items.

Flanagan called the statement “hogwash.”

“It’s not fit for the type of Legislature that we should have,” he said, “the type of relationship that should go back and forth between the executive and the Assembly and the Senate.”

Flanagan: Anti-Bag Bills Too Broad

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Wednesday suggested he would be opposed to efforts to curb plastic bag usage statewide, saying proposed legislation on the local level has been written too broadly.

“​It’s not simply a ban on plastic bags,” Flanagan told reporters in Albany. “It was plastic bags, it was paper bags. It was a five cent charge and going to the retailer. It wasn’t even going to something laudable like the environment. So when someone says they want to ban plastic bags, that’s not what the legislation says, whether it’s on the county level or in New York City.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this month approved legislation that delayed the implementation of a 5-cent fee on carry-out bags in New York City, a move that effectively killed the locally backed legislation by the city Council. But Cuomo also plans to tackle the issue of bag usage statewide through a task force, amid the expected outcry from environmental groups who had pushed for the bag fee.

Now some state lawmakers want to see a broader effort to push back against plastic bag usage in New York, though it remains unlikely to pass the Republican-led state Senate.

Flanagan Backs Cuomo On Bag Tax Block

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Gov. Andrew Cuomo haven’t seen eye to eye on much so far this year following the crumbling of negotiations over holding a special session in December.

But on Tuesday evening, it was the Republican leader in a statement praising Cuomo for signing a bill that blocks the implementation of a 5-cent fee on plastic bags in New York City — a measure that had been pushed by the GOP conference, most prominently Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who aligns with the Republicans and is a key vote.

“I want to thank Governor Cuomo for doing the right thing and signing our common-sense, bipartisan bill to stop the implementation of the New York City bag tax,” Flanagan said in the statement. “The measure to overturn this tax was passed overwhelmingly by both houses, proving that the overall issue was never about protecting the environment.”

The bill, which delays the fee taking effect for a year, presented a quandary for the governor: Environmental groups wanted the fee in order to cut down on plastic waste; lawmakers from both parties viewed the fee as a regressive tax.

“If allowed to go forward, this onerous bag tax would have hurt low- and middle-income residents the most, making it even more difficult to make ends meet in what is already the most expensive city in the world,” Flanagan said in his statement.

A veto would have stirred talk of an override, a potentially embarrassing development for Cuomo in Albany.

Instead, Cuomo backed the bill and released a 1,000 word essay on a new initiative meant to cut down on plastic litter and waste through a task force.

Environmental groups were less enthusiastic in their response.

In the Trump-age, state government’s role cannot begin and end with blocking the work of local governments,” said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of the Environmental Advocates of New York. “While it’s been an open secret that Governor Cuomo did not want to deal with this legislation, as the state’s chief executive, he has the opportunity and, now, the responsibility to lead.”

Flanagan: MOU Needed For Clean Water Bond Act

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan called for a memorandum of understanding on Monday that would delineate where and how money would be spent for clean water infrastructure.

Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, suggested an MOU was needed so the money would be spent toward where the need is greatest in the state.

“This is why we have this type of process and I don’t see any reason in the world why we can’t come up with a good clear memorandum of understanding of where it should go,” Flanagan told reporters after addressing the New York Conference of Mayors on Monday at the Albany Hilton. “Should it be regional? That probably should be a part of it. We should be looking at the DEC, even the DOT, there’s a lot of opportunities for information to be provided.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year is backing a $2 billion clean water act, with the money likely be raised through bonding, which would require a voting referendum.

The money is being pushed for after a series of high-profile water contamination issues in small upstate communities, including Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh.

Dems Attack Astorino Over ‘Feud’ Case

State Democrats on Wednesday knocked Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino as the county settled with a former fraud investigator who said she was dismissed from her job due to a political feud.

The county settled a lawsuit with Dhyalma Vazquez, a former county employee, who claimed she was dismissed due to her involvement with the Independence Party in Westchester County, a ballot line whose chairman has been sharply criticized by Astorino.

The county settled for $380,000.

“It’s shameful and shocking that taxpayers are on the hook for Rob Astorino’s political retribution,” Basil Smikle, the state Democratic Committee executive director. “It’s unconscionable that Westchester residents, who already pay the highest property taxes in the nation, will be further burdened by Astorino’s petty politics. The people of Westchester have had enough. I call on Rob Astorino to do the right thing and reimburse the county and its residents for this abuse of his power and pledge to do so today.”

The knock comes as Astorino is considering a second run for governor next year against Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo, who is seeking a third term.

A spokeswoman for Astorino noted the county executive wasn’t party to the settlement.

“Governor Cuomo’s attack dog needs to do his homework,” said spokeswoman Jessica Proud. “The County Executive wasn’t party to this settlement. The judge dismissed all claims against him as without merit.”

The Daily News reported Monday Cuomo has been seeking Democratic recruits to challenge Astorino as he runs for re-election this year.

Flanagan: Sanctuary State Bill Illegal

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan derided the bill narrowly approved this week by the Democratic-led Assembly that designates New York as a sanctuary state as illegal and unconstitutional.

The measure, among other things, would prohibit coordination with state and local police agencies when it comes to federal immigration enforcement.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not only illegal, it’s unconstitutional,” Flanagan said on Tuesday.

At the same time, Flanagan pointed to the measure passing by only two votes in the chamber. The bill was approved early Tuesday evening, but with votes against it cast by moderate, suburban and rural Democratic members of the Assembly majority.

“Small? 77-58. That’s virtually no margin,” he said. “But that’s OK. I think that’s an indication there’s a significant number of problems with the bill.”

The immigration package approved by the Assembly was backed in response to the immigration policies being pushed by President Donald Trump and his new administration in Washington.

The Assembly also re-approved their support for the DREAM Act, a measure that provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

The bill has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have campaigned against its passage.

“Our members are very strongly opposed to the DREAM Act,” Flanagan said on Tuesday. “My priority and I think really the position of our members is let’s make sure we’re taking care of the hard-working members of the struggling middle class.”

Molinaro Releases Ride-Hailing Petition

As he mulls a bid for governor next year, Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has released a petition calling for ride hailing expansion outside of New York City.

“Cities throughout America, including New York City, are allowed the convenience of ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft,” Molinaro said. “The same can’t be said about Upstate New York. Sadly, Albany does not allow these economy companies to do business here.”

Petitions like these can serve the purpose of building lists of voters and supporters who are interested in key issues, in this case allowing Uber and Lyft in upstate New York.

“Ride sharing means jobs, it’s an important transportation option in the fight against drunk driving and can also provide vital service to seniors and those with special needs,” Molinaro said.

The GOP-led Senate today is expected to take up legislation that would allow ride hailing north of New York City with a 2 percent tax on hails. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget includes ride hailing as well, but with a 5 percent tax.

Squeaky Wheel Gets Grease

From the Morning Memo:

Regular memo readers will recall an item last week on Oneida County Executive Tony Picente, a Republican who crossed party lines in 2014 to endorse Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election bid, but was wondering whether the political fallout from that move was worth it.

Picente was upset over what he viewed as the governor’s snubbing of the Mohawk Valley.

He noted Cuomo’s failure to make a personal appearance after the loss of an Austrian company from the Nano Utica project, or mention the state’s ongoing support of the Marcy site during one of his regional State of the State address – none of which was delivered anywhere close to Utica.

Apparently, someone on the second floor of the state Capitol is reading Morning Memo, because not long after we went to “print” – both here and on our blog, – Picente said he got a call from the governor.

And that wasn’t the only conversation the two have had in recent days.

In fact, according to Picente, he had three opportunities to speak with the governor in less than a week, first on the phone, then in a private meeting when Picente came to Albany Monday for the winter legislative conference held by the state Association of Counties, and then again when all the county officials attending that event were hosted by Cuomo for dinner at the executive mansion.

“The decision was made for the community because I did not gain in any way shape or form politically from that,” Picente said of his 2014 endorsement during a CapTon interview last night.

“I took grief at that time, and I still take grief from time to time from my party. The governor and I really had a good relationship. The silence of the last couple weeks disturbed me even more so…I did the decision for what I believe was the right reasons, and those were to move my community forward, and as they started to get slowed down – look, we get angry like everybody else, and we get frustrated – and it needed to be cleared up.”

Picente said the mending of fences between himself and Cuomo will not stop him from being “aggressive” in advocating for his community going forward, and he will also continue to push for more local input in the future of the Marcy site.

Picente also said he and his fellow county officials told the governor at dinner Tuesday night that they were upset by his proposed local government consolidation measures in the 2017-18 budget, and they came away comforted.

“His outline of this was a lot different from what he presented at the State of the State,” Picente said. “…as we listened to it, and listening to our concerns as well about the method in which we go about this gave us a little more comfort. So I know we all walked away from that meeting with the governor, listening to him directly talking to us and not that crowds at the State of the State, we felt better about it, we understand it a little bit more.”

Picente stressed that local officials have been working on consolidation, and took offense at what was perceived as an effort by Cuomo to force them to do more.

On an unrelated matter, Picente noted that he had attended an event in support of the sizable immigrant community in Oneida County, particularly Utica, which has a long history of welcoming refugees, though it is not an official sanctuary city.

Picente said he disagrees with the rollout of the president’s recent immigrant-related executive orders, though he understands the desire to protect the U.S. from terrorists.

“I support the refugees,” he said. “We’ve had great success with the refugee population in restoring communities, restoring homes and restoring businesses…I’m upset at the way this was rolled out.”