What Would Senate Republicans Get?

The prevailing wisdom at the Capitol is this: Both chambers of the Legislature want a pay increase, but Assembly Democrats, especially those from the New York City region, want it much more.

A vote to reauthorize the pay commission through the end of December may be enough to bring Democrats to the negotiating table for a special session, but the incentive for Senate Republicans isn’t as clear.

The majority of the conference’s members represent upstate New York, where the cost of living is generally lower and the $79,500 base pay goes a lot further.

So what what would induce the Senate Republicans to return to the Capitol?

The answer may lie in the constitutional amendment to create term limits. Under the proposal outlined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, the terms would switch from two years to a four-year cycle, capped at eight years.

Under that system, it’s likely the Legislature would run for re-election in years that match the statewide elected officials. That happens to be even-numbered, non-presidential election years, when Republicans have typically made greater gains running down ballot than they do in presidential election years (the poor coattails of Hillary Clinton leading the ticket this year notwithstanding). Four-year terms running in non-presidential years could give Republicans in the narrowly divided Senate a boost in maintaining their thin majority.

Term limits still face an uphill argument in the Democratic-led Assembly, which has been opposed to any proposal.

At the same time, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has insisted such sweeping changes to state government should not be rushed through in a matter of weeks.

Reed: ‘Honored And Humbled’ To Join Trump Transition

Newly re-elected Republican Rep. Tom Reed in a statement Wednesday said he was “honored and humbled” to join the transition team for President-elect Donald Trump.

Reed, a lawmaker from the Southern Tier region, will serve as a transition committee vice chair.

“We are both honored and humbled to be selected as a Vice-Chair for President-Elect Trump’s transition team,” Reed said. “We care about the future of our country and recognize that this is a massive undertaking at a pivotal moment in our history. It’s only right that we remain committed to bringing our best efforts to the table to make our country strong and prosperous. We are glad to serve the alongside those on the team and look forward to getting to work.”

Reed had endorsed Trump during the campaign, but expressed concern with the then-candidate’s rhetoric on trail.

SD-8: Vote Count Narrows

From the Morning Memo:

Republican incumbent Michael Venditto’s lead in the 8th Senate district has narrowed to 9 votes over Democrat John Brooks after counting in the too-close-to-call Long Island race continued on Monday.

A Democratic Senate spokesman said on Monday evening about 900 ballots are left to be counted and nearly 600 ballots were objected to by Republican observers.

Still, Democrats are confident they will regain the lead after being down by more than 400 votes last week. They also insist a number of the votes objected to were from minority areas — typically were Democrats hold an advantage. A Senate GOP spokesman did not return a message seeking comment.

Venditto’s re-election was considered likely until his father, Oyster Bay town Supervisor John Venditto, was arrested on corruption charges. The lawmaker himself is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Should Brooks win, Republicans are likely to retain control of the narrowly divided state Senate after Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder announced his intentions to continue to side with the GOP conference.

Felder Sticks With Senate GOP

From the Morning Memo:

Sen. Simcha Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who has helped the Senate Republicans maintain control over the chamber since he was first elected in 2012, has decided to stay put for 2017, enabling the GOP to almost claim victory in the fight for the majority, despite two undecided races on Long Island.

“I’ve been with them before, and I’d have to have a compelling reason to leave,” Felder said, explaining that though he has been in discussions with the so-called “regular” Democrats, they have failed to offer him enough of an incentive to switch sides.

Felder, who had refused to pick sides in the immediate aftermath of the elections earlier this month, said during a telephone interview last night that he had informed both the Senate GOP and Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of his decision yesterday.

(For the record, Felder stressed that he has “great respect” for Stewart-Cousins, and looks forward to having an opportunity to work with her in the future).

This effectively makes Felder the 32nd GOP vote in the chamber, assuming Long Island Sen. Carl Marcellino, who currently maintains a roughly 2,500-vote lead over his Democratic challenger, James Gaughran, is officially declared the winner in that race.

If the second Long Island Republican senator whose race has yet to be called, Michael Venditto, manages to eke out a victory against his Democratic opponent, John Brooks, who is up by 33 votes at the moment, the GOP conference will have 33 votes – plus the additional potential cushion of an ongoing “relationship” (whatever that turns out to mean) with the now-seven-member IDC.

Felder, who has never been shy about admitting he will cut a deal with any conference that can best deliver – in his opinion – for his constituents, said he’s aware that some call him an opportunist. But he chafes at the negative connotation of that characterization.

“I don’t mind what that position allows me to do, but I don’t like being called that,” he said.

As recently as last Monday, Felder was saying he would he “delighted” to either caucus with his fellow Democrats or remain with the Republicans, depending on which side offered him the “best deal,” which he stressed would not be about cash, but rather legislation and “issues.”

After attending a closed-door meeting where Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, of Long Isand, was re-elected as head of the GOP conference, (Felder said he did not cast a vote), the Brooklyn lawmaker suggested he might even wait until the IDC announced which conference it would be aligning with in 2017.

In the end, though, Felder said he decided to go public with his decision in hopes of “minimizing the sleaziness” of the situation.

Felder, an observant Jew whose district includes many Orthodox Jewish voters, said his constituents “don’t agree” with a lot of what two of the state’s top Democrats – Gov. Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio – have been saying in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, pledging to fight on behalf of liberal values and maintain a sort of safe haven for the left in New York.

“A lot of my constituents are upset with the Democratic Party,” Felder said. “…if anything, the election has made it more compelling for many of my constituents to maintain a balance in Albany.”

Felder said he did receive a post-election phone call from the governor, who, unlike in past campaigns, worked noticeably harder this election cycle to assist his fellow Democrats in their quest to retake control of the Senate. According to the senator, Cuomo suggested a meeting soon, but that get-together has yet to take place.

Felder, who chairs the Senate Cities Committee, insisted the Republicans haven’t committed to anything – no additional perks or promises to move specific pieces of legislation – in order to get him to stick around.

The senator said his priorities for the coming session include permanently killing the so-called “bag tax” in New York City and fighting for additional mental health and special education funding across the city and state.

“Although I have a yarmulke and a beard, I have priorities that are important to everyone in New York State,” Felder said, rejecting the conventional wisdom that he is chiefly interested in fighting for his downstate Jewish constituents.

Heastie, Flanagan In Joint Statement Blast Pay Commission

The top state lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate in a rare joint statement blasted the decision by the Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation Commission that essentially blocked a pay increase for state lawmakers.

In the statement, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan knocked Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointees on the commission for calling for ethics measures be linked to the first pay hike in 18 years.

“It is unfortunate that the Governor’s appointees to the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation once again felt the need to demand legislative action in exchange for an increase in compensation,” the lawmakers said. “This is completely unacceptable and far exceeds the mandate of the Commission, which was to evaluate the need for an increase in compensation based primarily on economic factors.

“As the Judiciary appointees of the Commission correctly noted, not only does its existence and charge expire on November 15, they too were troubled by attaching legislative action to pay compensation.
Despite the Governor’s appointees’ refusal to discharge their duties, the Legislature will continue to focus on issues that truly matter to New Yorkers and help move our State forward.”

Specifically, Cuomo-appointed commission members said lawmakers should back measures to limit or ban private-sector income in exchange for the pay hike, leaving open the possibility of another meeting before the end of the year.

Deadline Day For Pay Commission

From the Morning Memo:

The outlook for the first legislative pay hike in nearly 20 years is not good.

Members of the state Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation today are set to meet in New York City to determine whether to increase the pay for 213 members of the state Legislature, hiking their salaries from the base $79,500 to as much as $116,900 a year.

But that is increasingly unlikely to happen as the members of the panel appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo have signaled they will vote against a proposed pay increase.

The decision would come after Cuomo as early as the budget negotiations signaled he was dangling a pay increase in front of state lawmakers, suggesting that if the spending plan isn’t approved in a timely fashion, the salary bump would not follow.

Later on, Cuomo further suggested a pay hike would be linked to new ethics measures, perhaps in a special session that includes capping the amount of money lawmakers can earn outside of government.

At the same time, Cuomo had called on lawmakers to “make the case” for a pay increase by personally testifying to the commission — a gambit only a handful took up in an election year.

The legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly, meanwhile, were both supportive of a pay increase for their members. However, both Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan insisted the pay hike should not be coupled or linked to another issue, such as ethics reform.

“I don’t think there should be any quid pro quo,” Flanagan said in a phone interview last week.

“I don’t think there should be anything else other than making an independent determination. If there’s anything tied to that, I don’t think that’s the intention of what the legislation was. If someone said it should be 5 percent or 45 percent, that’s a separate subject. I just know it’s been many, many years and I believe there should be a pay increase.”

Only pay increases in the past — before they were up to a legislative panel — have been linked to policy, such as the 1998 expansion of charter schools in the state. Then, lawmakers were willing to take the deal and the extra money.

Flanagan Re-Elected GOP Leader In Senate

John Flanagan was re-elected the leader of the state Senate Republicans on Monday, but his post as majority leader won’t be re-affirmed until two too-close-to-call races on Long Island are resolved.

Flanagan was nominated for re-election to the post he held since the May 2015 resignation of Dean Skelos as majority leader by Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco, who has been spoken of as a possible replacement and had sought the job last year.

“I am humbled and gratified that my colleagues in the Senate Republican conference have unanimously reelected me as their leader,” Flanagan said in a statement. “After a campaign in which we faced extraordinary challenges and yet still managed to grow our majority in a Presidential year, I couldn’t be more proud to lead this outstanding group of lawmakers.”

Flanagan’s re-election comes as the outcome of two races with Republican incumbents remain in doubt, with a review of absentee ballots and a likely recount to delay the calls for weeks to come.

Flanagan has been criticized by conservatives and upstate Republicans for his vote in favor of the SAFE Act. At the same time, Flanagan had narrowly won election to succeed the scandal-tainted Skelos against DeFrancisco, who garnered the support of upstate lawmakers.

Even with his victory on Monday in Albany, Sen. Simcha Felder is yet to definitively declare which conference he will ally himself with at the start of the year. Felder told reporters when he left the GOP meeting at the Capitol that he did not vote for Flanagan’s re-election.

Still, Flanagan’s incumbents and challengers were able to out-perform expectations for down-ballot Republicans in a presidential election year, with the GOP potentially gaining a seat come 2017.

“Working together, our accomplishments are many – – a game-changing property tax cap, record support for schools and elimination of the GEA, a 20-percent middle class income tax cut, six straight budgets that have held the line on spending, targeted investments that will create jobs and revitalize our economy, and critical road and bridge funds for every region of the state,” he said.

Cox: ‘Silly Question’ Over Whether Clinton Should Be Investigated

From the Morning Memo:

State Republican Chairman Ed Cox declined to “speculate” on whether former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton should still be investigated over her use of a private email server while secretary of state, saying it was a “silly question” in a Capital Tonight interview.

“I’m not going to speculate on that,” Cox said flatly in the Friday interview.

Pressed on whether he had anything to add beyond that, Cox refused to say whether the investigation should continue.

“I’m not in position to speculate on that. I’m not going to speculate on it,” he said. “Let’s go on to the next question. That is a silly question, frankly. It’s not my to speculate on. That’s one that will be made at the highest levels later on once the administration is formed.”

Chants of “lock her up” dominated rallies held by Donald Trump during the summer and into the fall campaign. At a debate in October, Trump told Clinton she would be in jail if he were elected president.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who may become attorney general in the Trump administration, had offered to become a special prosecutor to review the Clinton email case.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has indicated that he too will continue the probe.

Tedisco’s Victory Lap

Jim Tedisco jokes he’ll be the most experienced member of the Senate’s 2017 freshman class, having spent years languishing in the Assembly minority and waiting for his chance to move up.

He got that chance this year, when Sen. Hugh Farley decided not to seek re-election. Tedisco easily won both a GOP primary and the general election, now he’s hoping the Republicans manage to hold the majority so he won’t be relegated yet again to minority status. He joined us in the studio to discuss his plans and priorities for the coming year.

Watch the full interview here.

WFP Pledges To Be A Check On Trump

From the Morning Memo:

The labor-backed Working Families Party in a statement on Wednesday afternoon pledged to be a check on Donald Trump’s presidency and be a “bulwark” against his policies in New York.

“Let’s remember that New York, home to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, has been a beacon of hope for immigrants for centuries. That since the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, we’ve been on the forefront of the struggle for women’s rights,” the WFP said in a statement. “That we’ve led on civil rights, and always defended freedom of worship for all. And that we’ve been an innovator on important social and economic policies such as the expansion of healthcare for the poor.”

Liberal policy for the last eight years has been on the ascendancy — gaining successes on issues ranging from climate change to health care reforms. Those gains are likely to be challenged by a Trump administration, which has signaled it will take a more market-based approach to regulations and work to repeal Obamacare.

The WFP, in its statement, expects “Democrats will retain their numerical majority” even as two races remain too close to call and could fall to the Senate Republicans.

“Given that, we call on the Governor to work with Democratic Senators to reconcile their differences so together, we can demonstrate an alternative to Trumpism,” the WFP said.

For the WFP, that counterweight agenda includes bolstering health care benefits in New York that exist under the current Affordable Care Act, protecting Muslims, making it easier to register to vote and enacting “comprehensive campaign finance reform.”