Sep 24th - 2:26 pm
There has been much speculation as to whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will propose tax cuts in his 2014-15 executive budget – a pledge he reportedly made at a fundraiser on Long Island this summer at which Jon Bon Jovi entertained the crowd.
That was music to the ears of the Senate Republicans, who are all about tax cuts – especially during an election year (which 2014 just so happens to be). But it makes some Democrats, including former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a little nervous, since they can think of any number of things they would prefer to see state cash spent on, like education, financially ailing municipalities and health care.
State Budget Director Bob Megna came into the CapTon studio last night to discuss the first meeting of the Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments, which he is chairing. I asked how the budget preparations are going, and he replied:
“We in the process of developing programs, working with the governor and his senior staff to develop priorities for the next budget. Our fiscal situtation, while it’s still very tough, the economy has been slowly improving.”
“I think through the governor’s prudent management we’re in a fairly good place with respect to our out-year gaps. So, you know, we’re at the beginning stages, and I think we’re probably in a better place than we’ve been in the past few years.”
“…The governor has been pretty clear about his priorities. One: That we continue to get timely budgets, you know, budgets passed on time. Two: That we keep spending within 2 percent on a state operating funds basis. And so, with those two parameters in place, that’s how we do our budget planning. And the Legislature is well aware of what those priorities are. So, we think we’re well positioned again to get a budget on time and one that will be fiscally responsible.”
As for tax cuts, Megna ruled them neither out nor in, though it sounded fairly likely that they will be included in the governor’s budget proposal.
“I think the governor has made it clear publicly that whenever he has the ability in a fiscally prudent way to reduce taxes he’s going to do that,” Megna told me. “So, as we put the budget together and determine that there are extra resources for tax cutting, I’m sure that will be under discussion.”
Aug 9th - 12:59 am
Just hours after the Comptroller’s office shed new light on the financial practices of the New York Power Authority, a Western New York Assemblyman is calling for new representation on NYPA’s Board of Trustees.
“We need that voice, especially when the Comptroller comes out and talks about this outlandish spending for NYPA and I don’t have anybody I can go to here locally and say this wrong,” said Assemblyman John Ceretto.
The Lewistown Republican represents the 145th Assembly district. It’s an area that includes the Robert Moses Hydroelectric Power Station in Niagara Falls.
“Yet we don’t have representation, right here in Niagara. I’ve gone to the Governor and asked him for that person,” Ceretto said.
The Chairman of the NYPA Board of Trustees lives in nearby East Amherst. But, because Niagara County is home to the fourth largest hydroelectric power plant in the in the US, Ceretto has collected thousands of signatures on a petition seeking direct representation.
“It’s my job to represent this area and to make sure that we get our fair share, and that any money taken out of NYPA stays right here in this district,” said Ceretto.
Ceretto’s concerns over how NYPA manages its finances are shared by the state’s financial watchdog. In a 16-page report issued Thursday, the Comptroller’s office said NYPA raised costs on its customers, used a corporate plane, and is paying 35 percent of its staff more than $100,000.
“Those are costs that could be considered a hidden tax on people who pay utility bills across New York to support the state budget with dollars that are flowing through the New York Power Authority,” said Deputy State Comptroller Bob Ward.
The comptroller’s office also found NYPA, which takes in $2.8 billion in annual revenue, has given the state more than a billion dollars over the past decade to make up budget shortfalls.
“Some of those resources were not or certainly may not have been used for functions that were appropriate to the Power Authorities mission. So we’re trying to raise some questions here and we look forward to the response from the authority,” Ward said.
NYPA released a statement Thursday, defending its wage scale and its eight-seat prop plane, calling it valuable. It also said low power rates have been unaffected by financial contributions to New York State.
Ceretto said he’s repeatedly voted against budgetary line items accepting money from the authority.
“I don’t believe that we should balance our budget with the Power Authority money. The purpose of the Power Authority was to create low cost power and create jobs,” said Ceretto.
With the Governor’s recent interest in Western New York, and a new spotlight on NYPA, Ceretto is calling for action.
“I would like to send another letter to the comptroller and ask him to do a more in depth study. Because we have to figure out why,” Ceretto added.
Apr 10th - 1:39 pm
First came the TV ads praising the 2013-14 state budget, paid for by the state Democratic Committee (since the Committee to Save NY appears to be sitting this session out entirely).
Next came Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide victory lap, in which he and members of his administration fanned out across the state to tout the fact that this was the third on-time budget in as many years – a first for at least three decades.
Next up: Mailers, paid for by Cuomo’s own campaign committee.
A reader helpfully forwarded these photos of the glossy, six-page, full-color booklet sent by the governor in an attempt to sell both the new spending plan itself and the idea that three on-time budgets in a row indicate New York is “on the move and rising once again.
(The front and back of the booklet are pictured here. If anyone has a pdf they want to share, that would be great).
In this booklet, Cuomo insists the budget is good for both middle-class families and the state’s business community, even though most in the latter category are none too pleased with the budget.
The budget has increasingly come under fire from critics in Washington and Albany who question the so-called “gimmicks” the governor and Legislature relied on to close the $1 billion budget deficit.
Also, Cuomo’s claim that a trio of on-time budgets means the bad old days of Albany are behind us now is a little hard to swallow, given last week’s back-to-back corruption scandals that dominated the news and stepped on the governor’s big statewide budget tour.
Mar 27th - 3:37 pm
Mayor Bloomberg today lit into the Senate Republicans for refusing to authorize installing up to 40 cameras in school zones to catch speeding drivers.
The Assembly supported a plan to fine speeders $25 to $100 when caught by the cameras, but the idea has now failed to pass muster with both houses of the Legislature for the third straight year.
During his Q-and-A with reporters in NYC earlier today, Bloomberg singled out several members of the GOP conference – including his onetime ally Simcha Felder, a former Democratic NYC councilman from Brooklyn who is caucusing with the Republicans – for killing the measure, and said the next death of a child struck by a speeding driver will be on their heads.
The mayor called the Senate’s rejection of the bill “reckless” and “negligent,” and accused legislators of engaging in hypocrisy by rejecting the speed cameras while also approving increased surcharges for speeders as part of the 2013-14 budget.
“We literally are having kids that are getting killed around our schools, people are speeding, but they don’t want to let us use cameras to stop people from doing that,” Bloomberg said. “They do seem, however, I noticed, happy to take some extra revenue from the people we do catch speeding using our resources, but they are unwilling to allow us to use speed cameras to save more lives.”
“Hard to believe, but the Senate was fine in adding a surcharge onto speeding tickets that we give out in New York City and they’re going to take the money, but they would not let us use speed cameras to stop people from killing our kids. And that’s the only fair ways (sic) to describe it.”
“…The next time you write a story or have a story on television or in your paper or on your radio show about a child killed by a speeding car in this city, why don’t you pick up the phone
and ask your state senator and ask why they allowed that child to be killed.”
“And certainly, if you need the names of phone numbers of Senator Dean Skelos, or Marty Golden or Simcha Felder, who were certainly most responsible for blocking the speed cameras that save lives we’ll be very happy to provide you with their phone numbers. Maybe you’ll want to give those numbers to the parents of the child when a child is killed. It would certainly be useful so the parents know exactly who’s to blame.”
As you’ll recall, Bloomberg has long supported the Senate Republicans in their increasingly more difficult quest to retain control of the chamber – or, at least a semblance of it. Over the years, he has ponied up quite a bit of cash to fill their housekeeping account, including $1 million in the last election cycle alone, making him the conference’s largest individual donor.
Bloomberg also slammed the Republicans for what he called an “unfunded mandate for extra Yeshiva school buses,” which he deemed “complete pandering to a particular political constituency.” (Again, you can see the work of Felder here, who made no secret of the fact back when he was mulling which conference to join that his main concern was which side would deliver more for his Orthodox Jew-dominated district).
The mayor praised the Assembly Democrats – and Speaker Sheldon Silver in particular – for trying to restore the $250 million the city lost after it failed to reach a teacher evaluation agreement with the UFT by the deadline laid out by the governor.
But Bloomberg said the city did make “some progress” in the budget, especially when it comes to an agreement between the governor and legislative leaders that will essentially prevent any teacher evaluation plans from sunsetting – a big concern for the mayor.
UPDATE: Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif emailed the following comment:
“Working with the City, no one has fought harder or longer than Senate Republicans to ensure the safety of New York City children and their families.”
Mar 27th - 1:05 pm
Last night’s budget vote was, at the end, rather anti-climatic even if work concluded at 4:30 a.m.
The mainline Senate Democrats mustered their conference to uniformly vote “no” against one bill: The health and mental health appropriation that cut funding to service providers for OPWDD and failed to produce a plan for the financially troubled SUNY Downstate hospital.
Indeed, most of the bills even with some Democratic opposition, including the revenue bill, which extends high tax rates for millionaires. Republicans have generally considered tax extensions a tax “increase” but the revenue bill also phases out several taxes, including the 18a assessment surcharge on utilities.
The list below includes the unofficial vote tally and the lawmakers who voted against the measure.
Excused senators included Sens. Simcha Felder, who is observing Passover, Sen. Kemp Hannon and Sen. Ruben Diaz.
S2601A Legislative and Judiciary
55-5 No: Espaillat, Hoylman, Latimer, Parker, Sampson
S2606D Health and Mental Health
34-26 No: Adams, Addabbo, Avella, Breslin, Dilan, Espaillat, Gianaris, Gipson, Hassell-Thompson, Hoylman, Kennedy, Krueger, Latimer, Montgomery, O’Brien, Parker, Peralta, Perkins, Rivera, Sampson, Sanders, Serrano, Squadron, Stavisky, Stewart-Cousins, Tkaczyk
S2607D Education, Labor and Familiy Assistance
47-13 No: Dilan, Espaillat, Hoylman, Krueger, Montgomery, Parker, Peralta, Perkins, Rivera, Sampson, Sanders, Serrano, Squadron
S2603E Aid to localities
51-9 No: Espaillat, Sanders, Hoylman, Kruger, Parker, Peralta, Perkins, Rivera, Sampson
51-9 No: Espaillat, Hoylman, Kruger, Montgomery, Parker, Peralta, Perkins, Rivera, Sampson
S2600E State Operations
56-3 No: Espaillat, Parker, Sampson
Mar 25th - 3:35 pm
seven eight Jewish members have very different approaches when it comes to tomorrow night’s session, which falls on the second night of Passover.
Sen. Simcha Felder, an Orthodox Jew, will not be casting votes on the bulk of his first ever budget (he’s a freshman Democrat from Brooklyn who’s conferencing with the Republican-IDC coalition) because he will be observing the entire holiday at home in his district.
Felder didn’t seem terribly put out about the situation, telling me during a brief telephone interview en route downstate from Albany that he more or less expected things to work out this way, given the earliness and proximity of Easter and Passover this year.
“I think they made lemonade out of a lemon,” the senator said of the Senate leadership. “It’s not a great situation, but they did the best they could.”
Felder voted “yes” on all three of the budget bills passed yesterday (which, as you’ll recall, was Palm Sunday). He said he’s still looking over the remainder of the bills, which went into print around midnight last night, but so far feels “very good” about what he has seen and would likely have voted “yes” on the whole plan.
I also caught Sen. Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican, en route home this afternoon. He was on the train, heading to see his wife, who’s Mormon, and young daughters.
“I look forward to finishing this budget up and spending some quality time with my family,” Zeldin told me. “Logistically, I’m having trouble figuring out how to be in two places at the same time.”
Tomorrow’s Senate session is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. and go as late as necessary until all the remaining budget bills are passed. That gives senators like Zeldin a chance to return to Albany in time to vote. But if they choose to do so, they won’t be able to observe the second night of Passover.
Zeldin said he’s likely to be back in town for session. He’ll be joined by IDC leader Jeff Klein and also by his fellow Republican, Sen. Michael Ranzenhoefer, a Western New Yorker, who told me he doesn’t observe either night of Passover now that his kids are grown and out of the house.
Three members of the Democratic conference are Jewish – Sens. Daniel Squadron, of Brooklyn; Toby Stavisky, of Queens; and Brad Hoylman, of Manhattan.
Stavisky’s Albany office told me she was heading down state tonight, but I have yet to be able to reach her to find out when – and if – she plans to return. I left a message for Squadron, and spoke with a staffer in Hoylman’s office, who said he would relay my question to the senator and have him get back to me.
This post will be updated as needed.
UPDATE1: Sen. Ruben Sr. is definitely not a Jew. In fact, he’s a Pentecostal minister. But he won’t be on hand for the budget votes tomorrow because, as CapCon’s Casey Seiler notes, he’ll be participating in a protest outside the US Supreme Court as justices inside her oral arguments on the first of two same-sex marriage cases. (I reported the senator’s trip earlier this month).
UPDATE2: Hoylman called me back from the train en route to NYC. He said he’s going to be having a Seder tonight with a friend in Brooklyn while his husband and daughter are in Washington, D.C. with family, as planned.
“With the return on Tuesday, it wasn’t feasible for me to fly down there and fly back,” Hoylman said. “It’s unfortunate I won’t be with them, but such is the state Senate.”
UPDATE3: Also, I overlooked another Jewish member: Sen. Liz Krueger. So sorry.
UPDATE4: A staffer in Krueger’s office said the senator is downstate for the first night of Passover and plans to return to Albany some time around noon tomorrow. In other words: The Democrats will definitely have their ranking member on the Finance Committee and one of their most prolific debaters in the house for these votes. And, I just received the following email from Andrew Goldston in Krueger’s office:
“Sen. Krueger wanted me to reach out and make sure you knew she was proudly Jewish and proudly a member of the Senate Democratic conference. At this time she does plan to be in Albany tomorrow evening for votes.”
“That said, she’s incredulous that the majority coalition has the Senate unnecessarily debating and voting on budget bills during the second night of Passover and then rolling through the midnight hour to vote on the remaining budget bills that are not live until Wednesday. What excuse is there not to wait until daylight on Wednesday?”
Mar 25th - 1:46 pm
An excerpt from today’s Morning Memo:
Ultimately, it will fall to the state’s legal defender – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – to defend the SAFE Act in court.
That’s ironic, since Schneiderman is a long-time gun control advocate who championed a microstamping bill while serving in the state Senate and was a founding member in 2009 of state Legislators Against Illegal Guns – an offshoot of Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns group.
But as AG, Schneiderman has also managed to work collaboratively with gun show operators, announcing earlier this month that 23 of them across the state had signed on to model procedures to close the so-called gun show loophole and ensure background checks are performed on all private firearms sales.
I caught up with Schneiderman at Somos el Futuro this weekend. (He sponsored a pre-gala reception along with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli). I was curious whether the imminent modifications to the SAFE Act will make it more difficult to defend in court, since these changes tacitly acknowledged the original product was flawed and perhaps rushed into place.
His short answer: No.
His long answer:
“We have several different lawsuits challenging the SAFE Act. I’m very confident that we’ll prevail.
I defended New York’s last set of gun laws and our requirement that you have to show special purpose to get a concealed carry permit, which is unusual.
We defended that successfully, we’ll defend this one successfully.
The modifications are really very minor. Nothing have anything to do with the constitutionality. Look, New Yorkers deserve a safe set of procedures to ensure that people who have criminal backgrounds or mental health issues don’t get guns. That we’re not selling guns that are unnecessary for any sporting or target shooting purpose.
The SAFE Act is really the strongest and most comprehensive law in the country and I’m confident that it complies with every constitutional standard.
…process issues don’t effect the constitutionality and legitimacy of a law. There will be some minor modifications, but the law is going to stay 99 percent in tact. We will defend it. New York will be a safer state.”
Schneiderman insisted the SAFE Act is a “good, smart, comprehensive” law that should serve as an impetus to get Congress to act at the federal level to streamline the gun control effort.
He did allow, however, that the rapid passage of the Act had created a sense of “fear” among gun owners that they are under siege and being turned from law abiding members of society into criminal – especially if they refuse, as many have said they will, to register any weapon that is newly classified as illegal.
“That’s not what’s in the law,” Schneiderman said. “There is a little bit of fear and that is one of the problems when you rush something through.”
“It did happen very quickly. But that doesn’t effect the constitutionality and that doesn’t effect the merits. This is a good comprehensive law. We’ll defend it in court. I’m confident we’ll prevail.”
Schneiderman isn’t the only staunch gun control advocate admitting that perhaps Cuomo was a wee bit overzealous in his desire to be the first in the nation after Newtown to further restrict access to firearms.
Last week, Bloomberg – who just today started bankrolling a $12 million national advertising campaign in 13 states that focuses on US senators who he believes might be persuaded to support a pending package of federal regulations to curb gun violence – said complaints that Cuomo rushed the SAFE Act, resulting in a flawed law, are “legitimate.”
“…If they had taken a few more days to read and let some people who might have other information, at least, even if not other ideas, give some input, they could have fixed some of this stuff,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show with WOR’s John Gambling.
“And they would say, ‘Look, pass the bill. You can come back and fix it. It may look embarrassing in the paper but so what.’ And there’s something to be said for that. I guess I might have tried to take a few more days, but I certainly shouldn’t second-guess the governor.”
This probably did very little to improve the often rocky relationship with Bloomberg and Cuomo. And an anonymous Cuomo source retaliated at the mayor via Fred Dicker’s column this morning, saying:
“Much of what’s in the law was drafted by people connected to Mayor Bloomberg and the Brady Center, not by the governor’s staff. That’s why there are so many problems with it.”
Another interesting, though only marginally related tidbit from this morning’s headlines: Schneiderman has hired a new chief of staff to replace Neal Kwatra, who departed the public payroll to hang out his own political consulting shingle last month.
Kwatra’s replacement is Micah Lasher, who just so happens to be Bloomberg’s former Albany lobbyist – and someone who clashed frequently with the Cuomo administration, not to mention organized labor.
That’s an interesting choice for the AG, who is loved by labor and viewed as the lefty counterpoint to Cuomo. He’s also often battling behind the scenes with the Cuomo administration, even as he defends its policies – like, say, the SAFE Act – in court.
Mar 22nd - 12:58 pm
Nick reported this morning that state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was successful in negotiating changes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial proposed pension smoothing plan.
The resulting plan, which we’re told will be included in the final budget, is a modified version of the amoritzation program that DiNapoli established back in 2010 and essentially allows local governments to borrow from the pension fund to cover ballooning retirement costs over a 10-year period.
We sought comment from Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who has been very outspoken about her opposition to Cuomo’s original proposal, which she insisted would end up costing cash-strapped cities more in the long run than it saved them in the short term. We received the following statement from Miner this afternoon:
“We cannot solve the fiscal crisis facing the local governments of New York by borrowing. Unfortunately, the new ‘alternate contribution pension stabilization program’ is just that: another mechanism for borrowing.”
“We need fundamental, structural reforms to overcome the impending collapse of our financial structure. Governor Cuomo is a strong leader and has enormous political capital. We are all New Yorkers and we need the Governor to bring all parties to the table and lead a discussion on solving the long term fiscal health of our municipalities and our state.”
Cuomo’s proposal called for a 25-year amortization and enabled local governments and school districts – and, after the 30-day amendments, four public hospitals and the BOCES program – to borrow against projected future savings realized through the establishment of a sixth pension tier.
The agreement in the budget will have a 12-year payback period. The 137 entities with public employees that have already entered the program can choose to enter the new amortization plan or stay in the current one.
Mar 22nd - 11:45 am
Details of the supposed budget deal announced two nights ago yet still in a formative stage continue to trickle out – often thanks to advocates who are closely monitoring specific areas of policy and spending.
The NYLCV issued a triumphant statement this morning about a $19 million increase in the state’s Environmental Protection Fund that will provide $153 million for a variety of green programs across New York in the coming fiscal year.
The NYLCV called this development a “major milestone” in its long-standing campaign to bolster and protect the EPF, which is always in danger of being “raided” to fund things that have nothing to do with the environment.
“”With this budget agreement, state leaders are demonstrating a clear understanding of the important role EPF programs play in both environmental protection and economic prosperity,” said NYLCV President Marcia Bystrynn.
“EPF programs deliver a $7 return for every $1 invested, which boosts our state’s economy. We thank Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders for this important commitment to the EPF.”
Over the past 10 years, more than $854 million was taken from the EPF, including $275 million in SFY 2008-09 and $34.1 million in SFY 2009-10 through February 2010.
Advocates have argued in favor of a “lock box” for dedicated funds like this one as well as others like the MTA and the Highway and Bridge Trust Fund, which would require taxpayer cash earmarked for a specific purpose to be used for that purpose alone. So far, however, that effort has been unsuccessful.
The EPF was established in 1993 and is the dedicated source of funding for environmental programs dealing with everything from clean drinking water to parks to farms.
Mar 19th - 2:17 pm
A new joint budget conference committee schedule just landed in our inbox.
According to the schedule, subcommittee hearings on Education, Health, Economic Development, and general government are getting started right now. They will be followed by sessions at 3:30p on Mental Hygiene, Transportation, and Labor. And at 4:30pm, Higher Education, Public Protection/Criminal Justice/Judiciary, and Environment/Agriculture/Housing.
The general conference committee meeting is one more sign that we are moving closer to a deal on the budget, though we have been close to a deal for a while now. And as Governor Andrew Cuomo is found of saying, “There is no deal until there is a deal.”