State Senate

Golden Affirms Support For Mayoral Control In NYC (Updated X2)

Extending mayoral control of New York City schools picked up key Republican support on Thursday as Brooklyn Sen. Martin Golden announced support for keeping the arrangement in place.

Golden, in a statement, re-affirmed his support for mayoral control, though he did not say how long it should be extended.

Updated: Golden, on Twitter, says he endorses three or more years for extending mayoral control.

Updated X2: Golden’s office now says the number of years for the extension is still under mayoral control and the initial tweet was deleted.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio initially this year sought a permanent extension of mayoral control; the Assembly this week approved a bill that would have it expire after three years.

De Blasio, of course, has not necessarily seen eye to eye with Senate Republicans politically. The GOP conference did little to oppose efforts to give their political ally and major campaign contributor Michael Bloomberg a longer extension for mayoral control than what is being discussed for de Blasio.

β€œIn my days in the New York City Council, I worked with students, teachers and families under a system governed by the Board of Education,” Golden said in a statement. “And now as a New York State Senator, I continue to address the needs of my schools and my students under a system of mayoral control. Confidently, I can tell you that the system has and continues to work better since mayoral control was enacted, and I am proud to support this renewal.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in a statement released on Sunday indicated he backed unspecified reforms to mayoral control.

Flanagan has also said he’s turning to the Republican conference members who represent New York City to help him on the issue — that includes Golden, Staten Island Sen. Andrew Lanza and Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who sits with the GOP in the Senate.

Senate’s MMA Sponsor Open To Changes

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Sen. Joe Griffo, one of the main sponsors of a bill aimed at legalizing mixed-martial arts in the state, is open to making changes to the measure should it lead to its passage this year.

“In order to get something done this year, I’m open and willing to have those discussions and consider what’s being proposed,” Griffo said in an interview. “At this point in time I haven’t seen anything specifically.”

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle is discussing potential amendments to the bill, such as adding a health-insurance provision for those who participate in MMA bouts.

Those potential changes were reported by The Daily News on Monday.

On Wednesday, Morelle said he continued to work to line up the votes in his chamber.

“We’re looking to see if we can find some amendments which would be appealing to the number of members who are concerned about the health and welfare of our participants,” Morelle said.

Assembly Democrats have previously discussed the bill in a closed-door conference this year, but emerged without a consensus on whether the bill comes to the floor for a vote.

Supporters have maintained that should the bill be voted on by the full chamber, it would likely pass.

“I think if a vote is allowed, it will pass,” Griffo said.

But concerns remain from MMA opponents who cite the sport’s violence. There is also labor opposition from the Las Vegas-based culinary union, which is in a dispute with Ultimate Fighting Championship, a top MMA promoter which is lobbying on behalf of the bill.

Still, Griffo added the UFC and other MMA event backers in the industry should be consulted before moving forward with changes.

“We treat our sports very similarly here and to do something different than what we already do in boxing and professional wrestling, I’d have to see what is being done and why,” he said.

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.

Gianaris Compares Cuomo To Scott Walker

From the Morning Memo:

Queens Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris in an interview on Monday compared Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform policies to anti-labor measures being enacted under Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

“Resources are being diverted out of the public school system to private schools, an attack on the teachers who sacrifice so much to work in our schools,” Gianaris said on NY1’s Inside City Hall. “If I wanted Scott Walker to be the governor, I’d move to Wisconsin. But we’re here in New York. I think we should be a progressive champion that stands up for working people who stand up for public schools first and foremost and then we should help the entire school system.”

The comment underscores the deepening level of antipathy from Senate Democrats in the mainline conference toward Cuomo, who this year has pursued efforts to make it harder for teachers to obtain tenure and overall the teacher evaluation criteria, which is linked to tenure.

Senate Democrats have already this year taken a more assertive posture to Cuomo on several issues, including education.

The Gianaris comment is the start of a renewed focus on education in the post-budget session for the conference as Democrats there are expected to roll out a series of what one official called “legislative fixes” to the measures included in the budget.

Cuomo has been at odds with the New York State United Teachers union since even before taking office. But this year has brought a new level of debate over the direction of education in the state.

After achieving the passage of a new evaluation system that will rely on a mix on at least one standardized test and in-classroom observation, the governor is renewing his focus to areas NYSUT has opposed, including a lifting of the cap on charter schools and a $150 million education investment tax credit, which is strongly backed by private and parochial schools.

“The hostility to public schools is alarming,” Gianaris added in the interview.

NYSUT and their city partners at the United Federation of Teachers have supported Senate Democratic candidates politically and spent heavily last year on behalf of challengers and freshman candidates.

Senate Democrats aren’t the only ones seeking changes to what was approved in the budget: Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have introduced bills aimed at extending the deadline for developing regulations for the teacher evaluations as well unlinking the enactment of the standards on the local level to a boost in school aid.

Cuomo and the administration have argued the policies included in the budget do benefit public education and public school teachers, including bonuses for high-performing teachers and free tuition to state schools for people on track to become teachers.

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.

Comptroller’s Office Releasing Lawmaker Per Diem Information

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s website posted per diem reimbursement data of the state Legislature dating back to 2013 and plans to do update the information quarterly.

Already, lawmakers in both the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Republican-led Senate have racked more than $1 million in travel reimbursements during the most recent fiscal quarter this year alone.

Data compiled by the comptroller’s office found the 150-member Assembly received $799,743 in per diem reimbursements. The 63-member Senate, meanwhile, accounted for $278,196.

The current per diem rate is $172 a day that can be spent on travel, hotel or lodging and food costs.

Ex-Assemblyman Bill Scarborough, who pleaded guilty in part to per diem abuse, has received the third highest in reimbursement between 2013 and now, $56,815.

So far this year, Assemblyman Michael Blake is leading the way, with $11,995.53. In the Senate, North Country Sen. Patty Richie has received the most, $8,800.

Legislative Travel Summary Final 4-22-15 by Nick Reisman

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.”