Mar 10th - 2:07 pm
Sen. Tom Libous in an interview took a conciliatory tone on medical marijuana, saying it’s an issue that he’s “doing my homework on.”
Libous, the number two Republican in the state Senate and a cancer patient who undergoes regular cancer treatments, said he’s studying the issue and speaking with his team of doctors about it.
“I’m doing my homework,” he said. “I actually just had a chemo treatment on Wednesday and had a long talk with my oncologist.”
He added that doctors were clear they’re opposed to marijuana or THC ingested by smoking it, but were more open to the idea of taking in pill form or through a vaporizer.
“I’m learning, I want to understand more on it,” he said.
Asked Libous if he would ever consider using medical marijuana, Libous said, “I hope I don’t have to.”
The comments come as six Senate Republicans have joined a measure that would create a medical marijuana program in the state, most recently Sen. Tom O’Mara, who represents a neighboring Senate district of Libous.
Assembly Democrats plan to include the medical marijuana measure — known as the Compassionate Care Care — in its one-house budget proposal this week.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports a limited medical marijuana program that would be administered under strict guidelines by the Department of Health.
Cuomo in December said he would lay down the guidelines for the proposal in an executive order.
Mar 10th - 1:59 pm
A reader forwarded me an invite to to a “virtual” golf outing being held last this month by Queens Sen. Malcolm Smith, who is raising campaign cash for a re-election bid despite the fact that he is fighting federal fraud and bribery charges (to which he has pleaded innocent, for the record).
There is no location for this event, which will be held on March 24. It is clearly a fund-raiser, with participation ranging from $100 for a “tee sign/friend” to $500 for a “foursome/sponsor.” Apparently, supporters are expected to simply write checks – or send “good wishes” – to the senator without receiving anything – like, say, a round of golf, or even some cubed cheese and a drink in a plastic cup – in return.
I’ve never heard of this before, but perhaps it’s a new frontier in political fundraising? The reader who received the invite wondered if perhaps Smith might be accepting bitcoin.
Smith, as you’ll recall, was once the Senate majority leader, but is now – along with Sen. John Sampson, who is also facing charges (in his case, embezzlement) – is a man without a conference, having been ousted by his newfound friends in the IDC after he was accused last April of trying to bribe his way onto the Republican ballot line in the NYC mayor’s race.
In January, Smith asked a federal judge to delay his trial until after this year’s primary elections, which are scheduled to take place in September, despite the Assembly Democrats’ effort to have them moved to coincide with the court-ordered congressional primaries in June. The judge recently denied Smith’s request and set his trial date for June 2.
Smith already has at least two primary challengers.
Mar 10th - 1:36 pm
The state Senate’s one-house budget proposal will present an alternative to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to freeze property taxes, Republican Sen. Tom Libous said in an interview.
“I expect there to be a property tax proposal to be in the one-house budget,” Libous said. “I think you’ll find it a little different than what the governor has. Right now, we’re still drafting up the language for the one-house budget bills. We have the resolution that will be going in, but bill language is always the details.”
Libous, R-Binghamton, declined to offer specifics on what the Senate plan will entail.
But he did say the proposal is coming in part because Cuomo’s tax free plan “has been a little bit of a problem for local governments.”
“I think they’re just concerned as to the way the governor proposed it that it’s going to really pin them down and cause a lack of services and at the end of the day we have to make sure services flow,” Libous said.
Cuomo’s $142 billion budget plan includes a proposal that would grant property taxpayers what amounts to a two-year “freeze” on local property tax increase.
Under the plan, local governments would have to budget within the 2 percent tax cap in the first year and then find ways to share services in the second. Taxpayers would receive a check that gives them the difference in any increase during that period.
The plan, which is voluntary for local governments to participate in, essentially gives property taxpayers the carrot of the freeze and a stick to encourage local officials to manage their budgets.
Cuomo has been pushing hard for the plan, airing downstate and upstate TV ads in support of the proposal.
In a radio interview last week, Cuomo indicated the opposition to the tax freeze was coming from local government officials who don’t want to make the hard choices on their own local spending plans.
Senate Democrats in a letter to majority coalition leaders Sens. Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein urged them to reject the tax freeze.
Libous said he expected language on the one-house budget bill by either Tuesday or Wednesday this week.
At the same time, Libous does not expect more funding than proposed by Cuomo for universal pre-Kindergarten in the Senate version of the budget, nor does he expect public financing of political campaigns to be included.
“Right now, I can’t support that sort of proposal,” he said of public financing. “I’m not excited about a public financing proposal.”
Mar 7th - 2:15 pm
The one-house budget bill submitted by the Assembly Democrats next week will include a revised version of the Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize marijuana for medical use.
Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who has long championed med-mar, confirmed that this is the first time in Albany history that the provision has been included in a budget bill by his conference.
“Unless something dramatic changes, yes, that is the plan,” Gottfried told me during a telephone interview this afternoon. “It’s my bill with some changes that we’ve worked up over the last couple of weeks that would have eventually gone into my bill except we’re putting them into the one-house instead…By putting it in our budget bill, we jump start a three-way discussion.”
“People might ask: Why does this belong in the budget? The answer is: When creating a new state program that’s going to cost money to administer and create a new source of state revenue, it’s perfectly acceptable to have it in a budget bill.”
One change was to have the excise tax proposed in Gottfried’s bill (being carried in the state Senate by IDC Sen. Diane Savino) from a certain number of dollars per pound to a percentage of the dispensing price. This was necessary, Gottfried said, because the sponsors realized that “a pound of dried leaf and a pound of oil extract are very different and should not be taxed the same.”
The other, more substantive change was the addition of provisions to speed up – at least on a temporary basis – the recognition of organizations that are registered to dispense medical marijuana. The way the bill had been written, it could take a year or two before product was available to patients, Gottfried said, due to the time required to write regulations, process registration applications and grow the plants.
How quickly marijuana could get into the hands of the people who need it remains something of an unanswerable question, due to the fact that the federal government would have to sign off if New York is to procure product from states where it is already legal.
“In order for this concept to work, we would have to get the Department of Justice to acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong if the product goes from one tightly regulated state to another tightly regulated state,” Gottfried said. “Because if not, there’s really no practical way anyone can think of to make product quickly available…And I really do not want to see babies dying for a year or two while they’re waiting for New York to get its system up and running.”
There has been considerable movement on med-mar in recent weeks in the Senate, with several Republicans expressing support for the Compassionate Care Act. This is widely attributed to the strong lobbying efforts put forth by a group of Western New York parents whose children suffer from devastating seizures, either caused by epilepsy or a disorder known as Dravet’s syndrome.
At least one Republican senator – Patrick Gallivan – has said he supports a very limited bill that would legalize a high CBD, low THC oil type of medical marijuana. In Colorado, it’s known as “Charlotte’s Web,” named after Charlotte Figi, who suffers from Dravet’s syndrome and was the first patient who had success with the treatment.
Gottfried said he considers it “inhumane” to patients who would need different kinds of med-mar treatment – like smoking to offset the nausea brought on by chemo, for example – to severely limit access to just one or a few types of the plant, adding: “It’s highly unlikely you could ever develop a production process in New York just to serve a dozen patients.”
The Assembly budget bill will not include any money in the coming fiscal year for med-mar, Gottfried said, because the assumption is that there will be little – if any – initial cost in setting up a med-mar system. The cost – as yet unknown – would ramp up in the 2015-16 fiscal year, but the assumption is that it would be more than covered by the revenue generated once the system gets up and running – revenue that Gottfried said could “possibly” exceed $100 million a year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a limited medical marijuana plan in his budget proposal that would be established via executive order, reviving a 1980s-era law that has been dormant for years. Gottfried and others panned this approach as cumbersome and too limited in scope. Asked if the the administration has taken any steps to implement the governor’s plan, Gottfried replied:
“If you find the name of anyone in the Health Department who’s working on this project, would you let me know? I’ve been trying very hard to find out that name, and so far I’ve gotten no response.”
The administration has indicated, through top Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz, that the governor would “support” the Compassionate Care Act if it passes both houses and ends up on his desk.
Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos appears to have softened his stance on med-mar, saying he’s now open to legalizing marijuana-based oils and possibly vaporizers, but still doesn’t like the idea of “public smoking.” Skelos also has not yet agreed to letting a bill to legalize med-mar come to the floor for a vote.
Mar 5th - 1:58 pm
The internecine fight for the Republican Senate nomination in the Hudson Valley continued on Wednesday as Republican Jim Coughlan is knocking fellow GOP candidate Rob Rolison in a robocall.
Coughlan, the Dutchess county comptroller, is taking Rolison to task for a 3.75 percent energy tax in the county.
Rolison is the chairman of the Dutchess County Legislature.
In the call, Coughlan says Rolison “led the charge” to raise the energy use tax and ties it back to rising energy bills in the county during the winter.
Here’s the call’s script:
Good Evening, this is Dutchess County Comptroller Jim Coughlan, this past November I urged Legislative Chairman Rob Rolison to cut spending and not to vote for the Energy Sales Tax.
Instead, he led the charge to raise taxes on Energy usage and now Dutchess County energy bills are going to cost more in the coldest winter in recent memory.
Send a message to Rob Rolison and tell him we can’t afford any more taxes.
Visit my website jimcoughlan.com and sign my petition to repeal the energy tax.
Paid for by Jim Coughlan for Senate, the Independence and Conservative Party choice. 845-418-5965
Both Coughlan and Rolison are vying to compete for the Senate seat held by Sen. Terry Gipson, a Democrat who won a three-way race in 2012.
Coughlan has the designation from the local Independence and Conservative party organizations, while Rolison is supported by the local GOP.
Mar 5th - 12:59 pm
The war of words between former Oliver Koppell and the IDC, whose leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, the former councilman is eyeing as a potential political target, escalated still further this morning, with Sen. Diane Savino jumping to Klein’s defense.
In a statememt, Koppell accused Klein of declaring “war on Democrats across the state” by endorsing a Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant’s second primary challenge to “regular” Democratic Sen. Tim Kennedy in Buffalo, and discussing a potential challenge to Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins by Westchester County Legislator Virginia Perez.
Koppell noted that Stewart-Cousins is the first woman to serve as a legislative leader in Albany, and laced into Klein for daring to consider backing someone against her.
“He is nothing but a lapdog for Senate Republicans,” Koppell said of the IDC leader. “In acting to weaken Democratic Senate leaders, he is empowering Dean Skelos and his Republican colleagues to block progressive legislation.”
Savino responded to Koppell during an interview on “The Capitol Pressroom” with Susan Arbetter, calling the former councilman’s attack “most ridiculous comments” he has made to date.
“When it comes to be declaring war on Democrats and democracy, Oliver Koppell is guilty of that in spades,” Savino said. “…I think he should be very careful about the allegations or the charges he throws around.”
Savino noted that in 2009, it was Koppell who introduced the bill that extended term limits in New York City, allowing then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg and all Council members who were about to be out of a job – including himself – to ask voters to let them stick around in office for another four years.
“That was not just a slap in the face of the Democratic Party,” said Savino, who pointed out that Bloomberg’s Democratic challenger, former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, should have had a clear shot at the office and came close to unseating the billionaire mayor that year. “That was a skap in the face of democracy, directly overturning the will of the people.”
Mar 4th - 4:51 pm
Sen. Tom O’Mara became the latest Republican lawmaker to back a measure that would provide for the legalization of medical marijuana.
His support for the measure was first revealed on a Facebook post by advocates who had lobbied the Chemung County legislator on the issue.
“This legislation allows for safe, limited access to medical marijuana, for people who suffer from serious, debilitating diseases. I will continue to work to improve the bill to make sure we maintain a balance between access and compassion for patients, and maintaining control to eliminate the potential black market,” O’Mara said in a statement. “Comprehensive medical research and the ever-growing testimony from medical professionals, health care experts, patients and families show that the use of medical marijuana can help ease the pain and suffering of the seriously ill. I have carefully considered the facts, and after meeting with patients and their families I have come to the conclusion it’s time for New York to offer a highly restrictive, tightly regulated network to provide patients access to treatment that will improve their quality of life.”
That his support for the bill is a surprise would be a bit of an understatement.
O’Mara is consistently one of the more conservative members of the Senate, but the pro-medical marijuana lobby this session has waged an effective campaign to convert Republican lawmakers to their side.
GOP Sens. Mark Grisanti, George Maziarz and Joe Robach have all indicated their support for the med-mar bill.
The push for the med-mar bill comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would allow a limited version of medical marijuana through an existing law. Advocates have said the Cuomo proposal is too limited in scope; an executive order outlining the proposal is yet to be unveiled.
Mar 4th - 1:26 pm
Despite Sen. Tony Avella’s defection last week, which was widely viewed as a momentum check for the Senate Democrats heading into another crucial election year, the conference managed to raise a significant chunk of cash at its Albany fund-raiser last night.
According to Sen. Mike Gianaris, who heads the DSCC, the event at Taste on Beaver Street brought in more than $300,000 and attracted a “who’s who” of Democratic politics. (He declined to name names, but did say more than 100 people showed up).
” The message is clear,” Gianaris told me during a brief telephone interview this morning. “People realize that even with the occasional zigs and zags, overall we are very strong. We have retired our debt. We have new leaders. We’re feeling pretty good about our chances, and apparently activists do as well.”
Gianaris said $300,000 is the largest amount the Democrats have raised at a single event since he took over the DSCC from Sen. Jeff Klein in December 2010.
The conference can definitely use the money.
While the Democrats have finally gotten out from under the multimillion dollar debt that has been weighing them down for years, they didn’t have much left over after finally paying that off. As of mid-January, they had just under $200 on hand in their regular DSCC account and $43,100 in their housekeeping account.
I’ll be speaking to Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins about the upcoming elections, Avella’s departure, and the primary threat she might be facing from a Westchester County legislator on Capital Tonight at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
Mar 4th - 8:57 am
A former Republican state senator and GOP power broker who pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion in 2012 is co-hosting a high-dollar fund-raiser next month in support of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election effort, Capital Tonight has learned.
Adding insult to injury, the ex-lawmaker in question – Nick Spano – hails from Westchester County. That’s home to County Executive Rob Astorino, who is widely expected to announce his challenge to Cuomo this week, and is badly trailing the Democratic governor in raising campaign cash.
In an email obtained by CapTon, Spano asks “friends” to join him at an April 3 “Hudson Valley for Cuomo Reception” at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown that will be co-hosted by his lobbying firm, Empire Strategic Planning.
The email includes an attached invitation to the event, for which ticket prices start at $1,00 per person and climb to $25,000 for “sponsorship levels with host committee reception.”
The invite, which appears below, makes no mention of Spano or his firm. But Spano leaves no doubt in the accompanying email as to his involvement in the event, specifically noting his firm’s “hosting” role, and adding:
“I hope you can join me in becoming a key supporter of the Governor’s campaign. I have attached an invitation and contribution form for your use, and will be following up with you shortly in the hopes that you will be able to join with us.”
“Governor Cuomo has made a terrific difference in moving New York forward during the past three years. It’s important we keep that momentum going, and the Hudson Valley for Cuomo Reception is our chance to show him we are on-board.”
“I look forward to seeing you at this key event in Governor Cuomo’s re-election campaign. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have.”
Spano lost his Senate seat in 2006 to Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who was making her second attempt at unseating the Republican lawmaker after losing to him by just 18 votes in 2004.
In 2012, Spano was sentenced to one year and one day in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion.
Once one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers, Spano, a Yonkers Republican, admitted that he failed to pay more than $53,000 in federal and state taxes by not reporting income – including a $45,000 commission he received on a real estate deal and rental income from a Yonkers building he owned.
Spano was released from prison last spring. He had to do two extra months in a Brooklyn detention center after violating the terms of his release by holding a celebratory family lunch and doing an interview with Journal News columnist Phil Reisman while transferring from a federal prison to a Bronx halfway house.
This isn’t the first time Spano, known as a moderate Republican during his time in Albany, has crossed party lines to back a Democrat.
In 2009, he endorsed then-Westchester County Executive Andy Spano (no relation), citing a concern over the “extremists” supporting the incumbent Democrat’s GOP opponent: Rob Astorino.
Astorino went on to defeat Andy Spano in an upset victory in the 2009 November election.
Mar 3rd - 12:45 pm
This is an updated version of the second item in today’s Morning Memo:
The Journal News reports that Virginia Perez, a Westchester County legislator, is giving “serious consideration” to a primary challenge against Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and has had “several” conversations about her potential run with Klein.
While Perez is still weighing her options, she seems like a good fit for the IDC, which is co-controlling the Senate through a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans. Consider this:
Perez, who was first elected in 2011, is a supporter of bi-partisan coalitions. She joined with another county Democrat last December to form a partnership with Republicans in the county Legislature — similar to the structure in the state Senate.
“Being bi-partisan is the best way to serve the public,” she said. “We don’t need gridlock. Extreme partisanship doesn’t get us anywhere.”
This news comes on the heels of last week’s surprise announcement by Queens Sen. Tony Avella that he would be departing company with the regular Democrats to join forces with the IDC.
Almost immediately, there was talk of a potential primary challenge against Avella, who has less than $3,000 in his campaign account. Avella shrugged off such talk, saying he’s not worried about any political payback for his decision.
He also called a mini protest (four people holding signs) that materialized outside his appearance at a Queens public school last Friday “ridiculous.”
The possible Perez vs. Stewart-Cousins primary also comes after months of speculation that former NYC Councilman Oliver Koppell might challenge Klein himself this fall. Koppell has been ratcheting up his public criticism of Klein and has met with DSCC Chairman Mike Gianaris to discuss a possible primary. But he has not made any formal announcements – or formed a campaign committee, or started fund-raising – to date.
Klein praised Perez to the Journal News through a statement released by his spokeswoman, saying she “has a very bright future, and has the talent, experience and drive to make a great senator.” He also noted he has “deep ties throughout Yonkers,” which he has represented for many years.
A spokesman for Stewart-Cousins and the regular Democrats declined comment.
UPDATE: AS of mid-January, Stewart-Cousins had $250,621 on hand in her personal campaign account, but, of course, would have access to DSCC funds, should she need them. Perez had $2,817, but would probably be able to rely on some assistance from the IDC, should she decide to run.
Also, Perez has at least one black mark against her: She filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy back in 2012, citing unmanageable debt. She said at the time that her situation was “nothing to be ashamed of,” and one that many people in her district can related to, so perhaps it gives her a “real person” talking point, but it could also be used against her in a campaign.