State Senate

Senate Republicans Back ‘Additional Reforms’

Senate Republicans on Friday indicated a willingness to back “additional reforms” to the state’s ethics and election laws as talk continues to swirl about a potential special session before the end of the year.

“Over the past four years, the Senate has enacted numerous election and ethics reforms and we have communicated to the Governor that we are willing to do many additional reforms,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate GOP conference.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday in Albany told reporters he was sympathetic to state lawmakers pushing for their first pay increase since 1998. Lawmakers currently earn $79,500, but are allowed to receive outside income and have added on pay in the form of stipends or “lulus.”

Cuomo said that he wanted a special session to tackle sweeping ethics and campaign-finance reform changes, including the public financing of political campaigns as well as a cap on outside pay and banning employment of state lawmakers from firms that have business before the state.

Cuomo added it was state lawmakers who are blocking the changes as they have in prior years.

“I wanted public financing last year and they said no,” Cuomo said. “I wanted campaign finance last year and they said no. It’s a wholly consistent argument.”

The proposals seem potentially untenable for lawmakers: Senate Republicans are staunchly opposed to the public financing of campaigns, while Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been resistant to efforts to move being a state lawmaker away from a “part-time” position.

Stewart-Cousins: Consider Criminal Justice Reforms In Special Session

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins would support voting on criminal justice and grand jury reforms in a special session, she told reporters in Albany on Tuesday.

“I would hope that we would not have a special session that did not address these issues,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Along side members of her Democratic conference, Stewart-Cousins called for a special prosecutor to be temporarily appointed to review cases involving the deaths of unarmed civilians involving law enforcement.

On a more long-term concern, Senate Democrats want funding in the state budget to help police departments purchase body cameras for officers as well as the formation of a special investigator’s office to review police-related deaths.

“These are two basic, common-sense initiatives that it is our hope will begin to rebuild the trust between law enforcement agencies and the public they serve,” she said.

The call comes a day after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue an executive order granting him authority to review police-related deaths.

Cuomo’s office has said he is reviewing the request.

Stewart-Cousins said she would support either appointing a special prosecutor in future cases involving police deaths or have Schneiderman’s office take on that role directly until legislation ca be passed.

Cuomo himself in recent days has called for a series of criminal justice reforms as well as new police training following a Staten Island grand jury not issuing an indictment against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

The lack of an indictment, which came on the heels of a Missouri grand jury not indicting a white police in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown, set off a wave of protests in New York City and across the country.

Cuomo has said he backs more transparency in the grand jury process as well as potentially appointing special prosecutors with deaths that involve police officers.

Cuomo also wants to enhance police training and equip some officers with body cameras.

While the Garner case and its develops have added more to lawmakers’ plates when they return to Albany, it appears unlikely such measures will be taken up in a special session.

Lawmakers and administration officials have cited the complexity of the criminal justice matters being proposed, saying more time is needed to parse through language (lawmakers and Cuomo may be wary of again taking up a complex issue so quickly following the 2013 gun control law known as the SAFE Act had to be amended to exclude police officers from the measure).

A special session, however, could provide maximum leverage for Cuomo with Senate Republicans, who have signaled a resistance to some of the police-related reforms that have been discussed in recent days.

Standing By Senate Democrats

From the Morning Memo:

There seems to be little appetite to upend the leadership structure within the Senate Democratic conference after Republicans gained an outright majority in last month’s elections.

Rank-and-file lawmakers and members of the conference leadership are blaming a Republican “wave” that contributed to their losses on Election Day, including the unseating of three freshman Democrats from upstate districts.

Democratic Sen. Daniel Squadron said he hopes both Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and her deputy, Sen. Mike Gianaris of Queens, continue on in their leadership posts.

“This was unfortunately a national wave that we got caught up in and I look forward to working with them,” Squadron said on Capital Tonight on Tuesday. “I hope they stay on in their roles and I continue to be as supportive of as possible both of the work we have over the next two years and when the time comes, the election is in a couple of years.”

At very least, it would seem Stewart-Cousins and Gianaris have had a stabilizing effect on the Democratic conference, which in recent years was roiled by in-fighting over leadership and, of course, its divorce with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference.

As Squadron mentioned, Democrats are looking to 2016, when a presidential election year with the potential of Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket will deliver them large gains in the Senate.

Nevertheless, the political work of the Senate Democrats is being questioned.

As Zack Fink of NY1 has detailed recently through his reporting, some campaigns were miffed during the election season when an aide to the Senate Democrats informed them that the Parkside Group was the “preferred” consulting firm of DSCC, the conference’s political arm.

A Senate Democratic spokesman insisted to Zack the conference uses a wide variety of vendors and the suggestion to go to Parkside was made by a volunteer who does not speak for DSCC.

Squadron, meanwhile, also is holding some hope for reuniting the mainline conference with the five-member breakaway Independent Democratic Conference — a prospect that seems unlikely given signals from both IDC Leader Jeff Klein and Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos that the coalition should continue in some form.

“I would urge all of my democratic colleagues, including those in the I-D-C to work with the Senate Democrats,” he said. “That was the plan as we were going into the election. Election Day did not turn out the way we hoped it would. This was unfortunately a national wave we got caught up in. I look forward to working with them and I hope they both stay on in their roles.”

Where The Super PACs Spent Their Money At The End

Massive spending by independent expenditure campaigns came to dominate the conclusion of the race for the state Senate, almost entirely on behalf of Republican candidates.

Indeed, Republican-friendly committees backed by wealthy landlords, real-estate interests and pro-charter school groups in the final days of the campaign combined outspent the more traditional support vehicle for the GOP, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

Combined, the independent expenditure groups Jobs for New York, Balance New York and New Yorkers For A Balanced Albany spent $4.8 million in a final burst of campaign spending, according to the most recently posted filings.

Senate Republicans spent $2.7 million out of their own campaign committee. Granted, the Senate GOP’s soft money housekeeping account is yet to file and could show more cash expended on behalf of Republican candidates.

The money spent helped Republicans gain full control of the Senate chamber ahead of an important year in which rent control regulations are due to expire along with mayoral control of New York City schools.

The money spent also counteracted a well-funded campaign from organized labor groups, most notably the New York State United Teachers Union, which spent $1.4 million in the final days of the campaign, its filing shows.

Democrats this year also had the backing of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who made no secret of his desire for a friendlier state Senate.

Nevertheless, the spending on behalf of Republicans reaped dividends as the GOP swept three key upstate races, all of which the independent expenditure committees concerted heavily on.

The IEs spent money backing Republicans George Amedore in the 46th Senate district, Sue Serino in the 41st and Rich Funke in 55th Senate district, all of whom swept freshman Democrats out of office.

The groups also played some effective defense to hold Republican seats.

New Yorkers For Balanced Albany, for instance, spent $1.9 million blasting Democrat Justin Wagner, who was hoping to flip a Republican-held district in the Hudson Valley, and lost to Terrence Murphy. By contrast, Wagner spent $371,377 during this same period.

The filings show a heavy concentration on television ad spending in the final days of the campaign, which is not a surprise for anyone who lives in those districts.

In addition to the spending, Republican candidates knocked Democrats — especially upstate — for their support from de Blasio and the Soros family. George Soros, the liberal financier, contributed to key Senate candidates, and his son Jonathan Soros once again funded the Friends of Democracy PAC as a vehicle to pass the public financing of political campaigns.

But despite turning Soros and son into the boogeymen of the left, Friends of Democracy reported little spending in the final days of the campaign: $43,420.

Add Valesky To ‘Syracuse Billion’ Push

Sen. David Valesky of Oneida is joining the push for a “Syracuse Billion.”

The Independent Democratic Conference member on Monday said in a statement he backed the plan as proposed by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner to have the state commit to a massive infrastructure investment in the central New York city.

“Mayor Miner’s proposal contains exactly the components we need to propel Syracuse and Central New York into economic growth in the 21st Century,” Valesky said in a statement. “This plan’s singular focus is on infrastructure—investing in the physical needs and human capital to create a playing field where the entire community can grow. The Syracuse Billion proposal is a comprehensive plan that has my wholehearted support.”

Though the proposal has echos of the “Buffalo Billion” — a program that targeted private-sector job growth through specific state investment — this program Miner backs is aimed at upgrading Syracuse’s roads, bridges and sewer systems which are increasingly costly to maintain on the local level.

Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, last week announced he also backed Miner’s proposal.

Miner will be a guest on Capital Tonight this evening.

Kennedy On Sticking With The Mainline Conference, Carlucci With IDC

Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, says he’ll continue “working with” the mainline conference in the state Senate after the Independent Democratic Conference backed a primary challenge to him in September.

Kennedy, in an interview on Capital Tonight, didn’t necessarily give a Shermanesque, I’m-sticking-with-the-Democrats response to questions about his joining the IDC.

“Look, I am a Democrat. I’ve been working with the Democratic conference, and I’m going to continue to support the Democratic conference,” Kennedy say. “I believe in the short term and in the long term that Democrats are going to help our entire state have the economic recovery that we can all be proud of. Helping working families doing things like improving the minimum wage, fighting for women and the women’s health and the ten point women’s plan as well as helping to make sure children are a top priority, education is a top priority. We continue the economic revival of our state. We continue job creation, the momentum that’s already been started there.”

Asked a second time, Kennedy said he would work with both conferences.

“My goal right now is to get back to Albany and to continue to work on the progress we’ve already begun, continue to work with the Democratic conference, continue to work with the IDC and the Republicans where we can to deliver results to the people of Buffalo Cheektowaga and Lackawana, which is the district that I represent,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy at one point in 2012 received contributions from the IDC, which both sides downplayed in significance. This year, mainline conference member Sen. George Latimer received $40,000 from the IDC, which the the breakaway conference said was about supporting Democrats in state Senate races.

Meanwhile, Sen. David Carlucci says he will continue on as a member of the IDC despite speculation he’ll be jumping ship.

“I have been a proud Democrat throughout my career and that will never change,” Carlucci said in a statement. “I personally contributed time and resources toward winning a Democratic majority. At the same time for the last four years I have been a member of the Independent Democratic Conference that has produced real results for New Yorkers by working in a bipartisan fashion. The people of my district care about results, they care about governing, and they care that their elected officials are motivated by ideas and not politics. I will continue to work with with my colleagues in the IDC to help the people in my district.”

Carlucci remaining in the IDC’s fold comes despite pressure from local county Democrats to have him defect to the mainline conference.

Carlucci represents Rockland County, where Kristen Stavisky is the county Democratic chairwoman. She is the wife of Evan Stavisky, a partner at The Parkside Group, which provides consulting services for the mainline conference.

At the same time, incoming Democratic Sen.-elect Jesse Hamilton has not said whether he’ll join the mainline conference or the IDC.

The jockeying and speculation over who lands where comes as the IDC and Senate Republicans try to strike a new coalition agreement after the elections.

Under the current configuration, IDC Leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos share leadership power in the chamber.

The Republican conference captured full control of the chamber this month, but a source says one idea floated in the talks has been to allow the IDC to retain power in the chamber, with a hand-shake agreement continuing on through the 2016 elections.

AG Backs Legislative Pay Raises

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has endorsed a pay raise for his former colleagues in the state Legislature, provided that they also approve reforms to the per diem system that has proved too easy for corrupt lawmakers to scam.

“I think the Legislature, after 15 years, hasn’t had a pay raise, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to do,” Schneiderman said during a Capital Tonight interview last night. “But I think it should be accompanied by reforms to the system.”

“If you think about the per diem system, this is in addition to travel expenses, this is not just travel expenses,” the AG continued. “This is something else that you get every day…There’s incentives to stay away from your district where your constituents are and stay in Albany.”

“It’s sort of a weird system. It struck me as strange when I first got up there, and it strikes me as a little bit strange today. So, I would like to see reforms of the system.”

Schneiderman, a resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was a state senator prior to his election to the AG’s office in 2010. He succeeded Andrew Cuomo, who ascended to the governor’s office that year.

Schneiderman was elected to the Senate in 1998, defeating Danny O’Donnell (then a civil rights attorney, now a state assemblyman) in a Democratic primary.

That was the same year legislators did a deal with then-GOP Gov. George Pataki that raised their base pay by 38 percent to its current level ($79,500) in exchange for agreeing to forgo their paychecks in the event of late budgets and the creation of charter schools in New York.

The pay raise took effect in January of 1999, since, technically speaking, sitting lawmakers cannot vote to increase their own pay.

They can, however, give raises to members of the incoming Legislature, which, thanks to Albany’s high re-election rate for incumbents, looks a lot like the Legislature that preceded it.

This year, both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos have expressed a willingness to consider per diem system reforms along with legislative pay raises.

There’s talk lawmakers could return to Albany for a special session in December, though there have been no formal negotiations to speak of, and Cuomo hasn’t yet made clear what – if anything – he’s willing to trade legislative leaders in exchange for signing off on a pay raise.

Abuse of the per diem system has landed a number of state lawmakers in hot water over the years, the most recent of which is Assemblyman William Scarborough, a Queens Democrat who was arrested in October on charges he sought reimbursement for nonexistent travel expenses.

Schneiderman said last night that “it should be clear at this point that my office and other prosecutors are never going to turn a blind eye to these abuses any more.”

“I think you’re seeing more aggressive pursuit by the attorney generals office and other prosecutors of issues related to public corruption than you’ve ever seen before,” the AG said. “And that’s not going to stop until the culture changes.”

Stewart-Cousins Hopes For IDC Reunification

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins batted away a report on Thursday that Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference would enter into a long-term deal that could deny the mainline conference the majority after 2016.

“I understand why the Republicans would want that, but I can’t imagine that all of us who actually believe that A) elections matter and B) that when Democrats have the majority we should have the majority,” Stewart-Cousins said on The Capitol Pressroom this morning.

A source told Capital Tonight that one of the proposals being floated in the negotiations over Senate leadership would be to allow IDC Leader Jeff Klein to retain the power of co-president of the chamber, along with veto authority and a seat at the budget negotiation table.

At the same time, there would be a handshake agreement that the coalition continue through 2016, a presidential election year, and when Democrats are expected to make gains in New York.

Stewart-Cousins, however, insisted talks with Klein continue, even as he edged away from mainline Democrats before Election Day earlier this month.

“I rarely react to media reports,” she said. “I think people put things out and it becomes the kind of thing people discuss, but I don’t take things I hear and read at face value. I like to know the facts before I react.”

Stewart-Cousins added that she and Klein speak frequently and are continuing their talks. She is also holding out hope Klein will eventually align his five-member conference with the mainline Democrats.

“The conversation was always around us trying to find a path back. Obviously it would have been much easier if we had a numerical majority. It was well-stated we would have been working together then,” she said.

Republicans won a one-seat majority in the chamber on Election Day, and with Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder conferencing with them, do not need the IDC to retain full majority power in the Senate.

Senate-IDC Deal Floated With An Eye To 2016

A new power-sharing arrangement in the state Senate is being discussed that would last through the 2016 election cycle, giving Republicans a cushion against potential Democratic gains in a presidential election year.

The agreement, according to a source familiar with the discussions, would allow Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein to remain co-president of the chamber and include a handshake agreement that the coalition lasts through the 2016 elections.

The deal would allow Klein to retain the power to decide which bills come to the floor for a vote in the Senate and maintain his role in the state budget negotiations.

It has been widely speculated – and even publicly discussed by some current and former Senate GOP members – that Klein would have to give up some power now that the Republicans have won a clear 32-seat majority (plus the addition of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder).

But under this deal being floated, in exchange for allowing Klein to retain most or all of the power he currently enjoys, the Senate Republicans would gain the insurance of having the five-member IDC to fall back on two years from now, when a presidential election is expected to cause an uptick in Democratic turnout and potentially put the GOP back into a numerical minority.

A source stressed the talks remain fluid and that the final details of a new coalition agreement are yet to be hammered down.

A spokeswoman for Klein declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos.

Earlier this week, Skelos said after a closed-door meeting with the Republican conference at the Capitol there is a willingness among his members to continue the coalition with the IDC in some form.

“There was a consensus that we would like to keep the coalition going and I will be having discussions with Senator Klein on how we move forward,” he said.

The proposal has its pitfalls for both sides.

Liberals would no doubt once again seek to oust Klein and his members in party primaries – especially given the stakes of the coalition potentially continuing through the next election cycle – even as Democrats eye Hillary Clinton’s likely run for president delivering down-ballot gains for them.

The Republicans would have to trust Klein to keep his end of the bargain should they suffer losses in the next election that puts them in the minority.

Klein in June agreed to form a new power-sharing coalition with mainline Democrats, but that deal was contingent on the party gaining enough seats to form a majority in the Senate.

Klein has insisted that agreement only went into effect when and if the regular Democrats managed to win enough seats to control the chamber, which they failed to do on Election Day.

Under this new arrangement, mainline Democrats would have to either use their resources to primary the IDC (primary challenges to Klein and IDC Sen. Tony Avella of Queens both failed this year) or win enough seats to make the the breakaway conference irrelevant.

Klein’s chance of retaining power would allow him to once again be a Democratic voice in policy making, meaning he would have to deliver some tangible results in order to stave off opposition on the left.

After being elevated to the Senate co-presidency in the last two-year cycle, Klein was able to have the state’s minimum wage increased over a phased-in period.

Nevertheless, Klein has come under criticism from liberals and other advocacy organizations for the Senate’s failure to pass measures aimed at strengthening abortion rights, the DREAM Act and the full public financing of political campaigns.

Klein has countered that the votes aren’t there in the chamber for either bills to pass, even with the IDC’s support.

Republicans would have to convince their reluctant supporters on the right that they are playing a long game by again empowering a group of Democrats in chamber in what amounts to an insurance policy against falling back into the minority.

Ball Says He’s Moving To Texas Next Year

Retiring Republican Sen. Greg Ball plans to move to Texas at the beginning of the year as he forms his new consulting service.

“I think I may be one of the first in line on January 1 to get both a Texas drivers license and an AR-15,” Ball told me in a Capital Tonight interview that will air this evening.

Ball, first elected to the state Assembly in 2006, declined to run for a third term in the Senate. His Hudson Valley Senate district was a hold for Republicans after it was retained by Yorktown Councilman Terrence Murphy.

Speculation has grown for the last several months that Ball was planning a move to Texas at some point after leaving the state Senate.

Ball said in the interview he has ties to the state that date back to when he was teenager, but plans to have his consulting firm, Black Stone LLC, be available in both New York and the Lone Star State.

“We’ll stay involved in New York,” Ball said, noting that 2016 may be a difficult year for Republicans in New York given the likelihood Hillary Clinton will run for president. “I’m a fifth generation New Yorker.”

He added that Texas “offers a host of opportunities” and that moving there is the “fulfillment of a life-long dream.”

“If you look at my high school yearbook it says Texas here I come,” Ball said.

Ball would also not rule out running for elected office once again.

“I think politics is an illness,” Ball said. “It screws up your brain and there’s no vaccination and I think against all common sense I could find myself running for office again in the future. But I need to raise a family, I need to go make some money.”

The full interview airs this evening on Capital Tonight at 8 and 11:30.