State Senate

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.

Libous To Remain Deputy Leader

Sen. Tom Libous will remain the number two Republican in the Senate leadership despite health and legal problems.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said it was “absolutely not true” that Libous would be replaced.

“Senator Libous will remain as Deputy Majority Leader,” said the spokeswoman, Kelly Cummings.

Libous faces a charge of lying to federal investigators after being interview for a case involving his son receiving a job at a politically connected law firm.

Libous also is undergoing treatment for cancer, which resurfaced earlier this year.

As deputy leader of the conference, Libous has led the Republican floor debate, a role that he occasionally relinquishes during trips to the hospital.

Libous did step down from another key role: Chairman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, which was ultimately handed to Sen. Cathy Young.

Ball Launches Consulting Firm

From the Morning Memo:

Greg Ball leaves the state Senate next year, but judging by his next career move will want to stay in politics.

Ball on Monday announced the launching of Black Stone Global, a consulting firm, where he will be the CEO.

He’s also bringing along two of his staffers: Colin Schmitt will serve as president, while Joe Bachmeier, his communications director, will become head of marketing.

Judging by a news release this morning, Ball has high hopes for the company, which he says will “provide the best possible services to clients across the globe, whether a current CEO or a future president of the United States.”

“Using the skill sets that I have developed and perfected in public service, private business, and my military career, I decided to launch a truly innovative technology, political consulting, and marketing venture,” Ball said in a statement.

Indeed, the firm itself seems to play on Ball’s strengths as a campaigner. Black Stone will offer services that range from GOTV (getting out the vote), direct mail, crisis management and a specialization in winning Republican primaries.

Ball, a two-term state senator, first won his seat in the state Assembly by defeating a longtime incumbent, Will Stephens. He later defeated the preferred Republican candidate in a primary campaign for the state Senate.

Ball has had a colorful career in Albany, and naturally garnered his own level of controversy including feuds with Assemblyman Steve Katz, suggesting on Twitter the Boston marathon bombing suspect should be tortured and saying a dead goat found at his home was a warning from the gang MS-13.

Nevertheless, Ball does have an uncanny way of generating headlines and finding his way on television even if in the Senate he sought to temper his approach somewhat.

Ball’s Hudson Valley district was a Republican hold this month, with Terrence Murphy of Yorktown defeating Democrat Justin Wagner.

Tenney: NY Economy to Blame for Remington Layoffs, Not Just SAFE Act

From the morning memo:

Assemlywoman Claudia Tenney is expanding her thoughts on the 126 workers laid off at Remington Arms in Ilion earlier this week.

In a Capital Tonight interview Wednesday, Tenney criticized the Cuomo administration for “picking winners and losers and deciding which business are more meritorious than others.”

Tuesday, the Assemblywoman tweeted, verbatim, “Thanks Cuomo for killing NY manufacturing. 126 layoffs at Remington today.” Those layoffs add to the 105 workers who lost their jobs at the Herkimer County plant in August. This all came after Remington moved production of a few of its products to a site in Alabama.

At the time, many blamed Governor Cuomo’s gun control law for the layoffs, but Tenney says differently. While the SAFE Act may have played a role, she says it was the state’s economic policies that ultimately drove Remington to drop the workers.

“It’s the unfriendly workplace we have in New York, being ranked so low and having high taxes, a high regulatory burden,” Tenney said.

Tenney also said she’s been in contact with managers at the Ilion plant, who she says don’t expect any more layoffs through the end of this year.

Regardless of that bittersweet news, Tenney also said the layoffs may have been avoided if the state provided more economic incentives to the gun industry, like they have with solar power in Western New York.

“The governor is happy to spend billions and all the other incentives he put through this year,” Tenney said, “But yet this business has been around almost 200 years and is a wonderful business with great benefits, great opportunities for our community and has tradition here.”

Tenney went on to contrast the state’s investment in nanotechnology to the gun manufacturer’s layoffs.

“We’re hoping and praying that a company does come to the Utica area or Utica Nano and brings jobs with it,” Tenney said, “but right now we’ve put hundreds of millions into that center and we don’t have a job. But literally twenty minutes down the road is Remington Arms which has now laid off 126 people.”

As for a potential pay raise for state lawmakers, Tenney says she’s against the measure. In fact, she says she’d rather see the legislature take a pay cut and convene for only three months out of the year, citing how much money it would save the state.

“We don’t need to have full time career politicians working in the state Assembly.”

DREAM Act Could Be Part of Special Session, Assemblyman Says

From the Morning Memo:

With rumblings of a special session before new state lawmakers take office in January, the DREAM Act is one of many issues being kicked around as a possible bill to tackle.

That’s one way the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, Francisco Moya, says the legislation could be pushed through. The other way could be even trickier – including it in Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget.

Governor Cuomo has said repeatedly this year, both on the campaign trail and during his victory speech on election night, that the DREAM Act was a priority for his administration in the 2015 session.

Supporters say the governor’s support is a huge step forward for the education bill.

“What we saw during the campaign was a governor who really campaigned hard on the DREAM Act,” Assemlyman Francisco Moya said Wednesday night during an interview on Capital Tonight. “It no longer became a question of him supporting the DREAM Act, it became now that we’re going to pass the DREAM Act.”

The former question was a legitimate one until recently. For some issues, like same-sex marriage and gun control, the governor has extended his reach into the legislature to push those bills to his desk. But when it comes to the DREAM Act, the governor reportedly took no action to prevent its failure in the state senate earlier this year.

Despite that outcome, Moya says he’s confident the DREAM Act will be passed in 2015.

Part of that confidence comes from Lieutenant Governor Elect Kathy Hochul. Hochul, who was once outspokenly against issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, has now come out as a top frontrunner to push the DREAM Act through.

But there’s one problem. Come January, the state senate is in Republican control, the same party that did not offer one “yes” vote on the DREAM Act earlier this year.

That chamber still has to approve the budget once proposed. Either way, Moya says he and other lawmakers will be sitting down with the governor in the coming weeks to discuss the next steps for the DREAM Act, whether that includes the budget or not.

But Moya is clear: If a special session does happen, he’ll be pushing for the DREAM Act.

“I’d love to see a special session happen. I think we can accomplish a lot, not just the minimum wage,” Moya said. “I think this is an opportunity to make sure we can take up the DREAM Act and other issues that were left undone from last session.”

One option that’s floated around for those progressive issues is tying them to the proposed pay raise for state lawmakers. But, Moya isn’t confident that a pay raise is even on the table.

“I don’t know whether that’s going to happen or not.”

 

Senate Democrats Ding Republicans On ‘Affirmative Consent’

The election is over, but the Senate Democrats have not given up on accusing their Republican counterparts of being out of touch with the needs of New York women.

At issue this time is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to redefine “consent” for adjudicating sexual assault allegations on college campuses. The use of an “affirmative consent” standard, which requires passivity or the absence of the word “no” to be interpreted as a lack of consent to sexual activity, has been questioned by conservatives and libertarians both in New York and nationally.

At Cuomo’s urging, SUNY recently adopted a new sexual assault policy that includes affirmative consent, and the governor is expected to push for legislation in the 2015 session that would extend that to all campuses across the state.

Sen. Ken LaValle, a Long Island Republican who chairs the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, raised questions about affirmative consent during an interview with Capital’s Jessica Bakeman.

“(S)o, two people have sexual intercourse, and consent has been given,” the senator said. “Does that consent have to be given again? Is it a lifelong consent? Or is it consent on Friday? On Saturday, it has to be renewed? So there are a lot of questions here. And to those people who say it has to be ongoing, it’s not a practical matter to say in a half-an-hour event, that you have to give it five or six times along the way. It’s just not practical.”

Bakeman’s story sparked a quick response from Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, a Queens Democrat and the ranking minority member of the Higher Ed Committee.

“The Senate Republicans have once again proven that they are completely out of touch with the needs of New York’s women,” Stewart-Cousins said. It is offensive that they are questioning these common sense protections​. ​There has been an epidemic of sexual violence in this country that is truly disturbing and it is plaguing​ ​college campuses​.”

“​New York​ ​must lead the way on this important issue and ensure the safety and safeguard the rights of ​all​ our students.​”

Stavisky said the Legislature has a responsibility to address the issue of sexual assault on campus and protect female students in New York. She accused the Senate Republicans of “again putting their extremist views ahead of serving the public,” adding:

“The Senate Republicans should stop opposing common sense initiatives to combat sexual abuse and work with the Governor, State Assembly and the Senate Democratic Conference to ensure all New York students are safe and secure on college campuses.”

Women’s issues – particularly abortion rights – were a main focus of contested races that determined control of the Senate this past election cycle. Democrats – including Cuomo – hammered Republicans for refusing to pass the governor’s full 10-point Women’s Equality Act due to the presence of a controversial abortion rights plank, and Cuomo even created a new party (the Women’s Equality Party) to woo this key voting bloc.

Cuomo’s WEA does not specifically address sexual assault on college campuses, though it does have two provisions designed to crack down on domestic violence and one to combat human trafficking.

Koppell Criticizes Klein’s Plan To Stick With GOP

Former city Councilman Oliver Koppell, the Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein in the September primary, knocked the Bronx lawmaker’s desire to continue to work with Republicans in the state Senate.

“As a condition for support in the Primary from Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and the Working Families Party Jeffrey Klein issued a statement on June 25th conveying that the IDC would form a new coalition with State Senate Democrats to achieve unfinished ‘core Democratic policy initiatives.’ His candidacy in the Primary further emphasized his commitment to vote with mainstream Senate Democrats,” Koppell said in a statement. “Yet as soon as Republicans earned a State Senate majority with 32 seats on November 4th, Klein chased after their power and once again betrayed Democratic voters by offering to re-partner with Republicans.”

Klein told NY1′s Zack Fink in Puerto Rico that he hopes to continue his alliance in some form with the Senate Republicans.

However, with 33 votes on the Republican side of the Senate chamber, Klein’s power to decide which bills come to the floor for a vote and when appears unlikely to continue.

It’s more likely that Klein and the IDC will continue to have committee chairmanships, but not be empowered at the same level. This potentially gives the IDC some cover ending into the 2016 elections in which Democrats like Koppell could challenge them again in primaries.

Klein and the mainline conference in June agreed to form a new coalition in June following the legislative elections.

But with the majority falling to the Republicans, that agreement seems moot. And Klein himself edged away from the agreement on Monday, suggesting that the mainline conference members’ support for Koppell in the primary changed things (Klein himself bankrolled a primary challenge to mainline Sen. Tim Kennedy).