State Senate

De Blasio’s Friend In WNY

From the Morning Memo:

During a wide-ranging CapTon interview last night, Buffalo Sen. Marc Panepinto unleashed on the governor, saying he had “lined up with the Senate Republicans against the mayor of New York City” during the end of the 2015 session.

“Poor Mayor de Blasio,” Panepinto said. “There wasn’t one thing that the governor agreed with him on, even though they share a party affiliation.”

The senator’s comments echoed the mayor’s very public venting of his frustrations with the governor over the past six months, which included an accusation that the Senate Republicans were under Cuomo’s “control” when it came to thwarting NYC’s agenda.

Panepinto insisted he has a “great deal of respect for the governor, but he wants to rule the Democratic Party with an iron fist.”

“We’re a party of inclusion we’re a party of discussion…and it’s been my impression during my short time in state government that Governor Cuomo often doesn’t like those debates,” the senator said.

“I’ve been on the receiving end of some of those comments in private meetings, and I’m just hoping the governor learns from this legislative process that really we all are public servants..and there are other ideas that are also workable. His aren’t the only right ideas.”

The senator declined to elaborate on any private discussions he has had with the governor, though he did note that he’s a “labor guy” and an “economic populist” doesn’t believe Cuomo has “liked some of the things that I have to say.”

Panepinto was not endorsed by Cuomo last fall, and his victory against now-former GOP Sen. Mark Grisanti was one of the few bright spots for the Senate Democrats in their failed quest to re-take the majority – in which they received considerable assistance from de Blasio, but not much from the governor (despite his promises to the contrary).

Cuomo stayed out of the race because he felt he owed as much to Grisanti, the last of four GOP senators who voted “yes” on gay marriage to still be sitting in the chamber last fall. Grisanti ended up losing the GOP primary, and ran in the general election solely on the Independence Party line.

Grisanti has since been appointed by Cuomo, and confirmed by the Senate, to a judgeship.

“Senator Grisanti did very well,” Panepinto quipped. “He got an $84,000 raise, and he’s got a shorter commute right now…I think that was the governor paying him back…I don’t have a problem with the governor taking care of someone who was loyal to him.”

Gone, But Not Forgotten

From the Morning Memo:

The 2015 legislative is over and in the history books. For the moment, there appears to be little desire by state lawmakers in either the Senate or the Assembly to return to Albany later in the year, barring some sort of emergency.

But despite an end-of-session slate of bills passing that included needed extensions for rent control, the property tax cap, the 421a tax abatement and mayoral control of New York City schools, it’s likely unresolved policy questions will linger through the rest of the year.

For starters, there’s still the question of the 421a tax abatement and what changes will be made by January that both labor unions and developers can agree upon when it comes to the prevailing wage. If the question isn’t resolved in six months’ time, the abatement will expire.

In a more politically nettlesome area, there’s the minimum wage increase. A broader wage hike faltered during the session, despite a last-minute push from Gov. Andrew Cuomo with his allies in labor, the Hotel Trades Council.

Cuomo instead convened a wage board at the state Department of Labor to review potential changes to the minimum wage for workers in the fast-food industry, giving a nod to a growing campaign for better wages in that sector. Still, Cuomo himself has not embraced the campaign’s push for a $15 minimum wage. His proposal at the start of the year would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state.

New York’s minimum wage, now at $8.75, is due to increase at the end of the year to $9.

Whatever the wage board determines, advocates will likely be emboldened for a more expansive and larger wage hike in the future.

Senate Republicans have been in the past resistant to a minimum wage hike. Next year, however, is an election year and one that is due to be a politically difficult one for the GOP in New York with the White House on the line. Then-Sen. Nick Spano, a vulnerable Republican, carried a previous minimum wage increase bill as he faced a difficult re-election. It did him little good, however, when he was defeated by Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

And speaking of Senate Democrats, the rent control agreement could be revisited before it is due to expire. Stewart-Cousins told The Daily News that should the conference win a majority next year, the laws could be looked at for strengthening tenant protections before the 2019 sunset. The comment underscores the dissatisfaction among Democratic lawmakers in both chambers over the rent control agreement for not going far enough, especially when it comes to ending vacancy decontrol.

Finally, there’s the fall out from the negotiations themselves, in which Assembly Democrats viewed Cuomo as having ganged up with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan against their speaker, Carl Heastie.

Cuomo concluded the legislative session with few, if any, Democratic allies in the Senate or Assembly, making governing for the remainder of his second term all the more challenging.

Senate Holds Up de Blasio, Cuomo MTA Appointees

In yet another “screw you” to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Republican-controlled Senate departed Albany without acting on the mayor’s appointees to the MTA Board, multiple sources confirm.

De Blasio had three nominees pending with the Senate to serve on the state-run authority, which manages transit – buses, subways, trains, bridges and tunnels – in New York City and surrounding areas including, Long Island: David Jones, a leader with the nonprofit Community Service Society who has advocated reduced transit fares for low-income New Yorkers; Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the chamber’s Transportation Committee; and Veronica Vanterpool, director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and a member of the MTA’s “reinvention” commission.

The trio would bring some diversity to the Board. Jones is black, and Vanterpool and Rodriguez are Latino. The mayor’s decision to tap the councilman did raise some eyebrows, with questions about whether him doing double-duty as both a board member and chair of the committee that oversees the MTA would present a conflict of interest.

The mayor’s appointees were supposed to replace two holdovers from the Bloomberg administration – John Banks and Jeffrey Kay – and give de Blasio control of the four seats on the MTA Board that are afforded to City Hall.

A Senate spokesman said members of the majority are “performing our due diligence on the mayor’s selections.” He did not confirm or deny that the majority’s decision not to act on the mayor’s appointees was born of the Republicans’ ongoing anger with de Blasio for his failed effort to assist the Senate Democrats in taking back the majority during last year’s elections. The bad blood between the conference and the mayor (not to mention the difficult relationship between Cuomo and the mayor) made this an unusually difficult session for de Blasio in Albany.

The Senate did not hold up everything having to do with the MTA, which is always a bit of a sticky wicket – especially for the downstate members – due to its long-running financial issues. (The authority a $14 billion funding gap in its five-year capital plan, which Albany did not address before the session ended).

MTA Chairman Tom Predergast was confirmed earlier this week for a new six-year term. During his confirmation hearing, he warned that if lawmakers don’t do something about the capital plan gap by the end of the year, the agency might have to delay contracts for some projects.

The Senate also confirmed one of Cuomo’s two MTA Board nominees – Larry Schwartz, a former top aide to the governor who is now working in the private sector for an airport services company called OTG Management, to replace Republican Andrew Saul. Schwartz could not travel to Albany to attend his confirmation hearing in person, and so participated via video conference.

Cuomo’s other nominee, Peter Ward, president of the small (but growing in both numbers and clout) New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council. Ward was supposed to replace Allen Cappelli, a Democratic operative from Staten Island who was selected to serve on the board by former Gov. David Paterson in 2008.

News of Cuomo’s decision not to reappoint Cappelli, who has demonstrated an independent streak during his time on the board, angered both Staten Islanders and transit advocates. Cappelli himself expressed disappointment about his imminent removal.

The Senate could not immediately provide an answer as to why Ward was not confirmed, but Schwartz was. (I’m told a few other gubernatorial appointees were also held up due to the fact that they could not appear in person before the Health Committee, as desired by its chairman, Sen. Kemp Hannon). Sen. Diane Savino, an IDC member from Staten Island, said she had not pushed for the delay, saying she believes the “clock just ran down.”

Cappelli said he has no idea why he was spared – at least in the short term – and believes he will continue to serve on the board until the Senate confirms a replacement. At the moment, lawmakers have no plans to return to Albany before next year’s session, which begins in January.

“At least I can continue to serve and fight for capital projects and service enhancements for a period of time,” Cappelli said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Assembly Passes Big Ugly, Legislature Adjourns

Lawmakers have left the state capitol after members from both chambers overwhelmingly supported a final agreement between Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders.

The Senate approved the measure earlier in the night, followed by the Assembly just before midnight in a vote of 122 – 13.

A handful of Republicans and at least one Democrat opposed the final measure. Assemblyman Charles Barron said the agreement doesn’t guarantee enough protections for tenants in New York City.

“Rent protections, not there I don’t think, 421-a program should’ve been scrapped,” Barron said on the Assembly floor. “When I look at this bill I am disappointed – and I know you think in negotiations you go as far as you think. We can talk about the Republican senate, the governor. To me, the governor is a disgrace to this state.”

Others, including those in the minority looked to the cost-saving measures for taxpayers as a positive.

“For me, the fact that we are able to extend the property tax cap, that we are providing some relief to our property tax payers despite the fact we could’ve done so much more with significant mandate relief,” Assemblyman Bob Oaks said on the floor. “My choice tonight is going to be voting in the positive.”

The final vote marks the end of this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers are due back in January.

In his closing remarks, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that while the past few months have been a challenge, the outcome was worth it.

“After this session our families are stronger, our schools are stronger, and our communities are stronger.” Heastie said. “It truly is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the women and men on both sides of the aisle.”

Heastie’s counterpart in the Republican-led Senate had much of the same to say. In his closing, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan touched on his working relationship with Governor Cuomo since he assumed the leadership role just last month.

“We have had a tumultuous couple of weeks for sure but at the end of the day we worked closely together, we worked well together, certainly disagreements,” Flanagan said. “He is tenacious, as he will often tell people, and I look forward to working with him again.”

On Heastie, Flanagan had no complaints.

“Carl Heastie’s a good guy, he’s a gentlemen,” Flanagan said. “He’s a fair broker, he certainly was very passionate on issues like rent and certainly issues involving the city of New York. He has been good to work with, plain and simple.”

Flanagan pointed to a few of the chamber’s major victories, like the historic increase in education aid included in this year’s budget, along with movement on the Women’s Equality Agenda.

“The log-jam on that broke,” Flanagan said. “We passed all the bills and we got a lot of cooperation from the Assembly.”

Flanagan even hinted at an issue he’s planning to make a priority in the Senate next year: organ donation.

“We are 50th in the country, which is abysmal,” Flanagan said. “For as progressive of a state as we are, and the things that we advocate I find it reprehensible that we are not better at that subject matter, at that issue, and I would hope that my colleagues would think about that very seriously.”

For now, lawmakers will return to their districts more than a week after the legislative session was originally scheduled to end.

In the final days of session, lawmakers were able to tackle key issues like rent control, education reform, and an extension to the state’s property tax cap. But others didn’t make the final cut, including the governor’s education tax credit, a hike in the state’s minimum wage, and an agreement on pension forfeiture.

Whether lawmakers will take any significant action on those issues next year is unclear – members from both chambers are up for re-election the following November.


Big Ugly Passes Senate

The Senate passed a final deal between legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo Thursday night, 47 – 12.

Only a handful of Senators spoke on the bill while it was on the floor. Debate was not held.

The handful of Democrats who voted against the final deal did so for a host of reasons. Senator Gustavo Rivera said reforms to rent regulations and the 421-a tax abatement program don’t go far enough.

“We did tweak it a little bit,” Rivera said on the floor, “but there’s still hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers that will not have a home.”

At least one Senator called for an end to 421-a, but Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein disagreed.

“We would not have build thousands and thousands of affordable units of housing in the city of New York if we didn’t have the 421-a program,” Klein said.

Klein says the reforms included in the final agreement help strengthen the program moving forward.

“I think it is a major, major improvement,” Klein said. “By and large, almost every piece of [Mayor Bill de Blasio’s] plan of improving 421-a is in this legislation.”

What’s not included in the bill is a long-term extender of mayoral control for New York City schools.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said during a press conference Thursday that a one-year extension was included to give lawmakers more time to take a closer look at mayoral control. But Senator Brad Hoylman was skeptical.

“Are we just showing the mayor of the city of New York who’s boss?” Hoylman said. “I don’t think anyone here would argue a one-year extender is a good policy.”

Senator Daniel Squadron also took the opportunity to point the finger at Senate Republicans on rent reform, saying the conference of mostly upstate and suburban members shouldn’t be calling the shots for an issue centered around residents in New York City.

“The real concern that I have on this is my colleagues who don’t represent very many or any rent regulated apartments who seem so bent on getting rid of rent regulations,” Squadron said. “Just leave us be – on behalf of 2.5 million New Yorkers.”

The Assembly is also expected to vote on the final deal at some point Thursday night, but without the bill on the floor its unclear when that will happen.

Big Ugly Done, Assembly Set to Vote

The Assembly is set to vote on a final agreement to end this year’s legislative session.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie emerged from a mid-morning conference Thursday to say they’re ready to vote on the final deal.

“The conference is very happy to move forward with the agreement,” Heastie said.

The outstanding issues will all be included in one, final bill. In Albany speak, that’s typically referred to as a Big Ugly.

Speaker Heastie says the final sticking points have been resolved among members and the Republican-led Senate since yesterday.

We’re also learning new details about both the final agreement on the state’s property tax cap and rent regulations.

The tax cap will be a statewide rebate program. According to the Speaker, it’s not quite a circuit-breaker, but a hybrid of sorts.

The first year, all eligible property owners will receive a rebate check. For the following three years, it will be based on a combination of the homeowner’s income and property values.

The program is capped for households earning $275,000 annually, and will be linked to the STAR rebate tax program.

The four-year extension of the state’s rent control laws will also include an increased threshold of vacancy decontrol to $2,700 with indexing.

Democrats were seeking an all-out end to vacancy decontrol this year, but Heastie says the Republican-led Senate wouldn’t budge on their position.

“We would have loved to adopt into law the bill we passed but the Republican Senate has a total opposite view when it comes to rent regulations,” Heastie said. “They’d like to see more units leave. So until the political realities change, we have to live in those realities.”

For the city’s decades-old tax abatement program for developers, 421-a will see a four-year extension if the real estate industry and labor come to an agreement over wages for construction workers involved in those projects.

Heastie says despite the turmoil that’s developed in the last few months here at the state capitol, lawmakers are ending on a good note.

“I still feel very happy and privileged with the opportunity my colleagues have given me and I think it was a very successful session.”

Trying Again On A Final Deal

From the Morning Memo:

The framework is there, but the meat of the deal being added to its bones is another issue.

A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo sat with the top legislative leaders to announce a framework, end-of-session agreement “in concept,” state lawmakers took those caveats to heart.

“See, it wasn’t a deal yesterday, it was a framework, because there are still some outstanding issues,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “There were some items that weren’t settled. It was really about letting people have an idea about what items will be discussed if at the point we reach a final deal. There’s still a lot of outstanding issues on each of the items.”

Assembly Democrats, in particular, insisted the agreement was not yet locked down as rank-and-file members try to exact some last-minute changes.

Both the Senate and Assembly adjourned on Wednesday night without coming to a conclusive end to the legislative session and without bill language being printed.

One Senate Republican, John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, said it was just a matter of the specific language being haggled over at the final moments.

But lawmakers and their staff certainly seemed prepared last night for an extended session. Just as the Senate adjourned, dinner arrived for lawmakers and staff.

The unfinished business in the Big Ugly underscores the deep dissatisfaction among Assembly Democrats — mainly from New York City — over the agreement reached on extending rent control laws for New York City.

“Well, we’re still contemplating whether we can make some tweaks in the bill and so forth,” said Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, a Brooklyn Democrat. “The big thing for me, obviously, is the rent laws.”

The tentative framework, in addition to rent control’s extension, included a $1.3 billion property tax rebate program, a 12-month extension of mayoral control for New York City schools and a re-approval of the state’s cap on property tax increases.

Democrats on Wednesday afternoon were still holding out hope that Heastie would be able to improve the finer points of the agreement, such as raising the threshold limit in vacancy decontrol to $3,000.

“We are counting on the speaker to do everything that he can to deliver,” said Assemblyman N. Nick Perry. “I’m sure he’s mindful of that.”

Heastie himself offered no predictions to reporters on when the deal would officially set in stone, pencils would be put down and bills printed.

The speaker was seen on Wednesday night leaving Cuomo’s office by an alternative exit to avoid reporters. Later, while walking quickly back to his office, Heastie said no deal was reached.

“Nothing’s closed down,” he said.

‘We Took One Step’ On Raise The Age

From the Morning Memo:

A key reform for the state’s juvenile justice system won’t go before the state Legislature. An effort to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York faltered, and now Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to go it alone with an executive order.

“Yes, we took one step, but we’re not going to quit until we reach the ultimate goal, and that’s to raise the age,” said Assemblyman Michael Blake, a Bronx Democrat.

Cuomo’s executive order will move 16 and 17-year-old inmates out of adult prisons and into alternative facilities after a larger agreement could not be reached on moving their cases to family court.

“New York should not have the distinction where we are only one of two states still having our young people in these criminal facilities,” Blake said. “We have to actually give them the chance.”

The agreement in part couldn’t be reached on Republican and Democratic lawmakers parting ways on how to shift cases involving teenagers to a different court system.

“Fundamentally you had some Senate Republicans who made it a conscience decision that sending these kids to family court was not the option, not the route,” Blake said.

For his part, Cuomo says the issue fell victim both to complications and the lack of time left in the legislative session, which has been extended more than week due to disagreements on an array of issues.

“It’s more a question of complication and time and details,” he said. “The raise the age — we made a lot of good progress. We didn’t get there.”

But some Republican lawmakers don’t want to give up on the raise the age issue. Senator Patrick Gallivan says the criminal justice and prison system should be studied for changes for how it impacts young people.

“It’s appropriate we continue the conversation,” said Sen. Pat Gallivan. “I don’t know that anybody can make the argument that we provide sufficient programming and rehabilitation services for 16 and 17-year-olds and ultimately all of the people who are going to return to society.”

DeFran Says Details Are Being Smoothed Over

Syracuse Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco on Wednesday said it’s impossible to know when the bill language on this week’s “framework” agreement will be ready to be voted on by state lawmakers.

But he differed from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who earlier in the day said negotiations continue on a number of key end-of-session issues such as rent control and the 421-a tax abateemtn.

“It’s just a question of all the little details,” DeFrancisco said. “Once you put them in paper and try to read them, sometimes what people think what’s in a bill is different than what’s printed. Now it’s just a matter of reconciling it. When they’re reconciled and when they’re ready they’re going to be voted.”

The agreement reached on Tuesday provides for a four-year extension of rent control for New York City as well as an extension of the state’s cap on property tax increases, albeit with some adjustments to allow for growth in PILOTs and BOCES capital expenses.

Heastie told reporters during the day the final agreement was not reached just yet, despite the announcement of a framework deal.

Bill language could come as early as tonight, even as those details are still be ironed out.

Lawmakers at the Capitol during the afternoon said they expected to vote on the measures Thursday, though Heastie indicated he had not told members whether they will stay in Albany through the rest of the week.

“You know how those damn lawyers are,” DeFrancisco said. “Me being one, I can say it.”

De Blasio’s No Good, Very Bad Session

From the Morning Memo:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will have to return to the Capitol next year to once again lobbying his political bete noirs, the Senate Republicans, for mayoral control of city schools.

The 12-month extension, which was coupled with a strengthening of charter schools in the city and statewide through keeping their numbers in an available pool, was agreed to after the mayor sought a permanent program.

His immediate predecessor, the independently wealthy and political benefactor of the Senate GOP Michael Bloomberg, had received a seven-year extension when mayoral control was last up for renewal.

But de Blasio in 2014 bet on the wrong horse in the legislative elections last year, actively seeking to help flip the Senate to Democratic control.

Earlier this month, the mayor traveled to Albany to personally lobby on the mayoral control issue. He came away visibly frustrated with the lack secure commitments from lawmakers.

Now de Blasio will need Senate Republicans to back mayoral control the same year their thin-majority is once again on the line in a presidential election year that tends to draw out more Democrats.

The mayor — whose sights lately have been on national issues — may not necessarily be sidelined from the 2016 elections in the state Legislature. At the same time, Senate Republicans could very well lose the majority due to the simple math of a tide of Democratic voters.

The paltry extension was also backed by de Blasio’s political frenemy Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who only 13 months ago received a boost from the mayor in order to receive the endorsement of the Working Families Party.

Cuomo, at a news conference, said the 12-month extension was the best that could be done.