State Senate

Source: Senate Cancels Tuesday Session

The state Senate will cancel its regularly scheduled session day on Tuesday as a blizzard bares down on much of the downstate region, a source confirmed.

Meanwhile, the regularly scheduled start time for today’s session activity in the chamber was moved to 1 p.m.

Tuesday was supposed to be a very busy day in Albany, with the start of the joint legislative budget hearings.

Local elected officials from around the state were due to testify at the hearing on the local government portion of the spending plan.

Commonly known in Albany parlance as the “Tin Cup Brigade” the hearing was expected to draw mayors like Bill de Blasio, who is currently contending with the impending snow.

It’s unclear whether that budget hearing, along with hearings examining the environmental conservation and transportation components of the budget that are scheduled for later this week, will be held.

For now, the state Assembly, currently rocked by the five-count corruption charges being leveled at Speaker Sheldon Silver, is due to hold its closed-door Democratic conference at 1:45 this afternoon.

IDC Keeps Committee Chairs, O’Mara To Chair EnCon, Griffo To Energy

Members of the Independent Democratic Conference will continue to hold some committee chairs despite the numerical majority held by Senate Republicans in the chamber.

Sen. Diane Savino will be chairwoman of the Banks Committee, Sen. Tony Avella will hold the gavel for the Senate’s Ethics panel and Sen. David Carlucci will be chairman of the Social Services Committee.

Sen. David Valesky will hold a vice chairmanship of the Senate Health Committee, while Avella will also be vice chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee.

“These assignments demonstrate once again the breadth and depth of our conference and the knowledge, passion and expertise that each our members brings to public service,” IDC Leader Jeff Klein said in a statement. “In these new roles, the IDC will continue to serve as a strong, sensible, force for governing in the New York State Senate and most importantly continue to have a positive impact on the lives of thousands more New Yorkers and their families.”

Under the new Senate rules agreed to this month, Klein is no longer the Senate co-president and lost the power to veto which bills come to the floor for a vote.

Still, Republicans are working to keep Klein and his breakaway conference close to the fold in the event their votes are needed.

On the GOP side, Sen. Joe Griffo will take over the Senate Energy committee’s gavel, a job previously held by retired former Sen. George Maziarz. Griffo will also take over Maziarz’s spot as chair of the Senate’s select committe on state and Native American relations.

Sen. Tom O’Mara, a Southern Tier lawmaker and proponent of hydrofracking, will chair the Environmental Conservation Committee, which became open after Sen. Mark Grisanti lost his race against Democrat Marc Panepinto.

Funke: All Regions Of the State Must Benefit From Budget

Delivering the response for the Senate Republicans, freshman Sen. Rich Funke, of Rochester, took swipes at two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top policy initiatives – the $1.5 billion upstate economic development competition and the $1.66 billion property tax relief plan – saying his conference wants to make sure all regions of the state benefit equally from the 2-15-16 budget.

Property taxes should be cut “for every middle-income taxpayer in every region of the state, Funke said, adding: “And let’s do it this year.” (He did not mention the 2 percent property tax cap, which sunsets in 2016 and is expected to be tied to the NYC housing laws, which expire at the end of this coming June).

Cuomo has proposed an income-based circuit breaker tax relief plan that is tied to the property tax cap and would provide relief to only some New Yorkers. Singles and seniors are expected to fare the best under his plan, while double-income families might earn just a bit too much to qualify. Only those whose property tax bill is higher than their annual federally adjusted income and make less than $250,000 – about half the state’s homeowners – would be eligible.

Funke also made it clear that the Legislature “should and will” have a role in determining how to spent the $5 billion windfall realized by the state through financial industry settlements over the past year. Cuomo has already suggested using $1.5 billion of that money for an upstate economic development fund in which seven regions would compete, but only three would win up to $500 million.

“It’s essential that every region in this state benefit from this budget so there aren’t any winners and losers from one region to the next,” Funke said. “Five billion presents us with a unique opportunity to boost the entire state. Let’s do it right.”

Cuomo also wants to use $1.3 billion of the settlement funds to prevent any toll hikes on the Thruway. Funke didn’t address that specific proposal, but he did say the Senate Republicans want the settlement cash to be invested in “modernizing” the state’s infrastructure – “roads and bridges, sewer and water systems, projects that are geared toward real economic development.”

Funke expressed the Senate Republicans’ desire to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to deliver the fifth on-time state budget in a row. He noted that despite winning an “outright majority,” the Senate GOP is continuing its “historic coalition” with the IDC, though he did not mention that the terms of that relationship have been modified to provide the breakaway Democrats with less power than they used to have.

Also in his response, Funke noted that the Senate GOP has passed the bulk of the Women’s Equality Agenda. He urged the Assembly Democrats to follow suit because “the women of this state have already waited too long,” adding:

“Let’s show the nation that in New York real progress on women’s health and women’s equality always trumps partisan politics and not the other way around.”

On education, Funke reiterated the Senate Republicans’ main goal of fully eliminating the gap elimination “adjustment scheme” that was implemented during a fiscal crisis by former Gov. David Paterson. He also said that every child in New York should be provided with a “first-class education and the opportunity that goes with it.”

On public safety, Funke said the GOP conference will soon be holding hearings and want to “do everything possible to protect police officers that protect us.” He didn’t address the various criminal justice reform proposals that have been floated since a Staten Island grand jury declined to bring charges against an NYPD officer in connection with the chokelhold death of Eric Garner.

Funke, a former TV broadcaster, turned in a polished performance during the seven-minute response, which was recorded prior to the governor’s combined State of the State and budget address (AKA: the 2015 Opportunity Agenda). He was clearly tapped by the GOP in part due to his experience in front of the camera, as well as to highlight one of the new faces in the majority conference. (He ousted former Democratic Sen. Ted O’Brien in the November elections).

Senate To Vote On Education Tax Credit

The state Senate today will vote on a bill that would provide a tax credit for donations to aid public and private schools.

The vote comes the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to back both the tax credit legislation as well as the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

The education tax credit bill is one that’s been lobbied for heavily by the Catholic Church, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who conferences with the Republicans in the Senate and chairs a subcommittee on New York City education issues, also has pushed for the bill given that it would shore up schools that serve the Jewish community.

The measure would provide tax credits for donations to non-profit scholarship finds that aid students in attending private schools, donations to public schools and help teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies.

Democrats in the Assembly have generally resisted the education tax credit as has the state’s teachers unions, who fear it could be a back-door form of creating a voucher program and hurt public education.

Linking both the DREAM Act — a measure supported by liberals in the Legislature — with the education tax credit has been floated in the Capitol in recent budget negotiations, but lawmakers have insisted the two should be kept as separate issues.

Musical Committee Chairs

From the Morning Memo:

The 2015 legislative session is more or less underway, and has been for several weeks now. But a number of high-profile committee chairs remain vacant in both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly.

Spokesmen for both the Senate and Assembly majorities said the news on who is filling theses posts will come in the near future.

In the Senate, the announcement will come either this week or next.

Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — who ultimately makes the decision who gets which post — said the chair and leadership positions will be a decision that’s made “soon.”

Having a committee chairmanship in Albany is no small thing: The job does come with more work, but it also comes with a higher profile, more attention from lobbyists and journalists and offers an opportunity to shape policy.

And the “lulu” (Albanyspeak for stipend) these leadership posts and committee chairmanships carry would be a boost for lawmakers who haven’t seen a pay raise since January 1999.

In the state Assembly, a number of plumb leadership positions are up for grabs following the departure of several senior members.

Joan Millman relinquished the gavel at the Assembly Aging Committee, and Robert Sweeney, the longtime Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee chair, has also departed.

Should either of those posts go to a lawmaker with an existing committee or leadership position, then another assignment will have to be made, potentially with younger members who are yet to enter the leadership structure in the chamber.

This process is generally referred to at the Capitol as “churn.”

There’s a more complicated situation in the Senate, where the five-member IDC holds several committee chairmanships, including Social Services (Sen. Tony Avella), Labor (Sen. Diane Savino), Mental Health (Sen. David Carlucci) and Aging (Sen. David Valesky).

It remains unclear whether the IDC will keep their gavels after Republicans gained a clear majority in the chamber.

Departures in the Senate on the Republican side also free up some space on the leadership ladder.

Newly elected Rep. Lee Zeldin was the chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee. George Maziarz, who chose to not run for re-election as he faces a federal investigation, was chairman of the Energy and Telecommunications Committee. Maziarz also led the select committee on State-Native American Relations.

Technically, one committee chair has been filled: Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will contiue to chair the all-powerful Senate Rules Committee.

And before he was even elected, freshman Long Island Sen. Tom Croci was promised the chairmanship of the Senate’s Homeland Security panel, replacing former Sen. Greg Ball, who moved to Texas.

Bill Would Explore Thruway And Bridge Authorities Merger

State lawmakers may study the potential merger of the state Thruway Authority into the Bridge Authority should a bill backed by Sen. David Carlucci be approved.

The legislation comes as the Thruway Authority faces a $36 million budget gap and as toll hikes may be possible system wide.

Capital first reported on the potential to merge the Thruway Authority, which oversees a network of more than 500 miles of roads, with the Bridge Authority, which manages five bridges in the Hudson Valley.

“Ninety-five percent of the Thruway Authority’s revenue comes from tolls,” Carlucci said in a statement. “The hard working people of Westchester and Rockland County deserve to know how their money is being spent, and what we can do to cut costs. This study will find the answers our community deserves, because it’s obvious we can’t keep bleeding them dry.”

Under the plan Carlucci’s proposing, the authorities would be required to explore ways of sharing and consolidating services in order to reduce costs with the main goal of eventually streamlining its functions.

After six months of the legislation taking effect, the authorities would be required to issue a joint report detailing how much money could saved and what services could be merged into a single entity.

Siena: Cuomo’s Numbers Up Heading Into SoS/Budget

One day before of his combined State of the State and budget address, a new Siena pol finds Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s standing with voters has improved slightly since last month and is now at its highest level since last July.

The governor’s favorable/unfavorable rating is 60-35, up a bit from 58-37 last month – just a few weeks after his re-election to a second four-year term in November. Cuomo’s job performance rating remains negative, 47-51, but has improved slightly from 42-57 in December.

Delving deeper into the latest numbers, Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said Cuomo is viewed favorably by more than three-quarters of Democrats and New York City voters and favorably by independents and downstate suburbanites. Upstate voters are evenly divided and Republicans are decidedly unfavorable in their views of the Democratic governor.

Even a majority of voters who view the current governor negatively have a favorable view of his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died on New Year’s Day, just hours after his son delivered his first of two inauguration speeches. Seventy-six percent of New Yorkers said they a favorable view of the first Gov. Cuomo, compared to just 14 percent who view him unfavorably.

At least 40 percent of those polled statewide believe education and jobs should be one of Cuomo’s top two priorities for the 2015 session. Those are definitely make the top of the to-do list for Democrats, while it’s taxes and jobs for Republicans and suburbanites and upstaters favoring all three.

New Yorkers gave a negative rating to public schools across the state when it comes to preparing students to be college or career ready, and they’re evenly divided on their local schools. Not surprisingly, there’s a regional divide on this issue, too, Greenberg noted, explaining;

“Majorities of downstate suburban and upstate voters say their local public schools are doing an excellent or good job of preparing students to be college or career ready, however, twice as many New York City voters say their local public schools are doing a fair or poor job of preparing students, not a good or excellent job.”

By a 15-point margin – and just shy of the magic 50 percent mark – voters say the implementation of the Common Core standards should be stopped. They also trust the state Education Department and the Board of Regents more than Cuomo of the Legislature when it comes to setting education policy, even though it was SED and the Regents that botched the Common Core implementation, causing widespread consternation in recent years.

Greenberg said 38 percent of voters trust SED the most to set education policy, followed by 23 percent who trust the Regents most, 18 percent who trust Cuomo, and eight percent who trust the Legislature.

Cuomo is widely expected to make education reform a main focus of his speech tomorrow. He’s been discussing the need for broad changes to the public education system – including giving the governor more control over setting policy – since before the November elections.

Seventy percent of voters support the idea of continuing the 2 percent property tax cap, and support cuts across both regional and party lines. Support is weakest in New York City (63 percent) and strongest among Republicans (79 percent).

New Yorkers remain unimpressed with the Senate and Assembly as government bodies, with the lower chamber’s favorable/unfavorable rating at 42-41, and the upper house at 45-44.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s negatives – 37 percent – outweigh his positives – 21 percent – with 42 percent of New Yorkers having no clue who the Manhattan Democrat is, despite the fact that he’s the longest-serving legislative leader in Albany.

As for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, his split is: 13-18, with 68 percent saying they don’t know enough about the Long Island Republican to have an opinion about him.

Siena poll, 1/20/15 by liz_benjamin6490

Funke To Deliver Republican Rebuttal To Cuomo

Newly elected Sen. Rich Funke will deliver the Republican response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address and budget presentation, the GOP conference on Monday announced.

Funke is comfortable in front of the camera, given that he’s a well-known former television anchor in the Rochester TV market.

“Rich Funke and the entire freshman class were instrumental in returning Republicans to the majority in the State Senate, and they will play a key role in helping us implement an agenda that cuts taxes, encourages the private sector to create new jobs and improves the lives of hardworking New Yorkers. We’re pleased that Rich will be delivering the Senate Republican message to the people of this state,” Senate Majority Leader Skelos said in a statement.

Funke, who represents the 55th Senate district, unseated Democratic former Sen. Ted O’Brien in November, one of three GOP gains in upstate Senate races the firmly put the chamber under Republican control.

Cuomo delivers his joint budget presentation and State of the State address on Wednesday.

IDC Agenda: Local Control For Minimum Wage, Paid Family Leave

Local control of increasing the state’s minimum wage, school construction and paid family leave measures are part of the 2015 legislative agenda for the Senate Independent Democratic Conference.

The agenda, released Monday morning by the five-member conference, has some overlap with what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed in the last several days, which has included student loan relief and minimum wage measures.

Under the IDC plan, local governments would be allowed to raise the minimum wage on their own up to 30 percent of the current minimum wage, $8.75.

With the wage due to increase to $9 by the end of this year, the wage could be as high as $11.70.

Cuomo on Sunday unveiled an alternative to the state-level formula proposal, essentially providing for a two-tiered minimum wage of $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere by 2016.

The IDC has a student debt-relief plan of their own, with this proposal centering on grants of up to $2,000 per individual as well as a state tax deduction for interest paid on an undergraduate loan.

The IDC also backs a paid-family leave program that would allow workers to claim a weekly benefit for up to six weeks over a 12-month period.

The benefit would be equal to half of their weekly wage in order to care for a new child or a sick loved one. IDC Sen. Tony Avell’a proposal aimed at giving families increased flexibility to allow workers to accrue sick-time benefits in order to care for a loved one is also part of the agenda.

The IDC wants to create a $400 million construction trust fund for schools, a proposal that comes after voters approved $2 billion in borrowing that’s aimed at school infrastructure and technology spending.

There are additional prposals aimed at shoring up the state’s agriculture program, strengthening the Mitchell-Lama housing program, as well as tax credits aimed at seniors and middle-income workers who have dependents.

The IDC’s clout is coming into question this year in the Senate, where Republicans have gained a numerical majority in the chamber, their first since the end of 2012.

IDC Leader Jeff Klein, a Bronx lawmaker, is no longer the co-president of the Senate and has lost the power of being able to veto which bills come to the floor for a vote.

Instead, the Senate rules give Klein and his conference the power of “consultation” in the Senate.

Nevertheless, the Senate Republicans have a relatively thin majority and want to keep Klein and company close. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has insisted there is little change in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Maziarz Spends Campaign Cash On Legal Fees

Republican former Sen. George Maziarz has spent at least $74,878 from his campaign account on legal fees over the last six months, a filing with the state Board of Elections shows.

Maziarz in July announced he was not running for re-election to the Senate seat he had held since since 1995 amid reports he was being investigated over the use of his campaign funds by the U.S. attorney’s office as well as the departure of his top aides.

Maziarz at the time insisted the federal probe had nothing to do with his decision to retire from office.

The filing shows Maziarz has used campaign money on legal fees beginning Aug. 15, when he made a $23,288 to attorney Joseph Latona. Additional payments were made in the weeks after to the law firms of Connors & Vilardo and Schlam, Stone & Dolan.

Maziarz during his time in office was a deeply influential lawmaker from western New York. His district was kept in the Republican column after the election of Robert Ortt to the Senate.