State Senate

Senate Dems Unveil Budget Priorities

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Democrats on Tuesday will release a package of budget priorities for the 2017-18 spending plan due at the end of the month backing measures ranging from boosting funding for services to the homeless, ride hailing upstate and a college affordability plan.

The proposals come as the majority conferences in the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly are releasing their one-house budget resolutions.

Senate Democrats back plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, want to see a package of ethics measures approved, and restore funding for elementary and secondary schools.

Meanwhile, the conference wants to see the MTA receive full funding and skirt budgetary “sweeps” of its finances.

“The State Budget should be more than a fiscal document, it is also an opportunity for us to enact real reforms and protections against Donald Trump’s agenda,” Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “New Yorkers deserve better than a budget full of half-measures, fake reforms, and inadequate action on the issues facing our communities. The Senate Democratic proposals will provide New Yorkers with the progressive action and economic development they deserve.”

The proposals were praised by labor officials and by the union-aligned Working Families Party.

“We applaud the Senate Democrats for standing up for a more progressive budget that gets to the heart of what New Yorkers really need, including worker protections and good jobs, affordable housing, quality public education and access to quality health care. They are priorities for working families and should be the priorities in Albany as well.”

Senate GOP: $45M For Direct Care

Senate Republicans will include $45 million in funding for direct care workers in their one-house budget resolution, the conference on Monday announced.

The conference is responding to an ongoing push from direct care workers and a coalition of organizations that provide support to the state’s vulnerable population.

“Thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities and their families rely on direct care professionals each day to handle basic necessities, as well as life-saving tasks,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “We owe it to those employees to provide the resources necessary to earn the fair wage they deserve so that qualified, compassionate individuals will continue to perform this vital and rewarding work.”

The coalition, known as bFair2DirectCare, was disappointed in January when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion spending plan did not include the funding, which aims to provide adjusted salaries for those who provide services to the developmentally disabled, including people with autism, serious brain injury, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome.

Albany Assesses A Post-Bharara World

The eight years of Preet Bharara’s tenure as U.S. attorney changed Albany, ousting lawmakers convicted of corruption and peeling back the unsavory workings of state government.

“Probably no one in the past generation has had as much an impact on the way Albany does its business than Preet Bharara,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Bharara on Saturday said he was fired by the Trump administration as the Justice Department removed the final 46 Obama-era federal prosecutors. But Bharara’s departure was national news in part for the prominent, headline-generating post he held, targeting Albany dealmakers like Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver, shaking the Capitol to its core in the process.

“I think he has had a really significant impact in the sense he has surfaced the real problems that we have,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York.

In Albany on Monday, some state lawmakers were disappointed to see Bharara leave, worried some of this more prominent and ongoing corruption cases may fall by the wayside.

“He is right now in the midst of a really important investigation in Buffalo, with the Buffalo Billion, and I would love to have seen him follow through on that,” said Assemblyman Mickey Kearns, a Democrat from the Buffalo area.

Others, however, were skeptical he would be able to transition from running the Southern District to becoming an elected politician as has been speculated, questioning whether he’d have the statewide base to do so.

Bharara has denied an interesting in becoming an elected official.

“It’s a separate thing being a public servant in terms of doing budgets and constituent work,” said Sen. Jim Tedisco, a Republican from the Capital Region, who as a member of the Assembly tangled infamously with Eliot Spitzer, a governor who failed to overcome the hard-charging attitude he carried as the state’s popular attorney general. “I think he’s great what does. He’d probably make a great judge, I’m not sure he’d make a great governor.”

Speaker Carl Heastie, who ascended to the post after Bharara’s office charged his predecessor with corruption, only shrugged when asked if the former prosecutor may consider running for governor.

“I wish him luck in his next endeavor,” he said.

And while some lawmakers are fans of Bharara for his efforts to investigate Democrats like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, they understood why he was removed.

“I wanted him to stay because I was a fan of what he was doing,” said Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin. “That being said, I fully support the president’s prerogative in cleaning house, which I think every president does.”

And it remains unclear who Trump will nominate to permanently replace Bharara, though that office has historically focused on a range of issues, including violent and organized crime.

Senate Dems Release Higher Ed Plan

Senate Democrats on Monday unveiled a higher education proposal that includes free tuition to state and city universities in New York, a scholarship program for students attending private in-state institutions and the DREAM Act aimed at undocumented students.

“Education is the great equalizer in our society, and a highly educated workforce is essential in the modern economy,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

“Too many of our young adults are unable to earn an advanced degree due to prohibitive costs or they are saddled with unbearable debts once they graduate. The EducateNY program will help millions of New Yorkers earn advanced degrees and start investing in our economy rather than paying off loans for decades. The Senate Democrats understand that for our state’s long-term economic strength, we need to invest in our kids now.”

The proposal made Monday morning comes as the majority conferences in the Senate and Assembly are set to unveil their one-house budget measures and vote on them this week.

Under the Senate Democratic conference’s plan, families that earn up to $150,000 would be eligible for free tuition for the EducateNY grant program. The proposal is more generous than the plan backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose budget would make free tuition available for families earning a $125,000 threshold and less.

“Half-measures will not help struggling New York families and that is why Senate Democrats’ EducateNY plan is the best option for making college more affordable,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat. “Senate Democratic proposals will ensure more of our students get a college degree without assuming crippling debt. Now is the time for real results, not unnecessary compromises that lessen the assistance we should be providing hard-working New Yorkers.”​

At the same time, the conference reiterated its support for the DREAM Act, a measure that provides free tuition to undocumented students. The bill has stalled in the Republican-led Senate, with GOP lawmakers staunchly opposing the provision.

Cuomo has once again included the DREAM Act in his $152 billion budget.

Ethics Push On The Back Burner?

From the Morning Memo:

Three weeks to go before the budget is expected to pass in Albany and lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have not spent much time publicly dwelling on ethics reform, a perennial issue that is often the subject of a hammered-out compromise.

“There are a whole host of things that need to be done and we are not taking a holistic approach to ethics in this state that would give people confidence in their state government,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat.

An ethics reform package has passed vitrually every year Cuomo has been in office. But critics in good-government circles say those reforms have only tinkered around the edges of what needs to be done.

“There more like watered down, salted down, whatever you want to say, they really haven’t had any teeth,” said Barbara Bartoletti, the legislative director of the League of Women Voters.

The argument for stronger ethics legislation may become even more amplified following the ouster of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office oversaw a range of corruption cases involving state lawmakers and continues to prosecute the case of former Cuomo aide, Joe Percoco.

Cuomo did include a package of ethics measures in the budget, reiterating proposals such as limits to outside income for lawmakers and term limits through constitutional amendments. Cuomo also wants to have lawmakers seek an independent opinion before accepting outside income.

“Let’s take an independent outside legal expert and go to that body to get a ruling on conflict of interest,” Cuomo said during a January budget presentation.

But this year, lawmakers are also trying to push Cuomo to accept some ethics laws regulating his office, including a measure that is designed to require those who serve on the governor’s regional economic development councils to disclose *their* outside income.

“Remember I think from where the members are coming from, this is billions of dollars,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “I think we are in a place where many people, including the governor and all of you and good government groups have screamed for transparency, so this isn’t any different.”

Cuomo has insisted that proposal is aimed at the Legislature trying to assert more power over economic development spending, which he opposes.

Senate GOP Proposes $8B Clean Water Plan

Senate Republicans want to spend up to $8 billion on clean water projects in New York amid rising concerns over chemical contaminations in rural communities and on suburban Long Island, the conference announced on Sunday morning.

The bulk of the money, $5 billion, would be raised through a proposed bond act, subject to voter referendum.

At the same time, the money would give local governments flexibility in how it could be spent.

“Communities throughout the state are struggling with the growing problems of contaminated water supplies, major infrastructure failures, and other threats that jeopardize public health and constrains the economy,” said Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Suffolk County.

“The Senate’s budget plan takes bold and necessary steps towards providing the resources our state desperately needs to ensure the long-term safety of our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.”

The proposal comes amid heightened concerns over access to clean drinking water in communities like Petersburgh, Newburgh and Hoosick Falls, which have been struck by chemical contaminations, a vestige of their areas’ industrial past.

On Long Island, officials there, too, have struggled with drinking water issues after the detection of 1,4-dioxane.

The Republican plan includes investments aimed at clean water infrastructure, more funding for environmental protection and strengthening measures designed to monitor chemical contaminations. The proposal would also create a clean drinking water institute to recommend quality control levels.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal includes a $2 billion clean drinking water fund.

Environmental groups and organizations backed by construction and building companies have urged even more investment in repairing and maintaining aging sewer and water pipes below ground.

The Senate GOP proposal comes as both the Republican-controlled chamber and the Democratic-led Assembly will be releasing their one-house budget resolutions this week, aspirational documents that lay out negotiations for the broader budget, expected to pass March 31.

Hoylman Wants Vote On Trump-Inspired Tax Return Bill

From the Morning Memo:

Manhattan Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman today will file a motion to have his bill aimed at requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns come to a committee vote in the next 45 days.

Hoylman is filing a motion of consideration on the bill he first introduced after it became clear then-candidate Donald Trump would not release his tax returns, a tradition for presidential hopefuls that dates back to the post-Watergate era. Trump as president is yet to do so, citing an IRS audit.

“Until last year, the release of presidential candidates’ tax returns was a tradition going back 40 years,” Hoylman said in a statement.

“In light of recent revelations, it’s more important than ever for Americans to see what may be hiding in a presidential candidate’s tax returns. New York has the responsibility to ensure that voters know if presidential candidates have potential conflicts of interest before they cast their ballot.”

The measure would require presidential and vice presidential candidates release five years of tax returns 50 days before the election in order to appear on New York’s ballot.

The Board of Elections would have to make the records available within 10 days to public on its website.

Lawmakers Push Anti-Hate Crimes Bills

From the Morning Memo:

As hate crimes continue to plague Jewish facilities and sites around New York, state lawmakers are pushing bills designed to crack down on the situation.

“We’re seeing all types of very hateful of graffiti which is not kids just being kids,” said Jeff Klein, the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference leader. “This is serious, and I think we have to deal with it in a very serious manner by enhancing the penalties.”

Klein has proposed a package of bills strengthening penalties for those who desecrate cemeteries and other religious sites. The bills come after bomb threats were called into Jewish Community Centers and headstones at Jewish cemeteries were damaged.

“Remember something: This is not only impacting us as Americans and as people who really celebrate our diversity, this is really interfering with our ability to practice our religion as we see fit,” Klein said.

The Republican-controlled Senate approved some of those bills Wednesday, and Majority Leader John Flanagan hinted at plans to pass more of them.

“We should have very very swift and strict enforcement of existing law,” Flanagan said. “Number two, we should re-examine hate crimes and see what we could do better.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo last month called for $25 million in new spending to enhance security at Jewish facilities. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said his Democratic conference is reviewing the proposal.

“I think we’re all concerned about the safety about all of our constituents,” Heastie said, “and I think what is happening is deplorable.”

On Thursday, there was yet another bomb threat, this time at a Jewish museum in Brooklyn.

Cuomo traveled to Israel for a brief trip there Sunday to show solidarity and strike economic development deals.

Erie County Legislature Supports Upstate SAFE Act Repeal

UPDATE: Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he is not in favor of the resolution and if it were subject to veto, which it’s not, he would veto it.

The Republican-majority Erie County Legislature has passed a resolution supporting the repeal of the SAFE Act in Upstate New York. A bill, sponsored by state Senator Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, is currently being considered by the Legislature to repeal the gun regulations everywhere but New York City.

Legislator Ed Rath said the current rules limit the constitutional rights of lawful gun owners in Erie County.

“The New York State SAFE Act has been a burden for lawful gun owners from the day it was approved,” he said. “This resolution supports removing the sections of the Act that are unnecessary while maintaining provisions that are worthwhile and actually help make our communities safer. Mainly, the repeal would eliminate the redesigned, excessive registration process that lawful gun owners must now go through.”

While Ortt is from Niagara County, two state Senators from Erie County, Mike Ranzenhofer and Pat Gallivan, are co-sponsors of the legislation. The bill does not appear to have enough support in the Assembly to pass.


Klein Releases College Tuition Plan

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Thursday unveiled a proposal aimed at college affordability that would expand access to the Tuition Assistance Program for undergraduate and graduate students, create ways of reducing college debt and reconstituting the defunct Liberty Scholarship program.

“A college education is a crucial step to living a comfortable life with a well-paying job. But with the rising costs of a higher education, students and their families increasingly turn to student loans, ending up deeply indebted,” said Klein, a Bronx Democrat. “College must be made more affordable for New Yorkers, and our students seeking a brighter future shouldn’t be penalized with outrageous loan payments. That’s why today I introduced the IDC’s seven-point proposal to cut college costs and give relief to our college graduates already in debt.”

The plan comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pushed the Legislature to back his proposal for free tuition to students at SUNY and CUNY schools whose families earn less than $125,000 a year.

Klein’s proposal includes expanding TAP to increasing the income eligibility from $80,000 to $125,000 and making the minimum award $2,000, up from $500. At the same time, graudate students would also be eligible for TAP and the allowance of aid for disabled students would grow from four to six years.

He also wants to create a STAR program, a refundable tax credit for allowable tuition expenses.

And he would reinstate the Liberty Scholarship, a program that was created in 1988 but was never funded. It would cover non-tuition expenses for full and part-time students.