State Senate

Stewart-Cousins Calls Trump Tax Plan ‘Dangerous’

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Thursday knocked President Donald Trump’s proposed tax plan, criticizing the proposal to end deductions for state and local taxes.

“The Trump Tax Plan is dangerous and will harm millions of middle- and working-class New Yorkers,” she said.

“To remove the deduction for state and local taxes will do tremendous harm to the working women and men of New York. I would hope the Senate Republicans would let their Republican allies in Washington know that this plan would be a disaster for New York. Silence is not an acceptable response. Changing the tax code to help the extreme rich get richer on the backs of struggling workers and families trying to make ends meet is unacceptable and simply wrong.”

Ending deductions has drawn bipartisan concern in Albany. Earlier this year, when the deduction proposal was first floated, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan raised similar concerns over the plan. The proposal would impact high-tax states like California, New York and New Jersey.

Overall, a number of details on the Trump tax proposal are yet to be formally fleshed out, including the income brackets that would be impacted by a simplification of the code.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also, has criticized the proposal as having a detrimental effect on the state.

After Skelos, Now What?

Republican former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Tuesday became the latest disgraced ex-lawmaker to have their conviction tossed by a federal appeals panel.

Before him, it was ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was the first part of the one-two corruption punch leveled against Albany by then U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a wild 2015 legislative session.

The late Sen. Tom Libous’s conviction was overturned in May due to his pending appeal at the time of his death after a battle with cancer.

Earlier, it was Skelos’s equally well-coiffed predecessor, Republican Joe Bruno, who had his conviction tossed, only to be retried and acquitted.

Save for the Libous case, the convictions have hinged on what has become an increasingly narrow definition of theft of honest services. And it’s at odds with the populist sentiment that has built up within both political parties: The swamp needs to be drained, but the plumber doesn’t apparently have the right tools.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the Democrat who replaced Skelos in the Senate and led a prosecutorial team that convicted Espada, sounded a more despondent and frustrated note.

“Today’s ruling shakes society’s faith in our justice system to the core,” Kaminsky said.

In an interview, Kaminsky said it was up to Congress to tighten up the definition of honest services fraud or empower local district attorneys to take on corruption cases.

“Congress could change that in two minutes,” he said. “But of course New York state could do a lot more. When I talk to local district attorneys, they feel like they’re fighting with one hand tied behind their back.”

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas in a statement said the latest overturned conviction “should not detract from the continuing need to embrace comprehensive and meaningful reforms to fortify our government contracting processes from manipulation, self-dealing and pay-to-play corruption.”

“After Dean Skelos was charged in 2015, my office thoroughly reviewed Nassau’s contracting processes and recommended the establishment of an independent inspector general and modern conflict-checking procedures to guard against corruption and abuse,” she said.

“The vulnerabilities in Nassau County government exposed by our review remain substantially unaddressed, the Board of Ethics is conflicted and lacks a quorum, and the taxpayers are ill-served every day that our elected leaders fail to enact the reforms to prevent the corruption that continues to compromise public confidence in our government.”

Still, there are a number of former lawmakers who have or are serving time in prison, a bipartisan list that includes ex-Sens. Pedro Espada, John Sampson, Vincent Leibell, Malcolm Smith and Nick Spano as well as former Assembly members William Boyland and Eric Stevenson.

But the Silver and Skelos arrests and convictions are especially symbolic. They were conducted virtually back to back, sending Albany into a state of vertigo and the legislative chambers each into a brief state of uncertainty over their leadership. It called into question how Albany itself functions — the give and take of closed-door negotiations and the degree of power vested in only three men.

At the time, Skelos angrily declared to reporters trailing him on the plaza outside of the Capitol that he would not just be found not guilty “but innocent” of the charges he faced.

Silver’s resignation from the speakership, a post he held since 1994, led to the rise of the first black leader of the Assembly.

Skelos’s legal troubles exposed, meanwhile, the divisions within the Senate GOP conference between upstate and downstate members.

Next year, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Joe Percoco, will go on trial along with the former president of SUNY Nanotech and upstate developers, who are accused of being involved in a bribery and bid-rigging scheme for economic development projects.

Kaminksy said he expects Silver to face another trial.

That was echoed by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the prosecutor who led the cases against Skelos and Silver, criticizing Albany’s way of doing business along the way to the extend that it fueled speculation he would run for governor.

“As with Sheldon Silver, SDNY will retry Dean and Adam Skelos,” Bharara, who this summer began a podcast, tweeted. “SCOTUS made it harder to punish corruption, but justice should prevail here.”

Larkin Says He Has No Plans To Retire

As former state party executive director files to run for his seat, Republican Sen. Bill Larkin in a statement said Tuesday he has no plans to retire from office.

Larkin, a World War II and Korean War veteran, turns 90 next year.

The Hudson Valley lawmaker is considered a potential target next year by Democrats who have hoped to flip his district to their column in a push to gain a governing majority in the Senate.

But Larkin also has a potential successor from his own party from Tom Basile, a former state GOP executive director and the host of a satellite radio show.

“I am honored to call Bill Larkin a friend and I am proud to support him for as long as he is willing to serve our area and should he choose to run for re-election, I will be right there with him as I was last year and supporting him in his efforts,” Basile told the Mid-Hudson News.

Basile in the last week filed paperwork with the Board of Elections to run for the Senate seat.

Larkin, in his statement, said he has good relationship with Basile.

“Over the years I have enjoyed a good working relationship with Tom,” he said. “I have no plans to retire and look forward to serving the people of the 39th Senate District for the foreseeable future.”

Biz Community Backs Flanagan Push For Permanent Tax Cap

A range of business groups on Tuesday backed Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s push to make the state’s cap on annual property tax increases permanent.

Backing a permanent cap is not new for Senate Republicans, but Flanagan is starting a more sustained pushed now on the issue ahead of the Legislature reconvening in January.

The Business Council, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Unshackle Upstate endorsed the position in statements on Tuesday.

“Business leaders know that excessive spending and high taxes take a toll on their bottom lines and our economy, which is why they continue to support the need for a permanent statewide tax cap,” Flanagan said.

“Working with them, we can help continue to prevent the double-digit property tax increases of the past, make New York more affordable for all taxpayers, and create more job opportunities so middle-class families can have a brighter and more prosperous future.”

The issue also highlights a strong point for Senate Republicans heading into a re-election year in which suburban districts will likely be a battleground for the control of the narrowly divided chamber.

Teachers unions and local government groups have sought exceptions under the cap, including an effort to end the link to the rate of inflation.

Skelos’s Corruption Conviction Overturned

The corruption conviction of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Tuesday was overturned by a federal appeals court, dealing yet another blow to the prosecutors who had sought to crack down on Albany’s unseemly way of doing business.

The overturning of Skelos’s 2015 conviction comes 10 weeks after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s conviction was similarly tossed by a federal judge. Prosecutors are still pursuing a case against Silver, depending on the outcome of a Supreme Court ruling.

Both Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, and Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, were powerful state legislative leaders, working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to craft a state budget and top-tier legislation. The corruption arrests and convictions convulsed Albany at the time.

In both instances, the court took exception to the definition of an “official act” in the conviction “which we cannot conclude is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt” leading to the case being vacated.

Skelos was convicted along with his son in December 2015 of bribery and extortion charges, with prosecutors alleging the lawmaker used his office to influence a Manhattan developer, an insurance company and an environmental technology company to provide the younger Skelos with essentially a series of no-show consultant jobs.

Adam Skelos’s conviction was also overturned.

Skelos was stepped down from his majority leader post soon after the charges were made public and was formally removed from office after the felony conviction.

“Senator Skelos is grateful for the Court’s careful consideration of the issues and looks forward to the next steps,” Skelos’s attorney said. “We believe that as events unfold it is going to become clear that this is a case that never should have been brought.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in a statement indicated his office will seek a retrial of Skelos and his son.

“Cleaning up corruption is never easy,” Kim said, “and that is certainly true for corruption in New York State government. But we are as committed as ever to doing everything we can to keep our government honest. That is what we will do in this prosecution as well.”

Senate Plans Hearing On Summer Floods

The state Senate will hold a hearing on Oct. 10 to examine the flooding of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River this past summer, which caused millions of dollars in property damage in the Great Lakes region.

“Homeowners and local businesses are still recovering. While funding through the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence Seaway Flood Relief and Recovery Grant Program is a giant step in helping people rebuild, it is critical that we hear from stakeholders and regulatory bodies to understand what happened, why it happened and what steps we need to take to make sure it never happens again,” said Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Tom O’Mara. “This hearing will provide that opportunity.”

The hearing will be held in the town of Mexico in Oswego County at Mexico High School, starting at 4 p.m.

The hearing comes amid scrutiny over the regulatory plan for water levels on the lake, known as Plan 2014. The regulatory scheme, part of a joint agreement with Canadian officials, has been called into question following the flooding.

The hearing is expected to touch on the Plan 2014 issue, with invitations sent to regulatory officials, including the International Joint Commission, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and New York Sea Grant.

Flanagan Calls For Permanent Property Tax Cap

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan reiterated his push on Monday for a permanent cap on the state’s property taxes, indicating it will be a plank for the GOP conference in the 2018 legislative session.

“Perhaps more than anything else we have done as a Legislature, the property tax cap has had an extraordinarily positive impact on hardworking taxpayers and their families,” Flanagan said in a statement.

“It has slammed the door on the massive, double-digit property tax increases of the past, and brought certainty to businesses and to taxpayers. By any objective measure, the property tax cap has been an enormous success.”

The cap was first approved in 2011, limiting levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Given the low rate of inflation in recent years, school districts and local governments have chaffed under caps that have been largely under 1 percent allowances.

But supporters of the cap insist it is working to control the highest property taxes in the country.

Senate Republicans have repeatedly pushed for the cap to be permanently extended; local government advocates have sought more wiggle room under the cap, including an end to the rate of inflation link.

“It’s time to take the next step on behalf of New York taxpayers,” Flanagan said. “Let’s make the property tax cap permanent and do it in 2018.”

Flanagan: ‘Not Unreasonable’ To Have NYC Pay More For Transit

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Sunday night told a group of statewide business leaders it was “not unreasonable” to ask New York City to pay more for transit given a $4 billion surplus.

“It’s not unreasonable to ask for ten percent of that to make sure the riding public has access to service and reasonable fares,” Flanagan told the Business Council’s annual gathering at the Sagamore in Bolton Landing.

But Flanagan, a Republican from Suffolk County, did not take a stance on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stated support for a congestion pricing plan for New York City.

Cuomo has revived the proposal this year as a means of boosting revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority after a summer of delays and breakdowns on the subway system.

Flanagan said business leaders should weigh in on the plan, which is expected to dominate the 2018 legislative session.

“Your input in that area would be exceedingly helpful,” he said.

Senate Republicans and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have been at odds almost since the moment the mayor took office in 2013. The Republican conference had an ally and political benefactor in Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and de Blasio made little secret of his desire to flip the Senate to Democratic control.

Flanagan continued in his remarks to take aim at the city, saying he wanted to once again push for a property tax cap in the five boroughs.

“Commercial property taxes in the city of New York will be the undoing of the city of New York,” he said.

And he rebuffed concerns the tax cap for New York City would harm its revenue, saying it was important to promote low-tax policies there, and pointed to the success of limiting levy growth elsewhere in the state.

“It’s not going to kill them because it hasn’t killed the rest of the state,” he said. “In fact, it’s helped the rest of the state. It should be very hard to raise taxes.”

congestion pricing

Martins Slams Curran for Heastie Fundraiser, Lands Flanagan Backing (Updated)

Republican Nassau County executive Jack Martins’ campaign issued a statement today slamming his Democratic opponent, Nassau County Legislator Laura Curran, for her fundraiser last night that was headlined by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Martins campaign spokeswoman Mollie Fullington, (a Pataki administration veteran), accused Curran of being “bought and paid for by the New York City politicians who have continually abused Long Island taxpayers and don’t share our values.”

“Heastie led the effort in the state Assembly to make New York a Sanctuary State for violent felon illegal immigrants, and has been anything but a friend to Long Island as speaker of the state Assembly,” Fullington said.

“…Nassau County cannot afford to have a County Executive who is indebted to New York City politicians like Speaker Heastie,” she continued. “Nassau County needs an independent, experienced leader who will protect county taxpayers and stop the New York City special interests that want to impose their radical agenda on Long Island taxpayers and families.”

Martins is himself a product of Albany, having served in the state Senate for six years, and declining to seek re-election in 2016 when he opted to run for the House seat vacated by former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel. Martins lost that race to Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi, who, in an ironic twist, used to hold the county executive post that Martins is now seeking.

It’s interesting that Martins’ campaign is using that “violent felon illegal immigrants” line, which is a page straight out of the Senate GOP playbook. The Senate Republicans, who have steadfastly refused to approve the DREAM Act in their chamber, employed that same approach in the last election cycle with considerable success – especially in upstate and Long Island districts.

As for Martins’ Senate tenure, Fullington said he “successfully fought against Assemblyman Heastie and the New York politicians who redirected Long Island’s state school aid to New York City<" adding:

“Jack Martins rolled back the unfair MTA payroll tax Heastie supported to require Long Islanders to subsidize New York City’s subway system and he restored the state property tax rebate program that Heastie and the New York City politicians eliminated when they had total control over state government.”

And since we’re on the subject of the Senate GOP, it’s worth noting that Martins landed the endorsement today of his former colleague, and fellow Long Islander, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who called Martins “right leader at the right time.”

Expect another round of attacks along these same lines from the Martins campaign when Gov. Andrew Cuomo headlines a fundraiser for Curran on Oct. 5. Cuomo has long been an ally of the departing Republican Nassau County executive, Ed Mangano, who declined to seek re-election after being hit with federal corruption charges.

UPDATE: Philip Shulman, Curran’s campaign spokesman, emailed the following response:

“Let’s cut the hypocrisy. Laura is indebted to no one. And Jack Martins would know about indebtedness. Martins took more than $275,000 from Dean Skelos’ corrupt political machine to fund his campaigns for state Senate. So it’s no wonder he blocked efforts to remove Skelos from power after his indictment on federal corruption charges.”

NYPIRG Reviews 2017 Session

NYPIRG has released its annual review of the state legislative session in Albany, finding this year was among the sessions that saw the least number of legislative agreements as evidenced by identical bills passing on the floor of both houses, otherwise known as “same-as” measures.

Between January and July of this year, 998 bills were passed in the Democrat-controlled state Assembly, while the GOP-led Senate approved 1,896. Only 606 same-as bills were passed in both houses, while 15,406 bills were introduced overall so far in this two-year session.

That’s compared to 1,041 Assembly bills, 1,752 Senate bills, and 618 same-as bills passed in 2016, while the number of overall bills introduced was 16,649.

The decline in the number of bills that passed in the 2017 session tracks the overall historical trend, NYPIRG said. Since 1995, the five years that saw the fewest bills pass both houses are 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017.

When the average passage of two-house bills during the tenures of various governors is compared, Cuomo has so far seen the lowest number – 643 – while the highest – 1,356 – was during the time former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller spent in office.

Although Cuomo has been criticized for relying on messages of necessity to push controversial measures through the Legislature, most notably the gun control bill known as the SAFE Act, his use of his power to expedite the legislative process by circumventing the three-day bill “aging” period has actually declined compared to his predecessors.

There has been little change since last year in the number of bills approved by Cuomo, though his use of his veto pen has increased.

NYPIRG’s full assessment of the most recent session as compared to other sessions appears below. The organization has also updated its legislative profiles for 2017, which can be found here.

NYPIRG's 2017 session review. by liz_benjamin6490 on Scribd